Audi: Avoiding Undesired Destructive Items

October 30, 2010

Okay, I admit it. I’m a car snob. The genetic makeup of a boy born in Motor City is influenced into the sixth generation by the sound of a fine tuned exhaust, the whine of the turbo-charger and the smell of a little rubber left on the asphalt for posterity.  However, you can be a gear head without becoming a car snob.  Hi, I’m Larry.  I’m a car snob.

Audi’s are my favorite and have been for many years.  German engineering may have reached the pinnacle in the Audi line and it just keeps getting better.  Imagine my absolute delight a few years ago enjoying the Audi Experience on a private race course in Illinois learning how to take these beautiful creations to the maximum performance possible.  (My performance maximum, not theirs.  I couldn’t come close to taking them to the level of speed and agility they are engineered and manufactured to deliver.)  My favorite at the moment:  the S5 Cabriolet.  The sound, the smell, the feel of your spine against the rear bumper as you try to hang on to the steering wheel at the same time is a transcendent experience.  With the roof off, it becomes transforming.  All right, all right, auto enthusiasts are prone to exaggeration.  (But so are golfers, fishermen and preachers.)  Let me simply say, “What a sweet ride.”

Back to the driving experience.  It’s bit daunting to be handed a crash helmet before getting behind the wheel of a car you are going be taught to drive by a professional race car driver.  These people are serious.  The day began with a lecture on the physics of acceleration, cornering and de-accelaration, pretty essential items for someone who is about to drive in excess of 100 miles per hour . . . legally.  But before the road course we had to test our metal on more basic driving skills.  Like, stopping.  Sounds simple, but the test was to determine how quickly you can react to bring the car to a stop after full throttle acceleration and only braking when instructed to do so.  With the instructor seated beside you, performance anxiety settles in pretty quickly.

Next, we were taught how to avoid obstacles in our path.  Short version:  don’t look at them.  That’s right don’t look at the thing you don’t want to hit.  Your brain is revolting right now and for good reason.  How can we avoid hitting something if we can’t look at it?  The professionals taught us that looking at something at high speed is the surest way to hit it.  Is it sinking in yet?  You drive where you are looking.  The car goes toward what your eyes see.  Your hands respond to what your vision focuses on (at nanoseconds of time).

Give up? Not if you want to avoid hitting the thing you want to miss.  Instead, look into the path you want to travel.  Aim for the space, not the pylon.  Looking at the pylon as you attempt to maneuver into the empty space will inevitably send the orange cone flying into the air.

Does the application begin to resonate?  How many of our strategic decisions are based on negative focus?  If we want to avoid an unpleasant outcome, how much energy do we expend focusing on it.  Not only does fear paralyze at the limbic level of the brain, it also focuses higher executive thought on the inevitability of the outcome we seek to avoid.

How many times do we make decisions based on the negative force of the event or condition we seek to avoid?  Ever decided to leave a job because it was unpleasant, unfulfilling or simply toxic?  Most people leave employment because of a bad boss, not a bad job.  Ever leave a family of faith (church, temple, synagogue) because of bad leadership? Ever left a relationship because of a toxic partner? In these instances, how pleasant was the landing? Rebound relationships are notoriously unwise.

If we make decisions on the basis of negative motivation, we are likely to end up far closer to the trait, condition, circumstance or difficulty we sought to avoid than to its opposite.

Aim for the space.  Leave a job, a boss, a relationship because you are called to a better circumstance and the outcome will be far more pleasant.  Choose to respond to the positive motivation and the likelihood of hitting the curb is far less.  Keep your eyes on the open road and you will stay out of the ditch.

Many thanks to my friend Sabine Konig from Hamburg, Germany for reminding me of my Audi driving experience and the life lesson it taught me.


Quantum Physics: The Universe Calls, Are We Listening?

October 24, 2010

Nothing that I can do will change the structure of the universe. But maybe, by raising my voice I can help the greatest of all causes — goodwill among men and peace on earth.

Einstein’s Last Laugh

Many thanks to my friend and mentor, Earl Lavender, for pointing out a powerful scientific development which is turning theory into observable fact.  He noted that quantum or particle physics is providing dramatic proof of a world view, nay a universe view, vastly different than the one we have all grown to accept.  Data is beginning to emerge as generated by the Large Hadron Collider on the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland. The first human engineered collisions of sub-atomic particles in this high energy collider have begun to take place this year, at fractions of the energy the collider is capable of generating.

