Tag Archives: trust

What Werewolf teaches us about Trust & Security

After sharing the idea behind this post with Bruce Schneier, I’ve been encouraged to think a little more about what Werewolf can teach us about trust, security and rational choices in communities that are, or are at risk of, being infiltrated by a threat. I’m not a security expert, but I do spend a lot of time thinking about negotiation, collaboration and trust, and so thought I’d pen some thoughts. The more I write below, the more I feel Werewolf could be a fun teaching tool. This is something I hope we can do “research” on at Berkman next week.

For those unfamiliar with Werewolf (also known as mafia), it’s very simple:

At the start of the game each player is secretly assigned a role by a facilitator. Typically there are 3 werewolves (who make up one team) and around 15 villagers, including one seer and one healer (who make up the other team).

Each turn of the game has two alternating phases. The first phase is “night,” during which everyone covers their eyes. The facilitator then “wakes” the werewolves who agree on a single villager they “murder.” The werewolves then return to sleep. The seer “wakes” up and points at one sleeping player and the facilitator informs the seer if that that player is a werewolf or villager. The seer then goes back to sleep. Finally the healer “wakes” up and selects one person to “heal.” If that person was chosen to be murdered by the werewolves during the night they are saved and do not die.

The second phase is “day”; this starts with everyone “waking up” (uncovering their eyes). The facilitator identifies who has been murdered (assuming they were not healed). That person is immediately eliminated from the game. The surviving players – e.g. the remaining villagers and the werewolves hidden among them – then debate who among them is a werewolf. The “day” ends with a vote to eliminate a suspect (who is also immediately removed from the game).

Play continues until all of the werewolves have been eliminated, or until the werewolves outnumber the villagers.

You can see why Werewolf raises interesting questions about trust systems. Essentially, the game is about whether or not the villagers can figure out who is lying: who is claiming to be a villager but is actually a werewolf. This creates a lot of stress and theatre. With the right people, it is a lot of fun.

There are, however, a number of interesting lessons that come out of Werewolf that make it a fun tool for thinking about trust, organization and cooperation. And many strategies – including some that are quite ruthless – are quite rational under these conditions. Here are some typical strategies:

1. Kill the Newbies

If you are playing werewolf for the first time and people find out, the village will kill you. For first time players – and I remember this well – it sucked. It felt deeply unfair… but on further analysis it is also rational.

Villagers have only a few rounds to figure out who are the werewolves, and there are strategies and tactics that greatly improve their odds. The less familiar you are with those strategies the more you threaten the group’s ability to defeat the werewolves. This makes the calculus for dealing with newbies easy: at best the group is eliminating a werewolf, at worst they are eliminating someone who hurts the odds of them winning. Hence, they get eliminated.

I’m assuming that similar examples of this behaviour take place when a network gets compromised. Maybe new nodes are cut off quickly, leaving the established nodes to start testing one another to see if they can be trusted. Of course, the variable could be different; a threat could spark a network to kill connections to all connections that, say, have outdated firmware. The point is, that such activities, while sweeping, unfair and likely punishing many “innocent” members, can feel quite rational for those part of the group or network.

2. Noise Can be Helpful

The most important villager is the seer, since they are the only one that can know – with certainty – who is a werewolf and a villager. Their challenge is to communicate this information to other villagers without revealing who they are to the werewolves (who would obviously kill them during the next night).

Good seers first ask the facilitator if the person next to them is a villager, then the person to the other side and then slowly moving out (see figure 1 below). If the person next to them is a villager they can then confide in them (e.g. round 1). Good seers can start to build a “chain” of verified villagers (round 2-3) who, as a voting block can protect one another and kill suspected (or better identified) werewolves at the end of each “day.”

Figure 1

Figure 1

This strategy, however, is predicated on the seer being able to safely communicate with those on their left and right. Naturally, werewolves are on the lookout for this behaviour. A player that keeps discreetly talking to those on their left and right makes themselves a pretty obvious target for the werewolves. Thus it is essential during each round that everyone talk to the person to their left and right, regardless of whether they have anything relevant to say or not. Getting everyone talk creates noise that anonymizes communication and interferes with the werewolves’ ability to target the seer.

