The 33 Strategies of War

“Infobox Book “
name The 33 Strategies of War
image caption Cover to The 33 Strategies of War
author Robert Greene
country United States
language English
genre Business, Management, Military History, Psychology, self-improvement
publisher Penguin Group (HC); HighBridge Audio (CD)
release date January and April 2006
media type Print (Hardcover) and CD
pages 496
isbn 0670034576 (HC); 9781598870916 (CD)

The 33 Strategies of War is a book which was published in 2006 by the American author, Robert Greene, a best-selling writer who has authored several books on power dynamics and how people interact with each other, including The Art of Seduction and The 48 Laws of Power. The 33 Strategies of War focuses on different approaches to conflict between human beings, whether these be state conflicts in the form of war, or interpersonal conflict between people and communities. Throughout Greene uses historical analogies, exemplars and case studies to explain the different offensive maneuvers which individuals can use during conflict and defensive tactics which can be employed in response to aggression.

Greene’s book mirrors the political thought of ancient writers such as the ancient Chinese writer, Sun Tzu, who in The Art of War hypothesized that much of life was about conflict, even in situations where war was not occurring between two parties. Greene mirrors this in suggesting in The 33 Strategies of War that we are always in a war, whether it be with friends, enemies, family members or co-workers. Admitting this, Greene notes, can be an unpleasant thing to have to do, but in reality we have all ended up in conflict with people who are close to us from time to time and have even betrayed family members and friends. Once the reality of this perpetual conflict is realized Greene argues we can move on to develop strategies for the wars we fight in our personal lives.

Greene then goes on to discuss 33 different strategies for engaging in war and conflict with others. Throughout he argues that people must be aggressive and smart in how they do this. They always need to keep their long-term goals, no matter what they might be, in mind. The goal is to outwit your opponent and if possible acquire victory without ever having to engage in a direct confrontation which could be harmful to you. Throughout he uses extensive historical examples to elucidate his points, notably referring to Napoleon Bonaparte, the Emperor of France who conquered most of Europe in the early nineteenth century, and Alexander the Great, the Macedonian ruler and general who in the late fourth century BC conquered most of the known world at the time.

Throughout his work Greene argues that in order to be victorious in any conflict people need to develop a certain set of skills and abilities. For instance, in order to stand the best chance of defeating your opponent you should keep your imagination under control and always be able to think quickly. The end result of any engagement is what matters, not the means used to achieve it. In arguing this Greene is very clearly drawing on the infamous political tract written by the Florentine politician and philosopher, Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, in the early sixteenth century.

As much as military leaders rely on their own ruthlessness and abilities, Greene is also anxious to highlight how great leaders need to leverage the power of their team and their subordinates to achieve their goals. He accordingly highlights examples of how figures like Napoleon and Alexander the Great delegated tasks and authority to their generals and officials in order to conquer much of Europe, North Africa and Asia.

Another major argument of Greene’s extensive book is that it is important to develop a grand strategy and not to become overly focused on the day to day struggles of life. Such a grand strategy necessarily must involve goals and milestones in order to move forwards towards the end point of victory and achievement. Expanding his argument beyond war and conflict Greene notes that businesses and entrepreneurs often fail because they have goals which haven’t been well thought out or lack detail. For instance, it is one thing to say that you intend to become the market leader in selling smartphones in your city, but if you don’t have a detailed plan for how to achieve this through actionable behavior then you are probably doomed to failure.

Thus, as Greene makes clear as the book goes on, his 33 Strategies for War is as much a discussion of how to achieve victory in business and civil life in the modern world, as it is a meditation on the nature of conflict and how to emerge victorious from conflict. In all instances what Greene is adamant about is that clear, relevant strategies need to be in place in order to win.

Synopses of the Strategies

Part One: Self-Directed Warfare

Identify and fight your opponents, but when you have won act conciliatory.

1) Declare War on Your Enemies: The Polarity Strategy. To fight you must know and identify your opponents. Greene identifies:

  • The Inner Enemy. Hired to fight the Persians in 401bce, Xenophon had to turn a mercenary band of Greeks into a unified group fighting for self-preservation. They had to identify the opponent, determine the reasons for their fight and battle their own issues.
  • The Outer Enemy. Margaret Thatcher, defined her fight and her opponent. She fought relentlessly for what she felt was right not backing down in the face of opposition driving her tasks to completion.
  • Keys to Warfare
  • Define your opponent.
  • If in doubt, test to ensure he is your opponent.
  • Having opponents implies your importance, maintain your focus.
  • Use your opponents to distract attention from you.
No complete reversal, do not fight the last war, learn from it.

2) Do Not Fight the Last War: The Guerrilla-War-of-the-Mind Strategy. Tactics age, keep tactics fresh and always develop new ones.

