Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win
He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who is not, will be victorious.
Rouse him, and learn the principle of his activity or inactivity. Force him to reveal himself, so as to find out his vulnerable spots.
- Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The #1206 “fiction” series continues …
Tom sat in silence in the crowded, stuffy community hall, carefully observing what was going on around him. He had answered an ad the week before, asking for people who were angry and ticked off with their government to meet here tonight so that the disenfranchised could implement plans to destroy their government.
He was attending the meeting on the recommendation of his boss at Homeland Security to see if there was any merit to this little get-together. He had accepted his orders easily, joking with his boss about the stereotypical, conspiracy-laden people he had expected to meet.
The only thing was that he wasn’t laughing any more. In fact, some of the ideas being presented and developed here were not funny at all. His stomach turned over as he realized that many of the ideas being considered were a real problem to the security of the nation.
He observed the leader of the group. He was a fairly nondescript person in all aspects except for three – he was very tall, he was very skilful in drawing thoughts out of people and his eyes were dark, glittering and piercing.
“And”, thought Tom, “he doesn’t smile much.”
The two-hour meeting went by quickly and as the attendees filed out of the room chattering excitedly, Tom decided that he needed to get to know the facilitator a little better.
He walked up to the front of the hall and feigning excitement, thrust out his hand. “Hi”, Tom said, “My name is Charlie. That was a pretty cool meeting tonight. It’s about time someone sticks it to those bastards.”
The facilitator looked at Tom’s extended hand uncertainly, ignored it and smiled thinly. “My name is Gabriel”, he said, “Thank you. We felt it was time to do something more impactful.”
“I think it will be very impactful”, replied Tom, slipping into the role of an anti-government conspiracist, “I’m glad I came tonight.”
“Glad to hear it”, Gabriel replied, staring into Tom’s eyes. Tom suddenly felt uncomfortable as Gabriel’s dark eyes appeared to examine him at a very deep level.
“Will you be back next week?”, asked Gabriel, “This is a three-night exercise leading up to execution of the best ideas.”
“You better believe it”, Tom said, projecting a facade of enthusiasm.
“Good”, said Gabriel as he returned to putting his material away.
Tom interpreted the silence as a good night and began to walk towards the door.
“Charlie?”, Gabriel asked as Tom walked out.
“Yes?”, asked Tom as he turned towards Gabriel.
“Remember this”, replied Gabriel, “Things are not always what they seem.”
With that, he returned to putting his material away.
Tom frowned and walked out the door in silence.
As he got in his car, something struck Tom.
“He said “we” felt it was time”, thought Tom, “Who are “we”?”
The subsequent meetings over the next two weeks took place as scheduled. The one thing that struck him was how deep and broad the ideas ranged in impact, ingenuity and yet, simplicity. “We’ve been spending billions of dollars and we’ve missed almost all of these”, thought Tom with a shiver.
As Gabriel closed the final meeting, he thanked all of the attendees and promised them that significant action was coming very soon.
As in the first meeting, Tom waited for the other attendees to file out before approaching Gabriel.
Gabriel looked up and stared him with the same intense, soul-examining stare. “Are you ready?” Gabriel asked.
“I think so”, Tom replied.
“We’ll see”, replied Gabriel, “The time to act is upon you. Good evening.”
Tom muttered a “good evening” and walked out, mulling over Gabriel’s comment. “The time is upon me to act?”, he thought to himself, “Why isn’t it upon all of us?”
The next morning, Tom found himself debriefing his colleagues and superiors about the meetings he had been attending. He explained how thorough the facilitator named Gabriel had been in extracting ideas from the attendees as he outlined the significant threat that many of these ideas represented. At the end of his presentation, he was dismissed and left the boardroom, his stomach still churning over the havoc that this group could create.
As he approached his office, his personal assistant stopped him. “You have a visitor”, she said, “He is waiting in your office.”
Tom frowned, started to ask her why she allowed a visitor to enter his office unattended, thought better of it and proceeded into his office.
His visitor was standing at the window, staring out over the parking lot.
Before Tom could speak, his visitor spoke quietly.
“You didn’t look like a Charlie to me”, he said.
Gabriel turned to face Tom and smiled thinly, his dark eyes glittering as they once more burrowed deeply into Tom’s soul.
