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#175 - The Indirect Approach & Links


“The practical value of history is to throw the film of the past through the material projector of the present on to the screen of the future.”

B.H. Liddell Hart


I first heard of BH Liddell Hart and his book Strategy on a Jocko Willink podcast when he and his cohosts discussed Hart's work at length and how it can be applied to both business and personal relationships in life. I can't recommend this podcast enough and for those who are history nuts, I'd recommend the book as well.

Hart's discussion of military history in Strategy stays at a fairly high level, but his breadth of coverage extends over centuries of military campaigns to illustrate one point: when competing in any strategic 'game' (war, business, politics, etc.), the indirect approach tends to trump the direct assault. Let's look at a few examples.

For those who have a child who is headstrong, you know that most of the time, it's best not to argue when your child is having a meltdown. In the Moss household, we like to take the more indirect approach of distracting to calm the nerves - "Is that an airplane?! Look! An Airplane!" Works like a charm every time, the tears dry up, the attention is diverted.

Martial arts is another example of where the indirect approach reigns supreme. I started practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu 6 months ago and the indirect approach almost always comes into play with experienced grapplers. The brown and black belts understand how to disguise their efforts well enough where you think you know their next move... but in reality it is just a set up. For lower belts, it is very easy to often see what someone is trying to do and therefore to defend the submission or sweep. If someone is clearly signaling they are going for a choke, it will be easy to defend the choke because you focus all of your attention and energy to one spot. But if they are signaling a choke while secretly preparing for an arm bar, this lulls the defender into a false sense of security - only to tap out to an armbar.

What about the realm of human relationships? Does the indirect approach apply in influencing someone you work with, family members, friends, or complete strangers? To answer this question, here is a thought experiment: how often does using the 'Truth' in an argument actually work in reality when attempting to convince someone of your opinion or position? "Here's the Truth of the matter Jim..." Almost never. The person you are attempting to exert influence on simply throws their full intellectual weight against your argument and retreats deeper into their corner. Using the indirect approach of listening, asking questions, and subtly guiding a conversation is a much more productive method. One of my favorite contemporary Christian apologists is Trent Horn and his preferred method of argument is actually not argument at all - he likes to ask questions instead to point out inconsistencies and logical fallacies. The harder you press your case, the harder your opponent will press against it. I love this quote from Hart regarding the ultimate 'competition' of influencing others (true leadership):

“Opposition to the truth is inevitable, especially if it takes the form of a new idea, but the degree of resistance can be diminished-by giving thought not only to the aim but to the method of approach.”

Basil Henry Liddell Hart, Strategy

In all strategic endeavors, the indirect approach is often the most efficient way to your ultimate goal. There are no shortcuts in life. Indeed, the longest way round is the shortest way home.


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A new Americanism: Why a Nation Needs a National Story (Jill LePore)

America against America (Angela Nagle)

The triumph and terror of Wang Huning (Palladium Magazine)

Howard Marks' conversation at Panmure House (Oaktree)

Ultima Genomics delivers a $100 genome sequencing platform (Ultima)

Statistical review of world energy (BP)

ExxonMobil at the crossroads (CNBC)

NextEra Energy's Green Growth (The Diff)

The Playbook: lessons from 200+ companies (Acquired podcast)

The corporate tax burden: facts and fiction (Aswath Damodaran)

A huge step in quantum computing - the first quantum circuit (Science Alert)

Demis Hassabis on AI & DeepMind (Lex Fridman)

The Bill Gurley chronicles Part 1 / Part 2 (Macro Ops)

Seth Klarman: interview at Harvard Business School 2006 (The Psychology of Leadership) (Value Investing Channel)

How Migration Has Changed During the COVID-19 Pandemic (Link)

How to work hard (Paul Graham)

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