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Rules For Radicals by Saul D Alinsky

Saul D. Alinsky

Founder of modern American community organising, Saul D. Alinsky (1909-72).


Saul D. Alinsky was one of America’s most significant community activists, focusing on the rights of the marginal and the poor. His tactics influenced counter-culture activism and politics. Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama are among his fans.

I first read Alinsky’s final book, Rules For Radicals, on starting an architecture degree 30 years ago. Having read  Marx and Proudhon, I gravitated to Alinsky’s more accessible and contemporary discontent with the status quo, though his confrontational style never jelled with me.

I offer Alinsky’s cunning advice here not to advocate it, but because of its ongoing relevance to issue management and activism.

Here are Alinsky’s Twelve Rules, summarised.

  1. “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.”
 Power is derived from two main sources – money and people. “Have-nots” must build power from flesh and blood.
  2. “Never go outside the expertise of your people.” 
It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone.
  3. “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” 
Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty.
  4. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” 
If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules.
  5. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” 
There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.
  6. “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” 
They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones.
  7. “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”
 Don’t become old news.
  8. “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.”
 Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance. As the opposition masters one approach, hit them from the flank with something new.
  9. “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”
 Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist.
  10. “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.” 
Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog.
  11. “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.” 
Never let the enemy score points because you’re caught without a solution to the problem.
  12. Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”
 Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.

Conversing with people about issues that matter is one of life’s everyday great events.

Facilitating great group conversations extends the magic to usefully air issues, frame problems, canvas options and reach decisions – and on the way, strengthen team dynamics and cohesion.

Effective meetings and workshop conversations are not automatic. Facilitating group conversation well depends on:


Workshops can’t solve every problem. Stepping out of business-as-usual with your team is a significant cost. When is it worth it? One of my clients, an international federation of successful businesses, calls workshops at strategic watersheds, for key decisions. (Thanks RLB!)

Clear, achievable aims

Distill these in careful and candid briefing. Group sessions can tackle broad and complex issues but need focus to stay real and meaningful. Also, the group and its constituents must have relevance, influence and authority requisite to their recommendations and decisions.

The right facilitator

One who suits the client’s culture, grasps and responds to argument flow and perceives the significance (or not) of points in discussion. Content knowledge can aid efficiency, but the facilitator must value group goals, not his or her own agenda. Sustained close listening, critical thinking, precise verbal framing and confidence are vital. Bosses as facilitators tend to skew and limit discussion. External facilitators free insiders to contribute openly.

Willing participants

Divergent views are welcome, if constructive. Willingness is contingent and can’t be forced. It breaks when manipulated. If any seem unwilling on arrival, the facilitator’s challenge is to win them over, at least to contributing, which in itself, can lead to positive change.

Tools and processes

I worry less about agendas and models than I did in the past and avoid lame icebreakers, cuisenaire rods and twee facilitator stories. Agenda items need room to breathe, not irrelevant frameworks and models that choke or frustrate flow.

If you’re considering a facilitated strategy, business planning, communication, ideas or other workshop, I’d be happy to discuss your thoughts.

Keep making good things happen.

Administration Note

If you’re wondering why the following few older blog posts are misrepresenting themselves as new posts, it’s because I reorganised some of the content on this site and rather than lose these earlier posts (from a now-defunct page) I copied them as new posts to this blog.

Thanks and regards, Antoni.

Language is About Music As Well as Meaning

Words…they flute and sing and taber, and disappear, like apparitions, with a curious perfume and a most melodious twang.
Rose Macaulay, 1935, ‘Writing’ in Personal Pleasures

YES, words work when they carry a cargo of apt, accurate meaning, and they work even better when they sound pleasant. Linguists, novelists, journalists, script and speech writers agree: having a good ear and achieving euphony can make the difference between words resonating and lasting—or falling flat.

Listen to the music, not merely the meaning, in the following memorable lines:

For God so loved the world. Veni, vidi, vici. Fourscore and seven years ago. I have a dream. Yes, we can. Yada, yada, yada. Chicka chicka boom.

Great phrases from pop culture, education, politics, religion and business are a matter of taste and context, but they always have enough general appeal to stir their own momentum. And make them stand out and become memorable.

Can euphony be learned? Yes; in part. Some people have a talent, but we can all improve by discovering and applying the laws, tricks and shortcuts.

Try these: repeat sounds, play with their proximity and progression; try long vowels and liquid consonants along with degrees and order of obstruency in phrases; vary your pitch, pace and projection and use pauses.

