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Friday 1 May 2015

Why should the devil have all the best collaborations? Creating, maintaining and developing breeding pools for potential partners

Criminals who seek to collaborate have to manage a crucial paradox: the need to be fast and flexible and simultaneously slow and certain.

To take advantage of new, perhaps sudden and unexpected opportunities requiring teamwork and collaboration criminals need to be able to identify and build relationships with suitable partners in crime very quickly. They also, however, need to take their time and be cautious about making sure that prospective partners are the 'right sort', that as well as having the required criminal skills and qualities they can, above all else, be trusted.

Managing such a paradox seems problematical at best and insurmountable at worst, but criminals do succeed in managing this paradox and gaining the benefits that result from meeting its opposing demands.

One of the ways they do this is by creating, maintaining and developing 'breeding pools' within which prospective partners in crime can evolve. This ensures there is a ready and diversely skilled supply of virtually hand-reared and reasonably trustworthy criminals (or potential criminals) that can be dipped into and used as partners as and when required.
This post will identify how the criminal underworld creates, maintains and develops the above breeding pools. It will then explore how the methods and approaches identified can be usefully and acceptably adopted and adapted by those seeking to collaborate within the legitimate overworld.

The three things criminals do when creating, maintaining and developing breeding pools for prospective partners in crime      

Criminals create, maintain and develop breeding pools within which prospective partners in crime can evolve and connect by:
  1. Finding criminal 'Goldilocks Zones' within which to place breeding pools.
  2. Managing a diversity of potentially useful partners.
  3. Developing rich betweenness centrality within and between breeding pools.

1. Finding criminal 'Goldilocks Zones' within which to place breeding pools

Criminals need to place their breeding pools for potential partners in locations where the conditions are just right. This means a location has to have a 'just right' balance between disorder and instability on the one hand and order and stability on the other. There needs to be enough disorder and instability in the environment to allow crime to get a foothold and develop, and enough order and stability in the environment to ensure crime does not grow too quickly and become unsustainable (which would mean that potential partners in crime would exhaust themselves and likely die before reaching maturity).

These Goldilocks Zones are most likely to be found in relatively well-resourced 'zones of transition', areas experiencing and more or less coping with significant and destabilising change. Good examples are the many breakaway, transitional and unrecognised states that emerged during the latter decades of the last century as a consequence of the break up of the Soviet Union. These states suffered, and in many cases still do, from 'Bespredel' (a Russian term for 'amorphous disorder'), which encourages the emergence and development of crime. They also, however, possessed cultural and historical habits of command and control (derived from their communist past) that, together with vestigial economic and industrial assets, enabled them to maintain a more or less adequate measure of law and order and societal stability.

This balance and tension between disorder/instability and order/stability provided 'just right' amounts of time and a 'just right' mix of challenges to encourage the emergence of sustainable organised crime and new and potentially useful partners in crime.

2. Managing a diversity of potentially useful partners

To ensure a quality supply of potentially useful partners, criminals stock their breeding pools with a wide array of people and organisations of 'the right sort'. They encourage diversity that is helpful to them and discourage diversity which is not.

Again, the evolution of Eastern European breakaway states provides examples of how this is done. Many of these states have created strong national identities and accompanying reputations that are very attractive to some and very off-putting to others.

The strong national identities encourage patriotic feelings in people that originate from or are native to the states concerned, and the often negative reputations (one breakaway state was described by European officials as 'a black hole in which illegal trade in arms, the trafficking of human beings and the laundering of criminal finance was carried on') tend to be attractive to criminals and repellent to the law abiding.

By developing a powerful and patriotic national identity and combining it with a negative (or positive, dependent on your viewpoint) reputation, the transitional states create a powerful means of managing the nature and diversity of those entering and/or remaining in its territory and the criminal breeding pools within it. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the wide variety of criminally skilled and talented people that find Eastern European breakaway states attractive usually tend to share patriotic feelings for the states concerned and/or possess strong historical and family connections with them. 

