To Catch Something Let It Go

My mother and father had me marching for peace. I was just a few months old in my mother's arms. My parents, wearing long hair and chanting songs, like remnants of the '60s, spent 1971 doing what they could to put an end to a civil war and help a new state—Bangladesh—emerge as independent.

The path of Bangladesh since its independence in 1971 has been turbulent, but the trajectory has been upward, thanks to a great extent to a man who protested alongside us in 1971. Mohammad Yunus, at the time a PhD student in the U.S., would return home to Bangladesh and invent a new form of banking—microfinance—that would go on to transform the lives of hundreds of millions of poor throughout the world. Yunus founded the Grameen Bank, an institution that provides small loans to poor people possessing no collateral, in order to help people establish creditworthiness and financial self-sufficiency. He would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work.

But today his legacy is at risk and for the wrong reasons. You see, all great innovations create resistance. Great innovators know how to skillfully manage that resistance. But just as an expert soccer player sometimes has difficulty playing a novice because the novice's moves are erratic and unpredictable, Yunus could not have predicted his "opponents" would behave so irrationally. They made a strategic misstep that, while common, one would expect forward-thinking strategic thinkers to avoid. Watch my blogcast by clicking here.

To see the strategic interplay, we need to set up the game board. An article in Canadian newspaper The Global and Mail summarizes the situation well.

The Bangladeshi government turned on Grameen Bank:

"In rapid succession, the government ordered a review of the bank's affairs; declared that Prof. Yunus was a 'public servant' because the state owns a small share of the bank; and ruled that he was 10 years past the mandatory age of retirement (the finance minister who delivered that news is himself 77, while Sheikh Hasina is 63). The finance minister also appointed a new chair of the board, a former Grameen employee with an open dislike of Prof. Yunus, who quickly moved to dismiss him as managing director."

Perhaps because Bangladesh's president, Sheikh Hasina, or someone in her inner circle felt Yunus would pose a threat:

"A decade ago, Sheikh Hasina publicly praised Grameen, but her views later soured. In December she accused it of 'sucking blood from the poor.' Prof. Yunus seems to have earned her ire with a fiery speech he made in 2007 accusing all the country's politicians of corruption and pledging to start a party of his own. He soon backed away from that plan and today he says he wants nothing to do with politics. But many people here believe Sheikh Hasina's mistrust and anger are unabated, and the allegations against Grameen gave her a convenient opportunity to take out a potential rival."

Now if you accept this premise, that President Hasina wants to take out a potential rival, you must ask yourself, what is the best strategy to follow? Sun Tzu warns that a surrounded enemy must fight to the death, so you want to always leave a means of escape.

An ancient Chinese proverb advises that "to catch something you must first let it go." The story used to illustrate this principle centers on a general who is asked to put down a rebellion. The general has the power to easily subdue the rebels, but he knows such a defeat would not lead to a sustainable peace. So he fights the rebel leader, wins, captures the leader, lets him go, fights again, wins, captures the leader, and lets him go again. He captures and lets him go seven times. By the end of this the rebel and his followers accept being governed by the kingdom.

If you want to capture something, let it go.

I am reading Russell Simmons' new book in which he applies Yoga philosophies to business building. It's a surprisingly good book which I'll cover later. He points to the same principle. Imagine a little girl wants to pet a squirrel in the park. If she runs after the squirrel, the squirrel will run away scared. If instead, she lets the squirrel go and sits quietly in the park with a nut in her hand, the squirrel will eventually come of its own accord.

This is a universal strategic principle. Unless you have overwhelming force (Sun Tzu advises 10,000 to 1) a forceful offense will only lead to temporary stability. If you achieve your desired outcome, it won't last.

This is not to say that Yunus will retaliate. I've met him before and he does not seem to be of that mentality. But Yunus is not one to sit at home. He is passionate about helping his people, about helping the poor. He has followers. He has donors. There is so much more work for him to do. It is impossible for me to imagine that Yunus would go quietly into the sunset. He runs 40 other social enterprises and surely fields requests daily from people who want him to do more.

So if Yunus' detractors were thinking strategically and if they really wanted to "win," they would be better off letting Yunus go.

Try applying this principle to your business.

1) The next time you are meeting a prospective customer, pretend you do not urgently need their business. Explain you provide outstanding customer service and would be happy to have them, but act as if you have a long line of other customers waiting. See what happens.

2) The next time you are recruiting someone you really want to join the team, let them go. Explain to them that while you would love for them to work for you, you cannot know if this is the best job for them. Encourage them to explore other opportunities before making a choice.

3) Let your employees go. Encourage them to look for other work if they are not fully engaged. You may lose a few people, but those who stay will be there for the right reason. You will have let them go and they will have chosen to return.

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