Blockchain Voting Systems

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America’s faith in domestic elections is now buckling. Elections are now among the many enduring institutions; that the American people are losing trust in. Whether it was the investigation into meddling in the 2016 Election or the claims of voter fraud costing Donald Trump reelection, Americans have lost faith in elections. Voting, much like other segments of political life, perception carries more weight with the public than reality. An axiom keenly observed by Machiavelli centuries ago; appearance is everything.

63 % of adults polled indicated that they favor abolishing the electoral college. An NPR poll claims that 64 % of participants believed that democracy was in a state of crisis. One survey suggests that many Americans favor reforms to increase ballot access. US voters have concerns regarding the fairness and legitimacy of domestic elections. Both sides of the aisle are worried, but their distress is generally limited to situations of ideological interest. For example, 70 % of Republicans believed that the 2020 election, that ousted Trump out of office; was manipulated. A notable 72% of democrats suspected Russian interference in the 2016 Election was likely.

Could the faith be restored in American elections if we scrapped the current voting methods for one that made the process more transparent and accessible? A potential solution could be implementing a blockchain-based voting system. This would entail that each vote is permanently recorded on a publicly accessible ledger. Each voter “transaction” would then be confirmed by blockchain validators, in effect decentralizing the vote authentication procedure. Providing greater transparency, fewer barriers to the ballot box, and anonymous consensus on the majority vote. It would be possible for there to be a two-tiered blockchain system, one environment for voters and the other for the electoral college. This way, we do not have to restructure the legal framework of voting in our Democratic Republic. But also, this avoids the controversy of “faithless electoral” (the issue was adjudicated in Chiafalo v. Washington), as the electoral representative’s fidelity to the popular vote would be visible and immutable[1].

Some municipalities throughout the United States, such as Chandler, Arizona, have run pilot programs to identify problems before mapping this system to a local election. Taking precautions such as a trial run is a wise approach. It is imperative to conduct such experiments before implementation because such a cutting-edge voting system is largely untested. However, it is also advantageous to consider the hypothetical benefits and cost of blockchain voting; to be valid if even it is worthy of drafting a formal proposal to local policymakers [2].

Benefits of Blockchain Voting

  • Prevents tampering with votes; “…blockchains generate cryptographically secure voting records. Votes are recorded accurately, permanently, securely, and transparently. So, no one can modify or manipulate votes..” (p.3).
  • Blockchain voting would increase voter participation by eliminating some barriers and coordination costs associated with in-person voting and mail-in ballots (p.4).
  • This system could make the vote counting process more efficient (p.4); “… with an automatic tally that can be publicly disclosed after the fact, election officials will be able to simply add the digital votes to the votes cast otherwise…” (p.430).
  • Greater transparency because “… recording votes onto a blockchain allows for an easily accessible method for a voter to audit their respective vote..” (p.430).

Drawbacks of Blockchain Voting

  • There is potential for the blockchain validators to succumb to external interests (bribery, threats of violence, etc.) and collude to alter the election results. 
  • As with blockchain environments for cryptocurrency transactions, this system would only provide pseudo-anonymity. Ultimately, the validator would be the “key holder” and possess the ability to decrypt the voter’s identity. Utilizing a voting protocol that would have a two-step (having the voter “re-vote”) process may add a layer to ensure privacy, making the process more complex
  • Blockchains are still susceptible to the cybersecurity threat of attacks from hackers. “…If a user loses their private key, they can no longer vote, and if an attacker obtains a user’s private key they can now undetectably vote as that user… happened to cryptocurrency exchanges, which have lost hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cryptocurrency to attackers or through bad key management..” (p.14).
  • Decentralized ledgers are managed by multiple validators which can make “.. coordination difficult..” (p.15).

Conclusion:

It is impossible to develop a voting system with zero margins for error. Regardless of the format, the potential for mistakes and devious machinations will always lurk in the background. Most individuals in the political establishment and the academy are not receptive to blockchain voting. Below is a conclusion from a widely cited MIT paper on the topic:

“…A summary of this article’s takeaways follows. 1. Blockchain technology does not solve the fundamental security problems suffered by all electronic voting systems §3. Moreover, blockchains may introduce new problems that non-blockchain-based voting systems would not suffer from. 2. Electronic, online, and blockchain-based voting systems are more vulnerable to serious failures than available paper-ballot-based alternatives (§2). Moreover, given the state of the art in computer security, they will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. 3. Adding new technologies to systems may create new potential for attacks. Caution is appropriate in security-critical applications, especially where political pressures may favor an expedited approach. (§3.4). The article has also provided a collection of critical questions intended as a reference point for evaluating any new voting system proposal from a security perspective (§4) and provided references for further reading on this topic (§5). Blockchain-based voting methods fail to live up to their apparent promise. While they may appear to offer better security for voting, they do not help to solve the major security problems with online voting, and might well make security worse…”.

