Life Strategy: The Enlightened Collaborator

two puzzle pieces fitting together against sky and sun background

We already talked about collaboration as a life strategy for success on this website.

See for example:

However, we haven’t talked about the best approaches to ensure effective collaborative yet.
And we haven’t clarified why it’s superior to both naive collaboration, or cynic defection.
So this article will show you exactly why collaboration is power, and how to make sure that your collaborations are safe and effective.

two puzzle pieces fitting together against sky and sun background

Win-Win Starts With Mindsets

The mindset always comes first.

The mindset precedes the strategies.

The collaborator mindset is the belief that win-win is possible and preferable.

The collaborator mindset is what leads you to approach people and situations asking yourself first how a win-win could be reached.

That of course that doesn’t necessarily mean that win-win will always be possible.
And it doesn’t even mean that you enter all relationships that present a potential win-win, either. 
Some of those exchanges might add too little of a benefit, or you might have other priorities in life.

The collaborator mindset does however mean that you assess new people and scan new situations asking yourself how win-win could be achieved.

The collaborator mindset is what makes a win-win strategy possible.
And by approaching life with the win-win mindset in mind, you increase the odds that:

  1. you will find more opportunities for win-win
  2. you will create more opportunities for win-win by looking for ways with which win-win could be achieved
  3. you will enter and enter into more win-win exchanges and relationships

The final result?
More value created, more power, and more happiness.

No guarantees, but enlightenment helps

It bears repeating.

It takes two to tango.
And it takes two to collaborate.

Since you cannot always control what others will do, your collaborative mindset does NOT guarantee win-win.

That would be a naive way of looking at life (“naive cooperator”).

But a collaborator mindset allows for win-win. You still need to find, assess, and filter through for other cooperative individuals with whom to play/enter into win-win relationships.
And that’s where the enlightened collaborator makes a difference.

The enlightened collaborator actively seeks expertise on crucial life skills such as:

This is the knowledge that transforms you from a simple collaborator, into a Jedi social strategist ready for life’s success.  

Defection: It Also Starts With (Cynic) Mindsets 

There is quite some cynicism permeating our world.

The popular literature on power -see “The 48 Laws of Power“- largely rests on cynicism and on dog-eat-dog philosophy.

And it’s not wrong. It’s actually a great book. But, as we shall see, it’s also not the whole picture.
It’s only the dark side of the moon portion. 

And you’re not gonna be successful if you stay stuck in the dark.

But there are bigger threats when it comes to “poisonous cynicism”.

Popular movements such as feminism and the red pill are also both based on massive doses of cynicism.
Many feminists and red-pill men learn to approach life with a win-lose view of relationships, and the belief that win-win is hardly possible, or outright impossible.

Cynicism: A Manipulative Siren Against PC

In a way, I can see why cynicism is so successful.
Political correctness and much of popular self-help are so out of touch with reality that cynicism sounds more “real”.

Unluckily, going from an extreme to another is rarely the solution. And the full-on cynicism is the equivalent of the Ulysses’ sirens calling.
And those cynic sirens only deliver loneliness, anger, and bitterness.

Some of the “leaders” of cynic and win-lose movements are manipulators who make up enemies for personal power

At the extreme, a cynic mindset believes that people -or a certain group of people- are too selfish, manipulative, and untrustworthy to ever do anything out of kindness, or to ever enter a win-win relationship.

If you’re a reader around here, I’m sure you can already see the issue with that: if you don’t believe that win-win is even possible, how are you ever going to achieve it?
Answer: it’s either someone shoves it down your throat till you finally realize “ugh, it’s possible” or, more likely… It ain’t gonna happen.

Indeed, the far likelier tragedy of ultra-cynicism is that cynicism creates its own world of lose-lose (“self-fulfilling prophecy”).

Donald Trump: A Case Study for Cynic “Always-on” Competition

In politics, Trump is a great example of the cynic self-fulfilling prophecy.