The data emerging  is proving that Einstein’s theory of relativity is more reality than theory.  E=mc2 is more than a mathematical equation, it represents a fundamental shift from mechanical descriptions of how the world works to one of immensely interdependent relationships.  The theory of relativity (actually two theories which work in combination:  special relativity and general relativity) hypothesized algebraic relationships between seemingly incompatible physical forces: energy, time and matter.  More particularly, the relativity between these fundamental cosmic forces is precise, predictable and quantifiable.  As energy increases, time (speed of light) and matter increase with time increasing as a square of matter’s increase. Simply stated the theory of relativity maintains that all is not constant, but variable and in direct proportional relationship with opposing forces.  In other words, the universe is not a zero sum game,  but infinitely and proportionately variable. As dark increases, light decreases.  Thus theoretical “black holes” exist in space where the density of dark is so great, neither light nor energy could escape.

However, without proof a theory is just a theory.  The LHC has begun to provide the proof. In controlled experiments beginning this year (105 years after first theorized by Einstein), particle theorists (or quantum theorists) are having a field day.  Depending on how deep you want to go, you can understand why these discoveries are so formative and energizing to the scientific, astrophysical, religious and behavioral science communities.  For folks like me, Quantum Physics for Dummies might be sufficient to “get it”.  If you want to dig a little deeper and get a more detailed introduction for lay people, try Discovering the Quantum Universe.  For the Bravehearts who want to dig deep and wallow in technical jargon, try Revealing the Hidden Nature of Space and Time:  Charting the Course for Elementary Particle Physics.

I know you’re waiting for me so say it, so here goes:  “What does all this have to do with conflict management?”  You know the answer, “Everything!”

Now that the LHC is operational, it will be increasingly difficult to cling to dualistic thinking.  “Either/or” outcomes will have increasingly less logical force.  “Both/and” thinking will become the hallmark of innovation and forward progress: relationally, economically, socially and politically.  Partisanship is dying.  Like management and fundamentalism, dualistic approaches to life must suffer a well deserved burial.  (See prior posts in this space:  Mass Collaboration:  Will Management Really Die? and The End of Coercive Power:  Really?)

Win/lose approaches no longer have scientific support.  “I win at your expense” has become neanderthal thinking.  Public policy must no longer become choices between the extreme poles of a continuum of positions.  Einstein is laughing from his grave at our prevailing conflict solving strategies as a relic of the dark ages.

Are we willing to learn how to manage the polarities of opposing thought?  See:  Polarity Management: The Creative Power of the Conceptual Age Those who are willing to acquire these skills will be leading our culture into the future.  An abundant future, rich with potential and innovation.  Those who are not, will be seen as relics of an age of scarcity thinking and competitive destruction, fighting for ever smaller pieces of a shrinking pie.

Let’s join Einstein in the laughter.  The cosmos is watching . . . and waiting.

This post is dedicated to a group of professionals who dedicate themselves daily to the work of managing polarities.  The International Academy of Mediators just concluded its Fall 2010 meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. A more accomplished and robust association of problem solvers cannot be found.  Thank you, IAM colleagues and friends, for allowing me to join your merry band.

S.W.A.T. Mediation: Just enough force

October 17, 2010


Lackland AFB Emergency Services Team


To respond to hostage, terrorist and other crises threatening public safety, police and military forces have developed highly trained and heavily equipped tactical units known as S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons and Tactics.) The first such known unit was commissioned in 1968 by the Los Angeles Police Department at the epicenter of the nation’s racially charged urban unrest.  Since then, S.W.A.T. teams have been recruited, equipped and trained in virtually every metropolitan center and military operation across the country and around the world.

As ordinary citizens we watch the news footage as armored vehicles, black clad  and highly specialized police officers converge on a crisis.  Our focus is on the weapons, but what we cannot see are the tactics.

