Deceiving the heavens to cross the sea
The Tang Dynasty emperor needed to cross the sea with his army. But the waves were strong, and the men and horses were fearful. Weeks passed until a soldier named Xue came up with a plan.
An old man approached the emperor, offering to provide food for all. The emperor and the army went to a huge tent for drinks, and for many days, everyone was entertained with food, music, dance. Things were going well until the emperor heard the sound of waves and wind.
When the emperor opened the tent, he saw that instead of being in the tent of the old man on land, all of them were actually traveling on a ship at sea. The old man had disguised the ship as a tent. Thankfully, they soon landed on the shore, whereupon the old man took off his disguise, revealing the soldier Xue.
This strategy, which relies on distractions to achieve a goal, is known in Chinese lore as “deceiving the heavens to cross the sea.”
Cruise ships today literally use this tactic. To make sea voyages enjoyable, passengers are given bountiful food and nonstop shows and events, so much so that passengers spend more time on activities rather than watching the waves.
Plane flights follow the same strategy, albeit to a lesser degree.
The power of distraction cannot be underestimated. Magicians use sleight-of-hand to make things appear the way they want the audience to perceive them. Roman emperors used gladiatorial bouts to entertain the people and quell any notion of revolt. Many young people today distract themselves with gaming and social media to escape humdrum reality.
“Deceiving the heavens to cross the sea” can be employed by businesses to deal with change.
“People typically resist change, more so if they have been operating within their comfort zones or in a stable environment,” say National University of Singapore professors Wee Chow Hou and Lan Luh Luh in their book “The 36 Strategies of the Chinese.”
“To lure them out of their comfort zones, their defense mechanisms must be lowered through the use of nonthreatening situations, and by introducing gradual changes. The person in charge of implementing changes must be aware of potential hindrances. These obstacles could be caused by the organization, the environment, the nature of the technology, resource constraints, or human factors. These blockages often create strong resistance to change and must be identified so that effective countermeasures can be developed.”
The authors cite the example of Singapore Telecoms. Six years prior to its listing on the stock exchange, the executive team already prepared employees. Policies were explained, dialogues done between management and staff, training and consulting on sensitive matters carried out.
After major organizational changes, many key personnel decided to stay on and help the company become even more competitive.
“Firstly, communication is essential in facilitating change. The what, when and why of change should be explained. Secondly, employees should be involved in the plan for change. This can be done by encouraging them to provide ideas and suggestions. In this way, their commitment can also be inducted. Thirdly, adequate feedback mechanisms must be established to counter fears and defuse rumors. Fourthly, changes made must be acceptable. Incremental changes are less painful and more acceptable especially in situations where time is not a constraint. Fifthly, a climate of trust is crucial. This is where, in the context of a business organization, sensitive and caring leadership is needed. Good internal relations also facilitate the building of a climate of trust. Finally, the involvement of top management will speed up the process of change and increase its effectiveness.”