21 August 2012

The Original Spin Doctor - Gui Gu Zi on Open & Close

How can you be a good and succcessful person, a winner in life? Success in life is about knowing the working principles, the Dao, of the universe and how things work, and the finding and forming the right partnerships, whether in a family, company or even political party. How to do that? Especially on how to discover the intent of the hearts. How to persuade others to follow or to support your proposal? Please read the wisdom from GuiGuZi shared here.
Gui Gu Zi (鬼谷子) is a famous strategist in the times of the Warring States Period of Chinese History (around BC 400). The translated name is Fellow of the Ghost Valley. He was named after where he stayed. He was the teacher of the famous military strategists like 苏秦, 张仪, 孙膑与庞涓. 苏秦 Su Qin was the one who persuaded the other 6 countries to form a vertical alliance to check the expansion of Qin. Su Qin then supported his fellow classmate 张仪 Zhang Yi to go to Qin and persuaded Qin to use the strategy of a horizontal alliance to break out the vertical alliance. Qin followed it and eventually conquered the entire China and forming the Chin Dynasty.  We can see that Su and Zhang were great strategists, or lobbyists or spin doctors in today terms.

In the first chapter of Gui Gu Zi' book, "Open and Close", he boldly proclaimed that "由此言之,无所不出,无所不入,无所不可。可以说人,可以说家,可以说国,可以说天下。"

translation: follow my talk, anything can come out, anything can enter, nothing is impossible. It can persuade people, family,country and the whole world.

Such confidence and such persuasive power as demonstrated by his students! Hence, I call him the original Spin Doctor and all students of this persuasion will surely benefit much to study his work.

What is his secret? Two words only, Open and Close. It is the principle, or the Dao, of Yin and Yang. Please see Yin-Yang Thinking Framework – Innovative and Critical.

Instead of giving you the English translation of his work, which may still be mystical after the translation, I shall present you the my understanding of his work. This post only cover his Chapter One of Open and Close. I shall cover the other chapters in future.

The Open & Close Overview

We don't live alone. Our life is about living with others, forming groups and relationships. Success in life is about living well, harmoniously with and mutually benefiting one another. We must therefore know how to pick the right friends, marry the right spouse, join the right company or form the right partnership. We must know the characters of the people, their ambitions and motives and see if they match ours to have good and lasting relationships. Motives are internal things that are not easy to detect. We also need to persuade others to buy our ideas and join our partnership. In a business, it is marketing, selling and investments for start-ups etc. The key principles are captured by Gui Gu Zi and summarized below:
  1. The wisdom is to control the door to our heart. The door to our heart is our mouth, says the author. It symbolically represents what we take in and give out. 
  2. The key is 
    1. to open, to give out the good things, or to take in the good things.
    2. to close, to focus, digest and reflect the good things taken in, or shut out the bad things from the outside.
    3. there are times for us to keep silent and listen well and there are times for us to speak and ask questions to gain understanding.
  3. Objectively Observe and Measure, Listen and Ask, to discover the their inner ambitions and motives of their hearts.
  4. Decide to Partner or Not depending on the Similarity or Differences of the Ways of their Hearts.
  5. Persuading the Other to Join Your or Buy your Proposal.
  6. Final objective is to have harmony and to complete the righteous and worthy cause that we have started.
The Details of the How To's
The map below shows the How To's in greater details.

Please go through it carefully as there is much wisdom.


See also Similar Verses in Bible and Chinese Classics 7 on Mouth and Heart for additional wisdom, this time from the Bible. Proverbs 13:3 He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.

For Gui Gu Zi Chapter 2 see The Persuasive Dialogues for Being the Best Lawyer or Salesman from Gui Gu Zi

It may be good to look at Greek philosopher Aristotle's view on persuasion. He has 3 categories of:
  1. Ethos:
    the character, and of the credibility and authority of the source or author.
    If you don't have any authority, then quote from those who has the authority or credibility.
    e.g. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates etc 
  2. Logos:
    the reasoning or arguments used to support a claim (induction and deduction) must be valid.
    and be supported by facts and statistics (empirical evidences).
    Some propose the use of the terms Coherence (logical) and Correspondence(relevant).
  3. Pathos:
    the emotional or motivational appeals;
    Use vivid and emotional language and illustrations e.g. Steve Jobs' style.
    Best is to tell a story. 
Next... The Persuasive Dialogues for Being the Best Lawyer..Gui Gu Zi 2.
Or More ....Sun Zi and Other Strategists
More posts on Chinese Wisdom can be found in Ancient Chinese Wisdom

Lim Liat (C) 21 Aug 2012
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