(p.19)

Although the conclusion in the above white paper may be reasonable objections, this does not mean that developers could not attempt to correct these shortcomings. For the ivory tower intellectuals, it is easy to dismiss this concept on technical grounds alone, but virtually no one is supplying any solutions. Even though numerically, a person’s vote has no chance of influencing the outcomes of an election, voting still operates as a form of political expression. Since there is a great deal of disillusionment with the current political system, it is critical to find a way to provide greater transparency in elections. Political strife and division have already taken their toll on American society for the past decade; no need to continue down this dark and fruitless path.

Footnotes:

  1. This observation is not commentary nor a critique on the institution of the Electoral College. The only aim of this statement is to address the popularly held misgivings about electoral voting systems.
  1. The detailed lists of the positive attributes and negative qualities of blockchain voting are not exhaustive.

Machiavelli in the Office-Part VII: Lady Luck

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Machiavelli’s wisdom is often overshadowed by is reputation.  A reputation that is synonymous with ambition and a wanton disregard for higher moral standards.  It is reasonable to question to what extent this image was true. The royal monarchs of old-world Europe were known to give lips service to the lofty visions of Aristotelian virtue.  In reality, quite often fell short of this ideal. Typically veering more toward the vices of greed, lust, ambition, and other excesses. From this perspective, it would appear as if Machiavelli merely pays the price for his honesty and pragmatism. It could be argued that he may even be more moral for his candor. Then again who wants someone exposing all of the trade secrets? It should also be noted that many of the debauchery prone rulers post-1532 who spoke of higher virtue may have very well taken a page out of old Nick’s book.

 

Machiavelli taught us about things far deeper than how to maintain an iron fist rule over a principality.  He was intimately aware of the shortcomings of human nature and intricately weaved these insights into the greater corpus of his brand of political philosophy. Hence why it is almost a crime to narrow his observations to the maintenance of the autocratic rule that characterized the Florentine royal court. He guides the patient and prudent reader that transcends the scope of political power. Machiavelli’s  The Prince is truly multidisciplinary and timeless. Expounding upon questions as broad as those of human psychology, diplomacy, opportunity costs, effective communication, and resource utilization.  So why not apply these lessons to the modern-day workspace? Hence why I have embarked upon this ongoing series.

 

Today’s topic of analysis is luck. Yes, the enigmatic variable of chance.  As much as skill and effort do play a role in success, there are circumstances that we cannot control.  The marginal effect of luck was not lost on Machiavelli. Especially considering he saw the advantage in managing newly acquired territories on virtue rather than on a happenstance shift in vicissitudes (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 22. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [1]. While it is unwise to rely on luck alone it cannot be left out of the equation. As luck accounts for all of the factors that are outside of the domain of our control. Through acknowledging the power of chance and uncertainty we can humble ourselves. Not fall prey to the hubris that can blindside us from success. Luck is a double-edged sword. When lady fortunate smiles upon us everything is wonderful. As soon as that smile sours and forms a grimacing scowl dark days are on the horizon. The variance of chance serves as limitation and such be considered in any decision.

 

The Prince certainly exhausts the point that fortunate alone cannot ensure success. Chance is too unstable to provide any clear and substantive results.  Luck and fortune are imperative in any enterprise that involves risk. It might be wise to preface that it best to take on calculated risk versus running into the situation blind. Machiavelli understood this well. However, he also acknowledges that you do need to take some risks. That with no risk there is no reward. That lady luck tends to smile down upon the young rather than the old. Why? Because as we age we become more risk-averse. Without risk, there isn’t a reward. Creating a razor-thin balancing act between the risk-to-reward ratio. Providing us with the insurmountable task of finding the golden mean. While lady luck does favor the young, keep in mind the young tend to make more mistakes. They may incur large victories on rare occasions, but they also experience a lot of losses.  Those losses provide the framework for our wisdom as we get older.

 

I conclude, thus, that when fortune varies and men remain obstinate in their modes, men are happy while they are in accord, and as they come into discord, unhappy. I
judge this indeed, that it is better to be impetuous than cautious because fortune is a woman; and it is necessary if one wants to hold her down, to beat her and strike her
down. And one sees that she lets herself be won more by the impetuous than by those who proceed coldly. And so always, like a woman, she is the friend of the young, because
they are less cautious, more ferocious, and command her with more audacity.

(Machiavelli, 1532, P. 101. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [2].

 

Regardless of the contingencies of luck, when lady fortunate smiles we must be ready to act.  In all honesty,  pushing aside the flowery language and the rape metaphor (which I do not endorse), he is telling us to recognize opportunities when they present themselves. Any time fortune turns in our direction it is a rare gift. The opportune time to exercise our virtue or skill to foster sustained success. Your boss assigns you to attend an industry convention. It sounds like an inconvenience, but you have been given a great opportunity. You have been presented with the chance to network. If you are presently dissatisfied with your job, you have your opportunity to scout out your next employer.  If you are a hiring manager you have just interviewed a perceptive and bright job candidate that exhibits leadership qualities. Do not let the age of this recent college graduate fool you. With some guidance to polish the soft skills, this individual could be your future protege. Lady luck has just thrown you a bone. You need to take her up on this gift. It requires your skill to recognize what is right in front of you. If not, it will pass you by. Because luck is fickle and fleeting.

