Business As Usual – It Doesn’t Work!

Heidi Burgess
Guy M. Burgess

Oct. 2016

You can download this video from Vimeo for offline viewing.


This post introduces the "Business-as-Usual" Section, which examines ways in which both conflict professionals and disputants tend to approach conflicts -- intractable or not-- and why such common approaches to disputing and dispute resolving usually don't work in intractable conflicts.  The following videos then explore some of these assumptions and their short-comings in more detail. 

Video Transcript

Hi. This is Heidi Burgess. This set of videos makes up what we are calling the “Business as Usual” series.  These videos discuss the way conflict resolution professionals – and the general public-- have tended to address intractable conflicts in the past.  A number of bad assumptions, we assert, have led to bad behavior, which has created and maintained these conflicts over the long term.

The first video looks at people who believe that all you need to do with intractable conflicts is to take the same approach, but do it more, or do it better.  We will argue that that isn’t true—that these are fundamentally different kinds of problems that need fundamentally different kinds of answers.

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The second video is  “Boys Will Be Boys -- It’s Human Nature.”  But it isn’t. We also address the notion that the world is a competitive place, and the only way to win is to beat up on the other guy.  That’s the attitude that is getting us into the hyper-polarized destructive patterns we are seeing now.  As we suggest in this video…there is another way.

The third video, entitled “The Blame Game,” examines our tendency to simplify very complex conflicts by believing (and asserting) that the entire problem is caused by the other person or the other group.  They are the trouble makers, we are the good side, the right side, the innocent victims. This video illustrates that this is seldom the case—usually both sides are contributing in some way to the intractable conflict situation.

The fourth video focuses on power and what we call “the Power Strategy Mix.”  In this video we explore the difference between sources of power and power strategies and explain why the overuse of coercive power (which goes hand-in-hand with extreme competition and the blame game) is usually a losing proposition.  It’s far better to use a more balanced power strategy including enticement (the carrot) and compassion and respect (the hug) along with or instead of coercion (the stick).

The fifth video examines the common misconception that conflicts should be handled "rationally," and that emotions should be minimized, ignored or overridden. Emotions and other non-rational thought processes are an inherent part of all conflicts and decision making processes and need to be explicitly dealt with as such. At the same time, however, facts do matter. In this video we explain the metaphor of the elephant and the rider, and then switch metaphors to explain how the relationship between emotions and rationality is well illustrated in Yellowstone National Park.

The sixth video, entitled “More Bad Assumptions,” presents several more misconceptions that often plague disputants and third parties in intractable conflicts.  These include:

  • the notion that "facts" are "facts" and "truth" can be found and agreed to
  • that one's own values are superior and the "other" ought to (and likely will) change their values with good convincing
  • We are all human – so we should all just "get along."
  • Talk is all we need.
  • There's a win-win solution to all problems – we just need to understand their interests.

Unfortunately, the story is much more complex than that!

The seventh video, called “The Return of I’ll Fight You For it Rules,” looks at an outgrowth of several of the problems described earlier.  Built on an old cartoon that made fun of the notion that you can get what you want by fighting for it and the most powerful party wins, this video explains how this was seen as a joke in the 70s, but is increasingly seen as true today.

The last video in this series is entitled “Recent Peace and Conflict Paradigms.” This video describes several paradigms that have dominated the peace and conflict field from the 40s and 50s. These include the simple anti-war, anti-military paradigm, the non-violence paradigm, the anti-communism (and anti-anti-communism paradigms), the principled negotiation, win-win paradigm, the peacebuilding paradigm, the military's "winning the peace" paradigm, the herding cats paradigm, and the emerging complexity and systems paradigm. We look at the opportunities and limits of each of these paradigms, and then we add our own notion of massively parallel peacebuilding, or "cultivating peace" and explain how we hope we will foster that notion and that set of processes through this MOOS.

Photo Credits:

Slide 3: Boys:, attribution: Alslinn Ritchie (cc by-sa 2.0). Trump: obtained from: Attribution: Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Slide 4: Arguing couple: by Hydronmedia. Permission to Re-post by Stardusk and Barbarossa.

Slide 5: stick, CC0 Public Domain, no attribution required. carrot-CC0 and bear hug public domain, credit to:

Slide 6: Man riding elephant. Pixabay. CC0 Public Domain. 

Slide 8: Men CC0. 

Slide 9: Peace signCC BY-NC-SA 2.0Martin Luther King, Jr. Attribution: Unknown author [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons. U.N. Photo.  CC-NC-ND 2.0.  Boutos Boutros-Ghali U.N. Photo.  CC-NC-ND 2.0

Slide 10: Wikimedia Foundation Servers. Attribution: By Victorgrigas (Own work). CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.