Get Simple Strategy Tips From Ancient Sages

Sometimes, in any hustler's life, comes moments of self-reflection. We say to ourselves "Whither goest thou?" or "Sic transit gloria mundi" or "Why in the name of Teddy Roosevelt did I get THAT tattoo, THERE?"

Face it, Horatio, you've made some bad decisions in life. You did things you wouldn't do, the second time around.

"I learnt in the school of hard knocks, me" says the self-made man. It doesn't occur to him he might learn from others' mistakes. There are a lot of books out of there and not all of them are girly novels. Some have the wisdom of the ages.

We spend a lot of time yakking to ourselves, internally. It occurs to very few to think about why they think the way they think.

Here are a few works would-be baron should buy from Amazon, and keep by the couch, for a quick read before bedtime.

1. How To Win Friends And Influence People, by Dale Carnegie

Wikipedia says the following: "Before How to Win Friends and Influence People was released, the genre of self-help books largely did not exist". Quite surprising, given their ubiquity today.

The core message of the book is that you should think about other people, their wants and how to tailor your approach to their perspective, rather than piling in with a demand that they do X for you.

Here's a quote: "Let the other person do a great deal of the talking. People do not like listening to us boast, they enjoy doing the talking themselves. Let them rationalize and talk about the idea, because it will taste much sweeter to them in their own mouth."

The overall impression of the book's tactics is that of a smooth American salesman working you over in a friendly way. This is a useful approach when practiced by non-Americans. Most people are interested in themselves and not The Other i.e. you.

Also, other cultures inculcate behaviour that can irritate non-members. You charge with with your Bolivian manners and get hurt when the New Hampshire brahmin politely declines your advances.

You need to try to see things from the other guy's perspective and then actually do something about it.

(Ssshhh, did I just say people are not the same wherever you go? Well, colour me deepest conservative blue. Just try getting a licence for X in a Third-World country and see how local custom varies from Madison Avenue.)

Chess board2. The Art Of Worldly Wisdom, by Balthasar Gracian

This is a list of 300 maxims, each with a commentary, on various topics giving advice on how to live fully, advance socially, and be a better person.

Sounds woolly? It ain't. Here are a few humdingers:

Keep the extent of your abilities unknown. The wise man does not allow his knowledge and abilities to be sounded to the bottom, if he desires to be honored at all. He allows you to know them but not to comprehend them. No one must know the extent of his abilities, lest he be disappointed. No one ever has an opportunity of fathoming him entirely. For guesses and doubts about the extent of his talents arouse more veneration than accurate knowledge of them, be they ever so great.”

Never exaggerate. It is a matter of great importance to forego superlatives, in part to avoid offending the truth, and in part to avoid cheapening your judgment. Exaggeration wastes distinction and testifies to the paucity of your understanding and taste. Praise excites anticipation and stimulates desire. Afterwards when value does not measure up to price, disappointment turns against the fraud and takes revenge by cheapening both the appraised and the appraise. For this reason let the prudent go slowly, and err in understatement rather than overstatement. The extraordinary of every kind is always rare, wherefore temper your estimate.”

“Audacious persons hope to make themselves eternally famous by setting fire to one of the wonders of the world and of the ages. The art of reproving scandal is to take no notice of it, to combat it damages our own case; even if credited it causes discredit, and is a source of satisfaction to our opponent, for this shadow of a stain dulls the lustre of our fame even if it cannot altogether deaden it.”

"Never have a Companion who casts you in the Shade. The more he does so, the less desirable a companion he is. The more he excels in quality the more in repute : he will always play first fiddle and you second. If you get any consideration, it is only his leavings. The moon shines bright alone among the stars : when the sun rises she becomes either invisible or imperceptible. Never join one that eclipses you, but rather one who sets you in a brighter light. By this means the cunning Fabula in Martial was able to appear beautiful and brilliant, owing to the ugliness and disorder of her companions. But one should as little imperil oneself by an evil companion as pay honour to another at the cost of one's own credit. When you are on the way to fortune associate with the eminent; when arrived, with the mediocre."

As to the latter maxim I would say there is one contradiction: you should hire people smarter than you. A company, in whom the most intelligent man is also the boss, can only rise as far as his abilities. Someone who hires smarter minds is not so bound.

3. The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli

This book offers advice to Italian Renaissance princes. At the time of composition, Italy was a mess of duelling fiefdoms, where political murder was all part of a day's work. Its author has given his name an adjective to the English language: 'machiavellian'.

Its advice is cold and amoral. The writer hoped to better himself by offering a manual of ascendancy to local princes. Its contents are useful to UK businessmen in that it gives a fresh perspective on what one may encounter in climbing the corporate ladder.

The following quotes give a flavour of the work:

"If an injury has to be done to a man it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared.”

"The lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves."

Mouse"There is no other way to guard yourself against flattery than by making men understand that telling you the truth will not offend you."

"... it is much safer to be feared than loved because ... love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails."

"The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him."

"Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception."

I recall reading an addendum to the work, which mentioned bodies floating under the bridges of a local metropolis of the time. The inference being, that politicking the Machiavellian way comes at a price.

4. The Art Of War, By Sun Tzu

The Art of War is an ancient Chinese treatise on military strategy and tactics. It dates from the 5th century BC and is composed of 13 chapters, each of which is devoted to one aspect of warfare.

The format suits the modern mind. It's easy to read, having lists of precepts and is tersely written. Again, it's not directed at businessmen per se, but as a source of fresh ideas, it's invaluable.

This work became more widely known in the West about 25 years ago when it looked like Japan was going to be a new economic superpower. This book offered a simple way for mediocre US corporate underlings to try to understand the oriental corporate mind. As it turned out, they didn't need to. China now understands Western economics very well!

Anyway ...

What it truly is a terse, non-technical instruction manual on the way to win battles, written by someone who spent a lot of time meditating on the subject, and cutting to the core of the matter. Here are some quotes:

"The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting."

"Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak."

"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."

"If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected ."

What's interesting in reading these books is that you will have more than one 'aha' moment. You realise that this is the reason what you were doing went wrong. Anyone can set up a business in the UK, and many do so, without a clue about about how to proceed, beyond getting a website and stationery and doing a bit of advertising.

It's a good idea to occasionally put down the Daily Telegraph, to put "How I Made My Millions" by Some Daddy's Boy back on the shelf, and take up instead a book a bit more wide-ranging and timeless.

Clear your head!

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