 

 

Machiavelli’s wisdom is often overshadowed by is reputation.  A reputation that is synonymous with ambition and a wanton disregard for higher moral standards.  It is reasonable to question to what extent this image was true. The royal monarchs of old-world Europe were known to give lip service to the lofty visions of Aristotelian virtue.  In reality, quite often fell short of this ideal. Typically veering more toward the vices of greed, lust, ambition, and other excesses. From this perspective, it would appear as if Machiavelli merely pays the price for his honesty and pragmatism. It could be argued that he may even be more moral for his candor. Then again who wants someone exposing all of the trade secrets? It should also be noted that many of the debauchery prone rulers post-1532 who spoke of higher virtue may have very well taken a page out of old Nick’s book.

 

Machiavelli taught us about things far deeper than how to maintain an iron fist rule over a principality.  He was intimately aware of the shortcomings of human nature and intricately weaved these insights into the greater corpus of his brand of political philosophy. Hence why it is almost a crime to narrow his observations to the maintenance of the autocratic rule that characterized the Florentine royal court. He guides the patient and prudent reader that transcends the scope of political power. Machiavelli’s  The Prince is truly multidisciplinary and timeless. Expounding upon questions as broad as those of human psychology, diplomacy, opportunity costs, effective communication, and resource utilization.  So why not apply these lessons to the modern-day workspace? Hence why I have embarked upon this ongoing series.

 

Today’s topic of analysis is luck. Yes, the enigmatic variable of chance.  As much as skill and effort do play a role in success, there are circumstances that we cannot control.  The marginal effect of luck was not lost on Machiavelli. Especially considering he saw the advantage in managing newly acquired territories on virtue rather than on a happenstance shift in vicissitudes (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 22. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [1]. While it is unwise to rely on luck alone it cannot be left out of the equation. As luck accounts for all of the factors that are outside of the domain of our control. Through acknowledging the power of chance and uncertainty we can humble ourselves. Not fall prey to the hubris that can blindside us from success. Luck is a double-edged sword. When lady fortunate smiles upon us everything is wonderful. As soon as that smile sours and forms a grimacing scowl dark days are on the horizon. The variance of chance serves as limitation and such be considered in any decision.

 

The Prince certainly exhausts the point that fortunate alone cannot ensure success. Chance is too unstable to provide any clear and substantive results.  Luck and fortune are imperative in any enterprise that involves risk. It might be wise to preface that it best to take on calculated risk versus running into the situation blind. Machiavelli understood this well. However, he also acknowledges that you do need to take some risks. That with no risk there is no reward. That lady luck tends to smile down upon the young rather than the old. Why? Because as we age we become more risk-averse. Without risk, there isn’t a reward. Creating a razor-thin balancing act between the risk-to-reward ratio. Providing us with the insurmountable task of finding the golden mean. While lady luck does favor the young, keep in mind the young tend to make more mistakes. They may incur large victories on rare occasions, but they also experience a lot of losses.  Those losses provide the framework for our wisdom as we get older.

 

I conclude, thus, that when fortune varies and men remain obstinate in their modes, men are happy while they are in accord, and as they come into discord, unhappy. I
judge this indeed, that it is better to be impetuous than cautious because fortune is a woman; and it is necessary if one wants to hold her down, to beat her and strike her
down. And one sees that she lets herself be won more by the impetuous than by those who proceed coldly. And so always, like a woman, she is the friend of the young, because
they are less cautious, more ferocious, and command her with more audacity.

(Machiavelli, 1532, P. 101. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [2].

 

Regardless of the contingencies of luck, when lady fortunate smiles we must be ready to act.  In all honesty,  pushing aside the flowery language and the rape metaphor (which I do not endorse), he is telling us to recognize opportunities when they present themselves. Any time fortune turns in our direction it is a rare gift. The opportune time to exercise our virtue or skill to foster sustained success. Your boss assigns you to attend an industry convention. It sounds like an inconvenience, but you have been given a great opportunity. You have been presented with the chance to network. If you are presently dissatisfied with your job, you have your opportunity to scout out your next employer.  If you are a hiring manager you have just interviewed a perceptive and bright job candidate that exhibits leadership qualities. Do not let the age of this recent college graduate fool you. With some guidance to polish the soft skills, this individual could be your future protege. Lady luck has just thrown you a bone. You need to take her up on this gift. It requires your skill to recognize what is right in front of you. If not, it will pass you by. Because luck is fickle and fleeting.

Machiavelli in the Office – Part VI- Don’t Hire Mercenaries

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Machiavelli could easily be considered one of the most misinterpreted thinkers in political philosophy. His name has become synonymous deceit and other vices of public office. This marred image of Machiavelli has sullied his reputation as a philosopher for centuries. Despite Machiavelli’s image problem, his insights extend well beyond the provincial mode of retaining tyrannical authority. He expounded upon immutable truths about human nature. Truths that need to be acknowledged anytime you are navigating any kind of social hierarchy. Whether naturally developed or systematically contrived.

