Seek out weak spots as a problem-solver rather than as a predator
Astounding examples exist of how animals exploit weak spots while minimizing their own effort and risk. A good example is the anglerfish. It lies in wait on the muddy bottom and, because it is motionless and perfectly camouflaged, is virtually unrecognizable. The weak point it exploits in its prey – medium-sized fishes – is the innate attraction of these fish to small moving bodies, which are usually tiny fishes. At the tip of its highly elongated first dorsal fin ray, the anglerfish has developed skin appendages that it sways back and forth above its mouth. Thus tricked, the would-be predators dart forward and end up in the anglerfish’s gullet. In certain beetles known as “glow worms”, the females attract the males with blinking signals during the mating season. This useful, innate strategy was exploited by predators, turning it into a weak point. In the beetle genus Photurus, the males lure males of the closely related genus Photinus by mimicking the blinking code of Photinus females. Rather than finding a female, the male ends up in the stomach of a close relative. A particularly astounding example involves parasitic wasps. They can very precisely detect woodwasp larvae living deep inside the wood and then insert their ovipositors through the wood to lay eggs inside the larvae. The eggs hatch and the parastic wasp larvae then feed on the hapless woodwasp larvae, which are incapable of defending themselves. Thus, every innate behavior pattern of one species can be used as a weak spot for the predatory behavior of another species.
We judge human thieves somewhat differently than their animal counterparts because they do not consume their prey. Nonetheless, please recall that acquiring “worldly goods” (and, above all, money) represents a far greater empowerment because this booty, as opposed to food, need not be first digested and biochemically converted. It can be used immediately or turned into money. Every thief exploits the tiniest weakness in others to achieve his or her goal – despite the power of the law and the unpleasant consequences of being arrested. The same holds true for semi-predators who adhere to the letter of the law but conduct business using predatory practices. They identify and exploit weaknesses in others in order to sell as many of their wares as quickly as possible, converting them into money. Animals, predatory humans and semi-predators utilize many comparable methods. Using stealth to approach prey is not restricted to the lion. Every highwayman – and every businessperson who lures clients with a friendly smile and demeanor in order to dump his or her wares – does precisely the same. Luring prey into a trap is perfected in the ant lion, whose innate behavior leads it to build a sand funnel, where it lies in wait for ants that come tumbling down. The same holds true for the cardsharper who initially lets others win in order to lure them into raising the stakes and then suffering bigger losses. Or for every freelancer or any business that reaps fat profits by presenting dubious and misleading – but not demonstrably fraudulent – bills. Every tuna that darts back and forth through a fish school creates confusion that reduces the physical or mental defenses of its prey: it separates individual fish from the group and then targets them individually. Salespeople use much the same tactic by luring customers with loudly proclaimed “special offers” and then urging them not to hesitate because the items will soon be sold out. This instills a certain amount of confusion, nervousness and fear of a “missed opportunity”, leading to purchases that are later regretted. In the Caribbean, I was the first to observe and film trumpetfish swimming up to large, colorful parrotfish and then accompanying them, body-to-body, over greater stretches. The parrotfishes feed on coral polyps and algae and therefore pose no threat to smaller reef fishes, who allow them to approach very closely. At this very moment, the trumpetfish darts forward from its hiding place and inhales the prey into its trumpet-shaped mouth. It then returns to continue its foray alongside the parrotfish. The unending number of principally similar deceptions that predatory humans dream up to dupe their fellow man and relieve them of their possessions is legion: newspaper clippings, business reports and crime novels chronicle the schemes in full detail.
This entire repertoire of effective behaviors – including intimidation, cunning distraction, exploiting the plight of others – belongs to the predatory features that characterize the psychosplit. It causes professionals and businesses to do the exact opposite of what would be in their best (long-term) interests. By reaping short-term profits, they sooner or later sow mistrust, despite secretiveness and cover-up attempts,. Overcoming the psychosplit would lead them on an alternate path: gradually building a clientele’s trust by providing convincing, useful services and thus earning recognition as a valued trouble shooter. While this requires patience and self control, it ultimately yields greater successes and better career opportunities.
