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Create Something Out Of Nothing


Disciplines > Warfare > The 36 Stratagems > Create Something Out Of Nothing

Stratagem | History | Discussion | See also

This stratagem number: 7

This group: Stratagems for Confrontation
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Create an illusion to show that you have that which you do not have, or do not have that which you have.

One example is to use a feint several times. When they get used to this and do not react, press home the attack.

If creating illusions can take time, then you need to start thinking about these ahead of time, perhaps creating your magic tricks before the battle and bringing them along to be deployed at appropriate moments.

The principle of something from nothing can also be used in other situations where you do not have what you need but can re-use things or take things from the environment.

You never have nothing. Look around you. There are always resources you can use, from the wood on trees and metal in various items to the natural sun, air and water. With a little innovation many things can be created out of this 'nothing'.


This is the seventh stratagem of thirty-six.

Group name

Stratagems for Confrontation

Alternative names

Create Something from Nothing

Or even:

Innovate Illusions


In 756, Linghu Chao of Qin was besieging Yongqiu, who were running out of arrows. Defending general Chang Shun ordered straw mannekins to be lowered. Chao fired thousands of arrows at these, which the Yongqiu forces gratefully collected. Later, when Shun ordered more dummies to be lowered from the walls, Chao ignored them. Shun then lowered real warriors whose launched a successful attack on the Qin forces.

The non-visibility of deities in many religions can be framed as proof as their power. If gods could be seen, people might think of them as relatively mortal. When they are present but unseen, they create more awe.

In the second world war much use was made of fake tanks, planes, etc. to give the impression of greater forces available.

Leaders and celebrities may sustain their 'magic' by limiting appearances to carefully staged events.


The important part of using illusions is that the other side believes them. A way this is done by paying attention to the details.

The main skill for making something out of nothing is creativity. With an innovative eye, you can see resources to use and come up with remarkable solutions that give you advantage when others may think you have none.

A classic wartime illusion is to make it appear that you have more and stronger forces than you actually have. This can be very demoralizing for the other side, and when morale is so important, illusion can have a disproportionate effect.

Propaganda is a method that is largely based in illusion and which seeks to promote products and causes through careful tactics.

Illusion can backfire when it is recognized as such and the other side plays a counter-game. Because of this possibility, avoid over-confidence when playing illusory games.

See also

Propaganda, Marketing, Distraction principle, Deception principle


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