Friday, May 15, 2009

The Three Little Pigs Teach Negotiation

Let's reinterpret the familiar tale of the Three Little Pigs and their nemesis wolf in real adult terms, and apply it to negotiation.

We often tell the tale to children to help them deal with their various fears, some expressed as fear of being eaten. Adults, too, have fears, often similar. They fear being "eaten alive" by a clever and aggressive business adversary. Still, to counter the fear we need only one pig, one who is intelligent, a planner, and not panicked. And our hero pig can then build a metaphoric house of bricks to thwart the business wolf.

This is essentially what I speak of when I advocate using Zen technique, or getting to Your Zen Spacesm to counter the fear of being eaten alive or otherwise beaten at bargaining. Remember to concentrate on three consecutive breaths, the inhale and exhale; imagine yourself personally outside the situation and observing it; and practice this procedure often, at non-threatening times.

You will now be able to thwart the wolf at the door, and no amount of his or her huffing and puffing will threaten you. You will feel safe and able to think rationally and ahead.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

How do you write a provisional patent application?

That is not especially relevant to one seeking to learn negotiation, but I have a second interest, which is patents and other intellectual property. Being this is my web log, I am going to indulge it.

A provisional patent application is used to suspend time. It costs thousands to file a real ("utility) patent application, so to pin down when you made the invention you file a provisional. This gives you a "priority date" good all over the world, so long as you follow up with a utility within a year. And you can write the provisional yourself, if you follow the requirements. Sometimes the best way to describe what is required of someone is by example. Therefore, for anyone planning to write a provisional, herewith an example of what you need to write.


Background: In all prior art baseball bats have been made by sawing off tree trunks so the cross section is square. A handle has been sawn near the proximal end of the bat, where the batsman can hold onto it. This has also been square in cross section, although smaller than the distal end that strikes the ball. This type of bat often strikes the ball on one of the sharp corners, resulting in an unpredictable direction of flight.

Summary of the invention. I have invented a baseball bat round in cross section and with the handle arising in a gentle contour diminishing from the "head" or distal end of the bat. This results in a far more predictable and thus controllable direction of flight.

Brief description of the drawings. Fig. 1 and Fig 2 show a baseball bat according to the prior art, respectively in plan and cross section views while Figs. 3 and 4 shows a baseball bat according to the present invention, again respectively in plan and cross section views .

Detailed Description of the Preferred Embodiments. As shown in Fig. 3, the bat 1 gradually tapers from the head or distal end 2 to the proximal or handle end 3, and then more sharply to the knob 4. These tapers are achieved in the preferred embodiment by placing a piece of ash or hickory wood of sufficient initial diameter in a wood lathe and turning it down with appropriate cutting tools. As shown in Fig. 4, the cross section is maintained by the lathe as a perfect circle everywhere along the length of the bat 4. The diameter is maximal at the head end 2, minimal along the handle 3 and larger than the handle at the knob 4 at the proximal end of the bat.

As will be clear to any person familiar with the art of forming baseball bats, there are many other possible embodiments, based on using different types of wood or other materials and by using different tapers from those shown in Fig. 3, as may be convenient for manufacture and for those wielding the bats.

[drawings omitted; you can imagine them]

Friday, May 08, 2009

But I don't want to Say what my interests are!

Like most modern negotiation trainers, I teach not to focus on positions but on interests. Awhile ago I gave a seminar, and one of the participants told me he doesn't want ever to disclose his interests, because then his negotiation partners will know what to withhold to put pressure on him.

Let's leave aside the notion that there has been no trust at all established, and that he may be contributing subtly to that distrust, maybe by non-verbal communication. What can he do? He has an important or even key interest, but is afraid of saying so.

Here's an idea to get around his problem. Instead of laying out for the other side what his interests are, my participant could just come to the first meeting with a list of issues or talking points—an agenda of things he thinks the eventual agreement ought to cover. He need not unduly emphasize the one that is key for him until and unless the other party is also forthcoming.

Negotiation 101: It is important to avoid positions, instead focusing on your interests, if you prefer by presenting a set of talking points or issues, not all key to your happiness.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Is It Hypocrisy?

If you look at my web page about Professional Negotiation, http://gotiation,, you see I advocate a style and philosophy of negotiating that seeks to expose and then if possible satisfy the needs of both sides. But the page loads with an animation that exhorts "Don't Leave Money on the Table." How can I believe in both?

Negotiation properly done is each side gradually, as it gains trust in the other, exposing what it feels it needs to get from the negotiation. As I emphasize often, this does not mean stating a "position" but listing needs. Often a position focuses on price, only one part of real world deals. And it contemplates a back and forth auction. I advocate instead persuading the other side and yours that the appropriate price is one based on fair and objective standards. A "position" has no place in this process.

If the final price is fair and objective, then neither side has left money on the table and both have as closely as possible had their needs met.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Negotiate in Your Zen Space

Practitioners of the Zen philosophy have something to teach those of us who are not, something that is helpful to the process of negotiation.

The most difficult part of negotiation for most people is keeping your cool in the face of the pressure to succeed, the pressure tactics used by others, resulting anger, and often the knowledge that a negotiation table is not a familiar place. Finding your Zen space can help enormously and, with reasonable practice, this can come naturally.

Practice in advance getting into Your Zen Space. You will be seeking awareness stripped of those obscuring layers imposed by mindless thoughts, self-referent attachments and dogmas. You will be seeking to view reality, as it is, a "mindful" state.

At first, use a quiet room, away from distractions, with neutral decorations. Get some non-disturbing music playing, whatever relaxes you. Sit in a comfortable chair. Close your eyes. Take three deep breaths, focusing your thoughts on your inhales and exhales. Review your thoughts and then discard them. Focus only on what it feels, sounds and looks like in this state. Imagine yourself watching yourself from outside.

