33 Strategies of War

Date Read: 04/06/2018

How strongly I recommend it: 10/10

The 33 Strategies of War By Robert Greene  is described as a “guide to the subtle social game of everyday life informed by the … military principles in war”. It is composed of discussions and examples on offensive and defensive strategies from a wide variety of people and conditions, applying them to social conflicts such as family quarrels and business negotiations

Here are passages, quotes, etc. that I found interesting or taught me something new from the book. Some are copied directly, some are reworded.


In Sun Tzu’s eyes the ideal of winning is winning without bloodshed. He would play on the psychological weaknesses of his opponent by maneuvering him into precarious positions, by inducing frustration and confusion, getting the opponent to break down mentally before physically. This can win you victory at a much lower cost.


Look at things as they are, not as your enemies color them.


Fear will make you overestimate the enemy and act too defensively. Don’t let anger and a lack of patience force you into rash actions.


Overconfidence, particularly as a result of success, will make you go too far.


The only remedy is to be aware that the pull of emotions is inevitable, to notice when it is happening and to compensate for it.


When you have success, be extra wary.


When you are angry, take no action.


When you are fearful, know you are going to exaggerate the dangers you face.


Judge people by their actions.

What people say about themselves does not matter, people will say anything. Look at what they have done; deeds do not lie.


In looking back at a defeat, you must identify the things you could have done differently. It is your own bad strategies, not the unfair opponent, that are to blame for your failures. You are responsible for the good and bad in your life.


Depend on your own arms.


Everything in life can be taken away from you and generally will be at some point. Your wealth vanishes, the latest gadgetry suddenly becomes passé, your allies desert you. But if your mind is armed with the art of war, there is no power that can take that away. In the middle of a crisis, your mind will find it’s way to the right solution.


What you need is superior strategies.


As Sun Tzu says “being unconquerable lies with yourself”


Elevate yourself above the battlefield. In order to focus on strategy, you need to elevate yourself and focus on the long-term by getting out of the day to day. This takes you out of the reactive mode that daily battles lock you into.


Keeping your overall long-term goals in mind makes it much easier to decide what is worth fighting over.


The greatest battle of all is yourself—your weaknesses, your emotions, your lack of resolution in seeing things through to the end. You must declare unceasing war on yourself. As a warrior in life, you welcome conflict in your life as a way to improve, to better your skills, to gain courage, confidence, experience.


Stop repressing your doubts & fears, face them down, battle with them no one is perfect.


You want more challenges; you invite more war. You are forging the warrior’s spirit and only constant practice will get you there.



What you know must translate into action, and action must translate into knowledge. (it’s like learning things to create new things and in creating new things you learn new things) I got that idea from Derek Sivers at sivers.org

Don’t depend on the enemy not coming, that’s foolish. Depend rather on being ready for him.


Without getting paranoid, you need to realize that there are people who wish you ill and operate indirectly. Identify them and you’ll suddenly have room to maneuver. You can stand back and wait or see or you can take action. You can even work to turn this enemy into a friend.


Never be the naïve victim. Do not find yourself constantly fleeing, and reacting to what other people throw at you. Even be weary of those closest to you, again without being paranoid. Never completely lay down your arms.


People speak in vague terms and are very slippery because it’s a lot safer than outwardly committing to something definite. If you are someone in charge, they will mimic your ideas.


Get them emotional; people are a lot sincerer when they argue.


Adopt the method of Cortes: if friends or followers whom you suspect of ulterior motives suggest something subtly hostile, don’t react, don’t get angry, don’t even ask questions, just go along with it. Your enemies will soon go further, showing more of their hand and now you have them in sight, you can attack.


What limits people is their ability to see things for what they are.


As we grow older, we become more rooted in the past. Habit takes over. Something that has worked for us in the past becomes doctrine for us.


Repetition ends up replacing creativity, but what worked in the past won’t work now. It’s a new time.


Ideas are merely nutrients for the soil: they lie in your brain as possibilities, so that in the heat of the moment they can inspire a direction, an appropriate and creative response. Let go of all fetishes—-books, techniques, formulas, flashy weapons—and learn to become your own strategist in the present moment.


Understand: the best strategists stand out not because they have more knowledge, but because they are able to drop their preconceived notions and focus intensely on the present moment.


When Napoleon was asked what principles of war he followed, he replied NONE. His strength was his ability to respond to the moment, to make the most of what he was given—similarly your only principle should be to have no principles.