I’m almost glad the Trump phenomenon happened, since it provides the perfect case study.

Trump shows what happens when an ultra-cynic approaches relationships with a competition-first mindset.
And what happens is that he creates a world of enemies.

Read more here:

Or just take a look at this picture:

Sure, CNN is biased.
But we can probably agree Trump made way too many enemies.

The Cynic Mindset

Clinical psychologist Harriet Braiker does a great job describing the psychology of manipulators.

The “manipulator’s mindset” Braiker describes is the same as the win-lose mindset we discuss here, which in turn is the same as the “defector strategy” of game theory.

In brief, conversely to the enlightened, win-win mindset, the cynic defector believes that win-win is neither possible, nor ideal.

This is how the cynic thinks:

  • You either play or get played: it’s a zero-sum world of dog-eat-dog. You either play, or you get played
  • There is no win-win: in a zero-sum world full of nasty people, there cannot be win-win
  • Relationships between equals do not exist: it’s either one wins, or he loses. And since nobody wants to lose, they want to make sure their partner loses
  • You cannot trust others: since everyone is out to play you, defectors obviously cannot trust others.

Some cynics and inveterate defectors also see themselves as untrustworthy and are proud of it.
On ThePowerMoves we call this attitude “proud-value taking”.

Game Theory Proves Ultra-Cynicism False

The prisoner’s dilemma offers a simple way to test the win-lose approach.

Take this variation of the prisoner’s dilemma:

prisoner dilemma matrix
  • Win-win: they both get $10
  • Win-lose: the defector gets $20 and the cheated gets nothing 
  • Lose-lose: they both get $1

The cheater “wins big” the first time.
But as soon as the game is repeated, the collaborator most likely adjusts his strategy to defect as well, and the game turns into a lose-lose for both (Nash Equilibrium). If you run this game for 3-4 times the defector strategy is a losing one.

As a matter of fact, the more you run the game (repeated game), the bigger the opportunity loss.

What are these repeated games in real-life?

Repeated games are our relationships.
Our friends, spouses, brothers, sisters, colleagues, neighbors… These are our real-life repeated games.
And the cynic loses opportunities for collaborative and healthy relationships with the most important people in life.

The game is simplistic, of course.
And yet, it offers a good approximation of many real-life relationships (it has “high external validity”).

The Different Mindsets Leading to Totally Opposite Lives

Post-interviews confirm the two different mindsets.

Cooperators who played against defectors shrug it off saying that the game is just like real life, and there are all different sorts of people -and they’re right-.
Cooperators walk away that are still open to future collaboration and win-win.

But the defector?
The defector walks away that he has shaped his reality to one of cynic win-lose, and he then uses that reality of his own making to justify his own strategy and life approach.

Many defectors don’t even realize that it’stheir own distrusting approach to life that breeds distrusts, aggression, and win-lose approaches from other people.

The collaborative reality of collaborative mindsets

The life experience for people who believe that cooperation is possible is much different.

Says Braiker:

Trusting people who allow for the possibility that others can, on occasion, choose to behave altruistically and/or generously can choose to cooperate because it is rational and adaptive will be open to the possibility of trusting relationships.
If you approach the world with an open but realistic attitude that allows for both kinds of people—trusting souls and self-promoting competitors—your experiences will mirror your expectations. You likely will meet both kinds of people and have the opportunity to form relationships in which mutual trust and cooperation exist and are cherished by both participants.

Braiker, 2013

For a deeper analysis on the failure of “ultra-cynicism”, read:

Abundance HR mentality

To me, this is a form of abundance mentality.

This is abundance mentality when it comes to “human resources”.

Since there are countless of people, and a good chunk of them are awesome people happy to collaborate, it means that the scope of collaboration and win-win is almost infinite to you.

All you gotta do, is to find them.

Enlightened Collaborator Approach

illlustration of social exchange archetypes

The basic of smart collaboration is simple:

Collaborate with collaborators, and be extra careful with cheats.
Then, we add to increase the scope of cooperation, and “cover your ass” since few people are 100% honest or 100% cheats and most people are shades of grey who can turn either way.

