Implementation Of Strategies

So far we have discussed situation appraisal, formulation of goals and strategies and evaluation of strategies.

The next step is the implementation of strategies.

Implementation involves two parts: the human element, and the operational element.

The human element means understanding the roles and responsibilities of the people involved in the mission.

The operational element relates to certain principles that affect the successful accomplishment of the mission.

The Human Factor


1. The Sovereign

2. The Army

3. The Commander

The “sovereign” represents the larger political/cultural space you are operating in.

The “army” is your working group.

The Commander

To reiterate some of the points from section two, the general should develop the qualities of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness. And he should avoid the five negative traits of recklessness, cowardice, quickness of temper, sensitivity to honor, and being too compassionate.

Taking into account both positive and negative traits, a capable general must possess five vital characteristics – caution in action, courage in battle, composure under stress, pragmatism in decision making and sincerity in dealing with people.

In addition, he needs to have three abilities – the ability to plan, the ability to execute and the ability to lead his army.


Heaven gives birth to the four seasons, Earth produces the myriad things.
Under Heaven there are the people, and the Sage acts as their shepherd.
Thus the way of spring is birth and the myriad things begin to flourish.
The way of summer is growth and the myriad things mature.
The way of autumn is gathering, the myriad things are full.
The way of winter is storing away, the myriad things are still.
When they are full they are stored away; after they are stored away they again revive.
No one knows where it ends, no one knows where it begins.
The Sage accords with it, and models himself on Heaven and Earth.
Thus when the realm is well ordered, his benevolence and sagacity are hidden.
When All under Heaven are in turbulence, his benevolence and sagacity flourish.
This is the true way.

—The Six Secret Teachings


The general must be cautious in action.

Being cautious, however, does not mean being indecisive or slow to act.

It does not suggest overly conservative decision making or avoidance of aggressive actions.

Cautiousness, rather, is the ability to weigh possibilities and determine their likely consequences.


One who excels at warfare will await events in the situation without making any movement.
When he sees he can be victorious he will arise: if he sees he cannot be victorious he will desist.
Thus it is said that he doesn’t have any fear, he doesn’t vacillate.
Of the many harms that can beset an army, vacillation is the greatest.
Of disasters that befall an army, none surpasses doubt.

–The Six Secret Teachings


Aside from caution, the general must be courageous in action. Courage means the ability to make bold decisions and to take risks when necessary.

Sometimes this means sticking to an unpopular decision when he feels it is the right decision.

Also, he must be courageous enough to admit fault and accept responsibility in the face of defeat.


The capable general is someone who is composed and not easily provoked. Despite his high stature, he must not succumb to hubris and egotism. He must be able to withstand insults and provocation. He must not be tempted into taking reckless action or being provoked into overreaction.

…a general must not fight a battle out of resentment.
For while anger can be restored to happiness, and resentment can become pleasantness; a state that has perished cannot be restored, and a man who is dead cannot be resurrected.

—The Art of War


The general must be pragmatic in decision making.

Sometimes a decision will have to be made that differs from the prior consensus of the group.

Because the general is there on the battlefield and watching the events unfold, sometimes he will need to make an “executive decision.”

To be practical and realistic requires initiative.

If the situation is one of victory, the general must fight even though the ruler may have issued orders not to engage.
If the situation is one of defeat, the general must not fight even though the ruler may have issued orders to do so.

—The Art of War


The general must be sincere when dealing with people, especially the members of his working group.

When a general treats his men like his
beloved sons, they will be willing to support
him unto death.
Pay attention to nourishing the troops, and do not tire them unnecessarily.

—The Art of War

However, he must also beware of being overl compassionate.

If he is too considerate, this could be interpreted as weakness by his group and result in a lack of discipline an insubordination.

In addition, this could be a weakness exploited by the enemy.

If over-compassionate to the people, he can be easily harassed.

—The Art of War

In addition, there are three abilities that a general needs.

A. Ability to plan.

The general should have the ability to plan, especially in the area of strategy.

He must know when to fight and when not to fight, where he should be fighting, how he should go about fighting, whom he is fighting and why he is fighting.

He should know which weapons to use and which troops to employ.

His ability to plan will enable him to effectively exploit opportunities on the ground as they arise.

Therefore, the adept at war seek victory from the situation, and do not rely on the efforts of the individuals.
Thus, he is able to select suitable men to exploit the situation.

—The Art of War

B. Ability to execute plans.

The general should have the ability to execute plans effectively. Even if your plan has a Ninety eight percent chance of success, if you don’t execute, you will not reach your objective.

If at the height of the day, you do not dry

things in the sun, this is termed losing time. 

