When Your Karma Runs Over Your Dogma

What goes around actually does come around every now and then. Choose your methods wisely.

 

The recent U.S. presidential election and the veritable smorgasbord of delicious irony–current and impending–has me thinking…

This is not a political blog.  But, it’s hard to ignore the very real strategic insights that come from an election that gives us:

  1. A winning candidate whose methods of winning have left a lot of scorched earth to recover–whether you think him a buffoon, a fighter, a genius, or simply a flawed person (like all of us).
  2. A media sector whose methods have demolished whatever trust remained in it for the time being, leading up to the New York Times editorial board needing to redouble its efforts on “reporting America and the world honestly” (an astounding non-admission if there ever was one).
  3. A set of supporters of the non-winning candidate who now realize that the methods of powers that were behind some of the biggest “wins” for their side (budget reconciliation, as a starter…) probably could be used against them once power passes to someone they simply don’t like.
  4. A vastly smaller set of people who have chosen to protest, riot, and in general cry foul while breaking things in response to what was a fair outcome (not policy outcomes…the person, mind you).

So, what’s the insight?

I’ll give it to you simply, and it’s nothing original.  It’s this:

If you live by the sword, be prepared to die by the sword.

If you live by bullying, shouting down, ignoring, and using unique devices to get your way, then just know that turnabout, while not always fair, is in play.  Yes, in this case I’m referring to the healthy proportion of Democrat Party supporters who have taken off their “open minded, tolerant” masks to show that actually, it was really just either “our way or broken glass.”

But, the truth is we all resort to such conveniences without thinking about it.

We all choose what our dogma says we should, and ignore the blow-back that is likely to come later.  in the 2000’s, U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan stemmed from a neoconservative dogma that everybody, eventually, responds to the big stick.  That dogma is flawed (and, ironically enough, proven wrong by the very existence of the United States of America).  The blow-back the U.S. has experienced both internally and externally since deciding to prosecute those wars is instructive of the flawed dogma.

The same is true in the private sector.

I know of multiple executives–some of whom are recently “returned to the market”–whose own arrogance, conspiracies, and secrecy-driven styles ultimately boomeranged on them.

The blow-back was real, and easily foreseeable for anyone who knew the nitty-gritty details.

One in particular was so dogmatic about a social Darwinist approach (and their own superiority to others within that worldview) that, when faced with feedback about their own behaviors and how such behavior could get them figuratively offed from the organization, just cruised right on into oblivion perilously ensconced in the calm self-confidence that such dogma can bring.

One might, in fact, call it karmic justice that the individual faced a sudden and unceremonious ouster from a cold, unfeeling, and similarly dogmatic (about other important character traits) boss.

It’s kind of like what we have witnessed in the “how could we be so wrong” set of 2016 election pollsters who were, in fact, so wrong about the election. The pollsters couldn’t measure the number of people in their polls who, uncomfortable with being called deplorable or bigoted for voicing their support for President Elect Trump (it’s still a stunning reality to write that, by the way), simply didn’t answer the polls correctly. The pollsters’ dogma was in the numbers and not the very real human elements of strategic prognostication.  Human character traits matter.

Sometimes, character traits that can only be measured in actions or lack of actions–not numbers–are the ones that carry the day. Executives who perform beautifully on the financial numbers but who ignore their own character flaws and how those might be viewed by other powerful people are similar.

They succumb to blind spots.

But, they are blind spots only to those who don’t understand the notion of living and dying by the sword.

If you are a strategic jerk–pitting customers and employees against one other for constant gain–then don’t be shocked when someone comes along and beats you at your own game.

If you are an organizational jerk–saying you hire and fire people for their performance but really only when you like and dislike them–then don’t be shocked when someone comes along and simply…doesn’t like you.

If you are a political jerk, using false promises and propanda to fool and lie to people in order to get them to follow you, then don’t be shocked when someone comes along and appropriates your own emotion driving style, and beats you at your own game.

The incoming Trump administration and pretty much any of us presiding as executives ought to take heed:  When your dogma gets run over by your karma…it ain’t pretty.

If you find yourself in a position of believing there is no way you are wrong, then you probably are already wrong.

Choose your methods wisely.

You’ve just taken the time to read this…now take the time to comment.  What do you think? 

 

What Tesla’s First Autopilot Fatality Teaches Us

What to do when your product kills someone.

 

Tesla is in a pickle today.