Earlier, this book dealt with the diametric contrast between the optimal business/bartering strategy (OBS) and the behavior induced by the psychosplit. Considering the advantages of others is the exact opposite of concentrating on your own advantage. The following phrase is a no less glaring contradiction: “Seek out weak spots, not to exploit them in a predatory manner, but rather to optimally serve the customer, client or employer by eliminating that weak spot and earning his or her legitimate trust!” The saying “Every chain is only as strong as its weakest link” is also valid in the business world and all other human pursuits. This explains why most people are more than willing to pay generous fees to anyone that can help eliminate their “weak link” (Fig. 15). Mewes calls such weak links “bottlenecks”, but the terms “limiting factors” or “minima” are frequently applied in other disciplines. Carnegie referred to “critical factors”. They all basically mean the same thing. In a later chapter we will deal with the inappropriateness of measuring the success of a professional, a business or some other organization based on the annual or quarterly balance sheet: attracting new clients and good employees, building trust and goodwill, polishing your image and improving know-how are equally strong components of success. Therefore, the search for weak spots in the target group or in the customers (and in yourself!) are equally important in business transactions as they are in predatory acts . The purpose, however, is diametrically the opposite!
Fig. 15: A cybernetically effective point. Mewes writes the following
about this illustration: “The target group’s needs are not uniform. They
are composed of the variable needs of many subgroups. This multilayered
structure of every target group allows any person or business to focus
on one or the other subgroup and develop a considerably more attractive
special solution for that narrow interest.” The key will fit all the better
into the lock. From W. Mewes 1972-1976, Lesson 10.
(Zielgruppenprofil...target group profile, Speziallösung...special solution, Standard-Lösung...standard solution)
A particular dilemma in the psychosplit is that any signs of weakness or fear serve as a key stimulus to trigger predatory behavior in animals. If you hook a fish in tropical seas, you often end up pulling only the head aboard – the remainder has already been bitten off by a shark that suddenly appears out of nowhere. The desperate thrashing of the hooked fish signals the shark that an animal is in trouble and probably unable to mount a normal defense. More than one diver holding a harpooned fish in his or her hand has ended up losing that hand in such situations. In predatory humans, signs of weakness also instinctively trigger the urge to exploit the situation. Leaving valuable possessions unguarded virtually invites thieves to take advantage of the moment. In many cases, even totally honest people succumb to such temptation. The phrase “opportunity creates thieves” sums up the situation quite accurately, and the line “lead us not into temptation” in Christian prayer is firmly rooted in human nature. This reaction is particularly serious in the business sector because optimal transactional strategies rely on prioritizing the needs of others over your own needs. Such “selfless” strategies might well induce the partner, should he or she be a semi-predator, into seeing an inviting weak spot. The psychosplit therefore creates the unfortunate situation that helpful behavior can very well be interpreted as a sign of weakness. Instead of nurturing trust, it can become a trigger to exploit this weakness or, put more bluntly, “to take these fools for what they’re worth at the next best opportunity”.
If searching for weak spots is decisive for predators and semi-predators, but also in business, then the logical question is: “what are the most common types of weak spots that can be used in a positive sense?” One type is obvious, namely the lack of money to fulfill our many dreams. In a tactic termed “cybernetic calculation”, Mewes describes how to help clients from every walk of life earn more money on their own, without handing them gifts. This tactic had already be applied by successful businesspeople prior to the EKS course, but Mewes analyzed the process in greater depth and made it a cornerstone of his strategy41.
