Of MICE and Men & Building Tribe – Forward Observer Shop

Of MICE and Men & Building Tribe

A topic that is often brought up in discussions of building tribe and establishing a local community support network, is “how do I convince people they need to be preparing?” The key of course, is that catechism of unconventional warfare, “building rapport,” or as it is often referred to by people who watched the utter failure of inappropriate attempts at it in Vietnam, “winning hearts and minds.”

What does “building rapport” actually mean though?

Contrary to unfounded rumors to the contrary, I am not some solitary, curmudgeonly hermit living on a mountaintop in Montana. I’m actually a pretty gregarious, sociable kind of guy. I like to laugh and crack jokes—generally at my own expense. I meet a lot of people over the course of any one given day in a town or city, and generally manage to elicit smiles and positive comments, simply through the practice of being nice and being friendly. That’s a pretty critical first step in building rapport of course.

I don’t feel it incumbent upon me to proselytize preparedness at every individual I meet so I’m not in-your-face about it with people. In fact, outside of an occasional, very pointed question, if I see an opportunity arise in an otherwise normal conversation, probably 99% of the conversations I have with people never discuss anything related to preparedness! Pulling people’s glasses off their faces, even if those glasses feature rose-colored lenses, is not a method for building rapport.

Just relying on a smile and a friendly joke or quip, however, is not likely to suffice in the long-term. We have to figure out a way—once we’ve determined someone is an individual that we consider “essential to our reasons for surviving”—to break the ice with them and get them to start considering putting up some extra groceries, or building up their PT program, or getting a couple more days a month at the range, etcetera.

My first qualification, before I consider breaking the ice, if you will, is whether this person is even suitable material for “recruitment” (for lack of a better word). Long-time readers will probably assume that this stage pretty much rules out anyone who doesn’t fit the body image of a special operations soldier, but that would be far from even remotely true. What is ultimately important to me is if there head is even in the same state—let alone county—it needs to be in, for them to grasp the magnitude of what they face. If someone is braying about the latest antics of the judges on “The Voice,” or cannot discuss anything about what happened on last week’s episode of “Game of Thrones” (I chose those two, because they actually do get watched in our house, when we’re anywhere that has cable), then discussing what they need to be prepared because “winter is coming” may not be worth the effort (although, as readers or viewers of GoT will recognize, maybe there is an inroad there, after all….). You cannot browbeat or otherwise force anyone into doing something that is so far out of their realm of imagination and world view that it sounds like a bad movie plot to them.

The key to stepping beyond marginal personal relationships and occasional Sunday barbecues, to convincing people to do something outside of their comfort zone, is understanding what will motivate people to do something outside of their comfort zone. Oftentimes, this may be something that—under “normal” conditions—seems completely outlandish. Once you discover how to speak a language they understand however, it becomes not only a “good idea,” but “absolutely mandatory!”

Of MICE and Men

In espionage and UW—and really, those two are so interconnected, it’s basically incestuous—we’ve long used the acronym MICE to describe the basic motivations that we can leverage in order to get someone to perform an act that they would normally not consider—or to not perform an act that they would normally do without pause—in accordance with our needs or wishes. In recent years, that has been updated to MICE-RC, but I stand by my statement in an earlier version of this article, that the RC at the end was really just some colonel’s way of getting his first star. The fact is that MICE has worked for decades, and is still more than sufficient.

An understanding of what the MICE motivators are, and then using that knowledge to determine the most efficient means of gaining the compliance and support of another person, pre- and post-grid down, is the surest way of developing a functional auxiliary and a functional tribe of like-minded, prepared individuals. It will be far more effective to your long-term survival and sustainability than all the case lots of 5.56mm ammunition you can buy, regardless of the depth of your checkbook.

Originally labeled as money, the “M” was changed at some point, in recognition that money in the sense of actual financial recompense might not be adequate. For our purposes, while throwing stacks of Federal Reserve Notes at your neighbor might get him to use it to stockpile some extra food or ammunition, he’s just as likely to spend it on his wife’s dream vacation of a cruise to the US Virgin Islands.