When faced with a new situation, it is often best to imagine that you know nothing and that you need to start learning all over again.


Clearing your head of everything you know, even your most cherished ideas, will give you the mental space to be educated by your present experience, the greatest school of all.



Try doing the opposite of what you normally would do in a situation. In those situations, the mind has to deal with a new reality and it snaps to life.


If men make war in slavish observance to rules, they will fail.

-Ulysses S. Grant


It’s really easy to be overwhelmed by everything that faces you in battle, where so many people are asking or telling you what to do. Suddenly you can’t see what’s important or what to execute, your mind is completely scattered in a million directions.


You must learn to detach yourself, see the whole battlefield, the whole picture of what you want the outcome to be with extreme clarity. What gives you that mental distance is preparation and mastering the details beforehand.


By deliberately putting yourself in situations where you have to face fear, you familiarize yourself with it and your anxiety grows less acute. The sensation of overcoming a deep-rotted fear in turn gives you confidence and presence of mind. The more conflicts and difficult situations you put yourself through, the more battle-tested your mind will be.


Being self-reliant is critical. To make yourself less dependent on others, you need to expand your repertoire of skills. And you need to feel more confident in your own judgment. We always overestimate other people’s abilities and we underestimate our own. You must compensate for this by trusting yourself more and others less.

*It’s important to remember that being self-reliant does not mean burdening yourself with petty details. You must be able to distinguish between small matters and larger issues.


The best way to calm down is to force your mind to concentrate something relatively simple, a repetitive task your good at. You are creating the kind of composure you naturally have when your mind is absorbed in a problem. A focused mind has no room for anxiety. Once you have regained your mental balance, you can then face the problem at hand. At the first sign of any kind of fear, practice this technique until it becomes a habit.


Being able to control your imagination at intense moments is a crucial skill.


The key to staying unintimidated is to convince yourself that the person you’re facing is a mere mortal, no different from you—which is the truth. See the person, not the myth. Imagine him or her as a child, as someone who is riddled with insecurities. Cutting the other person down to size, normalizing them just as you do to yourself internally, will help you keep your mental balance.


You must find a way to put yourself in the thick of battle, then watch yourself in action. Look for your own weaknesses, and think about how to compensate for them.


To your enemies: take what throws you off balance and impose it on them. Make them act before their ready. Surprise them—nothing is more unsettling. Find their weaknesses, what makes emotional and give them a double dose.


As a warrior, death is something to embrace, not run from.


Your days are numbered, will you pass them half awake and halfhearted or will you live with a sense of urgency?


Imagine it pressing on you, leaving you no escape—for there is no escape. Feeling death at your heels will make you more certain, more forceful.


This could be your last throw of the dice, make it count.


If our situation is easy and relaxed, if people are friendly and warm, our natural tension unwinds. We may even grow bored. But put yourself in a high stakes situation—a ‘psychological death ground’ and it all changes. Your body responds to danger with energy, your mind focuses.


Often we try too many things at one time, thinking that one of them will bring us success—but in these situations our minds are diffused, our efforts halfhearted. It is better to take on one daunting challenge, even one that others think is foolish. Out future is at stake, we cannot afford to lose. So we don’t.


Act Before You Are Ready


We usually wait too long to act, especially when there is no outside pressure. Not only will you take your opponent by surprise, you will also have to make the most of your resources. Under the pressure your creativity will flourish. Do this often and you will develop your ability to think and act fast.


Keep yourself restless & unsatisfied.


When we are tired, it’s usually because we’re just bored.


When no real challenges face us, mental & physical lethargy sets in.


Make risk & challenge a constant practice, never let yourself settle down.


The risks you keep taking, the challenges you continue to overcome are like symbolic deaths that sharpen your appreciation for life.


Make your enemies think they have all the time in the world, always try to lower their sense of urgency.



For what the leaders are, as a rule, will the men below them be.



Madness is the exception in individuals but the rule in groups.

-Friedrich Nietzsche


You must learn ‘unity of command.’ Divided leadership is the cause of the greatest military defeats of history. The overarching strategic vision must come from you & you alone.


Make the group feel involved in decisions. Seek their advice, incorporating their good ideas, politely deflecting their bad ones. If necessary, make minor, cosmetic strategy changes to assuage the insecure people in the group, but ultimately trust your own vision.


In creating the perfect team, you are looking for people who make up for your own deficiencies.