Reducing prices is a generally acknowledged tactic to lure customers. This trick is among the most tried-and-true behaviors in the semi-predator’s repertoire. When certain items are offered on sale and heavily advertised at conspicuously low prices in shopping malls and supermarkets, then the primary goal is not the good of the customer. Rather, the idea is to lure customers into the store. In many cases the prices for other wares are raised accordingly, which largely goes unnoticed, so that the advertising campaign “pays for itself”. The fact remains that company interests take precedence over customer interests here and elsewhere. The situation is fundamentally different in the cybernetic calculation mentioned above.
Economic analyses tend to focus on the “income pyramid” of an area. This provides a statistical picture of how many people in the local population belong to the various income brackets. Those with the lowest incomes form a broad basis, followed successively by ever narrower layers representing those who earn progressively more and more, ultimately ending in an apex of the very rich. Based on such graphic illustrations, businesspeople can approximate the maximum number of potential customers available for a planned product. Mewes describes in full detail, including all the important calculations, the strategy of Gerd Häuser, a sales manager of a large concern that produces women’s apparel. His basic idea was that he could tap into a much larger market if he could simply sell his clothes inexpensively enough to reach the lower rungs of the income pyramid. The demand for such products was clearly there, but the clients simply didn’t have enough money. Häuser had 30 years of experience in the textile industry, and he had little difficulty finding a suitable item of clothing for his strategy.
Mewes: “Over a period of time, a lambskin coat (leather outside, fleece on the inside) was selected from the many candidates as a particularly suitable article under the given circumstances. Such coats were hugely popular at the time, showed an upward trend, and were being worn by popular TV personalities, movie stars, artists, politicians and prominent businesspeople. Their price, however, was well above $500.”
Häuser made inquiries about how and where these coats were being produced and who was producing them. He determined where the skins came from, what they cost, who provided the designs and patterns, in what numbers the coats were produced, who the wholesalers were, and at what price they were being sold. The result: a batch of 100 coats were produced at a time and the producer received $300 per piece, i.e. $150,000 for a delivery of 500 coats.
Häuser then calculated what price he could ask for each coat if he had 20,000 made instead of 500. He considered fixed and floating costs, entertained bids, and concluded that he could bring such coats on the market for a mere $250 instead of $500 if he ordered in such volume. This included a profit margin of 50% for the seller and a sales tax of $25. If this proved successful, his personal profit per coat would be $15, for a total of $300,000.
Queries among sales personnel revealed that very many customers would be willing to buy at that price. Most dealers expressed great interest and many were willing to make sales guarantees. Häuser had little margin for error, so he shifted production to two workshops in former Yugoslavia that he knew to be reliable. This was followed by two additional workshops in Turkey and Morocco. Mewes: “The coats were designed in Paris, prepared for production in Germany, produced in Yugoslavia under ongoing supervision by German specialists, and quality controlled and touched up in Austria.” The results in the first season exceeded all expectations. By distributing repeat orders among several flexible workshops he was able to meet the great demand. In that first year, the envisioned 20,000 sales were exceeded by an additional 20,000 units. With regard to the fixed costs, the final calculation revealed a savings of $440,000 versus the original calculation, and an additional $300,000 in floating costs were saved. The excess profit therefore amounted to an additional $300,000, yielding an overall profit of $1,340,000 for that year. “Rather than fully listing this under the net proceeds and therefore as taxable income, Häuser invested in the business. He commissioned a range of very attractive clothing items, streamlined his organization, created a special designer line, expanded his advertising and his sales network, made a number of international contacts, opened a few shops, distributed bonuses to his employees …”.