  • The Last War. In 1806 Prince Friedrich Ludwig of Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen fought Napoleon, but his strategies were those of Frederick the Great and were old and tired. Napoleon’s innovative strategies outwitted him.
  • The Present War. In 1605 Miyamoto Musashi, a samurai, had series of defining duels. He developed a pattern for his fighting, but would regularly change his tactics to confound and confuse his opponents. His continual adaptation of his tactics afforded his opponents no comfort.
  • Keys to Warfare
  • Drop preconceived notions.
  • Forget the last war.
  • Re-examine beliefs and principles.
  • Keep inventing new plans.
  • Adapt to current times.
  • Reverse course doing the opposite of what has been done before.
The only reversal is to use this against others, intimidate them and raise their paranoia to allow them to intimidate themselves.

3) Amidst the Turmoil of Events, Do Not Lose Your Presence of Mind: The Counterbalance Strategy. You must stay focused, define your goals and have the confidence to achieve those goals. With this in place, strive toward that goal relentlessly.

  • Hyper-Aggressive Tactic. Lord Nelson in the 1801 battle at Copenhagen disobeyed orders from a self-concern superior (Sir Hyde Parker). His confidence and leadership defeated the Danish navy.
  • Detached Buddha Tactic. Film director Alfred Hitchcock always had a complete understanding and plan for his movies. He knew the look and feel that he wanted to achieve. His methodical approach, though confusing to others, gave him a calm demeanor on the set.
  • Keys to Warfare
  • Do not get frustrated by people less strategic or foolish, use them to your advantage.
  • Seek out the conflict, do not hide from it.
  • Maintain presence of mind, do not let yourself be intimidated by yourself or others.
  • Do not panic, focus on what you are confident in.
  • Develop a quick reaction sense, make decisions.
  • Rely only on yourself, minimize reliance on others.
Be aware that when you are the aggressor and your opponent has nothing to lose, this strategy will work for them.

4) Create a Sense of Urgency and Desperation: The Death-Ground Strategy. When there are no other options, people fight harder. If the choice is life or death they have nothing to lose.

  • No Return Tactic. In 1504 Hernán Cortés used this tactic as he removed the ability of his 500 men to return to Cuba. They had to fight the Aztecs even though grossly out numbered.
  • Death at Your Heals. Fyodor Dostoevsky‘s near execution fortified his resolve to make each work as if it were his last. The intimate experience with his mortality allowed him to rise above life’s trivialities.
  • Keys to Warfare
  • Take the one and only chance approach.
  • Do not wait to be ready, act sooner.
  • Act as if it is you against the world.
  • Stay restless, do not seek comfort.

Part Two: Organizational (Team) Warfare

It is never good to give up authority.
Look at your opponents that are allied and determine ways to split them based on the weaknesses in their alliance.

5) Avoid The Snare of Groupthink: The Command-and-Control Strategy. Take command and control. Do not be too authoritarian and not too weak

  • The Broken Chain. In early World War I (1915) the British attacked Constantinople attempting to open access to the Black Sea to supply Russia and to facilitate attacking the Germans from the East. But General Ian Hamilton led his command by delegating details to subordinates. This resulted in lack of understanding of the tactical objectives of securing Tekke Tepe, hence losing the battle.
  • Remote Control. Throughout his career General George Marshall established a set of protégés carefully teaching them his philosophy of command. This created the ability for him to know and trust the actions of his subordinates. Eventually allowing him to place generals, like Dwight Eisenhower, in positions of extreme authority knowing the situation would be run according to his beliefs and style.
  • Keys to Warfare
  • Create a chain of command.
  • Look for people to fill your voids of knowledge, rely on them but do not become captive to them.
  • Divided leadership is dangerous.
  • Ensure you get rapid information from the trenches.
  • Be wary of the politically inclined in your midst.
At times, especially when change of tactics is required, the team may need to be tighten, brought together to become one again.

6) Segment Your Forces: The Controlled-Chaos Strategy. Smaller units are more agile, mobile and deft.

  • Calculated Disorder. In 1805 Napoleon was being attacked by the Austrian troops under Karl Mack. The former divided his troops and supplied them with specific instructions. Surrounding the Austrian troops who surrendered at the Battle of Ulm with little fighting.
  • Keys to Warfare
  • Keep yourself in a position of force (Sun Tzu‘s Shih)
  • Instill the philosophy of following commands “in spirit” not “by the letter”
  • Create enmity in the troops so that when they are apart they follow the same philosophy
Morale spreads, but so does discontent. At the first sign of discontent quell it. In 58 bce Julius Caesar actually arrested his rumormongers.

