One of the more profound examples of second-order thinking comes from Ben Horowitz. In his book, What You Do Is Who You Are, he describes the use of a shocking rule to provokes his men into raising a “Why?” to instil a culture.
When everyone wants to know “Why?” in an organization, the answer programs the culture, because it’s an answer everyone will remember. The explanation will be repeated to every new recruit and will embed itself into the cultural fabric.
Here’s the anecdote from the book:
To instill trust throughout his army, Louverture established […] the rule forbiding married officers from having concubines. As raping and pillaging were the norm for soldiers, requiring officers to respect their marital vows must have seemed absurd.
One can almost hear the officers saying, “You must be kidding!” […]
New officers would ask, “Tell me again why I can’t have a concubine?”
And be told: “Because in this army, nothing is more important than your word. If we can’t trust you to keep your word to your wife, we definitely can’t trust you to keep your word to us.” […]
Marriage, honesty, and loyalty were symbols of the society that Louverture aspired to lead—and he programmed them all into his culture with one simple shocking rule.