Leadership, Communication, and COVID-19

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Leadership, Communication, and COVID-19

By Helio Fred Garcia

As the COVID-19 Pandemic continues to  grow, Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership has been advising clients and carefully studying communication by leaders across a range of sectors and forms of organization.

We have reviewed thousands of communications by CEOs, university presidents, NGO executive directors and secretaries general, and public officials. And we have identified patterns that help leaders and their organizations make smart choices and avoid inadvertent self-inflicted harm.

Seven Crises in  One

One of the foundational principles of effective crisis management is to name the problem accurately and to understand the true scope and likely risk of the crisis.

I believe that the COVID-19 crisis is actually seven crises in one. Think of these as seven different dimensions of the crisis. There’s a danger that a leader might be so focused on any one of the dimensions that he or she will miss the need to address the others. The seven dimensions of COVID-19 are these:

  1. Public Health Crisis: At its core COVID-19 is a public health crisis. Half a million people worldwide have gotten sick; tens of thousands have died. More will get sick and die before things get better. But  now in the United States the public health crisis includes a healthcare delivery system that is being strained to the breaking point. As hospitals in epicenters begin to fill up, there’s also a shortage of medical equipment and personal protective gear. Health workers are at risk, as are other patients.
  2. Business Crisis: COVID-19 presents a business problem for all forms of organizations. There is a cost impact, for most organizations a negative one. There  is a revenue impact, mostly negative; for some potentially catastrophic. There is disruption of operations. There is an HR impact.
  3. Economic Crisis: At the same time there is a significant economic crisis underway. The risk of falling into a major recession, very low two months ago, now is quite high. The markets have exhibited unprecedented volatility. Economic uncertainty is wearing on people and institutions.
  4. Information Crisis: From the beginning of the pandemic there has been significant incorrect information, incomplete information, and in some cases intentionally misleading information in the information ecosystem. This information crisis leads to significant misunderstanding about who is at risk of contracting the illness, who can transmit it, and what precautions are appropriate.
  5. Competence of Government Crisis: Not just in the U.S., but initially in China, Iran, and other nations the initial responses were bungled and the virus  spread. In the U.S. we have yet to see a whole of government response. Rather, we’ve seen a fragments of government response. Only in the third week of March, and the third month of COVID-19 in the U.S., are there sufficient tests and testing sites. But there is insufficient personal protective equipment for health workers, and a shortage of hand sanitizers, rubber gloves, and masks in retail stores.
  6. Social Crisis: People’s lives have been upended; many people are losing or at risk of losing their jobs. Supermarket shelves are bare. Many companies have ordered employees to work from home; schools are closed or have gone to virtual learning. But there has also been a rise of incivility, insult, and violence against people who have been stigmatized. President Trump’s insistence on calling COVID-19 “China Virus” or “Chinese Virus” has led to a wave of hate crimes against people perceived to be Asian or Asian-American.
  7. Mental Health Crisis: Human beings are social animals, and social distancing is having an effect. Compound this with the fear of the illness, the rising rate of infections and fatalities, and the other dimensions of the crisis, people are fraught. They are fragile. And they need extra care. New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has asked for mental health professionals to volunteer to work with people not presently under their care to begin to meet this mental health need. I expect other governors will do the same.

 

Everything is Different

The unprecedented scope of the crisis makes it difficult to predict what will happen next. This crisis is unlike others. Among the differences:

  • This is unlike prior pandemics. This is the first global pandemic in a social media world. Recent pandemics were geographically contained. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome was mostly confined to the Republic of Korea. Ebola was contained in the United States, and our military and public health experts were able to contain it in West Africa. And this is the first truly global pandemic in the lifetimes of most people in leadership positions.
  • This is unlike natural disasters. Most organizations are ready or can adapt to natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods. But those are generally geographically confined and are sudden but short in duration. COVID-19 is widespread and will continue for a very long time.
  • This is not like ordinary corporate crises. Most corporate crises are limited to a particular company, sector, or geography. But this one affects every organization. And unlike most corporate crises, this one has the additional dimensions of public health, economic risk, information challenges, competence of government, and social dislocation.
  • The situation is constantly changing. The scope of contagion, the government and society’s response to it, and our understanding of risk to ourselves are in constant flux. In a matter of days we saw an escalation from no large crowds to no crowds at all to stay-at-home orders to full lock-down orders.
  • This is fundamentally reshaping our understanding of work. As millions of American workers learn how to work from home, and as companies experiment with different modes of delivering products and services, the likelihood of a return to pre-COVID-19 conditions is not clear.

