Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Qianlong Emperor’s bamboo copy of Art of War

Strategy

Although the phrase ‘strike while the iron’s hot’ only goes back as far as an 18th century early marriage strategy, the sentiment goes back at least as far at 6th century BCE Sun Tzu: “Overwhelming speed is of utmost importance, never miss opportunities, appear like thunder with startling suddenness to take advantage of your enemy’s unreadiness by taking unexpected routes and attacking unguarded places.” Sun Tzu focused on vital political strategies but his principles can apply equally to business, livelihood, education, the battle of the sexes, and to the survival of our species itself. Strategy epitomizes the kind of reasoning that expands human consciousness beyond that of unthinking animals. From an anonymous source: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

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Quotes (53)

“Tactics for extricating oneself from adverse battlefield situations emphasize speed, maneuverability, unified action, decisive commitment, the employment of misdirection, the establishment of ambushes, and the appropriate use of different types of forces.”

Jiang Ziya 姜子牙 11th century BCE
"Master of Strategy"

Themes: Strategy

“Do not talk a little on many subjects, but much on a few.”

Pythagorus 570 – 495 BCE
(of Samos)
"The most influential philosopher of all time"
from Golden Verses of Pythagoras Χρύσεα

Themes: Strategy

“When young, beware of the desire to fight. When in manhood, beware of sex. When one has grown old, beware of the desire for possessions.”

Confucius 孔丘 551 – 479 BCE via Lin Yutang
(Kongzi, Kǒng Zǐ)
History's most influential "failure"

Themes: Strategy Sex

“In peace prepare for war, in war prepare for peace. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Under no circumstances can it be neglected.”

Sun Tzu 孙武 544 – 496 BCE via James Clavell
(Sun Zi)
HIstory's supreme strategist
from Art of War 孙子兵法

Themes: Peace Strategy

“Trust in self interest, spread one’s awesomeness over the enemy... Victory can be known. It cannot be made… And so the superior military cuts down strategy. Its inferior cuts down alliances. Its inferior cuts down the military. The worst attacks walled cities.”

Sun Tzu 孙武 544 – 496 BCE via Denma Translation Group
(Sun Zi)
HIstory's supreme strategist
from Art of War 孙子兵法

Themes: Strategy Victory

54. Planting Well
28. Turning Back

“It is a profitable thing, if one is wise, to seem foolish.”

Aeschylus Αἰσχύλος 525 – 455 BCE
The Father of Tragedy

“The end excuses any evil.”

Sophocles Σοφοκλῆς 497 – 405 BCE
“The Wise and Honored One”
from Electra, 414 BCE

Themes: Strategy

“It is more important to know where you are going than to get there quickly. Do not mistake activity for achievement.”

Isocrates Ἰσοκράτης 436 – 338 BCE

“the most important part of a task is the beginning, for that is the time when character is formed, when impressions readily taken.”

Plato Πλάτων 428 – 348 BCE
from Republic Πολιτεία

Themes: Strategy

76. The Soft and Flexible

“Test a servant while in the discharge of his duty, a relative difficulty, a friend in adversity, and a wife is misfortune.”

Chandragupta Maurya 340 – 297 BCE
Ashoka’s grandfather, founder of the Maurya Empire

Themes: Strategy

“This sets out the way of military strategy. Lao Tzu was disgusted with the use of military force at the time. Thus he took up himself to explain its principles.”

Heshang Gong 河上公 202 – 157 BCE
(Ho-shang Kung or "Riverside Sage”)

Themes: Strategy

31. Victory Funeral

“If you chase two rabbits, you will lose them both.”

Anonymous -800 to present
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history
from Russian Proverb

Themes: Strategy

“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

Anonymous -800 to present
Freedom from the narrow boxes defined by personal history

Themes: Strategy Business

“One may rely on strategy and deception to impress but these can hardly compare with an impression made without these.”

Yang Xiong 揚雄 53 BCE – 18 CE via Michael Nylan, Shan Dao
from Fayan 法言, Exemplary Figures or Model Sayings

“If you would be loved, be lovable.”

