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TRIZ with China's 36 Strategies

| On 04, Jan 2010

By Kai Yang

Abstract

The 36 strategies are a collection of some of the most subtle and counter-intuitive strategies developed in ancient China in the past three millenniums covering the fields of politics, diplomacy, espionage and business operations. There are some striking similarities among the 36 strategies and the inventive principles of the Theory of Inventive Problem Solving (TRIZ). Both strive to derive solutions for difficult problems that maximize total benefits while minimizing costs and harmful side effects. In this paper, the 36 strategies are described in detail with TRIZ comparisons using the strategies developed in ancient China.15 The application of the 36 strategies and TRIZ in non-technical areas are also discussed with similarities and differences.

Introduction

The 40 inventive principles and the contradiction matrix compiled by the founder of TRIZ, Genrich Altshuller, and his colleagues are some of the tools used in TRIZ.1,2 Theory of Inventive Problem Solving research started with the study of patents; therefore, most TRIZ principles and methods are based on knowledge accumulated in technological areas. Many researchers, however, have studied how to extend TRIZ to non-technical areas. Since the 1970s, there have been continuous efforts made by TRIZ researchers to extend TRIZ into non-technical areas.19 There are now 40 inventive business principles and 40 inventive principle analogies of TRIZ in the context of software and computing.5,7,9 The 40 inventive principles have also been adapted for service operation management, quality management and education.8,11,18

Several researchers have also tried to link and compare inventive TRIZ principles with other existing strategies and approaches in non technical areas, including comparing the 40 inventive principles with Medieval Latin phrases.12 There have been discussions about several of the ancient 36 strategies written in Chinese literature and a comparison of some of the analects of Confucius with TRIZ thinking.4,13 The purpose of the latter research was to try to discover whether there are common links among “fundamental and universal principles of human wisdom and creativity” from different schools of thoughts.12

There are similarities among the 36 strategies and author Sun Tzu’s book The Art of War, which focuses on military organization, leadership and battle field tactics.3 The 36 strategies are more suitable in the field of politics, diplomacy, espionage and business operations.

The term, 36 strategies, was first mentioned in the Book of Southern Qi in its seventh biographical volume, Biography of Wang Jingze, which is a history of the Chinese dynasty, Southern Qi. It covers the period from 479 to 502 AD. The only existing known hard copy that describes the original 36 strategies was discovered in 1941; it is a brief book.14,17 Though this book was printed in 1941 (by an unknown author) it is believed that the original version of this book was written some time during the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368–1644) or Qing Dynasty (1644–1911).

Stefan H. Verstappan and H. von Senger are the authors who introduced the 36 strategies to the Western world.15,16 There are many sources for these 36 strategies, they include: I Ching Book of Change and Art of War; some of the sources of the 36 strategies date back to the Ming Dynasty.3,10

The main objective of the 36 strategies is described in the summary section of the The Thirty Six Strategies: “There are many issues in warfare, such as strengthening armed forces, choosing officers, planning the wars, etc., we can certainly follow some standard practices. But there will be infinite variations, surprises, uncertainties when war really happens, 36 strategies can be tried out to deal with all that whenever you are in advantageous or disadvantageous position.”17

Thirty-six Strategies

The description of the 36 strategies is based on the Biography of Wang Jingze.17 The original version of the book, however, discusses the 36 strategies mostly in the context of Chinese histories and classics. The author will describe these strategies in a more general fashion with modern day examples. For each strategy, if it is similar or somewhat related to certain inventive TRIZ principles, they will be listed.

The preface of the 36 strategies states: “Six times six equals thirty six, calculations produce tactics and tactics yield more calculations. Based on this correlative relationship, ploys and strategies are devised. Strategies can never be prescribed without adjustments; rigid application of theory will result in failure.”17

The 36 strategies are divided into six sections/strategies:

  1. Winning
  2. Enemy dealing
  3. Attacking
  4. Chaos
  5. Proximate
  6. Defeat

In the first three sections, the decision makers have an advantageous position and in the second three sections, the decision makers have a disadvantageous position.

Winning Strategies

Strategy 1: Court the Emperor to Cross the Sea

This strategy is based on a Chinese legend. Around 600 AD (after death), the Chinese emperor wanted to attack Korea, but he was not confident to bring all the troops through the sea, his top general decorated big ships like “fun ships” with wine and a party and the emperor sailed through the sea in calm.

In The Thirty Six Strategies it further explains that the strategy involves camouflage, ordinary camouflage schemes (such as moving troops in dark and shadows) that are easy to be detected. If an individual can act in open and hide his true intentions under the guise of common every day activities he will be much more effective.

Key points

  1. Use of camouflage.
  2. Disguise difficult objects or goals or intents with ordinary, normal, nice things.

Examples

  • Spies
  • White House state dinner crashers, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, allegedly attended a state dinner at the White House by pretending they were ordinary invitees in November 2009.
  • Police cars disguised as ordinary cars.
  • Gummy-bear-like vitamin pills.
  • Disney theme park pre-shows at rides/exhibits for customers to make long waiting lines less stressful.