 

By Machiavelli conveying these truths in his works of political philosophy, he distinguishes himself on a deeper level than a mere political theorist. Rather, he transcends that restrictive title. Embarks upon detailing the more convoluted and perplexing realm of human nature. His observations at times even veer into the territory of practical advice.  Hence why the application of his work isn’t just limited to the sly trickery that characterized the Florentine royal court back in the 16th century.

 

In terms of applying  Machiavelli’s lessons to the workplace, this insight is a unique one. That requires some abstract thinking to foresee the application but conceptually is similar enough that it works. This is about hiring managers utilizing contracted employees from employment agencies. This is colloquially known as “using temps” or temporary employees. Some individuals may question what hiring temps over fully company employees has to do with mercenaries. Hiring mercenaries is something that Machiavelli advises all shrewd rulers to avoid doing so.

And by experience one sees that only princes and armed republics make very great progress; nothing but harm ever comes from mercenary arms. And a republic armed with its arms is brought to obey one of its citizens with more …. (Machiavelli, 1532, P.50. Trans. Mansfield 1985) [1].

 

And because with these examples, I have come into Italy, which has been governed
for many years by mercenary arms, I want to discourse on them more deeply, so that, when their origin and progress have been seen, one can correct them better. (Machiavelli, 1532, P.52. Trans. Mansfield 1985) [2].

 

Let him, then, who wants to be unable to win make use of these arms, since they are much more dangerous than mercenary arms. For with these, ruin is accomplished; they are all united, all resolved to obey someone else. But mercenary arms, when they have won, need more time and greater opportunity to hurt you since they are not one whole body and have been found and paid for by you. (Machiavelli, 1532, P.55. Trans. Mansfield 1985) [3].

 

All three quotes from The Prince exemplifies the perils of hiring soldiers. At the end of the day, the soldier of fortunate only has his eyes set on fortune. There isn’t any sense of pride, heritage, community, kinship, or other forms of social cohesion bonding them to the kingdom they have been paid to defend. Even if native-born soldiers are receiving a salary and other benefits (in the modern era; health insurance, education) they still have a bond to the country they defend. They joined the military out of nationalist or patriotic convictions.  There is more of an emotional and philosophical bond to there defense of the homeland. Money can motivate people to do unfathomable things. To truly and consciously commit to taking a bullet for a cause is an act based upon strong convictions. This is the kind of loyalty that cannot be bought. Some historians have even speculated about the folly of England utilizing Hessian mercenaries in the Revolutionary War. Ultimately, providing some credence to the assertions of Machiavelli.

 

Temporary workers hired from an employment agency provide similar issues. From my observations, temps tend to be fired for much more frivolous reasons than full employees. If you are hired directly, in most instances, your boss will understand if you are having car trouble. If you are a temp you could very well be fired over the incident. If you were directly hired by the company you would be subject to the rules listed in the “employee handbook”.Such document details policies that provide specific parameters for proper conduct. Meaning you can be three times versus once before you are terminated. Temps are technically considered employees of the employment agency. So they are not insulated by these measures. Paralleling the premise of being paid to be a foreign soldier.

 

The pretense of lacking stability and lack of uniform policies for temps skews incentives away from productivity. We all know that “temp-to-hire” arrangements are an exercise in carrot dangling. Your manager doesn’t ever treat you like part of the team. What is the point in killing yourself for a company that will never outright hire you? It presents a problem of mutual investment. The employer doesn’t feel invested in the temporary employee. The temporary employee does not feel invested in the company.  Creating a disconnection that is a very similar dynamic to that of mercenaries. A lack of connection and commitment does not yield good results.

 

 

 

Machiavelli in the Office – Part V: Respect Property and Privileges

 

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Machiavelli’s remains one of the most insightful and misinterpreted philosophers of the Pre-Enlightenment era. His observations have been grossly distorted to the point that his very name inspires fear of treachery and callous calculations. Few people in human history have ever been honored with having their name made into an adjective. However, this honor for Machiavelli is muted by the fact that it carries a negative connotation. Leading to his legacy as a writer and thinker to be forever stained.

 

Machiavelli’s legacy is marred by misconceptions is typical for writers who are either seldom read or read in the proper context. I would tend to agree with Machiavelli scholar Harvey Mansfield that the latter is very much applicable to his work [1]. Machiavelli was immoral or amoral as he is typically painted by popular perception. Rather he departed from the classical understanding of morality.  Favoring pragmatic uses of force and deception versus appealing to divine directives. These same godly decrees most likely were given lip service by the pre-renaissance ruler. However, once they interfered with the interests of the royal court were quickly dispensed with. Leading one to surmise that maybe Machiavelli wasn’t any less moral, but rather was more forthright.

 

All because he has been misrepresented over the centuries does not mean we cannot draw valid lessons from him. He provides some great reflections upon general aspects of human nature that extends beyond the blood-soaked halls of the 16th-century Florentine royal court. Lessons that can be applied to just about any social structure including the work environment.

