Reading 1.1: A Treatise on Efficacy: Between Western and Chinese Thinking (Francois Jullien)

1 July — 15 July 2015

How do we in the west look at operational problems? A short answer lies in the term itself. We typically see the world in terms of current states, end states, and a problem to overcome between the two. This is the language of work, of action, of challenge. If Francois Jullien is right, it’s how Westerners approach the world: we identify a problem, generate a course of action and drive relentlessly towards our goal. Is it possible that this way of thinking unknowingly biases us to certain forms of interaction with world?

If we unearth the roots of our thinking we’d find some basic and often unidentified assuptions that limit our ideas:

  1. Every situation can fit into a mental model
  2. Mental models combine with theories to produce plans
  3. Planning is the foundation for success
  4. Success requires a plan of action and determination

The Chinese way of thinking provides a stark contrast and one that might dramatically change our perspectives and increase our options:

  1. Every situation is entirely unique
  2. The uniqueness of a situation contains inherent strengths
  3. Transforming strengths moves a situation more to your advantage
  4. Continual advantage, over time, allows domination

While some of these differences seem like mere semantics, Jullien makes a very compelling case for how the contrast is profound and unacknowledged in the Western world.

Jullien is one of the most highly respected Sinologists in the world who also has a penchant for strategy and military thought. The book runs the gamut of academic disicplines from philosophy to history to military theory and will definately challange your perspectives on efficacy. His ideas are certainly contestable so please feel free to agree, disagree, or critique his thoughts. The next book (The Hundred Year Marathon) starts on 15 July.