Crisis Response Best Practices

Most ineffective crisis responses begin with leaders asking some version of What should we do? Or What should we say? The challenge with this kind of question is that it focuses on the we – on the entity or leader in crisis. This results in the consideration of options that may make the leader in midst of crisis feel less vulnerable. But it is unlikely to lead to what is necessary to maintain trust, confidence, and support of those people whose trust, confidence, and support are critical to the organization.

What is needed is a different kind of thinking that begins not with the I/me/we/us but rather with the they/them – with the stakeholders who matter to the organization. The leadership discipline of mental readiness – the readiness to shift frames of reference from the first person — I/me/we/us — to the third person — they/them — makes all the difference.

And that’s because of the way trust works.

A common goal for most organizations and leaders in crises is to maintain the trust and confidence of those who matter – shareholders, employees, customers, regulators, residents, citizens, voters, etc. Trust is what makes other elements of competitive advantage possible, from stock price to employee morale and productivity to support of  regulators.

Trust, in turn, is the consequence of three related but slightly different things:

  1. Promises fulfilled. These can be explicit promises, or implicit promises such as in a brand identity. If we are seen to break a promise, trust falls.
  2. Expectations met. These can be expectations we set ourselves, such as by making promises. Or they can be expectations set by law or by government order. Or they can be expectations set by society. If we fail to meet expectations, trust falls.
  3. Values lived.  When those who matter to us experience us as living our stated values, the result is trust. If those who matter to us experience us as not living our stated values, trust falls.

And one of the patterns we notice is that it is much harder to restore trust once it has been lost than to maintain trust before it has been lost.

Asking What should we do? runs the serious risk of failing even to consider stakeholders’ expectations. Worse, it further risks the leader becoming stuck in his or her own perspective, in I/me/we/us. Hence, such crisis whoppers as BP CEO Tony Hayward’s “I’d like my life back,” or even President Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook.”

Most crisis response failures can be traced back to the ultimate decision-makers focusing on their own frame of reference rather than on their stakeholders.

The right question to ask when determining the appropriate course of action in a crisis is not What should we do.

Rather, it is this: What would reasonable people appropriately expect a responsible organization or leader to do when facing this kind of situation?

For any stakeholder group we can answer the question, What would reasonable members of this stakeholder group appropriately expect a responsible organization or leader to do? to a very granular level. To the level of all employees, or only those employees in this one facility, or only those employees who were present when something happened. We can inventory those granular expectations  for each stakeholder group, and we can then work to fulfill those particular expectations.

But regardless the particular expectations of any given stakeholder group, there is a common expectation that applies to all stakeholder groups all the time:  In a crisis, all stakeholders expect a responsible organization or leader to care.  To care that something has happened; to care that people need help; to care that something needs to be done.

What it means to care may be different from crisis to crisis, or from industry to industry. What it means to care in the early phases of the crisis may be different from what it means to care in the later phases of the crisis. But that we need to care doesn’t change.

The single largest predictor that trust will fall is the perception of indifference. And silence, when there is an expectation of caring, is interpreted by stakeholders as indifference. And it gives our adversaries, critics, media and social media, and trolls the ability to define us as uncaring, or incompetent, or as lacking integrity.

Applying Best Practices to COVID-19 Communication

As the Logos Institute team has studied institutional response to COVIID-19, we have derived these  lessons applying the principle of caring to the pandemic.