 

In Niccolo Machiavelli’s book The Prince, he mentions several times that a rule needs to respect the property of his subjects. This lesson can be modified for a manager in an office environment by supplanting property with workplace privileges. An example would be allowing your employees the ability to work remotely a few days a week. Keep in mind this example may be more applicable in the pre-COVID-19 world. It will work for this essay. Naturally, if you receive a directive from upper management to suspend this privilege with little justification their will be some backlash.  The brewing undercurrent of frustration and resentment will dampen morale.  The consequence of backlash is referenced multiple times in The Prince.

 

Machiavelli cautions to be cautious when levying taxes upon your subject because unjust and burdensome taxation could fuel discord (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 68 & 72, Transl. Mansfield, 1985) [2]. Predating the whole “taxation is theft” mantra. However, he does more directly call out the vice of not respecting property rights among rulers.

 

What makes him hated above all, as  I said, is to be a rapacious usurper of the property and women of his subjects. From these, he must abstain, and whenever one does not take away either property or honor from the generality of men….  (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 68 & 72, Transl. Mansfield, 1985)  [3].

 

In other words, it might be wise if you have any leverage to debate this policy change with upper management. Otherwise, you will have some disgruntled employees on your hands. Unfortunately, in some instances, managers need reminders to keep their hands off of the property of their subordinates. It could be as minor as using Karen’s bottle of hand sanitizer when she on vacation without her permission.  It could even as severe as taking claiming to Henry’s commission on a sale behind his back. Both situations demonstrate a boss disrespecting the property of their employees. While the scene with the hand sanitizer is little more of minor faux pas, taking someone else’s commission is stealing out of their pocket.  Aside from the moral consideration of theft, how are you going to gain the respect of your staff if you are willing to blatantly steal from them?  You are lucky if you can retain staff at that point never mind have them respect you.

 

Unfortunately, I have to say don’t fraternize with the spouses and romantic partners of your employees. Not that they are property. Slavery has been abolished, therefore people cannot be property.  There is no better way to sow resentment than to cross that line. It is a folly that will not only sully your reputation as a leader but will cause unnecessary friction.  Also, it is completely a superfluous action. There is never a good reason to venture into that territory.  No one leadership using reason would ever think that such conduct is permissible. You are not a member of congress. You are not in the oval office. There is no reason to ever go there.

Machiavelli in the Office – Part IV: The Folly of Neutrality

 

 

 

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Machiavelli was arguably one of the most dynamic minds of the Renaissance era. Some scholars argue that was the first pragmatic philosopher. Lending his contextual morality to thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Ayn Rand. The righteousness for its very sake can prove to be an impediment. Even stray us away from the greater good. This for any ruler would be to protect and defend their principality/kingdom. Being the first pioneer to venture into the dark waters of practical utilitarianism has made Machiavelli a symbol of moral impropriety.  Forever staining his legacy as an intellectual and writer. To such an extent some are bold enough to claim that he was not even a philosopher.

 

The pragmatically-minded Niccolo Machiavelli provided some deeply profound insights into the study of politics. However, many of these insights are quite transcendent and shed light on the inner mechanics of human nature. Applying to more than the grisly and hallowed halls of the 16th-century Florentine royal court. Realizations that can be applied to better survive the duplicity of the boardroom or sales floor.

 

As in any work environment, disagreements are invariable. They are bound to happen regardless of workplace dynamics. The defining difference between successfully navigating such situations and being trapped in a spider’s web of drama is simple.  Do not be neutral! I would also innovate upon Machiavelli’s point by including do not play both sides of the conflict. Remaining neutral or being a “double-agent” has several adverse effects. All will damage your reputation at work. It will make you appear to be dishonest, disloyal, indecisive, weak, and disconnected.  None of these attributes will convey any leadership potential or valuable soft-skills. Rather it makes you look pretty foul professionally.

 

A prince is also esteemed when he is a true friend and a true enemy, that is when without any hesitation he discloses himself in support of someone against another. This course is always more useful than to remain neutral, because if two powers close to you come to grips, either they are of such quality that if one wins, you have to fear the winner, or not. In either of these two cases, it will always be more useful to you to disclose yourself and to wage open war; for in the first case if you do not disclose yourself, you will always be the prey of whoever wins, to the pleasure and satisfaction of the one who was defeated, and you have no reason, nor anything, to defend you or give you refuge. For whoever wins does not want suspect friends who may not help him in adversity; whoever loses does not give you refuge, since you did not want to share his fortune with arms in hand. (Machiavelli, 1532, P.89. Transl. Mansfield. 1985) [1].

 

Staying neutral or switching sides above all damages trust.  As conveyed in the wise words of Machiavelli. If there are ongoing issues between a co-worker you are friends with and another co-worker. Your work pal is expecting you to stick up for them and have their side of the conflict. Anything else will damage your relationship. Granted, we are only talking about one co-worker, but the image is everything. If you appear as disloyal, dishonest, or fake word will spread. Typically you will not be the wiser. The true irony being many of the individuals proliferating gossip about you being fake are the same people that fall into this very same trap.