My son has a brother-in-law who is in the F.B.I.  That’s all he has ever wanted to do.  Geoff is trained in counter-terrorism techniques and he can’t tell us what he does (or he would have to kill us).  Before he was a Fibbie, he was a police officer in a Dallas suburb where he signed up for all the law enforcement tactical training he could get and became a member of his department’s S.W.A.T. team.  I have other friends who have trained with S.W.A.T. teams or have been embedded with this unique brand of police force for “ride-alongs”. They have shared numerous insights with me.

What strikes me most about these crisis response teams is not the unbelievable weaponry they possess and are trained to use, but how seldom they choose to use it.  The motto in most S.W.A.T. teams is “just enough force”.  In other words, they are intensely prepared in the use of the most modern and potentially lethal equipment, but their most important training is in how not to use it.  The Yuma 3:10 image of vast numbers of trained killers unleashing a relentless fusillade of hot metal until no one is left standing is exactly the opposite of what S.W.A.T teams are trained to do.  They are trained to the point that they don’t have to think about it.  In fact, they can’t think about it.  If they took the time to think about it, the probabilities are great that someone would die.  That is exactly what they exist to prevent.

All our instincts in crisis and conflict are usually wrong.  S.W.A.T. officers have to learn to be counter-intuitive in crisis.  That is what they practice relentlessly.  Escalating conflict is our cultural, neurological and physiological norm.  To be effective in dealing with the conflict situations faced by ourselves or others, we must practice doing the opposite . . . without having to think about it.

Effective S.W.A.T. team members learn how to talk an emotionally unhinged violent perpetrator down from the ledge, give up the hostages, to take their finger off the trigger and walk awayfrom the bomb.  “Coming on strong” only escalates the crisis.  S.W.A.T. officers take defensive positions with their offensive power out of sight of the perpetrators.  Using the calming yet authentic voice of Uncle Fred, hostage negotiators seek to convince the most violent criminal or the terrorist “with nothing to lose” that abandoning their violent intentions is the most valuable choice they could make.  The effective negotiators do so without threats, but with a clear definition of the boundaries they will not cross.

S.W.A.T. officers clearly are not pacifists.  Their “tactics” are not “peace at all costs”.  Counter-terrorism, hostage negotiation and crisis management works because practitioners of this highly skilled art know how to use “just enough force” . . . no more, no less.

Achieving peace in the face of violence requires polarity management of the highest order.  (See: Polarity Management: The Creative Power of the Conceptual Age)  Meeting real or potential violence with unconditional peace encourages the dark to overcome the light.  Peacemakers know how to use “just enough force” to prevent exploitation and incentivize resolution.

When Linda Ragsdale was confronted with the horror of the Mumbai attacks on Thanksgiving Day 2008, she used “just enough force” to save four lives including her own.  (See: Mumbai: Take Two)  Linda was in no position to “take down” the terrorists, but she didn’t idly allow the intended massacre to proclaim mission accomplished.  She forcefully directed her table mates to get under the table, she screamed at them to “get down” and “play dead”.  She threw herself over her friend Michael who had been wounded in the first round of indiscriminate firing.  At great risk to herself, she used “just enough force” to save lives.

In our work in conflict management we teach students the power of Dr. Robert Axlerod‘s roadmap to avoid exploitation.  Dr. Axlerod is a mathematician, political scientist and game theorist at the University of Michigan (“M, Go Blue!”) who prescribes the path to take when one finds herself in a competitive exchange or a crisis encounter to avoid losing and how to set the stage for mutual gain.  He argues that beginning cooperatively is the correct first move, intended to signal a willingness to work together, but not at great risk.  After the other side has shown her intentions by a counter move, one is to “respond in kind”.  A competitive response receives a competitive reply . . . without escalating the conflict.  The response is intended to set the boundaries beyond which we will not be exploited.  Cooperative people have the most difficulty responding in kind. We all know you can’t change a competitor’s tactics by “out-nicing” him.  A cooperative response to competitive behavior only rewards competitive behavior.  However, when the other side gets the message that competition begets competition (without escalation) and chooses to move into the cooperative mode, Axlerod advises to forgive . . . immediately and completely . . . and respond cooperatively.  Competitive people have the most difficulty at this stage.  “Can’t I get my pound of flesh, the sweet smell of revenge?”  Axlerod, indicates that’s the best way to lose the exchange.  (See:  Revenge: A Subhuman Instinct)  Playing out this methodology consistently and flexibly provides the greatest guarantee that a competitive situation will not become exploitative.

