AirAsia’s Application of the ‘Thirty-Six Stratagems’

Wong Wei Mei
Central China Normal University

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Abstract: Based on the ”36 Stratagems” (三十六计)—a compilation of strategies from the China Warring States Era, this paper analyses the transfer of military strategies into the corporate setting of AirAsia. The ”36 Stratagems” plan offers new perspectives about how to form creative strategies in today’s dynamic business landscape with similar characteristics to ancient Chinese warfare, particularly for the aviation industry surrounding AirAsia in South-East Asia. This paper illuminates the different ways AirAsia utilised one of the stratagems during the global economic crisis in 2008 and how the low-cost carrier adapted the stratagem to the business model and market condition.

Strategy: The 36 Strategems – Introduction: Corporate Strategy is defined as a long-term plan of action designed to achieve a certain goal for the whole organisation (Stimpson & Farquharson, 2010). The “36 Stratagems” plan, though unconventional, is the perfect guide to executing unique and aggressive corporate strategies. This plan is an ageless compilation of Chinese strategies from hundreds of years of experience. It is a unique collection of lessons, proverbs, and aphorisms that captures the fundamentals of Chinese strategies (Sengar, 2006). In the West, Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” is more popular. The 36 Stratagems plan is a complete playbook compiled through more than twenty generations, and yet it is as short as only one hundred and thirty-eight Chinese characters. It is compact and can be interpreted creatively to fit into any business landscape (Krippendorff, 2003).

Sun Tzu’s Art of War is a military text more focused on the philosophy and set of rules surrounding military organisation battlefield tactics. It was the work of only one man, while many people created the 36 Stratagems. In fact, they are stories passed down from generation to generation, refined to a point where only the bare fundamentals remain. The 36 Stratagems playbook is usually applied subtly in politics and diplomacy; it also targets psychological warfare (Verstappen, 1999).

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