This approach is sound.
It’s based on positive cynicism, and proven power strategies.

The enlightened collaborator is power intelligent and, as such, a realist. He accepts that social exchanges entail a risk, since people are not always trustworthy and dependable, and interests can misalign with anyone.
It also accepts the reality that not only people’s predispositions and characters differ, but that context also matters, and the same people can behave differently -or change behavior- as the context changes.

But the enlightened collaborator’s approach runs deeper. 
The enlightened collaborator takes it upon himself to protect the downsides while increasing the pie of the exchanges:

  1. Incentivize and increase the scope of collaboration
  2. Disincentive defection & cheating
  3. Lead towards collaboration
  4. Assess people’s characters
  5. Minimize “exchange risks”

1. Increase Scope for Collaboration

Since collaboration brings benefits to anyone, the enlightened collaborator increases the scope and opportunities for cooperation.

Some of the techniques he deploys:

  1. Make the pie larger: so there is more for everyone
  2. Align interests: the more you align interest, the better it is for both to collaborate, and to stick to collaboration. An example of aligning interest is to avoid paying a contractor based on hours, which incentivizes him to be ineffective, and pay instead for completed projects.
  3. Collaborative reframing: the mindsets and techniques to turn and steer relationships towards win-win.
    It can be as simple as saying “I value you and our collaboration”, which serves as a goodwill signal of your willingness to collaborate for win-win.
    Linked above is the example of collaborative reframing to improve a relationship that was teetering on the verge of competition and one-upmanship
    1. Collaborative shaming: “collaborative shaming” is a specific technique part of “collaborative reframing”. It consists of shaming people who are playing win-lose games in an effort to lead them towards a more fruitful win-win for both.  Collaborative shaming against shit-tests: an example on using collaborative shaming to handle female shit-tests
  4. Frame cementing: once a positive and collaborative frame has been set “cementing” strengthens that frame and increases its power and its ability to influence behavior over the long term
    1. “I’m glad we agree”: a power move to cap a win-win frame reminds people that you both agreed on a course of action that is good for both
  5. WIIFT: approaching people with a mindset of “what’s in it for them” increases the chances that they will see the exchange as win-win, which in turn increases the chances they will want to collaborate
  6. Sticking with value-adding collaborators: so simple, yet such a crucial life hack. When you find good people in your life, keep them! You found a treasure, cherish it.

1.2. Gentleman Warrior Approach

Sometimes, you have a declared enemy.

And you both know it.

However, you still have two choices:

  1. Antagonize & hate = turns an enemy into a bigger enemy
  2. Fight while respecting the opponent = can turn an enemy into a smaller enemy

Let’s take as an example former mafia boss Joseph Massino.
Massino took the Bonanno family when it was in tatters, and brought it back as the most powerful of the five New York families.
Massino always kept a “gentleman warrior” approach.

The mindset of the gentleman warrior approach is:

Yes, we’re enemies and we want to beat each other. And I’ll do be darn best to beat you. But we can still be courteous while we compete.

It’s a bit like the mindset of “tough on ideas, but kind on people, which in this case becomes “tough in the game/fight, but kind on the opponent outside of the game/fight“.

Massino imposed the same mindset and approach to all of his family.

It can take some emotional maturity to apply this mindset, and most people get swept away by the competitive spirit.

Let’s see some applications in real life:

The Attitude of Antagonizing

Franzese: I became a major target of law enforcement (exactly what you want to avoid), I was indicted 5 times, beat every case (that’s a huge red flag: your enemy is dogged). Rudy told me “Franzese, if I convict you on this, you’re gonna get double what your father got, I’m gonna give you 100 years. I said “Rudy, bring it on, I beat you 4 times, let’s go for round 5.
(now wise Franzese speaking) Guys, that’s the dumbest thing you could ever do. You don’t antagonize them (the FBI), they don’t need any more incentives to come after you.

