Formulation Of Goals And Strategies

A. Formulation of Goals

After you have a general notion that your idea is feasible, it’s time to set some specific goals— decide some clear outcomes you want to reach.

And as in war, the ultimate goal is to “win”.

You want to achieve the objective, complete the mission— whatever that may be.

In order to move on from this stage you must be able to say “Yes” to three questions:

1. Do my goals represent some net positive gains?

2. Are my goals achievable?

3. Are my goals prioritized?

Ideally, you want to achieve maximum gains with minimum effort.

In order to do that, it’ generally the best thing to follow the “path of least resistance”.

Your aim is to capture all the enemy’s states intact.

Thus, your forces are not worn out and your victory can be complete.

This is the crux of the offensive strategy.


…subdue the enemy’s army without direct battle;
capture the enemy’s cities without fierce assaults

—The Art of War

1.          Result in . net positive gains

The bottom line is that the gains must exceed the costs.

You don’t want to put more into something than you’ll get out of it.

Sometimes these gains can be quantitative, for example you find a new job that pays more money.

Sometimes these gains can be qualitative –  you find a new occupation that you enjoy more or a new job that pays slightly less but provides vital experience.

Do not move unless there are definite
advantages to be gained.
Engage only when it is in [your] interest; Cease when it is to [your] detriment.

—The Art of War

2.          Achievable

When deciding on goals you should also attend to timeframe. You should be able to achieve the objective within a reasonable amount of time. 

There has never been a protracted war that has brought benefits to the state.
Therefore, in war it is advantageous to go for swift victory and not prolonged campaigns.

—The Art of War

Generally, when we don’t see clear progress it is hard to stay motivated. A “swift victory” builds confidence and creates momentum.

When victory is long delayed, the ardor and morale of the army will be depressed.
When the siege of a city is prolonged, the army will be exhausted.
When the army engages in protracted campaigns, the resources of the state will be impoverished.

—The Art of War

3.           Prioritized

Being victorious in battle is easy, but preserving the results of victory is difficult.
Thus it is said that among the states under Heaven that engage in warfare those who garner five victories will meet with disaster;
those with four victories will be exhausted;
those with three victories will be hegemons;
those with two victories will be kings; and
those with one victory will become emperors. For this reason those who have
conquered the world through numerous victories are extremely rare, while those who thereby perished are many.


When formulating goals, strategy comes first. If you fight too many battles, you will lose in the end.

And if you have to engage in battle, attacking the enemy’s strategy is highest priority.

The highest form of generalship is to attack the enemy’s strategy;
the next best policy is to disrupt his alliances;
the next best is to attack his army;
The worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.
Besiege cities only when there are no other alternatives.

—The Art of War

The chain of desirability moves from the nonphysical to the physical– the formless into the “myriad things.”

The ultimate goal is to “win without fighting” and to avoid head to head competition if possible.

While there is always some form of inexplicit competition, it’s best to try and keep it that way, and try to avoid explicit competition or “open battle”.

If open competition is unavoidable, one way to attack the enemy’s strategy is to take initiative and “psyche them out” before open competitionbegins.

Those from whom the initiative has been taken have no spirit;
those who are afraid are unable to mount a defense;
those who have suffered defeat, have no men.
They are all cases of an army lacking the way of the military.
When you go forth and have no doubts, then follow your plan.
When you rob the enemy of his plans and still no on confronts you, press the attack home.
If you can see clearly and occupy high ground then overawe them into submission.
This is the pinnacle of the way of the military.

–Wei Liaozi

Mount a sudden strike on their doubts.
Attack their haste.
Force them to constrict their deployment.
Launch a sudden strike against their order.
Take advantage of their failure to avoid harm.
Obstruct their strategy.
Seize their thoughts. Capitalize on their fears.

–-Sima Fa

Attacking the opponent’s strategy can also take the form of a preemptive strike. As it is said, “prevention is the best cure.”

The easiest way to achieve this is through positioning.

It’s like that fable about the apple tree and the pear tree.

Everyone is going for the apples, pushing and shoving and struggling, but just a bit off in the distance, off to the side, is a pear tree with no one around it.

All you have to do is simply go over to the tree and start picking pears.

This is the way of Competition.

This principle is represented in business as “firs mover advantage”.

There can be clear advantages for a company that opens a new market.

This doesn’t prevent competitors from entering the market, but when they arrive late they will have to “rush into action when they are already tired and exhausted.”

The first mover generally has better positioning and the costs of entry are usually higher for the later entrant.

And if a business is operating in a niche market where is has core competency, it can be very difficult for others to compete.