  1. Begin all communication, whether written or verbal, with a statement of values, or belief, or intent, or motivation. Don’t dive directly into the facts. Audiences are far more likely to read or listen, understand, and remember when the leader creates an emotional connection first, and that begins with the statement of values.
  2. Show you care. Calibrate communication with empathy.
  3. Be direct: No euphemism. Euphemism is confusing to audiences, especially when under stress. If an employee has died because of COVID-19, say so.
  4. Tell the truth: Avoid misleading half-truths. Remember that you’re in this for the long term. And eventually you’ll need employees to continue to want to work for you, and customers to want to do business with you. If you know that layoffs are likely, and you’re asked whether there will be layoffs, it may be tempting to say something literally true — “At this point there is no plan to lay people off.” This may be true, but the question was not about whether there is a plan but rather about whether there would be layoffs. A better response would be “We haven’t made a final decision, and we will do whatever we can to protect employees, but layoffs are a possibility.”
  5. Address all relevant dimensions of the crisis: public health, business crisis, economic crisis, information crisis, competence of government crisis, social crisis, and mental health crisis. It may be tempting to stay in a single frame, say, business crisis. But your stakeholders are experiencing all seven dimensions of the crisis.
  6. Remember that expectations are dynamic. Yesterday’s expectations may not be helpful today. Calibrate against current expectations.
  7. Communicate at multiple levels. Employees and other stakeholders need to hear from more than the CEO. At this point it is better to over-communicate than to under-communicate.
  8. Align on values; allow granular detail appropriate to each level. Whether the CEO or an EVP or VP or department head or project team leader, there should be alignment on the level of values, belief, intent, or motive. But at each level the granularity should be appropriate to the level of the leader doing the communication.
  9. Convey a positive attitude that balances urgency against the provoking of panic. Effective leaders keep the focus on the future even while demonstrating urgency. But emotions themselves are contagious. Leaders need to stop short of provoking panic.
  10. Express emotion, vulnerability, and humility. Arrogance makes empathy impossible, and it is empathy that gets leaders and organizations through a crisis. Leaders are often reluctant to express emotion or vulnerability. But the most effective ones do.
  11. Get good at being on TV. Whether recording a video for public consumption or conducting a meeting via Zoom or Skype  or GoToMeeting, leaders need to get good at communicating through a video camera.
  12. Remember, people are feeling very fragile. People are scared; they’re worried about their jobs and their friends and their families. People’s work lives and personal lives have been upended. And some people are being stigmatized. Now is a time that calls for kindness. Effective leaders care.

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New Book by Logos President: Words on Fire

Logos Consulting Group is pleased to announce that the next book by Logos President Helio Fred Garcia is now available for pre-order.

Words on Fire: The Power of Incendiary Language and How to Confront It is about the power of communication to do great harm, and how civic leaders and engaged citizens can hold leaders accountable to prevent such harm. Garcia focuses on the forms of communication that condition an audience to accept, condone, and commit violence against a targeted group, rival, or critic.

 

Sending Up a Flare

In the book’s preface Garcia writes,

“In my teaching and research, I study patterns: patterns that help leaders enhance competitive advantage, build trust and loyalty, and change the world for the better. I study the patterns of audience engagement and audience reaction. I study persuasion and influence, and the power of language to change people, mostly for the better.”

But he also provides a caution:

“I’ve also been acutely aware of the use of communication to hurt, to harm, and to humiliate, and of how dehumanizing and demonizing language can lead some people to commit acts of violence. I typically don’t teach those things in a classroom, but I often send up a flare, warning students, former students, and others of the predictable, if unintended, consequences of speech that, under the right conditions, can influence people to accept, condone and commit violence against members of a group.”

Garcia notes that he found himself sending up many flares in recent years, but that something changed in 2018. In the Fall of that year he posted on social media persistent warnings about stochastic terrorism, the technical term for language that provokes some people to commit violence. He says,

“My concern grew into alarm as the 2018 mid-term elections approached and as President Trump’s language crossed a line. I worried that someone would be killed by Trump followers who embraced his increasingly incendiary rhetoric about immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, and critics.”

Garcia’s fears were soon realized.

“In a single week, about ten days before the mid-terms, two separate terror attacks took place: one killed eleven people at worship in a synagogue; one failed but had targeted a dozen Trump critics with mail bombs. In both cases the perpetrators justified their actions by quoting Trump language. One of them, the mail bomber, described his conversion from being apolitical to being ‘a soldier in the war between right and left’ that resulted from his several years in Trump’s orbit.”