For example, the French Foreign Legionnaire and criminal Milorad 'Legija' Ulemek was attracted back to Serbia, the land of his birth, at the outbreak of the Bosnian War in 1992. Serbia's ultra patriotic national identity and its burgeoning reputation for offering opportunities for a wide range of criminal activity enabled him to use his unique mix of military and criminal skills to play leading roles in both the Serbian Special Forces and the development of the Serbian criminal underworld. His military and criminal careers came to an end when he was convicted of the assassinations of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Dindic and former president Ivan Stambolic.      

Those that are attracted by a transitional state's patriotic pull and the criminal opportunities suggested by its forbidding reputation will find that they are not only welcomed but also carefully farmed and cultivated. This is the secondary layer of controls used to manage the nature and diversity of the criminals operating within a transitional state and developing within its breeding pools. Through their extensive legacy, from communist times, of security and policing institutions, breakaway Eastern European states are well able to undertake this ongoing farming and controlled cultivation of the criminal elements incubating within their boundaries.   

For example, one breakaway state's security organisation chose to rationalise rather than purge the organised crime going on within its territory. This entailed 'clearing the field' of unwanted, non-advantageous 'weed-like' criminals and their operations and carefully managing and directing the activities of those criminal outfits deemed useful enough to maintain, develop and exploit to the state's and its corrupt officials' advantage.

3. Developing rich betweenness centrality within and between breeding pools

Partners in crime need to be able to find each other and the skills, resources and services they need to carry out their activities. Creating rich betweenness centrality within an environment and more specifically within and between the breeding pools for potential partners in crime facilitates this.

Betweenness centrality is about the presence, importance and influence of skilled linking people or 'brokers' who not only enable the joining up of potential partners but also point the way towards or provide essential connections, knowledge, skills and expertise, resources and services, etc. They can be visualised as the hubs of exchange that enable a system to communicate, develop and grow.

The best of the breakaway Eastern European states (in terms of developing well resourced, organised and profitable crime networks) are those that are rich in betweenness centrality. Indeed, the best of the best have mainstreamed it into the cultures and day-to-day processes of their key institutions and businesses.

The strong policing and security legacy of breakaway Eastern European states plays a significant role in the development of this betweenness centrality. Many present and past police and security officers, looking to either top up their meagre state earnings or make any money at all, have offered their knowledge and skills, and access to influential people, organisations and confidential data to those working within the grey and black criminally inclined sectors of state economies.

Unsurprisingly, these offers have been enthusiastically accepted. This has enabled serving and past security officials to establish themselves as valued and influential brokers within and between developing criminal networks and the breeding pools for potential partners placed within them. They have made themselves doubly attractive by being able to not only link people and organisations in mutually advantageous ways but also offer 'specialist services' (surveillance, protection, knowledge of criminal networks and practices, etc.) that are of particular value to criminal organisations. So, they can be visualised not only as hubs but as 'magnetic' hubs that attract splinters and shards of criminality that gradually form joined-up clusters of criminality.

Rich betweenness centrality also plays an important protective role. Any system with multiple partners and players is vulnerable to cascading information breaches and infiltration by unwanted elements. Skilled up and savvy brokers within the system (which the past and present security officers mentioned above are) can act as safety valves and early warning systems. They can slow down or prevent the flow of sensitive information into, within and out of the system, and they can deny people access to key players or warn key players of any problems or dangers coming their way.

In addition, this protective role adds an ongoing and real-time dimension to the activity of  managing the diversity of potential partners in crime. The skilled brokers within the system can identify and facilitate the removal of unwanted elements that have somehow gained entry to the criminal networks and breeding pools for potential partners. They can be thought of as the anti-bodies within the system that seek out, attach themselves to and eventually destroy foreign and damaging infections.

How the legal overworld can acceptably and usefully adopt and adapt the approaches criminals use to create, maintain and develop breeding pools for potential partners

1. Creating legal overworld 'Goldilocks Zones' within which to place breeding pools

Those wishing to collaborate within the legal overworld can learn from the amount of attention criminals give not only to creating, maintaining and developing breeding pools for potential partners but also to placing them within environments that are both safe and suitably challenging.

Those seeking collaborators in the legal overworld, because of the protection and support mechanisms that exist within society, the law being an example of the former and educational establishments being an example of the latter, can make the mistake of underestimating the importance of investing in creating and protecting their own breeding pools for potential partners and, crucially, placing them within suitably stable but also challenging environments, assuming others will take on this role.