On the other hand, finding a way to point out—convincingly—that not being prepared for a grid-down event is a pretty good way to lose everything they’ve ever owned, may be a better route. At the same time, simply sharing phone numbers with your neighbors with the understanding that they can call you for help anytime, and all you ask in return is that they let you know if they see anything hinky going on in the neighborhood, offer them a material gain, assuming you’re reasonably competent around the house. Oh, the neighbor’s car got a flat, and she’s too old/handicapped to change a flat? Calling you—assuming you’re smart enough to follow through on the offer, even at 0130—saves her how much versus calling a tow truck to come change the tire for her? She’s gotten a material gain out of helping you in a tribal manner within the local community!

You have a local family down the street who’s fallen on hard times, and they are having trouble keeping groceries on the table? Offer them groceries in return for doing some minor work around your place or your neighbor’s place. Even if it’s make-work, if the labor they provide is roughly on par—or below—the price of the groceries, then they are getting a material gain out of it, and you have leverage to discuss preparedness and planning ahead for unforeseen contingencies, like losing a job… or a blizzard… or a pandemic… or riots…

The point is not that you’re spending money—although you will probably have to at some point, on some level—it’s that you are doing something to build rapport and trust with people by leveraging a basic human motivator: material gain.


Ideology is traditionally a favorite motivator gaining someone’s support for multiple reasons, the least of which is the fact that it’s cheaper. Someone who does something because he/she believes in “the Cause,” is more likely to a) continue doing it, even when it “hurts,” figuratively or literally, and b) will probably put more effort into doing it correctly and thoroughly.

Of course, on some levels, someone with a shared ideology doesn’t need to be convinced in the first place. They are the unicorn we all hope to run into as we’re wandering about the streets, randomly accosting strangers in our quest to build tribe and networks.

At the same time however, sometimes that belief is not yet deep enough, and needs to be leveraged for greater compliance. Here in the northern Rockies, there are a lot of Mormons. One of the teachings of their Church is for families to have a one-year supply of food storage. Of course, not all—not even a large minority, in my experience—of Mormon families actually have a one-year supply of food storage. Of the ones that do, however, too often it is seen as an inconvenience. I’ve seen 55-gallon drums of wheat used as furniture, for lack of anywhere to put it because it never gets used.

One of the other teachings of the Mormon church is the prime importance of family. Leveraging that can be an ideological motivator to get them to actually fulfill the one-year food storage requirement, as well as coming up with other preparedness plans. A discussion I’ve had with Mormon neighbors who do have food storage but don’t have the ability to protect it—i.e. guns and training—is explaining that everyone “knows” Mormons have food storage. How are they going to keep a non-Mormon like me from coming and taking their food storage to feed my own family?

The same applies to other ideology factors of course. Someone claims they believe in the Constitution, but you can repeatedly point out how the Constitution is being neglected, ignored, and even abused? If they are legitimate in their patriotism, then ideologically, they have to start looking at the facts.

One potential resource we too often overlook are young people with anti-authoritarian bents. Instead of just discounting them as anarchist or Bolshevik youth, we need to be leveraging their youthful ignorance and disdain for overwhelming authoritarianism in their daily life through education. That is using an ideological motivator.

The Pesh Merga fighter in Kurdistan who genuinely believes in the cause of Kurdish independence and is still naïve enough to believe that the US government actually gives a crap about his cause is far more trustworthy in the fight against the Islamic State than the Iraqi cop who was fighting against the US and the new government until he got hungry, and realized that if Uncle Sugar was paying for the groceries, he could get steak and potatoes instead of rice and goat intestine because the Pesh Merga fighter is in it for the ideology.

Educating people in your personal network of friends and acquaintances in a non-confrontational manner by leading through example – without being the “scary survivalist dude,” of the importance of community, and the resilience of a traditional community, where people help their neighbors, rather than relying on outside assistance from the government – is a step you can take every day.

