A number of years ago, I got to study some of the psychological methods the Army uses to motivate, bond, and ultimately find leaders and rogues within their ranks. We applied these methods in a game among reality show contestants, to great effect. It turns out that thousands of years of military tradition has created some pretty optimized — and scary — predictive behavior scenarios.
The bonding part is easy. Make them work together. Make them dress alike. Make them go through physical exercise so they share common experiences of privation. Threaten severe punishment if anyone gets out of line.
Single out the screw-up as the “squid,” or the one whose mistakes cause the rest of the squad to be punished. They either work together to help him, or bond in their common hatred of this guy.
But who wants to watch a game full of contestants who love each other? We remedied that problem by stepping up the activities to the next level, borrowing from some of the many effective mindfuck strategies used in Special Forces training. 100 men may jump today, but only 2 will be Green Berets because they are the only ones who can separate the exercises from the real game: make friends, find weaknesses, start eliminating the competition.
Of all the different methods, one stands out for its overwhelming effectiveness, and its elegant simplicity. First, let the group know that not everyone can win. Next, set them on an extremely challenging path, and let them know that mental energy is what’s going to separate the winners from the losers. And third, keep moving the finish line.
Move it enough times, and the participants stop believing in the rules. Their spirit breaks down. Then a few things happen: a desire begins to build within most of them to be told what to do. The urge to follow becomes a craving. Give them an order to throw themselves out the window, fine – finally, a light at the end of the tunnel. Sure, the finish line is the pavement below, but it’s better than living in a world without rules.
The select few, however, learn they are the alphas. And the way they deal with it is to make their own rules. If the world is a mess, there’s going to be a new order at some point and these guys want to be the ones who create it.
None of this stuff is any secret. Negotiators have been using these methods for years, especially in labor struggles. In the case of the AMPTP and the Writers Guild, it has come together very well. On the Guild side, you have a constituency of individualists who are used to living on their wits. The Guild tries to create a bond: big rallies, famous faces, everybody marching in identical T-shirts.
I’m not saying they did this stuff well. Their selection of Jay Leno as the Squid, for example. When you let a bunch of writers go back to work for Letterman, you’re creating an underdog, not a bad guy to blame for the continuation of the strike. But hey, you only know if a ploy has worked when it works, right? Eesh.
Meanwhile, all the AMPTP has to do is keep moving the finish line. Suddenly, the rules we’ve been striking under don’t seem to make much sense. Alpha dogs like Dick Wolf jump up and attempt to control the situation. What is the active ingredient in his LA Times quote? “This town should be back to work in three weeks.” What’s he doing here? Defining his own finish line..
And the rank and file Guild members just want to be led (Unfortunately, the only things we’re hearing from our leadership are quotations like “We’re in a negotiating mood” [Pat Verrone] in articles about the impending fracture of the Guild). A note from the top to the rest of us would be a good thing at this point.
In any event, whether they make the deal now or in July, I think that the Writers Guild is going to come through this intact. There may be a few dissenters, but I don’t think there’s going to be a massive walkout of the highest-paid writers. Based on the showrunners’ actions at the beginning of the strike, I think that, by and large, they are going to hang tough with the rest of us, even though so many of them are discouraged by Monday’s mass firings under force majeure.
The important thing right now is that we don’t pay attention to any finish lines, anymore. We have played into this strategy so many times over past few months we ought to know better by now. The desire to stop striking, no matter how strong, has no influence on anything. And the alternatives to waiting this thing out are too dire to consider.
So pick your end date to the strike, write it down and mail it to yourself. If you’re right, you might win the office pool. But for now that’s all it’s going to do for you. Otherwise, settle back and break that finish line tape with the rest of us.