Relevant TRIZ Principles

The TRIZ principle color change is relevant because color can be used as a camouflage. The homogeneity principle is somewhat relevant because it states that it makes “objects by interacting with a given object of the same material.” For the first strategy it is important to make things look ordinary and normal so they have some similar elements. The intermediary principle is somewhat relevant because it states that it can use an intermediate carrier article or merge one object temporarily with another (which can be easily removed). These methods can serve the need for the first strategy well under some circumstances.

Strategy 2: Besiege Wei to Rescue Zhao

In 354 BC, (before Christ) China was in a Warring States period; the Wei state launched a full force attack on the Zhao state. Zhao was asking its ally, the Qi state, for help. One renowned strategist of the Qi state, Sun Bin (Sun Tzu’s descendent) proposed not to directly confront the strong Wei army, but launched another attack on the Wei’s capital. This forced the Wei to withdraw to save its capital from sacking. This strategy used smaller forces and was much less costly.

Key points

  1. Avoid costly brute force confrontation when the opponent is too strong, but attack its most vulnerable and fatal weakness.
  2. No matter how strong an enemy is, there are usually some weaknesses. Find the weaknesses so that an individual can win with minimum cost.
  3. Avoid “straight line” way of thinking – a “winding” strategy could be much less costly and more effective.
  4. Use the right tool to solve the right problems.

The fourth point in The Thirty Six Strategies further explains that: “You cannot solve a puzzle by using fist, you cannot resolve a conflict by taking side and participating the fight.”

Example

In fighting floods, sometimes it is too difficult to reinforce dams instead selectively flood the water to less populated places.

Relevant TRIZ Principles

  • Principle 2: Taking out
  • Principle 3: Local quality
  • Principle 12: Equal potentiality
  • Principle 14: Curvature

Strategy 3: Kill with a Borrowed Knife

Key points

  1. Damage or eliminate the opponent by using the force of others.
  2. Damage the opponent in an indirect manner without drawing negative effects.
  3. Use third party or other means to accomplish the job without cost.

Examples

  • Enemy’s enemy is the friend.
  • Using insects to fight harmful insects.
  • To prevent pollutants, exhaust gas from thermal power stations is treated with alkaline chemicals. The alkaline slag is recovered from a coal burning power station. Where the slag had also been a source of pollution.

Relevant TRIZ Principles

  • Principle 25: Self service
  • Principle 22: Turn harm into benefit

Strategy 4: Await the Exhausted Enemy at Your Ease

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote: “An intelligent commander will avoid enemy when their spirit is at peak, but attack the enemy when their spirit is at low point and when they are tired. Keep yourself calm and orderly, well fed, well rested, to await chaotic, exhausted and confused enemy.”

Key points

  1. Avoid opponent’s peak strength, use defense to consume opponent’s energy.
  2. Use calm as an advantage.
  3. Choose the right time, place and condition to fight.

Examples

  • Do not try to do things first, but be a quick learner to save resources and avoid mistakes.
  • Delay tactics in negotiation.

Relevant TRIZ Principles

  • Principle 11: Beforehand cushioning
  • Principle 12: Equal potentiality
  • Principle 13: The other way around
  • Principle 39: Calm atmosphere

Strategy 5: Loot a Burning House (Exploitation of Plight)

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu described: “Now, when your army is exhausted and your resources are spent, this is the time that new opponents enter the field to take advantage of your weakness. No matter how clever the leader is, once this situation has become about, the end is inevitable.”

Key points

  1. Take advantage of the opponent’s difficulties and troubles.
  2. Attack the opponent when it is at its weakest point.

Example

When the oil crises shook the world in the 1970s, Japanese car manufacturers took advantage of the situation, achieving massive sales with energy saving small cars.

Relevant TRIZ Principles

  • Principle 10: Preliminary action
  • Principle 11: Beforehand cushioning

Principle 10 is relevant because it states that “pre-arranging objects such that they can come into action from the most convenient place and without losing time for their delivery.” It shares the same line of thinking as Strategy 5 on acting on the most advantageous situation and timing. Principle 11 is somewhat relevant because it states that “preparing emergency means beforehand to compensate for the relatively low reliability of an object,” it shares the same thought with strategy five on “preparing emergency means.”

Strategy 6: Make a Sound in the East, Attack in the West

In any battle the element of surprise can provide an overwhelming advantage. Even when face to face with an enemy the element of surprise can still be employed by attacking where an individual least expects it.

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote: “The spot where we intend to fight must not be made known, for then the enemy will have to prepare against a possible attack at different points and his force will be then spread out too thin.”

Key points

  1. Using uncertainty to weaken the opponent’s preparation.
  2. Using a false signal to allow the opponent to make a wrong judgment.
  3. Using uncertainty to force the opponent to spread out its force and resources.

Examples

  • During World War II, the allied forces fooled the Germans by pretending to attack using the English Channel, while landing in Normandy.
  • In the 1991 Gulf War, the coalition convinced Iraqis (through military deception ) that it intended an amphibious attack into Kuwait. The coalition was able to fix Iraqi forces in positions that would prevent the forces from playing an effective part when the real attack came.

Relevant TRIZ Principles

Enemy Dealing Strategies

Strategy 7: Create Something from Nothing

The original strategy is to mix real things with illusions to confuse the enemy in war. It also means that “nothing” and “something” are not absolute. Just like Lao Tze said: “The world are born from something and something from nothing.”