Sounds like S.W.A.T members have been reading Axlerod. Perhaps more conflict managers will learn the same lessons.  Meeting force with no force is the road to exploitation.  Meeting force with more force escalates and delays any possibility of resolution. Meeting force with “just enough force” . . . no more, no less . . . is the path to the rational management of conflict.

Jesus is often cited as the model Peacemaker.  If so, he followed the “just enough force” approach to peacemaking.  To the religious power mongers, he confronted, he cajoled, he criticized.  To the disenfranchised he encouraged, he empathized, but he never tolerated bad behavior.  To the abusive moneychangers in the temple he violently threw over their tables of exploitation and chased them from the sacred place with a whip.  “Just enough force” . . . no more, no less.

Great mediators know the value of using “just enough force”, preventing one party from being exploited, reality testing the false premise of a long held position and occasionally challenging the willingness of a party to continue the fight.

Want to be a peacemaker?  Can you learn to use “just enough force”?

Mumbai: Take Two

October 14, 2010


Naomi Scherr


“Light is always born from darkness.”  Linda Ragsdale

Naomi Scherr was seated at a table at the Tiffen Hotel lobby restaurant on November 26, 2008 in Mumbai, India, when the unthinkable happened. Naomi, a 13 year old, was full of life and possibilities seated next to my friend Linda Ragsdale. At the table also sat Naomi’s father Alan, Michael an actor from Canada, a yoga instructor and another Westerner.  All of these friends had just spent the day touring, laughing and exploring the unimaginable polarities of India.  You probably know the rest of the horrible story.  In that hotel restaurant, ten minutes of hell left over 100 people dead, including Naomi.  Only four survived.  They all sat at Naomi’s table where both Naomi and her father were killed.

It was not a tsunami, typhoon or other natural disaster that took their lives.  It was a horrific scene of death and mayhem which was entirely man made.  Islamic terrorists affiliated with the radical organization Lashkar-e-Taiba stormed Mumbai that evening indiscriminately killing hundreds of people throughout the city.  Over the siege that followed, all but one of the terrorists were killed by police and militia as the city was slowly restored to relative peace. Many of these terrorists were mere boys (or at most young men) under the control of others, some on the scene and some back in Pakistan from whence they came.

My friend Linda recalls the scene with the eyes of the artist she is.  She had just promised Naomi that on the following day, Linda would teach Naomi how to draw a dragon.  Linda is an illustrator and teacher of art.  Naomi was a precious child filled with wonder who did nothing to deserve the slaughter that took her life.  Friday never came for Naomi.  Nonetheless, Linda is keeping her promise.  Literally across the globe children are learning how to draw the dragon Naomi was never able to draw.  Her PeaceDragon project is bringing together the dragon art of children in Mumbai and Nashville (and many other places) to create a dragon that represents the polar opposite of what Naomi experienced.

There are defining events in life.  They don’t need to define you.  Linda is not defined by that Thanksgiving day in 2008.  Instead, she models the extreme polarity of life.  As a survivor of this and other life threatening events that preceded that day, Linda refuses to be a victim.  From the moment a 50 caliber machine gun bullet tore through her body, Linda was looking at the indescribably opposing polarities with a both/and world view.  In that extreme moment of darkness, Linda was observing how light entered and filled that restaurant, “but the darkness has not understood it”  John 1:5

She saw in the face of her 20 year old attacker who intended to take her life the eyes of a child.  She saw her own son who was the same age as this terrorist carrying a machine gun and a backpack full of death.  What she saw was not rage and hatred.  Instead, she saw the face of fear, abject terror in the eyes of this “terrorist”.  Something was very wrong with this picture.  The child/man had been lied to, had been manipulated and controlled by a system that spewed hatred.  This 20 year old had now come face to face with the reality that was far different than he had been brainwashed to believe.  The people he was killing were not enemies.  They were like him, victims of a culture of hatred.  The victimizer was no less the victim than those he was victimizing.  Love and hate, light and dark, life and death were all mixed in a cauldron of lies that day in Mumbai.