Exactly right, that type of attitude gives them incentives to come after you harder, and to punish you harder if they can catch you.
Furthermore, if convicted, you also provide them a valid reason to treat you like a devilish enemy -very different from a “gentleman’s enemy”-.

That’s an attitude that some criminals and mobsters have against the police.
And it only makes their life -as well as the police’s life- harder.

Flaunting how you’re “beating” them will also make your enemy more dogged in your pursuit.
See John Gotti or Al Capone.
They both might have stayed free far longer, if they had avoided the spotlight and the attitude of “I beat them and I rub it in”.

The Effects of Antagonizing

From that same video:

Franzese: I’ve witnessed some things that were kind of unpleasant, every once in a while the agents would get out of hand (goes on to tell a story of an FBI agent who ruins his family dinner, ends up drawing a gun)

Before the rights of detainees were extended, beatings of detainees were also common -of lower-level mobsters mostly, as cops were also probably worried of assaulting higher-power mobsters-.

Life’s Mindset: The Gentleman Warrior Attitude

Now compare with Joseph Massino, who took a far more friendly with law enforcement:

“Get used to my face, because you’re going to see a lot of it for a long time”, Pat Marshall, the agent who had been hunting Massino, forwarned when he was brought to FBI headquarters (Pat starts off with a competitive frame).
Marshall recognizes that he was confronting an imperturbable foe. “He took my warning with a grain of salt and said calmly no problem, do what you got to do” (ignores the competitive frame, installs a gentleman’s frame to competition)

Massino called the FBI agents by name, and was always courteous.
In one instance, he even defended an FBI agent who was being encircled and then gave him back the electronic surveillance device Massino had uncovered.

The Gentleman Warrior Effects

Being courteous towards your enemy might not prevent you from losing.

In our case study here, the law will still take its course.

But it won’t hurt for sure, and it might as easily soften your loss, and shorten your sentence.

Plus, it will likely make the process, and the possible conviction, far easier on you.
From the same book:

Picked up at his Howard Beach home, Massino politely asked to be cuffed outside, not in the presence of his wife and teenaged daughters.
“Because he was always the gentleman and cordial with us”, Marshall granted him that favor.

2. Decrease Scope for Defection

Let’s start with the classics:

  • Increase the costs of defection: there are many ways of going about it, spanning from fair and honest, to coercive and Machiavellian

As an example for coercively increasing the costs of defection, think of mafia organizations.
The mafia in Italy is said to be stronger than in the US.
One of the reasons might be because the Italian mafia has higher penalties for informers (cheaters). The penalties include going after the cheaters’ families (attention; this is not to say that we approve of either mafia, or of that ).

Massino was a master of Machiavellian collaboration.
Says mafia historian Selwyn Raab in “Five Families“:

Massino pressured captains and soldiers to volunteer their sons as made men (…) by recruiting offspring and placing them in the fathers’ crews, the capos’ lips would be sealed to protect their sons—and himself. And crew commanders would know that if they became traitors, their sons would be endangered by internal retaliation, possibly death. Massino insured that a defector would have a lot to lose.

More Techniques

You can never be 100% sure someone is not going to cheat.

But life is not about “100% certitudes”, but a question of odds.
And there is plenty of things that the enlightened collaborators can do to increase the odds he deals with honest collaborators who will be adding value and not looking for ways to scam him.