Lincoln had a strategy, but had no military background and was disdained by experienced generals.


He found his teammate in General Grant who shared his beliefs and who did not have an oversize ego. He put him in and command and let him run the war, staying out of the way.


If you are ever offered a position in which you will have to share command, turn it down, for the enterprise will fail and you will be held responsible.


Napoleon won a lot of battles basically because he leveraged decentralization. He split his soldiers into small teams and let them be run by independent leaders as they saw fit as opposed to the huge clunky armies of the past all in one big mass.


Understand: the future belongs to groups that are fluid, fast, and nonlinear. Slow-moving armies now are defeated.


True believers in your cause are what you want, expertise and impressive resumes matter way less than character and the capacity for sacrifice.

An army is tricky to build. Push them too hard and they resent you, treat them well and they take you for granted. Avoid those traps by making your team want your approval. To do that lead from the front. Work harder than any of your team, and let your team see you doing it, failing to match you makes them feel guilty and selfish. A leader who works that hard also stirs competitive instincts in his men, who do all they can to prove themselves worthier than their teammates.


Personal example is always the best way to set the proper tone and build morale.


When people see your devotion to the cause, they ingest your spirit of energy & self-sacrifice.


Never try to change the group directly-yelling, demanding, disciplining—actually plays into the teenage dynamic and reinforces the desire to rebel.


Make both your punishments and your praises rare and unexpected.


In a world that frowns on displays of overt aggression, the ability to fight defensively—to let others make the first move and then wait for their own mistakes to destroy them—will bring you untold power. You waste neither energy or time; you are always ready for the next inevitable battle. Your career will be long and fruitful.


To fight this way, you must master the arts of deception. By seeming weaker than you are, you can draw the enemy into an ill-advised attack; by seeming stronger than you are—perhaps through an act that is reckless and bold you can deter the enemy from attacking you.


Pick your battles carefully.


We all have limitations—our energies and skills will take us only so far. Danger comes from trying to surpass our limits. Seduced by some glittering prize into overextending ourselves, we end up vulnerable. Consider the hidden costs of a war: time lost, political goodwill squandered, an embittered enemy bent on revenge. Sometimes it’s better to wait, and undermine your enemies covertly.


Certain victories are worse than defeats. They come at too great a cost, you’re too exhausted to exploit the victory, too vulnerable to face the next battle.


The more you want the prize, the more you must compensate by examining what getting it will take.


No person or group is 100% either weak or strong. Every army, no matter how invincible it seems, has a weak point.


Meanwhile, even the weakest group has something it can build on, some hidden strength.


Armies that seem to have to have the edge in money, resources, and firepower tend to be predictable. Relying on their equipment rather than knowledge and strategy, they grow mentally lazy.


It’s not what you have that brings you victory, it’s how you use it.


Pablo Picasso said “even if you are wealthy, act poor.” The poor are more inventive, and often have more fun because they know their limits and value what they have. Sometimes in strategy you have to ignore your greatest strength and force yourself to get the “maximum out of the minimum.”


Even if you have technology, fight the peasant’s war.



The next time you launch a campaign of any sort try this:

Do not think about either your solid goals or your wishful dreams, and do not plan your strategy on paper. Instead think deeply about what you have—the tools and materials you will be working with. Ground yourself in reality. Think of your own skills, any political advantage, the morale of your troops, how creatively you can use the means at your disposal. Then, out of that process, let your plans and goals blossom. Not only will your strategies be more realistic, they’ll be a lot more inventive, creative, and effective. Dreaming first of what you want and then trying to find the means to reach it is a recipe for disaster.


The value of a thing sometimes lies not in what one attains with it—but in what one pays for it—what it costs us.

-Friedrich Nietzche


The Counterattack Strategy


Moving first will often put you at a disadvantage: you are exposing your strategy and limiting your options. Instead, hold back and let the other side move first. Giving you the ability to counter attack from any angle. If your opponents are aggressive, bait them into a rash attack that will leave them in a weak position.


Learn to use their impatience against them. If you learn to hold back, waiting for the right moment to launch an unexpected counterattack, weakness can become strength.


However desperate the situation and circumstances, don’t despair. When there is everything to fear, be unafraid. When surrounded by dangers, fear none of them. When without resources, depend on resourcefulness. When surprised, take the enemy itself by surprise.

