The Wild Western Art of War

You can’t visit the Far East without contemplating the contrast between Eastern strategies of negotiation, and the less colourful philosophies of the Wild West.

The Thirty-Six Chinese Strategies, for example, are a wonderfully rich collection of tactics derived from military strategy that are claimed to shape the Chinese approach to business, especially business with foreigners. 

Examples include “Kill with a borrowed knife”, “Conceal a dagger in a smile” and the delightfully pragmatic “If all else fails, run away”.

To the Westerner these principles might appear a mite aggressive or even a slight underhand. But to the Chinese, business is no different to warfare. And this of course gives them a positive advantage in cyber warfare, which I’ve long pointed out is really the “art of illusion” than the “science of sabotage”.

Perhaps we should adopt a similar set of principles for the Wild West. What might they be? Tossing a few ideas around with the delightful Melanie McFarland, a US business strategist based in Hong Kong, we came up with a few ideas.

Here are my Ten Western principles (of business, war or security):

  • “Circle the wagons” – Retreat to a classic perimeter defence.
  • “Hang ’em high” – Find a scapegoat rather than the true root cause of a problem.
  • “The only good user is a dead user” – Forget the enemy it’s users we really hate.
  • “If you haven’t fallen off a horse, you haven’t been riding long enough” – Don’t worry about breaches, they’re just inevitable.
  • “If you’re not making dust, you’re eating it” – It’s much better to lead blindly than to follow.
  • “Don’t squat with your spurs on” – Never turn your weapons on yourself by mistake.
  • “Don’t mention the elephant in the room” – Ignore any problems that are too big to fix. SCADA systems come to mind.
  • “Why do today what can be put off to tomorrow”- Procrastination makes life easier. Just ignore those uncomfortable audit actions. You know they won’t bite you for a while. 
  • “When you’re in a hole, stop digging” – The classic No 2 rule of holes. (Don’t ask what the No 1 rule was.)
  • “Just tick the box” – Never mind the quality, just follow the process. 

All further suggestions are most welcome of course.