Category Archives: Risk Management
(#22 of 27, a collage and re-assembly of elements from a post from last year on the importance of choosing the right timing to make a strong effort, and the importance of a strong effort to making the timing right)
Yesterday I wrote about bluffing, bourbon and brotherly love. Today under the blanket of a blizzard I’ll briefly continue with the love theme, tie it back to the concept of time and add in a dash of mysticism…
Falling in love — love of any kind, being, thing, idea or person — is a conscious effort.*
The exertion of love creates something like a field of gravity or energy. When delivered with just the right amount of effort, it’s a force that seems to slow down time… and bend space.
A strong effort driven by love will, all by itself, open up tiny windows of opportunity and turn them into doorways of fortune.
It’s never too late and it’s never too early. It’s just a matter of focusing the energy into those little blips of timing that keep presenting themselves. Blip. There goes one. Blip. Nearly missed it.
By seeing the available window and leaping through it, the Wizard arrives precisely when he means to.
(#3 of 27 revisited blog posts, “Potency, difference and diversity”)
There are two kinds of Negotiation Skills training experiences: The hardball-jerk kind, and the softball-wimp kind.
- The 1st kind uses terms like “power” and “leverage.”
- The 2nd kind talks about things like “win-lose” and “win-win.”
Soft skills training people like me tend to focus overly on the soft second kind of training. However in this post today I’m going to take a hard look at those who excel at the first kind of training.
Because while the term “win-win” is a cute concept, the desire for power and leverage is a real thing.
SIDE NOTE DISCLAIMER / SELF-PROMOTIONAL PLUG: Did you know there’s also a 3rd and 4th kind of negotiation skills training? More about those in the comments section below.
Re-introducing Genghis Khan
A couple of weeks ago I briefly mentioned the far-reaching genetic effects of two remarkable people — the Irish king Niall of the Nine Hostages, and the Mongolian warlord/emperor Genghis Khan. What I didn’t mention in as much detail was the specific mechanics of their reproductive success: they were nasty, brutish and cut short the lives of many, many others.
Let’s talk a bit more about those jerks, Niall and Khan, and their hardball use of power and leverage.
Genghis Khan’s story is well documented and instructive on many levels. An appropriate place to start or review the lesson is this video at the Khan Academy. Yeah, I know, Khan Academy, so ironic.
Khan’s lust for violence and destruction knew no bounds, and his well-trained horsemen brought an apocalypse upon a good chunk of the world. Different cultures define a “deserving ruler” in different ways. For example, in many cultures when a ruler has a superior military technology, there’s an expectation that they will use their power and leverage to protect and stabilize their immediate territory and interests. However for Genghis Khan the power and leverage of his more advanced military was applied towards a goal of worldwide subjugation and devastation. No journalistic hyperbole or metaphor here.
As for Niall, not a lot is known specifically about him as an individual, but the legends that surround paint a picture of nonstop raiding, plundering and conspiracy. The epithet, “of the Nine Hostages,” refers to the cruel strategy of exploiting other people’s concern for their loved ones in order to extract concessions and ultimately wipe them out.
For those who see kindness and compassion as ideal virtues to cultivate in human beings, Khan and Niall present a problem. As highly aggressive and competitive individuals, they managed to spread their genes (and associated lessons) further and wider than those of the kinder and gentler stock of humanity. More worrisome is the idea that they succeeded in evolutionary terms (as well as social terms) precisely because they seized a moment where the rest of the population was weak enough to get exploited, creating an evolutionary bottleneck that their chromosomes (and associated lessons) could pass through.
All of these violent and aggressive tendencies translate into a series of destructively heavy-handed negotiation tactics that show up in the board room, the sales desk, the auto dealership… and not to mention the world stage. Once one of those places is overrun with Genghis Khan types, its efficacy as a constructive forum drops to near-zero levels — it just costs too much to get anything useful done there.