-Sun Tzu



Aggression is deceptive: it inherently hides weakness. Aggressors cannot control their emotions. The cannot wait for the right moment, cannot try different approaches, cannot stop how to think to take their enemy by surprise. In that first wave of aggression, they seem strong, but the longer their attack goes on, the clearer their underlying weakness & insecurity become.


It is easy to give in to impatience and make the first move, but there is more strength in holding back, patiently letting the other person make the play.


It requires more energy to take land than to hold it.


A person who can lie back and wait for the right moment to take action will almost always have an advantage over those who give in to their natural impatience.


Once you learn patience, your options suddenly expand. Instead of wearing yourself out in little wars, you can save your energy for the right moment, take advantage of other people’s mistakes, and think clearly in stressful situations. You will opportunities where others see defeat.


When dealing with difficult people, don’t get angry that’s exactly what they want. But also don’t let them just run amok because that gives them even more control.


Instead, encourage their difficult behavior, push them to go even further. This is not what they want. Now they’re doing what you want, which takes the fun out of it.


It’s the jujitsu strategy, you’re using their energy against them.


An enemy seems powerful because he has a particular strength. That strength is a potential weakness, simply because he relies on it. Neutralize it and he is vulnerable. Your task is to put him in a situation in which he cannot use his advantage.


Injuring all of a man’s ten fingers is not as effective as chopping off one.

-Mao Tse-tung


What matters in war or in life, is not how many men you have or how well supplied you are, but how your enemy sees you.


If they think you’re weak, they act aggressive.

If they think you’re suddenly strong, or have hidden resources, they back off.


You can’t control everything, but you can always affect people’s perceptions of you.


When opponents are unwilling to fight with you, it is because they think it is contrary to their interests, or because you have misled them into thinking so.

-Sun Tzu


Trade space for time.


Retreat in the face of a strong enemy is not weakness but of strength. By resisting the temptation to respond to an aggressor, you buy yourself valuable time—time to recover, to think, to gain perspective. Let your enemies advance, time is more important than space.


By refusing to fight, you infuriate them and feed their arrogance. They will soon overextend themselves and start making mistakes. Time will reveal them as rash and you as wise. Sometimes you can accomplish most by doing nothing.



A concept of Taoism is called wei wu- the idea of action through inaction, of controlling a situation by not trying to control it. Wei wu involves the belief that by reacting and fighting against circumstances by constantly struggling in life you actually move backwards, creating more turbulence in your path and difficulties for yourself. Sometimes its best to do nothing but let the winter pass. In such moments you can collect strength.


To remain disciplined and calm while waiting for disorder to appear amongst the enemy is the art of self-possession.

Sun Tzu


Let your opponents win minor battles, while you focus on the entire war. They ‘win’ now but you really win in the long-term.


As Aristotle advised, work to master your emotions and train yourself to think ahead: “this action will advance me toward my goal, this one will lead me nowhere” while keeping your long-term overall goal in mind. Guided by these standards you will be able to stay on course.


You need to be patient enough to plot several steps ahead, to wage a campaign instead of fighting battles.


Your task a grand strategist is to extend your vision in all directions—not only looking further into the future but also seeing more of the world around you, more than your enemy does. You need to look at completely different areas, past & present. If you’re in business, check out what’s going in the arts. If you’re living in 2018, study the 1850’s. You will bring the war to arenas your enemies have ignored, catching them by surprise.


Your behavior in the world always has political consequences, in that the people around you will analyze it in terms of whether it helps or harms them. To win the battle, at the cost of alienating potential allies or creating intractable enemies is never wise.


When an action goes wrong—in business, in politics, in life—trace it back to the policy that inspired it in the first place. That goal was misguided. You have to fix it at the source.


When something goes wrong, look deep into yourself—not in an emotional way, not to blame yourself or indulge your feelings of guilt, but to make sure that you start your next campaign with a firmer step and greater vision.


Know Your Enemy.

The target of your strategies should be less the army you face than the mind of the man or woman who runs it.


Train yourself to read people, picking up the signals they unconsciously send about their innermost thoughts and intentions.


Failing to understand the ways other people are not like us, we are surprised when they don’t respond as we imagined. We unintentionally offend and alienate people, then blame them, not our inability to understand them for the damage done.


Every individual is like an alien culture. You must get inside his or her way of thinking out of strategic necessity. Only by knowing your enemies can you ever vanquish them.


Be submissive so that he will trust you and thereby learn about his true situation. Accept his ideas and respond to his affairs as if you were twins. Once you have learned everything, subtly gather in this power. Thus when the ultimate day arrives, it will seem as if Heaven itself destroyed him.

