No matter what century we live in or how advanced we become, the struggle to attain power will always remain. During the last 2000 years, man’s drive to defeat his opponent and outshine his enemies has become a fundamental characteristic of human nature and is responsible for most of his behaviors and decisions.
Whether it’s political victory or a territorial dispute; whether it’s a corporate battle or a social conflict, the use of stratagems has been and will continue to remain an important element of dealing with these challenges. Remember the Trojan Horse? It is considered to be one of the most prominent stratagems in history. Stratagem means war ruses but can refer to ruses in general. They are the key to achieving victory or defeat.
Today stratagems are used by everyone – criminals, politicians, military leaders, lawyers and so on. An interesting book that I have been reading these days is Creative Stratagems by Adam Matuszczyk. This book aims to discuss the meaning and usefulness of two approaches that are useful in inventing new stratagems. These include creative thinking and systemic thinking. It defines stratagem, talks about the different types of stratagems, discuss creative and systemic thinking in connection with stratagems and a straightforward method for developing stratagems.
Keep in mind that stratagems are not restricted to war and military. They can also be used to deal more effectively with social conflicts and by those interested in creative and systemic thinking.
Stratagem is derived from a Greek term stratagemata. Historically speaking, stratagema or stratagems were used to deceive someone. Stratagems could also include bribing someone, putting an opponent under time pressure, sabotaging something, blocking supply routes, using weather to gain advantage over an opponent, inventing a weapon and so on.
Despite an attempt to give stratagems a positive outlook, negativity still remains an important and central element. It is historically perceived to involve deception and trickery and even in contemporary usage, stratagem is connected with an act of deception. This book however takes a broader look at stratagems. It also brings into the horizon the use of stratagems to deal with social conflict.
Frontin is considered to be one of the very first to view stratagems systematically. His work is quite detailed and should be thoroughly studied by those interested in the topic. Matuszczyk also provides a brief overview of some selected anecdotes from Frontin’s work. They deal with the handling of resources, with the creation of a particular impression with someone and with the interaction with multiple oppositional parties to a conflict.
Another golden resource mentioned in this book is the 36Ji – a collection of 36 idioms that originated in China. Although this text was written by an unknown author, it contains some really useful insight that can be applied to life in general. For example deceiving the sky, crossing the water; borrowing a dagger to kill someone; obtaining advantages where there is fire etc. These 36 idioms contain much wisdom and are comprehensive enough to be applied to all areas of one’s life.
Using a creative approach to inventing stratagems involves the effective management of stress and the dialectic of accommodation and resistance. If one uses a systematic approach, then one needs to recognize and examine connections as well as dynamics. Whichever mode you choose, competency is a prerequisite for creation of successful stratagems.
Whether stratagems need to have a negative element in order to be effective or can be positively implemented to gain the desired results, the fact is that stratagems are used in almost every aspect of our life. They are part of political, military, social and religious warfare and can play a critical role in determining victory or defeat.
Originally published by Capital Liberty News.