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Friday Summary- December 4, 2009

I had one of those weird moments today where I found an unrelated part of my life unexpectedly influenced by my martial arts background.

I was asked to critique a research paper by someone I haven’t worked with before. Without going into details, this particular paper had a fatal flaw.

It opened with a negative position, then attempted to justify the positive. It started defensively, and in the process lent credence to the opposing view, as opposed to strengthening the author’s position. In other words, it started with, “here’s what you say about X, and why I think Y” as opposed to, “here is position Y, and why it is correct and X is wrong”.

In advising the author, I remembered a lesson I learned when I first started teaching martial arts (traditional taekwondo). I was giving a class on unarmed restraint techniques, which adapted some experiences in physical security to martial arts. They’re similar to police restraint techniques, but adjusted for not having a firearm (police techniques involve protecting the firearm so the bad guy can’t grab it while being restrained) or handcuffs. In the class were two of my instructors, helping me learn to teach. I started by saying something like, “I’m no expert”, and one of them walked off right then and there.

At a break he came back and asked if I knew why he had left. He told me to never start a lesson or debate by disqualifying myself as an authority. I essentially told the class they shouldn’t listen to me, because I didn’t know what the frack I was talking about. Self-deprecating humor, applied appropriately, is fine – but never start from a position of weakness. I was trying to be humble, but instead destroyed any reason someone would want to learn from me.

Over time I expanded this lesson to “Never start with a negative when your goal is to prove a positive.” Essentially, that places the opposing view ahead of yours and forces you into a defensive position. If I’m writing research to show the value of DLP, I sure as heck better not start it with all the criticisms against DLP.

It’s kind of like a fight. If you allow the opponent to control the ring and dictate the pace, your odds of winning are much lower. You can never win on defense alone.

One important corollary is that you also shouldn’t expect someone to agree with your position based on your credentials alone. I get seriously annoyed by other analysts/pundits who make pronouncements, yet never back them with evidence. Start from a position of strength (assuming you are the expert), but also lead the reader, with evidence and logic, to reach your conclusions for themselves.

Most black belts are crappy martial artists and teachers… if their techniques suck, find another one. Respect still needs to be earned.

Enough with the preachy stuff…

On to the Summary:

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Blog Comment of the Week

This week’s best comment comes from David in response to Quick Thoughts on the Point of Sale Security Fail Lawsuit (there were a TON of good comments in this thread, including some from Anton Chuvakin):

With the Radiant POS Lawsuit one wonders if a Micros POS suit will follow? As a QIRA forensics investigator, I saw a 10 to 1 compromise rate of Micros over Radiant systems. Micros REM had such bad stretch of PCI failures.

—Rich

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By David Mortman  on  12/04  at  08:19 AM

Or as a colleague once said to me when reviewing a paper I was writing:

“Never apologize for what you are about to say.”

Similarly, never start a talk with “this is the first time I’ve ever given a talk”.

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