One who excels at warfare first establishes himself in a position where he cannot be defeated while not losing any opportunity to defeat the enemy.
For this reason, the victorious army first realizes the conditions for victory, and then seeks to engage in battle.
The vanquished army fights first, and then seeks victory after the battle has begun.

—The Art of War

What does this mean for an Individual? You can think of this in terms of your personal strengths.

What are you good? What are you good at that you like doing?

And then, what are you good at that you like doing that no one or not many other people are doing?

For example, if you are a 250lb.  white guy with limited success in ball sports, it probably would not be the best idea to try and become an NBA basketball player.

However, if you are someone who is obsessed with printed material, who has been doing martial arts his whole life and spent the better part of the last 5 years intensively studying Chinese language and culture, it is probably not too bad of an idea to write about Chinese strategy.

After you have formulated your goals and they represent some net positive gain, they are achievable and prioritized; it’s time to think about how to reach those goals.

B. Formulation of Strategies

1.          Choice of battleground

First mover advantage is about the choice of battleground—the area of competition. While “terrain” is fixed and not alterable, “battleground” is variable and controllable.

There are two main factors in choosing the battleground:

a. Areas that have distinct advantages

b. Areas ignored by the enemy

a. Being the first to occupy the battleground:

Generally, those who reach and occupy the battleground early will have time to rest and wait for the enemy.
Those who arrive at the battleground late will have to rush into action when they are already tired and exhausted.

—The Art of War

b. Choosing a battleground that is more advantageous to you than your competitor:

Those who are skilled in warfare will always bring the enemy to where they want to fight, and they are not brought there by the enemy.

—The Art of War

Being the first one to occupy a key battleground allows you to be better prepared than the enemy.

It will allow you to obtain advantages accorded by the terrain.

In addition, it allows you to consolidate resources before the arrival of the enemy.

A battleground that is more advantageous is one in which the terrain fits your resources better than it fits the competition’s resources.

It is a ground that magnifies your strengths and minimizes your weaknesses.

By first occupying this type of ground yourself, then bringing your enemy to that ground for battle, you obtain a higher assurance of victory.

Do not rely on their not coming, but depend upon having the means to await them.
Do not rely on their not attacking, but depend on having an unassailable position.

—The Art of War

Concentration of forces

Another leverage point is the principle of concentration of forces.

In terms of warfare, the economy of forces means finding a way to concentrate your “many” against the enemy’s “few.”

If I determine the enemy’s disposition of force while I have no perceptible form, I can concentrate my forces while the enemy is fragmented.
If we are concentrated into a single force while he is fragmented into ten, then we attack him with ten times his strength.
Thus we are many and the enemy few.

—The Art of War

“Many” and “few” are relative terms.

The principle of concentration of forces recognizes relative strength, not absolute strength. Ultimately, the point of contact dictates the outcome of the battle.

The strength of an army does not depend on large forces.
Do not advance relying on sheer numbers.
Rather, one must concentrate the forces and anticipate correctly the enemy’s movements in order to capture him.

—The Art of War

How is this possible?

How can you concentrate all of your force at the point of contact and assure that your enemy cannot do the same?

This is one place where deception and unpredictability factor in.

The enemy must not know where I intend to attack.
For if he does not know where I intend to attack, he must defend in many places.
The more places he defends, the more scattered are his forces, and the weaker is his force at any one point.
If the enemy prepares to the front, his rear will be weak;
if he defends the rear, his front will be fragile.
If he strengthens his left, he will weaken his right;
if he strengthens his right, he will weaken his left.
If he tries to prepare everywhere, he will be weak all over.

—The Art of War

3.          Attack and Defense

As mentioned earlier, outright head to head competition is best avoided, but if it is unavoidable, then the only way to win is through attack.

Let’s look at the world of sports for a moment.

In playing a game of soccer, the only way to win is to kick the ball into the opponent’s goal.

You cannot win by just defending your own goal. If you focus on defense only, the best possible outcome is a draw.

You cannot win a basketball game without putting your ball in the opposing teams net.

Of course, you need to get back on defense too but you can’t win by focusing on defense only.

In boxing, you can slip and dodge but ultimately you need to punch to knock out your opponent.

However, this doesn’t mean you should just charge into the conflict unprepared.

The best overall strategy is to build a strong defense first, then once you have established a solid position, wait for an opening and attack when the opportunity presents itself.

In antiquity those that excelled at warfare first made themselves unconquerable in order to await the moment when the enemy could be conquered.  Being conquered lies within yourself; being conquerable lies within the enemy.
Thus one who excels in warfare is able to make himself unconquerable

In ordinary situations using the military, if the enemy does not make an error in judgment, how can our army conquer them?
It may be compared with chess where two enemies begin in equal strength.
As soon as someone makes a mistake, truly no one can rescue him.
For this reason, in both ancient and modern times, victory and defeat have proceeded from a single error.