7) Transform Your War into a Crusade: Morale Strategies. Create an atmosphere of fighting for something noble—a cause or a need. Respect your troops.

  • The Art of Man Management. Be a leader 1) fight for a cause, 2) provide for the team, 3) lead by example, 4) focus the team’s energy, avoid idleness, 5) feed the emotions to feed the cause. 6) reward and punish sparingly, but let the team know they exist, 7) build team history and use it to bond, 8) remove the disaffected.
  • Historical Examples.
  • 1630: Oliver Cromwell, who had little British military background, joined the military to lead a crusade of the Puritans. He recruited like minded individuals and commanded a formidable unit.
  • 1931: Lyndon Johnson kept his teams working hard by keeping praise illusive and fostering competition to get that praise.
  • 281bce: Building spirit for the upcoming fight, Hannibal provided competitive war games for his troops to show them the lengths that people would go to join their army.
  • 1950: North American football’s Green Bay Packers hired Vince Lombardi who treated all players equally and made them all earn respect and praise. He used the fear of public reprimand to keep team members in line.
  • 1796: Napoleon energized his troops with the “Spirit of the Republic” for their battles, often visiting troops or wounded so they would see his energy and build their morale.

Part Three: Defensive Warfare

One can win an expensive battle, but it is usually not worth the risk. Try to spend your opponent’s assets, draw them into the battle, bait them to fight the expensive fight.

8) Pick Your Battles: The Perfect Economy Strategy. Fight economically, conserving all your assets. Know your strengths and play to them. War consists of weakening the other side—militarily, financially and morally.

  • Spiral Effect. In 280bce Pyrrhus of Epirus acted as a mercenary to the city of Tarentum about to go to war with Rome. He was drawn into a series of battles by his ego and guided by inadequate intelligence. He won the battles, but his army was decimated. The final war, the Pyrrhic War, ruined him forever and was the genesis of the term “pyrrhic victory“.
  • Strengths and Weaknesses. Queen Elizabeth I ascended to the thrown of England in 1558, at that time a secondary military power. Against her advisors she waited and did not engage Philip II of Spain. Instead she looked for more subtle ways of damaging him, she enlisted the royal Navy to run pirate raids on his ships returning from the New World and using other less conventional techniques to destroy the Spanish Armada. Queen Elizabeth I carefully picked her battles to conserve resources and slowly decimate and superior force.
  • Keys to Warfare
  • Make do with what you have. Leverage your assets.
  • Do not rely on technology and equipment, rely on your knowledge.
  • Balance your ends to your means. Do not get over extended.
  • Use deception where you do not have the economic means to expand.
  • Do not proceed only out of pride. Stop before it gets worse.
  • Know your limits.
  • .
There are times when one needs to strike first, but try to draw your opponent into the first strike, on your terms. If this does not work re-assess your options for an offensive approach.

9) Turn the Tables: The Counterattack Strategy. Moving first shows your opponent your strategy. Wait; draw them to make the first move. Analyze their strategy and counterattack based on the weaknesses they reveal.

  • History shows that defenders usually win the war.
  • Turn the aggressor’s anger against them.
  • Remove your emotions.
  • Attempt to draw your opponent into battle by their anger.
  • Keep calm, irritating and frustrating your opponent.
  • Deceive your opponent into attacking.
Risk is inherent in making yourself look foolish and threatening. Without action you will condition people to ignore you. You need to take action on occasion.

10) Create a Threatening Presence: Deterrence Strategies. Make people think they will lose, bluff if needed. People want an easy victory and will not attack if they think they will lose.

  • Reverse Intimidation. 1) Make bold maneuvers and bluff wisely, 2) be a threat, make sudden moves, imply aggression, 3) move irrationally, create unpredictability, act crazy, 4) Feed your opponent’s paranoia by indicating capabilities that they are afraid of, 5) maintain a bad reputation, mean, nasty and non-negotiable.
  • Deterrence and Reverse Intimidation in Practice
  • 1862 in the American Civil War Stonewall Jackson acted strong and played to George McClellan‘s weak points focusing on his anxiety and timid nature.
  • In the 13th century, Robert the Bruce made great strides with a ragtag army against the British armies and King Edward II. His efforts eventual brought him recognition (from King Edward III). Most of the gains by Robert the Bruce were through bold raids, swift incursions and combination of offensive and defensive actions.
  • In 1874 Louis XI of France used Duke of Milan‘s ambassador to France, Christopher Bollate, to carry fabricated rumors about France’s suspicions of the Duke‘s intentions, threatening attack and irrational actions. This helped maintain a peaceful alliance.
  • John Boyd was assigned to work in The Pentagon to design a new fighter and found the politics difficult. He used a strategy of playing dumb, but heavily researching issues purposed by others and plotting tactics to kill the initiatives.
Retreat is not an end, unless your goal is martyrdom. Your plan must include an attack. Fighting for martyrdom has a grander cause you will never see.

