Mental Jiu Jitsu

I was introduced to this model by Serge, my companion and partner of many of years at Baumpartner. It allows you to assess an activity or work under the following three three criteria:

  • Work: the work to be performed
  • Person: the person(s) you are working with, this can be the client or the employer
  • Money: the budget available to perform the work

The model then looks like this…

The point being that a minimum of two of the three points need to be given in order for a job to be viable. If it is only one, it is probably wiser to walk away from the job, as the likelihood for conflict or trouble is high.

So, here are a couple of examples:

  • You have been asked to do some work on a beautiful old Oak tree for some friends you have known for many years. Great work for good people. BUT they do not have a lot of spare cash. Going through the triangle model, I have two points given as good: person and work, so I decide in this case to go ahead. The wages will be covered, we will not make a profit, but in this case that is ok.
  • You get a call from a client, a rather eccentric, slightly unbalanced elderly gentleman, whom you struggle to keep your temper with every time you meet, but who keeps coming back. He has rather a nice property outside of town with a beautiful alignment of Lime trees leading up to the house that needs pruning. Although you struggle with the client, the work on his property is interesting and he has never complained about the price of the work you do and pays the invoices within ten days of receiving them without fail. In this case, although the client is difficult, work and money are given… according to the model this is a thumbs up.
  • An architect has asked you to have a look at a tree on a construction site. The tree is a Silver Maple that was topped hard about fifteen years ago with extensive decay and cavities at the old topping wounds – a real mess. You have been asked to do a crown reduction on the tree. You get on well with the architect, he gives you quite a bit of work, but on this job he explains that he has next to no budget. What to do? Well, let’s have a think about what the model says: Person is good, but neither the work, nor the money is given. Soooooo, I decide to talk to the client about the condition of the tree, that I think it is not viable to retain this tree in this location (next to a road on one side and extensive excavation planned on the other) and that I therefore think that rather than messing the tree around further, in this case it makes more sense to remove the tree – and when the building is finished, to replant a viable, young tree.

And so on… you get the idea. Essentially this is nothing else than mental self defense. It prevents you from getting backed into a corner, trying to resolve a unsolvable dilemma. In some cases it is wiser to have a clear, unambiguous position in regards to what conditions need to be fulfilled in order for you to take on the job – and to make it viable, without getting unpleasant or defensive about it – and often as not, in my experience, people will hear what you are saying and come round to your point of view, or at least to a reasonable compromise.

In very rare cases, should all else fail, it also allows you to step away from a job.

It pays to bear in mind that in many cases where systems fail catastrophically, i.e. there is an accident on site, the chain of events started way back, before the team arrives on site or even left the yard, for instance due to a flawed offer with an insufficient price on the job, meaning that from the word go, the team on site is under pressure to cut corners to make the work performed fit the price.

The triangle model can help to avoid this mental pitfall. After all, there is that term of ultimate un-ambiguity that can be very helpful in such instances: NO. Or, if you want to soften the blow somewhat: No, thank you.