Notes politics

Strategy 29: Take Small Bites (The 33 Strategies of War)

Never seem to ambitious, you will stir up resentment. Gradually take small bites, and before anyone knows it, you will have acquired an empire.

It may seem that people are aggressive, given our history of never-ending conflict and war. But this is not true. Aggression is the exception to the norm; most people are conservative and try to hold on to what they have. Conflict gets a disproportionate amount of attention, which is why we overestimate its presence.

Assume there is something you want for your security and power. If you take it without discussion, you give your enemies a choice, to fight or to accept the loss and leave you alone. They will need to consider whether it is worth waging war on you. What costs more, the war or the loss they will concede as a result of fighting it?

If you take something large, conflict is more likely. If you take something small, your enemies are more likely to let it slide. In the latter case, you have played to your enemy’s conservative tendencies – which are stronger than their acquisitive ones. Your ownership of this property soon becomes a fait accompli, part of the status quo, which is best left alone.

All the conceptions born of impatience and aimed at obtaining speedy victory could only be gross errors…. It was necessary to accumulate thousands of small victories to turn them into a great success.


Alfred Hitchcock went through the same wars in almost every film he made, he had to wrestle control from the producer, actors, and rest of the team. He wanted his vision to be reflected in the script, but if he squeezed the writer’s neck too much, he would get bad work, so he moved slowly instead. He allowed the writer to work loosely off his notes, and then asked for revisions to shape the script he wanted.

A very patient man, Hitchcock let his power plays unfold over time, so that producer, writer, and stars understood the completeness of his domination only when the film was finished.

Robert Greene, The 33 Strategies of War

You need to make time your ally if you want to have control over a project. If you demand too much control in the beginning, you break people’s spirit, and you create envy and resentment.

When you take a bite, even a small one, act like it is out of self-defense. Appear as the underdog and give the impression that you have limited objectives by taking pauses between bites, thereby exploiting the short attention spans of people, while presenting yourself as a peaceful person. Sometimes, it is wise to take a big bite and give back some of what you have taken. People only see your generosity and limited actions, not the growing empire you are amassing.

To multiply small successes is precisely to build one treasure after another. In time one becomes rich without realizing how it has come about.

Frederick the Great (1712-1786)

Read The 33 Strategies of War

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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