  1. Assessing people: the enlightened collaborator seeks knowledge of psychology and power dynamics to help him assess people and discern cynic defectors and “Machiavellian collaborators” from more honest collaborators
  2. Collaborative foot forward: it means to start with collaboration and/or with a warm and friendly opening. the enlightenment collaborator, knowing psychology, knows that the best way to start a win-win is to open with a win-win. That approaches increases social trust right off from the bat and makes more friends and allies.
  3. Strings-attached giving: give, but while keeping some form of leverage (ie.: the option of taking something back)
  4. Test-giving: give freely, demand nothing back, act like you don’t care. Then, keep an eye on who is grateful for your giving, who is not, and who just asks for more
  5. Looking dumber: this works both to test people, and to increase the odds that a possible attack or manipulation will be easy to fend off, or to recoup from, since people will be more careless
  6. Keeping a few aces up his sleeve: imagine you got an alarm system and a motion-activated camera recording system. You can share about the alarm, but you keep the information about the camera private. You never know who you catch going through your stuff
  7. Silver medal technique: to decrease the incentives for lying and cheating by making it about two attractive options one can get, rather than about an attractive option, or nothing

And, finally, when win-win exchanges are not possible:

  1. Keeping a safe distance: once you spot a manipulator, always avoid getting too close. Either cut them out, fade them, or keep them at a distance
  2. Seek power to avoid win-lose: the enlightened collaborator knows that powerlessness is dangerous. When you have no power, you are the equivalent of the lamb hoping there are no wolves

Social exchange techniques

And some more slightly elaborated techniques:

  • Fair value marketing: one of the core techniques of win-win framing and strengthening.
    • Promotion: to promote one’s value-provision effectively, and in a way that they are recognized by the other party. 
    • Appreciation: to appreciate the value contributions of other(s) to make them feel valued and appreciated. It also indirectly frames the exchange as win-win, while encouraging them to keep on giving to meet your appreciation and gratitude (can turn into a positive judge frame). Example in Power University.
  • Here’s tit, where’s tat: a technique to give or to remind of your value giving before you ask for something. It serves to remind people that you have given in good fait and it increases the odds they’ll give back
  • Credit collection: to remind people of your value giving, which indirectly reminds them that it’s also supposed of them to remain collaborative and give back
  • Positive displays of leverage: to remind people of your leverage in the exchange, but to do so within a positive frame.
    See an example here:

“It deserves a good review” is a positive display of leverage, as it indirectly reminds him of my negotiation leverage on him.

For more, also read: “fundamental strategies of power“.

3. Protect Your Downsides

This is part and parcel of Machiavellian strategic thinking.

You do everything possible to remain win-win, but… You can never be sure that it will stay that way.

So, oo be on the safe side, do all the above, plus prepare for the possibility of cheating and defecting.

A popular example of protecting one’s downsides is a prenup agreement

Dating With Enlightened Collaboration

The enlightened collaborator mindset well extends to dating and relationships as well.

Depending on the partner, early dating might require less -or more strategic- giving and more strategic display of value and/or power in the beginning, see:

But as the relationship unfolds collaboration and win-win come back to the fore for developing a strong and healthy relationship:

Or famed researcher John Gottman says that strong relationships have collaborating partners who build each other up and share power and influence (Gottman, 1999):

When Needed: Machiavellian Collaboration  


the enlightened collaborator is not just stuck to “collaborate” or “non collaborate”.

And he can also adopt a strategy of “opportunistic collaboration” mixed with “opportunistic defection”.

The name “Machiavellian collaboration” might sound devious and amoral and, in some cases, it is amoral.
But, in some situations, it can be fair game.

In competitive environments where one person only can win, the enlightened collaborator might prefer to avoid entering any win-win exchange if he feels that he gives more value than he takes.

This can be an effective strategy in dating, for example, as well as in workplace environments.
Workplaces are grey areas environments that are not fully zero-sum, but where rewards and promotions are not infinite either. 
We already showed that Machiavellians tend to win in the office.
But which strategy will work depends on your context, so you must judge what’s effective on a case by case basis.

For more, refer to:


A collaborator mindset is what allows you to establish win-win relationships.

The enlightened collaborator, equipped and trained with power dynamics knowledge,  is the next step along the line of personal evolution.

But it all starts with a collaborator’s mindset first, and the belief that collaboration is possible.
Don’t let the cynics drag you down. 
Make friends, and develop value-adding relationships, instead. I’ve personally experienced it hundreds of times. And life is much better that way.

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