The responsibility for community safety and security does not rest on the federal government, or the state government. It doesn’t even really rest on the local government and law enforcement, beyond the community’s responsibility to monitor and hold those entities responsible. Even that needs to be done in a manner that doesn’t negatively impact other people’s ideologies that are similar to yours, if not in agreement.

For some of us, we have managed to make a life in a relatively homogeneous community, so to some extent—never completely—a lot of the ideological issues may already be addressed. I know that most of my Mormon neighbors are a) generally law-abiding, b) conservative, c) have strong family values, and d) generally have a strong sense of community. Those are all ideological considerations that I can leverage to gain compliance and build a mutually beneficial relationship around, even if I don’t agree with all of their stances on everything.


While coercion—a more polite term for what we knuckle-draggers simply refer to as “blackmail”—is a proven, effective method for gaining cooperation in espionage and traditional UW operations, in many ways, it can SEEM to be counterintuitive for our purposes. After all, if you “blackmail” someone today, he may decide that you’re going to try and do it next month again. In order to preclude that, he might decide to make you go away, more permanently…

On the contrary, coercion does have a very important role in the motivational tool box. Imagine this encounter, all too familiar to most survivalists.

Edna the Prepper Lady: “Sue-Ann, I love you dearly old friend, and I’d really like to see you set some stuff aside for emergencies! What if something happens and you can’t go to the grocery store!?”

Sue-Ann the Brainless Bimbo: “Aw, Edna, you ol’ worry-wart, you! Always going on about some Zombie Apocalypse. Nothing’s going to happen to keep me from getting to the grocery store to get my Little Debbie snacks! Quit being so paranoid. Besides, if some sort of Zombie Apocalypse happened, I’d just come here. You’ve got enough to feed us both!”

All too often, preppers tell me about this, and their canned response is, “The only thing you’re getting here is a bellyfull of lead!” I sincerely doubt most of these people are actually responding in this manner to actual friends, and I hope that it is nothing more than braggadocio and hyperbole…especially when it’s a family member.

A better response—using coercion as a motivator—would be along the lines of:

Edna the Prepper Lady: “Well, yeah, I suppose you’re right. We’d always welcome our friends and family, Sue-Ann. But I tell you what, we only have enough supplies for a couple of days, so you need to bring x, y, and z with you when you come to the house, or we’re not going to let you in. I’ve got my husband, six kids, and both sets of parents to be concerned about to. I tell you what, I’m going to email you a list this evening. It won’t be expensive, and I’ll even send you the links so you can order it on the Internet. You put all that stuff in a suitcase, and bring it with you. In fact, if you bring it to the house when you get it packed, I’ll even pay for the stuff, and you can leave it at your house!”

Now, Edna used material gain as a motivator by offering to pay for the initial bug-out bag of gear, but she mostly used coercion. “You need to do some basic prepping at least, because if you show up at my house empty-handed, you’re leaving the same way.”

An example I used in the original version of this article illustrates this from a post-grid down security standpoint:

Jim, the local farmer: “Bob, I really want to help ya’ll protect the town, but I’m worried. If I try and send one of the kids out to warn you of someone coming, or I call you on that radio, the message might get intercepted! Then, me and my family are up the creek, while ya’ll are safe inside the town!”

Bob, the local community organizing prepper: “Hey, Jim, man, I really do get your concerns! Hell, I even empathize. Look at it this way though…If you don’t agree to help us in this one little, low-risk way, there’s a bunch of folks in town who are going to feel like we shouldn’t be risking our lives to come way out here to help ya’ll, when you could have just come into town and stayed. What’s gonna happen then, when the bad guys are raping your fields, pillaging your home, and burning your women-folk?

So, in order to help protect the sacred virtue of your fields, where did you want these guys to set this radio up again?”