It has a product feature that has killed its user. Now Tesla has to walk the fine boundaries between legal defense, public relations sensitivity, technological defense, and moral culpability.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of a Tesla motorist employing Tesla’s much hyped Autopilot feature.

The motorist was cruising on a divided highway when an oncoming tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of it, clearing enough space that the cruising Tesla drove right under the trailer, removing windshield (and one would assume killing the inattentive drive instantly at that moment) before continuing to cruise into several more collisions.  A diagram of the accident is here.

 

It’s a straight up oncoming left turn–not some freakish move by another motorist that could not have been judged. And, the Tesla drove right through the truck without seeing it.

That’s scary.

Now, there are a few issues related to the use of new technology that come to mind here, namely that there are risks to using new technology in general, and in particular when it involves moving your body at high speed.  The first people to fly in airplanes faced a much higher risk of death than those of us who partake of air travel do today. It’s part of the process.

But… When the technology is uniformly hyped, results in a fatality, and then its purveyor only defends the technology, then the purveyor is on the hook.

Okay, well, no, probably not legally.  As Tesla not so subtly posted in its blog about this crash, the company immerses the user–every user–in disclaimers about the technology while allowing the user to use it. From the blog post:

It is important to note that Tesla disables Autopilot by default and requires explicit acknowledgement that the system is new technology and still in a public beta phase before it can be enabled. When drivers activate Autopilot, the acknowledgment box explains, among other things, that Autopilot “is an assist feature that requires you to keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times,” and that “you need to maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle” while using it. Additionally, every time that Autopilot is engaged, the car reminds the driver to “Always keep your hands on the wheel. Be prepared to take over at any time.” The system also makes frequent checks to ensure that the driver’s hands remain on the wheel and provides visual and audible alerts if hands-on is not detected. It then gradually slows down the car until hands-on is detected again.

That is a mouthful that basically says “use at your own risk.”  And, that’s fine, but to place “public beta” software in charge of multi-ton hunks of metal and plastic moving at 90 feet per second seems a bit…aggressive. And so I’m betting Tesla will face a bit of backlash about the technology.

Which brings us to Tesla’s other defense… the one using numbers. In its blog post, Tesla says:

This is the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated. Among all vehicles in the US, there is a fatality every 94 million miles. Worldwide, there is a fatality approximately every 60 million miles.

And, this is fine, but it’s also indicative of a marketer or PR person using statistics–not a person who understands the stats themselves.

You want to make a fair comparison of the safety of your technology, Tesla?  Great, then let’s do a couple of things…

First off, let’s remove from the 130 million miles cited the mileage merely using active cruise control, because as I understand it those miles are aggregated in there.  That is sure to be a LOT.  That will leave the mileage that Tesla’s are being used with “autosteer” engaged.  That is the technology in question. That means that this fatality came with far fewer miles driven than the company claims.

Second, the company is appealing to the base rates of fatalities as evidence that Teslas on “autosteer” are safer than other cars; but the base rates used are highly misleading.  Okay, so there is a fatality in the U.S. every 94 million miles driven.  That’s fine; but it includes, for instance, people who die from overloading their 1978 Ford Pinto and then losing control after a blowout.  It includes drunk drivers.  It includes people driving old cars, and cars with mechanical deficiencies, and cars with bald tires.  It also includes fatalities where the driver was killed by the negligence of other drivers–not simply their own.

In short, it’s not a base rate that’s comparable for Teslas driven by sober drivers on divided highways. That rate is different, and likely less flattering for Tesla.

The correct base rate starts with the rate of fatalities of people driving brand new luxury automobiles.  And, that matters. In the chart below, you see the car models with the lowest driver death rates, and the models with the highest rates.  Tesla isn’t in league with the Kia Rio or the Hyundai Accent (two cars that happen to have drivers who die at high rates). To suggest it is so is to pad the PR.

The correct base rate also includes cars on divided highways, and where the dead driver was the inattentive one who drove into an avoidable accident.

So what?

First, the facts are actually not likely to be in Tesla’s favor even though Tesla has attempted to lead with facts.  The legal case probably is in Tesla’s favor, but it’s not clear the moral case will be…because:

Second, I’m betting that Tesla drivers, like the one in the unfortunate crash incident, are using this nascent technology and expecting that it will not run them broadside into a tractor trailer.  The hyperbole surrounding the tech, and the feel good ego boost of owning a six figure investment in new technology, likely clouds judgment.

