Tag Archives: Terry Jones

A Look Back on 2010 Provides Lessons for 2011

Most of my friends, clients, and readers are breathing a sigh of relief: 2010 is over. While thinking about the past year, I pulled together a collection of all the blogs I wrote in 2010. With more than 40,000 words it’s practically a book! You can download a copy at http://kaihan.net/Kaihansfastcompanycompleteblogsfor2010.pdf Looking back at the posts that generated the most responses in 2010, I began to get a sense of what 2011 might hold in store.

1.      The Saints win the Super Bowl: Von Clausewitz, the great Prussian military strategist, introduced us to the concept of “moral force.” He believed that armies that wanted to win with great conviction enjoyed a tangible advantage over less-motivated adversaries. This year, the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl not just because of the creativity of their strategy and precision of their quarterback, but because they had the entire nation behind them. (http://www.fastcompany.com/1548911/super-bowl-lesson-3-find-a-moral-force)

2.      Is Google destined to be evil?: Google appeared to break its self-imposed approach of not being evil when it began advocating for closed Internet. But the evolution of Google from underdog to an industry leader follows the inevitable pattern of every successful firm.  Young companies win by delighting their customers, but as companies grow stronger, things change. They become intrigued by a new set of tools in their tool box. They naturally gravitate toward the three key sources of sustainable advantage. (http://www.fastcompany.com/1683446/is-google-destined-to-be-evil)

3.      Five Laws of Conflict – Burning Korans Breaks them All: Florida-based pastor Terry Jones had planned to lead his congregation in a Koran burning, celebrating what they call "International Burn a Koran Day." I could never have predicted the passion this debate would ignite from both sides. There is clearly an unresolved, and I believe misdirected, pent-up anger in our national psyche. (http://vox.fastcompany.com/1688082/five-laws-of-conflict-burning-korans-breaks-them-all)

4.      Can Rosetta Stone Reach the Fourth Level of Advantage?: Do you want to inspire the pack, fluster the pack, or leave the pack? An emerging breed of competitors, many of whom I covered this year, are finding new ways to reach the fourth level of advantage. (http://www.fastcompany.com/1695112/can-rosetta-stone-reach-the-fourth-level-of-advantage?partner=rss).

5.      Three Tips for Building Something Great: In an interview with the founder of “College Hunks Hauling Junk,” Nick Friedman shared some of his ten commandments for building a business. One of my favorites – and the one that got the most comments – was to maintain a Zen-like state of detachment, being able to work ON the business rather that IN the business. (http://www.fastcompany.com/1702290/three-tips-for-building-something-great)

6.      What’s a Duck to Do?: I got a chance to spend over an hour with Daniel P. Amos, the CEO of AFLAC, and hear firsthand how he helped turn a relatively small, regional insurer into a global behemoth. One of the company’s key strategies was to “create something out of nothing” – to create an entirely new insurance category in Japan. (Click on http://www.fastcompany.com/1660221/what-s-a-duck-to-do to read the post; visit http://www.kaihan.net/vpw_login.php?img=aflac to hear my webinar interview with Mr. Amos).

7.      A Torn Public: To Love or Loathe Michael Vick?: As my home-town American football team approaches the Super Bowl, its colorful quarterback has been drawing attention. This blog set off a firestorm of debate around the ethical question of should you forgive someone who has done something bad after the serve their time and apologize.




Beyond these posts, I covered the leaders of a number of what I believe to be “Outthinker” companies including Vistaprint (VPRT),WebMD (WBMD), Blue Nile (NILE), the Wall Street Journal, Inventiv Health (VTIV, now private), Valley Forge Fabrics (the leading decorative fabrics provider to hotels), Eye Buy Direct (the leading online eyeglass retailer), Kumon (the leading after-school tutoring franchise), etc. Next year I’ll keep following them and add a few more.

Stepping back on what seemed to most catch my readers’ eyes, I would summarize 2010 as a revolution. There is a shift occurring in the nature of business competition. A new field of winners that are breaking commonly accepted norms is emerging. If the post-crisis world is as different as many warn it will be, we can learn from these “outthinkers.” I look forward to bringing you more in 2011.