In your next speech or presentation, attend to your sound, as well as your meaning and watch for audience appreciation.

Speaking with one voice?

Does the phrase “speaking with one voice” imply micromanagement and group-think?

Rhetorica Update Vol.3 Iss.1 Mar 2012

The need for clarity and consistency of message in effective brand, reputation and political management gave rise to analogies like “singing from the same hymnsheet” and “speaking with one voice”.

Some people think it’s immoral for managers to tell how others around them how to speak. YES, it can be, when the content is untruthful or unhelpful, or when it amounts to exerting power or control in a devious way for selfish advantage. We call this manipulation.

BUT, effective organisational communication is not about that. Rather, it’s about helping people with a common interest communicate in a way that protects and advances a legitimate cause.

Every group, audience and market consists of many voices and personalities with potential for fresh, insightful expression. In truth and reality, there is no need to remove any person’s voice, opinion or personality, but sometimes we may need taming or tuning for the greater good.

No analogy is perfect. Speaking with one voice is an insider phrase, not really intended for outside use. Properly understood, opportunity abounds for groups to unify and clarify their answers, positions and directions in ways that remain interesting, authentic and credible.

Former NSW Premier and Labor Minister Bob Carr

Rhetorica Update Vol.3 Iss.2 Apr 2012

Politics is a hard game and it has frequently involved a sleazy road to power.

When Senator Bert Milliner (QLD) died before the Budget in 1974, he left what Australia’s Constitution calls a casual vacancy.

While the Constitution freely empowered each State Parliament to choose its own replacement senators, it was left to convention to suggest that replacements come from the same party as the vacating senator.

According to former Labor speechwriter Graham Freudenberg, Joh Bjelke-Petersen “seized a chance to deal a devastating blow to the hated Labor Government in Canberra.” Rejecting Labor’s nomination, he appointed Albert Field, a committed anti-Labor man “of outstanding obscurity.”

This single cut to Whitlam’s numbers was part of the “fatal equation” leading to a double dissolution and general election.

Senator Steele Hall accused the Opposition of marching “on the sleazy road to power…over a dead man’s corpse.”

Since 1977, the Constitution has required casual vacancies to be filled in the manner previously entrusted to fair play.

On this basis, Bob Carr enjoyed a sleazeless transition into Mark Arbib’s NSW Senate position.

NOTE: Thanks to my father-in law Peter Loof, a former deputy secretary to the Attorney-General, who kindly explained and posted to me the pertinent paragraphs and pages from Australia’s Constitution, along with enlightening excerpts from Graham Freudenberg’s book, A Certain Grandeur.

Unravelled business head by JoJo Lee

As litigators, adjudicators and regulators call parties to account

Rhetorica Update Vol.3 Iss.2 Apr 2012

Every crisis is partly chaotic, unpredictable and unmanageable. But the questions to answer after every crisis are also fairly predictable.

Losing our head may be unnecessary, if we can anticipate and improve how to manage common event-response dimensions.

In a crisis, management’s broad priorities are to marshall resources for operations to address the situation and communication to occur with key audiences.

Before the crisis is over, the long process of litigation begins.

To highlight the salient example of our times, BP settled 100,000 collective claim cases in March 2012, for US$7.8 billion, nearly two full years after the Deepwater Horizon accident. Criminal charges against BP executives, i.e. engineers, are reportedly imminent.

In court, prosecution lawyers will ask the same, brutally simple questions they always do:

 1. To what extent did you consider crisis possibilities and scenarios?

 2. What did you do to prevent or prepare for such scenarios?

 3. How did you train people in how to respond, in the event of an accident?

 4. How often did you test and review your plans and how did your organisation perform?

 5. What did you start, stop or change as a result?

During or after litigation, regulation comes under review. Every poor answer to the above questions increases the likelihood of added operational restriction.

Someone always says, “It will never happen to us,” as they did at Enron, Andersen, BP, Exxon, HIH, Ansett, Concorde, Lehman Brothers, AIG, etc., etc.

Crises invite uncertainty, reputation and brand damage, rising costs and scrutiny and falling market share, value and employee morale. Further, Dr Tony Jaques points to 10-year research by Melbourne University showing that a quarter of Australian crises cost more than $100m each and ended in business obliteration.

Scenario Planning, Training, Remediation, Prevention, Testing, Benchmarking and Review never cost that much.


Tony Jaques suggests adding Question 6: When did you first know about this?

This is just about impossible to answer without risk. If you knew about it early, why didn’t you take action? If you found out about it late, then why didn’t you know about it earlier?  This question is hard because it is not about eliciting information, but about setting a trap for managers.

