Folk Tales, Game Theory and the Civil Rights Movement

This is the text of a speech I am going to give at my next Toastmasters club meeting for the advanced speech manual called Storytelling. It is based on the book Jane Austen and Game Theory by Michael Chwe.

1. Introduction
The civil rights movement in the 1960s was able to prevail and produce the Civil Rights Act of 1964 due in large part to the moral authority of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. But the success was also due to some very shrewd strategic thinking about targets to choose for his campaign of non-violent protest.

This legacy of strategic thinking was informed by a source that at first glance might not seem to have anything to do with strategy, and that was the folk tales told by African-American slaves and passed on through generations. Michael Chwe, in his book Jane Austen and Game Theory, argues that both written literature, in the form of the novels of Jane Austen, and the oral tradition, in the form of African-American folk tales, demonstrate a keen understanding of strategic thinking.

2. Game Theory
The science of strategic thinking is called game theory, and it has been developed in the latter half of the 20th century with the tools of mathematics. Think of a game of chess. If you make a move here, then that will influence my decision about where to do my next move. In turn, my next move will influence your decision about where to do your next move. You are I are strategic actors, meaning that we have a choice of certain actions, and we try to develop a strategy that will maximize our benefit, at the same that you are trying to maximize yours. Any kind of interaction, competition or struggle can be put into the framework of strategic decision making or game theory.

It turns out that if a strategic actors understands how the other side thinks, and can predict what that person will do, then that strategic actor has an advantage. However, if the strategic actor does not understand how the other side thinks, or to put it a different way, is clueless, then that strategic actor has a disadvantage. Here’s the key point: If there is a difference in power between one actor and another, the one who is relatively powerless but understands strategic thinking may be able to gain an advantage over the more powerful one if that person is clueless.

Let me tell you a story to illustrate my point called Flossie and the Fox.

3. Flossie and the Fox
Flossie was told by her mother to take a basket of eggs to her grandmother, but to watch out for the fox, who LOVES eggs. But Flossie had never seen a fox before, so she didn’t know what to look out for. Flossie skipped along and she encountered a strange creature who said, “I am a fox, and I want those eggs.”

“I purely don’t believe it … how do I KNOW you’re a fox? Maybe you’re some another animal who’s just saying that so I’ll be scared and give you these eggs. Good day, whatever you are …” and off she went.

“Whatever do they teach children these days? “ said the fox. The fox says, “I’ll prove to you that I’m a fox, then. Look at this thick fur!” Flossie said, “that just means you could be a rabbit—they got’s thick fur!” She went on.

“Okay, I’ve got another proof. I’m a fox—because I’ve got this long pointed nose.” Flossie said, “a rat’s gotta long pointed nose, too. You could be one of them … I ain’t given no eggs to no rat.” She walked further.

“Well, how about my bushy tail, then? How do you explain that?” Fox was satisfied that her had the girl cornered with his logic. “You could be a squirrel, they got bushy tails.”

The fox kept following her, thinking of how he could finally prove to the girl that he was a fox so she would give him some eggs. A cat was running hurried from the other direction, and the fox said, “hey, cat! I need some help here!” The cat looked at the fox chasing after the girl and wondered why the FOX needed help. “This girl doesn’t believe I’m a fox—she doesn’t believe anything I say. You’re a third party, you tell her what I am.”

“Oh, he’s a fox, all right!” Flossie now turned to the cat. “well, how do YOU know that he’s a fox?” “Well, he’s got sharp claws and yellow eyes.” “Well, so do YOU. That just shows that he could be a cat!” The cat said, “hey, there’s a hound coming this way, so I don’t have time to argue—goodbye!”

A hound? Well, it was the hound belonging to Flossie’s grandmother, who smelled the fox and was coming this way to chase him off. As the fox dashed away, he yelled, “well at least the HOUND has a lick of sense. He knows what I am! I’m a fox!”

And Flossie said, “I know.” And she walked unhindered all the way of the way to her grandmother’s house.


4. Game Theory in Story
How does this folk tale reflect strategic thinking? If it were a contest of power, the fox could have overpowered Flossie easily. But rather than focusing on the eggs, she changed the framework and made the contest about the fox’s own identify. She instinctively knew that because he was powerful, he would have a powerful ego, and would do anything to defend it. So she distracted him, and made him play a new game by her rules, and by outfoxing the fox, bought herself just enough time to get to her destination safely.

You may consider this a tale of amusement and entertainment, but the strategic thinking buried in this story and many others like it was a legacy that the African-Americans who told them passed on to future generations so that they could use it when it was needed.

