Moving Forward

Alinsky said that a strategist is born the moment a child first learns to play his mother against his father. It takes awhile to realize that some people never learn this. In fact, most people never learn this.

Another way to put it: in a house where parents have unpredictable rages, children learn that there is a third variable in the right and wrong equation. They learn that handling their parents reaction is just as important as the other two. They learn that appearances matter.

An asset to a company or an organization is someone who can look at a set of circumstances the way that a manipulative child would look at a situation. To see it in terms of what they can get away with – what has the best chance of getting through without being caught. Because ultimately, bureaucracy behaves a lot like bad parents. It is unpredictable yet predictable, it gives you room to maneuver and negotiate despite being, essentially, a constraining set of barriers to action.

It happens so often. You leave something up to someone’s judgment only to be surprised by the result: their decision was made without any mind to the world it was to exist in. An email that doesn’t consider the reaction of the person reading it. An advertisement that makes sense by the numbers but not what those numbers ultimately mean. And so on.

Those kind of people are common. They advance to a certain level and like a version of the Peter Principle, stop when they can no longer figure out how to advance. Lacking the ability to see outside themselves, they are crippled and blinded, unaware of the reality of the environment around them.

The key is to understand how truly critical that third variable is. That appearances do matter. That the context of a situation is almost overwhelming the part you need to grasp and control. And if you’re a young person, your ticket to skipping ahead lives in mastering that before you’re supposed to. Because without it you’re like everyone else and you’ll have to do things by their schedule and that means waiting your turn.

Written by Ryan Holiday
Ryan Holiday is the bestselling author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, The Obstacle Is The Way, Ego Is The Enemy, and other books about marketing, culture, and the human condition. His work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared everywhere from the Columbia Journalism Review to Fast Company. His company, Brass Check, has advised companies such as Google, TASER, and Complex, as well as Grammy Award winning musicians and some of the biggest authors in the world. He lives in Austin, Texas.