11) Trade Space for Time: The Nonenagement Strategy. Retreat will gain the advantage of thinning your opponent’s forces and lengthening their supply and communication lines allowing your forces to concentrate. Not fighting, when they know you can, will aggravate your opponent and increase the chance of them making an irrational move.

  • Retreat to solidify troops and support.
  • Frustrate the opponent by refusing to fight.
  • Draw out supply and communication lines of opponent.
  • Create condition for increased error on the opponent’s side.

Part Four: Offensive Warfare

Having a grand strategy can result in success that creates 1) too many options and resulting indecision, and 2) a “drunkenness” on success and reckless behavior.

12) Lose The Battles But Win The War: Grand Strategy. Have a bigger plan.

  • Great Campaign. Alexander the Great developed a new strategy of looking far forward, differentiating him from other leaders. He first gained the ground he needed (territorially and emotionally) but did not increase his holdings to a point that they could not be governed. He did not fight battles he could not win, for instance devising plans to capture the major Mediterranean ports; effectively nullifying the Persian navy.
  • Total Warfare . In 1968 during the Viet Nam war Vo Nguyen Giap executed a country-wide offensive on the Tet holiday. Although having to retreat from their gains, the offensive was designed confuse the US and South Vietnamese armies and to play to the US media. It was quite successful.
  • Keys to Warfare
  • Look past what appears to be the threat and find the source and attack it.
  • Look beyond the opponent’s horizon.
  • Make your actions hard to follow, do not expose your strategy.
  • Have purpose and goal, looking far into the future.
You must be formless and difficult to read, spread false information to lead other’s astray.

13) Know Your Enemy: The Intelligence Strategy. Know your opponent’s moves and do not let your motives be known. Understand their way of thinking.

  • The Mirrored Enemy. In 1838 the British invasion of Afghanistan (led by Lord Auckland) was to reinstate western friendly Shuja Shah Durrani, deposing the current leader Dost Mohammad Khan. But Auckland did not understand the Afghan people or their culture, making numerous mistakes. The result was his death and the return of Dost Mohammad to power.
  • Close Embrace. Between 1806 and 1813 Prince Metternich met with Napoleon in hopes of understanding him and finding points of weakness that he could exploit. Eventually he assisted in orchestrating Napoleon’s marriage to Marie Louise. Metternich used this and other knowledge to the advantage of Austria allowing them to build an army and join a greater alliance in Europe eventually leading to the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo.
  • Keys to Warfare
  • Gather knowledge of your opponent.
  • Learn to read people, learn them.
  • Hide your observations.
  • Strive for quality of information, not quantity.
  • Be aware of internal spies and disarm them.
  • Submerge yourself in their mind.
Slow erratic start that is non-predictive, speed is imperative.

14) Overwhelm Resistance With Speed and Suddenness: The Blitzkrieg Strategy. Slow methodical start with a well-planned attack, move fast and sure.

  • Slow-slow-quick-quick. In 1218 Genghis Khan attacked and defeated the more powerful Muhammad II of Khwarezm starting with a series of small deliberate attacks that looked like losses. He then made more serious and speedy attacks to defeat Muhammad II.
  • Keys to Warfare
  • Small units provide mobility.
  • Must have superior coordination.
  • Quick orders through light chains of command.
There is no reversal, you must have control, although you may not want to show it.

15) Control the Dynamic: Forcing Strategies. Be in control. Be assertive. Control your opponent’s mind. Move them into your territory.

  • The Art Of Ultimate Control. Make the first move, fight on your territory where you are comfortable, look for your opponent’s weakness and draw them into it, deceive your opponent to make them think they are in control.
  • Historical Examples
  • In 1942 during World War II, Rommel used smaller units on the North Africa deserts to strike the British. He kept the units moving continuously, like ships at sea, reducing the ability to attack them. Often he rode with the front line of attack in order to shorten the information chain.
  • While working on the Paramount Pictures film Night After Night, in 1932, Mae West slowly made moves to change the dynamic of power into her court. Eventually she took over significant portions of the films writing.
  • During the American Civil War, General Sherman faced off with General Johnston in battles over Richmond, Virginia. He played to Johnston’s paranoia and his overall defensive nature. He continued the tactics against General Hood in Atlanta, Georgia and took the city in a surprise move.
  • The slave Frederick Douglass, originally owned by Thomas Auld, was sent to be “broken” by Edward Covey. After many battles, Douglass became openly defiant to Covey, fearing death and having nothing to lose Covey fought Covey and achieved victory simply by creating a situation where Covey would lose his reputation as a slave breaker.
  • Psychiatrist Milton H. Erickson used, hypnotherapy among other techniques, to help his patients. Occasionally his patients would not cooperate with his therapy. He would gain control through various means including hypnosis, deception and reversal.
No reversal, everyone regardless of structure has a center of gravity.