5. Game Theory and the Civil Rights Movement
And in the 1960s, that legacy informed the planners of the civil rights movement, including Dr. Martin Luther King. In 1962, they had tried to mobilize the community in Albany, Georgia, but the chief of police had read Dr. King’s speeches and had researched his tactics and directed his police to use “no violence, no dogs, no show of force” and because he knew of King’s strategies, was able to neutralize them and avoid a confrontation. In January 1963, the activists in the Southern Christian Leadership Council developed a tactical plan to desegregate Birmingham, Alabama. Why did they choose that place as a target? Because of the public safety commissioner, “Bull” Connor, who was the prototypical figure of a white racist law enforcement officer. He was willing to use violent tactics, including police dogs and fire hoses on demonstrators even if they included women and children.

This not only accelerated and built up the momentum of the movement in the South, but gained Dr. King new allies throughout the country as the violence was shown on television in living rooms all across the nation. They chose “Bull” Connor because he was bull-headed, and therefore clueless, acting in such a way that would win his battle, but ultimate help lose the war against civil rights, when the Civil Rights Act was finally passed the following year.

And in the legacy of African-American folk tales, we find today, when Civil Rights again are under attack, a powerful message, that we can use the power of language to confront the language of power and, God willing, prove Dr. King correct who said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

The Dale Carnegie approach to Stakeholder Management

I am a volunteer for the Chicagoland chapter of the Project Management Institute, which is putting on its 3rd annual Professional Development Day on November 1st.

As a member of the committee that is organizing the event, I am helping to put together one of the tracks of educational programming for the event, in particular the track which includes the new knowledge area of Stakeholder Management.

I am happy to announce that Mark Wilson from the Dale Carnegie Institute in Chicago has agreed to give a talk on how the Dale Carnegie philosophy of communicating with and influencing people can be used in this new knowledge area.

Since Stakeholder Management has been elevated to new importance in the 5th edition of the PMBOK Guide, I hope that those who come to the PD Day event on November 1st check out Mark Wilson’s presentation to see that the Dale Carnegie brand of training has something relevant to add those wanting to know more about the subject of Stakeholder Management!

5th Edition PMBOK® Guide–Chapter 11: Identifying Risks through SWOT Analysis

1.   Introduction

Risk Management, which is covered in Chapter 11 of the 5th Edition PMBOK® Guide, has six project management processes, five of which are in the planning process group.    The first planning process creates the Risk Management Plan, which creates a framework within which all of the other risk management processes can take place.

The second planning process, 11.2 Identify Risks, is where the first step in risk management takes place.   Risks are identified, which are then in later processes analyzed and then managed with appropriate responses.    Since this process is one of the most complex of all risk management processes, there are many tools & techniques listed to help capture as many of the risks as possible in this process.

One of the tools is SWOT analysis, which stands for Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats.   It is a powerful tool for an organization to identify risks.

2.  Opportunities vs. Threats

There are two variables to consider in SWOT analysis, those variables “internal” vs. “external” to an organization, and those which are “positive” or “negative” with respect to their impact on the project’s constraints.    Let’s take the last of these two dichotomies first.

The definition according to the PMBOK® Guide of a “risk” is “an uncertain event or condition that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on one or more project objectives.”   The technical definition of risk includes both positive or negative effects; in common usage, however, the word “risk” usually implies just the negative effects, with a word like “opportunity” covering something which might have a positive effect on a project.   That is why threats AND opportunities are part of the SWOT analysis, because they cover both the positive and negative effects on a project.

3.  Internal vs. external

Threats and opportunities are considered events or conditions that are outside the project that will affect something inside the project.   Those threats and opportunities can be from the organization itself or from outside the organization.    In either case, the strengths of an organization, the positive aspects of the organization, may be able to neutralize or at least mitigate some of the threats to a project.    For example, the more people trained in a crucial area of expertise, the less likely it is that the absence of a key person on a project will prevent that work from being done, because the other people trained in the area may be available to fill in for the absent person.

The weaknesses of an organization, however, are those factors within that organization which may exacerbate risks, or negate opportunities that come by way of the project.    So keeping track of the external threats and opportunities that a project may face vs. the internal strengths and weaknesses of the organization within which the project is done may help in understanding not just where the risks are, but how to create effective risk response strategies once those risks are identified.

4.  Usefulness of tool

At Experience Unlimited, a professional networking group devoted to those professionals who are looking for jobs, we ran an interview workshop in which one of the ways we asked for the participants to prepare for an interview was to do a SWOT analysis.    The threats and opportunities were those forces in the marketplace or otherwise external to the person which might impede or improve the chances of their being able to find a particular job in a particular industry at a particular company.

