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The Opening Of "A Spy's Guide To Strategy"

Here's the opening:


He told me a lie.

And then, more lies. A whole bunch of lies.

But that wasn’t the problem.

Lies are normal, when you’re a spy.

The problem was that it was the wrong kind of lie.

Usually, a spy’s lies:

  1. Conceal something and/or;

  2. Protect the spy.

Sometimes, a spy’s lies do both. But these lies didn’t. They didn’t do either one. They did the opposite.

The lies exposed him. And didn’t protect him. The lies made things more dangerous.

Not just dangerous for him. Dangerous for me, too.

Which made me wonder if it was an accidental lie. Maybe it was a heat-of-the-moment kind of lie. Maybe it was an emotional lie. Maybe he lied from embarrassment. Or shame. Or insecurity.

Then, after he lied once, he had to lie again. And the second and third and fourth lies were told for the usual reasons. To conceal the first lie. To protect him.

Maybe that’s what happened.

Whatever the reason, I had to do something about it.

He had lied. Now, it was my turn to act.

It was my turn to do something about it.

But first, I wanted to understand why. I wanted to understand the decision behind the lies.

You see the action of a lie and you take a step back in the DADA sequence. You look at the decision to lie.

Then a step further back. What were his choices?

Then a step further back. What analysis led to that decision?

Then another step back. What information or data did he analyze to make the decision that led to that action?

Then you go back to the action and take a step forward.

What result did he expect from lying?

You look at intent.

Like the courts do. They dole out different punishments depending on why something happened. When someone gets killed, the courts want to know why.

They want to know intent.

Accidental? Negligent? If so, third-degree. A crime of passion? If so, second-degree. Maybe third. Malice aforethought? Cold-blooded and pre-meditated? First-degree. The worst kind.

It doesn’t matter if the initial crime was third-degree if a worse one followed. You get judged on the worst one. If there was first-degree crime to cover up a third-degree crime, you’re judged on the first-degree crime.

Which he had done. Whichever way they started out, his lies had become first-degree.

They were done on purpose.

Which meant intent.

And his intent mattered for a practical reason.

His intent was a clue to what he would do next.

I wanted to know how he would approach our next meeting. Would he come as a friend? Or an enemy? Or with a bunch of his friends? Who would be a bunch of my enemies.

What would he do next?

A strategic question.

A strategic question because what he would do next mattered for what I would do next.

With strategic questions, you game them out. You predict what the other side will do if you do X. If you do Y, you imagine how they’ll respond. You put it all together and choose the best path forward.

You build a strategy.

Which isn’t difficult, if there’s a predictable path for the other side.

Which there wasn’t. Because there was a wrinkle with the lying source.

A wrinkle that took away the predictable path. A wrinkle that made it difficult to build a strategy.

The wrinkle was that the lying source knew that I knew he had lied.

He knew he had been caught. He knew that I knew.

Which meant he was thinking about what I would do next. He was thinking about whether I would do bad things.

He was thinking of worst-case scenarios.

He was thinking strategically, too.

Which meant he could deviate from a predictable path. And probably would.

Which was dangerous.

Because the worst-case scenarios in his head came from spy movies. From what spies in the movies would do. James Bond. Jason Bourne. Jack Bauer.

He had seen them all. He liked to quote them to me. He liked to compare what they did to what we were doing.

Which was a problem.

Movie spies hurt people. Sometimes, movie spies kill people. Sometimes, movie spies blow up whole villages. For less than what he’d done.

Now, he was gaming out what I would do. Would I hurt him? Worse: Kill him? Worse still: Hurt his family?

I wouldn’t. But he didn’t know that.

Which was a problem.

A strategic problem.

After all, this guy wasn’t a bureaucrat. He wasn’t a businessman. He wasn’t a normal guy.

He was a tough guy. Professionally.

He’d been in fights. Fights he’d won. Fights he’d lost.

He knew what fighters know: Whoever strikes first usually wins.

If he thought a fight was coming, he’d make the first move.

He’d strike first.

Which meant I had two choices:

1. Wait for him to strike, or;

2. Strike before he did.

Which he knew.

If he thought I’d choose option 2, he’d go sooner. He’d strike before I could.

Which I knew.

It would be the logic of first strikes.

If we both thought a fight was coming, a fight was a certainty. One of us would strike as soon as there was a chance.


Which I knew. And he did, too.

Which meant I needed a good strategy.

For that, I had to see his strategy.

Because I missed it the first time.

I missed it completely.


Early reviewers of A Spy's Guide To Strategy said: "It's a delightful read," "I'll be rereading this for sure," and "Can't wait for the next one." You can read more reviews here.

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