–Questions and Replies

In addition, it is important to have a correct assessment of relative strength and advantage before you attack.

One who cannot be victorious assumes a defensive posture; one who can be victorious

In these circumstances by assuming a defensive posture, strength will be more than adequate, whereas in offensive actions it would be inadequate.
Those who excel at defense bury themselves away below the lowest depths of the Earth.
Those who excel at offense move from above the greatest heights of Heaven.
Thus they are able to preserve themselves and attain complete victory.

—The Art of War

4. The Orthodox . and the Unorthodox

Another consideration in the formulation of strategies is the use of the “orthodox” and the “unorthodox”.

Orthodox or zheng can be understood as “actual, normal, direct, full, substantial”.

Unorthodox or qi can be understood as “surprising, extraordinary, indirect, deceptive, empty, vacuous”.

In battle, there are only two forces—the orthodox and the unorthodox.

There is a yin yang principle involved in the use of these forces.

Generally, orthodox represents yang and unorthodox represents yin, but sometimes the orthodox is yin and the unorthodox is yang.

Yin is inside yang. Yin is not “opposed” to yang.

Yang is inside yin. Yang is not “opposed” to yin.

These forces contain each other and whichever side is dominant shifts fluidly according to circumstance.

Musical notes do not exceed five, but the changes of the five notes can never be fully heard.
The colors do not exceed five, but the changes of the colors can never be completely seen.
The flavors do not exceed five, but the changes of flavors can never be completely tasted.
In warfare the strategic configuration of power do not exceed the orthodox and unorthodox, but the changes of the orthodox and unorthodox can never be completely exhausted.
The orthodox and unorthodox mutually produce each other, just like an endless cycle.
Who can exhaust them?

—The Art of War

The unorthodox represents the strategic advantage that you need to win in battle.

Every strategic action has two aspects: the “yang” superficial move and the “yin” underlying purpose.

In battle, one generally engages with the orthodox and gains victory through the unorthodox.
Thus one who excels at sending forth the unorthodox is as inexhaustible as Heaven, and unlimited as the Yangtze and

Yellow rivers.
What reach an end and begin again are the sun and moon.
What die and are reborn are the four seasons.

—The Art of War

When action is initiated it becomes the orthodox; what has not yet been initiated is the unorthodox.
When the unorthodox is initiated and not responded to, then it will be victorious.
One who has a surplus of the unorthodox will attain surpassing victories.

–Military Methods

In addition, by concealing both the orthodox and unorthodox, you can take the enemy completely by surprise.

But such ideal secrecy can seldom be attained. The only alternative is to make the enemy neglect or misinterpret the underlying

purpose of your operation.

In other words, you aren’t going to be able to keep the enemy ignorant of your actions, you’ll have to trick them right under their nose. 

Our orthodox should be like the mountain, our unorthodox like thunder.
Even though the enemy is directly opposite our front, no one can fathom where our unorthodox and orthodox forces are.
At this point what shape do I have?

–Questions and Replies

The interchangeable use of the two forces will make it difficult for the enemy to guess your real intention.

This will create deception.

Creating deception can allow you to direct forces where the opponent is not guarded. You can attack with the “substantial” where the opponent is “vacuous”.

If wherever the army attacks it is like a whetstone thrown against an egg, it is due to the vacuous and substantial.

—The Art of War

When you have mastered the orthodox and unorthodox, they are used interchangeably. Thus you always maintain an element of surprise and a strategic advantage.

For those who excel at employing troops there are none that are not orthodox, none that are not unorthodox, so they cause the enemy never to be able to fathom them.
Thus with the orthodox they are victorious, with the unorthodox they are also victorious.

–Questions and Replies

Contingency Plans

Things rarely turn out “according to plan”. It’s generally a good practice to allow some margin for error.

What if the enemy does not respond as anticipated?

If the enemy is not forthcoming after the launch of the orthodox attack then a different combination must be used.

This can be achieved by transforming the orthodox and unorthodox.

The number and degree of transformations are virtually limitless. Hence, the flexible use of these two forces allow for contingencies.

In any planning decision, contingencies must be included.
At times, you may even develop two or more alternative courses of action.
It is said that the famous strategist Zhuge Liang often prepared contingency plans based on different circumstances and put them in envelopes.
As the situation developed, the appropriate envelope would be opened and the new plan followed.
Contingency plans ensure that alternative effective actions are available when needed.
Those who are advancing should have a route out, those withdrawing should have a route for advancing.

–Military Methods

After you your goals and strategies have been formulated and you have made some contingency plans, it’s time to evaluate the strategies.

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