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Running a large organization
is like cooking a small fish:
it is easy to overdo.

When the Way is used in dealing with the world,
FUD will not have any influence.
Well, it is not that FUD will have no influence:
FUD will not be used to mislead people.
Well, it is not that FUD will not be used to mislead people:
the Consultant will not mislead people.

Well, when the Consultant and his client do not mislead each other,
virtue accrues to both of them.


chapter notes:

Since many of my audience have probably never cooked a small fish, I have included an explanation with the first verse.

Since spirits are not relevant to the corporate world, I have converted them to FUD here.


To run a company,
to compete in the Market,
there is nothing like economy.

The economical path returns early to the Way:
thus, it is doubly virtuous.
With this virtue, there is nothing that cannot be accomplished:
none can foresee your limitations.
If none can foresee your limitations,
you might well start a company;
if you grasp the creative foundations of the company,
you and your company might well make it.

Being deep-rooted and firmly based:
this is the Way of long life and persistent vision.


chapter notes:

Aside from retargeting the political to the corporate, this is a fairly straightforward chapter.

(or: Sliding Down the Cutting Edge)

When the company is run without overt control,
the employees will be happy and reasonably honest.
When regulations are heavy and enforcement is strict,
the employees will be rebellious and necessarily dishonest.

Good luck depends on bad luck,
bad luck lurks within good luck,
and where does it all end?
It seems there is no good place to stand:
the correct becomes strange,
and the auspicious becomes ill-omened.
All this change and confusion:
their days have been long,
and may be longer yet.

be blunt but do no harm,
be sharp but do not cut,
be honest but do not offend,
be brilliant but do not dazzle.


chapter notes:

The overall sense of this chapter is as applicable today as it was when it was written. The Warring States period was a time of great social and (for the time) technological change. While much of the suffering and dislocation was a consequence of pervasive war, rather than the the disruptive technological advancement of the modern era, the effect may be comparable: charting a course is difficult when the landmarks change daily.

In such a time, perhaps the most reliable advice is to go with the flow, keep your eyes open, and above all maintain your balance.

Run the company straightforwardly.
Meet conflict with indirection and cunning.
Change the world by relinquishing self-interest.

How do I know this? Well:
When there are many rules and prohibitions,
the developers will become rebellious.
When enforcement is arbitrary and capricious,
the company will start to fall apart.
When management institutes clever motivational policies,
there will be perverse consequences.
When threatening memos are common,
there will be widespread mockery.

Therefore, the Consultant says:
Take action without force,
and the employees change by themselves.
Love equilibrium,
and the developers order themselves.
Relinquish self-interest,
and the projects prosper by themselves.
Become objective,
and let the company return to simplicity itself.


chapter notes:

After converting advice for the state into business advice, there was the question of what to do with those lines which were only relevant to the state. Some of these are obvious in context, but others required some thought. The correspondences I chose:

  • the recommendation against taboos and prohibitions has been changed to make developers rebellious, not poorer
  • the recommendation to disarm the population is not relevant; I have converted it to “arbitrary and capricious enforcement”
  • the recommendation against educating the population is not relevant; I have converted it to recommendation against “cleverness” on the part of management.
  • the recommendation against Legalist publicizing of laws has been converted to advice against “threatening memos”

The last verse has been converted to a hierarchical sequence, rather than uniformly referring to “the people”.

He who knows does not speak.
He who speaks does not know.

Shut the portals,
close the gateways;
harmonize the user interface,
integrate the applications;
manage hazardous conditions,
untangle spaghetti code:
this is Subtle Unity.

In this way, that which can be
neither courted nor avoided,
neither benefitted nor harmed,
neither uplifted nor degraded,
is valuable in the real world.


chapter notes:

The second verse mirrors chapter 4; otherwise the translation is straightforward.

One who is fully virtuous is like an infant:
wasps and scorpions, vipers and snakes will not sting him;
birds and beasts will not carry him off;
his bones and sinews are soft and weak, yet his grip is firm.
He knows nothing of sex, yet his penis is erect:
this is the height of potency.
He can scream all day without getting hoarse:
this is the height of harmony.

To know harmony is eternal:
to know the eternal is true insight.
To grasp after life is unlucky:
if your will directs your energy,
this is called “forcing”.
Such a thing will be old before its time:
this is not the Way, and consequently
it will fail sooner rather than later.


chapter notes:

This chapter is a straightforward translation.

What has been well planted will not be uprooted.
What has been well embraced will not escape.
The line of maintainers to support the system will not be interrupted.

Cultivate yourself, and your virtue will be authentic.
Cultivate your project, and its virtue will abound.
Cultivate your company, and its virtue will endure.
Cultivate your state, and its virtue will grow.
Cultivate the world, and virtue will be pervasive.

Evaluate others by yourself.
Evaluate projects by your project.
Evaluate companies by your company.
Evaluate states by your state.
Evaluate the world by the world.

How do I know this of the world?
by its very nature, it is so.


chapter notes:

This mistranslation was fairly mechanical — only some terms have changed.

If you have enough sense, in following the Way,
the only fear is wandering off it.
The Way is smooth and straight,
but somehow, people prefer the mountain trails.

The court is swept clean,
but the fields are full of weeds,
and the granaries are empty.

Their costumes are fancy and colorful,
their weapons are deadly,
they glut themselves on food,
they have more things than they know what to do with.

This is called robbery,
and robbery is not the Way.


chapter notes:

This is another case where I have left political philosophy undisturbed. The chapter itself is a straightforward translation; it likens aristocrats to robbers, pointing out their common attributes.

The title may seem to lend a libertarian cast to the material, but that is not my exact intent. Libertarians like to think, because the state grew out of a bunch of predatory thugs, that this is its essential nature; therefore, minimizing the state is necessary to minimize its evil: “that state is best which governs least” has a plausible Daoist gloss to it.

However, this libertarian view requires a willful blindness to the services a state actually provides, or an unreasoning idolatry of the capabilities of the Market with which they intend to replace these functions.

If there is a difference between a government and a bunch of robbers, it is in the benefits it brings to its people. Thus, the extent that it rises above its predatory origins is the degree to which it can be judged a useful state.

The System had a beginning: the mother of the System.
To know the mother is to know her children.
Know the children, return to guard the mother,
and thereby avoid danger.

Shut the portals, close the gateways,
and thereby preserve your resources.
Open the portals, multiply the services,
and you will exhaust your resources.

To perceive the low-level is true insight;
to maintain the simple is true strength.
You may use the GUI tools, but return to insight:
thereby you may avoid disaster.
This is how to support reliable service.


chapter notes:

In this case, the Heaven and Earth (i.e., the world) is translated to the System being administered. While this changes the sense of the chapter somewhat, it seems comfortable in its new context.

The Way gives life;
Virtue supports it.
Programs take form;
their usefulness completes them.

the ten thousand programs honor the Way,
and respect Virtue.
Honoring the Way, respecting Virtue:
nothing compels this;
by its very nature, it is so.

The Way, and the Virtue of the project:
together, they
generate and support it,
develop and maintain it,
protect and defend it,
host and secure it.

Creating without possessing,
taking action without demanding credit,
completing without controlling:
this is called Subtle Virtue.


chapter notes:

In addition to targeting programs instead of generic “things”, I have tried to pursue specific interpretation of the sense of the generic original.

The content of the second verse is still somewhat subtle: it defines the *sense* in which things honor the Way. The point, as I understand it, is that we are not speaking of any kind of anthropomorphic honor and respect — only that Virtue and the Way are essential aspects of the origin, development, and functioning of things, so their natural operation necessarily reflects that.

February 2010
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