When you know more than others

and use it right

I was in Berlin last week. A fascinating city. The city of the “unruled”.   Truly a unique city with a complex history. A city that re-invented itself to be one of the coolest city in the world. Yes, you can quote me on that.

During that week, I met 3 fascinating people.  Real sneakerheads.  All in their mid 30’s with a true love and passion for sneakers.  They named themselves “the OG’s”.  I loved the OG’s, I loved their energy for the sneaker culture.  More than 10 years ago, 1 of them was an emerging hip-hop artist, another was a graffiti artist, and the last one was a sneaker collector.  After years of doing their things, they experimented with something new.  Selling second-hand sneakers online.  They started small. Just for fun and see what would come out of it.  To their surprise, the vintage sneakers were selling fast. Really fast.  Long story short, a year later they have a business.  They went from selling a few pairs of sneakers here and there to traveling every month to the US to collect their eBay shopping that they would then resell in Europe.

How did they their business become so successful so quickly? 2 things:

  • They know vintage sneakers better than anyone else.  Fancy people call it “knowledge asymmetry”.  When the average Joe decides to empty his attic and make a few bucks in the process, what he sees is old things taking up space.  The OG’s, on the other hand, see a unique pair of sneakers, from a limited edition that has not been re-edited.  That fancy term, “knowledge asymmetry” means that you can buy something for $10 and resell it for $300 because you know!
  • The OG’s are trendsetters.  Spend enough time obsessing about one thing, you will know it intimately.  The OG’s do not only obsess about sneakers but also about everything surrounding sneakers.  They understand the movement, the trends. In some ways, they can predict what will happen in the streetwear culture better than anyone else in Berlin.  At that point not only you can predict it, you actually can influence the trends.

Let’s recap.  In both cases, they buy low and sell high.  In the first place is because they know better.  In the second case, they create the value by making the sneakers hot.  Here think about the ugly sneakers trend.

The point here is: go beyond information is power.  This is only your first step. Once you have it, milk it as much as you can.  I truly hope the Berlin OG’s will continue to expand their business super fast and dominate that space.

“YOU can get away with wearing that”

How to make a bad thing good

I have been hearing this for a while now. Both in the US where I lived for 7 years, and now in the Netherlands where I have been living for 2 months.

I consider myself a visionary when it comes to my swag. That is at least 2 days a week, rest of the time I like to keep it simple. Some other people would consider my style a bit crazy.  I need to post some pics, but to give you an idea, I like my snake imprints hoodie, gold on white, black (or any other colours) sneakers, just got myself a bright red velour hoodie that I am especially proud of, and the list goes on.

And my style has been consistent since I left my consulting job where I had training on how to buy black or blue suits, black shoes, white shirts and black socks.  But somehow, living in Portland everybody could have their own style – or lack of – and it was all good.  When people where saying “you can get away with wearing that [crazy high top red shoes, with an oversized tongue]” I did not pay too much attention to it. It was like… a compliment. People liked my style. I was known for my style.  Europe is different. The style is more consistent, people stand out less. Slim looking sneakers, blue jeans, and a long sleeve shirt or a nice hoodie.  People still style it in crazy ways… But if you ask me, the styles are same same but different.

OK, let’s make a long story short. I now feel that when people are telling me “you can get away with wearing that” there may be several reasons.

  1. I am fly as F@#$, and therefore anything I wear is by default lit. The likelihood that this is the case according to me is 80%. Probably according to other people, 5%
  2. Because I am Black, people think that I can wear anything I want, that I make cool.  The likelihood that this is the case according to me is 70%. Probably according to other people, 95%.

I could spend forever trying to guess what other people are thinking. And I will never know for sure.  What I know, is that “I can get away with that”.  It is great. It means I can make it my brand.  That also makes me unique… and in a world where everyone is seeking attention, being unique is a great asset!

My learning from this experience. This is a case where I could confront people, say that it is a racist consideration and try to make it right.  It would probably be right but I would not gain anything from it.  In successful negotiations, it really feels like it is not all about making things right, but getting ahead and ending up in the best situation to lead to another successful position.  So whenever you may be thinking about “keeping it real”, remember the Dave Chapelle skits, and focus instead on stacking your “wins”, regardless of how small they may be and keep moving forward.  And like Tiffany Haddish mentioned in her book, the best advice she got is “the best way to shut off haters, is success”

The Ikea Effect in Negotiations

How to use cognitive biases to your advantage

A few days ago I painted my hallway.  It took me about 5 hours. No, my hallway is not as big as one of the houses in MTV Cribs.  I am just a bad painter.  How good was my paint job? I had some people coming home to remove some junk from the garden, so I asked them.  The answer “you can recover the situation. But you will definitely need at least another layer”. In other words, it sucks but if you start again, maybe it will be ok.  But in my eyes… the hallway walls are the most beautiful of the whole house.  This is the Ikea effect.  A cognitive bias in which consumers place a disproportionately high value on products they partially created according to Wikipedia.

