Honest words are not pleasant;
pleasant words are not honest.
The academic is not practical;
the practical is not academic.
The competent are not many;
many are not competent.

The Consultant does not accumulate.
The more he helps others,
the more he gains himself;
the more he gives to others,
the more he gets for himself.

The Way of Heaven is to help, not to harm.
The Way of the Consultant is to deliver, not to compete.


chapter notes:

I have converted the warning against wisdom to a contrast between the academic and the practical. Besides from being an issue in the world of software development, I expect this was a problem in ancient China, as well — as newly trained scholars, appointed to government posts (or old functionaries, assigned to an unfamiliar task) tried applying their book-learned wisdom to an uncooperative real world.

A small company, with few people.

Let there be intellectual property,
but no occasion to enforce it.
Let the employees love their jobs,
and have no desire to leave them.

There may be a corporate handbook,
which no one needs.
If there are patents,
they are not for business models or software.

Let the employees telecommute when appropriate,
and buy them donuts occasionally.
Let them wear what they want,
socialize how they want,
decorate their offices as they want.

Although other companies may share the building,
as well as a parking lot and other facilities,
your people will grow old and retire without knowing them.


chapter notes:

Once converted from a description of a small state to a that of a small software company, this chapter ends up being a pretty good description of my last place of work.

In resolving a lawsuit,
there will always be some ill-will remaining;
how can this be good for business?

Therefore, the Consultant
keeps careful track of his accounts receivable,
but is not a stickler for immediate payment.
The virtuous keep scrupulous accounts;
the virtueless engage in indiscriminate enforcement.

The Way of Heaven is impartial:
the client will always need a good consultant again.


chapter notes:

Like chapter 26, this mistranslation practically leaped off the page. Aside from the punchline, this is an otherwise reasonably literal translation.

(or: You’re Doin’ a Heckuva Job, Brownie!)

Nothing in the world is softer and weaker than water,
but there is nothing like it for attacking the hard and strong:
this is because nothing can take its place.

That water eats stone, that the soft defeats the hard:
this is something nobody in the world does not know,
but nobody seems to put it into practice, either.

Therefore, the Consultant says:
only he who truly accepts blame is a worthy executive;
only he who takes on disaster is a true leader.

Well, great truths can sound perverse.


chapter notes:

This translation is fairly straightforward — though, again, the chapter title chooses a particularly relevant modern example.

The Way of Heaven is like developing a program:
the high-level is made concrete,
the low-level is made abstract,
the inefficient is removed,
the insufficient is improved.

The Way of the Market
uses surplus to supply deficit,
as opposed to the Way of Monopoly,
which takes from deficit, to increase surplus.

Who, then, when having abundance,
offers his efforts to increase the ten thousand programs?
Perhaps only one who follows the Way.

Therefore, the Consultant
develops the code, but does not make it proprietary,
completes the project, but does not demand ownership:
that way, he need not advertise his worth.


chapter notes:

The original metaphor of drawing a bow has been replaced by developing a program.

“The Way of Heaven” vs. “The Way of Man” contrast has been replaced with “The Way of the Market” vs. “The Way of Monopoly”. Since my target audience has likely played Monopoly, this is intended as a tutorial reminder of how an economic monopoly actually works.

The sense of the remaining verses is fairly conducive to their new target, without quite as much abuse as the first two.

A living man is soft and supple;
a dead man becomes stiff and rigid.
A living program is flexible and adaptable;
a dead program becomes fragile and brittle.

Thus, the stiff and the rigid are the companions of death,
and the soft and the supple are the companions of life.

If the sword is inflexible, it will break;
if the oak is mighty, it will fall to the storm.

Thus, the rigid and the great will lie low,
and the soft and the flexible will rise above them.


chapter notes:

As usual, I have translated the generic “things” into “programs”. I have also reused the proverb of the oak and the reed — creating a connection not explicit in the original.

(or: A Fish Rots From the Head Down)

The projects are failing
because those above leave them insufficient resources;
that is why they fail.
The employees are hard to manage
because those above abuse their power;
that is why they are angry.
The developers take their jobs lightly
because those above make demands that consume their life;
that is why they scoff at layoffs.

Well, he who does not trade his life for his livelihood
is wiser than those who value their jobs.


chapter notes:

In this case, I have translated the abuses of the aristocracy to those of management. I have also adapted the general to the specific; in particular, I have split concerns over life and death into concerns about “jobs” on the one hand, and “life” in the modern colloquial sense (as in “get a life”).

If your people despise their jobs,
why should they care if you threaten to fire them?
If your people like their jobs,
and know they will lose them if they behave badly,
who would dare?

For people to fear being fired,
there must always be a hatchetman.
To stand in for the hatchetman
is to substitute for a professional craftsman:
by misusing his tools, you will injure yourself.


chapter notes:

As the original topic of capital punishment is not appropriate to the new context, I have (as before) converted it to being fired.

Courage in daring leads to death.
Courage in not-daring leads to life.
Of physical and moral courage,
one is beneficial, and the other is harmful.
Who knows why Heaven hates what it does?

The Way of Heaven is
to win without competing,
to convince without speaking,
to organize without commanding,
to implement with ease.

The net of Heaven is wide;
though sparse, it misses nothing.


chapter notes:

Overall, this chapter is a fairly literal translation. However, the sense of the second verse is somewhat warped by its new context.

If the developers do not respect the management,
they will find an employer they do respect.

Do not reduce the size of their cubicles,
and do not cut their compensation:
it is only because you do not burden them
that they do not become tired of you.

Therefore, the Consultant
knows himself, but does not make himself known;
loves himself, but does not think himself high and mighty.
Thus, by avoiding the one, he chooses the other.


chapter notes:

The first verse has been converted from a warning of political failure to a practical note on employee retention. Otherwise, translation into the modern context has left the sense of this chapter remarkably unaltered.

October 2016
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