Key points

  1. Using illusions, simulations to play the role of the real thing.
  2. A crazy idea could be a gold mine.
  3. Mixing a real thing with illusions (simulation) to fool the opponent.
  4. Using minimum resources to gain maximum benefits.

Examples

  • Using scarecrows to scare birds away.
  • “Products are not manufactured to meet the needs of customers, but to create new needs for the customer.” – Honda Soichiro

Relevant TRIZ Principles

  • Principle 26: Copying
  • Principle 27: Cheap short living
  • Principle 31: Porous material
  • Principle 32: Color change

Strategy 8: Openly Repair the Walkway, Secretly March to Chencang (Trojan Horse Strategy)

During the late Qin Dynasty, 206 BC, the Han force wanted to fool the Chu force. The Han force adopted the strategy to pretend to repair a broken walkway. The Han force, however, secretly sent the main force to take the important town of Chencang quickly and decisively.

Key points

  1. Launch several initiatives (some true and some fake) to divert the opponent’s attention.
  2. Conceal the real intention by displaying decoy activities.

Examples

  • Trojan horse
  • Prior to the Battle of Normandy, the allies wanted to draw the axis attention away from Normandy. A fictitious First U.S. Army Group (FUSAG) was created for this purpose. Dummy tanks, trucks, planes and camps were made. They were placed in an area to lead Germany to believe that the actual large scale invasion would take place in Pas de Calais. The air defense in this area was at a minimum to allow Luftwaffe to photograph them easily. Allied naval bombardment was focused on Pas de Calais instead of Normandy. Dummy paratroopers were also used to create further uncertainty on the German side regarding the actual location of the invasion. This led the German defense forces into disorder and allowed the Normandy operation to be carried out with relative ease.

Relevant TRIZ Principles

  • Principle 2: Taking out
  • Principle 3: Local quality
  • Principle 6: Universality

Strategy 9: Observing the Fire on the Opposite Shore (Wait to See Enemies Fight Each Other Out and Keep Uninvolved)

Key points

  1. Delay entering the field of battle until all other players have become exhausted fighting then go in full strength and pick up the pieces.
  2. Play the competition to an individual’s advantage.

Examples

  • British politician and anti-communist, Winston Churchill, waited to see Joseph Stalin (general secretary of the Communist Party) and Adolf Hitler (leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party) battle.
  • Bidding war; open bid to get the best deal.

Relevant TRIZ Principles

This strategy is consistent with TRIZ ideas of “optimal use of resource” and “use of other’s resources and knowledge to our advantages.”

Strategy 10: Hiding the Dagger Behind a Smile

Key points

  1. Charming outside, firm inside.
  2. Destruction covered by a charming offensive.

Examples

  • Iron hand within a velvet glove.
  • Stick and carrot.

Relevant TRIZ Principles

  • Taking out
  • Local quality

Strategy 11: Sacrifice the Plum Tree in Place of the Peach

There are circumstances where an individual must sacrifice short-term objectives in order to gain the long-term goal.

Key points

  1. Take a small sacrifice to avoid a big loss or exchange a big gain.
  2. Sacrifice short-term objectives in order to gain the long-term goal.

Example

During the Warring States period in China (476 BC to 221 BC) a general named Mr. Tian in the Qi state often played horse racing games with other noble families. There were three classes of horses: upper, middle and lower, for the same owner. An upper class horse would run faster than the middle class horse. In one race, Mr. Tien’s horses were inferior to his competitor in all classes. He consulted Sun Bin (Sun Tzu’s descendent), Sun Bin told him: “Use your lower class horse to race with his upper class horse (you will lose badly); but you use your upper class horse to race his middle class horse and use your middle class horse to race his lower class horse then you will beat your competitor by two to one.”

This example is illustrated in Figure 1:

Figure 1: Two Strategies in Mr. Tian’s Horse Racing Strategy

Relevant TRIZ Principle

Principle 4: Asymmetry

Strategy 12: Seize the Opportunity to Lead a Sheep Away

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu explained: “While following the rules of the strategy and tactics be prepared to take advantage of circumstances not covered by conventional thinking. If the opportunities present themselves then the leader should be flexible in his plans and adapt to the new circumstances.”

Key points

  1. Pay attention to all unexpected events; take advantage of all opportunities to an individual’s benefit.
  2. Even the small opportunities are worth getting because things will add up.
  3. An individual needs to seize the opportunity quickly and decisively.

Examples

  • Pfizer was experimenting with a research drug to prevent the constriction of blood vessels. However, during human subject trials, Pfizer discovered an unexpected and marketable side effect, which later became Viagra (erectile dysfunction treatment).
  • Japanese inventor Momofuku Ando noticed that people were waiting in long lines to buy noodle soup as breakfast. He realized that restaurant noodles tasted good, but needed a longer wait time and were expensive. Packaged noodles are cheap, but not tasty and they took too long to cook. He thought about a noodle with spice bags that could be cooked with only hot water. He seized this idea and invented instant noodles.