This is a wonderful example of a simple counter-surveillance tactic. Everybody engages in a behaviour so that it is impossible to find the one person doing it who matters. It was doubly interesting for me as I’ve normally seen noise (e.g. unnecessary communication) as a problem – and rarely as a form of counter-power.

Moreover, in a hostile environment, this form of trust building needs to happen discreetly. The werewolves have the benefit of being both anonymous (hidden) from the villagers but are highly connected (they know who the other werewolves are). The above strategy focuses on destroying the werewolves by using creating a parallel network of villagers who are equally anonymous and highly connected but, over time, greater in number.

3. Structured and Random Stress Tests

The good news for villagers is that many people are terrible liars. Being a werewolf is hard, in part because it is fun. You have knowledge and power. Many people get giddy (literally!). They laugh or smirk or overly compensate by being silent. And some… are liable to say something stupid.

As a result, in the first round players will often insist that everyone introduce themselves and say their role. E.g. “Hi my name is David Eaves and I’m a villager.” You’d be surprised how many people screw up. On rare occasions people will omit their role, or stumble over it, or pause to think about it. This is a surefire way of getting eliminated. It comes back to lesson 1. With poor information, any information that might mean you are a werewolf is probably worth acting on. Werewolf: it’s a harsh, ruthless world.

This may be a interesting example of why ritual and consistency can become prized in a community. It is also a caution about the high transaction costs created by low-trust environments (e.g. ones where you worry the person you are talking to is lying). I’ve heard of (and have experienced first hand) border guards employing a form of the above strategy. This includes yelling at someone and intimidating them to the point where they confess to some error. If a a small transgression is admitted to, this can be used as leverage to gain larger confessions or to simply remove the person from the network (or, say, deny them entry into the country).

However, I suspect this strategy has diminishing returns. People who haven’t screwed up in the first two rounds probably aren’t going to. However, I suspect perpetuating this strategy  is something werewolves love. This is because it is an approach that is devoid of fact. Ultimately any minor deviation from an undefined “right” answer becomes justification for eliminating people – thus the werewolves can convince villagers to eliminate people for trivial reasons, and not spend their time looking at who is eliminating who, and who is coming to the aid of who in debate, patterns that are likely more effective at revealing the werewolves.

A note on physical setup

Virtually every time I’ve played werewolf it has been in a room, with the players sitting around a large table. This has meant that a given player can only talk, discreetly, with the player to their left and right. I have once played in a living room where people basically were in an unstructured heap.

What’s interesting is that I suspect that unstructured groups aid the werewolves. The seer strategy outlined in section 2 would be much more difficult to execute in a room where people could roam. A group of people that clustered around a single player would quickly become obvious. There are probably strategies that could be devised to overcome this, but they would probably be more complicated to execute, and so would create further challenges for the villagers.

So perhaps some rigidity to the structure of a community or network can go a long way to making it easier to build trust. This feels right to me, but I’m not sure what more to add on this.

All of this is a simple starting point (I’m sure I have few readers left at this point). But it would be fun to think of more ways that Werewolf could be used as a fun teaching tool around networks, trust and power. Definitely interested in hearing more thoughts.

Withholding FOI requests: In the Private Sector, that's fraud

It was with enormous interest I read on the Globe’s website about a conservative Ministerial Aide “unrealeasing” a document requested by The Canadian Press through an Access to Information request (The Access to Information Act ensures that citizens can request information about the government’s activities).

A federal cabinet minister’s aide killed the release of a sensitive report requested under freedom-of-information in a case eerily similar to a notorious incident in the sponsorship scandal.

What I find fascinating is the neither the minister (now at Natural Resources Canada) or the aide have been asked to resign.

Let’s be abundantly clear, if this were the private sector and a CEO was caught deliberately withholding material information from a shareholder… that would constitute either fraud and/or a violation of whichever provincial securities laws he/she was bound by. Moreover, such a crime that could carry with it a prison sentence.

And yet here, in the most cavalier manner, one of the most basic trusts that ensure accountability in our system is violated with almost no repercussions.

The story does have its dark humour (and a embarrassingly feeble attempt at an excuse):

Mr. Paradis’s current communications director said Mr. Togneri’s intervention was to suggest the Access to Information section offer fewer pages to the requester without charge rather than the entire 137 pages for a fee of $27.40, which had already been paid.