Sons and daughters of Khan
It’s too easy to resist the example of Khan and Niall and say, “Yeah, but nowadays these aggressive traits don’t get selected, neither biologically nor socially” i.e. being a jerk doesn’t get you anywhere.
I completely disagree, for one fundamental reason:
There is a Genghis Khan in all of us.
You don’t need to be a direct descendant of Khan. A moderate amount of testosterone will do… and yes, regardless of your gender there’s going to be some C19H28O2 in your bloodstream.
As for extending the No Asshole Rule as a social policy, it really only works within a given tribe… and even then, tribes have a tendency to eventually sub-divide and compete from within, especially as those tribes become larger and more variegated.
A drop of biologically-driven ambition is all it takes to upset a socially-engineered pool of pacifism.
The inevitable conclusion
There’s a whole lotta Khan out there.
Every single day, a would-be Khan makes a discovery that will help them become an even stronger Khan.
Every week, a mini-Khan gets some hardball negotiation skills training from a mega-Khan.
There’s no way to quash Khan, least of all through the mandatory application of the 2nd kind of negotiation skills training… that would just soften the landscape for Khan and provide an evolutionary filter for the non-Khans.
What to do about it, then?
- Recognize, protect against and discourage the emerging Genghis Khans on your negotiation landscape
- Rechannel your inner Genghis Khan to be passionate, creative, and ambitiously constructive
The rest, as they say, is mere commentary. Now go and learn how to do that.
As many as three million men around the world, including over 20% of men in northwestern Ireland, are directly descended from a single medieval Irish king according to a genetics study published in December 2005 and some follow-up studies. That king — Niall of the Nine Hostages — through some combination of luck, learning and inborn talent, wielded a tremendous amount of power and had many offspring… who in turn, wielded tremendous power and had many offspring… et cetera… et cetera… for a bunch of centuries. Today, as many as 2% of white New Yorkers have Niall as a direct ancestor. The percentage rate is especially high for anyone who was born into the traditional family lineages of O’Neill, O’Donnell or O’Reilly… or Gallagher, Doherty, Flynn, Campbell, Egan, Quinn… and a few other families.
“That explains a lot,” muttered many a female.
Yes, it’s true that powerful people propagate profusely, and that the traits that made them successful will appear with greater frequency in subsequent generations. It’s also true that the founder effect is a useful metaphor for understanding top-down cultures within organizations.
However, one of the bigger lessons of Niall and Genghis may be this: We need a lack of diversity in some places in order to gain the benefits of diversity overall.
Diversification vs. Specialization
There is a paradoxical relationship between diversification and specialization, as one tends to cancel out the other, but both require each other in order to exist. As a general rule, the smaller the population being considered (a nation, a company, a family, a single person), the trickier it becomes to navigate this paradox.
In the case of a larger group, diversity can be achieved by ensuring there are the right types and amounts of differences between the constituent smaller groups and individuals. As long as group cohesion can be maintained — which can be really hard to do if the group is truly diverse, not just superficially diverse — specialized individuals provide a reliable source of efficiency and resilience for the overall group.
However, for the individuals who are providing that diversity, being specialized is (at best) a useful compromise providing some immediate upside but with longer term risk of obsolescence or becoming a ubiquitous commodity… particularly in a rapidly changing landscape. At worst, being specialized is a recipe for a lifetime of exploitation by a larger group.
King Niall and Genghis Khan are exceptions who prove the rule — exceptional individuals who ruled so powerfully that they left a lasting imprint on the overall group.
Despite the risks it often poses to individuals, specialization is necessary and inevitable. The creative tension between specialization and diversity exists at multiple levels of human experience and plays out across multiple time scales.
The Importancy of Potency
The art of being diverse is in how to combine (and continuously re-combine) differences, without losing the concentrated potency that made those differences strong in the first place.
Conversely, the art of being different is in how to harness the strength and potency of that difference, without losing the ability to self-critique, adapt, blend, grow and evolve.
Because it’s no fun if it’s all just the same old same old.
