It goes something like this:
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Have you ever been listening to someone justify an idea and while they were doing it, took a look around the room and thought to yourself, how can they not see how poorly this is going? I also imagine that rarely, if ever, you’ve taken that same look while you were talking and felt the panic and desperation of realizing that it was all falling short.
Now what’s more likely, that you’ve never lost a crowd or that maybe you just can’t tell either?
John Boyd had a rule that whenever he was using data as support for an argument, he’d deflate the numbers to understate his case. The idea was use lower number while making a strong case; when he was challenged and fact checked, it’d always be worse when the new calculations came in. A lot of people confuse this with managing expectation, but it’s a philosophically different way to think about strategy. Generally, he figured, that when people have a big stick they use it. To not use it, to keep it hidden, the mark of a different breed of person.
Here it is in a common form: You’re criticizing the moves of a program that you’re trying to restructure to the person responsible for making the change. The program keeps most of their information hidden because they’re upside down and don’t want to admit it. You’re certain they’re spending X and end up being wrong – it’s over. You say they’re spending X (on the high end of your spectrum) and end up being right – the reward is small and the risk was significant. Simply being right, you’ll find, is not as rewarding as it should be. So instead, you make the case with the lowest X you can justify and cede the verification to the person you’re pushing for change- the results turn the passive observer into an active participant. Since they were involved in the discovery, it’s their torch to carry now.
But that’s hard. You want to use the stick when you have it. You want to go for the win now because you want the credit, you want to be right, you don’t want another participant – you don’t like pretense when you have a sure thing. But think of it like being leveraged in a market position, it’s great until you blow up. And it only takes one time.
Using conservative inputs gives way to conservative outputs. A good operating plan leaves as many options on the table as possible. Conservative outputs give you space to move. Assumptions about data can be thought about the same way. Restraint is the mark of good strategy, even when you’re being aggressive. Round down your numbers, tone your bio, leave the hyperbole to someone else. Keep the stick hidden and think about the next move.
Spin : How to Turn the Power of the Press to Your Advantage by Michael Sitrick (good, surprisingly relevant considering it was written almost 10 years ago)
Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law by Martha C. Nussbaum (sort of just flipping through it at this point)
Spin-Free Economics by Nariman Behravesh (I was kind of hoping this would be an economics primer but really it’s mostly just a collection of the commonly held beliefs of modern economists)
Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary by Juan Williams (very interesting guy – it’s becoming much more common that I’m disappointing in the actual writing of the book. this was a good example)
Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald: The Rise and Fall of a Literary Friendship by Scott Donaldson (flipping through for research purposes. Hemingway destroyed Fitzgerald in one bold move)
Robert Kennedy and His Times by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr (I read a couple others and big chunk of this one. Everybody kept saying he was super ruthless and JFK’s enforcer but I didn’t find one interesting example, not ONE)
-Klosterman’s review of Chinese Democracy is actually really good, I was going the buy it on Amazon after but of course couldn’t because GNR did one of those obnoxious exclusive deals and there was no way I was driving to Best Buy
-Somebody stole from Daniel at Cracked, who is a cool guy. He also managed to find and move into the single worst neighborhood in Los Angeles for almost no reason.
–Dickersonian questions are something I’d like to start using
Add San Francisco, New York, D.C, Las Vegas and Shreveport to the cities I’ve run in over the last few months. Add it to a foot and a half of sidewalk 50 unprotected feet above the intersection of the 110 and 101 freeways, and holes on the back of my heels so big that my socks were healing into my skin and rain, and 2 in the morning and most of the neighborhood between downtown Los Angeles and Beverly Hills – Koreatown, Hancock Park, Los Feliz, the Hollywood Hills, the barrio, below Crenshaw and Venice.
It’s what people with energy do. Before you know it you’ve racked up a history that you never intended to make because every time you came to a choice between more effort and more of the same, you chose the former.