“He went through and thought that a huge section of a very big report wasn’t relevant and that you should be given the option of paying to get it or get the (smaller) chapter” without charge, Margaux Stastny said in an interview. “No one can overrule Access officers.”

The options were never provided to the requester, however. Instead, the department simply sent the censored report and refunded the fee.

Yes, I too am always comforted to know that my government is thinking of me and trying to save me a few pennies by ensuring I don’t see information they know I need not waste my time on.

I, of course, have another solution for how the photo copying money could be saved. What about emailing a digital copy of the report? Of course Access to Information requests (called ATIP or FOI for those in the US) are always handed out in paper, just to ensure you can’t do anything too useful with them… oh and to help ensure that they are late in delivering them.

So while, in this case, the Minister’s staff has committed an enormous gaffe – one that should have (and yet probably won’t) political implications, it is also a window into a broader problem:

FOI = broken.

I belong to a generation that gets information in .3ms (length of a google search) if you take 80 days to get my request to me (and edit it/censor it), you are a bug I will route around. This isn’t just the end of accountability in government, this is the end of the relevancy of government.

Negotiating – how not to manage tension

Last week Rob Cottingham pointed me to ReadWriteStart piece entitled Learn to Negotiate and Close. It’s filled with some good – if unfortunately titled – advice particularly around focusing on listening and not derailing a deal by talking too much (“Two Ears, One Mouth”) as well as speaking to your client/prospective partner’s interests (“Wait Until You Hear Them Scream”). One section, however entitled “Using Tension to your Advantage” felt problematic and tweaked the negotiation consultant in me.

For example, in that section they advocate:

Donald Trump (the real-estate developer), in his book “The Art of the Deal,” talks about guiding the other side to the point that they really want the deal and think it is in the bag. Then he backs off and demands major concessions. Smart buyers everywhere have learned some variation of this tactic.

This is when you get a knot in your stomach and may witness table-banging and raised voices. All of this unpleasant stuff is good news. Experienced deal closers recognize these as signs that a deal is closing. The absence of these signs is actually a cause for concern!

One thread running through all good negotiations is some sign of real pain from the buyer that leaves you confident you are not leaving too much money on the table. Of course, the buyer knows you will be looking for this and will send signals that you have reached their limit. The skill comes in differentiating between fake pain, as in “This is well above our budget, and my boss will kill me if I agree,” and the real thing. The buyer will also be looking for the same signs from you.

From my experience negotiating, this statement is fraught with problems – and can be downright dangerous as advice. Here are a few reasons why:

Shifting Goals

First, unless you are a deeply skilled mind reader, “reading the signs” isn’t an executable strategy. Indeed, the real risk with this strategy is that by adopting it, you shift your goal. You cease to be focused on creating a deal that you would find acceptable and start trying to identify the deal you think your counterpart will be willing to accept. You metric for success moves from what you want (or need), to what you think you think they will accept.

The fact is, you will never know the limit of what you counterpart is willing to accept until they are walking away – and even then, maybe it’s all part of an act? This belief that a good negotiator can tell the difference is simply untrue. Maybe you can read when they are bluffing and when they are not… but I’m willing to bet that however good you think you are, you can’t read them that well. Indeed, you probably have no idea what is going on in their head (just like they probably don’t know what’s going on in your head).

Promotes poor communication

This is the other part of this approach that is problematic. It promotes poor communication, and to be blunt, lying. If I think you are looking for signals that I’ve reached my limit – I’m going to send you those signals, whether you’ve reached my limit or not. In essence, I’m going to lie to you. And if I’m lying about that… what else might I be lying about? This is the dynamic that this approach helps reinforce. Rather than a negotiation that allows us to brainstorm creative solutions or identify what is really important we spend our time dancing around the issues and pour our energy in to focusing on “what signals we are sending?” and trying to “read” them.

The fact is once you tell me something is a deal breaker, and then you compromise on it – I learn that dealbreakers for you aren’t really dealbreakers, they are just efforts to manipulate me. Do that more than once and my trust in anything you say will quickly erode… which will inevitably lead to me to ask myself: why am I doing business with you?

Break down trust

The fact that poor communication breaks down trust isn’t academic. Good negotiations can only occur if there is some basic degree of trust. My willingness to share information, to brainstorm, to see the problem from your perspective are all made easier if I believe I can trust you. Breakdown trust, and you breakdown the very environment needed to create wealth and good outcomes.

