A book you are unlikely to be recommended because, like The Art of War, those who have read it tend to keep to themselves what they learned.
The book is an ancient masterpiece of Chinese thinking and probably dates back to the end of the Ming era (1368-1644); since then, it has had a controversial history.
In 1941, someone discovered in a bookstore in Binzhou, Shaanxi Province, an unknown text entitled “The Thirty-Six Stratagems.”
Prohibited by Mao Ze-dong and republished only after his death, the text became, from 1977, a real bestseller in the bookstores of Taiwan and Hong Kong, where it circulated as a business manual and as a book for teaching the art of life.
We will see shortly the editions that at the moment are, in my opinion, most interesting among the available ones: now let’s briefly analyze some key aspects of the thirty-six stratagems, also to understand who may be interested to read them.
In a culture where the dominance of the concept of harmony is reflected in the very name of ancient China, the thirty-six stratagems teach the Way of Deception as opposed to the Righteous Way of Confucius; they complement the ancient idea of a harmonious universe with a philosophy of conflict that does not break the world’s overall balance.
Whoever makes use of stratagems, in love, in war, in business, must be ” soft ” and ” mild ” at the same time; like water, he/she has to adapt himself to the circumstances, strike the enemy at the weakest points where there is no resistance, and only at the favourable moment finally use the enemy’s own strength to destroy him/her.
Through the Way of Deception, where every initiative must be kept hidden and secret, the Chinese art of winning also marks, in this book, the triumph of justice, as the triumph of yang force follows the culmination of yin force, as peace results from war and Spring is born from Winter.
Here are the thirty-six stratagems, presented considering the traditional classification.
Generally speaking, anyone involved in situations where non-convergent objectives are confronted or, more generally, in situations of conflict: in companies, in politics, in business and in private life.
As I said, the 36 stratagems are well known to many people in leadership positions, who use them to turn conflict situations to their advantage; a wider dissemination of knowledge of stratagems can generate more balanced situations, limit occasions for conflict and promote the conditions for cooperative negotiations.
This is why I make extensive use of the 36 stratagems in coaching programmes for top managers and executives.
A final thought on the use of the 36 stratagems.
Women often tend to adopt behaviours that lead them to shy away from conflict situations, in the belief that these can be avoided and that any confrontation would somehow see them losing.
Well, even if the 36 stratagems were born in a time when women had a secondary role in political and social life, in my opinion, their knowledge can give a very important contribution to a society based on gender equality.
Over the last few years, I have worked extensively on reviewing the 36 stratagems and contextualizing them in the various situations we may encounter in our lives: in a company, in business, in private life.
I would like to point out that I am not an expert in oriental culture and that what attracts my attention is rather the use that today we can make of them in different contexts; so, I have defined a project that will lead me to present also in English a review of the 36 stratagems in a modern key, publishing them in my blog in Italian.
Three the most interesting, in my opinion:
The books are presented in order of my preference, with one remark: the first one is more suitable for those interested in business management aspects, while I suggest the second one to people who want to have a broader and historical vision of the 36 stratagems.
In conclusion, the topic is a must for anyone who covers or intends to prepare for leadership positions, or who intends to improve their ability to manage conflict.
Off you go!