Tai Kung, Six Secret Teachings


Metternich had a way of listening attentively, making apt comments, even complimenting Napoleon on his strategic insights. At those moments, Napoleon would beam inside: here was a man who could truly appreciate his genius. He began to crave Metternich’s presence.


The less a thing is foreseen, the more…. fright does it cause. This is nowhere seen better than in war, where every surprise strikes terror even to those who are much the stronger.



Frederick Douglass had noticed that slaveholders often “prefer to whip those who are most easily whipped.” Now he had learned the lesson for himself: never again would he be submissive. Suck weakness only encouraged the tyrants to go further. He would rather risk death, returning blow for blow with his fists or his wits.


Erickson often dealt with patients whom someone else had forced to seek his help as a psychiatrist. Resentful of this, they would withhold information.


He would insist they withhold any sensitive information. The patients would then feel trapped: by keeping secrets they were obeying the therapist, which was just the opposite of what they wanted to do.


What separates a mediocre general from a superior one is not their strategies or maneuvers—but their vision—they simply look at the same problem from a different angle. Freed from the stranglehold of convention, the superior general hits on the right strategy.


When you look at you rivals, do not be distracted by their punch. To engage in any exchange of punches, in life or in war, is the height of stupidity and waste. Power depends on balance and support; so look at what is holding your enemy up, and remember that what holds him up can also make him fall.


Divide-and Rule Strategy

Start by seeming to take your opponents side on some issue. Once there, create doubt about some pair of their argument, tweaking and diverting it a bit. This will lower their resistance and maybe create a little inner conflict about a cherished idea or belief making them open to further suggestion and guidance.


Think of people’s egos and vanity as a kind of front. When they are attacking you, and you don’t know why, it is often because you have inadvertently threatened their ego, their sense of importance in the world. Whenever possible, you must work to make people feel secure about themselves. Again, use whatever works: subtle flattery, a gift, an unexpected promotion, an offer of alliance, a presentation of you and they as equals, mirroring of their ideas and values. All of these things will make them lower their defenses and like you more.


So to win a hundred victories in a hundred battles is not the highest excellence, the highest excellence is to subdue to enemy’s army without fighting at all.




Understand: in life as in war, nothing ever happens as you expect it to. People’s responses are odd or surprising, your staff commits outrageous acts of stupidity, on and on. If you meet the dynamic situations of life with plans that are rigid, if you think of only holding static positions you are doomed.


The greatest power you can have in any conflict is the ability to confuse your opponents about your intentions.


To accomplish this, you must maneuver with just one purpose: to keep them guessing. You get them to chase you in circles, you say the opposite of what you mean to do; you threaten one area while shooting for another. You create maximum disorder.


People will always try to take from you in negotiation what they could not get from you in battle or direct confrontation. They will even use appeals to fairness and morality as a cover to advance their positions.


Do not be taken in: negotiation is about maneuvering for power or placement, and you must always put yourself in the kind of strong position that makes it possible for the other side to nibble away at your during your talks. Before and during negotiations, you must 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 back on their heals before they even meet you.


People will break their word if it serves their interests, and they will find any moral or legal excuse to justify their moves, sometimes to themselves as well as to others.


If you are strong, take as much as you can before & during negotiations—then later you can give back some of what you took, conceding the things you least value to make yourself look generous. Do not worry about your reputation or about creating distrust. It’s amazing how quickly people will forget your broken promises when you are strong and in a position to offer them something in their self-interest.


Success in negotiation depends on the level of preparation. If you enter with vague notions as to what you want, you will find yourself shifting from position to position depending on what the other side brings to the table. You may drift to a position that seems appropriate but does not serve your interests in the end.


Before anything else you must anchor yourself by determining with utmost clarity your long-term goals and the leverage you have for reaching them. That clarity will keep you patient and calm. It also let you toss people concessions that seem generous but actually come cheap, for they don’t hurt your goals. Before negotiations, study your opponents.


Uncover their weaknesses and unfulfilled desires, this will give you a different kind of leverage: the ability to confuse them, make them emotional, and seduce them with pieces of tile. If possible, play a bit of the fool: the less people understand you and where you are headed, the more room you have to to maneuver them into corners.



Everyone wants something without having any idea how to obtain it, and the really intriguing aspect of the situation is that nobody quite knows how to achieve what he desires. But because I know what I want and what the others are capable of I am completely prepared.