Third, when it comes to new products, it’s probably too aggressive to put highly dangerous equipment in people’s hands and call it a “public beta.”

As someone who is a fan of the prospect of self driving cars but who had no idea the aggressiveness of Tesla’s placement of this technology onto actual roads, I’d say it’s time for them to go back to the drawing board.

One fatality does not make a new product category go away, but Tesla faces a very fine line between legal defense and technology evangelism.  When your product kills someone, especially when it kills someone during a routine circumstance where the technology should have obviously worked, resorting to bad statistics and legal disclaimers is a bad idea.

The right thing to do is to fix the technology, not to spin its goodness.

As always, caveat emptor. And be careful out there.

The Power of Price in Healthcare and Life

Price is the ultimate signal, unless you are in healthcare!

I came across this article on a study that evaluated the price of common blood tests.

YOUR LINK

The article explains that, in the study, a common lipid panel blood test was priced anywhere from $10 to $10,000.

A quote:

“For this research, published in August in the British Medical Journal, Hsia and her colleagues compiled reams of data about how much more than 100 hospitals charged for basic blood work. The prices these facilities charged consumers were all over the map.

The charge for a lipid panel ranged from $10 to $10,169. Hospital prices for a basic metabolic panel (which doctors use to measure the body’s metabolism) were $35 at one facility — and $7,303 at another.”

Now, it doesn’t take a study of this sort to help us know that there are microeconomic issues in the U.S. healthcare system.

What it does do is illuminate an important point:  Price information is critical.  Price is the signal by which we navigate the world.  When prices (or visibility of prices) get messed up, behavior gets…odd.

In the case of U.S. healthcare, the combination of multiple service entities, billing obscurities, and the disconnect between payors, providers, and consumers brings you pricing disparities of the sort the article outlines.

When was the last time you checked the price of medical service before you consumed it?   It’s one of the few services we utilize with impunity but without knowing the cost beforehand.

Can you imagine driving a car off the lot without knowing the price (even if you have to haggle)?  A car can run about the same transaction size as many medical procedures, yet we wait for the bill.

Interesting, no?

Piketty, WSJ, and the Grain of Salt

Author of Capital in the 21st Century writes a brief clarification. WSJ publishes a disingenuous claim that he’s backtracking.  Lesson emerges.

One of the sensations in the economic world last year (if economists can, in fact, be sensational) surrounded the book Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty.

If you haven’t read the book, keep in mind that I do recommend it, while I realize it’s not for everyone. Piketty explores historical government data to reach a few very basic conclusions about the accumulation of capital in a market economy.  His main conclusion is that the rate of return on capital typically outpaces the rate of growth of any given economy (which he summarizes with the formula r>g) thus creating a long term wind of accumulation that creates unsettling wealth disparities.  In the book, he also is very clear that the long term wind can easily be overcome by shorter term shocks; and, he refers to the world wars and their effects on old line wealth in Europe as an example.

Piketty’s book implies that, instead of relying on global conflict and political upheaval, it might be better to have a policy answer to leveling wealth disparity.  It’s not a bad idea.  It might not ever get out of the economist’s classroom, but still…

It’s an interesting read; and, Piketty’s proposal of a tax on wealth is actually quite compelling in theory.  It does, however, have a sort of “belling the cat” feel to it when one looks at the world as it is.

However, this article isn’t about reading, it’s about being a discerning listener even when you don’t read.

The case…

This week, I came across an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by Robert Rosenkranz.

Here is your LINK to Rosenkranz’s piece.  I encourage you to read it…with a grain of salt (I’ll explain).

In it, Rosenkranz states that Piketty, who drafted and released a paper in December essentially restating his conclusions but ensuring that popular discourse didn’t caricature them improperly, is “backtracking.”

Here is your LINK to that paper (beware the link opens a PDF of an academic paper…Don’t open it if such things burn your eyes).  It’s an interesting read and actually a fine distillation of many of the conclusions of the book.

The issue…

I do not know Mr. Rosenkranz or his profile; but something struck me…To anyone who reads this stuff and has a sense of the backstory, Rosenkranz’s article is fantastically disingenuous.

Mr. Rosenkranz, like so many others with a microphone these days, is depending on the probability that very few of his readers have actually read Piketty’s book.  So, he takes a paper where Piketty restates the fundamental conclusions of Capital and comes up with this (my emphasis added):

“Now in an extraordinary about-face, Mr. Piketty has backtracked, undermining the policy prescriptions many have based on his conclusions. In “About Capital in the 21st Century,” slated for May publication in the American Economic Review but already available online, Mr. Piketty writes that far too much has been read into his thesis.”