This applies to virtually anything you do yourself.  A home-baked cake tastes the amazing.  You love your four-legged Ikea table you built regardless of how wobbly it is.  Experiments by Norton and his colleagues demonstrated that participants viewed their amateurish creations as similar in value to experts’ creations, and expected others to share their opinions.  Let’s unpack this. In my painting example, it would be the equivalent of saying that I could charge as much as a professional painter for my weekend job.  This is where I see the opportunity in negotiations.  How can you use that cognitive bias to your advantage? Even better how can you create that cognitive bias in people’s mind?

  1. Use the Ikea effect.  If you know that someone coming up with their own idea, are more likely to buy into that idea, why not figure out what that idea is, and then sell them on a version of that.
  2. Create the Ikea effect.  This is a subtle and delicate tactic. The opposite of throwing the hammer down.  You need to gently steer people in the direction you want.  Make them see the different parts of the flat packed table to build, and then let them build it themselves.  They will be delighted to build it.  You may need to help them a bit more in some case, that’s ok, the most important is that they feel like they complete the task and feel like they own the results.

This is not a tactic you can use every day because it takes time. But this is a good one to add to your negotiation arsenal.  The bigger your negotiation toolkit, the better negotiator you become.  I am convinced that you do not judge a negotiator based on 1 single negotiation, but rather on how well that person does over a long series of negotiations in different setups.

Photo by Norbert Levajsics on Unsplash


My opinion about the reparations

I am for and here how to advocate effectively for it

I am for reparations. I was for before writing this and even more for after writing the first blog post. I am not going to lie, the 2nd blog post put some doubt in me for a minute.  I could stop there really. Instead, I want to contribute. Advocate for the reasons why there should be reparations. And really the arguments for reparations are sounds. People against reparations do not challenge the reasons for reparations. They mainly challenge the mechanics around reparations.  Let’s unpack the arguments against reparations to make our case more compelling.

  1. Blacks in the US are better off economically than Black in the Caribbean or Africa.  OK, maybe.  So what? Is it due to slavery that they are better off? How do you define being better off?  This is the equivalent of saying that Angelina Jolie should not seek justice following the sexual harassment she suffered from Weinstein because today she is better off than other women who did not get harassed.  Enough said
  2. Who to pay reparations to?  I do not know how to answer this question.  It is tricky and could cause a lot of other issues.  That’s just not a good enough reason to not pay reparations.  Getting to the moon was not easy, we still did it.  Decades later we all have as much computing power in our pocket than was necessary to get the first man to the moon.  My point is that a lot of things are hard to do, and we are continuously pushing the limits. Why not push the limits of a cause we know is right?
  3. Where to get the money from?  The new GOP tax law will dig a huge hole in the budget. We are talking billions.  And mostly to make companies and rich people wealthier.  When you want to find money, you can.

The 3 most valid arguments I found against reparations can be crushed in 214 words.  So the reasons for Blacks to still be waiting on reparations has to be deeper, much deeper. And most likely the reasons are emotional.  People have pre-established opinions on topics such as the reparations.  In the majority of cases, people opinions cannot be changed purely with facts and logic. Neuroscientist Tali Sharot explains in my favorite NPR podcast, Hidden Brain, that it is difficult to change false beliefs.  She explains how you need to bring people along with you.  Pushing more facts towards them, actually consolidate their pre-existing opinion.   Instead, with powerful stories, your audience thoughts become more aligned with yours.  When done extremely well, people come to your conclusion before you even have to spell it out.  I feel like that this is what is missing.  All my research found facts. I did not come across how people, on both sides, felt or are currently feeling.

Connecting on the emotional level is key. We need to achieve that first step before there is a chance for any arguments to be received the way they should.

The case against reparations

We are still talking about the same reparations…

Excited and scared to tackle this sensitive topic.  This is a controversial topic. This is a heated topic. I clearly do not have the answer to it.  So I won’t even pretend I’ve got this.  But what I can do is obviously give my opinion on the topic.  Moreover, I can also look at the arguments through negotiation lenses.  By this I mean, looking through the smoking mirrors, focusing on the problem rather than the emotions attached to it, but also looking at how emotions are used.