If you grasp a knife you must cut. If you hold

an axe, you must attack.

–The Six Secret Teachings

C.         Ability to lead his army.

Something that often gets overlooked is the need to employ others in the execution of your plan.

This is one of the highest leverage factors in executing a plan.

We only have 24 hours in a day. In order to achieve maximum effectiveness, it is absolutely necessary to utilize the talents of others.

You must learn how to lead and manage the group of people working on the execution of the plan.

Whenever one mobilizes the army it takes the commanding general as its fate.
Its fate lies in a penetrating understanding of all aspects, not in clinging to one technique.
In accord with there abilities assign duties, each one taking charge of what they are good at, constantly changing and transforming with the times, to create the essential principles of order.
Thus the general has seventy-two “legs and arms” and “feathers and wings” in order to respond to the way of Heaven.

—The Six Secret Teachings

Operational Factor

In addition to human factors, there are operational factors to consider.

These factors can be summarized by 3 underlying principles.

1. The Principle of Speed

2. The Principle of Adaptability

3. Deceptiveness in Action and Strategy

The Principle of Speed

This refers to swiftness in execution. A plan is useless unless it is executed.

However, it is also important how it is executed.

One of the primary principles in execution is speed.

This is in sharp contrast to the views on planning, which support thoroughness and attention to detail.

This thoroughness naturally tends to take some time. But once the plan is formalized it needs to be executed expediently.

Speed of execution ensures that the plan actually gets done and doesn’t just sit on the “back burner”.

If one sees good but is dilatory in doing it;
If the time for action arrives and one is doubtful;
if you know something is wrong but you sanction it—it is in these three that the way stops.

–The Six Secret Teachings

Also, in a directly competitive situation, if the plan isn’t executed swiftly, it could be leaked or offer the enemy a chance to read your

movements and start preparing countermeasures.

Speed in execution will give the added advantage of surprise and capitalize on the enemy’s lack of preparation.

If your plans are heard about, the enemy will make counterplans.
If you are perceived, they will plot against you.
If you are known they will put you in difficulty.
If you are fathomed, they will endanger you.

–The Six Secret Teachings

Speed is the essence of war.
Capitalize on the unpreparadness of the enemy;
travel by unexpected routes; and attack those places where he does not take precautions.

–The Art of War


Timing means acting at the appropriate moment.
When the strike of the falcon breaks the body of it’s prey, it is because of correct timing.

—The Art of War

The falcon is able to fatally strike its victim because of accurate timing.

It is able to overcome a much larger prey because of speed and accuracy.

It uses its strengths against its victim’s weaknesses, so it is able to attain relative superiority at the moment of engagement.

It’s important to strike at the most opportune time–neither too early nor too late.

Timing is more of an art than a science. A lot depends on the judgment of the commander on the battlefield.

The art of applying correct timing depends on the general having a good feel for the situation.


The wise follow the time and do not lose advantage;
the skillful are decisive and have no doubts.
For this reason, when there is a sudden thunderclap there isn’t time to cover the ears;
when there’s a flash of lightning, there isn’t time to close the eyes.

–The Six Secret Teachings


Timing is used to catch the enemy off guard and exploit advantages of the situation as they appear.

Momentum is used to achieve a synergy of action.

One action leads to another to another to another and all the while building up strength.

When [a good general] uses combined energy, his army become like rolling logs or stones.
It is the nature of logs or stones to be motionless on level ground and move when on a slope. …
Thus the energy generated when employing troops is like the momentum of rolling a round boulder down the side of a thousand foot mountain.

—The Art of War

Water is a soft substance, yet it can move homes off their foundation and cut valleys into solid rock because of its movement.

When rushing water moves boulders, it is because of momentum.

—The Art of War

Momentum also refers to the pace of action.

Speed of implementation builds momentum.

Protracted campaigns kill the energy.

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.
If the army engages in protracted campaigns, the resources of the state will be impoverished.

—The Art of War

The Principle of Adaptability

Despite all the detailed planning and swiftness of execution, things can still go wrong.

Thus, you must be able to adapt to changing conditions.

There are three primary aspects to the principle of adaptability:

1. Flexibility

2. Innovativeness

3. Deceptiveness


Again we will take “water” as an example of how to be flexible and how to “effortlessly” fit the situation.

The guiding principle in military tactics may be likened to water.

Just as flowing water avoids heights and races downwards, an army should avoid strengths and strike weakness.

Just as water configures its flow according to the terrain, an army controls its victory according to the enemy.

Water has no constant shape.
The army does not maintain any constant strategic configuration of power.
One who is able to change and transform in accord with the enemy and wrest victory is termed spiritual.
None of the five phases dominates;
the four seasons do not have constant positions;
the sun shines for longer and shorter periods;
and the moon waxes and wanes.