As in the first case, Bob could be said to be providing material gain for Jim, through the installation of the radio and the resulting ability to call for help protecting his property, but the obvious threat of withholding help, however passively it was phrased, definitely constitutes coercion…and there’s nothing wrong with it in either case.


Ego is typically one of the most influential motivators for behavior. From the spy who decides to pass on information because he is not suitably appreciated for his utter genius, to the agent who spies just to prove he’s smarter than everyone around him, ego has caused more intelligence and military failures than—arguably—any other cause in history.

In our concerns, ego can still play a crucial role in getting someone on-board with preparing and training. In one of my very first articles on the Mountain Guerrilla blog, concerning building rapport, I used an example from my misbegotten youth, spent in nightclubs and bars, picking up and seducing silly coeds. I would choose an attractive girl in a crowd, who was not the most attractive, and simply smile. For most the night, every time I made eye contact with Miss Tonight, I’d simply turn on my most mesmerizing Mosby smile. Eventually, she’d want to come talk to me, or I’d stop and say “hi”, share a couple of sentences, and then walk away, before continuing the pursuit later. If I was forced to talk to someone else in her group, I’d do so—politely—but I’d continue looking at her. That is an ego game. It’s about making her feel special and attractive, which generally—but by no means always—they were, on both accounts, regardless of my shallowness. By subtly stroking her ego, I made her want me to continue stroking her ego, because it made her feel good.

For our more mature, more noble purposes, this is still an extremely effective tool. Used properly—by which I mean “sparingly”—it can actually give you a solid hold on someone’s loyalty for a very, very long time. You want to get that recently returned OEF infantry veteran to come out to the range and show you how to run your gun? Stroke his ego. (Every infantryman has an ego. It goes with the territory. Nothing will gain our compliance faster than stroking that ego!) “Dude, I want to learn how to shoot this AR15, but I want to learn from someone who actually knows what they are doing! You’re the only bad ass I know!” From there, use the same thing to get him to come out and teach your people some basic battle drills. “Dude, how do we use them as a team! Come on, who else is gonna show us!” Speaking from experience, pretty soon, dude is out there every other weekend, giving classes to your guys, ignoring his wife and kid…

The second C—compromise—in the more recent MICE-RC adaptation, is really a more nefarious version of coercion. It’s more akin to the “blackmail” we spoke of earlier. In the traditional espionage/intel/UW environment, you can’t coerce someone if they haven’t done something that compromises their values or reputation. Regardless, compromise isn’t the motivator itself. The original MICE motivators are. So the dude is sleeping with his commander’s wife, and you’re holding that information over his head? Then you’re coercing him.

He needs money to build an evasion plan to escape with her, before the commander finds out? Material/Monetary Gain. He believes she really loves him and will be faithful to him the rest of her days? Ego. Ultimately, the only thing adding Compromise as a motivator did to MICE and the leverage of human assets? It got some colonel somewhere his first star. Again…ego.

The same is true of the final R—revenge. While revenge can fall under ideology, such as when someone realizes the government they’ve been working for is not what they were told it was, I’ve always been taught—and believed—it really falls under Ego. Revenge, ultimately, is about assuaging the pain of a damaged ego. “I was so blind and stupid, I couldn’t see through the smoke and mirrors the government put in front of me! I’ll show them!”

“I can’t believe she would cheat on ME! I’ll show her!”

It’s Not as Cynical as it Seems

I have a psychological defense mechanism I rely on, to keep people from getting too close. Apparently it works really well, since my grandmother recently informed me, in front of my wife, that she was surprised how empathetic I was to my wife since I had been a dick my whole life… That defense mechanism is sarcasm. If someone accuses me of being “nice,” I tend to wave it off and downplay it by half-jokingly quipping, “It’s all about building rapport!” After all, being perceived as nice might ruin my reputation!

A friend once replied to that by pointing out—correctly—that it made me sound like a cynic (apparently, she never met my grandmother, who would have told her that I was). While the friend was right, since it is intended that way, it’s actually not as cynical when you start looking into it. I am—as I have stated multiple times—a simple knuckle-dragger. I’m certainly no PhD, but I’ve done a lot of reading in classical philosophy, behavioral psychology, and evolutionary biology theory. One of the key points I’ve picked out—key to me, at least—and reinforced by my personal life experiences, is that every interpersonal relationship between people, in order to last, has to be mutually beneficial—or at least perceived that way—by both parties.

Whether outsiders can recognize the benefits or not, it is a Truth. Even the most altruistic act has a benefit for the actor, if in no other way than they get to feel good about themselves for doing it. While making a conscious, concerted effort to increase the value of a relationship for the other party, in order to boost the value of the relationship to us, may seem cynical, I would offer that—on the contrary—it’s basic human nature. It’s certainly far less cynical than other tools that could be used, such as fear and the threat of pain or suffering.

Even the most cynical of the MICE motivators—coercion—is really not. We are not talking about the traditional, mafia type of blackmail, “Do this, or we’ll take a Louisville Slugger to your kneecaps, rape your wife, and sell your daughter into slavery, before we burn your house down!” It certainly CAN be that, but as anyone who has been a regular reader of the Mountain Guerrilla blog can attest, I’m an advocate of the moral war standard of behavior in conflict.

Coercion, in the sense of the word that we can make use of, is exactly what I described—threatening to withhold the benefits of our relationship with that person, if they’re not willing to make an effort worthy gaining those benefits. Classical liberal philosopher John Locke was an advocate of this very concept in his writings on the nature of the social contract. To paraphrase, Locke wrote that if a member of a society is not willing to contribute to the good of the society, then the society has the collective and individual right to not share the benefits of that society with him.

The examples I provided under the heading of coercion were nothing more than examples of this exercise of the social contract. It doesn’t mean you’re going to kill them, or even run them out of town. You’re just not going to let them play with your toys, if they won’t let you play with their toys.

Using the MICE motivators to get people you care about to start considering and looking after their own best interests in far from cynical. If anything, it’s borderline altruistic. After all, you could just ignore them, and move on to another prospect, right? Yes, there’s a benefit to you in gaining their compliance. That’s not cynicism, that’s humanity.

John Mosby is a former U.S. Army Special Operations soldier. He lives somewhere in the mountains.


  1. Interesting overview. ive known many many men like you in my career. All had many strengths. Virtually none felt that they had any weaknesses. All assumed they would lead others.

    Your AO is likely much different them ours. Our needs and expectations are likely different then yours. Our skills sets and direction is likely different then yours. We have Retired SF guys in the clan, we have many retired cops in the click.

    Our selected leader will not be someone who assumes their position. In fact our set leader will be someone who deplores leadership roles, yet has quietly got the job done every time. Our leader will be someone who daily works on their weaknesses, for the betterment of the group.

    John I enjoy your writings, I’ve personally learned a ton from you. Our group is just different, we walk softly and have very big skills sets to draw from, we also have the horse power to impact and skills sets to address others who think what’s ours, is theirs.

    Leaders are born, not groomed.

    Dirk Williams

  2. Congratufugalations Dirk. What is your point? Is this a question, decree, rhetorical statement? Are you looking for affirmation? I have never read anything from John that suggested that he is infallible or beyond reproach, and he has consistently expressed that the TTP he graciously shares is “a way” that he believes in, and have worked for him, but not the “only way”. In other words, these are just tools in the tool box, YMMV… I apologize for a lack of tact; however, you could have kept all of that for yourself, except “John I enjoy your writings, I’ve personally learned a ton from you.”
    You are probably not speaking for your entire group either; since, most (I am confident) would understand that the “situation dictates”… you may speak softly now, but …

  3. VV, you are correct, I don’t speak for my group. Most could care less who Mosely is, or what he has to say. You are correct, his teaching are “a way” not the only way. In rereading my post I see what your saying,

    In frank honest review, I havent a clue what my point is or was. I’ll continue to read his writings, the lessons learned are obvious, and not so obvious.


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