The following day Garcia posted a blog on Daily Kos describing the relationship between language and violence. That post was republished by CommPro.biz. Words on Fire is the continuation of that original blog post.

In reflecting on the President’s language, Garcia noticed another pattern: the forms of his language were familiar. He realized that the president was using the very same rhetorical techniques that had preceded previous mass murders, including genocides. He worried that, left unchecked, the president would continue, with increasingly dire consequences.

Garcia explored the kinds of language that historically had preceded acts of mass violence. And he studied contemporary sources including the U.S. Holocaust Museum Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide. The center defines “dangerous speech” as:

“speech that increases the risk for violence targeting certain people because of their membership in a group, such as an ethnic, religious, or racial group. It includes both speech that qualifies as incitement and speech that makes incitement possible by conditioning its audience to accept, condone, and commit violence against people who belong to a targeted group.”

One of the key elements of creating such conditions is to dehumanize others. The Center’s handbook Defusing Hate notes that:

 “Dangerous speech often dehumanizes the group it targets (e.g., by calling its members rats, dogs, or lice), accuses the target group of planning to harm the audience, and presents the target group’s existence as a dire threat to the audience.”

Garcia also studied the work of Yale University philosopher Jason Stanley, who says that when leaders persistently dehumanize others they lessen the capacity of citizens to empathize.

The Playbook

Dangerous speech begins with dehumanization but doesn’t end there. Garcia has identified twelve communication techniques that individually and collectively create a social context that conditions an audience to accept, condone, and commit violence against people who belong to a targeted group. Each technique is a bit different from the other, although the individual techniques have elements in common. They serve as a kind of Playbook that malicious leaders have used to divide communities and to accumulate power. The twelve forms are:

  1. Dehumanize: Calling groups of people animals or vermin who are infesting the nation.
  2. Demonize/Delegitimize: Attributing to a group or rival a menacing, evil identity or calling into question the legitimacy or qualification of a group or rival.
  3. Scapegoat: Blaming a group for all or many of the nation’s problems.
  4. Public Health Threat: Claiming that members of a group are carrying or transmitting dangerous diseases.
  5. Safety Threat: Claiming that a group, rival, or critic is a threat to public safety – likely to cause death or injury to the nation or to the dominant group – or is a threat to civic order.
  6. Violent Motive: Claiming that a group has violent or hostile intentions toward a dominant group.
  7. Severely Exaggerating Risk: Labelling a minor issue or routine event a major threat.
  8. Sinister Identities: Attributing vague or sinister identities to a group or its members.
  9. Conspiracy: Saying that something is part of a sinister conspiracy.
  10. Discredit Information: Discrediting the source of objective information or of information critical of the leader.
  11. Conflation: Conflating the leader and the state, so that any criticism of the leader is seen as an attack on the nation.
  12. Menacing Image: Juxtaposing a menacing image (noose, swastika, flaming cross) with a person or person’s image, a location, or a facility associated with the target.

Words on Fire documents these forms of communication, and the consequences of that language, both before Trump and by Trump.

But it does more. It assesses how American political life came to this dangerous and demoralizing place.

And it offers hope, a path forward: a framework, a mindset, and a set of techniques to help civic leaders and informed citizens recognize the patterns of dangerous speech early, intervene early, hold those who use such language accountable for the consequences, and ideally prevent such violence in the first place.

Garcia and a team of researchers spent 14 months working on the book. In addition to studying historic mass killings that followed the persistent use of dangerous speech, Garcia and his researchers watched hundreds of rallies, interviews, and public appearances by Donald Trump as candidate and president, and read thousands of his tweets. Garcia also examined hate crime violence statistics and trends. And he examined national security and law enforcement scholarship on lone wolf violence up to and including lone wolf terrorism. Garcia synthesizes the fruits of this research and describes how lone wolves develop a terrorist mindset and how they are activated to commit violence.

 

From Stochastic Terrorism to Lone-Wolf Whistle Terrorism

Since 9/11 the use of communication in ways that trigger lone wolves to commit acts of violence, up to and including terrorism, has been known as stochastic terrorism. The name comes from a principle in statistics and describes something that may be statistically predictable but not individually predictable.