I was unaware that parents of poverty sell their sons into terrorism just like they sell their daughters into sexual trafficking.  When does the victim become the victimizer?  The boy/man that took scores of lives that day could have been one of them (victim/victimizer).  His handler that day was never far from him, insuring that his orders of toxic belief were followed.  The child/man victim/victimizer was just learning that the toxic belief was all a lie.

Linda intends to let the love, the light and the life “overcome the darkness”.  The cycle of human trafficking, whether sexual, political or familial (as in domestic violence) will only be overcome when the polar opposites move into the dark space of hate, deceit, power and control.

In a few weeks, Linda will return to India to complete the PeaceDragon project.  She will return to the scene of loss for the purpose of gain.  She will use the language of love to overpower the memory of hate.  She will bridge the globe with the hope of children seeking a world devoid of violence.

Thanks, Linda for the great reminders:  “Light is always born from darkness”.

Changing Minds: Algorithms or Heuristics?

October 10, 2010

For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.
Tell a FriendBenjamin Franklin

Yesterday afternoon we concluded the most recent mediation class at ICM.  A great group of professionals gathered at Lipscomb for two weekends of intense training in the skills of facilitating other people’s negotiations.  33 very accomplished former judges, human resource executives, lawyers, educators, a financial planner and a soon to be drafted Major League Baseball player trusted Tracy Allen and me with 40 hours of their precious time to learn or enhance their mediation skills.  I think Tracy and I can agree that we learned as much as any of our students and were thrilled to gain 33 new “best friends”.

Every time I am fortunate enough to “teach” one of these classes, I am reminded of how critically valuable the skills that lead to changing people’s minds can be in our culture.  Educators attempt to do it with their students.  Lawyers attempt to do it with their adversaries, the judge or the jury.  Financial planners do it with their clients and executives do it with their employees, their stockholders, their board of directors and their market.  Parents try it with their children.

Influencing others to change their mind is no easy task.  It may be the most difficult of all.  We know what we know (never what we don’t) and we believe what we have come to believe for very good reasons.  The “world view” we have chosen is not easily discarded and replaced with another.

The only time someone is willing to change her mind is when she determines it is in her best interest to do so.  I don’t change my mind because you think I should despite how strongly you insist on it.  I only change my mind when the “pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same.”  In Dr. Phil’s words, our change readiness is measured by the answer to the question, “How’s it working for you?”  Status quo is a far more powerful motivator than the thrill of exploring new shores.  The grass really has to be much greener if I am going to climb the fence to taste it.

What motivates us to change?  Words are usually insufficient.  Threats might move us to the other side . . . only as long as the threat remains real to us.  After we have grown accustomed to the threat or it has lost its imminent character, we make our way back to the grass we know best.  Truly changing my mind is unlikely unless I have been motivated to change and decide for myself to do so.

What’s that got to do with algorithms and heuristics?  A great deal.  Sometimes we change our mind by the sheer force of logic which challenges our current thinking (algorithms).  This happens only when the change is consistent with our experience and belief system.

More often we change our mind because a story is told or a metaphor is shared which “connects the dots” in our thinking (heuristics).  These “ah-ha” moments are the ones which lead us to see the world in a new light (like the proverbial light bulb flash).

Neuroscience has mapped these ah-ha moments to occur in the right hemisphere of your brain: the realm of story and metaphor.  Light bulbs don’t go off in the left hemisphere, it’s too logical, too linear and too blind to new perspectives.  Our less than helpful expertise in confirmatory bias and categorical error is formulaic, analytical and logical.  The stereotypical thinking that locks us into unchanging ruts is due to the power of algorithms (“a set of rules for solving a problem in a finite number of steps, as for finding the greatest common divisor”) The left hemisphere knows what it knows.  It cannot know what it doesn’t know.

That’s the work of the right brain.  Big picture thinking results from matching a story, a metaphor, with our experiences that aren’t explained by the formulas we have come to trust. This amazing capacity of the mind to “fill in the blanks” is the power of heuristic analysis (“serving to indicate or point out; stimulating interest as a means of furthering investigation”).  Heuristic thinking expands our horizons and opens us to new ideas which can lead to new beliefs about people and the world around us.  The narrative account, the story or the metaphor all challenge us to explore new shores.  Algorithms help us navigate the shores we know.