Relevant TRIZ Principle

Principle 21: Skipping (only partially related)

This strategy is also consistent with TRIZ on the optimal use of resources.

Attacking Strategies

Strategy 13: Beat the Grass to Startle the Snake

Farmers often use a stick to beat the grass to create vibration so the snakes will get out and run away.

Key points

  • Test-run, test fire. Create a real event to detect what the real situation is.
  • Warning shot. Create an event as a warning to the opponents, avoiding a costly battle.

Examples

  • In 1956, during the Suez crisis, British and French troops dropped fake paratroopers to lure the Egyptians’ anti-air fire in order to detect their positions for an air raid.
  • Walking away from a business negotiation to test the bottom-line of the opponent.
  • Testing the market to see a customer’s reaction.
  • Toyota’s test-then-design strategy.

Relevant TRIZ Principles

  • Principle 9: Preliminary anti-action
  • Principle 10: Preliminary action

Strategy 14: Borrowing a Corpse for the Soul’s Return

Key points

  1. Take an institution, a technology or a method that has been forgotten or discarded and reformulate it for an individual’s own purpose.
  2. Revive something from the past by giving it a new purpose or to reinterpret and bring life to old ideas, customs, traditions, etc.

Examples

  • Re-use old brand.
  • On February 14 in ancient Rome, people would send flowers in honor of goddess Juno. Now florists and gift companies market the same day as “Valentine’s Day.”
  • During the competition between Microsoft and Apple in the early 1980s, Microsoft used their windows software (soul) to put a new life for the obsolete IBM PC computers (corpse).

Relevant TRIZ Principles

  • Principle 22: Turn harm into benefit
  • Principle 34: Discarding and recovering

Strategy 15: Lure the Tiger Down from the Mountains

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote: “When we fight, the best strategy is to win by intelligence and wisdom, the second is to win by diplomacy then it is to win by battle. The worst strategy is to win by costly city by city fight.”

“With regard to height, if you occupy them before the enemy you can wait for enemy to climb up. But if he has occupied them before you, do not follow but try to entice them out.”

Key point

Never directly attack a well entrenched opponent. Instead lure the opponent away from the stronghold and separate the opponent from its source of strength.

Examples:

  • During the Vietnam war, the Vietcong drew American troops to close distance street battles without superior airpower (mountain) the government issues (GIs) (tiger) were much less potent.
  • At the Battle of Hastings the Normans were initially unable to break the Saxon shield wall placed at the top of a hill. By feigning retreat, the Normans were able to entice some of the Saxons to break ranks and open a gap that allowed them to scatter the Saxon army.
  • The lightening rod is used to draw lethal lightning away.
  • Lure insects to light and kill.

Relevant TRIZ Principle

Draw the harmful effects away

Strategy 16: To Catch Something, First Let it Go

In certain situations, where an individual has their opponent surrounded and under pressure, there is the danger that they will use all their energy to put up a fierce fight. In such a case, if an individual gives their opponent a chance or a hope to be free their will to fight will disappear. An individual can take advantage of this and place their opponent under control.

Key points

  1. Having the ability to win. Use it a little bit less to avoid a costly battle.
  2. Give the opponent a chance to survive so they will lower their guard (heat water slowly to capture the frog).

Examples

  • Offer a free sample to lure a customer into buying. Iin order to create a sale an individual may have to give something up first.
  • A company does not try too hard to become the first in the competition (temporarily) in order to accumulate resources, know-how and other advantages at a low effort.

Relevant TRIZ Principle

Principle 16: Partial or excessive action (only partially related)

Strategy 17: Toss Out a Brick to Attract Jade (Fishing Strategy)

The brick means something insignificant, the jade means something valuable. Throw something insignificant as bait to attract a big fish in return.

Key points

  1. Use something insignificant to attract a big reward.
  2. Use something insignificant to fight off and compensate opponent’s valuable asset.
  3. Use insignificant shows / ideas to attract marvelous ideas.

Examples

  • Use a coupon to attract sales.
  • Use a request for proposal (RFP) to draw good ideas.

Relevant TRIZ Principle

Principle 13: The other way around

Strategy 18: To Catch the Bandits, First to Catch the Ringleader (Decapitation Strategy)

A Chinese proverb states: “To kill a snake in one shot, you have to hit its vital point precisely.”

Key points

  1. In order to win, an individual has to attack the core of the problem.
  2. When there is a problem, fighting the symptoms is far less effective than removing the root cause.

Examples

  • Root cause analysis, Shainin’s red “X”
  • The American’s first Gulf War strategy was to remove the command and communication
    centers through air attack.
  • Toyota’s “five ways” approach to discover the most important root cause.

Relevant TRIZ Principle

This strategy is related to the function analysis approach of TRIZ to identify the zone of conflict and to identify the vulnerability of the system.

Chaos Strategies

Strategy 19: Remove the Firewood Under the Pot

A Chinese proverb states: “When you have boiling water in the pot, adding cold water will not cool it down effectively, but removing the firewood will.”

In The Thirty Six Strategies the explanation is: “Fire is the strongest ‘yang’ it is hard to fight, however, the source of fire is wood it is ‘ying’ and it is easy to remove. Removing this source is the easiest way to fight fire.”

