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The 36th Chinese Stretegem: "If everything else fails, retreat"

This is the most famous one of the 36th strategy, immortalized in the form of a Chinese idiom: "Of the Thirty-Six Stratagems, fleeing is best." (三十六計,走為上策 - sānshí liù jì, zǒu wèi shàng cè)

This seems to me similar to the SF-principle: "If it don't work - try something different"

What's about the other 35 strategems? How do they fit to SF?

Well, looking in or (in German) in I become a bit uncomfortable: Nearly all of them sound for me as advices to fool the others using tricks and hiding the real intention. Or is my reaction a consequence of a thinking based on "western" ethics?

In I found a "top of the iceberg" for an answer to that question:

Rolf Dobelli, founder of getAbstract wrote in his review on: "The Art of the Advantage: 36 Strategies to Seize the Competitive Edge" by Kaihan Krippendorf:
...this is an excellent introduction to a neglected classic. Its strategies (an ethical minefield if you take them too literally) are not limited to battlefields or businesses. We recommend this book to business strategists, policymakers and those struggling with competition. It is also valuable for anyone working in or facing competition from East Asia, where these strategems are already well known and widely used.

Maybe I have to understand those 36 strategems not as "advices" but as a variety of possibilities how others (and also I) may act to get a better awareness for the traps by cooperating with others?
BUT: is this "SF"? Or is it more "problem focused" to increase my awareness for behaviours like: "Kill with a borrowed knife" (the 3rd strategem: Attack using the strength of another (in a situation where using one's own strength is not favourable). Trick an ally into attacking him, bribe an official to turn traitor, or use the enemy's own strength against him.)

And at the same time I read in such things which also are referred in a SF-context quite often:

Kaihan Krippendorff splits the stratgems in die this four groups:

Westerners believe they can pursue good and banish bad, but this assumption runs counter to the Taoist understanding which doesn't judge anything. There is no "good" or "bad" -- they are simply two sides of the same coin.

Westerners equate yielding with weakness and overcoming adversity with strength. Taoists view the contrary: They value "going with the grain," which often leads us to the opposite answer to the same question.

Westerners believe the past determines the present and that change connects static moments. If Westerners assumed instead that the present determines the present, and that change is continuous, as the Taoist perspective suggests, Westerners would choose different courses of action.

Westerners prefer to meet an adversary head-on; the Eastern preference for indirect action often seems impractical, deceitful, or indicative of weakness. Embracing indirect action puts powerful new tactics into Western hands.

So, my question to those in this community which are very familiar with "Eastern Thinking" is:

How do you deal with this 36 stretegems - which seems to be very important for Chinese people and maybe for most asian people also - out of a "SF-view"?

For me this is an important question to understand better the connection between SF and "Asian Thinking", because: "Chinese culture possesses the richest and most systematic knowledge of stratagems, It easily functions as the best mirror for the strategic behaviour of all people on earth." (Chio Chien, Former Head of Departement of Antropology, Chinese University of HongKong)

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Comment by Hans-Peter Korn on January 24, 2009 at 9:37
One of the most interesting books about perceptions and constructing "reality" is: "Wahnsinnslogik - Von der Verstehbarkeit schizophrener Erfahrung" written by Erich Wulff. (I couldn't find an English version of both)
Comment by Kaihan Krippendorff on January 24, 2009 at 4:28
I think another interesting pathway to explore is the idea well accepted in Eastern views of how the world works that much of what we perceive to real is actually constructed. We simplify a complex world by creating mental images or symbols or entities of what would otherwise take too long to re-cognize and then we forget that "things" are not real. Several interesting new books show the cognitive basis for see (George Lackoff's "The Political Mind" is one of my favorites, also a new book called "Iconoclast" dissects the complex steps are minds go through just to see simple object).

The practical implication of this is that perhaps many solutions to problems lie between reality and perception. I think great innovators are able to "change the world" to a great extent because they use language skillfully to change what we perceive and therefore believe.

I think if we study how the Chinese government has maintained such a massive population unified for thousands of years we will see that depended heavily on managing perceptions.

So perhaps even if we cannot change the world actually, all that matters is that we change how people relate to the world. By introducing a new word, a new metaphor, or a new story we actually transform reality for others.

I'm not sure if this makes sense. But I saw reference to my first book earlier in the discussion and was fascinated by the dialogue here so wanted to say what came to mind. If you haven't read it, you might enjoy my latest book "The Way of Innovation."
Comment by Hans-Peter Korn on December 23, 2008 at 16:18
Yes, Marika, and not only important for Texel only... but important also as an other view how to manage the 2009 - which seem to become quite troublesome:
"When in West we roughly speaking make the strategy to change the situation, "to change the world", in eastern way the staring point is always that you are only one player in the system, in particular time and place, in these circumstances" might be an interesting point how to deal with the financial and other crises in a different way...
Comment by Marika Tammeaid on December 23, 2008 at 7:26
Thak you for this very interesting conversation (- which I have been following a bit later)!