Those who believe niceness breeds niceness are doomed to failure in any kind of negotiation, let alone in life. People to in a nice and conciliatory way only when it is in their interest and when they have to do so. Your goal is to create that imperative by making it painful for them to fight.


If you ease up the pressure out of a desire to be conciliatory and gain their trust, you only give them an opening to procrastinate, deceive and take advantage of your niceness. Over the centuries those who have fought wars have learned this lesson the hard way.



Let us not consider ourselves victorious until the day after battle, nor defeated until four days later…Let us always carry the sword in one hand and the olive branch in the other, always ready to negotiate but negotiating only while advancing



How exactly will your engagement end, and where will it leave you? If the answers to those questions seem vague and full of speculation, if success seems too alluring and failure somewhat dangerous, you are more than likely taking a gamble. Your emotions are leading you into a situation that could end up a quagmire.


Never let pride or concern for your reputation pull your farther into the morass; both will suffer far greater blows by your persistence. Short-term defeat is better than long-term disaster. Wisdom is knowing when to end.


Lyndon Johnson looked at the world much differently: the ending was not like a wall but more like a door, leading to the next phase or battle. What mattered to him was not gaining a victory, but where it left him.


If after he won the election, he had basked in the moment of triumph, he would have sown the seeds of failure in the next election. He had made too many enemies—so he worked to win these men over.


By understanding that any victory or defeat is temporary, and that what matters is what you do with them, you will find it easier to keep yourself balanced during the thousands of battles that life entails.





1st are the dreamers and talkers, who begin their projects with a burst of enthusiasm. But this burst of energy quickly peters out as they encounter the real world and the hard work needed to bring any project to an end. They are emotional creatures who live mainly in the moment; they easily lose interest as something new grabs their attention. Their lives are littered with half-finished projects, including some that barely make it beyond a day dream.


2nd are those who bring whatever they do to a conclusion, either because they have to or because they can manage the effort. But they cross the finish line with distinctly less enthusiasm and energy than they had starting out. This mars the end of the campaign. Because they are impatient to finish, the ending seems hurried and patched together. And it leaves other people feeling slightly unsatisfied; it is not memorable, does not last, has no resonance.


3rd comprises those who understand a primary law of power and strategy: the end of something— a project, a campaign, a conversation has inordinate importance for people. It resonates in the mind. A war can begin with great fanfare and can bring many victories but if it ends badly, that is all anyone remembers. Knowing the importance in the ending of anything, these people understand that the issue is not simply finishing what they have started but finishing it well—with energy, a clear head, and an eye on the afterglow, the way the event will linger in people’s minds. These types invariably begin with a clear plan. When setbacks come, as setbacks will, they are able to stay patient and think rationally. They plan not just the end but past it, to the aftermath. These are the ones who create things that last—a meaningful peace, a memorable work of art, a long and fruitful career.


If you see that defeat is inevitable, it is often best to go down swinging. That way you end on a high note even as you lose. This helps to rally the troops, giving them hope for the future.


You do not have to experience physical martyrdom, but a display of heroism and energy makes defeat into a moral victory that will soon enough translate into a concrete one. Planting the seeds of future victory in present defeat is strategic brilliance of the highest order.


What we wish, we readily believe and what we ourselves think, we imagine others think also.

-Julius Caesar


In the battles of daily life, making people think they are smarter than you—smarter, stronger, more competent—is often wise. It gives you breathing space to lay your plans, to manipulate.



You should present a face to the world that promises the opposite of what you are actually planning. If you are getting ready to attack, seem unprepared for a fight or too comfortable and relaxed to be plotting war. Appear calm and friendly.


The decoy attack is also a critical strategy in daily life, where you must retain the power to hide your intentions. To keep people from defending the points you want to attack, you must follow the military model and make real gestures toward a goal that does not interest you.



According to Machiavelli, human beings naturally tend to think in terms of patterns. They like to see events conforming to their expectations by fitting into a pattern or scheme.


He then used a strategy based on this called “acclimatization” —deliberately creating some pattern to make your enemies believe that your next action will follow true to form. Having lulled them into complacency, you now have room to work against their expectations, break the pattern, and take them by surprise.



First, do something ordinary and conventional to fix their image of you, then hit them with the extraordinary. The terror is greater for being so sudden. Never rely on an unorthodox strategy that worked before—it is conventional the second time around. Sometimes the ordinary is extraordinary because it’s unexpected.


