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33 Strategies of War

January 30, 2010

I am reading ’33 Strategies of War’ by Robert Greene. It is essentially an in-depth and detailed study of Sun Tzu’s famous ‘Art of War’, updated with examples of warfare and the successes and failures of notable figures of history.

I am recommending this book not only because it strictly applies to warfare or counter insurgency, but because the lessons discussed in this book apply directly to decisions in life, relationships, strategy and thought process. It is a very well written and analyzed work and I highly suggest you pick up a copy.

I will be posting bits from the book that I find relevant to the discussion.

Chapter 6 – Strategy

The world is full of people looking for a secret formula for success and power. They do not want to think on their own; they just want a recipe to follow. They are attracted to the idea of strategy for that very reason. In their minds strategy is a series of steps to be followed toward a goal. They want these steps spelled out for them by an expert or a guru. Believing in the power of imitation, they want to know exactly what some great person has done before. Their maneuvers in life are as mechanical as their thinking.

To separate yourself from such a crowd, you need to get rid of a common misconception: the essence of strategy is not to carry out a brilliant plan that proceeds in steps; it is to put yourself in situations where you have more options than the enemy does. Instead of grasping at Option A as the single right answer, true strategy is positioning yourself to be able to do A, B, or C depending on the circumstances. That is strategic depth thinking, as opposed to formulaic thinking.

Sun Tzu expressed the idea differently: what you aim for in strategy he said is ‘shih’, a position of potential force – the position of a boulder perched precariously on a hilltop, say or a stretched bowstring. A tap on the boulder, the release of the bowstring, and the potential force is violently unleashed. The boulder or arrow can go in any direction; it is geared to the actions of the enemy. What matters is not following preordained steps but placing yourself in ‘shih’ and giving yourself options.

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