In my mind eastern thinking and SF support earch other surprisingly well. Like Mark pointed out the old chinese strategical advices are written rather metaphorically (which is typical for many old texts preserved to our days) and that is good to bear in mind when using them:-)

The main point for my understanding is that the approch of eastern thinking in highly systemic. When in West we roughly speaking make the strategy to change the situation, "to change the world", in eastern way the staring point is always that you are only one player in the system, in particular time and place, in these circumstances. You can make use of the situation and even others responce to archeive what is important tou you and there you also build your strategy. So, no western "dream" of controlling the situation and progress -at least not for a very long time...

I think this would be a wonderful theme for Texel, too!
Comment by Paolo Terni on November 21, 2008 at 21:15
You are right, Mark.
My interpretation is based on the fact that in the book I have, each stratagem is a chapter, and in each chapter examples from Chinese Wars fought in the Middle Ages are used to explain the meaning of the stratagem.
So, there are always dynasties clashing, some princes fighting, some barbarians to repel, some intrigue to unveil...
Comment by Mark McKergow on November 20, 2008 at 12:32
I guess we should remember that this is all written rather metaphorically, so there are many possible interpretations. In the knife example, my focus seems to be more on the idea of borrowing than of killing, so it doesn't seem so instantly dislikable to me.
Comment by Paolo Terni on November 20, 2008 at 11:15
Hi Mark,
thanks for the distinction between stratagems and strategies. I agree with you, maybe "tactics" is a more appropriate term.

Hans-Peter, I understood that "killing with a borrowed knife" refers to stealing the opponent's knife and use it on the enemy. I think your distinction is a good insofar as we are thinking about how to use these concepts in a SF frame, however it takes us farther away from the original meaning of the stratagems...

thanks again for the interesting discussion,
Comment by Hans-Peter Korn on November 20, 2008 at 10:16
Hi Mark, you wrote in your "above of above comment":

I am even more interested in your suggestion that the original versions were somehow concerned with tricking the enemy! This might mean that even to scholars of Taoism and so on, SF has some new slants to add.

Maybe we have to differentiate between "strategems" (or "tactics") in terms "how good they work independently from the (ethical acceptable) concern" and the question, how far we are willing to apply this "strategems" (or "tactics") for a specific concern considering ethics.

So, "killing with a borrowed knife" in first instance - not considering ethics - can be understood as a successful tactic to make use means or resources of other persons to reach my goals, not considering how far the goals are ethical acceptable.
Of course, the wording "killing with a borrowed knife" in my mind is strongly connected to "killing a person" and therefore leads me to ethical troubles. But: this is a connection constructed BY ME. An other construction may be to kill a chicken (to have something to eat) and to use a borrowed (very sharp) knife to kill the chicken reducing the harm for it as much as possible instead of putting my feet on the throat of the chicken for some minutes - which I have personally seen many years ago in the jungle of Thailand.

I see the same "dilemma" at SF also:

"If something woks - to more of it" also can be understood as a tactic to produce more faced money if I was able to use the money from my first fake-tries successfully.

So, for me it is important to differentiate between "strategems" (or "tactics") in terms "how good they work independently from the (ethical acceptable) concern" and the question, how far we are willing to apply this "strategems" (or "tactics") for a specific concern considering ethics.
Comment by Mark McKergow on November 20, 2008 at 8:41
Hi again,

Having read up a but more on these 36 Strategems, I think there is a worthwhile point to make about the difference between a 'Strategem' and a strategy. The articles about the 36 Strategems make it clear that these are ruses - tactics to be employed in the field to take advantage of the situation as it develops. They are not, in the conventional English usage of the word, strategies - which are long term thrusts which are supposed to be robust to external factors. So perhaps thinking of these in terms of tactics might be a good option.
Comment by Mark McKergow on November 19, 2008 at 10:18
Hi Hans-Peter

Thanks for putting this blog post up - very interesting. I have been doing some reading about Taoist ideas myself recently as part of an investigation into the various traditions based on the idea that 'change is happening all the time' rather than stability focus. I like very much the summary of the 36 strategems by Krippendorf, and I think that all these four basic ideas can be connected quite easily to SF thinking:

Yin/Yang, Polarity - good is not the opposite of bad, right is not the opposite of wrong, what's wanted is not the opposite of what's wrong. One can look at something 'good' and see elements of 'bad'. Just as one can look at the 'problem' and see exceptions, elements of 'better', ideas for progress etc.

Wu Wei/go with the grain: Work with what's there not what isn't. This is also sometimes translated in terms of acting by not acting... waiting and observing is also a form of action. Wait for something to happen and then utilise it. Going slow to go fast.

Wu change/continuous change - Change is happening all the time, find USEFUL change and amplify it. Stability is an illusion, there is always movement to be found (even if barely perceptible). Tomorrow will be different to today, particularly if you are looking for how it is different. You don't need to MAKE change happen, you can use the change that's already happening to make more change.

Shang bing wu bing/indirect action - Don't tackle the problem by tackling the problem, tackle it by looking in the other direction at what is working. To oppose something is to maintain it. To protest against something is to admit that the battle is lost.

I am even more interested in your suggestion that the original versions were somehow concerned with tricking the enemy! This might mean that even to scholars of Taoism and so on, SF has some new slants to add.




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