16) Hit Them Where it Hurts: The Center of Gravity Strategy. Attack the central point, be it the command center, supply lines, belief system. Capture and destroy it.

  • Find the center point of your opponent and attack it—be it communication, media, supply lines.
Dividing your team can generate a deft and mobile force.

17) Defeat Them in Detail: The Divide and Conquer Strategy. Look at the parts and determine how to control the individual parts, create dissension and leverage it.

  • Romans divided the power base of their captured areas so that no one area had the power to attack.
  • Divide groups and they are easier to conquer.
  • Historically people have banded together to defend themselves, deny them this comfort.
  • Surprise and splinter the group attacking the pieces.
Occupying the opponent’s position can reverse on you by making you look too much like them, losing differentiating factors.

18) Expose and Attack Your Enemy’s Soft Flank: The Turning Strategy. Bait for a frontal attack, get your opponent to extend his ranks and in the distraction have your forces attack his exposed flank or rear.

  • Turning the Flank. In 1796 Baron Joseph Alvinczy attempting to dispel the French from Verona was drawn forward by Napoleon in the Battle of Arcola, exposing his flank and allowing Napoleon to surround and defeat him.
  • Occupying the Flank. Julius Caesar perfected the art of indirect fighting. Although there were many times when he enlisted the direct method, there are many cases where he fought indirectly. Notably were the power struggles with Pompey. Much of his work was done by showing Pompey’s men his kindness and honest treatment of his troops. This worked to get many of his opponent’s troops to surrender.
  • Keys to Warfare
  • Indirection is the key to modern day business battles (Victor Emmanuel II of Italy used the Countess de Castiglione) to influence Napoleon III (note: the book says Napoleon II, but this is in error) to place him as the King of Italy)
  • Use charm and flattery to lure you opponent to drop guard
  • Show your opponent’s bad traits (Hernán Cortés‘ appointment of a treasurer to collect Velázquez‘s taxes)
No reversal. Without 100% success you are left open to reprisal.

19) Envelop The Enemy: The Annihilation Strategy. Maintain constant pressure on your opponent to defeat their will power.

  • Horns of the Beast. In 1778 the British in Natal wanted to absorb the Zulu territories. In the Battle of Isandlwana the Zulu used their knowledge of the land to surround, surprise and rout the British.
  • Keys to Warfare
  • The psychology of enclosure is strong. John D. Rockefeller used this tactic continually to “surround” potential competition by buying land and infrastructure they needed to compete with him.
  • Use what you have in abundance.
  • Create the feeling of being surrounded by creating attacks from nowhere.
There is no advantage of a direct attack. Maneuvering, though, can give you too many options and can paralyze your advance.

20) Maneuver Them Into Weakness: The Ripening For the Sickle Strategy. Continue calculated moves in your position. This will enable you to control the situation and bewilder and exhaust your opponent.

  • Maneuver Warfare .
  • Create flexible plans with many options.
  • Make plans that keep your opponent in check and always on a new defensive.
  • Make plans that give you room to maneuver.
  • Make plans with slight irrationality to puzzle your opponent.
  • Examples
  • In 1800 Napoleon had to defeat the Austrian armies in Italy. He made his plans and nearly everything went wrong. But Napoleon had made enough alternate plans and he kept maneuvering to the new situations at hand and he defeated them at Marengo where is original plans had predicted he would.
  • In the 1936 US Presidential campaign the Republican Party nominated Alf Landon to run against incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt (D). Landon tried to defeat Roosevelt by supporting the New Deal but criticizing the creator (FDR). Roosevelt waited until Landon did not have enough time to move from this stance and attacked.
  • In World War I the British tried to capture Aqaba from the Turks. T. E. Lawrence, fluent in Arabic and familiar with the tribes of the Syrian Desert, used a small army to move quickly through the desert and antagonize the Turks. His fast maneuvering denied the Turks a target and he was able to cut their supply lines resulting in the surrender of Aqaba.
  • In 1937 Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures hired Leo McCarey to direct The Awful Truth The script was poor and McCarey had to figure out how to improve the script. He routinely made changes at the last minute and would wait to shoot until he felt it was right. This ploy gave the movie spontaneity and drove it to success.
  • Tsukahara Bokuden, a master samurai, was challenged by a young unnamed swordsman. Bokuden practiced Mutekatsu-ryu and moved the challenge to an island. As his challenger stepped from the boat, Bokuden pushed the boat away from the shore, stranding (and out maneuvering) the young swordsman.
Moving too far or being too aggressive came embitter your opponent and others creating animosity and prolonged resentment leading to retribution.

