The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene

I became intrigued by the 33 Strategies of War given how the strategies that Greene outlines are relevant to many domains beyond warfare. Strategies such as “Pick Your Battles Carefully”, “Know Your Enemy” and “Know How to End Things” can be applied to business and personal life. It’s the fundamental structure and enduring nature of these strategies that can influence how you apply them. For example, #14 – the blitzkrieg strategy – is the fundamental idea behind the business strategy “blitzscaling” exemplified in the popular book Blitzscaling (see above).

Read my notes and visit the Amazon book page for details.

My Notes

13 – Know Your Enemy – The Intelligence Strategy

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

A friendly front will let you watch them closely and mine them for information.

Our natural tendency is to see other people as mere reflections of our own desires and values. Failing to understand the ways they are not like us, we are surprised when they do not respond as we had imagined.

Understand: if you let narcissism act as a screen between you and other people, you will misread them and your strategies will misfire.

Every individual is like an alien creature. You must get inside his or her way of thinking, not as an exercise in sensitivity but out of strategic necessity.

The greatest power you could have in life would come neither from limitless resources nor even consummate skill in strategy. It would come from clear knowledge of those around you – the ability to read people like a book.

Hiding how we feel in social situations is exhausting; being able to show ourselves is a relief. We secretly want people to know us, even including our dark side.

Even while we consciously struggle to control this hidden part of what is going on inside – slips of the tongue, tones of voice, styles of dress, nervous twitches, sudden irrational actions, a look in the eye that contradicts our words, the things we say after a drink.

Understand: day in and day out, people emit signals that reveal their intentions and deepest desires. If we do not pick them up, it is because we are not paying attention.

22 – Know How to End Things – The Exit Strategy

The worst way to end anything – a war, a conflict, a relationship – is slowly and painfully.
Before entering into any action, you must calculate in precise terms your exit strategy.
Never let pride or concern for your reputation pull you 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.

What you need is a more fluid and strategic outlook on life. Nothing ever really ends; how you finish something will influence and even determine what you do next.
This fluid kind of thinking will force you to put more strategic emphasis on the quality and mood of the ending.
It will make you look at your opponents and decide whether you might do better to be generous to them at the end, taking a step back and transforming them into allies, playing on the emotions of the moment.

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.
The only real ending is death. Everything else is a transition.

The third group compromises 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.
Knowing the importance and the emotional resonance of the ending of anything, people of the third type 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 evening will linger in people’s minds.

These types invariably being with a clear plan. When setbacks come, as setbacks will, they are able to stay patient and think rationally.
They plan not just to the end but past it, to the aftermath.

There is, in fact, nothing harder in the realm of strategy than keeping our head on straight all the way to the end and past the end – yet nothing is more necessary.

What you need is a strategic their eye: the ability to stay focused on the future while operating in the present and ending your actions in a way that will serve your interests for the next round of war.

Endings in purely social relationships demand a sense of the culminating point as much as those in war. A conversation or story that goes on too long always ends badly.
Overstaying your welcome, boring people with your presence, is the deepest failing: you should leave them wanting more of you, not less.
In general, it is always best to end with energy and flair, on a high note.

Since defeat is inevitable in life, you must master the art of losing well and strategically.
See it as a temporary setback, something to wake you up and teach you a lesson, and even as you lose, you end on a high note and with an edge: you are mentally prepared to go on the offensive in the next round.
You must welcome defeat as a way to make yourself stronger.
You must see any defeat as a way to demonstrate something positive about yourself and your character to other people.
If you see that defeat is inevitable, it is often best to go down swinging. That was you end on a high note even as you lose.

Finally, since any ending is a kind of beginning on the next phase, it is often a wise strategy to end on an ambivalent note.