Infallibility

Published: Oct 30 , 2014
Author: Stephen White

There is a sweet story about a car mechanic who is fixing the engine of the car belonging to an eminent heart surgeon. The surgeon arrives in the repair shop whilst the job is still not quite completed. The mechanic calls the doctor over to have a look under the hood.

“You and I do the same job, Doc.  I opened the engine’s heart, took the valves out, I am repairing and replacing anything damaged and then I will put everything back together and when it is finished, it will work like new. Just like you do. So how come I earn $40,000 a year and you earn $400,000 a year?”

“Ah,” replied the surgeon, with not a trace of modesty, “you get to earn the same money as me when you do all that with the engine running”.

This story came to mind when I was reading about North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who has been largely missing from view of late, reportedly because of ill-health. Today it was revealed that ‘foreign surgeons’ have been flown in to Pyongyang to operate on a cyst on his ankle. I do not know what the going rate for an ankle operation is, but the call-out fee must have been colossal.

One can only speculate that their self-confidence, mixed with a liberal dose of their own infallibility made them accept the challenge. They are brave men. If Mr Kim makes a recovery, they will be heroes, at least in North Korea. But if he does not, they might be negotiating their exit visas for some considerable time, possibly from behind bars. 

In this sense there is a connection between doctors and negotiators. Like doctors, negotiators are easily held to account because the results of their work are so transparent. They get famous if it goes right and they bring the deal home, scorned and maybe worse if they don’t.

But like some doctors, many senior negotiators have an inflated view of their capabilities. Such a one is Dominique Strauss Kahn.  Even though he was forced to resign his position as Managing Director of the IMF after a sex scandal in 2011, he continues to chase political fame, possibly as the next President of France.

Last week one of Strauss Kahn’s major business partners Thierry Leyne committed suicide, and a slew of poor deals were revealed.  

I expect this will only increase DSK’s appetite for power. Watch this space.

Politicians, mind you.  When did they ever knowingly negotiate anything?  Rhetoric and hot air – that’s more their game…

Stephen White


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Who is Going to Pick the Fruit?

It’s amazing how many people go into negotiations with no clear idea about their bottom line. “We’ll see how it goes,” seems to be the rather naive thought and of course they leave themselves open to the risk of a really poor and unprofitable deal at the end of it. It is empowering to know your bottom line, especially when you have internal agreement at senior level. Think about it: the other side are aggressively demanding that you improve your terms, but you know that what they are asking for is beyond your bottom line.

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