Ovid oʊvɪd 43 BCE – 18 CE
(Publius Ovidius Naso)
Great poet and major influence on the Renaissance, Humanism, and world literature

from Art of Love, 2 CE

Themes: Strategy

“When defeat is inevitable, it is wisest to yield.”

Quintilian 35 – 100 CE

Themes: Strategy Failure

“Where would I find enough leather to cover the entire surface of the earth? But with leather soles beneath my feet, it’s as if the whole world has been covered.”

Shantideva ཞི་བ་ལྷ།།། 685 – 763 CE
(Bhusuku, Śāntideva)
from Bodhisattva Way of Life, Bodhicaryavatara

29. Not Doing

“Plan for this world as if you expect to live forever; but plan for the hereafter as if you expect to die tomorrow.”

Solomon ibn Gabirol שלמה בן יהודה אבן גבירול 1021 – 1070 CE via Ascher
(Avicebron)
from Choice of Pearls

“It is necessary to accept hard and inconvenient advice, to punish bad people with merciless law, to protect the numerous subjects with kindness, to strive after a good name that is honored everywhere.”

Genghis Khan 1162 – 1227 CE via Paul Kahn
from Secret History of the Mongols, Монголын нууц товчоо, 元朝秘史

“Wise enemies can help us but foolish friends will only harm.”

Sakya Pandita ས་སྐྱ་པཎྜ་ཏ་ཀུན་དགའ་རྒྱལ་མཚན། 1182 – 1251 CE via John T. Davenport, Shan Dao
(Kunga Gyeltsen)
from Ordinary Wisdom, Sakya Legshe (Jewel Treasury of Good Advice)

“Do you defend me with the sword, and I will defend you with the pen.”

William of Ockham 1287 – 1347 CE

Themes: Strategy

“Never increase, beyond what is necessary, the number of entities required to explain anything.”

William of Ockham 1287 – 1347 CE

Themes: Strategy

“Appear as you may wish to be.”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE via W.K. Marriott
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from The Prince

Themes: Strategy

“Injuries should be done all at one time—being tasted less, they offend less. Benefits should be given little by little—so that the flavor of them may last longer.”

Machiavelli 1469 – 1527 CE via W. K. Marriott, Shan Dao
(Niccolò Machiavelli)
from The Prince

Themes: Strategy

“Act in a crisis with calm, and act during a calm by thinking ahead of a crisis.”

Chén Jìrú 陳繼儒 1558 – 1639 CE via Lin Yutang

“Study people as deeply as you study books and you won't make painful mistakes about character. (chapter 157)”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Shan Dao
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Mistakes Strategy

“In times of prosperity, prepare for adversity.”

Balthasar Gracian 1601 – 1658 CE via Joseph Jacobs, chapter #113
from Art of Worldly Wisdom

Themes: Strategy

“While living, be a dead man, be thoroughly dead – whatever you do, then, will always be good.”

Bunan 至道無難 1603 – 1676 CE
(Shido Bunan Zenji Munan)

“Neither trust, nor contend, lay wagers, nor lend; and you’ll have peace until your life's end.”

Benjamin Franklin 1706 – 1790 CE
from Poor Richard's Almanack

Themes: Peace Strategy

57. Wu Wei

“Strategy is the art of making use of time and space.”

Napoleon Bonaparte 1769 – 1821 CE

Themes: Time Strategy

“Power is not revealed by striking hard or often, but by striking true.”

Balzac 1799 – 1850 CE
(Honoré de Balzac)

Themes: Power Strategy

“‘if you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do today?’ The begrimed-with-sweat farmer answered, ‘I would plow.’”

Leo Tolstoy 1828 – 1910 CE via Elbert Hubbard

“Now he found out a new thing - namely, that to promise not to do a thing is the surest way in the world to make a body want to go and do that very thing.”

Mark Twain 1835 – 1910 CE
(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

Themes: Strategy Desire

53. Shameless Thieves

“they know that they will sooner gain their end by appealing to men's pockets, in which they have generally something of their own; than to their heads which contain for the most part little but borrowed or stolen property”

Samuel Butler 1835 – 1902 CE
Iconoclastic philosopher, artist, composer, author, and evolutionary theorist
from Erewhon

Themes: Strategy

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

William James 1842 – 1910 CE
"Father of American psychology”

Themes: Strategy

“'I don't keer w'at you do wid me, Brer Fox,' sezee, 'so you don't fling me in dat brier-patch. Roas' me, Brer Fox' sezee, 'but don't fling me in dat brier-patch,' sezee.”