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / Ameliepie


Muhammad and the Litmus Test

Does the truth need to pass a litmus test? When you tell the truth about anyone’s religion, the answer isn’t so clear. Before I engaged in writing a novel on the life of Muhammad, the risks were only too apparent.  Islam was a hot-button issue. Tempers were running high. Looming large were the fatwa and Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel, The Satanic Verses, and the worldwide uprising among Muslims over a cartoon in a Danish newspaper that was thought to blaspheme against the Prophet.  Therefore, simply to set down the events of Muhammad’s life — events that are by turns gripping, exciting, disturbing, and inspiring — leads directly into an inflamed debate.

To me, the danger of writing about Muhammad are, frankly, a red herring.  You can’t know what is safe to say these days and what isn’t. Before he backed down at the urging of President Obama and others ,  an obscure Florida pastor with less than a hundred in his congregation,  proposed, against all sense, decency, and caution, that everyone join in Burn-a-Koran Day to commemorate 9/11.  Terry Jones feels perfectly safe to incite potential violence, because he has prayed over it, and apparently his God can’t stand Allah (I thought they were the same God) and favors ignorant intolerance.  By lineage, Jews, Christians, and Muslims share The Book, meaning the same antecedents in the Old Testament, which each faith interprets so that it comes out number one. Being "people of The Book," a term frequently used when discussing the relationship between Islam and Judaism, hasn’t stopped historical feuding and bloodbaths. 

To keep their claims of absolute divine truth, each religion has learned to moderate its criticism of other faiths.  It’s not so much live and let live as people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Your founder walked on water? Yours heard a voice in a burning bush? Yours was visited in a cave by the angel Gabriel?  From inside the faith, these are articles of belief that cannot be questioned. If you stand outside the faith, they seem unreasonable, to use the mildest term possible. As a non-Muslim, I was writing from outside the faith. Therefore, I didn’t challenge the accepted life of Muhammad as taught for over a thousand years to all devout Muslims. Yet at the same time I couldn’t give them only the aspects of their Beloved that are the most attractive.  Muhammad, viewed as a historical figure, was involved in military campaigns; he asked God to strategize the battles.  At one point he ordered the execution of Jews who had collaborated with the enemy. He was told by God to marry a girl of six who was betrothed to another man.

I didn’t judge any of this from a modern perspective. Child marriage was part of a society that existed across enormous gulfs of time and mores, just as the ancient Greeks do. Once you apply litmus tests to someone else’s faith, the result is guaranteed to be explosive. Fundamentalists in all religions don’t care. The benighted Terry Jones has counterparts in the Islamic world who are just as disturbing, and both say "God wants me to do this."  It’s not up to me or any chronicler of Islam to judge either side of religious conflict.   To me, putting on my writer’s cap, the only muse that must be honored is the truth, told with respect and without distortion.  The great enemy here is denial. None of us has the right to deny another person the dignity of faith, and by the same token, no person of faith has the right to claim sole ownership of the facts.  Outsiders are allowed to peer in the window of churches, temples, mosques, and synagogues. Those inside then have a choice: slam t window shut or open it and let in some light. 

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Five Laws of Conflict – Burning Korans Breaks Them All

This Saturday, Florida-based pastor Terry Jones had planned to lead his congregation in a Koran burning, celebrating what they call "International Burn a Koran Day." Although everyone from the Pope to Hillary Clinton has urged him to halt his plans, it seems that only a sign from God can keep him from following through. I can’t decide if Terry is short-sighted or brilliant, if he lacks all ability to skillfully manage conflict or if he is, intentionally or accidentally, leading us to peace. Let us first review the folly of his Koran burning plan, drawing from history’s most brilliant masters of conflict. My survey shows that Terry’s demonstration breaks five fundamental laws governing how to win.

1. Violence is an inferior strategy: one of Sun Tzu’s most important statements is "the highest realization of warfare is to attack the enemy’s plans; next is to attack their alliances; next to attack their army; and the lowest is to attack their fortified cities." Niccolo Machiavelli wrote, "Arms are permissible when there is no hope except in arms." Here we have two of history’s most well-known individuals saying great strategy solves conflict without violence. Now while burning Korans is not physically violent, it is morally vehement and, as we will see in a moment, grossly misdirected.