He also takes a statement in Piketty’s “new” paper and positions it as a “new” conclusion.  To wit:

“Instead, Mr. Piketty argues in his new paper that political shocks, institutional changes and economic development played a major role in inequality in the past and will likely do so in the future.”

Nevermind that Piketty is simply restating arguments of his book.  Rosenkranz, who doesn’t even link to Piketty’s “new” paper, seeks to discredit the economist by claiming he has “backtracked” and “consigns his famous formula to irrelevance” and that Piketty is “walking back” his views.

Piketty is doing nothing of the sort.  His paper is simply a reminder that the book had a lot of angles and to take only one angle and politicize it would be malpractice.  Unfortunately, Mr. Rosenkranz takes that exact tack.

So what?

Sleight of hand such as that employed Mr. Rosenkranz brings to the forefront a major issue in the popular press today:  The dependence of writers and speakers on the ignorance of their audience.

One need only look at the comments on the WSJ.com article to see that (1) very few people have actually read Piketty and (2) all Rosenkranz really did was engage in an extended ad hominem.

That, my friends, is demagoguery at its finest; and if it’s in the Wall Street Journal, imagine what others are doing.

The lesson on this is not “be a fan of Thomas Piketty” or “Piketty is right.”

I, personally, believe that massive intergenerational wealth is something to beware of. To engage in a little demagoguery of my own:  Any red-blooded American ought to have the same wariness.  

The lesson is that intermediary authors like Rosenkranz can and do distort and attack in order to provoke.  They do so even when the provocation is actually detrimental to healthy discourse.

These distortions happen on all sides of any argument, which, I suspect, is why Piketty felt the need to publish a few pages of “clarification.”

Mark Cuban: This Bubble is Worse

Mark Cuban, famed Internet bubble beneficiary, Dallas Mavericks owner, and willing pundit, posted on his blog a couple of days ago about the new bubble in early stage assets.

Here’s your LINK

Cuban makes a compelling case that the current frenzy of investment in early stage companies (especially apps and small tech companies) is actually worse than the year 2000-era tech bubble.

Why?

Because there are far fewer options for liquidity for the types of early stage investments that are dominating today; and there is a far more diverse investor base putting money at risk.

He sets up the situation with this quote:

“In a bubble there is always someone with a “great” idea pitching an investor the dream of a billion dollar payout with a comparison to an existing success story.  In the tech bubble it was Broadcast.com, AOL, Netscape, etc.  Today its, Uber, Twitter, Facebook, etc.”

Interestingly, Cuban lists Broadcast.com… That caught my eye.

When a billionaire puts the source of his vast wealth on a list of companies that perhaps just maybe were sold based on a pitch and a dream, it catches my attention.   He actually overcomes the cognitive dissonance induced justification of how his own company was different; and just throws it in the street right alongside Netscape.

He then goes on to lament how the average Joe and Jane are now part of the angel investment crowd.  He explains how they have access to illiquid investments through angel investments and crowdfunding that they would not have had 15 years ago.

And he thinks it’s a bad thing.  His quote:

“All those Angel investments in all those apps and startups.  All that crowdfunded equity. All in search of their unicorn because the only real salvation right now is an exit or cash pay out from operations.  The SEC made sure that there is no market for any of these companies to go public and create liquidity for their Angels.  The market for sub 25mm dollar raises is effectively dead. DOA . Gone. Thanks SEC. And with the new Equity CrowdFunding rules yet to be finalized, there is no reason to believe that the SEC will be smart enough to create some form of liquidity for all those widows and orphans who will put their $5k into the dream only to realize they can’t get any cash back when they need money to fix their car”

It’s an interesting read.

Informed consent is a big deal.  When people have access to illiquid and extremely high risk investments, they have to know what they are getting into.  The implication here may not be so much that public valuations are totally out of whack, but rather that there is a shadow bubble of money being thrown at “big things” that come in illiquid packages.

I think Mark Cuban has hit on one of the dark sides of the democratization of capital allocation.

#TheDress And Leadership Values

People see the same thing in different ways.  It’s important that we never assume our view of the world is the only one…Even when we are “right.”

Last week, a photo of a dress wasted a fantastic amount of time across the Internet.  A simple black and blue striped dress (yes, that’s the color) appears in the photo.