–The Art of War

In order to gain maximum strategic advantage from changing circumstances, the general must be flexible and adopt fluid strategies that change in response to the situation.

Strategic power is exercised in accord with
the enemy’s movements.
Changes stem from the confrontation between two armies.
Orthodox and unorthodox tactics are
produced from the inexhaustible resources of the mind.

–The Six Secret Teachings

When neither the beginning nor end have yet become visible no one is able to know them.
Heaven and Earth are spiritual and enlightened, with the myriad things they change and transform.
The commander’s changes and movements
should not be constant.
He should change and transform in response to the enemy.
He does not precede affairs.
When the enemy moves he immediately follows up.
Thus he is able to formulate inexhaustible strategies and methods of control.
He can sustain and complete the awesomeness of Heaven.
Such a strategist is a teacher for an emperor or true king.

–Huangshi Gong



 In addition to responding to the necessities of the situation, you must be innovative, take initiative and consistently alter your strategy.

This non-repetition of tactics suggests a constant search for new and innovative ways of meeting challenges.

The use of new approaches will prevent the enemy from anticipating your plans.

Do not repeat tactics that won you a victory, but vary them according to circumstance.

[The commander] must be able to change his methods and schemes so that no one can know his intentions.
He must be able to alter his camp-sites and marching routes so that no one can predict his movements.

—The Art of War

While flexibility is more reactive and implies flowing with the situation, innovativeness is more proactive and suggests initiating and

dictating the situation.

Those skilled in manipulating the enemy do
so by creating a situation to which the enemy must conform.

—The Art of War


Using deceptiveness can be a difficult topic because it involves ethical issues.

You must use your own ethical radar in evaluating the appropriateness of deception.

However, its implications are clear for warfare.

War is based on deception.
Whether to concentrate or divide the forces, when changes should be made to gain advantages, must depend on circumstance.

—The Art of War

Deception can be utilized in two primary ways.

The first way is to conceal your true intention.

This knocks the enemy off balance and keeps them guessing as to when and where you will attack.

This gives you strategic advantage.

To be the first to gain victory, initially display
some weakness to the enemy and only afterward do battle.
Then your effort will be half, but the achievement will be doubled.

–The Six Secret Teachings

Also, you can use illusion to deliberately mislead the enemy.

One of the stratagems from the 36 Stratagems is “make a sound in the East and attack in the West”.

This is the technique of distraction, or as we used to say on the basketball court, “fake right, go left.”

A different strategy based on illusion can be encapsulated in another schoolyard favorite—the tactic of “playing possum.”


Therefore, when capable, feign incapability;
when active, feign inactivity.
When near to the objective, feign that you are far away;
when far away, make it appear that you are near.

—The Art of War

Illusion can serve several purposes. First, it will confuse your enemy about your real intention.

This will make you unpredictable in the enemy’s eyes.

Although you may have multiple engagements with the same enemy, he will have to do a new assessment of you each time.

This can serve to wear him down and cause him to spend excess time and resources.

The tactical balance of power lies in the extremities of the way.
If you have something, pretend not to have it; if you lack something, appear to have it.
Then how can the enemy trust the appearance?

–Wei Liaozi

The use of illusion discussed above will make your opponent weary of you.

Illusion can also cause your opponent to underestimate you – particularly if you feign incapability, vulnerability, humility and weakness.

This serves to lower his defenses and indirectly encourage his arrogance.

When the enemy has let his guard down, that is the best time to strike.

In the beginning of battle, be as shy as a
young maiden to entice the enemy and lower his defenses.
When the battle progresses, be as swift as a hare so as to catch him unprepared.

—The Art of War

You can even go so far as to initially accommodate your own plans with the designs of the enemy.

The crux of military operations is to pretend to accommodate one’s plan to the designs of the enemy.
Once an opportunity arises, concentrate your forces against the enemy, and no matter how distant the enemy, you
can kill his general and defeat his army.
This is what it means to achieve success in an ingenious way.

—The Art of War

But be careful with these kinds of tactics. To lure someone into your hands by seeming to be lured into his trap is an art that requires the utmost skill.

To feign confusion, one must possess discipline;
to feign cowardice, one must possess courage;
feigned weakness must be born out of strength.

—The Art of War

This sudden change from weakness to strength and vulnerability to aggression can have a stunning impact that cripples the enemy. The true “master” of war wins so swiftly and covertly that by the time the enemy realizes what is happening, he is already defeated!

The victories won by a master of war never gained him reputation for wisdom or courage.

—The Art of War

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