Then they need to catalogue those strengths and weaknesses that are internal to the person, i.e., those factors which would appear on a resume based on their job experience, which also might impede or improve the chances of their being able to get that particular job.

In my own case, the type of job I used to, litigation management, was something which, because of the changes in the marketplace, now in many cases requires a law degree.    For this reason, the threat that now existed in the marketplace to my getting the kind of job I used to have forced me to make a decision to find another line of work, which is how I decided to become a project manager.    Being a project manager played to my strengths which were, a track record of working in a company where I coordinated the activities of people from several functional areas of the organization, and a strong background in knowledge of foreign languages and cultures.    These strengths of my mine, I felt, would match the increasing opportunities in the marketplace for those who want to work for international companies.    Now, my background worked for, rather against, the opportunities that existed in the marketplace.    So the SWOT analysis was essential for my making a career decision, and so I can attest to its usefulness in analyzing both the threats and opportunities that exist not just for a person, but for an organization as well.

Climate Reality Leadership Corps–now training in Chicago!

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore presented his award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth in 2006.    He has recently organized a Climate Reality Leadership Corps, the purpose of which is to give those in the leadership program the information they need to present the realities of climate change to various groups within their communities.    It will be similar to an updated version of An Inconvenient Truth containing all the latest research  that has occurred in the past 7 years.

Training is going on from July 30, August 1, 2013 in Chicago for those who have applied for the leadership program.   The reason why I’m writing a blog post about this is because of the members of my church, Jeff Green, has been selected to be one of the participants in the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.   He is going to attend the two-day workshop and then present the results of the leadership workshop to our church.     He is now looking for venues in the South Suburban Chicago area to show his presentation to, and I plan to assist him in doing this.

The focus of the Climate Reality Presentations that will be done by members of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps will be to focus on local impacts that Climate Change will have on the local environment and the economy.    This is going to be excellent experience in contacting the various constituencies that will be impacted by climate change and to make them aware of the latest information which can be used to mitigate the risks that this will create.

By decentralizing the information, Al Gore is using the power of social media and networking to get the message across, and it should prove to be an exciting endeavor.    It’s so compelling a subject that I cannot NOT get involved, let’s put it that way!


The Economics of Happiness

The Economics of Happiness is a 2011 documentary film directed by Helena Norberg-Hodge, Steven Gorelick, and John Page, and produced by the International Society for Ecology and Culture.   It was shown at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Park Forest tonight.   I attended the film and discussion afterwards, and wanted to write a blog post about the film.

The purpose of the film was to show the following:

  1. the traditional measure of the size of an economic, the GDP or Gross Domestic Product, does not accurately reflect the degree of well-being of those citizens of the economy
  2. the forces of globalization, in particular those favoring deregulation of finance and trade, are creating effects which undermine the well-being of the average citizen
  3. the way to slow the trend of globalization is to put emphasis on economic localization

1.   The accounting of happiness

The GDP of a country does not give information on the extent to which that “national wealth” is enjoyed by its citizens.    The concentration of wealth in fewer and fewer hands will reduce the amount of wealth that is available to the majority of its citizens, for example.    Also, the negative effects of crime, pollution, and other factors that decrease the well-being of a nation’s citizens are not reflected in the traditional measure of that nation’s economy.

2.    Concentration of capital

The neoliberal prescription for the reduction of governmental regulations that constrain trade and capital flows has created effects, such as the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-8, which have ended up decreasing the well-being of many across the world.

3.  Economic localization

The process of economic localization decreases the scale of economic activity, not its volume.    This means, in the case of purchasing food, that you are buying from a source which is local.    If I buy a piece of fruit that comes from Brazil, the cost of transporting that piece of fruit to my local grocery store is NOT factored into the price.    If it were, I would most likely buy a product that was grown locally because it cost less not just to produce, but to transport to where I am.

If the resources involved in transporting products were factored into its price, a lot more products would be procured locally, which would add money into the local economy.

The film talks about globalization in only the narrow sense of transnational corporations that want to use the power of national governments to obtain subsidies which will allow them to run roughshod over local companies and even local governments.    Economic localization would not only decentralize the global economy, but it would encourage global diversity of products and services.

For this reason, the film was hopeful in that it showed examples of many movements around the world that foster economic localization and how fast they have been growing.

I would recommend seeing the film, even if you may not agree with its premises or conclusion.    One thing is certain, that the current path of the global economy is not on a sustainable path.   Alternatives should be looked at that will make the global economy stronger and not weaker.

