New Rules for Radicals

In Rules for Radicals, Saul Alinsky articulated 13 principles that can be used in a zero-sum game of politics to discourage and defeat the enemy. Mr. Alinsky’s background was in community activism and he wrote this book as a primer on how to successfully lead a movement for change. His goal was to create a guide for future community organizers to use in uniting low-income communities and help them gain social, political, legal, and economic power. Mr. Alinsky received a fair amount of criticism for his methodology up to and after his death in 1972. His critics primary complaint was that his approach was to ideological. In fact, today you’ll still see just about anyone that’s considered an ‘extreme radical’ referred to as an ‘Alinskyite.’ However, I find it ironic that his approach is often used today by leaders in many sectors with just about any issue they deem non-negotiable. These rules are used by church leaders, organized labor and (as you might suspect) by candidates running political campaigns. They’re even being used right now by leaders in both political parties on some level with many issues. The history of embracing these 13 principles has consistently proven to eliminate any opportunity for a civil discourse. In other words, when you’re so sure you’re right that you’re willing to burn the house down, then it turns out that everyone in the house expires sooner or later. So, let’s look at the Rules for Radicals and consider what might happen if leaders simply reverse-engineered the rules. Rule #1: Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have. What if the new rule was: Put people to work because that translates to real power. Rule #2: Never go outside the expertise of your people. What if the new rule was: Challenge people to discover, learn and explore outside their comfort zones. Rule #3: Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy. What if the new rule was: Whenever possible, respond to the expertise of your enemy with an expertise of your own. Rule #4: Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules. What if the new rule was: Help people write rules that help them achieve their goals. Rule #5: Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. What if the new rule was: Treat people the way you want to be treated. Rule #6: A good tactic is one your people enjoy. What if the new rule was: A good tactic is one that helps people to win. Rule #7: A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag. What if the new rule was: The only time to change a tactic is if it’s not working. Rule #8: Keep the pressure on. What if the new rule was: Ease the pressure long enough for people to understand the change desired and desire that change, as well. Rule #9: The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself. What if the new rule was: Don’t make threats; make commitments and keep them. Rule #10: The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition. What if the new rule was: Build a team with the capacity and patience to do the work that needs doing. Rule #11: If you push a negative hard and deep enough, it will break through into its counterside. What if the new rule was: Bring positive ideas to the forefront so consistently that breakthroughs benefiting almost everyone are achieved. Rule #12: The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative. What if the new rule was: Solve your own problems first before spending valuable time offering solutions for the problems of others. Rule #13: Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it. What if the new rule was: Celebrate people, empower them to do more, make it about the cohort and invite everyone to join. Then again, these new rules may not make much sense to radicals.

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