Sherlock Holmes and Strategy: A Scandal In Bohemia and Two Ways You Can Improve Your Strategic Thinking

December 13, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

In the story, A Scandal In Bohemia, Sherlock encounters a problem that requires him to use a unique strategy. Irene Adler doesn't want to give up a photo of herself and the king of Bohemia. The king thinks that this photo, if made public, will ruin his chances with the king of Scandinavia's daughter. The king has already tried to rob the woman twice to retrieve the photograph, but because of the resourcefulness of Irene, he ends up short handed each time. He hires Sherlock to retrieve the photo. 

 

What is strategy exactly? Merriam Webster's dictionary defines it as, "the art of devising or employing plans or stratagems toward a goal". We use strategy on a daily basis. When you wake up in the morning, you may ask yourself, "What do I need to accomplish today?". After you figure out what you need to do, regardless of what that is, you start planning, probably sequentially, what you need to do in order to accomplish those tasks. Depending on the complexity of the tasks, you may need to get help accomplishing your goals. In a lot of ways, you are a master of strategy because you have been strategizing and planning for years. From applying for a job to playing a video game, strategy is something we use often. But some strategies may not be as obvious to us, as was the case with the king of Bohemia. What are some things we can do to improve our strategies?

 

Explore Your Options

Holmes has determined that the photograph isn't with a banker, lawyer or love interest, so the photo must be in the apartment of Irene. Holmes knows that he can get Irene to actually show him where the photograph is hidden, but  he first needs to find a way into the apartment. How is he to do this? There are only so many ways that any one person can get into a building. Here are his options. 

  • Option 1: Sneak into her apartment

  • Option 2: Knock and ask to come in

  • Option 3: Indirectly find a way in

 

 

One of the most challenging things about strategies is being able to anticipate the flow of affairs or future outcomes. We can't see into the future so what can we do to ensure things go our way? Holmes plans a very elaborate show to ensure that he is let into the apartment. He pays some people to start a fight right in front and near Irene, just outside her apartment. Her attention is drawn. Holmes walks into the fray to "protect" from the scuffle. Holmes is presumably knocked to the ground from a hard blow. The men that started the fight scurry off. Afterwards, some people amongst the crowd of onlookers suggest they bring the limp, bleeding man into her house to recover.

 

His strategy is powerful. By stepping into her way under the guise of protection, he makes her feel she owes him something indirectly. Additionally, the naturalness and speed of events, give her little to no time to evaluate if it's a good idea to let a complete stranger into her home. The events unfurl like a scene in a play. 

 

The big takeaway from this is if you want to improve your strategies, you first need to explore the options that you have. I listed three things that Holmes could have done to get into her apartment. Had he chosen to sneak into it, he would have had to devise a way to arrive when no one was there. He would also have to use his lock picking & burglar skills. Considering that the king of Bohemia had already tried this technique, it may not have been the best option to employ. Had Holmes chosen to knock and try to gain admittance, what methods could tempt her to let him inside?

  • Hello, I am with Scotland Yard and we are investigating a string of murders in the area. Can I come inside?

  • I am selling some new product that you may be interested in. Can I come inside and show you?

  • I am with the building management. They asked me to come and inspect the....can I come in?

While these methods seem tempting, they don't really guarantee that he would be let into the house. To ensure he is let into the place with the least amount of suspicion, Holmes chooses the indirect method. Exploring options takes time and effort, but the results of the strategy succeeding improve the more time we spend exploring them. 

 

Understand Human Nature

After gaining access to her apartment, the question is, how can he get her to show him where she is hiding the photograph. This particular photograph is of high value and someone has already tried to steal it two times. Apparently the hiding place for it is pretty good. She isn't just going to show him where the photograph is. He needs to play on her human nature. There are some reasons that we share things with others. 

  • Fear

  • Personal Gain

  • Relief

  • Persuade

  • Entertain

 The list is a lot longer than that I believe, but these reasons will serve our purpose. Of all the reasons she would have to share the location of the letter, the one that Holmes uses to manipulate her is fear. He has Watson throw a little 'smoke bomb', I'm paraphrasing, into the apartment when the window is open.

 

 

 

Holmes reasons on the matter later, "When a woman thinks that her house is on fire, her instinct is at once to rush to the thing which she values most. It is a perfectly overpowering impulse, and I have more than once taken advantage of it. In the case of the Darlington substitution scandal it was of use to me, and also in the Arnsworth Castle business. A married woman grabs at her baby; an unmarried one reaches for her jewel-box. Now it was clear to me that our lady of to-day had nothing in the house more precious to her than what we are in quest of. She would rush to secure it. The alarm of fire was admirably done. The smoke and shouting were enough to shake nerves of steel. She responded beautifully." He uses the pretense of fire to scare her into grabbing for the photograph, in effect, showing him where she had been hiding it. 

 

I'm not suggesting that you try to find ways to manipulate people to get what you want, but understanding human nature can go a long way towards getting your plans to come to fruition. Let's say for example, that you wanted to speak to your boss about a raise. When would be the best time to do this? Let's list some choices and think about human nature for a second. Imagine you are the boss in this scenario. How would you feel if you were being asked by someone for a raise in the following situations. Would you respond favorably or unfavorably? If so, why? 

  • When you first get to work

  • After a long stressful meeting

  • After you have eaten lunch

  • After a company party

Of course, getting a raise has a lot more moving parts than just when you ask for it, but timing is part of the equation. A good time to ask people to do you favors is when they are in good moods or have low stress. So if we come up with a  strategy for getting a raise, we need to consider when we will ask for it. This is part of understanding human nature. Understanding human nature doesn't mean that we have to spend complex amounts of time studying every nuance of every person we encounter, but placing ourselves in someone else's position can help us to understand what someone may reasonably do. This in turn will improve the outcome of your strategy. 

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