Read: September 2014
Rating: 4/5 (Great)
Be Slightly Evil is one of three books currently published by Venkatesh Rao (Venkat) of RibbonFarm.com, my favorite blog on the Interwebz.
Unlike dumbed down management books which try to present people in a nieve black/white light, Be Slightly Evil and Venkat’s entire corpus are a more nuanced look at human beings and his ability to dissect organizational behavior is astounding.
Be a Sociopath. Far too dense of a book for a Takeaways section. Venkat is either worth reading in his entirety or not at all in my opinion.
As you learn more, you should have less need for moral opinions. – true
the more you insist on sticking to a straight-and-narrow path defined by your own evolving principles, rather than the expedient one defined by current situation, the more you’ll have to twist and turn in the real world. The straight path in your head turns into spaghetti in the real world.
If you are driven by your own principles, you’ll generally search desperately for a calling, and when you find one, it will consume your life. You’ll be driven to actually produce, create or destroy. You’ll want to do something that brings the world more into conformity with your own principles. As Shaw said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him. The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself. All progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
Realism is a way of viewing the world, pragmatism is the related way of acting within it.
There is a certain merit to this heuristic. Serious change requires collective action, motivation and energy. Negative thoughts and people do drain this energy. But the heuristic gets dangerous when it turns into an unchecked, runaway sort of self-reinforcing positivism.
On the good/evil axis, Slightly Evil drives towards action whether or not the consequences are clearly good or evil upfront, and starts with the assumption that simply acting for the sake of acting (otherwise known as creative destruction), and choosing churn over stability, is central to life. This is not “good” because it does not equal a belief in change as progress. But it is also not “evil” because it is not a belief in value-driven stability. Action for the Slightly Evil favors chaos creation. – better to do something and see what happens
No Free Lunch. If you cannot figure out who is paying for the lunch, you might want to reconsider eating it (or in a more pessimistic form, if you don’t know who the sucker is, it is probably you). – if you don’t know who the sucker is it’s you
for: “a company that starts down the road to evil in even a small way will end up totally evil.” His point reminded me of one often made in Agatha Christie novels by Hercule Poirot: that a murderer who has killed once finds it increasingly easy to kill again and again. In one novel, Death on the Nile, Poirot gravely tells a character, do not open your heart to evil.
One way to test for rationalization via dehumanization is to ask: would you want to win that way against a spouse, friend, child, pet or parent? (Actually, having an empathy calibration scale is valuable in a lot of situations, not just this one).
“in persuading people to buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, in order to impress others who don’t care, commercial design is probably the phoniest field in existence today.” After a half century of this mindset, we have today’s consumer culture. That philosophy of persuasion is being rapidly ported to the Internet, experience marketing and social media, and vastly amplified in the process. Bigger no-free-lunch forces are being unleashed than were ever unleashed by the Industrial Age. – yes!
The “why” of any sort of behavior is usually a mish-mash of situational realities, conscious and subconscious self-interest, and distorted echoes of unexamined distant hunter-gatherer behaviors (a.k.a “evolutionary psychology.”) – profound
we give people authority even when we don’t like them and are not afraid of them if they possess valuable information or skills.
“A CEO’s job is to interpret external realities for a company.”
idealism believes in change and creates unchanging human beings. Tragedism (to coin a word) believes humans cannot change their fundamental natures, yet believing in it actually transforms humans far more radically than the idealist view.
The Unreasonable Man Effect The tragic stance on the other hand, brings about deep change in a roundabout way. If you stubbornly stick to the idea that humans cannot change, then improving your life means changing your environment. As Shaw noted, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
Unlike the conformist adaptations of the idealists, tragedian change involves real self-destruction in the sense of Nietzsche, before resurrection can happen. You know this if you’ve ever taken on a major, challenging project. Finishing it doesn’t just create the output you had planned on, it transforms you. – yes
Idealists trap themselves into these cul-de-sacs of incremental change partly through life choices and partly through a metaphysical own-goal. The life choice is simply the act of focusing directly on change rather than challenging external projects. The idealist goes off on a Zen retreat looking directly for change. The tragedian starts a business or writes a book and then resists and ultimately accepts the change as an inevitable consequence. Good or bad, it is a rebirth. That is why you cannot call it “self-improvement.” Tragedian patterns of deeper creative-destructive change are fundamentally risky. A successful book or business may end up sending you into a spiral of drugs and depression, while utter failure may end up getting you to a moment of enlightenment far faster than the earnestly meditating Zen students. – its not what you do. its what you become.
