Saturday, March 26, 2011

Lessons from the Life of Zhang Liang (2)

(updated in 03.12.2015)
This picture is from Oriental Treasures

Zhang Liang is one of our favorite examples of the professional strategists who failed early and made successful comebacks. He resided between the final period of the Qin dynasty (221 to 206 BCE ) and the earlier years of the Han dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE).

Some of his many strategic trademarks were:
  • Strategizing the multiple threads of different operations into one's Big Tangible Picture;
  • Thinking in completeness; 
  • Understanding the grand connective concept of civil fundamentals; martial fundamentals; leadership; tactical essentials and tactical specifics.
  • Understanding the concept of conspiring to collaborate;
  • Gaining cooperation and collaboration from a diversity of principals; and 
  • Controlling any strategic operation from many thousands miles away.

Following is some more historical data on Zhang Liang's life:

Meeting Huang Shigong
As a wanted man by the government, Zhang travelled to Xiapi and stayed there for some time, using fake identities to evade the authorities. One day, Zhang took a stroll at the Yishui Bridge and met an old man there. The man walked towards Zhang and chucked his shoe down the bridge on purpose, after which he yelled at Zhang, "Hey boy, go down and fetch me my shoe!" Zhang was astonished and unhappy but obeyed silently. The old man then lifted his foot and ordered Zhang to put on the shoe for him. Zhang was furious but he controlled his temper and meekly obliged. The man did not show any sign of gratitude and walked away laughing.
The old man came back after walking a distance and praised Zhang, "This child can be taught!"[2] and asked Zhang to meet him at the bridge again at dawn five days later. Zhang was confused but agreed. Five days later, Zhang rushed to the bridge at the stroke of dawn but the old man was already waiting for him there. The old man chided him, "How can you be late for a meeting with an elderly man? Come back again five days later!" Zhang tried his best to be punctual the second time but the old man still arrived earlier than him, and he was scorned by the old man once more and told to return again five days later. The third time, Zhang went to the bridge at midnight and waited until the old man appeared. This time, the old man was impressed with Zhang's fortitude and humility, that he presented Zhang with a book, saying, "You can become the tutor of a ruler after reading this book. Within ten years, the world will become chaotic. You can then use your knowledge from this book to bring peace and prosperity to the empire. Meet me again 13 years later. I'm the yellow rock at the foot of Mount Gucheng."

The old man was Huang Shigong (黃石公; literally: "Yellow Rock Old Man") of the legendary "Four Haos of Mount Shang" (商山四皓), a group of four reclusive wise men. The book was titled The Art of War by Taigong (太公兵法) and believed to be the Six Secret Teachings by Jiang Ziya, while some called it Three Strategies of Huang Shigong. In legend, Zhang returned to the indicated site 13 years and did see a yellow rock there. He built a shrine to worship the rock and the rock was buried with him after his death.

Reflection Points
The two lessons that the reader can learned from this Zhang Liang's experience are:
  • the importance of pre-positioning (projecting, planning and preparation) before a significant event; and
  • the cause of every personal action can be assessed in terms of fortitude and humility.

After extensively study of the Six Secret Teachings essay and other strategic classics, Zhang Liang learned the importance of knowing and understanding the Big Tangible Picture (BTP) and later became the principal strategic advisor for Liu Bang, the future emperor of the Han Dynasty.

Zhang Liang continuously made quality strategic decisions and was an excellent collaborator with the other strategic advisors of Liu Bang. He always credited the people who presented valid ideas to the Liu Bang's court.

We will discussed more about the life of Zhang Liang, the Six Secret Teachings and his strategic decision management process in our future posts

Click here and here for more historical notes on the life of Zhang Liang.

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