If Trump tried to pull that last minute deal changing arrangement on me I’d consider walking away or throwing a bunch of my own last minute demands into the mix. Indeed, I’ve had this happen to clients before and I advise them to say: “Wow, it sounds like you’d like to change the terms of the agreement I thought we’d already agreed upon. If you aren’t happy with those terms I’m willing to reopen the negotiation over them, but have a bunch of terms I’d like to see renegotiated as well. If those issues back to the table, I think I’ll bring forward a number of my own as well.” This usually shuts this strategy down – while they may want to renegotiate pieces of the deal they aren’t thrilled with, they probably aren’t willing to do so at the risk of also renegotiating the parts of the deal they are thrilled with. There is a reason you’ve both come this far – you both believe the deal is mutually acceptable.

The real danger with the Trump strategy however (and the reason I’d seriously consider walking away) is that it underestimates the risks of exploiting the tension.  While some people might cave to Trump, I’d be asking myself the question: do I want to do business with someone who is going to constantly try to exploit me rather than work with me? Maybe Trump’s deals are always purely transactional and he’s never going to work with his counterpart on an ongoing basis. But many deals I work on don’t complete the relationship between the two parties, they start the relationship. Do you want a business partner you can trust, or one that is always seeking not to create wealth, but hive it off for themselves? Worst still – what I am teaching Trump? Every time he adds last minute changes, even if I only cave on one or two of them, I’m teaching him to make last minute demands. I’m helping make this problem worse in the future not better. All this to say that if you don’t have some basic level of trust in the person you are going to work with, are you going to share critical information? Are they going to share it with you? What is the likelihood of your business taking off in that environment? Not that good, I suspect.

Stay focus on your interests and goals

For me, exploiting the tension runs real risk of derailing the negotiation or worse, the relationship with your counterpart (nothing is more toxic than an agreement between two parties in which they hate each other/don’t trust each other, it’s pretty much guaranteed everybody will lose money in that situation). Obviously I have lots of advice around negotiating, but two things I like to keep front and centre are:

First, identify what will make you happy. In short, know your goal – what you need and why. Money is important, but so are other things: stability, duration, trust, good process, the capacity to withstand surprises. All of these (and countless others) might be important to you – figure out what really matters. In addition identify external benchmarks – outcomes from other similar deals – that you can use as reference points. Few deals are genuinely new, most deals are structured around what has occurred before. These are powerful reference points that can be persuasive to the other side (and to your own sense of fairness)

Second, create conditions for a good negotiation. The how you negotiation is as important as the what you negotiate. What irks me about the above advice is that is advocates for a how that promotes poor communication and erodes trust. You and your counterpart can set the rules for how you are going to work together – make sure you do. And remember, you are constantly modelling behaviour regarding how you expect your counterpart to act. Ultimately, some negotiations are going to get nasty – but they don’t all have to be that way and it starts by not assuming they have to be nasty.

Ultimately you can spend your time trying to “read” your counterparts or your can create an environment where you can just ask them. My preference is to focus on the later. In doing so you’re more likely to develop creative outcomes and grow the value of the deal.

sell big-ticket deals, you don’t need that many to reach your revenue targets. If you are getting venture capital to power your dreams, you may need to close only one deal for your venture to succeed. But these deals take a long time to close, almost never less than three months and often twelve months or more. By the time you enter the “closing zone,” you and your teammates have expended a lot of time and energy, your company is relying on you to close the deal, and you are starting to think about what you will do once the deal closes.

This is an exhilarating, scary, dangerous time. Exhilarating because you are so close to a big “high five” success. Scary because if you lose now when you can almost taste success, the disappointment will be bitter. Dangerous because a smart buyer could easily exploit your intense desire to close the deal and force major concessions out of you.

Donald Trump (the real-estate developer), in his book “The Art of the Deal,” talks about guiding the other side to the point that they really want the deal and think it is in the bag. Then he backs off and demands major concessions. Smart buyers everywhere have learned some variation of this tactic.

This is when you get a knot in your stomach and may witness table-banging and raised voices. All of this unpleasant stuff is good news. Experienced deal closers recognize these as signs that a deal is closing. The absence of these signs is actually a cause for concern!