This is an ambitious goal, so I decided to start a 3 part series on the topic.  First, I review the case for reparations, now, I’ll discuss the case against reparations and finally, I’ll give my opinion.  3 part series because I want to force myself to dig deep into the research before formulating an opinion.

Let’s review the most compelling arguments against reparations.  It is uncomfortable for me. Especially after reading such a compelling argumentation from Ta Nehisi Coates.  Still, I need to practice what I preach. Looking at EVERYTHING from different perspectives. Even when uncomfortable.

  1. Slavery has not hindered the economic progress of Blacks.  Economist Thomas Sowell reveals in a study that most people believe that 3/4 of Blacks live in poverty, whereas 1/4 is the real number.  Actually, if Black Americans constituted their own country, it would be the 11th largest economy in the world.  Black Americans have a longer life expectancy than Blacks in the Caribbean, or in African countries. Still, need to triple fact check this.
  2. Who gets what?  First the who.  Who qualifies? the Blacks. How do you define Blacks? Do you use the “one drop rule” or do you award only “pure” Blacks.  With the “one drop rule”, you probably compensate too many people. So many that the reparation may be too small to be relevant.  Also, you may have people pretending to be Black to get reparations.  On the other side, if you compensate only “pure” Blacks, do you use a version of the comb and brown bag?  Either way, this could be a divisive situation, that could be more costly than the reparations Blacks would receive
  3. Who pays what?  It is estimated that less than 10 percent of whites owned slaves.  Moreover, a vast part of today’s non-Blacks population comes from immigration.  Probably a fraction of the whites was involved in slavery.  So, is it fair for all whites to pay for the reparations when they had nothing to do with it?

These 3 arguments are the most impactful in my opinion. I will fact check them and let me know if you know they are alt-facts.  Still is hard for me, because I had to read a lot of bad arguments to find these nuggets of what I consider truth. Most come from this source. And I really had to filter the arguments to remove the “waste”.  Even, a great institution like Stanford University published shaky arguments in what I call a “confuse them if you can not convince them” article.  Frankly, many of the good arguments against reparations sound racist.

Next week I will share my unfiltered opinion on the topic. And it is not so much about if I am for or against. But more the reasons behind.  In the meantime, I want to hear your opinion.


The case for reparations

You know what reparations we are talking about…

Excited and scared to tackle this sensitive topic.  This is a controversial topic. This is a heated topic. I clearly do not have the answer to it.  So I won’t even pretend i’ve got this.  But what I can do is obviously give my opinion on the topic.  Moreover, I can also look at the arguments through negotiation lenses.  By this I mean, looking through the smoking mirrors, focusing on the problem rather than the emotions attached to it, but also looking at how emotions are used.

This is an ambitious goal, so I decided to start a 3 part series on the topic.  First, I’ll review the case for reparations, secondly, I discuss the case against reparations and finally, I’ll give my opinion.  3 part series because I want to force myself to dig deep into the research before formulating an opinion.

Let’s review the most compelling arguments for reparations.  One of my favorite on this topic is Ta Nehisi Coates.  His overall point is that “the present situation is the result of past actions”.  Because many people seem to assume that black people and white people start with a level playing field, that they have similar resources at their disposal and ought to achieve similar results.

  1. Held down for 200 years.  America took so much from Blacks and for so long that the only way to give Blacks the same opportunities than whites is to pay reparations.  Ta Nehisi Coates provides several detailed examples in the essay he wrote for the Atlantic in 2014.  Housing policies are vivid examples.  The most famous is probably Redlining.  Essentially, it prevented Black families to own houses by limiting access to mortgages and when they did manage to own houses this policy decreased the value of their house, eventually creating ghettos.
  2. Slaves were an asset.  Wealthy people think in term of assets – read “do you speak trust fund “to better understand.  An asset is something that produces you money while you sleep because it works for you.  Now realize that slaves were worth more than all of America’s manufacturing, all of the railroads, all of the productive capacity of the United States put together says Yale historian David W. Blight.
  3. There’s a direct cost for slavery’s legacy. Former Federal Reserve Board Chairman Andrew Brimmer estimates that discrimination costs blacks $10 billion yearly through the black-white wage gap, denial of capital access, inadequate public services, and reduced social security and other government benefits. This has been called the “black tax.”
  4. Apologies should mean reparation.  As recently as 2009, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution apologizing for this country’s oppression of African Americans: “The Congress (A) acknowledges the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws; (B) apologizes to African-Americans on behalf of the people of the United States, for the wrongs committed against them and their ancestors who suffered under slavery and Jim Crow laws.”
  5. Reparations precedents.  President Ronald Reagan apologized for Japanese American internment during World War 2. Each survivor received $20,000 for the loss of property and freedom during the period.  The German government made reparations to survivors of the Holocaust. The ask was $13 billion in today’s dollars.  Money that has been put to very good use by Israel to develop the country.

