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Play Dumb While Remaining Smart


Disciplines > Warfare > The 36 Stratagems > Play Dumb While Remaining Smart

Stratagem | History | Discussion | See also

This stratagem number: 27

This group: Stratagems for Gaining Ground
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Play foolish or weak so they do not take you seriously. Conceal your strengths until it is the best time to reveal them.

Speak less during discussions. Encourage others to speak while you listen and bide your time. Appear disinterested or confused. Look like you are trying but are missing key points.

Wait until they have dropped their guard or are ignoring you before attacking.


This is the twenty-seventh stratagem of thirty-six.

Group name

Stratagems for Gaining Ground

Alternative names

Be Wise but Play the Fool

Feign Madness but Keep your Balance

Feign Ignorance Without Going Crazy

Or even:

Play Dumb


Liu Bei was plotting to overthrow Cao Cao. Cao Cao came to visit so Liu Bei pretended to be crazy in case Cao Cao knew about the plot. In this way he avoided detection.

After defeat in World War 2, Japan acted humbly while building a powerful industrial base.


When others think you are foolish, they will not perceive you as a threat and so will not attack you. They may also get careless and reveal information you can use or vulnerabilities you can attack.

There is a risk when playing the fool that they try to remove you or attack you. Always be on your guard but also seek to avoid being exposed.

There are many stereotypes about intelligence, for example people with disabilities or of different racial groups, nationalities and even gender are often assumed to be less intelligent. While it can be frustrating, this gives those people a possible advantage in using this stratagem.

The Shakespearean fool played stupid while being really quite intelligent. This allowed him to be accepted as harmless in most places. The TV detective Columbo played this game too, pretending to be unintelligent while asking suspects 'dumb' questions. Even emperors such as Claudius used apparent lack of intelligence to their advantage.

A reversal of this stratagem is to pretend you know more than you do in order to create uncertainty and paralysis.

See also

Columbo Technique, Play Dumb


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