Naomy and the Anonymous Envelope

Naomy and the Anonymous Envelope

This post is used as source material for Prof. Blankenship’s courses.

Naomy was working 412 files in the prosecutor’s office. The caseload was heavy but she never complained. Many of her friends she went to law school with took months to get a job and some still didn’t have one. She felt blessed to be working as an attorney. She and Rafi could use more money, but the money she made plus the benefits (like health insurance) made their life better.

The file that took the most of Naomy’s time was one Charles Alexander Scott who was known in the neighborhood as “Axx.” Axx associated with a long list of known criminals. He had a reputation of being someone that should be taken seriously. He was suspected of almost every crime in the book but he had never been convicted. Axx was represented by a somewhat academic attorney. He was soft-spoken, early to court, and polite. He never missed the opportunity to challenge the prosecution’s case and most of his challenges – he won.

In her first courtroom battle with Axx’s attorney, Naomy lost. It was a motion to suppress evidence. Naomy had worked hard, fought hard. She had done everything she knew to do. She just lost the hearing. As a result of her loss, the murder weapon in a murder case that Axx had been charged with Not come into evidence. Without the weapon, her boss, the District Attorney, did not believe a jury would convict Axx for murder. The case would most likely be dismissed.

After the loss, Naomy returned to her office and found a bulging envelope. When she opened it, it was full of cash. With a quick count, Naomy estimated there was about $5,000 in the envelope. The envelope was anonymous. There was no note. In fact, there was no writing at all.

Naomy put the envelope in an old lunch bag in the bottom right drawer of her desk, in the very back. She needed time to think about what the envelope might be. About what it meant. After all, several of her co-workers knew that she and Rafi were barely getting by financially. Could it be a gift?

Two days later, Naomy’s boss poked his head in her office door and said, “we have someone in lockup who says he can put the murder weapon in Axx’s possession on the day of the murder. He, of course, wants his charges dropped in exchange for his testimony.”

“Do you believe him?” Naomy asked.

“Not really, but there is something about the fact that he knows about the murder weapon.”

“What do you want me to do?” Naomy asked.

“Interview the witness, see if he is credible or not. Right now, the murder weapon is suppressed. If you want to use his testimony to try to get the murder weapon back into evidence, file a motion to reconsider the judge’s ruling on the motion to suppress. I will leave it up to you.”

As her boss walked down the hall, Naomy thought to herself, “if I filed a motion to reconsider, and lost again, I wonder if another anonymous envelope would show up.”

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Strategy is Dynamic

Strategy is Dynamic

Why is the role of strategist fading away at a time when it is the most needed?

What is a strategist? The origin of the word strategy is in Greek – the Greek words stratos (army) and agein (lead). “Strategy“ is then derived from the word strategos (a military general). The main meaning of strategy is long-term planning to help achieve an objective. The strategy describes how the objective will be achieved. The person responsible for crafting such a plan is called strategist.

Like a military general, a strategist works with tacticians to carry out strategic plans. In non-military organizations, this work is most efficiently carried out through collaboration with tacticians such as CEOs, COOs, specialists, and project managers, who use a carefully planned strategy to achieve a specific end.

Sun Tzu’s maxim teaches that strategy and tactics work in concert to accomplish objectives. Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy are the noise before the defeat.

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.
Tactics without strategy are the noise before the defeat.

-Sun Tzu

In an ad agency, there is a role for creative integrity. The person filling that role ensures that at each step of a campaign (tactics) the integrity of the strategy is maintained. Otherwise, the final deliverable is unrecognizable because each tactician that touches it re-interprets the deliverable based on their understanding, creative expression, or skill.

In a trial, the case frame, the story, and the sequence of facts is strategic. Tacticians select a jury, deliver the opening statement, examine witnesses, prepare and present evidence and demonstratives, and make the closing argument.

But the strategist’s role is not one-and-done at the beginning of a project, campaign, or trial. The strategist’s role is dynamic. It is constantly changing. Consider a kayaker. As a tactician, a kayaker will have a map of a river as well as notes from other kayakers who have been on the river before. As a strategist, a kayaker will recognize that the water is dynamically changing and the objective is to enjoy the run and reach the take-out point alive. This might mean kayaking areas that have never been kayaked before. It also might mean carrying the kayak around sections of the river that have always been deemed safe in the past.

The objective for a trial lawyer as a tactician, for example, may be to win a trial for a sum certain or more. The objective for the strategist may be to resolve the conflict to minimize the collateral costs of trial (like publicity, inviting additional claimants, and so forth).

