33 Strategies of War
by Robert Greene

  • Personal Development
  • Ashto = 8/10
  • Jonesy = 9/10
33 strategies of war

How to apply 33 Strategies of War in everyday life

I had my first war engagement with a colleague Eduardo. Being older, he progressively attempted to put me back into my box due to my lack of experience. Whenever a new opportunity arose (a presentation at a conference, a meeting with an important client, or a challenging work task), Eduardo would wrestle the responsibility away from me. This became increasingly direct, despite us being mates and having a beer and burger together every Thursday.

But my perspective changed after reading the 33 Strategies of War. I was losing responsibilities, it was costing my career progression, and I only had myself to blame. It was time to declare war on this colleague. Every time he went to wrestle me out of challenging tasks that would grow my career, it was now different. Rather than being passive, I engaged and held my ground. This shift of perspective transformed me from a passive and confused pawn into a motivated and creative fighter. After a couple of engagements, he stopped messing with me. Currently, we’re back in peacetime; enjoying each other’s company with the boundaries well known and fortified.

– Jonesy 


Declaring the War

If you don’t have enemies, it is most likely because you have a narrow concept of the term. You should widen your concept of an enemy beyond those who are just confrontational dicks. It should include any person who is working against you—even in subtle ways. Without being paranoid about it, realise that some people out there don’t want the best for you. Once you’ve identified who these groups of people are, the strategies can begin. This could include being aggressive, evasive, standing back, or taking action. You may even turn this enemy into a friend. But the worst thing you can be is a naive victim.

Successful people have battles with parents, peers, and colleagues to learn to adapt to the world and develop strategies for dealing with issues. Those who avoid conflict at all costs usually become handicapped—socially and mentally. Rather than fearing the idea of having enemies, embrace it.


Occupy The Moral High Ground


When my colleague Eduardo was wrestling my responsibility away from me, I responded in an email to the team–outlining that we should be working as a team and sharing responsibilities. By appealing to the teamwork element, I was basically taking the moral high ground. In doing so, the manager agreed with me, and I won this minor engagement. In war, you need to make the cause you are fighting to win more than just your enemies.

Think of this as moral terrain that you and the other side are fighting over. By questioning your enemies motives and making them appear evil, you can narrow their base of support and room to maneuver. Aim at the soft spots in their public image, exposing any hypocrisies on their part. Never assume that the justice of your cause is self-evident; you need to publicise and promote it. 



Winning Without Bloodshed

One day in Japan in the 1950s, a ferryboat carried a young Samurai Yukui. Yukui was sharing his great victories and whipped out his three-foot sword to demonstrate his bravado. The passengers on the boat were afraid; nobody wanted to risk their lives by confronting him. But one older man, Bokuden, wasn’t scared. He was a samurai himself. He travelled alone and liked to sit incognito in meditation. The young Yukui called him out: “You don’t even know how to carry a sword, do you, old man? Bokuden replied: “My way is to not wield a sword.” Yukui replied: “A way of wielding a sword without wielding a sword? Don’t talk gibberish.” He requested a fight. 

Bokuden, however, had the respect not to duel on the crowded boat to avoid civilian casualties. He said he’d show his fighting technique on the nearby small island. As they approached the island, the young man jumped out onto the sand impatiently, saying: “Let’s do it, old man! You’re as good as dead!Bokuden had his eyes closed in meditation, taking his time, further infuriating the young samurai who began to hurl more abuse. Bokuden finally handed his swords to the ferryman saying: “My style is Mutekatsu-Ryu, I have no need for a sword.” And with those words he took the ferryman’s long oar and pushed it hard against the shore, sending the boat quickly into the water and away from the island. The young samurai screamed, demanding the boat’s return. The passengers on the boat stared back to the distant island and saw him jumping up and down, his screams becoming fainter and fainter. Bokuden won the war without wielding a sword. 

The goal of strategies is to give you easy victories, to win without bloodshed. 

You can play on the opponents’ psychological weaknesses by maneuvering them into precarious positions by inducing feelings of frustration and confusion. In this way, victory can come at a lower cost.

Why read 33 Strategies of War 

The world glorifies harmony and cooperation. Books, podcasts, intellectuals, and leaders say that you need to get along with every person in your life. These notions of correctness are saturating the public space. But the problem is you may not be prepared for war.

Success and failures in life are often determined by our ability to manage conflicts. When conflict arises, what is your response? Do you avoid it? Lash out? Turn sly? Become manipulative? Shut-down? Or even cry? In the long run, these responses are counterproductive. If we aren’t dealing with conflict rationally, it could very well make the situation worse. Consider your long-term goals, and then choose your fights wisely. When you are forced to fight, you can aim for the ‘Strategic Warrior’ ideal. This is for those who want to solve their issues through intelligent maneuvers—thinking of the long term goals, and deciding which fights to avoid and which are inevitable. 


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