One thread running through all good negotiations is some sign of real pain from the buyer that leaves you confident you are not leaving too much money on the table. Of course, the buyer knows you will be looking for this and will send signals that you have reached their limit. The skill comes in differentiating between fake pain, as in “This is well above our budget, and my boss will kill me if I agree,” and the real thing. The buyer will also be looking for the same signs from you.

Losing your temper is usually not good. It implies a lack of control and usually signals fear and weakness rather than strength. However, sometimes it can be very effective. Negotiators use many tactics to simulate table-banging without killing the deal. You can use the old good cop/bad cop routine, or the “My intransigent boss will never agree to this” line, or you could use a stalking horse to lay down a negotiating line.

Your tactic will depend on the specifics of the sale, but the one constant is that when your stomach gets in a knot, you have probably entered the closing zone, and that is good. We were engineered for fight or flight for a reason!

The Trust Economy (or, on why Gen Yers don't trust anyone, except Jon Stewart)

I was listening to Dr. Moira Gunn’s podcast interview of Andrew Keen – author of “The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet Is Killing Our Culture” – and was struck not only by how Keen’s arguments ate themselves, but how he failed to grasp the internet’s emerging trust economy.

Keen is the new internet contrarian. He argues that the anonymous nature of the internet makes it impossible to trust what anyone says. For example: How do you know this blog really is written by David Eaves? And who is David Eaves? Is he even real? And why should you trust him?

According to Keen, the internet’s “cult of anonymity” creates a low-trust environment rife with lies and spin. But the real problem is how this erosion of trust is spilling over and negatively impacting the credibility of “old media” institutions such as newspapers, news television, movie studies, record labels, and publishing houses. With fewer people trusting – and thus consuming – their products, the traditional “trustworthy” institutions are going out of business and leaving the public with fewer reliable news sources.

Let’s put aside the fact that the decline of deference to authority set in long before the rise of the internet and tackle Keen’s argument head on. Is there a decline of trust?

I’d argue the opposite is true. The more anonymous the internet becomes, and the more it becomes filled with lies and spin, the more its users seek to develop ways to assess credibility and honesty. While there may be lots of people saying lots of silly things anonymously, the truth is, not a lot of people are paying attention, and when they do, they aren’t ascribing it very much value. If anything the internet is spawning a new “trust economy,” one whose currency takes time to cultivate, spreads slowly, is deeply personal, and is easily lost. And who has this discerning taste for media? Generation Y (and X), possibly the most media literate generation(s) to date.

The simple fact is: Gen Yers don’t trust anyone, be it bloggers, newscasters, reporters, movie stars, etc… This is why “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” is so popular. Contrary to popular opinion, The Daily Show doesn’t target politics or politicians – they’re simply caught in the crossfire – the real target of Stewart et al. is the media. Stewart (and his legions of Gen Y fans) love highlighting how the media – especially Keen’s venerable sources of trustworthy news – lie, spin, cheat and err all the time (and fail to report on the lying, spinning, cheating and errors of those they cover). In short, The Daily Show is about media literacy, and that’s why Gen Yers eat it up.

In contrast, what is being lost is the “blind trust” of a previous era. What Keen laments isn’t a decline in trust, but the loss of a time when people outsourced trust to an established elite who filtered the news and, assessed what was important, and decided what was true. And contrary to Keen’s assertions, those who struggle with this shift are not young people. It is rather the generation unaccustomed to the internet and who lack the media literacy is being made transparent – sometimes for the first time. I recently encountered an excellent example of this while speaking to a baby boomer (a well educated PhD to boot) who was persuaded Conrad Black was innocent because his news source from the trial was Mark Steyn (someone, almost literally, on Black’s payroll). He blindly trusted the Maclean’s brand to deliver him informed and balanced news coverage, a trust that a simple wikipedia search might have revealed as misplaced.

Is there a decline in trust? Perhaps of a type. But it is “blind trust” that is in decline. A new generation of media literates is emerging who, as Dr. Gunn termed it “know that it’s Julia Robert’s face, and someone else’s body, on the Pretty Women posters.” And this skepticism is leading them on their own quest for trust mechanisms. Ironically, it is this very fact that makes Keen’s concerns about old-media unfounded. This search for trust may kill off some established, but untrustworthy “old media” players, but it will richly reward established brands that figure out how to create a more personal relationship with their readers.