For the strategist, a trial may be a necessary tactic to bring the parties or the process to the point where negotiation is possible. And once negotiation is possible it becomes the new tactic to achieve the overall objective of resolving the conflict.

I am not suggesting that the strategist and tactician roles cannot be played by the same person. I am suggesting that in organizations and teams the differentiation of the roles has value. I am suggesting that where strategists and tacticians dynamically collaborate, objectives are achieved more effectively.

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Brandon Blankenship
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Experiments are a Success When You Learn

Experiments are a Success When You Learn

Someone shared this image with me of a pigeon’s nest. I don’t know if this accurately reflects the average pigeon’s nest. I didn’t google it. That isn’t the point I took away from the image. The point I took away is that for an onlooker – like me – this nest looks like a failure. For the pigeon, it seems like a success. Success for me is when I learn.

Pigeon's nest

I know many of my experiments look like a failure when folks look at them. Sometimes, they look like a failure — after some time passes — even to me. And I have to remind myself that because that experiment I know how to ______________________ (weld, plumb, research, cite, whatever). Success is when you learn.

Now that I have this image, I’ve got a reminder that what might look like a failed experiment might, in fact, be a success because I learned.

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Brandon Blankenship
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There is a Place for Tradition

There is a Place for Tradition

Jacob L. Moreno introduced the phrase cultural conserve to describe anything that has the effect of preserving valuable cultural memories, such as skills, discoveries, concepts, or moral values. Culture is conserved by culture carriers, that is, those who carry something forward from one generation to the next.

One way culture is conserved is tradition. Tradition is acknowledging that I have a history. Tradition is acknowledging that for hundreds and hundreds of years before I existed, people existed before me. Those people, like me, wanted to flourish and to a large degree wanted to promote human flourishing.

To promote human flourishing they created customs and beliefs, created or accumulated tools, and bought and maintained property. Some of these things were woven into tradition as a remembrance of something good or noble. Some of these things were woven into tradition as a warning or reminder that some things are bad. These traditions are what make my most intimate community. It is the songs we sing, the dances we dance, the food we eat, and the way we support and care for one another.

To break with tradition is a contemplative act. To some extent, I have to say to myself and others that I have figured something out or been enlightened in some way that they were not. Rather than an act of hubris, breaking with tradition is an act of humility. It is saying to the many that came before me that I somehow got it more right than they did.

But for there to be a place for tradition, culture carriers have to do just that. Culture carriers have to meaningfully examine which parts of the culture, which traditions, they will carry forward into the next generation. To refuse to carry forward no culture is to unhinge from the generations upon generations that did carry forward their part for human flourishing. It is choosing unnecessary suffering and death for this generation.

There is a place for tradition. To choose tradition does not mean that we have to keep the bad along with the good. We can choose to carry forward the tradition that promotes human flourishing and leave the rest to history.

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Brandon Blankenship
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Trying to Decide Which Products to Keep? Ask Your Customers.

Trying to Decide Which Products to Keep? Ask Your Customers.

Post-pandemic, many companies are faced with the challenge of ending product or service lines. When they think about which products and services to keep the natural source of information is the income sheet. Did the product or service make money? Transactional. Many times the income sheet gives a clear answer about which products and services to keep and which to get rid of. A clearly wrong answer.

A restorative leader will consult the income statement but before making a decision will ask the stakeholders. A distinguishing characteristic of restorative leadership is that the definition of stakeholder is necessarily fuzzy. Many businesses conduct customer surveys but the definition of stakeholder may extend out much further than the customer. It may include, for example, the end-user, the third-party beneficiary, the customer’s spouse and family, the community the product or service will serve, and on and on.

A restorative leader will listen to the stakeholders empathetically rather than try to convince the stakeholder that they are wrong about something they say. When a restorative leader feels offended or disgusted by a stakeholder, they seek to dig deeper to better understand the stakeholder’s position. This requires creating a safe place for the stakeholder to share. It requires leaders to receive what is shared as a gift. It is a gift — even if the leader didn’t want it — it is a valuable gift.

What restorative leaders often find is that the products or services are fine but the way they are delivered or installed or services needs to be changed. They often find that a small change to a product or service makes it more profitable. They often find that packaging existing products together makes them more profitable. They often find that stakeholders would be more loyal or would recommend products and services more if they simply received a little gratitude. They often find that stakeholders are willing to be partners and allies when they feel heard.

Trying to decide which products to keep? Don’t just ask your customers. Restoratively ask your stakeholders.

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Brandon Blankenship
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