The ordinary and extraordinary are only effective if they play off each other in a constant spiraling manner.


To gain attention with some cultural product, you have to create something new, but something with no reference to ordinary life is not in fact unconventional, but merely strange. What is truly shocking and extraordinary unfolds out of the ordinary. The intertwining of the ordinary and extraordinary is the very definition of surrealism.


You must fight the psychological aging process even more than the physical one, for a mind full of stratagems, tricks, and fluid maneuvers will keep you young. Make a point of breaking the habits you have developed, of acting in a way that is contrary to how you have operated in the past; practice a kind of unconventional warfare on your own mind. Keep the wheels turning and churning the soil so that nothing settles and clumps into the conventional.


Even as a child, Muhammad Ali got perverse pleasure out of being different. He liked the attention it got him, but most of all he just liked being himself: odd and independent. When he began to train as a boxer, at the age of twelve, he was already refusing to fight in the usual way, flouting the rules. A boxer usually keeps his gloves up toward his head and upper body, ready to parry a blow. Ali liked to keep his hands low, apparently inviting attack.


Understand: as children and adults we are told to conform to certain codes of behavior and ways of doing things. We learn that being different comes with a social price. But there is a greater price to pay for slavishly conforming: we lose the power that comes from our individuality, from a way of doing things that is authentically our own. We fight like everyone else, which makes us predictable and conventional.


If your peculiarity is authentic enough, it will bring you attention & respect—the kind the crowd always has for the unconventional and extraordinary.


It is the elusive side in war, no matter how weak or small it’s force, that controls the dynamic.



The best way to advance your cause with the minimum of effort and bloodshed is to create a constantly shifting network of alliances, getting others to compensate for your deficiencies, do your dirty work, fight your wars, spend energy pulling you forward. The art is in choosing those allies who fit the needs of the moment and fill the gaps in your power. Give them gifts, offer them friendship, and help them in time of need—all to blind them to reality and put them under subtle obligation to you.


Understand: the perfect allies are those who give you something you cannot get on your own. They have the resources you lack. They will do the dirty work for you or fight your battles. Like the Swiss, they are not always the most obvious or the most powerful. Be creative and look for allies to whom you in turn have something to offer as well, creating a link of self-interest.


The forces of a powerful ally can be useful and good to those who have recourse to them…but are perilous to those who become dependent on them.

-Niccolo Machiavelli



When you look for an ally, you have a need, an interest you want met. This is a practical, strategic matter upon which your success depends. If you allow emotions and appearances to infect the kinds of alliances you form, you are in danger. Separate friendship from need.



It’s common strategy in bicycle races not to go out in front but to stay right behind the leader, a position that cuts down wind resistance—the leader faces the wind and saves you energy. At the last minute you sprint ahead. Letting other people cut resistance for you and waste their energy on your behalf is the height of strategy.


Beware of sentimental alliances where the consciousness of good deads is the only compensation for noble sacrifices.



Always look at the tangible benefits you will gain from an alliance. If the benefits seem vague or hard to realize, think twice about joining forces.



Life’s greatest dangers often come not from external enemies, but from our supposed colleagues and friends who pretend to work for the common cause while scheming to sabotage us and steal our ideas for their gain. Although in the court which you serve, you must maintain the appearance of consideration and civility, you also must learn to defeat these people. Work to instill doubts and insecurities in such rivals, getting them to think too much and act defensively. Bait them with subtle challenges that get under their skin, triggering an overreaction, an embarrassing mistake. The victory you are after is to isolate them. Make them hang themselves through their own self-destructive tendencies, leaving you blameless and clean.


We often give our rivals the means of our own destruction.



Take Small Bites.


If you seem too ambitious, you stir up resentment. Often the best solution is to take small bites, swallow little territories, playing upon people’s short attention span. Stay under the radar and they won’t see your moves. And if they do, it will be too late; the territory is yours. Before people realize it, you have accumulated an empire.


As Hitchcock discovered, to teach people a lesson, to really alter their behavior, you need to inject unforgettable images into their minds, aim at their emotions, shake them up.


If you want to communicate an important idea, you must not preach. Instead make your readers or listeners connect the dots and come to the conclusion on their own.


During WWII when the Germans bombed London, psychologist noted that when the bombing was frequent and somewhat regular people became numb to it. But when it was sporadic, fear became terror.

To paralyze your enemy’s will, create uncertainty.




















































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