Tom could feel anger rising up in him and began to speak but Gabriel silenced him with a raised hand.
Gabriel walked over and sat in Tom’s executive chair and gestured for Tom to sit down.
Tom sat silently, feeling confused at being made a guest in his own office.
Gabriel tossed two file folders onto the desk in front of him.
“In the first file”, Gabriel began, “You will find the names, addresses and other particulars of every person who attended my meetings. Please do with that as you will. I would suggest that you not take too long worrying about their rights.”
Tom frowned and began to speak but again, Gabriel silenced him with an upraised hand.
“In the other file”, Gabriel continued, “You will find detailed plans that threaten your nation. You would be well-advised to read them, analyze them and initiate action to nullify or refute them. Again, I suggest that you do this with a sense of urgency.”
“May I?”, asked Tom, pointing at the second file.
“Please”, acknowledged Gabriel.
Tom picked up the file and thumbed through it, feeling excited and nauseated simultaneously at the level of detail contained within the folder.
“I don’t understand”, stammered Tom, “Who are you? Why are you doing this?”
“Who I am matters not”, replied Gabriel, “As for why we are doing this, we felt that your efforts to fight terror were inadequate and lacked a sense of urgency so we thought we would help you along. Sometimes the best way to light a fire under someone to figure out what their greatest problems and threats are is to find people who have the creativity and desire to undermine or destroy them and to invite those people to create strategies and tactics to that end. They are often blinded with hate and with nothing to lose, they unleash creativity that is often missing or lost in bureaucracy or invisible to people who are too close to their problems and thus blinded to the solutions needed. We felt that we could tap this “nothing to lose”, unbridled hatred to identify problems that you hadn’t anticipated and to present them to you. All you need to do is to find the answers to the problems presented in that folder and you will be much further ahead than you are now.”
Tom frowned but said nothing as he mulled over more references to “we”.
“It’s an easy concept to grasp”, continued Gabriel, “It works well almost anywhere, in business, in relationships, in governments and yes, even in national security. Many people spend too much time, energy and money trying to identify the right things to do or the highest priority issues to solve and because of a number of factors, often miss the most important things that require attention. Oftentimes, the easiest and best thing to do is to find motivated people who are very good at identifying ways to threaten you and encourage them to do what they enjoy doing most of all. The rest is fairly easy.”
Tom cleared his throat, stared at Gabriel intently and said “This will need to be vetted with my superiors. I will need you to ….”
Gabriel interrupted him again.
“We’ve done enough for you for now”, he said tersely as he stood up.
“Good luck, Tom”, he continued, “Remember that we often only get one chance to get things right once the answers have been placed before us.”
Gabriel then strode past Tom and out of his office.
Tom jumped up and ran towards the office door but as he stepped outside his office, Gabriel was nowhere to be seen.
His personal assistant looked up quizzically.
“Where is he?”, demanded Tom.
“Where is who?”, she asked.
Tom shook his head and was about to respond when his phone rang.
“One sec”, he said as he turned to answer the phone.
“Hello?”, he said, picking up the phone receiver.
Tom listened in silence for 10 minutes as the voice on the other end of the phone spoke quickly and urgently.
“You say his name was Gabriel and you just spoke to him?”, asked Tom, suddenly feeling confused and weak with a need to sit down.
To be continued.
© 2016 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved
The problem solving technique described in this post is actually a useful one, using the minds of people who are motivated to destroy you to come up with ideas and plans to undermine your weaknesses in strategy, tactics, product design, deployment, service offering or any other issue found within government, business or other relationships.
Solving those issues should likely be your highest priority as they potentially represent the greatest threat to your success.
It can produce startling results that contrast sharply with the boring, often useless idea generation exercises too-often adopted by too many organizations. It produces an interesting, useful result with a sense of urgency too often missing in organizations.
As for the story I wrapped around it, it’s just “fiction” to make a point.
This series, a departure from my usual musings, is inspired as a result of conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States, senior officers in the US Military and other interesting folks as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy advisor and large-scale technology architect.
While this musing is just “fiction” (note the quotes) and a departure from my musings on technology, strategy, politics and society, as a strategy guy, I do everything for a reason and with a measurable outcome in mind. :-)
This “fictional” musing is a continuation of the #1206 series noted here.