Plausible Ridiculousness – My Tactic to Help Others

For about three years I have been using a tactic to present myself. That tactic is “plausible ridiculousness“. It is a tactic, not reality!

I have been working on a plan to help change the world (for better) at huge scale. Ultimately this means:

  • helping people be more happy…
  • and less sad…
  • be free to choose…
  • and address world ills through dramatic advances in technology (in its broadest sense – think electricity and lightbulbs, not Facebook or Wikipedia)

I was fortunate enough to do a pilot of my techniques in 2008, with the pilot methods being used to usher in a Transition Government in Zimbabwe (story here). Once I found out for real that the plans had worked (it took about 6 months for me to learn what had actually happened), I then spent about a year working on my methods and techniques. I also hid away my techniques for fear that they could be used for nastiness.

I did realize that nasty people were already using these tactics. After all, I study bad people to learn how they operate, and so a portion of my ideas-base for these techniques comes from historical insight into what bad people have done. In addition, I realized that most complex systems end up with positive outcomes. Systems do not like anarchy, and all it takes is a reasonable number of people to want to be largely good for the outcomes to be actually good.

My goal is to help others. I do not know who needs help. So I have been going around the last couple of years offering to help people who want to do good in the world, especially scaling and spreading good things.

Unfortunately there is an inherent skepticism people have when they hear someone offering to help. In addition, most people, particularly those who have gained a reputation for success in a certain area, are uncomfortable sharing their problems or challenges. So, this gave me a challenge: how can I break through people’s barriers to find out if I could be helpful?

I figured out a tactic, and it has worked pretty well, especially in 2011. My tactic was plausible ridiculousness. This tactic involved taking things that I have worked on for real, and framing them up as a story so that, whilst they are truthful, the stories sound almost impossible to believe. The Zimbabwe story is like that – it sounds ridiculous to think that you could work out a way of crowdsourcing election monitoring in just 45 minutes, while being slightly hung over. The story could be told differently, but I am working towards a more long-term goal.

If you're going to do it, don't use moccasins or comfortable slippers

I have used this tactic as a form of “sniff test”. I discovered that many people are highly skeptical of the story. Then there is a group who are dismissive [Note: I am not a violent person, but I would really like to stamp on the foot of the next person who say “well, it didn’t really work, did it, Mutgabe’s still there”. Yes, he is still there, and yes, I got my math wrong. However – as I think hard about lifting up my foot for a covert stamp – at least someone DID SOMETHING that MOSTLY WORKED].

Some people do not listen at all. I could be handing over state secrets, and all they want to do is go back to their own conversation topics (usually in network meetings where an advisor is trying to pitch her or his services). Many though listen in rapt attention, amazed and inspired by the story.

And a few, an important few, ask quietly for help.

And that is when things get interesting.

Over time, my tactic will change. As the story gets told of the citizen activism in Libya, for example, then the story will cease being ‘ridiculous’ and become merely ‘incredible’. I will be a little sad when that happens, as I quite enjoy teasing people with impossible sounding stories. At the same time I know that I will already be moving on to my next ‘ridiculous project’, that of accelerating scientific discovery across a wide range of disciplines. I expect that when that starts happening, most people (especially scientists) will be thinking:

“OK, so the whole dictatorship thing is real, crazy but real. I get it. But this whole ‘change science thing’? There is no way that is going to work. No chance!”

And I’ll be happy again.

One Response to “Plausible Ridiculousness – My Tactic to Help Others”

  1. Hello Mark,

    I was very interested in your presentation at TedXKrakow.

    A year ago you said you had been going around “the last couple of years offering to help people who want to do good in the world.” Well, I need your help. More than that, I think you will want to help because my proposal will generate the sort of foundation for a global change you are trying to create.

    I need your particular speciality in scaling and spreading, not to mention software development. But mostly I need someone with connections who is willing and able to think outside the box and work for the greater good.

    My challenge has been similar to yours except the idea I am promoting is so absurd that I don’t even have the option of sounding plausibly rediculous — it is just outright rediculous. Imagine how people’s response would be different if you did not have the Zimbabwe anecdote, but still affirmed you could make that sort of change?

    Mine is not a ten-minute conversation because it transcends some very basic cultural paradigms. In my story, most people do not understand at all and some only vaguely after a lengthy discussion. One professor of economics, however, said it was a completely new idea (something he had never seen before) and that it solved the problem of one-person-one-vote. So far, he has been the only person who seemed to comprehend the possible implications.

    I am a physicist by education, a social-engineer by avocation, a problem-solver by profession, and a champion of humanity all the time. You have asked people to believe your rediculous story. Now I ask that you consider mine. You will not be sorry if you are willing to challenge some of the basic principles of our civilization. You seem like such a person.

    Want to hear more?

    Please say yes.

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