One of China’s most influential and my favourite leader in the 20th century, Deng Xiaoping once said:

Observe calmly, secure our position, cope with affairs calmly, hide our capacities and bide our time, be good at maintaining a low profile, and never claim leadership.

This quote encapsulates the Chinese proverb “韜光养晦” [tāo guāng yǎng huì], which can be translated as “hide your strength and bide your time.”

This proverb is often associated with the military strategies of ancient Chinese generals and has been applied to many other fields, including politics, business, and personal relationships.

The idea behind “韜光养晦” is that one should avoid drawing attention to oneself and instead focus on building strength and waiting for the right opportunity to act.

The key is to maintain a low profile, hiding one’s true abilities and goals. By doing so, one can gain an advantage over opponents who may underestimate or overlook them.

Leadership success requires patience and perseverance. You can achieve long-term success by making strategic and deliberate decisions and practicing humility and patience.

Usually, it means staying out of the spotlight or not drawing too much attention to yourself while still working towards your goals.

Here are some examples of what it could look like in different contexts:

In business: Instead than seeking media exposure or rushing to launch, a business entrepreneur may choose to discreetly develop their product or service and create relationships with early adopters and investors. They may prioritise business foundation over flashy marketing campaigns or public events.

In politics: A politician who is laying low may avoid controversial statements or daring acts until they have a strong base of support and a clear strategy for attaining their aims. Instead of making public speeches or seeking media attention, they may prefer to cultivate connections with crucial players.

In personal relationships: A low-key individual may avoid drama and controversy by creating strong, meaningful relationships with a few trusted friends or family members. They may value mental and emotional health over social approval.

Laying low involves taking a patient and strategic approach to achieving one’s goals, rather than seeking immediate gratification or attention.

It requires a willingness to work quietly and diligently behind the scenes, while still maintaining a clear sense of purpose and direction.

Biding your time involves being patient and waiting for the right opportunity to act, while using that time to prepare and build your resources.

Here are some examples of what it could look like in different contexts:

In business: Bidding its time may delay introducing a new product or entering a new market until it has done enough research and built a solid plan. The business may focus on creating partnerships, collecting customer data, and refining its internal processes and infrastructure during this time.

In politics: A political leader biding their time may wait to introduce new legislation or take extreme action on an issue they care about. They might use the time to gain support from colleagues and constituents, gather data and research to support their initiatives, and prepare for pushback.

In personal relationships: Waiting to have a critical conversation or make a major decision in a personal relationship may be biding your time. Being patient and letting the other person arrive to their own conclusions rather than forcing them may also help.

Biding your time involves a willingness to wait for the right opportunity, rather than rushing into action or making hasty decisions.

By being patient and deliberate, you can increase your chances of success and avoid unnecessary risks or mistakes.

One example of how the principle of “韜光养晦” (tāo guāng yǎng huì) has been applied in entrepreneurship is the story of Jeff Bezos and his approach to building Amazon.

In the early days of Amazon, Bezos chose to focus on building up the company’s infrastructure and capabilities, rather than trying to generate quick profits or attract a lot of attention.

He famously kept a “Day 1” mentality, which meant treating every day like it was the first day of a new startup and constantly innovating and improving.

Rather than trying to compete head-on with established brick-and-mortar retailers, Bezos focused on building up Amazon’s online presence and expanding its selection of products.

He invested heavily in technology, such as the company’s recommendation algorithm and cloud computing services, which helped to differentiate Amazon from its competitors.

Bezos also took a long-term approach to building relationships with customers, prioritising customer satisfaction over short-term profits.

He famously stated that “if you’re customer-focused, you’re always going to be working to improve,” and he made it a priority to listen to customer feedback and constantly iterate on the company’s offerings.

By taking a patient and strategic approach to building Amazon, Bezos was able to grow the company from a small online bookstore into one of the world’s largest and most successful e-commerce platforms.

He demonstrated the value of “韜光养晦” in entrepreneurship by focusing on building the company’s capabilities, developing relationships with customers, and patiently waiting for the right opportunities to expand and innovate.

Keep a low profile and wait for the right time to execute. Don’t let the fire go out.

Hold back your might till the time is just right. Then break the mold, shine brightly, and make your mark in history.

Be patient and get ready to soar, success is yours for the taking.

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