The same strategy we saw earlier in Mr. Kürner’s cleaning business was at work here as well: divert part of the profits into further reducing prices. This is the tremendous difference between the average businessperson and one who has grasped the advantages of the “cybernetic calculation”. Those who act on short-term predatory instincts only seldom use their success to lower prices and deliver even better quality. Rather, they tend to rub their hands in glee, cover up their profits as much as possible, and use the gain to pursue other lucrative business propositions. Privately, they tend to build a magnificent house, smother the wife in jewelry, buy the title of consul general, and to reap the admiration of friends and neighbors. In short, they think of themselves and only themselves, certainly not about their customers. Quite the opposite. When business is especially good, they raise prices and react with bemusement to any suggestions about selling such popular items even cheaper. Nonetheless, this attitude usually backfires over the long term, whereas the other approach serves both the good of the community and help to guarantee future success. There are, however, certain limits because serious mistakes can be made here as well. Mewes himself warns that many business have been wiped out by the cybernetic calculation. The principle, however, is fully conform with the OBS, whose main thesis is that you must recognize and avoid the predatory strategies that the psychosplit automatically unleashes. Helping someone overcome a weakness, whether it be a lack of financial means or some other decisive drawback, is a strategy of mutual benefit rather than merely a gracious gift.
Every business consultant is paid to detect and help weed
out his or her clients’ weak spots. This process closely parallels what
happened in the evolution of plants and animals, of course without the
consultant having to expound upon the “survival of the fittest”. Mutation,
and the recombination of the new genetic makeup through sexual reproduction,
served to continuously eliminate weaknesses. Internal efficiency improved,
and the altered species became ever better adapted to its environment.
In the business world, the success or progress is equally great when a consultant, by applying his intellectual powers, detects and helps eliminate a weak spot in a client or business. The Energon theory, with its holistic approach to the life process, points out the critical functions for all energy-gaining systems, whether they be animals and plants or professionals and businesses. The very fact that they are formulated so generally also makes them so helpful in weeding out weak spots in every sector of business (Fig. 16).
Fig. 16: Key functions of energy-gaining systems. Plants, animals,
employees and businesses can be evaluated based on analogous capabilities.
Weak spots in these sectors mean a disadvantage versus the competitors.
Energy gain and the use of beneficial environmental forces are particularly
important on the “outer” front; this is accompanied by the acquisition
of material, control mechanisms for multiplying structure, and defense
against negative environmental factors. The pursuit of luxury was a human
first. Along the “inner” front, all parts must be joined to one another,
their functionality maintained and, if possible, improved. Coordination
(of movements) is particularly important, as is the balance (of all parts)
and a reduction (of non-functional units). After H. Hass 1978.
(Außenfront...Outer front, Energieerwerb...energy gain, Stofferwerb...material gain, Strukturvermehrung...multiplication of structure, Abbau... reduction, Verbesserung...improvement, Erhaltung...maintenance, Abstimmung...balance, Koordination...coordination, Bindung...binding, Luxusstreben...luxury pursuits, Nutzung fördernder Umwelt...use of beneficial environmental forces, Abwehr störender Umwelt...defense against environmental impacts, Innenfront...Inner front)
One additional supporting role that the Energon theory can play is worth mentioning here. To us, the functional parts that make up the plant or animal body seem to differ radically from the artificial tools that help professionals and businesses deliver their services. A shallow comparison between an eye and a typewriter, between a flower and a CEO, or between cell tissue and a tool would seem to support this view. Nonetheless, the Energon theory states that all these units have an underlying commonality – they all perform some task. Moreover, this task itself is the key factor, not external appearances, and the Energon theory identifies three equally important criteria that govern the efficiency of all these units. The first criterion is the cost of these capability-providing units (“functional units”): what energy costs do they entail? Second, with what precision do they fulfill their function: how many actions out of one hundred are successful? Third, how quickly do they complete the required task? The weak spots in organisms and businesses (or in their components) can therefore lie in the fact that 1. the functional unit is missing entirely or its capability is too expensive (versus the competition), 2. its function is not precise enough (i.e. it makes too many mistakes), or 3. it is too slow. All three will negatively affect the system’s overall performance. Potentially, the entire system must pace itself according to this one function, this one weak spot. This then represents the weakest link in an otherwise strong chain. The effect: the species or business is not fully competitive (Fig. 17).