2. Make means consistent with ends: we love to read stories about bloody clashes of civilization–the French and U.S. Revolutions, for example. But the violent ones rarely sustain their victories. The Irish Republican Army, Palestine Liberation Army, Basque ETA, and Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers all ultimately struggled against the popular resistance their violent means engendered. In contrast, consider non-violent "wars" like the liberation of India, the end of apartheid in South Africa, the removal of dictators in the Philippines and Chile, or the democracy movement in Poland. All resulted in sustainable victories. As Gandhi pointed out, "The means must be consistent with the ends." History tells us that burning Korans, even if successful in some way, will eventually lead to an unsustainable world filled with burning Korans, Bibles, and Torahs.

3. Create no competition: Sun Tzu wrote that "to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill." The best strategies preempt competition. By this measure, the burning of Korans is a step backward. It achieves no meaningful gain while it can only excite competition. What the burning of Koran does is draw a challenge in the sand; it creates an "us vs. you" dynamic that Gandhi saw as critical to undo: "We reaffirm our unity with others when we transform ‘us’ versus ‘them’ thinking and doing." At the heart of the Koran-burnings folly is that it achieves no gain yet activates conflicting identities–Christian vs. Islam–that will naturally trigger conflict.

4. Isolate your opponent: one the greatest strategists of modern times, Colonel John Boyd, suggests that a critical element of any successful campaign is to isolate your opponent from his supporters. Sun Tzu called this "attacking alliances." Some U.S. military strategists conceptualize our conflict with Islamic extremists as being a battle with four concentric spheres: at the center is Al-Qaeda (our primary target), surrounding them are various Jihadist groups that gain support and inspiration from formal-Qaeda, around them are Islamic fundamentalist sympathizers, and around them is the broader population of followers of Islam (see this report, PDF file). A smart strategy would laser in on Al-Qaeda and other Jihadist groups while isolating them from the support of sympathizers and followers of Islam. By robbing the target of their support, you weaken them. Burning Korans incites the outer concentric rings to support the Al-Qaeda target. It takes natural supporters of ours and gives them a reason to support the "enemy."

5. Never come down to your enemy: if your enemy is good with a sword, it would be foolish to pick up a sword against them. Instead, you should wield a weapon with which they are less familiar. If you fight like your enemy, you become your enemy. By turning to burning Korans, Terry sinks to the extremists’ level and breaks this important strategic law.

My Hope

While Machiavelli paints a foreboding hue on Terry’s Koran-burning strategy ("There is no surer sign of decay in a country than to see the rites of religion held in contempt"), my rosy lenses cannot help but reach for a positive outcome from this situation.

For the first time Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin have something to agree on. Sarah joins Hillary in urging Terry to hold back, warning, "It will feed the fire of caustic rhetoric and appear as nothing more than mean-spirited religious intolerance. Don’t feed that fire." Reverend Billy Graham’s son has been calling Terry asking him to stop. Republican conservative Haley Barbour says of the incident, "I don’t think there is any excuse for it." Gen. David Petraeus, Angelina Jolie, and even the Pope have all weighed in on the same side.

Could this be Terry’s real plan? To unify the U.S. behind our highest ideals? Whether intentional or not, if Terry follows through, let us all hope that he and his 50-member congregation will set up a global shift that will result positive momentum for all of us. The strategic principles outlined above apply to any conflict you wish to skillfully engage in, whether for your business or life. Ask yourself the questions below to see how you can truly master conflict:

  1. What would it mean to attack your enemy’s plans or alliances, rather than attacking your adversary?
  2. Are your means consistent with your desired ends?
  3. Is your strategy activating unnecessary competition?
  4. How can you isolate your competitors from their sources of support?
  5. What is your competition’s preferred form of battle and how can you avoid playing their game?

Originally posted on FastCompany.com http://www.fastcompany.com/1688082/five-laws-of-conflict-burning-korans-breaks-them-all

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / Malik_Braun

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