Key point

It is wise not to fight something powerful directly. Instead undermine its foundation and remove its source of power.

Examples

  • Trade embargo
  • The allies’ strategy to cut off the material supply from the sea to choke off the Japanese.
  • Choke off oxygen to eliminate fire.
  • Thomas Jefferson Memorial story: There were a lot of bird droppings at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and a large amount of detergent was used to clean the building. It was costly and the results were not satisfactory. Root cause analysis was used and it found that the birds went to the building to eat spiders. Spiders were attracted by gnats, gnats were attracted by building lights, which were turned on one hour prior to dusk. Delaying the light turning on by one hour attracted fewer gnats to the building, which solved the problem.

Relevant TRIZ Principles

There were no relevant TRIZ principles.

Strategy 20: Clouding Water to Catch Fish (Take Advantage of Confusion and Chaos)

A Chinese proverb reads: “If you can make water really murky then fish will lose sight so it is easy to catch them.” In The Thirty Six Strategies one of the explanations includes: “Darkness makes people powerless.”

This strategy exploits the fact that chaos can create many opportunities.

Key points

  1. Create confusion to weaken the opponent’s perception and judgment.
  2. Do something unusual or strange to disrupt the opponent’s thinking to cause
    confusion and disorientation.

Examples

  • In air warfare, it is common practice to spread large amounts of metal foils to confuse the enemy radar system.
  • Send fake intelligence to confuse the enemy.

Relevant TRIZ Principles

Strategy 21: Shed Your Skin Like a Golden Cicada (Escape Strategy)

When cicadas grow to their adult stage they shed their empty shells in trees. It looks like the cicada is still there, but actually the cicada is gone and grows bigger and stronger with a different identity. Shown in Figures 2 and 3:

Figure 2: Shedding Skin
Like a Cicada Part One

Figure 3: Shedding Skin
Like a Cicada Part Two

Key points

  1. Create an illusion that an individual is still there, fully committed, while they are quietly shifting to another place, committed to other things.
  2. This shift must be quiet and the result must be stronger.

Examples

  • In the movie The Sound of Music, the von Trapp family pretends to do a performance, however, the family actually quietly flees the scene.
  • During the evacuation of the Battle of Gallipoli the British and Anzac forces were able to retreat without routing by creating the illusion that their trenches remained occupied.
  • In 2009, General Motors (GM) and Chrysler LLC went through a surgical bankruptcy where both companies were separated into several categories. First as a “good” GM and a “good”
  • Chrysler as they became new companies (cicadas that fled). Second as a “bad” GM and a “bad” Chrysler they became liquidated (old cicada skins) and their assets were sold to compensate bond holders and creditors.

Relevant TRIZ Principles

  • Principle 1: Segmentation
  • Principle 7: Nested doll

Strategy 22: Shutting the Door to Capture the Thief

When faced with a weak enemy if there is a chance to eliminate it once and for all make sure to shut down all escape routes and eliminate the enemy without leaving any possibility for its rebirth or to regrow.

Key points

  1. Only use it to deal with a manageable opponent.
  2. Strike with overwhelming force.
  3. Shut all escape doors.

Examples

  • Pest control or the need to eliminate all possible ways for regrowth.
  • An antivirus program in information technology.
  • Using chain stores to capture customers who would otherwise shop smaller, unique stores.

Relevant TRIZ Principle

Principle 20: Continuity of useful action

Strategy 23: Befriend to a Distant Enemy and Attack Ones Nearby

Around 300 BC, the Qin was the strongest state in China. An advisor to the emperor proposed a strategy to the emperor. Japanese strong man Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) gave the following description of this strategy:

“Let us proceed with caution, concentrating our strength and add to it daily. By winning over to our side those barons who are vassal of the enemy then when the enemy stands alone, like a tree shorn of its leaves and branches, we will attack and destroy the root!”

Key points

  1. When an individual is not as strong as his opponents, fight with the ones that are easy to win first, gaining strength in the process.
  2. Establish a temporary truce with stronger, more powerful or long-term opponents and leave the hard fight for later – after becoming stronger.

Examples

  • The process from a low cost competitor to a full scale competitor.
  • In 1950, Honda was trying to sell its motorcycles. Instead of selling from motorcycle dealers, which were difficult to work with and more expensive for Honda, Honda started to sell its motorcycles through bicycle dealers. This way made it easier and cheaper for Honda to sell motorcycles.

Relevant TRIZ Principle

The distance-time-cost tool in TRIZ and functional analysis share some common thoughts with the Honda strategy.

Strategy 24: Conquer by Using Borrowed Road

The name of this strategy comes from a story from the spring, autumn period of China (8-5 BC). One big power pretended to borrow the road from a small neighbor (who agreed) in order to attack another small state. When the big power’s army marched back home it conquered them and the neighbors.

The Thirty Six Strategies explained this strategy as: “When there are major powers and small powers, the smart way to play is for a major power to make a bit better offer to smaller powers in order to gain control over them.”