 

If you are neutral in an inter-department conflict the negative consequences are only magnified. If others cannot rely on you for support, how can you expect them to do the same? That is precisely Machiavelli’s point. Beyond appearing to be fake, you are burning bridges. People who may have been willing to help you through various conflicts or issues will be less inclined to. Like anything else in life, reciprocity is key. That doesn’t matter if it is a key ally being attacked by hostile forces or a dispute over the delegation of responsibilities at work.  We all make cognitive assessments about our relationships. Everyone whether consciously or subconsciously is keeping a proverbial scoreboard. Similar premise to a bank account, if you don’t contribute anything the well will eventually run dry. It is best to bring what you can to the table. Whether or not you intend to protect a true friendship or solidify an alliance is another story.

 

To expect the benefits of a relationship regardless of its nature, without out reciprocating anything beneficial is presumptive. Very well could put you on the road to creating a new adversary. Machiavelli, the dark philosopher himself, recognized this. He understood to achieve anything you need the assistance of others. We are not marooned on a  desert island like Robinson Crusoe. If you appear to be disloyal or to manipulative, you will eventually hit a brick wall. Leaders need the support of their subordinates. If you are under leadership you need the support of your leader and peers. Marring these ties with being the office gossip or being too timid to declare sides, is only a detriment to yourself. Wanting to keep the peace in the office is a laudable goal. However, it is far too idealistic and not within reach. If a dispute is unavoidable, you need to pick aside. The consequences of not doing so are much more profound than those of staying neutral. Having only enemies in the office is a lonely and treacherous road.

Machiavelli In the Office-Part III: This Isn’t a Popularity Contest

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The principles detailed in Machiavelli’s flagship mirror-for-prices book The Prince are quite versatile. Concepts that can be applied anywhere from the bedroom to the boardroom. Ideas that possess utility beyond the treacherous halls of the 1500’s-era Florentine courts. They may very well be useful to you in your daily life. May even be able to help you navigate the minefield of climbing the corporate ladder.

 

In the third installment of this series, we will examine one of the most well-known quotes from The Prince.

It is better to be feared than loved when either is to be dispensed with. (Machiavelli, 1532. Transl. Mansfield 1985) [1].

 

The meaning quote appears to be quite linear. Many variations of this concept have circulated throughout history and popular culture. This premise was first captured in print by Machiavelli. Presents a pragmatic truth that is applicable anywhere. From the schoolyard to the prison yard. It even has its utility on the sales floor. All because you enter adulthood doesn’t mean that “bullies” become a thing of the past. Unfortunately, individuals looking to victimize others is all too real of a problem in the workplace.  Whether you are in management or are an entry-level employee you need to be to cope with this aspect of work. There will always be people looking to undermine and tear you down. Outside of the emotional stress, it can cause, it also can be detrimental to your career. Sometimes rumors can take on a life of their own, you wouldn’t a damaged reputation to sully any opportunities for advancement.

 

To some extent this advice from Machiavelli is counterintuitive. Growing up we were always told, “you get more flies with honey than vinegar”. There is some truth in that to a degree. Like with most things in this world, kindness is not exempt from the Law of Diminishing Returns. If you are too kind, those with a proclivity for predation will see a potential target. Not to mention, another point shrewd point that was made by Machiavelli. People are fickle. You can be exorbitantly kind and friendly to them one day. The next they will be stabbing you in the back. Trying to be everyone’s friend may be a luxury you can’t afford if you are serious about your career.

 

Often excessive kindness is viewed as a weakness. If due to dynamics within the work culture you are not well-liked, kindness will only be a noose around your neck. Even pretending to appear kind will be too much of a liability. You will have to cultivate a tough exterior. One that conveys you will put up with any nonsense. Sure everyone will appreciate you bringing in donuts for about 15-minutes. Then less than an hour later you are back to being the office doormat. The weak link that can be used and abused. More domineering and aggressive co-workers will recognize this and will try to test you. Give them a run for their money. Let them know you are not intimidated!  The shock of that alone will have them reeling. Underneath it all, they are weak people. They are lazy people. In order to make themselves appear productive, they need to degrade others. This is nothing more than grade A sophistry. Nothing of substance. Just tawdry and cheap tricks. Do not let these prime examples of dishonesty, banality, and mediocrity get to you. If they were more capable they wouldn’t need to stoop to such lowly tactics to discredit others. Gently push back, they will not expect it. Their reaction will be priceless.

 

Crafting a resilient facade and be able to defend yourself from the office “bully” does have its limitations. While you don’t want to seem like a pushover, without constraint aggression can backfire. Even the master of statecraft and subterfuge understood that if you become known for superfluous acts of cruelty you will become hated (Machiavelli, 1532. Transl. Mansfield 1985, p.72) [2]. This would defeat the whole purpose of making yourself appear intimidating. Once you cross certain lines, your co-workers will relish taking you down. Not due to perceived weakness, but due to your actions appearing to be unjust. Per unwritten and unspoke social conventions, there are certain norms that are to never be violated. Defending yourself from the predator by becoming the predator is rarely ethically justifiable. Machiavelli acknowledged this indirectly. The informal restraints of excessive cruelty are other people. Whether codified in formal law or in informal normative values. If others sense injustice in your actions, they will put you in your place.