5th Edition PMBOK® Guide–Chapter 11: Diagrammatic Techniques for Identifying Risks

1.   Introduction

On January 27, 1967, three astronauts training for the first flight of the Apollo Program, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White II, and Roger Chaffee, were killed in a fire that broke out during what was supposed to be a routine test of their launch vehicle.    In the investigation of the causes of the fire, when asked what caused the fire, Astronaut Frank Borman, said it was ultimately a “failure of imagination.”   The engineers designing the Apollo spacecraft were well aware of the dangers of space, but had not sufficiently considered the risks that could occur when testing the space vehicle on the ground.    That “failure of imagination” cost the lives of three American astronauts and set the space program back 20 months while the design flaws that caused the fire were identified and corrected.   

2.  Identify Risks–Most of the Complex PM Processes

The process 11.1 Identify Risks is one of the most complex of all project management processes, in that the inputs come from almost all of the knowledge areas in addition to risk management.   It also is complex with regards the number of tools & techniques available for the project manager to identify risks.    The reason why the process is complex is because identifying risks involves a lot of teamwork, a lot of imagination, and that is why I am devoting this post to tools & techniques which can help clarify the various sources of risk and how they may impact the other constraints on the project.

All of these techniques are used in conjunction with the brainstorming technique mentioned as the first tool & technique of identifying risks.    Note that many of these tools & techniques are identical to those used in another knowledge area, that of quality management.   

3.  Diagrammatic Tools & Techniques

a.   Cause and effect

These are also known as Ishikawa or fishbone diagrams because of their shape–they are useful in identifying risks.    The risks to the project are organized according to the source of the risk, and each of these sources are placed as the “bones” along the “spine” or base of the diagram.    Then under each of these sources, the various risks that come from these sources are listed vertically from off of the various “bones” of the diagram.    In quality management, you are looking for the source of a defect which has already occurred; in risk management, you are looking for the source of problems which have not yet occurred, but might.

b.  System or process flow charts

These are useful for diagramming the various element of a system to see how they causally relate.    These are useful in determining if a risk occurs, what the effect will be on the other constraints on the project such as scope, time, cost and quality.   

c.   Influence diagrams

Another way of seeing how elements relate is through an influence diagram.   However, rather than just showing how elements causally relate, as in a simple flow chart, you can show other relationships between the elements such as their time order.     These are useful for identifying when in the project certain risks are more likely to occur than at other times.

In all three cases, the diagrams used are simply a tool to help people visualize complex interactions.    As such, they should be used in conjunction with brainstorming, where the project team members sit together with stakeholders or with subject matter experts, depending on the corporate culture.   

The next tool & technique is SWOT analysis, which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.    This goes beyond identifying merely negative risks (i.e., threats) to be avoided, mitigated, transferred or, if nothing else can be done, accepted, and takes risk management to the next level by identifying positive risks (i.e., opportunities) that can be exploited, enhanced, shared, or as with negative risks, accepted.    


5th Edition PMBOK® Guide—Chapter 11: Information Gathering Techniques for Identifying Risks

1.  Introduction

Process 11.2 Identify Risks is the first planning process after the process that creates the Risk Management Plan.  It is important to identify the risks that will affect the project, and that is why there are more inputs to this process that almost any other project management process.

One tool for identifying techniques is to use information gathering techniques.  The purpose of this post is to outline four of these techniques.

2.  Information Gathering Techniques

The following is a summary of the four information-gathering techniques that can be used to identify risks.



1. Brainstorming Obtaining a comprehensive list of project risks, categorized by type of risk, with a multidisciplinary set of experts.  Can be free-form or a structured mass interview.
2. Delphi technique Reaches a consensus of experts through questionnaires, the responses to which are summarized.  Results can be recirculated to the experts for further comment.
3. Interviewing Interviewing experienced project participants, stakeholders, and subject matter experts.
4. Root-cause analysis Specific technique used to identify a problem, discover the underlying causes that lead to it, and develop preventive action.

Brainstorming uses a facilitator who interviews a set of experts who are usually not members of the project team.  It can be either free-form or more structured, depending on the culture of the organization.

Delphi technique performs the same brainstorming function, but by sending questionnaires to the experts rather than interviewing them en masse in person.  This is used to prevent one expert’s opinions from swaying the others, which could conceivably happen in the first technique.

Interviewing is where the facilitator interviews those project team members and concerned stakeholders, as opposed to the brainstorming and Delphi techniques which are usually used to gather opinions from experts who are not directly involved in the project.

Root-cause analysis, similar to that used in solving quality-related problems, can be used to categorize risks according to their source, to list risks in each category, and then to propose preventive actions to prevent these risks, or to develop countermeasures or risk responses if they happen to occur.  It can be used as part of brainstorming, the first technique listed, to identify risks.

In addition to root-cause analysis, many risk diagramming techniques can be used in a brainstorming session to identify risks.  That is the subject of the next post.