This mistake has two consequences. Firstly, assumed pools for potential partners may in fact prove to be mirages that contain no such things. Secondly, if the breeding pools do exist they may not provide the right mix of stability and instability (or challenge) that is required to breed the type of potential partners required.

For example, leading-edge information or bio-technology companies may assume that they will find potential partners for collaborative projects from within academia. They may well do, but it is also a strong possibility that those bred and developed within the confines of universities may not be inclined towards working, or possess the collaborative business skills required to be successful, within a commercial environment.  For those that are and do, the relatively non-commercial culture of academia may not provide sufficient business challenges for them to develop the required level of entrepreneurial skills and qualities.

This is the reason why savvy, collaboration focused information or bio-technology companies invest significantly in creating and maintaining commercially focused research and development departments and associated business incubators within academic institutions. By doing so they increase their chances of not only attracting academics with the necessary interest in and aptitude for commercial collaboration but also, through relevant and stretching business challenges, producing 'business ready' academics with the necessary mix of skills and qualities.

The commercially created and funded R&D departments and their associated business incubators become Goldilocks Zones (or well-resourced transition zones) within academia that possess a 'just right' mix of stability and instability (or challenge) within which to breed and mould the type of potential partners required.

2. Managing a diversity of potentially useful partners within legal overworld collaborations     

Where criminals seeking to attract potential partners in crime create identities and reputations that discourage the law abiding but attract a wide selection of the criminally useful, those seeking to collaborate within the legal overworld can create identities and reputations that discourage the non-collaborative and attract a wide selection of the collaborative.

For example, a high profile construction project focused upon building a new rail link to London's Heathrow Airport invested great time and effort into making a collaborative, partnership approach part of their culture and identity. This collaborative culture then ingrained itself into the day-to-day activities of the project, gradually providing it with a reputation that attracted a wide range of suitably skilled and collaboratively inclined businesses and organisations with the potential to work effectively in partnership within the project.

Other ways in which businesses and organisations can develop and broadcast their collaborative intentions and begin building reputations attractive to others who may be collaboratively inclined are by:
  • Publishing databases or lists of potential partners and encouraging a wide range of people and organisations to put themselves forward for inclusion upon them.
  • Holding Unusual Suspects festivals and conferences, like the one organised by the Social Innovation Exchange, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and Collaborate, which facilitate collaborations and partnerships between a very wide range of people and organisations that would not likely meet under normal circumstances.
  • Publicising and holding 'scouting meetings' that invite and engage with a wide range of people and organisations which could be partners within a specific initiative at some future date.
  • Moving from a traditional contracting approach to an alliance contracting approach, which involves pre-contractual discussions with potential partners about the focus, approach, and measures and indicators of success for a collaborative project.
  • Encourage an appropriate amount of open networking, as is done by LIONS (LinkedIn Open Networkers) on the business network 'LinkedIn', to disrupt relationship channels that are becoming too fixed and habitual and refresh them with new people, insights and thinking.                       
On balance, the above activities are more likely to attract the collaboratively rather than the non-collaboratively inclined.

Once a wide diversity of potentially useful partners has been attracted and welcomed it needs to be carefully cultivated. Just as criminal collaborations 'rationalise and regulate' the criminals active within their environments, so too legal overworld collaborations need to rationalise and regulate the collaborative activity going on within theirs.

This is, of course, tricky. A top-down somewhat heavy-handed approach (as favoured by the criminal underworld) will likely prove ineffective within a legal overworld context, with partners becoming rightly perplexed, irritated and outright annoyed about being managed, directed, pruned or even culled, rather than consulted, engaged and collaborated with. Never-the-less, there is a need for some careful management and controlled cultivation of the collaborative activity going on if the pursuing of hidden agendas is to be avoided and collaborative goals are to be achieved.

The regulation and rationalisation of legal overworld collaborative activity can be achieved acceptably and effectively through 'tough love'. To be more specific, it can be achieved through the facilitation of open, transparent and often difficult conversations which are designed and structured to explore and deal with areas of conflict and differing agendas, needs and expectations.

For example, one leading IT company kept their collaborative projects on track by regularly organising high profile meetings between all key partners to openly thrash out problems, difficulties and conflicts and address any apparent freeloading or other non-collaborative behaviour or activity that was emerging.