 Contact us for advice about any of these activities.

Clear Thinking Tips








“When I get ready to talk to people, I spend two thirds of the time thinking what they want to hear and one third thinking about what I want to say.”
Abraham Lincoln

Rhetorica Update Vol.5 Iss. 2

From time to time I have made a study of clear and strategic thinking practice, looking for clear thinking tips. Several good books are available on the topic, though I’ve found you have to borrow and adapt from what’s available to make it suit your situation.

Life tends to emphasise doing and action, but thinking is also critical to any complex endeavour. Common obstructions to effective thinking are:

  1. Not finding time.
  2. Prolonged stress, busyness and multitasking.
  3. Emotions like fear, wishful thinking and anger, which camouflage reality and fog the brain.
  4. Confounding contexts and situations.
  5. The laziness of presumption that increases risk.
  6. Unrecognised cognitive bias.

Bias? What bias?

Biases are part funny, part scary and part of being human. Common biases include:

  • Illusory superiority: the average person believes he or she is smarter, healthier, funnier, and a better driver, friend, and leader, with better self-insight, than the average person.
  • Overestimating how much other people notice our clothes or looks.
  • Thinking our knowledge of our peers surpasses their knowledge of us.
  • Mistaking our imagination for memory.
  • Overestimating our ability to show restraint in the face of temptation.
  • Rejecting new evidence if it contradicts our dearest paradigms.
  • Devaluing ideas from people we don’t like.
  • Being readier to believe something we’ve heard before than something we haven’t.

Invest time in clearer thinking:

  1. Reflect during and after reading.
  2. Break, by listing or drawing, complex problems into smaller, simpler issues and topics.
  3. Exercise your imagination (take it for a figurative or literal walk).
  4. Limit email to designated times in the day. Tune into tasks, focusing for 20 minutes, not 20 seconds.
  5. Manage your emotions.
  6. Question presumptions.
  7. Seek third-party, independent views of your thinking, decisions and behaviour.

You are an amazing thinker.

Thanks for reading, and best wishes until we catch up again.

The Power of Face-to-Face Communication

It’s dangerous and ignorant to underestimate the power of face-to-face communication.

Imagine only ever speaking with your husband, wife, business partner, parents or children by email or in video-conference. We might go so far as to say that to relegate any audience to virtual communication is to undervalue that audience.

In today’s virtually connected world, organisations benefit from many online efficiencies and advantages, but removing face-to-face contact is not always a good idea.

“A wealth of research confirms the importance of face-to-face contact. One experiment performed by two researchers at the University of Michigan challenged groups of six students to play a game in which everyone could earn money by cooperating. One set of groups met for ten minutes face-to-face to discuss strategy before playing. Another set of groups had thirty minutes for electronic interaction. The groups that met in person cooperated well and earned more money. The groups that had only connected electronically fell apart, as members put their personal gains ahead of the group’s needs. This finding resonates well with many other experiments, which have shown that face-to-face contact leads to more trust, generosity, and cooperation than any other sort of interaction.”

From: Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier by Edward L. Glaeser (accessed via delanceyplace newsletter).

Make the most of your audiences

Update Vol. 5 Iss. 1

Welcome to 2014, when everyone with a connected chip is communicating and social media platforms outnumber Kiwis in Bondi.

This year, are you showing the love? Are you making the most of the audiences right under your very nose?

The VideoBlog below follows a teaming announcement I made in late 2013 and is part of a new series of VideoLinc VideoBlogs covering online video strategy and tactics.

Video can help you engage audiences

Sent directly as an email link or embedded on websites including your own branded channels, online videos confer:

  1. Content control back to you
  2. Efficient direct distribution to your proprietary audiences, including mobile
  3. Ability to present your story in interviews, panels, mini-movies
  4. Means to demonstrate, list, question, explain
  5. Emotional, audio and visual edge, life and punch
  6. Increased purchase intent
  7. Improved natural search engine rankings and results
  8. Social media credibility and traction
  9. Personal touch
  10. Effective measurement and reporting.

If you’re curious about how a VideoLinc or VideoBlog could work in your context, let me know.

One more thing

One of my long-held interests is storytelling.

I’m now enrolled in a part-time doctor of arts at Sydney Uni, to further my research, writing and learning in aspects of creative and persuasive communication.

No doubt, I’ll cover more on this in subsequent posts. If you have an interest, references, other info or would like to otherwise connect in some way on this, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks, and best wishes from me, until we catch up again.