Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Ground Worth Struggling For

Finding that key competitive position: a great lesson for the innovative leader from Sun-tzu’s The Art of War.City of New York Public Library Lion

When the ground
Offers advantage
To either side,
That is
Strategic ground.
– Sun-tzu  [1]

A few hours before my train back to Boston departed from New York’s Penn Station, I stopped by the public library for the chance to reflect at the end of a demanding business trip. There was a strong pull for me to the familiar lions who guard the entrance to New York Public Library Schwarzman building now and for the past 100 years. [2] These silent guardians sat as reminders of one my favorite thinking places in Boston, the public library that also has lions (please see A Storied History), lying couchant, protecting the thoughtful.

This trip to New York is one of the many I will have to make in my work to try and develop a business around innovation in the book publishing space. My work for an early stage startup provides the privilege of seeing raw innovation morph into something valuable to the world– this is the intersection where scientific experiment meets practicality during the evolution of a business.

I sat there quietly in the library’s grand reading room making follow-up notes about the potential strategic partners and customers I had met on the trip. During this time a realization began to form about strategy based on a lesson from Sun-tzu regarding the different types of ground in which to do battle in The Art of War. Sun-tzu’s instruction tells us that strategic ground is “[l]eternally, ground worth struggling for…” as translated by John Minford. That being said, it has been my great surprise as an entrepreneur how challenging the act of identifying a key strategic position can be that is both advantageous and accessible for a developing business. Accordingly, it is my belief that great entrepreneurs are effective because they have the capacity to abstain from seemingly strategic opportunities that are not yet accessible to a new business.

Jason Freeman is the founder of Work of Start.

1. Sun-tzu (Sunzi); translated with an introduction and commentary by John Minford. The Art of War (New York: Penguin Group, 2009), 268.
2. Acquired from New York Public Library Website –