Fig. 17: Efficiency criteria for functional units. Organisms
and businesses consist of units that fulfill certain functions. As different
as they may appear to us, their efficiency – and their weak spots – can
be evaluated based on the same criteria. Cost, precision, and effort (in
time) are statistically quantifiable measures that are decisive for competitiveness
in the development phase, then in the functional phase, as well in the
resting (down-time) and shut-down phases. The figure provides a checklist
that helps determine the weak spots of the individual functional units.
After H. Hass 1970 and 1987.
(Kosten...Cost, Präzision...Precision, Zeitaufwand...Effort (in time), Aufbau...Development, Funktion...Function, Ruhe...Down-time, Stilllegung...Shut-down,
1 how high are the development costs?
2 how many times out of 100 does development succeed?
3 how long does development last?
4 what does the average functional act cost?
5 what percentage of the functional acts is successful?
6 how long does an average functional act last?
7 how high are the costs in functionless phases?
8 how much functionality is lost during functionless phases?
9 how long does the average functionless phase last?
10 how high are the costs for shut-downs and reactivations?
11 what percentage of functionality is lost in shut-downs?
12 how long do average shut-downs last?)
In a nutshell, the Energon theory, whose considerations are based not on material structures but on their functions and capabilities, can help identify weak spots. The OBS stipulates that businesspeople orient themselves according to the weak spots of their target group. Eliminating those weaknesses provides the greatest benefit. In animal predation, weak spots are important because they allow the prey to be dispatched quickly, precisely, and efficiently. Business transactions also rely on weak spots, but to help and gain trust, not to rob or kill. If we use the term “egotistic” for every activity that benefits an individual, then both behaviors are clearly equally egotistic. On the other hand, this makes the evolutive process as such – including humans – egotistic and therefore bad or evil according to widely held moral standards. The fact of the matter is that we currently find ourselves in transition from one form of energy gain (predation) to another (business transactions). The overpowering predatory instincts that we inherited from an endless series of ancestors are a millstone around our necks. These will not atrophy any time soon, especially considering that our cellular bodies will continue to rely on food, i.e. on the predatory gain of foreign organic material. By consciously recognizing the underlying process and how detrimental it is to our new pursuit, we can overcome the faulty circuits of the psychosplit and apply more effective strategies. Every halfway intelligent person can theoretically deduce the OBS guidelines on his or her own. Applying them, however, is another matter. This explains why our innate orientation on the weak spots of the prey (the energy source, the customer) is so disruptive. Once we find such a weakness, we must react in a manner exactly opposite to that dictated by the psychosplit.
Practical examples can best illustrate how difficult the search for weak spots can be in the business world and what curious results are sometimes achieved. Mewes originally developed the abbreviation EKS from the term “Engpass-Konzentrierte Strategie” (Bottleneck-Concentrated Strategy) and concentrated on how to best detect and eliminate such bottlenecks. Of the many case studies he presented, I have selected the trucking company that employed the EKS student Mr. Raffert as a wages clerk. The initial weak spot (bottleneck) in this company was getting enough business. This hurdle was taken and the firm took off like a rocket. Soon more than 300 trucks were on the road, but the company was nonetheless operating at a loss. The truckers had become the new weak spot.
Raffert’s explanation at the time, “They were being babied at every turn and began to behave like stars. They acted on their whims and slowly became uncooperative. Many refused to drive nights and brought forward lengthy excuses about why they wished to drive schedules and stretches other than those planned. The result: the effective capacity of the trucks decreased, costs rose, losses soared, and the owner and CEO tried to land more and more commissions to get out of the red. Some trucks stood idle somewhere for days without the drivers calling in, other truckers took the weekends off without warning, and the company was forced to hire shady personnel that either turned out to be here-today-gone-tomorrow types or who actually disappeared overnight, taking with them truck and load… .”
