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Keep Others In Suspense: Cultivate An Air Of Unpredictability

Humans are creatures of habit with an insatiable need too see familiarity in other people's actions. Your predictability gives them a sense of control. Turn the tables: Be deliberately unpredictable. Behavior that seems to have no consistency or purpose will keep them off balance and they will wear themselves out trying to explain your moves. Taken to an extreme, this strategy can intimidate and terrorize.

Nothing is more terrifying than the sudden and unpredictable. This is why we are terrified by earthquakes and tornadoes: We do not know when they will strike. After one has occurred, we wait in terror for the next one. To a lesser degree, this is the effect unpredictable human behavior has on us.

Life at court is a serious melancholy game of chess, which requires us to draw up our pieces and batteries, form a plan, pursue it, parry that of our adversary. Sometimes, however, it is better to take risks and play the most capricious, unpredictable move. Jean de La Bruyere, 1645-1696

Animals behave in set patterns, which is why we can hunt and kill them. Only man has the capacity to alter his behavior, to improvise and overcome routine and habit. Yet, most men do not realize this power. They prefer the comforts of routine, of giving in to the animal nature, which has them repeating the same compulsive actions again and again. They do this because it requires no effort, and because the mistakenly believe if they do not unsettle others, they will be left alone. A person of power deliberately unsettles those around him to keep the initiative on his side. Sometimes it is necessary to act without notice, when others least expect it. It is a device the powerful have used for centuries. Fillipo Maria, the last of the Visconti dukes of Milan, consciously did the opposite of what everyone expected of him. For instance, he might shower a courtier with attention, and when the man came to expect a promotion to higher office, would suddenly begin treating him with the utmost disdain. Confused, the man might leave the court, when the duke would suddenly recall him and treat him well again. Doubly confused, the courtier would wonder if the assumption that he would be promoted had become obvious and offensive to the duke and would behave as if he no longer expected such an honor. The duke would rebuke him for his lack of ambition and send him away.

Always mystify, mislead and surprise the enemy, if possible. Such tactics win every time and a small army may thus destroy a large one. General Stonewall Jackson, 1824-1863

The secret of dealing with Fillipo was simple: Do not presume to know what he wants. Do not try to guess what will please him. Never inject your will, surrender to his will and see what happens. Amidst the confusion and uncertainty, the duke ruled supreme, unchallenged and at peace.

People are always trying to read the motives behind you actions, and to use your predictability against you. Throw in a completely inexplicable move and you put them on the defensive.

Imagine a wind that can not be foreseen. Sudden shifts in the barometer, inexplicable changes in direction and velocity. There is no defense: a cyclone sows terror and confusion.

For a while, Pablo Picasso worked with art dealer Paul Rosenberg, then one day, for no apparent reason, he told the man he would no longer give Rosenberg any work to sell. As Picasso explained, "Rosenberg would spend the next 48 hours trying to figure out why. Was I reserving things for some other dealer? In two days, he would return, nerves jangled, saying, 'After all, dear friend, you wouldn't turn me down, if I offered a substantially higher rice for those paintings, rather than the price I've been accustomed to paying you, would you?'"

The enlightened ruler is so mysterious that he seems to dwell nowhere, so inexplicable that no one can seek him. He reposes in non-action above, and his ministers tremble below. Han Fei Tzu, third century B.C.

Unpredictability is not only a tactic of control, changing your patterns on a day to day basis will cause a stir around you and stimulate interest. People will talk about you and ascribe motives and explanations that have nothing to do with the truth, but that keep you constantly in their minds. In the end, the more capricious you appear, the more respect you will garner. Only the perpetually subordinate act in a predictable manner.


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