Key points

  1. It is easy to use borrowed resources.
  2. It is important to control minor players to gain the upper hand.

Examples

  • In 1968, the Soviet Union used a similar strategy to over-run Czechoslovakia with little effort. One Soviet transport plane claimed that it had a mechanical failure and landed at the Prague airport. After it landed, the inside army quickly occupied the airport. Soon after a large number of Soviet troops landed in the airport and they took over Prague.
  • Toyota offers suppliers / dealers a little bit better deal to gain supplier support.

Relevant TRIZ Principle

This strategy shares common thoughts with TRIZ on the effective use of resources, especially on the use of borrowed resources.

Proximate Strategies

Strategy 25: Replace the Beams with Rotten Timbers

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu said: “The generals are the supporting pillar of the state. If their talents are superior, the state will be strong. If the supporting pillar is marked by fissures, the state will grow weak.”

Key points

  1. Disrupt the enemy’s formations, interfere with their methods of operation.
  2. Change the rules they are used to following. Go contrary to their standard training in this way. Remove the supporting pillar, the common link, which makes a group strong.
  3. Replace the enemy’s main pillar with inferior parts.

Examples

  • The Soviet spies secretly changed a screw on the opponent’s U-2 plane to make it show a higher altitude. Later the U-2 plane was brought down by a regular missile as it was not flying at the altitude it expected.
  • Launch disruptive innovation to change the rules of the game in the marketplace.

Relevant TRIZ Principle

Principle 35: Parameter change

Strategy 26: Point at the Mulberry but Curse the Locust Tree (Indirect Warning Strategy)

A Chinese proverb says: “Kill a chicken to scare monkeys.” This strategy is about indirect warning. In The Thirty Six Strategies, this strategy is explained as: “Even when you are strong, using warning instead of direct force can get things done easier and better.”

Key points

  1. Use indirect warning instead of direct action.
  2. Discipline others to show that the individual rules.

Example

The U.S. attacked Grenada in 1983 to send a strong signal to Nicaragua and Cuba.

Relevant TRIZ Principle

In functional analysis or Su-field analysis in TRIZ, sometimes the use of ancillary fields to influence objects is recommended. This approach shares common thoughts with Strategy 26.

Strategy 27: Pretending Ignorance

In The Thirty Six Strategies this strategy is explained as: “It is better to pretend knowing nothing, than pretend to know a lot more than you actually are, so you won’t make decision or do things recklessly.”

Key points

  1. Too much of a display could draw too much attention and make opponents well prepared.
  2. Keeping a low profile and pretending to be weaker or knowing less than what is actually known can make an opponent lower their guard. This will create advantages.

Example

Lucius Junius Brutus (founder of the Roman republic) feigned idiocy for many years while he secretly prepared to depose Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the last King of Rome.

Relevant TRIZ Principle

Principle 35: Parameter change

Strategy 28: Remove the Ladder When the Enemy has Ascended to the Roof (Trap Strategy)

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote: “Avoid terrain that features cliffs and crags, narrow passes, tangled bush and quagmires. While avoiding such places ourselves, try to lure the enemy into such areas so that when we attack the enemy will have this type of terrain at his rear.”

Key point

Use bait and deception, lure the enemy into traps and then shut off the escape routes.

Example

Soldier Napoleon Bonaparte had been spurred on by the prize of capturing Moscow and with it the defeat of Russia; however, all he found was a burned, empty city; his forces were cut off in hostile terrain and in bad weather with no supplies.

Relevant TRIZ Principles

  • Principle 3: Local quality
  • Principle 4: Asymmetry

Strategy 29: Decorating a Tree with Flowers

In The Thirty Six Strategies this strategy is explained as: “Birds’ feathers make them look bigger than they actually are. Fake flowers combined with real trees can make them look nice.”

Key points

  1. The use of simulation and camouflage to make things appear nicer, more useful, more viable or stronger.
  2. Mixing simulations with real things to make opponents unsure about real strength or the real situation.

Example

In Disney’s shows, both simulation and real performance are mixed to achieve spectacular effects.

Relevant TRIZ Principles

  • Principle 26: Copying
  • Principle 32: Color change

Strategy 30: Turning the Guest into the Host

In The Thirty Six Strategies this strategy is explained as: “At first, you need to put a foothold on the place then make gain steadily, finally you can take over the key positions.”

Key points

  1. If an individual cannot defeat them, join them.
  2. If an individual is weak then they can participate in the game as a guest. Make a truce with opponents, work with them, learn from them, but also observe their vulnerabilities. Grow in the process.
  3. After gaining enough strength, take control.

Example

After World War II, Toyota was a tiny, weak automobile company. It sent a delegation led by Taichi Ohno (considered to be the father of the Toyota Production System) to learn from the Ford Motor Company. They stayed in the Ford Rouge plant for months to learn Ford’s production system, but Toyota looked into the weaknesses of Ford as well. Toyota was a quiet, seemingly harmless guest to the U.S. “big three” companies for a long time.

Relevant TRIZ Principles

Defeat Strategies

Strategy 31: Honey Trap (Beauty Trap)

In The Thirty Six Strategies this strategy is explained as: “If enemy’s soldiers are too strong then you will try to work on their generals. If their generals are very smart then you will try to mess up their emotional life and spirit.” The title of this strategy is rooted in some legends that opponents use beautiful women to cause rulers discord.

Key point

Take advantage of the fatal attractions of the opponents to weaken them. Make them make mistakes.

