About Conversation Kindling

The purpose of this blog is to share stories, metaphors, quotes, songs, humor, etc. in hopes they'll be used to spark authentic and rewarding conversations about working and living fruitfully. There are at least three things you can gain by getting involved in these conversations. First, you'll discover new and important things about yourself through the process of thinking out loud. Second, you'll deepen your relationships with others who participate by swapping thoughts, feelings, and stories with them. Finally, you'll learn that robust dialogue centered on stories and experiences is the best way to build new knowledge and generate innovative answers to the questions that both life and work ask.

I write another blog called My Spare Brain. This is where I am "storing" ideas for use in future books, articles, blog posts, speeches, and workshops. There is little rhyme or reason for what I post there. I do this to encourage visitors to come as treasure hunters looking for new ways of seeing and thinking vs. researchers looking for new or better answers to questions they already know how to ask.

25 June 2010

Helter Skelter

Vincent Bugliosi spent much of his career working as a prosecuting attorney in the L.A. County District Attorney's office. He is best known for the prosecution of Charles Manson and several members of his "family" for the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders. His book Helter Skelter* is based on the Manson case. To watch Bugliosi talk about this case click here.

I had the pleasure of attending one of Vince's lectures a few years ago at the University of Texas at Austin. He spoke there about his book, Outrage: The Five Reasons Why O.J. Simpson Got Away With Murder, which is a highly critical assessment of the work of the district attorney and prosecutors - among others - in the acquittal of O.J. Simpson for the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. And, of the many things I remember from that evening, there is one comment he made that stands out. He said the first thing he does when prosecuting a case is to do the best job he possibly can of building the defense's case. Then - and only then - does he start to prepare his case. He went on to say that if he'd have been prosecuting the Simpson case, he'd have put in up to 500 hours just preparing to give his closing argument. Of course, a good deal of that time would have been spent preparing to give the defense's closing argument. The prosecutors in the Simpson case, he said, prepared their closing argument the night before they presented it.

Now, even if prosecuting a capital murder case is not in your future plans, you can still use Bugliosi's idea to great benefit. Give it a twist in one direction, and it's a fail-safe device. Joseph L. Badaracco, Jr. explains in a story from his book Questions of Character:
"When former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin heard someone suggest a course of action, he often asked what the strongest alternative was and the strongest reasons to pursue that alternative. Rubin knew the danger of rushing to judgment on complicated issues, and he wanted to see how carefully recommendations had been thought through."
Twist it in a slightly different way, and it's a sales training program. My former boss Larry Wilson said it first:
"Never talk about your product or service until you have demonstrated that you fully understand your prospect's needs."
Twist it again, and it's the secret to becoming a world-class communicator. Stephen R. Covey:
"Seek first to understand, then to be understood."
There are a few more rabbits I can pull out of this hat, but it's probably as good a time as any to let you have a go at it.


  • What are some ways you might apply Bugliosi's idea - or some variation thereof - in your work or life?
"He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion." - John Stuart Mill

"As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene. No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life." - Albert Einstein
"When we sleep on someone else's pillow, we sometimes find ourselves having that person's dreams." - Tom Robbins
*The title of Bugliosi's book - Helter Skelter - came from the title of a song in a double album - The Beatles - which was recorded and released in 1968. It is more commonly known as The White Album, because it has no text besides the band's name on its all white jacket. The White Album is, perhaps, best known for attracting the attention of 60's counterculturists looking for hidden meanings in the music of The Beatles. One of those searching for subliminal messages was Charles Manson, who Bugliosi said used words contained in many of the album's songs - and generous helpings of hallucinogens - to persuade members of his "family" that the album was in fact an apocalyptic message predicting a prolonged race war and justifying the murder of wealthy people. Manson named the war he saw coming Helter Skelter.

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