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How Options Decimated the Amsterdam Mafia

Thinking ‘in options’ means that you like to explore many different possibilities. The counterpart to options thinking is thinking ‘in procedures’: sticking to a step-by-step plan. Most people in coaching, consulting, et cetera, are fans of options thinking. Options are creative. Options thinking makes new things possible. Procedures are for bookkeepers and menial workers….

Thinking in options however, can have its downside too. Shelle Rose Charvet, for instance, has pointed out that thinking in options can be quite stressful when you are being admitted to a hospital, and you’re going over all the different possible illnesses you might have…. One group that can testify to the dangers of options thinking, is the Amsterdam mob. Although, ‘testify’ is probably not be the right word here… Thinking in options wiped out a significant part of the Amsterdam mafia. How did this happen, exactly?

Criminal losses
Ever since the 1980’s, the Amsterdam underworld – like most of its counterparts in other countries – is financed primarily by drug trafficking. And sometimes things go wrong. Large transports are caught by customs or police. A criminal can loose a lot of money that way. As long as the criminal community in Amsterdam was not responding creatively to these mishaps, in other words: as long as they were not doing too much optional thinking, these accidents did not have great consequences. They would feel frustrated, hope to compensate their loss with the next shipment, and carry on as usual. Until one of them thought of a new option….

Make them pay!
The loss of a drugs transport is never entirely a matter of coincidence. There are always partners in the chain of production, packaging, transport, transfer, wholesale, etc., who have made mistakes. They might have talked about the transport in a bar. They might have forgotten to pay off the right officials. So here was the new thought: why not make them pay for their mistakes? True to form, this concept was emphasized quite graphically by violent threats. Already, even just this one single new option cost a few Amsterdam criminals their lives.

Next option: Why not simply make it up?
For a while this system worked. The ‘victims’ had few other choices than either paying or disappearing. But then somebody came up with the next option. Up until then, the accusations had all been based on real events. Opinions might differ as to who was to blame, but the losses themselves were real. But – here was yet another creative new option – why wait until something went wrong? Why not simply make up an accusation and have people pay? The Amsterdam mob developed a whole new source of income, extorting real estate developers operating in the twilight zone between crime and regular society. They would, for instance, tell a shady real estate entrepreneur that his son had started an affair with the girlfriend of a Russian gangster. The Russians were planning to kill his son, but they – the Amsterdam mob – could protect him. Of course there would be a price to pay. With fantasized stories like these, and without much risk, they made millions.

The lethal option
And then somebody came up with the next option. If this worked with ‘civilians’, why not use it on their colleagues too? And so they started extorting each other with fantasized stories. And soon after this, somebody came up with yet another innovative option: why bother thinking up stories and excuses at all? Wasn’t the whole process of extortion based on power anyway? People paid because someone had a reputation for using violence, not because of the credibility of the story. So the next phase was that they started extorting money from each other without any excuse, just because they could. Their reputation was reason enough… And pretty soon Amsterdam criminals were liquidated by their colleagues for defaulting on their ‘payments’.

Systemic effects
Liquidations could hardly be avoided, because if you did not actually execute your threats, your reputation would be damaged. And in the new situation this was especially dangerous, because if you appeared to be weak, other criminals would start extorting you. They would do it to you, if you didn’t do it to them, so to speak. This lead to an escalation of violence within the criminal community that had never been seen before. At the peak of this process, in 2005, three major players in the Amsterdam mafia were liquidated in one single week.


  1. Eigenlijk zijn ze vastgelopen in een bepaalde optie en is het dus eigenlijk een procedure geworden.

  2. uz438 said (in Dutch): “Actually, they are stuck in certain options, so in fact it has become a procedure”.

    Thank you for your post uz.

    Well, yes and no. As often, it’s different at different levels. At one level (the general level of ‘Let’s blackmail someone’) it’s the same all the time. So yes, there it’s a procedure (assuming there are steps to this, which are being repeated). But at another, more specific level (the level of ‘What are ways we can blackmail them and what are new groups we can blackmail?’) it’s creativity, new possibilities and therefore options.

  3. Interesting story. Just the one metaprogram… Unfortunately it seems the U.S. criminals are not “smart” enough to think out of the box in this way. Do they have different metaprograms?

    • Thanks for your comment, Jason. I have no idea (whether US criminals have different metaprograms). Could US criminals be more traditional than Dutch criminals? I don’t know.

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