Example

The use of chemicals released by female pests to lure male pests to trap or poison in pest control practices.

Relevant TRIZ Principle

Principle 8: Antiweight

Strategy 32: The Empty Fort Strategy

A Chinese legend said that in 3rd century BC one of the most famous Chinese strategists faced a dire situation. The enemy’s strong army suddenly appeared in sight and he had few in his army to defend the city. The strategist opened the city gate and made the city look defenseless while he played a musical instrument. His enemy was suspicious and afraid of ambush and disappeared.

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu said: “When weak, appear strong, when strong, appear weak.”

Key point

Psychologically, people are used to following paradigms. When behavior is out of the ordinary it will confuse people. Take advantage of this and get out of trouble temporarily.

Relevant TRIZ Principles

  • Principle 13: The other way around
  • Principle 35: Parameter change

This strategy is a good example of taking advantage of people’s psychological inertia, which TRIZ is trying to overcome.

Strategy 33: The Strategy of Sowing Discord

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu explained:”Reduce the effectiveness of your enemy by inflicting discord among them.”

Key point

Undermine the enemy’s ability to fight by secretly causing discord among them, their friends, allies, advisors, family, commanders, soldiers and population. While they are preoccupied settling internal disputes their ability to attack or defend will be compromised.

Relevant TRIZ Principles

  • Principle 9: Preliminary anti-action
  • Principle 10: Preliminary action

This strategy is also a good example of taking advantage of people’s psychological inertia.

Strategy 34: Victim Status Strategy

Key points

  1. Portray the individual as a victim to gain trust.
  2. Use this status to an individual’s advantage.

Example

A chief executive officer (CEO) only earns one dollar in salary to gain support and sympathy from employees.

Relevant TRIZ Principles

  • Principle 9: Preliminary anti-action
  • Principle 10: Preliminary action

This strategy is also a good example of taking advantage of people’s psychological inertia.

Strategy 35: Chain Strategy

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu described: “Do not repeat tactics which gained you victory in the past, but let your tactics be molded by infinite variety of circumstances.”

Key points

  1. In important matters an individual should use several strategies applied simultaneously one right after another as in a chain of stratagems.
  2. Keep different plans operating in an overall scheme.

Relevant TRIZ Principles

  • Principle 5: Merging
  • Principle 6: Universality
  • Principle 15: Dynamics

Strategy 36: If Everything Else Fails, Retreat

In the Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote: “If greatly outnumbered then retreat. While it is possible for a small force to put up a great fight, in the end it will lose to superior numbers.”

In The Thirty Six Strategies this strategy is explained as: “When your side is losing there are only three choices remaining: surrender, compromise or escape. Surrender is complete defeat, compromise is half defeat, but escape is not defeat. As long as you are not defeated, you still have a chance.”

Key point

If it becomes obvious that the current course of action will lead to defeat then retreat and regroup.

Relevant TRIZ Principles

There are no relevant TRIZ principles.

Similarities and Differences Among the Thirty-six Strategies and TRIZ Similarities

Though the 36 strategies and TRIZ were created under different situations and cultural backgrounds, the author found some striking similarities, which are described below.

Common Goals: Ideal Final Result

In TRIZ, ideality is a measure of excellence for technical solutions. Ideality is defined by the following ratio:

Ideality =

The higher the ideality, the better the technical solution is for a particular problem. The ultimate goal for TRIZ is to achieve the ideal final result (IFR) where costs and harm will be approaching the minimum and benefits will be approaching the maximum.

In The Thirty Six Strategies all the strategies are about looking for solutions that will achieve maximum benefits with minimal costs and harmful side effects. For example, in the third strategy, “Kill with a borrowed knife” and in the seventh strategy, “create something from nothing,” both are trying to accomplish a task without any cost and side effects. In the second strategy, “Besiege Wei to rescue Zhao” and in the fifteenth strategy, “lure the tiger down from the mountain,” they are both about fighting to win with minimum loss and maximum effectiveness.

One of the key fundamentals of the 36 strategies can be described by this quote from the Art of War by Sun Tzu: “When we fight, the best strategy is to win by intelligence and wisdom, the second is to win by diplomacy then it is to win by battle. The worst strategy is to win by costly city by city fight.”

As described by The Thirty Six Strategies, the first 18 strategies are used when decision makers are in advantageous position. An individual can see that these 18 strategies are about “how to win with maximum benefits and with minimal loss and efforts.” The second set of the 18 strategies is used when decision makers are in disadvantageous or even dire positions. An individual can see that these strategies are about “how to reverse the situation to win” or “how to avoid failure” with maximum effectiveness and minimal loss. Clearly, achieving maximum ideality are the common goals of both TRIZ and the 40 inventive principles and the 36 strategies.

Eye Openers for Unusual Solutions

Both TRIZ and the 36 strategies serve as eye openers for unusual solutions for particular situations. The inventive principles of TRIZ are summarized by past inventions and they are used when a technical or a non-technical problem faces some difficult-to-solve bottlenecks or contradictions. The application of inventive TRIZ principles is a practice of knowledge and reuse. The application of the 36 strategies has a similar process and purpose. Each strategy is also a summary of past successes. Decision makers would like to reuse the strategy when it fits.