21) Negotiate While Advancing: The Diplomatic-War Strategy. When negotiating a settlement you should not let up on the pressure to advance. This provides you more to negotiate with and does not give your opponent time to regroup.

  • Be amiable, but focus on the goal of advancement.
  • Negotiation gives your opponent time to regroup.
  • Maintain pressure and advance to give your opponent reason to conclude.
  • Ask for little, you get only a little.
No reversal, you must end an engagement positively.

22) Know How To End Things: The Exit Strategy. Know when you are beat and cut your loses. Know how to win with flair and bring a positive conclusion to the encounter; reducing your opponents in the future.

  • No Exit. The Soviet Union‘s invasion of Afghanistan, and the resulting war, caused a no win situation for the Soviet Union primarily due to the lack of understanding of the Afghan people. Significant expense (monetarily, politically and in troop loss) caused Gorbachev to withdraw Soviet troops, completed in 1989. (Note: A potential error in the book where Greene refers to Afghanistan’s “ports on the Indian Ocean”, I can find no reference to alliances that would bring that.)
  • Ending as Beginning. Lyndon Johnson fought a tough election for the Texas 10th Congressional seat in 1937. He had few friends in the party and soundly defeated the well-seasoned political veterans. Immediately after the election he amiably approached his opponents thanking them to the hard fight and successfully wooing them into his alliance.
  • Keys to Warfare
  • Dreamers never complete, their end is always poor.
  • Closure needs satisfaction for all involved.
  • Humiliation of the defeated only creates animosity.
  • Conclusion in exhaustion is not favorable since there is not energy left to create alliances.
  • Conclude realizing the end is more important than the success of the fight.

Part Five: Unconventional (Dirty) War

Uncovered deception is a huge advantage to your opponent.
Maintain a cover story in case you are discovered.
Don’t rely only on deception; it is tool not a plan.

23) Weave a Seamless Blend of Fact and Fiction: Misperception Strategies. Deception is an ancient art and invaluable when throwing people off your track. Misinformation and decoys can consume your opponent.

  • Make a strong front look weak.
  • Make a weak front look strong and attack from another direction.
  • Feed your opponent with misinformation.
  • Maintain a pattern with the intent of changing it for surprise.
  • Make the real look false and the false look real to create complete ambiguity.
There is no advantage to attacking by the expected means and methods.

24) Take The Line of Least Expectation: The Ordinary-Extraordinary Strategy. Do the unexpected. If always calm be radical, if always radical do something ordinary.

  • Unconventional Warfare
  • Use tactics that your opponent does not know.
  • Mix ordinary tactics with the unusual.
  • Act crazy but calculated.
  • Continue to think of new things.
  • Historical Examples
  • In 219 BC Rome decide to take the offensive with Hannibal. They chose to face him at the Trebia river. Hannibal exhibited erratic behavior drew the Roman army across the river and then shocked them with his use of elephants. The Romans made many other attempts to draw Hannibal into a fight but Hannibal did the opposite of what they expected giving him a great advantage.
  • Cassius Clay challenged then Heavyweight champion Sonny Liston to the boxing in 1962. title. Clay’s unorthodox behavior and fighting technique and his nonconformist behavior gave him a great advantage in the fight since his opponent did not know what to expect.
  • In 1862 Ulysses S. Grant, American Civil War General led a battle to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi. He moved troops across the Mississippi River and sent them toward Jackson to cut the supply lines to Vicksburg. This move was not expected since it would mean that Grant’s forces would not have their communication lines open. It surprised Confederate General John C. Pemberton; who was unable to predict the impact of the maneuver.
  • The Ojibwa tribe had an elite band of warriors called the Wendigokan. This band would act crazy during battles, yelling the exact opposite of their intent. This caused confusion in their opponents and terrified them not to engage in battle.
  • For the New York Society of Independent Artists‘ first exhibition, Marcel Duchamp chose a radical new format—anyone could exhibit a work of art. Duchamp under the pseudonym “R. Mutt” submitted a urinal laying on its back called the Fountain. There was outrage in the organization, but opened a new view and challenged the definition of art.
Playing the high ground can make you look righteous and condescending. This can alienate and disgust your supporters.

25) Occupy the Moral High Ground: The Righteous Strategy. Justify your cause as the correct and moral way. Show your opponent’s self-serving side. Show yourself as the underdog.