However, people the world over, when viewing the picture, process its colors differently; a significant number see the dress for the colors that it has; and a significant number see the dress as being a combination of white and gold.

Here’s the picture:

What colors do you see?

Here’s a link to a Wired Magazine discussion of why people see it differently.

The dress, or #TheDress, or #whatcoloristhisdress has created quite the sensation.

In my own household, my wife and I see the dress differently.  She is a member of the gold and white group, and I see blue and black.

We had a fun argument about it, culminating in my saying “I’m just glad I see it the right way.”

Her retort?  “The right way, hmmm?”

To which I replied:  “Well, not the right way, but the way it is.”  

That was worth a chuckle, but it sparked a thought; and that brings me to the point of this post:  While “The Dress” sensation is a sort of embarrassment to the collective consciousness, it comes with a lesson…

The lesson

We all see things through our own eyes and hear things through our own ears.

More importantly, we interpret the world through our own interpretive framework…We apply our own values.  They may be values we hold in common with those around us, but they have been nudged and polished by our own, individual experiences.

And, just as the dress shows that something as “objective” as color can be interpreted in highly divergent ways by people who otherwise see the world in the same way, the same is the case with values.

One person believes that a course of action is ethical and right; while another can look at the same situation and see something highly questionable.

Case in point…

In a recent case involving a proposal from one senior executive to another, I had a ringside seat to the abject implosion of a set of previously high performing professional relationships.  Those relationships were sacrificed to a highly inartful handling of  competing interpretations just like the colors in #TheDress.

In this case, one person saw the proposal as an opportunity; the other saw it as a big risk.  Mix in a third person who had a vested interest in the deal getting done (indeed, a personal one), and you had a very odd interaction.

When the “risk” side delineated what the risks were, he disclosed his interpretive framework.  He explained why the deal wouldn’t happen on his watch; and he essentially said the dress is blue and black…

But, the other side’s answer wasn’t to say “tell me more” or “let’s explore how to fix it or to mitigate the risks,” or even to acknowledge the legitimacy of a different framework.

It was to say “that’s wrong.”

The dress is white and gold…

…end of story.

There was no indication that an honest investigation of the risks to the deal was a possibility.

There wasn’t even a chuckle and an admission that people can see things differently.

So, what happened?

Eventually, the sides hardened to the point that there was no way for either side to move forward. Add in a touch of ego, a dose of stubbornness, some need to look tough and perhaps a pinch of bullying, and you have the demolition of personal relationships that spanned years in the making.

All because two people couldn’t come together and discuss interpretive differences.

When I shared this shockingly poorly handled situation in broad strokes with my 72 year old father, his response was pretty simple and cogent:

“The risk guy just thought that the other folks had the same values as him…that’s all.”

I think that boils it down.

And that’s the lesson that The Dress teaches us…

There are great perils to assuming that all people see the world through the lens of your values.  They can not only look at the same dress and see different colors, but can also interpret the very same actions in very different ways.

When you have a case like the one delineated above, such differences in interpretation can lead to the destruction of value, relationships, and organizational stability.

It is in how we handle our differences of interpretation that we live out a humane leadership ethic.

On one hand (the dress is white and gold) we can stick to our interpretation, and drill it into others.

On the other hand (the dress is blue and black) we can take the position that we might be wrong, and we can listen, think, and engage on our differences…Not as a posturing move, but honestly.

The measure of our leadership ethic is in how often we do the latter when we hold all the power.

The leadership lesson brought to mind by #TheDress is this:  Unless and until people entrenched in interpretive conflict can listen, reflect, understand, and test reality;  they will never realize full effectiveness.

The Dress tells us that even in seeing and believing, we should be open to testing our beliefs…Even if we think we are seeing the world as it is.

Leonard Nimoy and the Warmth of Spock

Spock, as portrayed by the late Leonard Nimoy, has resonated through the generations because he married two things that we never get right:  Perfect logic, and heart.  

Today is a sad day in the hearts and minds of many fans of science fiction, and particularly fans of the Star Trek franchise.

Leonard Nimoy, whose portrayal of the iconic half-human half-Vulcan character Mr. Spock, has died.

I won’t dwell on the life of the man, because there are plenty of tributes out there doing that. Here’s a fitting one from the New York Times. I appreciate the art he both portrayed and brought to the screen.  Many forget that Nimoy was also a writer and director in the series of Star Trek movies.