 

That is one of many examples of why labling Machievlli as “amoral” is a misnomer. There was a loose moral code implied in The Prince. A general message of pragmaticism above all. If you fail to protect and effectively rule your principality, you have failed as a ruler. While this brand of philosophical thought is not grounded in the grandiose conception of idyllic morality, doesn’t mean it is devoid of morality. Pragmaticism may seem cold and mechanical there are natural constraints. If as a ruler you implement a grotesquely inhumane policy, public outcry and the threat of rebellion will swiftly prove as a check on your power. The same applies in terms of inspiring cautious respect among your co-workers. Act in a manner that will persuade people to not take advantage of you. However, the perception of your co-workers also operates as a restraint on how menacing you can be.

Machiavelli in the Office-Part 2- Flattery

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The wise words of Machiavelli are equally applicable to the campaign trail and the sales floor. They aren’t regulated to the shadowy subterfuge of the Renaissance era Florentine Court.  After all, The Prince is the work that transitioned us from unconditional virtue to pragmatism. In the hierarchical folds of a corporate office, pragmatism prevails over virtue. Your happy hour drinking buddy may superficial appear to be a friend. However, if it is between your well being and their promotion. Rest assured they will betray your “friendship” for the promotion. When your livelihood is on the line the incentives to do what’s practical are high. To some extent, the ends justify the means. The only restraint is your local human resources office.

 

Part 2 of this series is more geared towards management as we address the issue of flattery.  Flattery can assume forms. Ranging from compliments to subordinates hanging out with their boss after work. How sincere are the motives of the brown-nosers and yes-men that surround you? Every apple-polisher as an ulterior motive. The unfortunate facts are there is a significant number of those in management that seek the approval of their subordinates. It hinges on a similar principle of presidential approval polls. Your employees under your leadership assume the role of a constituency. However, you can’t let the prisoners run the prison. That’s why it is imperative to superficially appeal to the biases of your employees, but do so in a manner that can provide you leverage. Perception is everything. It is important to remember your employees are not your friends. Due to many in management longing to feel expected they often blur this line. This is a trap that strong leaders adroitly sidestep.

 

I do not want to leave out an important point and error from which princes defend themselves with difficulty …. the flatters of whom their courts are full; for men take such pleasure in their own affairs and so deceive themselves there that they defend oneself from it risks the danger of becoming contemptible. From there is no other way to guard oneself from flattery unless men understand that they do not offend in telling the truth..

(Machiavelli, 1532, Trans. Mansfield (1985) P. 93-94)  [1].

 

The quote above from The Prince provides some straightforward advice to anyone in management. Hire people that are honest. The facts are not everyone is going to like you. Especially considering any leadership position requires you to make tough decisions. It is best to look towards your subordinates that provide forthright feedback than those who blow smoke. If you distort the social dynamic between boss and employee it is a treacherous path. Employees stop respecting you as a boss. Which means you are no longer able to command any authority. Beyond that flattery is generally illusory in nature. Merely smoke and mirrors. Odds are if Bill is having a 30-minute conversation complimenting you about your new BMW, isn’t just trying to be friendly. He is utilizing flattery as a tool to gain leniency or consideration for a promotion. The fact that John all of a sudden wants to go out for a drink with you on Friday, should be held in suspicion. In contrast, it is wise to listen to Jim’s feedback on the new invoicing process. Rather than hold his constructive criticism against him.

 

Not only does flattery blind us to the reality of the motives of others, but it also erodes respect.  Being wary of flattery is a natural corollary of  Machiavelli’s most famous principle of  “it is better to be feared than loved”. I will directly address that concept directly in another essay. As I mentioned earlier about the distortion of the social dynamic, once esteem is lost it is difficult to be regained. Psychologically we are wired to remember the negative more so than the positive. It may be impossible to revive your image after slamming down shots at the local bar with all of the bootlickers in your office. It is prudent to distance yourself from such situations. Focus on the employees that provide valid criticisms. Set aside your ego and realize that you are not always right and that no one is Mr.Popular.  This isn’t High School and it certainly isn’t a popularity contest. It is more important to command some respect without being too draconian. That will also have some adverse consequences. The Law of Dimmishing Returns applies to just about anything. Whether tanigble or conceptual.