Joel Chandler Harris 1848 – 1908 CE
from Legends of the old Plantation

Themes: Strategy

“It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires a great deal of strength to decide what to do.”

Elbert Hubbard 1856 – 1915 CE

Themes: Strategy

33. Know Yourself

“A clever person solves a problem. A wise person avoids it.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE

“The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.”

John Maynard Keynes 1883 – 1946 CE
Revolutionary economist credited with saving capitalism

Themes: Strategy

“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now.”

Victor Frankl 1905 – 1997 CE


from Man's Search for Meaning

Themes: Strategy

“If it's a good idea, go ahead and do it. It's always easier to apologize for something you've already done than to get approval for it in advance.”

Grace Hopper 1906 – 1992 CE
(Grace Brewster Murray Hopper )

Themes: Strategy Freedom

“The real action is in the enemy's reaction.”

Saul Alinsky 1909 – 1972 CE
from Rules for Radicals

Themes: Strategy

“I believe The Art of War shows quite clearly how to take the initiative and combat the enemy—any enemy… Sun Tzu’s truths can equally show the way to victory in all kinds of ordinary business conflicts, boardroom battles, and in the day to day fight for survival we all endure—even in the battle of the sexes! It has been a constant companion to me… I would make it obligatory study… I believe, very much, that Sun Tzu’s knowledge is vital to our survival.”

James Clavell 1921 – 1994 CE
Fictionalizing and fictional historian
from The Art of War, 1983

Themes: Conflict Strategy

“Sometimes it's wiser to give a quarry extra line -- that's how to catch a fish, neh?”

James Clavell 1921 – 1994 CE
Fictionalizing and fictional historian
from Shōgun, 1975

Themes: Strategy

“How can we ‘plan ahead’ when the the speed of change makes it almost completely impossible to have any clear idea about what the future will look like? The only reliable strategy may consist in developing mindful awareness, the ability to think for ourselves, and ripen innate wisdom.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

Themes: Strategy Change

“Act the way you'd like to be and soon you'll be the way you act.”

Leonard Cohen 1934 – 2016 CE

“Live your life as an experiment so that you're always experimenting.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE via Shambhala Sun (tr: Pema Chodrin)
from Interview with Pema Chodrin and Alice Walker, 1999

Themes: Science Strategy

“One of the biggest problems in this country is short term solutions”

Mary Catherine Bateson 1939 CE –

Themes: Strategy

“The problems arise because of too many presented ideas about how to save ourselves rather than about why we should save ourselves or what the problem actually is… the how comes spontaneously.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE via Shan Dao
from Orderly Chaos — The Mandala Principle

Themes: Strategy

“The early Mongol rulers clearly recognized that knowledge constituted their most potent weapon and controlling the flow of information served as their organizing principle.”

Jack Weatherford 1945 CE –
from Secret History of the Mongol Queens

Themes: Control Strategy

“People have to come up with a clever strategy if they want what they know and what they don't know to live together in peace. And that strategy is thinking. We have to find a secure anchor. Otherwise, no mistake about it, we're on an awful collision course.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE – via Philip Gabriel, Shan Dao
from Sputnik Sweetheart

“Never show a weapon before you need to use it.”

Amy Tan 1952 CE –
Rock and roll singer, bartender, and insightfully talented author
from Saving Fish From Drowning

Themes: Strategy

“Any strategy that involves crossing a valley—accepting short-term losses to reach a higher hill in the distance—will soon be brought to a halt by the demands of a system that celebrates short-term gains and tolerates stagnation, but condemns anything else as failure. In short, a world where big stuff can never get done.”

Neal Stephenson 1959 CE –
(Stephen Bury)
Speculative futurist and cultural social commentator

from Diamond Age

Themes: Strategy

Sources

Art of War 孙子兵法

by Sun Tzu

HIstory's supreme strategist

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