What I will dwell on is this:  While the character Spock is a shoo-in for the hall of fame of science fiction characters; it’s not on the strength of a couple of prosthetic ears and tricked-out eyebrows, but rather on a stunning mix of logic and warmth he was able to bring to the screen.

This is a character smart enough to decipher the most cryptic stratagems, ranging from the evil of Kahn to the songs of whales.

This is a character so dispossessed of emotion as to have uttered such remarkably useful phrases as:

“Insufficient facts always invite danger.”

Ridiculously applicable to strategic thinking…

And,

“Change is the essential process of all existence.”

Directly applicable to organizational thinking…

And,

“I realise that command does have its fascination, even under circumstances such as these, but I neither enjoy the idea of command nor am I frightened of it. It simply exists, and I will do whatever logically needs to be done.”

Directly applicable to leadership thinking.

And, there are many more quotes like this.  Just Google “Spock quotes” today for a smattering of tributes.

But, the one that stands out; comes from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn.  In that film, once Spock has made the ultimate sacrifice for his comrades and ship; he says to Captain Kirk:

“I have been, and always shall be, your friend.”

I believe there is one reason that Spock has so resonated throughout the years; and it isn’t his mind.

It is that he was a friend.

This quote is a good reminder that no matter how smart we are–how perfectly logical and coldly calculating we may be; we must connect with others to be truly effective.

Spock managed to do it.

Maybe as we push to a higher level of strategic and financial perfection, we should keep in mind that the people around us are what create resonance with our excellence.

Rest in peace, Leonard Nimoy.

May we all “live long, and prosper.”

Belling the Cat Part 2: Greece’s “Innovation”

Interesting commentary from Yanis Varoufakis, Finance Minister of Greece, published in the NYT a few days ago.

YOUR LINK

In the midst of a highly academic treatise on why his motives are really not to engage in any games, but rather to do “the right thing,” Varoufakis meets the strain a writer always does when he is forced to come up with the “SO WHAT?” to his argument.

What is his “so what” to the question of what Greece must do?

Well… Let’s let him tell you:

“Against such cynicism [about Greek motives] the new Greek government will innovate.”

Innovate.

In the midst of a house afire, the Greek finance minister proposes to pull a rabbit out of his hat.

In corporate environments, innovation has become a sort of conjured savior within strategic plans.

All that is left is to define what innovations, where, and when.

The Greeks are suffering from the same delusion, it seems.

This is another great example of high-minded rhetoric being used to avoid discussion of tough choices.

It’s belling the cat, all over again.

All that is left is to find the mouse who will bell the cat.

 

Belling the Cat Part 1: ISIS Root Causes

If you follow anything around U.S. foreign policy, you have probably seen the highly publicized comments from Marie Harf on how the root causes of the U.S. State Department cannot “kill our way” to victory over proponents of an Islamic state.

Here’s the video:

 

Steering clear of the politics that tend to bloom around comments of this type, Harf’s talking points are a striking instance of strategic leapfrogging.

First off, Ms. Harf is in all likelihood “right” about needing to address the root causes of ISIS’ ease of recruiting.

Second off, Ms. Harf is probably right about what the root causes may be.

However, her talking points ignore the reality of today, where ISIS is already marauding.  She leapfrogs to high concept and ignores low reality.

This happens often when unsavory or necessary tactics get in the way of high minded strategic nirvana.

Don’t want to talk about the ugly business of killing people who are, themselves, killing at will?

Start talking about how the root causes of the killing are in the socioeconomic dynamics in the free world and in the communities the killers reside within; and how it’s important to solve those…

This is a classic example of a speaker spouting high minded (and probably “right”) strategic principles to skirt the need for low-minded (and probably “necessary”) tactics.

Ms. Harf has been beaten up in the media plenty for her talking points, and in my opinion rightly so…  She is propagating a narrative that is essentially a redux of the old “belling the cat” fable.

To wit, from Wikipedia:

“The fable concerns a group of mice who debate plans to nullify the threat of a marauding cat. One of them proposes placing a bell around its neck, so that they are warned of its approach. The plan is applauded by the others, until one mouse asks who will volunteer to place the bell on the cat. All of them make excuses. The story is used to teach the wisdom of evaluating a plan not only on how desirable the outcome would be, but also on how it can be executed. It provides a moral lesson about the fundamental difference between ideas and their feasibility, and how this affects the value of a given plan.”

Strategists have to keep practicality in mind

Or else, even when they are right, they can be wrong.