 

 

 

 

Machiavelli In the Office- A Career Advancement Guide (Part-1)

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Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince is arguably one of the most important books ever written. It is often speculated to be one of the first written works of political philosophy. It dropped us down from the lofty cloud of idealist virtue to the Earthly necessity of hard-nosed pragmatism. Straying from the idealized conceptions of Plato’s Republic and Aristotelian “right-reason”.  It is not enough to behave virtuously, but we must also have virtuous intentions. It because evident how such principles can impede effective leadership. Machiavelli was concerned with results making him to some extent a forerunner for . He catapulted us into the era of modern philosophy. An acknowledgment of what is versus what should be. An acknowledgment of the true nature of man in contrast to what man could be. Such deep insights are not without a price. Few thinkers have been as universally misrepresented and villainized as Machiavelli.  Often reduced to a cartoon caricature.

 

A book spanning less than 200-pages rarely has many insightful observations embedded in it as The Prince. Few books are as nuanced as The Prince contributing to the wide array of misinterpretations. Most of us would prefer to live under governments far more liberal than a highly centralized principality. That does not mean the advice in Machiavelli’s most well-known work doesn’t apply to modern politics. The observations made in The Prince applies to any organization with a social hierarchy. Meaning its applicability extends the bloodstained floors of the Florentine royal court. The wisdom presented in The Prince can easily be applied to the boardroom as well as the political arena. I would contend that many of the principles that encompass the Machiavellian brand of political philosophy can be applied in the office. That’s right, you can utilize these same tactics at work.  Here we will embark upon a series of applying the political lessons from Machiavelli to the workplace.

 

The first lesson of we can draw from Machiavelli to apply to our work life, it is more important to appear virtuous than to be virtuous. Keeping up appearances. What your actual motives are for making friendly small talk with your co-workers or subordinates is inconsequential to the outcome. Similar in politics, it doesn’t matter if you follow through with your campaign promises. The “say-do gap” can be mended by high voter approval ratings. If the voting public has a high opinion of you it isn’t necessary to be effective. The same can be said at work. Even if you are the hardest worker in your department you could be passed for a promotion if you appear to be unsociable. The consequences of having cultivated such a bad reputation is difficult to correct. To some extent, image is everything.  This is a sentiment that is echoed throughout The Prince.

 

Thus, leaving  out what is imagined about a prince and discussing what is true, I say that all men whenever one speaks of them, and especially princes, since they are placed higher, are noted for some of the qualities that bring them either praise or blame. … someone cruel, one merciful… the one honest, the other clever… And I know that everyone will confess that it would be laudable thing to find a prince with all of the above mentioned qualities  that are held good. But because we cannot have them,  nor wholly observe them, since human conditions do not permit it. (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 61-62. Trans. Mansfield 1985) [1].

 

And one of the most powerful remedies that a prince has against conspiracies is not to be hated by the people . (Machiavelli, 1532, P. 72. Trans. Mansfield 1985) [2].

 

Both quotes exemplify how appearing to be good is more important than being good. There are a lot of admirable characteristics that you want to display to your co-workers. You want to appear smart, creative, reliable, friendly, interesting, enterprising, etc. The probability of one person possessing all these attributes is slim. Making it a necessity to pretend to have these attributes. Which is imperative if you are seeking career advancement. The idiom of “faking it until you make it” is central to this whole idea. This is why oftentimes individuals in management rarely admit to being ignorant or lacking information.  It degrades confidence in their leadership abilities. This is somewhat perverse the standpoint of pure logic. Human perception is seldom guided by logic. Especially when we account for the prosperity of people to use heuristics to aid in making quick decisions. A rule of thumb is to appear to be organized, sociable, hardworking, intelligent, and possessing a capacity for critical thinking. It is hard for your boss or co-workers to objectively validate that you have all these characteristics. It is easier to assume some who is confident and well-spoken has their shit together. Rather than examine the quality of work from a co-worker that is more reserved.  Whether you are dealing with voters or hiring managers appealing to their biases is key.

 

Part of behavior in a manner that will cultivate a positive image it is imperative to stay on the good side of your co-workers. Attend the occasion happy hours. Say good morning to everyone. Engage in small talk. Small talk can also double as a means of extracting information and gossip. Serves as a dual benefit. No one will be the wiser that you have ulterior motives. It also helps you to better integrate yourself with your co-workers. All of this goes into the social capital bank for you. Regardless of your intentions. If you are within the good graces of your peers they are less apt to throw you under the bus or start rumors about you. It isn’t full proof, but what is? It is when you appear unfriendly and negative is when people tend turn on you. Appearing to be nice will help smooth over your deficits in other areas of your job. Even if you are an impeccable worker, if you are hated by your peers you are on borrowed time.  It will create a hostile work environment for yourself and at that point you are better off jumping ship. Unfortunately, a bad reputation will endure longer than your tenure at the company. It is quite cumbersome to revive a sullied reputation among closed-minded people.

 

Much how Machiavelli dedicated his great book Lorenzo de’ Medici, I should dedicate this blog series to someone.  To the recent college graduate with too much time on their hands. As you pursue Zip Recruiter and Indeed for your first career opportunity, please keep this blog series in mind. The advice present is unorthodox and may even make your future human resources representative queasy. However, take from a guy with a job … it is sound advice. I may not be as innovative or clever as Machiavelli, but I can apply his philosophy to corporate America on a micro-scale.  I wish you luck in your job search.