Optimal Uses of Resources

For both the 36 strategies and TRIZ, optimal uses of resources are one of the most important pillars of their approaches. In the 36 strategies, there are many strategies that deal with how to use other resources, optimal timing and so on. In TRIZ, many strategies on the uses of other resources, ignored resources and creation of resources from wastes are developed.

Psychological Inertia

For TRIZ, the study of people’s psychological inertia is extensive and many thoughts are developed for overcoming people’s psychological inertia in order to develop breakthrough ideas. For the 36 strategies, the enemy’s psychological inertia is noticed. Several strategies such as strategies 32, 33 and 34 respectively, take advantage of people’s psychological inertia – even to their advantage under some dire situations.

Differences

There are also several significant differences among the inventive principles of TRIZ and the 36 strategies, summarized as follows:

Domains of Knowledge Base

The inventive principles of TRIZ, whether the original 40 inventive principles or the newer versions are derived from patents of various technological fields.6 The purpose of the inventive principles is to serve as a concise, exhaustive list of principles, which are able to summarize “all the tricks” used in the technological inventions documented in patents. When the inventive principles of TRIZ are used in non-technical areas they are mostly customized re-interpretations of principles to various non-technological fields.

The 36 strategies are derived from 3000 years of theory and practices from ancient battlefield tactics, political and diplomatic practices and psychological warfare. The applications of the 36 strategies are mostly in the area of non technical fields such as politics, diplomacy, espionage and business operations. Unlike TRIZ, the 36 strategies are not formally derived from a massive study of all strategies and there are no claims that it is an exhaustive list of all good strategies.

Application Method

In TRIZ applications, the inventive principles are usually used in combination with the contradiction matrix. The problem is first defined as a contradiction and then the search for relevant inventive principles begins to derive specific solutions from them.

In the 36 strategies, all 36 strategies are divided into six sections:

  • Winning
  • Enemy dealing
  • Attacking
  • Chaos
  • Proximate
  • Defeat

In the first three sections, the decision makers have an advantageous position and in the second three sections, the decision makers have a disadvantageous position. The application process of the 36 strategies is simply described as “pick and choose the ones that may fit your situation.”

Degree of Overlapping

Based on the author’s analysis, out of 36 strategies, 28 strategies are somewhat relevant or share some common element with 29 of the 40 inventive principles of TRIZ. There are eight strategies that have no resemblance with the 40 inventive principles of TRIZ. There are 11 inventive TRIZ principles that are not remotely used in the 36 strategies.

These 11 inventive TRIZ principles include:

  • Principle 17
  • Principle 18
  • Principle 19
  • Principle 23
  • Principle 28
  • Principle 29
  • Principle 30
  • Principle 36
  • Principle 37
  • Principle 38
  • Principle 40

By examining these particular principles, it is not difficult to find that almost all these principles are closely linked to modern technological development. Examples include, principle 18 (mechanical vibration) and principle 23 (feedback).

The eight strategies that are not linked to the 40 inventive principles include:

  • Strategy 9
  • Strategy 18
  • Strategy 19
  • Strategy 23
  • Strategy 24
  • Strategy 26
  • Strategy 28
  • Strategy 36

Based on the author’s preliminary analysis, some of these strategies are related to psychological warfare such as strategies 26, 27, 28, 32, 33 and 34. They are not remotely linked to technological inventions. Some of them are multiple stage strategies such as strategies 17, 23, and 30, respectively. They are not linked to patents. Some of them emphasize discovering and resolving vital root causes such as strategies 18 and 19. If all the other knowledge bases of TRIZ are included such as use of resources, Su-field analysis, studies of psychological inertia then an individual will find that the degree of overlapping is much greater. Almost all the 36 strategies share some common thoughts with TRIZ.

Conclusions

In this paper, the 36 strategies from ancient China are thoroughly researched and discussed along with examples of how they overlap with the 40 inventive principles of TRIZ. Both TRIZ and the 36 strategies strive for searching solutions that achieve high ideality and both the 40 inventive principles of TRIZ and the 36 strategies are eye openers that could help to land unusual, creative and effective solutions for difficult problems.

There are also significant differences, TRIZ principles are derived as exhaustive principles describing inventive approaches reflected in patents. The 36 strategies include a short list of fabled strategies from 3000 years of ancient Chinese practices in politics, military battle tactics, psychological warfare and human struggle. The 36 strategies can also be applied to modern day business operations, diplomacy and international politics.

The author’s analysis has shown that there are significant overlaps among the 40 inventive principles of TRIZ and the 36 strategies, which underscore the fact that many elements of human wisdom are universal. The author’s study also indicates that there are significant distinctions among the 40 inventive principles and the 36 strategies. The 40 inventive principles of TRIZ contain many elements that are not covered by the 36 strategies. The majority of these elements are related to modern technological developments. The 36 strategies also contain many elements that are not related to the 40 inventive principles. Some of these elements are not related to engineering technology areas. Some of these elements are not related to inventions either, however, they are well planned multiple stage strategies or best practices. If all knowledge bases of TRIZ are included, then there is greater overlap of the 36 strategies with TRIZ.

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