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Reading list

December 2013
Dean Andy Boynton

Reading list

Books and articles that matter

By Dean Andy Boynton

Last month, the CIA released some 1,400 pages of previously classified intelligence that supported President Jimmy Carter’s efforts to broker the historic 1978 Camp David Accords between the leaders of Egypt and Israel. Perhaps most notable among these documents is a five-page memo to Carter drafted by his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, whose “Strategy for Camp David” may be the most instructive memo I have ever read.

Howard Weinberg, a friend, colleague, and Carroll School advisory board member, brought the Brzezinski memo to my attention. In an e-mail, Weinberg pointed out that analysts have often attributed the success of Camp David to the kind of careful preparation this memo exemplifies. “It was the only successful Middle East negotiations that any president carried out, even though many of the others tried,” Weinberg, a retired principal of Deloitte Consulting LLP, noted.

Brzezinski states his paramount goal in the first sentence: Carter must “control the proceedings from the outset” and pursue a deliberate strategy for changing the hard-held positions of Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Menachem Begin, he advised. He then outlined key points Carter should continuously keep in mind.

“Sadat cannot afford a failure and he knows it; both Sadat and Begin think that you cannot afford a failure; but Begin probably believes that a failure at Camp David will hurt you and Sadat but not him,” Brzezinski wrote, and laid out several political and economic pressure points that could dissuade Begin from that belief. He underscored the risk of Carter’s being “diverted from the central issues either by Begin’s legalism or Sadat’s imprecision,” and urged the president to stay focused on the larger picture. Brzezinski also stressed the importance of negotiating separately with each leader: “You cannot expect Sadat and Begin to reveal their fallback positions in front of each other.”

Part of what fascinates me about the memo is its molecular-level analysis of the personalities, positions, and tactics. It also illustrates the level of preparation essential to almost any important meeting, not just a critical round of peace negotiations. Howard Weinberg is particularly expert at this. He once described to me how he and his team at Deloitte spent four hours scripting a five-minute conversation he was to have the next morning with a division president of a major credit card company (by phone, while the man was driving to work). Weinberg explained to me, “We took it as seriously as if we were doing a two-hour PowerPoint presentation.”

The 1,800-word Brzezinski memo is also a welcome departure from the single-page summaries currently in fashion in management. It shows that long does not necessarily mean long-winded; saying something important may take more than a page. It also highlights the importance of saying something well.

The clarity, directness, and precision of the Camp David memo underscore the reasons we encourage Carroll School students to delve more deeply into Boston College’s liberal arts offerings. Effective writing involves scoping out a complex of ideas and arguments, drawing logical connections, and expressing a position in concise, compelling prose. That requires thinking, analysis, and communication of the highest order—a bar we set for every management student.


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