Your personality can be understood as comprising two parts: a self and a shadow. The self represents the parts of yourself that you accept, and are attached to. You see those parts primarily as strengths. The shadow represents the parts of yourself that you reject as weaknesses, and have developed an aversion to. It is, for the most part, subconscious or unconscious. You can generally only see your shadow by projecting it onto external realities. Especially other people. These people are, at a first approximation, the ones who feel like you’re evil twins: what is in your shadow is in their conscious self, and vice-versa. Your shadow persona manifests itself in your own behavior only under conditions of either extreme stress, or extreme relaxation.
can. If your life involves constantly meeting all sorts of new people, in unfamiliar situations, and getting all sorts of different things from them, you don’t have a choice. – have to learn network building and emotional intel
Being a status-player is also not an easy thing to hide in the long term, so you will be known for what you are, by people you interact with a lot. The best way to manage this perception is to openly acknowledge it and make sure your underlying values are understood and accepted by others.
To wield influence, it pays to appear predictable in very simple ways around others. Fly your true colors high.
Trying to be yourself and expressing your true personality in every situation certainly is a very adolescent thing to do. Expressing yourself completely is downright childish. That amounts to publishing all your buttons for anybody to push. But if you identify the right, simple subset of your most natural behaviors, and become very predictable to specific groups of people, you will be vastly more effective. What kind of behaviors should you deliberately publish? The ones others are afraid of triggering. In other words, the only buttons worth publishing are the ones others are afraid to push. Publishing buttons that others want to push leads to being manipulated, flattered or worst of all, an invitation to
one of the easiest ways to figure someone out is to look at the information they choose to consume.
To be a professional organizer of delusions, you need to focus on delusions that it would actually benefit you to believe, at least temporarily, and then figure out how to adopt them for just as long as they can serve you. Your overall goal is to create plausible deniability, even within your own mind, to defend against the accusation that you don’t believe something that you are pitching to others. Your lifeline back to reality is your capacity for doubt, which prevents plausible deniability from turning into a pattern of denial that persists long after the expiry date on the delusion. – brain washing or rewiring yourself
The best way to avoid negotiation altogether is to do so much pre-work that you understand the other parties’ options, costs and benefits better than they do, and can actually work out the “best for everybody” solution before you even get to the table.
people who are going to terminate all relationships and walk away very soon behave very differently from people who aren’t sure how much they’ll be dealing with each other in the future.
Slightly evil people often appear to be extreme risk takers to others. This is actually far from the truth. They are often more conservative. One of the big factors that creates the illusion of the slightly evil being daring gamblers is indifference to sunk costs.
Hanlon’s Razor: never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.
“You must accept the consequences” is the start of a dangerous line of advice that also leads to “you should take one for the team,” hara kiri, captains “going down with the ship,” and other (usually unnecessary) acts of martyrdom. There are times and places when honor and such noble acts of self-sacrifice might be appropriate (usually actual battlefields are involved), but they are truly rare. Most of the time, nobody needs to die.
slowing down leads to a resolution of the collision avoidance problem. If one party slows down while the other continues to dance side-to-side rapidly, the dancer will more likely be the one to get the right of way, generally the lower-status outcome.
For the first law, in place of win-win or no-deal, I offer you: adult-adult or no deal. Broken promises are inevitable under conditions of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA). It is important to avoid demanding, or promising, absolute loyalty. Dealing with people who trade in childlike absolute loyalties is not worth it unless they are actually children.
ceding some contests in order to create a reserve of attention, before a fatal number of unforced errors accumulate, is a necessary strategy.
Last Updated on April 18, 2019 by RipplePop