The Patterns of Chinese 36-Strategies

This series of posts on the Chinese 36-Strategies can be used as a lesson on progressive learning and knowledge management. I started with a linear list of 36-strategies and found that it was too long a list to remember all. I said that in the original text was they were divided into 6 segments  that were ok but not good enough for me. So I came out with 12 Success Principles from Chinese 36-Strategies that went by the phases:

Lesson 1 on learning is about categorizing.

Grouping those that are similar into a category.

We need to discover what are similar and what are the differences. If there are no differences, then we need to merge them together.

If we leave them there in a category, we must be prepare  to state their differences.  I can still find there are differences in the 36 strategies, even though that are the similar, and I could not bring down 36 to a lesser number.

For example, at first I find the following 3 are similar and perhaps can be combined into just one:

#01 瞒天过海 Trick our King/Boss and cross the sea
#08 暗渡陈仓 Repair the mountain paths in the open but cross another place secretly
#06 声东击西 Say East But Attack West

But they are not. #06 is a false claim (fake action) but #01 and #08 are real actions.

#01 Acted on the King and got him entertained while the troops crossed the sea to fight a war. The king did not realize he is going on with the battle.

#08 is the last 4 four words of a 8 word phase. The first four words talked about repairing the paths on the mountain to fool the enemy into thinking the attack will be by the mountain but the actual attack was by another place (the verb for cross the sea is used to highlight the different route taken. This is the invert of the Japanese attack in Singapore in WWII. The Japanese built boats and fooled the British to turn their guns southward expecting an attack from the sea. The Japanese just cross the bridge and match into Singapore. This is similar in Iraq-Kuwait war where the US practiced sea attack but actually attacked by land in 1991.

#01 and #08 differ in that #01 is to fool our own, internal, king (he was afraid to continue with the battle seeing the waves) and #08 is about fooling the external, enemy.  The difference is about who, internal or external, that we misled. We need to divide and go into fine details to truly understand a piece of work.

Lesson 2 on learning is about finding Patterns

Lesson 2 on learning is about abstracting further and discovering the underlying patterns that could unify the knowledge.  This is what the physicists are trying to do to come out with the Grand Unified Theory that unify the four force fields.  There is proposal that if there are many explanations for the same event, then the most simplified one is preferred.

So here is the further attempt to find the patterns and to simplify our learning from the 36 strategies.

P1 You Don’t always have to Act First, and by Yourself.

You don’t always have to take action by yourself immediately. You can actually do the following

  1. wait
    1. The problem may solved itself. A natural disaster could destroy our enemy. Our enemy may have internal fights and destroy themselves. The PESTEL factors could change so that they favors and disrupt our competitors. Of course, we could also be on the bad end while our competitors had the good end.
  2. watch
    1. Watch for the opportunities and openings to arrive. We don’t always have to be the first to win. First mover has advantages and also big risks.
  3. outsource
    1. You don’t always have to do it yourself. You can outsource to some one who is better than you. You can borrow resources. You can persuade someone else to do it for you for free.
    2. Best and most productive work is the Dummy Golden Rule – Maximum Benefits, Zero Harms at zero effort.
  4. act
    1. If we have to act, act with greatest productivity by doing the most important tasks first (leaving others to adjust themselves),  to attract rather than to pursue, attack the weak points rather than the strong, to give a little to exchange for large returns and so forth. See the mind-map below.
  5. quit
    1. This is the option you always have. Most people recommend that when you have exhausted all the other alternatives, then try this – Quit, Give-up and Do other things. But I think we should reverse this thinking as ask instead, Why NOT quit now? What are the benefits for staying the course vs quitting now?

P2 What you see may not be what it actually is.

What we see is the external appearance and we don’t see the inside, the inner motivation and intentions. We also don’t see everything. There are many things we don’t see. We also see what we want to see and is unable to see what we don’t like to see. ‘Seeing is believing’ is the principle that makes deception possible. Ask the magicians. Be humble and wise and never just conclude that seeing is believing. If seeing could not be believing, how much more serious is ignorance! 36 Strategies tell us to See far and wide and deep inside and over time.  We may need to probe to verify and not just watch.

P3 Not 1 but 2 Actions

We tend to be satisfied with the first answer, the first solution to our problem and not to explore other alternatives. The obvious may not be the best or the only answer.  We may need to take multiple actions in sequence or concurrently. I frequently tell my fellow Singaporeans that the reason that we are always busy and complaining lack of time is that we are too quick to find and execute the first solution, and we may be trying to solve to the wrong problem!(see P2) .  We take 1 step forward only to take many corrective steps backwards and sidewards to solve the problems  caused by the first hurried step. Please go back to learn P1 and P2.

If we do want to act, after identifying the real issue, at least try two actions:

P4 A Supportive action A and a Main Mission B

  1. Actions A & B can be in sequence or concurrently
  2. A is Watch first and B is Exploit later
  3. Action A is distracting so that they ignore our concurrent action B

P5 The Supportive A Actions

  1. Probe to verify
  2. Watch for Opportunities
  3. Fake – A Claim, False Action
  4. An Outside Cover
  5. Distraction
  6. Give/Lure 1st
  7. Confuse with Ridiculous acts
  8. Borrow first (possess later)
  9. Encircle

P6 The Mission B Actions

  1. Follow up Exploitation of the Opportunity or opening in phase A
  2. Attack the Weak
  3. Capture the Keys
  4. Outsource
  5. Innovate
  6. Quit

P7 Mix and Match and Iterate

There is no law that say you should follow the 36 strategies exactly. Mix and Match, the detail actions of A and B and iterate the various combinations through time. Then even those who follow the 36 Strategies will be out done by you.

Here is pattern of the 36 Strategies:

36 Strategies by Patterns

You will find that I change some of the translations of the strategies from the previous mind map to make them clearer.

Lim Liat copyrighted April 2011.

3 thoughts on “The Patterns of Chinese 36-Strategies

  1. Pingback: BvOtech » The Patterns of Chinese 36-Strategies | The War You Dont See

  2. Chinese has this complicated way of seeing and implementing something but heck, they succeed in what the do. They do not lack of self discipline too.

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  3. Pingback: What Is Ancient Chinese Wisdom?

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