If we are gong to succeed in helping people “change their minds” we will become great story tellers.

Jesus explained why he told stories to help people change their minds, “This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.”  Matthew 13:13.  The legalists relied on formulas to influence people’s thinking, and only got more of the same.  Jesus blew apart the world of what we know by using metaphors and stories to illustrate the value of what we don’t know.

The work of mediators is to help people explore what they don’t think they know so the light bulbs of discovery will illuminate the benefits of the pain of change over the pain of staying the same.  The story tellers will inherit the earth.

For more on the power of heuristic thought as motivation technique, see Daniel Pink, Drive

a set of rules for solving a problem in a finite number of steps, as for finding the greatest common divisor

Polarity Management: The Creative Power of the Conceptual Age

October 1, 2010

“For every complex problem, there’s a simple solution.  And it’s wrong.”  Anonymous

If the prior blogs in this space have kept you coming back, you might be asking what Daniel Pink’s solution to the emergence of the Conceptual Age might look like.  (Bricolage: Where Pink Meets Pinstripes)  How does the “whole brain” thinking of blended right and left brain mental processes help our culture solve its persistent problems?

Thanks to Wendy Trachte-Huber for introducing me to Polarity Management!  Wendy teaches our ICM class in Negotiation.  As we discussed the traps of “either/or” thinking rather than the power of “both/and”, Wendy described the work of Dr. Barry Johnson.  Almost 20 years ago, Dr. Johnson developed the intentional process of “polarity management“.

Rather than cycling between the strengths or weaknesses of two extremes (Democrat/Republican, Male/Female), Johnson encourages a deliberate path of “both/and”.  He illustrates the principle of polarity management with the basic human need to obtain oxygen and release carbon dioxide.  Take a deep breath . . . now hold it.  Felt wonderful didn’t it?  For how long?  Within seconds what was exhilarating became painful.  Now exhale . . . and hold it.  Wow, that felt just as good . . . for an equally short time.  Our ability to maintain life requires us to hold these opposing activities in a perpetual state of healthy tension.  Millions of times in a short span of life we must manage the polarity of oxygen/carbon dioxide, or we die.  Johnson graphically illustrates polarity management like this:

Barry Johnson, Ph.D.

Make no mistake, not all problems can be solved by managing polarity.  Only the most complex.  There is only one answer to 1+1=2.  However, when many possible outcomes are worth analyzing, managing the polarity of these competing forces can lead to innovative solutions.

Notice that managing polarity requires perpetual movement from the negative characteristics of one polarity to the positive traits of the other.  Next, focusing on the negatives of the second polarity takes the process to the positives of the other.  On and on . . .ad infinitum.  In contrast, “Either/or” thinking is typically focused on the negatives (or positives) of one polarity and then back to the negatives (or positives) of the other.  Like a pendulum, duality thinking can only swing back and forth between the incompatibility of two extremes.

Managing polarity is a radically different approach that requires analysis by moving from the negative characteristics of one polar extreme to immediately focus on the positive characteristics of the other.  Managing polarity is not cyclical.  It is a richly diverse process that examines positives then negative traits of each pole and moves immediately to the positives then negatives of the other.

Mediators and facilitative problem solvers engage in this process constantly, helping people in conflict examine first the weaknesses of their own “position” and then the positives of the other.  Up and down, back and forth until the glimmer of the best of both worlds begins to dawn on the disputants.  The outcomes that mediation generates are the dynamic synthesis of each party’s needs, expectations, fears and problems until a solution appears that is rarely the reality of either opposing position.

What might polarity management in public policy look like?  What if the national crisis of immigration were analyzed in this fashion:

What might the opposing poles of economic theory look like?

What would managing the tension between religious fundamentalism and “liberation theology” look like?

Most importantly, what if we as a society abandoned the approach of polarization and partisanship for partisanship sake and explored the creativity of polarity management in politics and public policy?  Yes, a few less careers built on demonizing “the other guy” might be made.  Campaign budgets might be reduced to manageable levels.  Problems might be solved rather than heightened to impossible dimensions of intractable conflict.

This could be the path to the Conceptual Age to which Daniel Pink has called us.  Sounds like it might be worth the effort to me.

For more reading: