The 33 Strategies Of War

I’m a big fan of psychologist and author Robert Greene.  Previously, I deconstructed his landmark book, the 48 laws of power, and interpreted how the laws apply to blogging.

It was a pleasant surprise for me to discover he has written two other books outlining laws applicable to the areas of seduction and war.  War strategy is especially compelling because businesses take cues from military strategic successes in areas such as how they react to changes in the marketplace from competition and how they position their external communications.

I’m not advocating war, rather in the realms of both power and war the best offense is a good defense.  War is unfortunate, but instead of pretending it doesn’t exist, let’s learn from it.  It is considered a taboo subject to discuss, however that’s not a logical reason to dismiss studying it as it is a very real part of our culture.

By having an understanding of the strategies others are using, we can be fully conscious of when power-plays and manipulative tactics are being used against us or others.

After a quick search, I was able to find an outline of Robert Greene’s 33 Strategies of War published under a creative commons license.

So, with permission, I’ll share Greene’s 33 strategies in brief:

1: Declare war on your enemies: Polarity

You cannot fight effectively unless you can identify them. Learn to smoke them out, then inwardly declare war. Your enemies can fill you with purpose and direction.

2: Do not fight the last war: Guerilla-war-of-the-mind

Wage war on the past and ruthlessly force yourself to react to the present. Make everything fluid and mobile.

3: Amidst the turmoil of events, do not lose your presence of mind: Counterbalance

Keep your presence of mind whatever the circumstances. Make your mind tougher by exposing it to adversity. Learn to detach youself from the chaos of the battlefied.

4: Create a sense of urgency and desperation: Death-ground

Place yourself where your back is against the wall and you have to fight like hell to get out alive.

5: Avoid the snares of groupthink: Command-and-control

Create a chain of command where people do not feel constrained by your influence yet follow your lead. Create a sense of participation, but do not fall into groupthink.

6: Segment your forces: Controlled-chaos

The critical elements in war are speed and adaptability–the ability to move and make decisions faster than the enemy. Break your forces into independent groups that can operate on their own. Give them the spirit of the campaign, a mission to accomplish, and room to run.

7: Transform your war into a crusade: Morale

Get them to think less about themselves and more about the group. Involve them in a cause, a crusade against a hated enemy. Make them see their survival is tied to the success of the army as a whole.

8: Pick your battles carefully: Perfect-economy

Consider the hidden costs of war: time, political goodwill, an embittered enemy bent on revenge. Sometimes it is better to undermine your enemies covertly.

9: Turn the tables: Counterattack

Let the other side move first. If aggressive, bait them into a rash attack that leaves them in a weak position.

10: Create a threatening presence: Deterrence

Build a reputation for being a little crazy. Fighting you is not worth it. Uncertainty can be better than an explicit threat. If your opponents aren’t sure what attacking you will cost, they will not want to find out.

11: Trade space for time: Nonengagement

Retreat is a sign of strength. Resisting the temptation to respond buys valuable time. Sometimes you accomplish most by doing nothing.

12: Lose battles, but win the war: Grand strategy

Grand strategy is the art of looking beyond the present battle and calculating ahead. Focus on your ultimate goal and plot to reach it.

13: Know your enemy: Intelligence

The target of your strategies is not the army you face, but the mind who runs it. Learn to read people.

14: Overwhelm resistance with speed and suddenness: Blitzkrieg

Speed is power. Striking first, before enemies have time to think or prepare will make them emotional, unbalanced, and prone to error.

15: Control the dynamic: Forcing

Instead of trying to dominate the other side’s every move, work to define the nature of the relationship itself. Control your opponent’s mind, pushing emotional buttons and compelling them to make mistakes.

16: Hit them where it hurts: Center-of-gravity

Find the source of your enemy’s power. Find out what he cherishes and protects and strike.

17: Defeat them in detail: Divide and conquer

Separate the parts and sow dissension and division. Turn a large problem into small, eminently defeatable parts.

18: Expose and attack your opponent’s soft flank: Turning

Frontal assaults stiffen resistance. Instead, distract your enemy’s attention to the front, then attack from the side when they expose their weakness.

19: Envelop the enemy: Annihilation

Create relentless pressure from all sides and close off their access to the outside world. When you sense weakening resolve, tighten the noose and crush their willpower.

20: Maneuver them into weakness: Ripening for the sickle

Before the battle begins, put your opponent in a position of such weakness that victory is easy and quick. Create dilemmas where all potential choices are bad.

21: Negotiate while advancing: Diplomatic war

Before and during negotiations, keep advancing, creating relentless pressure and compelling the other side to settle on your terms. The more you take, the more you can give back in meaningless concessions. Create a reputation for being tough and uncompromising so that people are giving ground even before they meet you.

22: Know how to end things: Exit strategy

You are judged by how well things conclude. Know when to stop. Avoid all conflicts and entanglements from which there are no realistic exits.

23: Weave a seamless blend of fact and fiction: Misperception

Make it hard for your enemies to know what is going on around them. Feed their expectations, manufacture a reality to match their desires, and they will fool themselves. Control people’s perceptions of reality and you control them.

24: Take the line of least expectation: Ordinary-Extraordinary

Upset expectations. First do something ordinary and conventional, then hit them with the extraordinary. Sometimes the ordinary is extraordinary because it is unexpected.

25: Occupy the moral high ground: Righteousness

The cause you are fighting for must seem more just than the enemy’s. Questioning their motives and making enemies appear evil can narrow their base of support and room to maneuver. When you come under moral attack from a clever enemy, don’t whine or get angry–fight fire with fire.

26: Deny them targets: The Void

The feeling of emptiness is intolerable for most people. Give enemies no target to attach. Be dangerous and elusive, and let them chase you into the void. Deliver irritating but damaging side attacks and pinpricks.

27: Seem to work for the interests of others while furthering your own: Alliance

Get others to compensate for your deficiencies, do your dirty work, fight your wars. Sow dissension in the alliances of others, weakening opponents by isolating them.

28: Give your rivals enough rope to hang themselves: One-upmanship

Instill doubts and insecurities in rivals, getting them to think too much and act defensive. Make them hang themselves through their own self-destructive tendencies, leaving you blameless and clean.

29: Take small bites: Fait Accompli

Take small bites to play on people’s short attention span. Before they notice, you may acquire an empire.

30: Penetrate their minds: Communication

Infiltrate your ideas behind enemy lines, sending messages through little details. Lure people into coming to the conclusions you desire and into thinking they’ve gotten there by themselves.

31: Destroy from within: The Inner Front

To take something you want, don’t fight those who have it, but join them. Then either slowly make it your own or wait for the right moment to stage a coup.

32: Dominate while seeming to submit: Passive-Aggression

Seem to go along, offering no resistance, but actually dominate the situation. Disguise your aggression so you can deny that it exists.

33: Sow uncertainty and panic through acts of terror: Chain Reaction

Terror can paralyze a people’s will to resist and destroy their ability to plan a strategic response. The goal is to cause maximum chaos and provoke a desperate overreaction. To counter terror, stay balanced and rational.

Be sure to read the book if you find the outline compelling, Greene goes into great detail illustrating the laws with tangible examples and historic evidence.  His formula for these books works well, and they are easy reads because they are broken into clear sections.  If you haven’t read the 48 Laws of Power, I recommend starting with that.

My basic takeaway from Greene’s books is that learning how others attempt to manipulate the world around us is vital to see the bigger picture, disarm those with the wrong intentions and work to make things better.

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