How did Bernie Madoff do it? How did he steal twenty billion dollars from people who should have known better? It doesn't matter if you went to university or not–you can still be played as a chump.
To pull off a significant deception, you generally need two things: A deceiver and a crowd of people open to being deceived.
Once those are present, the deceiver brings out the big lie.
For lots of reasons, people are open to looking for shortcuts and a new reality, even if no shortcuts are available. They may have been mistreated, might be struggling, or they may merely be greedy, looking to outdo the other guy. In the case of Madoff, he was even able to take in charities, with boards that meant well but were in a hurry to scale.
Frustration in the face of the way things are makes us open to the big lie. Frustration and fear and anger can suspend our ability to ask difficult questions, to listen to thoughtful critics, to do our homework.
And the big lie is always present when we get played. To be a chump (not merely the victim) is to be open to the big lie. Not merely open to it, eager to buy into it.
Numbers make it easy to tell a big lie. People hate numbers, and they seem so real.
Anti-intellectualism, disregard for the scientific method and conspiracy theories also set the stage for a big lie.
And demonizing the other, the one who is already held in low esteem or feared by the chump, this is usually part of the big lie as well.
In retrospect, the warning signs around Madoff were obvious. Just about any skeptical, thoughtful investor could have seen through the big lie if he wasn't so busy being a chump.
When a population gets played, the responsibility lies with the liar, with the con man, with the person so craven that they'll trade trust and productivity and a bit of civilization for some power and authority.
But the chump also has to take responsibility. Responsibility for looking for the shortcut, giving into the fear and for eagerly believing the big lie, ignoring the clues that are all around.
Chumps aren't restricted by nationality, by education, by income. Chump is an attitude and a choice.
We're not chumps. Not if we don't choose to be.
Consider a race to the top.
How can Lyft possibly compete with Uber? Scale is often the secret to a commodity business, and if Lyft races to be ever cheaper than Uber, the only possible outcome doesn’t look good. It’s a cutthroat corner-cutting race.
But what happens if Lyft (or your project) decides to race to the top instead?
What if they say, “we’re always a dollar more than Uber”?
And then they spend that dollar, all of it, on the drivers…
What kind of person buys the cheap ride, the ride with the stressed-out angry drivers?
So instead of drivers abandoning fares they accept (they’re under so much pressure to make ends meet, Uber drivers do this all the time–it happened to me four times in one weekend), you end up with drivers that were good enough to be able to charge an extra dollar…
Uber becomes the bottom fisher, and Lyft (or whatever it is you do) is the place you go once you’ve proven yourself…
And what would happen if your fast food place said, “we’re the place that charges you a dollar extra at lunch,” and they spent all that dollar in paying their employees and their suppliers a living wage?
Some people will always want the cheapest, regardless of what it actually ends up costing them. But in market after market, the list goes on. Projects and organizations that proudly charge a dollar more.
Not merely a dollar more.
A dollar more, and worth it.
Doubt is corrosive.
Someone faced with doubt rarely brings her best self to the table. Doubt undermines confidence, it casts aspersions, it assumes untruths.
Yes, of course you need to qualify your leads. And yes, we know that you need to protect against risk and to not waste your time.
But… if you're going to spend five minutes or five hours with someone, what happens if you begin with, "the benefit of confidence" instead? What if you begin by believing, by seeking to understand, by rooting for the other person to share their best stories, their vision and their hopes?
Perhaps you can manipulate someone by scowling, by negging, by putting on airs. But if you do that, you end up with people who have been manipulated, who are wounded and not ready to soar.
The problem with qualifying leads is that all the obvious ones are already taken.
The challenge with assuming that someone is completely imperfect is that you'll almost certainly be right.
There's plenty of room for doubt later, isn't there?
Shannon Weber decided that there wasn't enough love, recognition or connection in her world, so she did something about it. When she finds an unsung (don't say 'ordinary' hero) she makes them a cape.
Caping people, catching them doing something right, shining a light on a familiar hero.
It turns out that this is way more difficult than being cynical, or ironic, or bitter. Being closed is a lot easier than being connected. It takes guts.
What kind of impact does one act of kindness make? It can last for years.
Go, cape someone.
“I’m not sure what it is, but I’m against it.”
It’s a mistake to believe that people know all the facts before they decide.
In fact, most of the time, we decide and then figure out if we need to get some facts to justify our instinct.
There are two common causes of uninformed dissent:
The first is a person who fears change, or is quite happy with the status quo. He doesn’t have to read your report or do the math or listen to the experts, because the question is, “change” and his answer is, “no.”
The second (quite common in a political situation), is the tribal imperative that people like us do things like this. No need to do the science, or understand the consequences or ask hard questions. Instead, focus on the emotional/cultural elements and think about the facts later .
All change involves an if/then promise.
"If you want a delicious dinner, then try this new restaurant."
"If you want to be seen as a hunk, drive this Ferrari."
"If you want to avoid being dead, have this surgery."
If people aren't taking you up on your offer, there are two possible reasons:
- Not enough if. Maybe the person doesn't want the thing you're promising as much as you need them to. Maybe they don't care enough, won't pay enough, just don't want that sort of change.
- Not enough then. More common is that we want the if, but we don't believe your then. It's easy to claim you're going to deliver the then, but that doesn't mean you have credibility.
When in doubt, add more if.
And definitely more then.
…is that the system can’t hear you. Only people can.
And the problem is that people in the system are too often swayed to believe that they have no power over the system, that they are merely victims of it, pawns, cogs in a machine bigger than themselves.
Alas, when the system can’t hear you, and those who can believe they have no power, nothing improves.
Systems don’t mistreat us, misrepresent us, waste our resources, govern poorly, support an unfair status quo and generally screw things up–people do.
If we care enough, we can make it change.
Is there anything easier than listening to a lecture or reading a book and taking notes?
And is there anything more difficult than setting aside our preconceptions and the resistance and acting 'as if', being open to belief, at least for a moment?
If taking notes is making it easier for you to postpone (or avoid) the possibility of belief, better to put down the pencil and focus.
Facts are easy to come by. Finding a new way to think and a new confidence in our choices is difficult indeed.
Is bigger better for the investor or is it better for the customer?
At a huge hotel in Nashville (more than 1,000 rooms), there's always a long line at the check in desk, the gym is full at 5 in the morning and the staff has no clue who any guest is.
It's clear that doubling the size of the hotel helped the owner make more money (for now). But it's worth taking a moment to think about whether bigger is the point.
Maybe better is?
Your job is an historical artifact. It's a list of tasks, procedures, alliances, responsibilities, to-dos, meetings (mostly meetings) that were layered in, one at a time, day after day, for years.
And your job is a great place to hide.
Because, after all, if you're doing your job, how can you fail? Get in trouble? Make a giant error?
The work, on the other hand, is the thing you do that creates value. This value you create, the thing you do like no one else can do, is the real reason we need you to be here, with us.
When you discover that the job is in the way of the work, consider changing your job enough that you can go back to creating value.
Anything less is hiding.