  • Justify your actions based on morality.
  • Represent yourself as “good”, your opponent as “bad”.
  • An immoral act will ruin your reputation.
  • Make your opponent start the actual “fight”.
  • Wars of self-interest are short and defined.
  • Wars on moral grounds are long and protracted, attempting to annihilate the roots of the immoral.
You cannot use conventional means with a guerrilla you must deny them targets. If you do attack, attack strong and quick at any central point they have.

26) Deny Them Targets: The Strategy of the Void. Remove any targets you have for your opponents. Do not create a front or make your front so broad that attacking it attacks their base. No targets will frustrate your opponents increasing the chance they will make a mistake.

  • The Lure of the Void. Napoleon‘s 1812 invasion of Russia met with a retreating Russian army putting up little resistance and buying time. Cossacks sniped him, retreating Russian troops left behind burned out towns and fields and no food. The initial French force of 450,000 troops was reduced to 100,000 by the time they reached Moscow. The retreat lead to further decimation.
  • Keys to Warfare
  • Guerrilla bands are easier to hide and maneuver.
  • Large armies are susceptible to guerrilla attack.
  • Exhaust the opponent.
  • Lure your opponent to attack to use guerrilla tactics effectively.
Be wary of people that come to your assistance. Other will use this against you, ensure that they do not use you negatively. Look to turn that alliance to your positive.

27) Seem to Work for the Interests of Others While Furthering Your Own: The Alliance Strategy. Form temporary allies to meet your current needs, do what is necessary to hide the temporary nature of your business. Undermine the alliances of your opponents to weaken them.

  • The Perfect Ally. 1467 Charles I, Duke of Burgundy expanded his empire by forming an alliance with Edward IV of England to attack Louis XI of France. But King Louis XI found out about the invasion and formed an alliance with Edward IV removing the threat from the Duke.
  • False Alliances. Murray Bowen, a psychiatrist, used his clinical knowledge to resolve a personal family situation. He wrote a series of letters to family members in order to show concern for the person, but exposing a series on gossipy relations that were in the family. In this process he actually created a degree of autonomy for himself which gave him the power to control the situation and facilitate his siblings in creating a healthy family relationship.
  • Keys to Warfare
  • Find those to advance your current interests.
  • Help someone else you need help from to create debt.
  • We need allies in our sturggles—for resource, skill or protection.
  • Damage other’s alliances.
  • Play the autonomous center, brokering resolution.
  • When fighting allies create mistrust between them dividing their ranks.
This approach can raise suspicions and be politically costly; a direct approach will minimize that cost. Use this sparingly.

28) Give Your Rivals Enough Rope To Hang Themselves: The One-Upmanship Strategy. Give your opponents the space to make mistakes, provide them with assignments they cannot complete and damage their reputation. Hide your involvement and maintain your innocent.

  • The Art of One-Upmanship . Look for the internal rival, find their weak spot and needle it to make them anxious. Employ others to work the anxiety and make it bigger. Get the rival to over-react and step back and let them do the rest. When they are near the end of their destruction offer help, not to rub in the defeat, but help show your innocence.
  • Historical Examples
  • John McClernand volunteered as a Brigadier General in the American Civil War. He wanted fame and ascension to the presidency. He tried using his influence with President Abraham Lincoln to try to take over the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi. General Grant, whose department Vicksburg fell under, caught wind of the plans and diverted troops head to McClernand for his own use. This and other actions infuriated McClernand, whom made numerous moves that alienated him from his allies.
  • Académie Française was founded in 1635 to maintain the purity of the French language. In 1694 King Louis IV appointed the Bishop of Noyons to the counsel. Although qualified, he was arrogant and offensive. On inauguration day the abbé de Caumartin gave a subtly mocking speech that was seen as such by all but the Bishop. His eventual humiliation led to the Bishop leaving the Académie.
  • Tsukahara Bokuden, renowned samurai, was challenged by an ambidextrous young samurai. Bokuden accepted the challenge, but focused challenger’s attention on the “unfair” use of his left arm. In the fight, Bokuden attacked his right. Later, in 1605, the swordsman Genzaemon was challenged by Miyamoto Musashi. Musashi showed up late and in non-standard attire, this angered Genzaemon positioning him to make many errant moves.
  • Bob Dole of Kansas challenged George H. W. Bush for the 1988 Republican’s nomination for President. Lee Atwater, Bush’s strategist, knowing of Dole’s temper, spread rumors about his wife’s, Elizabeth Dole, qualifications as Secretary of Transportation. Doles anger came through in the media severely damaging him.
  • Joan Crawford had a continual rivalry with Norma Shearer and Bette Davis. She contrived two methods for steeling their thunder. With Shearer she worked to annoy her on set and got her to expose her nasty demeanor. While with Davis, she stole the spotlight while accepting Anne Bancroft‘s Oscar for The Miracle Worker.
When being attacked by this method, stop it decisively.