This state is not sleep, but neither is it the hyper-alert, stirring state of mind when we are awake.

Practice this process often, in conditions that increasingly less isolated, so you can eventually get here wherever you are. You have found your Zen space, where you can think and interact without interference from your fears, biases and presuppositions.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Negotiate After that Insult? A Sign of Weakness.

Your opposite number insults you at the bargaining table, with words or an insulting offer, or otherwise provokes you. Isn't it a sign of weakness for you to keep bargaining?

Actually, the insult or provocation is a sign of that person's feelings of weakness. They are trying to maneuver you to cut off bargaining, so they can feel good that they did not cut it off.

If you can maintain your poise, you will be in a good position to pursue the bargaining and get a good result. Try it next time and you will enjoy the result. Just don't rise to the bait.

Instead, you can comment something like "I heard someone say that kind of thing on TV a week or two ago—not the kind of thing that disturbs me." Do not accuse or attack in return.

Then go on to describe what your needs are in the negotiation, and asking what theirs is, so perhaps a common ground can be found. A confident negotiator uses that style.

By the way, apology when you were insulting or otherwise not civil is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of confidence in yourself.

Negotiation 101: Having been insulted or provoked, keep your cool and go on bargaining.

An Idea + Lotsa Work = Money

"Hey, I've got this great idea for an invention. It'll make a ton of money. All I need to do is patent it."

No, it will not, not by itself. But, assuming you have a real, patentable invention—what that is, is worth a separate posting—then you have a good start. But you have a lot of work to do.

The first step is to build a prototype. It need not be neat looking, because you are not going to sell it. But you do need to make sure the invention works as your base idea predicted. Nature is a notorious trickster, and the best-trained, experienced engineer or scientist cannot predict exactly.

Now, step two, get some capital together—your own, and from friends and family. You need it for the next three steps. Step three: do "upstream" marketing. That does not mean try to sell the product. You don't even have a product. Make contact with people and companies who might have an interest later, when there is a perfected product. Engage writing pad, not mouth. (Get each contact to sign a non-disclosure agreement.) This is where you find out the reality about the potential product, and maybe some things that will help sell it. ("No way we would buy that in grey, but if you make it beige, hey, call us when you are ready to sell!") Spend more for this upstream than the next step, R&D, and you will make money.

Here is a recipe for failure: "I don't need that upstream stuff—this invention is dynamite and I know it will sell like hotcakes."

Ok, step four: if the upstream tells you that you do have a winner, start perfecting the invention into a product, what is formally called "R&D." At the same time, start talking with a patent attorney, because step five is start up the patent process.

Step six is to assemble a management team, including you, but also an experienced business manager, a marketing/advertising person, and a finance person. You will need all these to manufacture and market your product. And to raise the money to start your manufacture-and-market company.

On the other hand, if your plan is instead to license your invention, you still need some R&D, enough to make a polished prototype to show around.

These steps all take time and effort. The great inventors you have heard of—who invented the light bulb, movies, the "talking machine," TV, the cell phone, antibiotics, Google®—you name it, all put in the time and effort, and made a ton of money.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

OctoMom seeks Trademark Registration?

I suppose you caught the article, or one like it, saying the mother of 8 now seeks to register that name as a trademark, for diapers and TV shows.

She might get a registration. I cannot find any legal reason why not. That would not prevent continued use by news organizations of "OctoMom" as fair use. And she would be a fool to interfere with free publicity.

Monumental bad taste aside, this is a pretty clever move, if she can get her diapers onto the market. Considering the public's bad taste, some manufacturer will surely license her trademark and start selling Octomom diapers.

Only in America.

Monday, April 13, 2009

You Can't Negotiate with Pirates, Can You?

"The only good pirate is a dead pirate." This is what some are saying, now that Capt. Philips of the Maersk Alabama is safe. I do not actually recall this sentiment when he was at risk, but now it is safer.

A pirate gang is like any other hostage takers. Whether they are to be negotiated with or just assaulted depends on circumstances. That applies to almost any potential negotiation. Whether it is worth talking with someone who owes you substantial money, or who claims you owe them depends on your assessment of (a) the potential benefit of talking, (b) the risk of not talking first, (c) the risk of proceeding directly to action, (d) the potential benefit of direct action.

The past couple years quite a few pirated ships have bought their freedom through substantial payments by their owners. Presumably, in each case there was at least some negotiation over price, payment method, and other details. No one was injured. In the case of the French yacht Le Ponant, two pirates and one hostage were killed. Some will say you should discount the dead pirates, only count the hostage dead, but that is debatable. Taking down hostage takers is potentially risky.

It is more risky if you announce a policy that you will not negotiate. Not talking at all makes their benefit for keeping live hostages zero. They have every reason to kill hostages before the hostages try to overpower them.

The potential benefit of talking is illustrated by the Alabama experience. One of the four hostage takers was talked into giving up after he was slightly injured. Three were easier to shoot with less risk to the hostage than four were.

What is there to discuss with hostage takers? Depending on circumstances, letting them get back in their fishing boat, disarmed but with a promise of no jail, at least no US/French/Russian/German jail, may be appealing to them. On the other hand, they may prefer a deal where they do time in one of those jails, but not in a Somali jail.

In other words, price of a buy-off is never the only thing to talk about.

Reducing piracy off Somalia may best be had by automating the means of sending notice to authorities and ensuring that helicopters or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will soon be overhead relaying back live high-def video. Still, one should not confuse negotiation in a specific piracy situation with best strategies for reducing piracy. The facts are grossly different.