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Good news, everybody! The FBI has found a workaround to break into the iPhone of suspected San Bernardino terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook, and the Department of Justice is backing down from Defcon 1. So now that the crisis is averted, what are some practical lessons we can learn about confrontation and conflict resolution?
Here are a few suggestions:
Both sides might be right. The FBI and Apple each claimed national security as its top concern. The FBI was thinking short-term — stop more terrorist attacks now; Apple was thinking long-term — don’t make ourselves vulnerable later. It’s entirely possible that both parties were sincere and correct.
So here’s the first takeaway. Until evidence proves otherwise, assume positive intent. Your adversary is not necessarily evil; he may just be looking at things from a different angle. Trying to understand his position before going into attack mode may avert conflict and promote mutually beneficial cooperation.
Go around roadblocks, not through them. Apple refused to cooperate. The FBI refused to back down. But as each party dug in and the deadlock stretched out, government officials did something that should renew our hope in government officials: they looked for another way of solving the problem. When the most straightforward plan of action isn’t panning out, don’t give up on finding a detour.
There might already be a solution. After arguing for months that it was impossible to break the phone’s encryption without Apple’s help, the government apparently found hackers who did what hackers said they could do from the beginning: find a way in. So if you don’t know what to do, ask someone who knows more than you do.
Nothing is foolproof. It’s a cliche, but cliches are usually true. Anything that can be protected can be broken into; and any plan can be thwarted. Or, as Yogi Berra used to say: Good pitching will always beat good hitting; and vice versa.
There are no perfect fixes. Although the Department of Justice isn’t releasing details, some believe that breaking into the phone may have caused some of its data to be irretrievably lost. A win doesn’t have to be 100%. In business, in diplomacy, and in most of life, it rarely is. If you end up with most of what you want, don’t let what you had to give up spoil your victory dance.
Save litigation as a last resort. Law suits cost everybody; except the lawyers. So if you’re not a lawyer, try everything else before you push the nuclear button.
Working together makes you look better. Black eyes and bloody noses are painful and unattractive, even when you win. I’m reminded of the Karate master who was accosted by hoods as he was leaving his dojo. “Do you want to beat me?” he asked. “Yeah, we want to beat you,” their leader replied.
The master could easily have dispatched the young miscreants without breaking a sweat. Instead, he took of his jacket and laid down on the sidewalk. “Now you have beaten me,” he said. The hoods looked at him in confusion, then drifted away.
Maybe cooperating means giving up a little more now. But you will almost certainly come out ahead in the end.