29) Take Small Bites: The Fait Accompli Strategy. Make advances by small pieces, often going unnoticed by your rivals. By the time they notice your growth, it may be too late.

  • People dislike confrontation so giving little pieces is easy.
  • Take control, your opponent will have to fight to get it back.
  • Look for opportunities in a rival’s troubled times.
  • Be patient, time is your ally.
Watch other people’s communication for generalities that hide their intents or cliches that distract peoples focus.

30) Penetrate Their Minds: Communication Strategies. Fight with words that will occupy your opponent, make them think and try to interpret your meaning. Use actions other than words, when needed, to make a lasting impression.

  • Visceral Communication. In filming The 39 Steps in 1935, Alfred Hitchcock handcuffed the leads Madeleine Carroll and Robert Donat and then feinted losing the key and left them handcuffed for many hours. The ploy was to make them understand the script they were about to play. Hitchcock furthered his indirect communication by actions contrary to the situation—working his actor’s minds.
  • The Mastermind. Niccolò Machiavelli worked in Florence‘s Second Chancery. As Florence went in and out of Medici control between 1494 and 1512 Machiavelli was displaced from his job. In order to stay in touch with the Florentine government he wrote The Prince, on princely rule, and engaged his friend Francesco Vettori to show it to the Medici’s. He later wrote Discourses on Livy. These unpublished works were a stepping stone for Machiavelli to return to favor. After his death the manuscripts were published in multiple languages. Eventually his works permeated the minds of many cultures having a greater communication power than Machiavelli could have ever imagined.
  • Keys to Warfare
  • Use the profound to stay with other people over time.
  • Communicate with action, not only words.
  • Silence can say more than words.
  • Shock will bring short lived communication.
  • Communication must focus on change.
Look for the saboteur within, but do not be paranoid. Treat your troops fairly and they will police themselves.

31) Destroy From Within: The Inner Front Strategy. Infiltrate your opponent’s camp. Once there, you do not need to attack or show your intentions. Slowly take over from within.

  • Do not attack the walls of the fort, attack from within.
  • Exploit the disaffected with your opponent and use them.
  • Undermine the morale of your opponent’s troops.
  • Befriend your opponent and work from within their mind.
  • Be patient and take small steps.
  • Keep your group of conspirators small.
Intimidation is the reversal of the passive-aggressive behavior. Threaten but do not act.

32) Dominate While Seeming to Submit: The Passive-Aggressive Strategy. Use non-aggression to fight your opponent. Their aggressive acts will benefit you and garner support from others. Since there is the presentation of both “good” and “bad” traits, people normally see only the positive approach.

  • The Guilt Weapon. To protest the Salt Tax imposed by the British Raj, Mahatma Gandhi stage a 200 mile march of to the ocean. The Governor-General of India, Lord Edward Irwin, was relieved at the seeming insignificant action Gandhi proposed. Lord Edward Irwin did nothing to stop the march. But the march attracted thousands. Irwin had limited his options since he had not acted early to stop the march and now it would be a big issue. Gandhi had chosen his protest wisely—benign to the British and poignant to the Indians.
  • Passive Power. Czar Alexander I wanted to reform the monarchies of Europe. He used the 1820 revolts in Spain and Naples to solicit a meeting of the monarchs to address the issues. Austrian Prince Metternich used this to subtly move the Czar to a position of supporting the “old guard rule” over any form of liberalization.
  • Keys to Warfare
  • Using passive-aggressive behavior the “positive” stands out.
  • Succumb to others, while covertly fighting.
  • Do not be too eager for power.
  • Train yourself to see passive-aggressive and react to it.
  • Stop passive-aggressive behavior quickly.
Direct and symmetrical warfare, up-front and honest

33) Sow Uncertainty and Panic Through Acts of Terror: The Chain Reaction Strategy. The goal is chaos and creating the lack of trust in familiar surroundings. What was once safe is now uncertain.

  • The Anatomy of Panic. In 1092 death of Nizam al-Mulk was at first felt to be a reprisal for the attempts to suppress the growth of the sect Nizari Ismaili. The Nizari, a group cloaked in secrecy, had developed a new method of revolt where Assassins (derived from Arabic Hashshashin) would emerge from a seemingly calm crowd and kill their target with a dagger. This new form of warfare appeared to be able to manifest itself in an omnipresent form against its opponents.
  • Keys to Warfare
  • Responding dispassionately will defeat the cause.
  • Thwart the attacks at the point of the attack.
  • Create unstable ground.
  • Take the moral high ground, exploit being the victim.
  • Randomize the frequency of attack.
  • Most effective in small bands.
  • Fighting back in a disproportionate manner fuels their cause.