Tuesday, May 22, 2007


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Dear Friends:

The ultimate powers that can be wielded by an individual can be distilled down to only two: the power to create and the power to destroy.

In the legendary underworld of the Colombian drug cartels, the proverbial "offer that you cannot refuse" is stated plainly... plata o plomo...literally "silver or lead." Either be paid well to do something, or be shot for failing to comply. The stark difference between the outcomes, depending upon the choice made by the sweating offerree, makes the significance and urgency of the offer more graphically clear.

Many times it means the choice between doing something morally reprehensible and being well paid for your demoralizing compromise of ethics held dear, or receiving a bullet in the brain. A critical factor in making this motivating choice effective is the offeree's perception of the offeror's ability and willingness to absolutely carry through on the implicit threat. At best, this is slightly better than a Hobson's choice; at worst, it has propelled more than a few ardent moralists to suicide. But then, most offerees do not have either the moral conviction or the steely courage required to terminate their lives (as miserable as they may be) in the interest of moral integrity.

Without moralizing, and viewing these two opposite powers simply as tools for persuasion and accomplishment, it is optimal to have both in the Commander's arsenal. If given a choice of only one power, most people, thinking the worst of themselves and of the entire species, would prefer to have the power to destroy. This is not a sad commentary on human nature, so much as a choice influenced by simple, rational and economic thought. IT IS CHEAPER, FASTER AND EASIER TO WIELD A WRECKING BALL THAN IT IS TO DESIGN AND CONSTRUCT A BUILDING. Also, it requires far less in the way of talent or training.

Generalizing further, it is much easier to be a prosecutor or a critic than an entrepreneur or an artist. It is far more challenging to revive a dying person than it is to simply destroy a living one. The power to destroy invariably trumps the power to create, and the threat of destruction is always more potent as an inducement to behavior than the promise or possibility of creation.

Every bully on the beach knows that it is much easier to step on someone's sand castle than it is to spend hours in the hot sun building one. And bouncers at bars are not generally 5' 7" martial arts experts (think of the movie "ROAD HOUSE," starring Patrick Swayze) who may have to actually prove themselves in a rough-and-tumble fight -- they are usually big, surly-looking fellows who pose a sufficient perceptual manace that they will probably not be tested by some inebriated patron with a need to assert himself.

As long as the default setting on most human beings is cowardice, a threat will always be a more potent motivator than an opportunity.

If you don't believe this, just observe government and international politics. Many negotiations are actually thinly-veiled threats of destruction or terrorism.

Bear this in mind when assessing your options in any negotiation, and in sizing up any potential adversary.


Douglas Castle

Thursday, May 03, 2007


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Dear Friends:

There are volumes of treatises written and seminars offered on the "Power Of Persuasion", "Making Friends and Influencing People," and numerous other variations on the general themes of cultivating friends, the art of networking, developing contacts, diplomacy and closing sales. The underlying presumption is that if we can reasonably and compassionately counter various objections and engender rapport with otherwise neutral or slightly undecided persons, we can "push them to the point of saying 'yes'", and then we can be victorious in in our social lives and professional careers. The art of persuasion, like the art of negotiation, is indisputably important in gaining command and control over any social situation. Being able to resolve conflicts either through logical compromise or circumstantial domination is extraordinarily useful. Now for the surprise:

The key to the utilization of any of these persuasion strategies is not its mastery, per se...it is in determining whether or not the strategy is appropriate for use given the 1) subject individual, and 2) the circumstances. And there is always the additional constraint of time; the ever-present clock ticking ceaselessly, in the background. There are instances when the deployment of a persuasion strategy is a counterproductive activity, and a waste of your valuable time and resources.

Categorize your subject individual, prior to engaging in any strategy, into one of the three following groups:

1. Natural Allies -- those persons who want what you want, and have the inclination, urgency and resources to cooperate. You can "feel" an affinity with these persons much of the time.

2. Neutral Parties -- undecided but potentially malleable persons who may be receptive, but require some convincing or comfort in order to to see your point of view.

3. Natural Enemies -- those persons who stand to benefit (in some manner) by your failure, loss, or detriment. You can "feel" an adversarial or menacing energy when you are in contact with these persons.

In making a determination, your instincts and intuition will be key. When in doubt, categorize negatively. Unless you are under the influence of a distortional pathology (i.e. paranoid delusions, hallucinations, phobias, watching too much television, and the like), the very spectre of doubt is, in and of itself, a warning sign. Err on the side of caution and self-protection.

After having made your determination, allocate your time with the subject individual based upon the following "rule of thumb" (for lack of a better, or more appropriate digit):

Spend 80% of your time finding and courting your Natural Allies ;

Spend 20% of your time using your persuasive skills on Neutral Parties -- if they are receptive and are easily converted, recategorize them as Natural Allies. If not, cease investing any time, and be on the lookout for a prospective adversary in the future:

SPEND 0% OF YOUR TIME (e.g., NONE!) TRYING TO CONVERT YOUR NATURAL ENEMIES INTO ALLIES OR FRIENDS. If you cannot effectively eliminate or neutralize your enemy (there are legal implications, so be careful), his or her only utility to you is as a deterrent, diversion or a destroyer of your other enemies. Enemies are best left to fight eachother, while you gleefully watch on the sidelines. In fact, if you can discreetly find ways to pit your enemies against eachother, they will be less prone to focus on you, and more prone to target eachother. Prosecutors love to prosecute; haters love to hate -- why not simply "direct" them productively, and in a way that proves most advantageous to your interests?

Remember: TRYING TO WIN YOUR ENEMIES OVER IS FOLLY. Invest yourself in finding your friends, instead. And when you find your friends, keep them.


Douglas Castle

p.s. Personal apologies to the late Dale Carnegie. He wasn't wrong -- he just tended to generalize a bit too much.

p.p.s. The photo, for those of you who may be curious, is of the famed San Quentin Death Chamber, a veritable monument to the ultimate in lasting conflict resolution.


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