“I think I just sold every available waking hour that I have, for the foreseeable future,” said the Consultant, sighing wearily at having his prayer answered perhaps a bit too well.
What he didn’t realize was that, on a certain level, there was nothing new or different about this state of affairs for him, or anyone else.
As the fiscal year end fast approaches, I hear more and more people talking about how jammed their schedules are. They say things like, “I’ve got such-and-such to do before end of <insert applicable fiscal year end date>.” As a person with clients who use May or June as their budget year end date, I feel their pain/pleasure. This is a good-problem-to-have for professional service providers: Getting fully booked, well into the after-hours, for your time.
It’s good because it means a steady stream of (hopefully) rewarding work.
It’s a problem because there’s more to life than work.
Also, even if you’re the kind of person whose whose life and work are heavily blended together, in order to maintain your productive edge (and health… and soul), you need a non-productive, creative space to explore, reflect, grow, “sharpen your saw,” and make room for unexpected opportunities.
Here’s the thing: In a way we are all caught in the above-described Consultant’s condition, no matter what job title we give ourselves, and no matter how “busy” our “work” is. Our future hours have already been “sold.” Those hours are going to take place at their normal pace no matter what we do,* so the thing to do is figure out how happy we are with the current pricing and cancellation terms that we’ve tacitly agreed to.
(* NOTE: This statement assumes the subject continues to live within the confines of a single space-time continuum, with a margin of error allowing for creative hacking of the International Dateline and caffeine-induced time dilation effects.)
- How much are you getting paid for your time, and in what forms of currency?
- What is the scope of work and quality criteria that you are committing to?
- What are the likelihoods and consequences for any changes, deviations or cancellations to the current version of the plan?
Depending on how you’re feeling about the terms of your contract, you can start re-negotiating with the Client… and yes, you probably figured it out already: In this sales agreement, you’re not only the Client, but the Consultant President.
We were wanderers from the beginning. We knew every stand of tree for a hundred miles. When the fruits or nuts were ripe, we were there. We followed the herds in their annual migrations. We rejoiced in fresh meat. through stealth, feint, ambush, and main-force assault, a few of us cooperating accomplished what many of us, each hunting alone, could not. We depended on one another. Making it on our own was as ludicrous to imagine as was settling down.
Working together, we protected our children from the lions and the hyenas. We taught them the skills they would need. And the tools. Then, as now, technology was the key to our survival.
When the drought was prolonged, or when an unsettling chill lingered in the summer air, our group moved on—sometimes to unknown lands. We sought a better place. And when we couldn’t get on with the others in our little nomadic band, we left to find a more friendly bunch somewhere else. We could always begin again.
For 99.9 percent of the time since our species came to be, we were hunters and foragers, wanderers on the savannahs and the steppes. There were no border guards then, no customs officials. The frontier was everywhere. We were bounded only by the Earth and the ocean and the sky—plus occasional grumpy neighbors.
When the climate was congenial, though, when the food was plentiful, we were willing to stay put. Unadventurous. Overweight. Careless. In the last ten thousand years—an instant in our long history—we’ve abandoned the nomadic life. We’ve domesticated the plants and animals. Why chase the food when you can make it come to you?
For all its material advantages, the sedentary life has left us edgy, unfulfilled. Even after 400 generations in villages and cities, we haven’t forgotten.
The open road still softly calls, like a nearly forgotten song of childhood.
We invest far-off places with a certain romance.
This appeal, I suspect, has been meticulously crafted by natural selection as an essential element in our survival. Long summers, mild winters, rich harvests, plentiful game—none of them lasts forever.
It is beyond our powers to predict the future. Catastrophic events have a way of sneaking up on us, of catching us unaware. Your own life, or your band’s, or even your species’ might be owed to a restless few—drawn, by a craving they can hardly articulate or understand, to undiscovered lands and new worlds.
Herman Melville, in Moby Dick, spoke for wanderers in all epochs and meridians: “I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas…”
– Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot