In a story I recently read, a tyrant walks up to a contractor and tells him that he needs a factory constructed and operational in a span of one year. Or else, he would have his head served in a platter. The contractor knows this target to be impossible, but agrees, fearing that objection would be meaningless.
Months later, despite cutting several corners, the contractor is unable to meet this impossible target. The tyrant is now faced with a dilemma. If he lets the contract off the hook, nobody would take his threats seriously anymore. If he has to make good on his threat, he would live with the burden of executing an innocent person.
Several parents have faced this dilemma when they threatened their children by saying, ‘Stop doing that right away, or else.’ When the child doesn’t obey, the parent is faced with a terrible dilemma – to let the child off the hook or to execute an empty threat.
Negative reinforcement is flawed. It either leaves you with a compromised outcome, or worse, the terrible compulsion to execute your threat.
Inspiration: The Deadline