These meetings were carefully designed to ensure that all key players had their say and that all sides of an issue were explored. They were also chaired by very senior managers who, because of their track records and reputations, were trusted and respected by all the partners involved. Importantly, these chair people were empowered to encourage partners to make decisions during the meetings that would address the various difficulties. They were also given the authority to approve these decisions there and then.

The transparent, inclusive and high profile nature of these meetings, the fact that they were chaired by senior and respected managers, and the expectation that decisions would be made and approved 'there and then', achieved two important things. Firstly, it made the entire process open and transparent to all the key partners and ensured that they were appropriately consulted and involved in the decisions made. Secondly, the emphasis upon making and approving decisions during meetings (plus their high profile nature and the close involvement of empowered senior management) added an appropriate amount of pace, direction and 'pressure of expectation' to the process that strongly encouraged partners to deal with difficulties and conflicts, etc., in a timely manner. This helped ensure that collaborative projects regulated and rationalised their activities (and where necessary dispensed with partners that were no longer needed) swiftly and efficiently.

3. Developing rich betweenness centrality within and between overworld breeding pools for potential partners

Those seeking to encourage, develop and join up potential partners for legal overworld collaborations can gain much from adopting and adapting the ways the criminal underworld develops and uses skilled brokers to enrich the betweenness centrality of its collaborative networks and breeding pools for potential partners.

As mentioned earlier, betweenness centrality is about the presence, importance and influence of skilled linking people or 'brokers' who enable the joining up of potential partners and can point the way towards or provide essential connections, knowledge, skills and expertise, resources and services, etc. They can be visualised as the hubs of exchange that enable a system to communicate, develop and grow.

Criminals know that they have to 'magnetise' the brokers or linking people within their collaborative networks and the breeding pools for developing potential partners contained within them. They know it is not enough to introduce and resource brokers, and that it is not even enough to ensure that brokers have good collaborative skills. Criminals know that for brokers to be effective in their roles they need to act as magnets within the network, attracting people to them not just because they have good contacts but also because they possess invaluable knowledge, skills, expertise and experience that aspiring criminals need.

Those seeking to create legal overworld collaborations need to realise a very similar thing: that to attract potential partners the brokers they introduce to their collaborative networks need to be magnetised with the power of valued and sought after (mostly legal overworld) knowledge, skills, expertise and experience.

For example, charitable and not-for-profit organisations seeking to work collaboratively with the corporate sector will be attracted to brokers who can not only introduce them to likely corporate partners but also provide guidance about best practice business approaches and how best to sell their ideas to big business.

Jonathan Andrews of 'Remarkable Partnerships' is such a broker. He attracts potential collaborators from the not-for-profit sector not only because he has connections that bridge the not-for-profit and corporate sectors but also because he has business and sales skills, expertise and experience that is highly valued by the not-for-profit sector. This magnetises his brokering role, so exponentially enhancing his effectiveness and adding significantly to the richness of the betweenness centrality of the collaborative networks of which he is a member and the pools of potential partners that stream towards him.      

Another example of legal overworld magnetised brokers that attract potential collaborators are the self-advocates and people with lived experience that participate in Local Involvement Networks (networks initiated by the Department of Health to give people a greater say in the workings of their health and social services).

These people are attractive as brokers not only because their membership of the network provides them with connections that span local health and social care sectors but also because they possess unique first-hand experience of the problems faced by those with health and social care needs. This magnetises their brokering role and enables them to attract both consumers and providers of health and social care services. Thus, like Jonathan Andrews, they are able to add significant richness to the betweenness centrality of collaborative networks and the pools of potential partners within them.

Lastly, legal overworld collaborations will benefit immensely from exploiting the protective potential of the brokers or linking people within their networks. For example, the previously mentioned senior and respected managers who acted as brokers within and between their organisation's collaborative projects were able to identify emerging problems caused by inappropriate flows of information and resources and quickly gain agreement for creating organisational information filters and firewalls that would address them. Members of the NHS's Local Involvement Networks, especially those with 'magnetised broker' characteristics, have played a similar role. They gained and passed on early and informal warnings of emerging problems at local NHS hospitals which enabled those with the power to provide remedies to respond quickly and effectively.      

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