A bridge in New York.

Discussion Causes Delay. Avoid Discussion.

To get things done, embrace secrecy.

He wouldn’t listen. In fact, he seemed to openly mock them. They couldn’t figure out why. Their plan was obviously better. Yet Robert Moses refused to consider, no matter the plea. Robert Moses, the figure responsible for “658 playgrounds in New York City, 416 miles of parkways, and 13 bridges,” would not compromise. In an era of stagnation and depression, he built and built and built and built. The New York Times described him as the person “who played a larger role in shaping the physical environment of New York State than any other figure in the 20th century…”

I had never heard of Robert Moses before listening to the book, The Power Broker, by Robert A. Caro. I had no idea who he was or what his impact had been on New York State or New York City. Now I do. And one thing is clear: he got things done, regardless of the rampant political corruption, bureaucratic oversight, and financial constraints of the time.

I should mention that his tactics were not necessarily… ethical.

He dabbled in blackmail, manipulation, intimidation. He wrote bills that slyly provided himself with vast governmental powers. And yet… New York wouldn’t be the same without his contributions. So do the means justify the ends? Read The Power Broker and decide for yourself. Regardless, there was one tactic that Moses used time and again to move his projects forward: secrecy.


Secrecy in Riverside Park

During the Great Depression, money for new parks was hard to come by. Parks were a luxury, not a necessity. However, it was during this time that Moses determined to build up New York City’s Riverside Park. His previous projects on Long Island were spacious. He had plenty of land to work with. In the city though, space was tight and many would be impacted. Combined with financial limitations, the park would be a challenge. Yet Moses was undeterred.

He secured the land. He secured the money. And when others questioned his route for the adjacent road and railway, he disregarded them. He knew what they didn’t. Their suggestions were valid, but the money was allotted for that route and that route alone. However, he didn’t share this information publicly.

Making that knowledge public would have sparked a conversation. And Moses knew that any discussion of the project would only lead to delays. Delays didn’t get parks built or bridges erected. His prior successes had used secrecy to move things forward. He kept his plans private until the work was underway. Once it had begun, there was no stopping it. He applied that same tactic with Riverside Park. While objections were made and hearings were scheduled, Moses was building.

By the time those hearings came to pass, the project was already underway. The existing landscape had been permanently altered. There was no going back. The opposition lost. Moses won.


Walking with Inspiration

You wake up. Feeling inspired by the sunshine you set a new goal: walk one mile each day. You’re excited. You can’t wait to start. As you arrive to the office, you tell your coworkers the news. They’re happy for you. A few of them ask questions. Questions like:

  • Where will you walk?
  • Will you carry a weapon with you? Just in case…
  • What kind of shoes will you use?
  • Will you wear sunscreen during your walks? What SPF?

They’re good questions. You’re grateful for their interest. You tell them that you hadn’t thought much about it yet. They say that you really should. Especially before embarking on something so new. You agree. And so you start researching. You find a route by your house that would be perfect. You mention it to the group. Someone says, “I know that spot. It’s pretty. You should look over by my complex though. It’s even prettier.” Someone else chimes in, “Oh, I live right by there too. A couple blocks over is an even better spot. You should walk there instead.”

You get home. Instead of walking, you research more routes. I should show these to the group tomorrow.


More Research Is Needed

You spend the next afternoon researching proper walking attire. You bring it up to the group. “Which shoes do you think would be better?” You show them the handful you have in mind. Their answers are mixed. The consensus though is that none of them will work. They suggest you do more research. You go back to your desk and keep looking. You return to the group later that day. They give you the same response.

You get home. Instead of walking, you research more shoes. I should show these to the group tomorrow.

The next day you debate the merits of carrying a weapon with you on your walks. You say, “I wouldn’t even know what to do in that situation.” Someone says, “You should take a self-defense class. There’s a place down the street that offers them every quarter.” Every quarter? That’s so far away. You thank her for the suggestion. Back at your desk, you look up classes that occur more often. You mention them to the group. They encourage you to go to the place down the street instead.

You get home. You don’t walk. And you don’t research. Instead, you sit. You’re not going to walk until you can take that class. And you have two and a half months until they offer another one. So there’s nothing to do but wait. When the class finally opens, you’re not in attendance. You’re at home, sitting, waiting for the sunshine to inspire you once again.


Avoid Discussion Moving Forward

Discussion causes delay. Delay causes postponement and cancellation. Secrecy encourages action. Secrecy promotes doing the work. Where discussion may make you feel like you’re progressing, secrecy will actually make you progress. The context doesn’t matter. When you talk too soon, it becomes a panel discussion. And that panel will slow you down. It may even make you quit.

Instead, keep your goals to yourself. At least in the beginning.

Once you put in the work, go ahead and share. But not until then. Recall Robert Moses. His intentions were private until stakes were in the ground. Discussion before that point would have led to delay. Discussion after that point was irrelevant; time and money were already spent. No panel would reverse his actions.

I call this the plane ticket moment. Before you book a flight, it’s just talk. Your likelihood of going on that trip is low. You will be easily deterred by discussion. Once you purchase the ticket though, you’re going. Especially if you don’t get travel insurance. No amount of discussion will sway you. You took action. Time and money have been spent. You’re committed. At that point, you’re clear to share the news. But not until that point. Where discussion leads to delay, secrecy leads to action.

To achieve what you’re after, avoid discussion.

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