The company had even tried to introduce bonuses, for example $15 if a truck made it on time from Rome to Hamburg. Mewes: “The company’s financial situation did not allow bigger payments. The best drivers switched to haulage contractors that paid better bonuses and made less organizational fuss. And the remaining drivers found ways to earn their bonuses and still skip work. What could the company do when the drivers claimed to have been held up by an unexpected traffic holdup, and still laid claim to their bonuses?” The flood of clients that were once a godsend all of a sudden became a burden.
Raffer refused to back off. He used the EKS system to analyze the chronology of these long-distance hauls, the individual functions, their phases, the crucial factors in each, the peculiarities and motivations of the various drivers. Ultimately, he was able to solve the problem. A key factor for many good drivers was their wives. They wanted their husbands to be home with them and the children at halfway regular intervals. The advertisements for new drivers were therefore radically changed from “long-distance truck drivers sought – best pay” to “long-distance truck drivers: guaranteed to be home 5 nights per week!” This yielded a completely unpredicted flood of applicants. It even attracted excellent drivers with long-standing contracts with other companies. In this case the weak spot was an internal, structural matter that ultimately failed to optimally meet customer need. In short: you can only guarantee customer satisfaction when you yourself are optimally organized, i.e. when you have eliminated your own weak spots.
Let’s take one more example, this time from nature, to demonstrate how complicated and important the search and elimination of weak spots is. All “primitive fishes”, whose body plan lives on today in the form of sharks, lacked an organ to counteract buoyancy problems. Even modern sharks must continuously swim in order to avoid sinking to the ocean floor. They cannot simply “hover” in one place or “maneuver back and forth at will”. All bony fishes, however, which include most fish species that inhabit our seas, rivers and lakes, have this capability. They owe this to their swimbladder, which enables them to regulate buoyancy. How did this so crucial organ develop?
The evolutionary pathway is astounding. When certain fish species first conquered land and their gills tended to dry out, the organ designed to acquire oxygen and release CO2 turned out to be their weak spot. The heavily vascularized roof of the mouth stepped in to assume this task. Gas exchange, even if very limited, could take place there. Mutations that enlarged this area thus became a selective advantage that offered progeny better chances of survival. Thus, over thousands of generations, sac-like outpocketings gradually developed on both sides. These expanded and their surface area increased through folding. Based on a number of clues, we can confidently conclude that this ultimately led to the development of lungs.
Such “lungfishes” gave rise to the amphibians, the reptiles, birds and mammals; and our own lungs originated in the same manner. Several fish species with such primitive lungs returned to the sea – and used the organs they had developed on land as a swimbladder. Mutation and recombination alone would never have given rise to such a complex organ in relatives that had remained in the water. The detour via lungs made this possible42.
The advantage of this new underwater buoyancy organ was so great that the “returnees” displaced and wiped out all other primitive fishes with the exception of sharks, skates and rays, and a few others. In the trucking business example above, the wives and their wishes were the decisive factor; for the bony fishes it was the swimbladder and the advantages it provided over the competition. Both cases required a detour to eliminate the weakness. The mutations in evolution took millions of years, but applying human intelligence in the other case solved the problem very much faster. In the former, normal fish evolution would not have given rise to the crucial organ. The extended “shore leave” provided the solution. In the latter, conventional approaches also failed to solve the dilemma. It took a detour to get first-class drivers to apply for jobs at Raffert’s company before the problem could be solved.
First: Concentrating on weak spots is equally important for predators and for business transactions. But with opposing orientations. Predators must take advantage of their prey’s weaknesses in order to dispatch them more precisely, quickly, and at less energetic cost. In the business world, concentrating on the customers’ weaknesses is no less important, but the underlying idea is that eliminating those weaknesses is the best way to gain trust and ensure future business.
Second: Both predators and businesspeople must eliminate internal weak spots. This enhances predatory success in the former, and in the latter it means added benefits for the client, employer or target group.
Third: The psychosplit induces us to instinctively
exploit the weaknesses of others in a predatory manner, greatly reducing
the likelihood that professionals and businesses are making optimal use
of their energies.
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