These 5 arguments are the most impactful in my opinion.  They are sound and focusing on facts.  But clearly, they have not worked so far because African Americans have not received reparation.  Could that be the issue? being too rational and not throwing enough emotions? Could there also be a timing aspect to it?  Precedent examples happening very soon after the fact, and also more in modern days.  It seems also unclear what the real problem may be. Is it money, or is it also the implications that will come with it.  In both precedent examples, only a portion of the population could be blamed for the terrible events. Slavery was much deeper. It was over centuries, and a large portion of the population, benefited from it, enforced it or openly supported it. What would be the implications of seeking to pay reparations?

Next week we will look into the arguments against reparations, and focus on why they have been more compelling and resulted in not paying reparations, so far…

Photo by Nicola Fioravanti on Unsplash


How to get the truth out of someone?

Without psychic power

Asking people to tell you the truth will simply not cut it.  Human beings are wired for survival. And now that we do not risk to be eaten by a wild animal with teeth longer than my arm, survival has a different meaning. That meaning really depends on people’s situation.  For some people, modern-day survival means to get that new job, or to go out with that gorgeous looking person or really to pass an exam.  As a result, people may try to deceive you to get what they want, “survive”.

How do you get the truth then?  There is a lot of info on how to spot a lie e.g. Discrepancies between what they say and their body language, avoiding eye contact, rolling their eyes towards the upper left, and the list goes on. Helpful, but not enough.  Because anyone who wants to “survive” bad enough will make sure that all these things are coherent. 

What I am offering with this blog post is simple but will set you apart from the masses.  How to make people tell you the truth.

Recently I had a series of conversation with important people.  My objective was to show them how amazing I am.  My recipe for success was 50% motivation, 50% preparation.  Let’s zoom on the 50% prep.  When I prep for this type of interaction I get to know everything I can on the people I will meet. We are talking Google searches, Linkedin, social media but also talking to people who know the people I want to impress. Getting examples of how they are.  In that type of set up, 99% of the time I do great.  And most people will with enough motivation and preparation will.  Because the messages can be tested, rehearsed, and delivered flawlessly.

What if you want to go beyond my carefully crafted messages?  What do you do?  Create an element of surprise that will destabilize me.  People, when under pressure, typically revert to what they know best. It is like they are on autopilot.  I am no exception.  I had 2 days of conversations with these important people.  Meeting them in their offices, over lunch, or at a coffee bar.  Except for 1 interaction that did not happen as expected.  Instead, it happened on a train on the way back to the hotel I stayed.  So a casual place.  The conversation started very casually.  I thought to myself, this is a get to know each other on the personal level kind of meeting, especially considering that we had met previously.  I relax, let the conversation flow on its own.  That was great until the conversation suddenly switched to intense professional questions.  That’s when she destabilized me. The professional questions kept flowing, the tone of the discussion was different.  It went from an easy layup to Lebron James came back from nowhere to block me.  Unfiltered answers came pouring out of my mouth.  It was messy, not structured. Definitely not my best self.

Mission accomplished for her, mission failed for me. Or did I really fail? Clearly, I was set up. A smart set up.  What was she expecting? probably authenticity, some level of vulnerability.  And that is what I gave her. Not what I wanted to give her but what she wanted.  So potentially a win in the end for everybody.

Here is the recap on how to get the truth out of someone:

  1. Make them feel comfortable.  chit chat, let them lead the conversation and talk about what they want
  2. Meet them several times first.  The first encounter is usually to break the ice, get to know each other.  People will have their guard up.
  3. Jump right in. No warning shots, ask the toughest question first. Then build on it and dig deep.
  4. Transition back to your charming self.  People may be in shock. It is ok to get the truth out of them, but this is not the end game.  Once you got what you need, make people feel comfortable again

This is manipulation you may think. Yes, it is. Nowadays we can never be too careful with who we trust.

Photo by Scott Rodgerson on Unsplash