Book Report: Winning through Intimidation by Robert J. Ringer (1974)

Book coverI’ll admit, I picked up this book because it had the word intimidation right in the title. Hey, who in QA wouldn’t want to be more intimidating? And maybe to win for once?

The book was a best seller for the self-published author in the 1970s and has been re-released this century with a different title (To Be or Not To Be Intimidated). So somebody found the lessons within it to be worthwhile. A lot of somebodies.

The book explains the author’s approach to real estate sales and a bit of philosophy extrapolated from the behaviors that made him a successful real estate salesman dealing in the sale of large apartment complexes across the country. The author invokes Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, in the first sentence, saying that he titled the book using the off-putting word Intimidation because its meaning was slanted to the perjorative, much as Rand did when she entitled a book (based on her essay entitled) “The Virtue of Selfishness”. So you get an idea from an outset what sort of take the author is going to have on life.

As it stands, Ringer’s freewheeling view of business is pretty cut-throat, zero-sum. But by intimidation, he means, ultimately, setting yourself up in a strong posture to deal with adversity. So you don’t have to think you’re going to be someone who comes out of the book with the tools to become some sort of cut-throat jerk looking to take advantage of easy marks to get something out of this book. If you’re a contractor out there on your own hustling for deals and contracts, you’ll get something out of how he implements his philosophy.

One of his basic theories of success is called Theory of Sustenance of a Positive Attitude through the Assumption of a Negative Result. That is, to keep your positive attitude in a position where failure abounds (in his case property sales), you need to recognize and even plan that most of your efforts will fail. That way, you’re not surprised nor discouraged when they do. It’s an interesting twist on giving yourself a mindset for startups or whatnot; when you read about failures of successful people, they always brush them off. Perhaps it’s a native mindset in those particular people, or perhaps it’s a mindset groomed through advice much like Ringer’s here.

Additionally, Ringer presents three bases for the successful execution of intimidation: A good, professional image; a good legal framework for the work done; and successful execution of the work. Although we’re not dealing with signing up to represent properties for sale, you could apply the tenets to looking for, securing, and finishing consulting work in any stripe, including IT contracting.

One important lesson, also encapsulated in the book, is that the goal of any contract or project is not the successful completion of the project (in Ringer’s world, the closing of a sale). The goal of the project is getting paid for doing the work. It’s a lesson he reiterates throughout the book, and it’s a lesson that many people in the IT world should remember. In a world where a lot of companies start up with the goal of getting users and eyeballs (still) without actual thought to “monetization,” this lesson bears repeating and drumming.

I enjoyed the book, and it gave me a different perspective that I can apply to the industry from the experience of another. It’s key, though, to remember that the business world is not quite as cynical nor zero sum as the author here presents it, where other business people are out to take your chips and cut your hands off at the wrists, but it’s probably not a bad idea to plan as though they are. Because some are.

Books mentioned in this review:

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