But Garcia has concluded that the phrase stochastic terrorism is difficult to grasp, and even to say, and tends to limit discussion. He proposes a different way to describe the phenomenon, based on who is motivated to act on the communication – lone wolves – and what triggers them to so act – a kind of dog whistle that he calls a lone-wolf whistle.

He says:

“Acts of violence triggered by such language I call lone-wolf whistle violence. When such language triggers mass violence with a political, ideological, or similar motive I call it lone-wolf whistle terrorism.”

A Call to Action

Words on Fire also profiles leaders who stepped over the line and were called on it. All, in their own ways and in varying time frames, stopped what they were doing. As responsible leaders do.

Garcia also explores humility as an essential leadership attribute that makes empathy possible. It is empathy that allows leaders to see the damage their rhetoric may cause, and humility and empathy that lead them to stop.

The book closes by providing a framework for civic leaders, engaged citizens, journalists, and public officials to recognize when a leader may have crossed the line, and a way to understand the likely consequences of dangerous speech. Garcia takes the Lone-Wolf Whistle Terrorism Playbook and recasts it as a toolkit or checklist in the form of questions to ask that can help determine whether a leader’s rhetoric is likely to inspire lone wolves to take matters into their own hands.

Early Endorsers

Early reaction to Words on Fire by those who have read the manuscript has been quite positive, and the book has several early endorsers.

David Lapan, Colonel, USMC (ret), former Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security spokesman, says:

“Language is power, and powerful. It can uplift, or harm. Helio Fred Garcia is an astute student of language and communication. This book offers historic examples, keen insights and valuable advice on recognizing patterns of language that can harm or lead to violence.”

Evan Wolfson, Founder, Freedom to Marry, says:

“Drawing on history and his deep expertise in communications, Helio Fred Garcia documents how Trump’s barrage of hate, divisiveness, falsehoods, and triggering are even uglier and more dangerous than we thought, right out of the autocrat’s playbook. During the Nixon administration, John Dean blew the whistle on the ‘cancer growing on the presidency.’ Words on Fire provides a clear and alarming CAT-scan of the cancer growing from this presidency, and a highly readable guide to how we can call out and combat Trump’s toxic language and malignant agenda, pushing back against the corrosive forces that enable Trumpism and put our country in such peril.”

James E. Lukaszewski, America’s Crisis Guru®, says:

“Many of us were taught a lie as youngsters that sticks and stones can break our bones, but words will never hurt us. Fred courageously, graphically and powerfully illustrates that it is words on fire that bloodlessly, without scars or visible traces cause deep internal permanent damage while often triggering accompanying physical damage. And that if we remain silent one victim incinerated by words on fire damages the rest of us.”

Lukaszewski adds,

Words On Fire should be mandatory reading and a guide book for every reporter and editor anywhere. Journalists have significant responsibility for spreading the flames of intentionally incendiary, punitive, abusive language. There should be ethical and cultural sanctions for mindlessly but intentionally originating or transmitting dangerous language. Every business school needs to develop courses for managers and leaders in detoxifying and extinguishing fiery, intentionally emotional and harmful language, whatever the source, followed by every religious leader and elected official. Important institutions in our society and culture have the affirmative responsibility to stand up and speak out against the users and use of words on fire.

Public reaction has also been positive. In the week after Words on Fire became available for Amazon pre-order, it became the Amazon #1 New Release in Rhetoric and #2 in New Releases in Public Administration the #3 best seller in Public Administration.

Words on Fire is scheduled for publication in mid-June. It is available for pre-order in both paperback and kindle edition.

Prior Books by Logos President

Words on Fire is Garcia’s fifth book. His first, published in 1998, was the two-volume Crisis Communications, now out of print.

In 2006 Garcia co-authored with his NYU colleague John Doorley Reputation Management: The Key to Successful Public Relations and Corporate Communication. That book’s fourth edition is scheduled for publication in late Spring. Reputation Management has been adopted in undergraduate and graduate public relations and communication programs around the world, and was published in Korean in Seoul in 2016,

In 2012 Garcia published The Power of Communication: Skills to Build Trust, Inspire Loyalty, and Lead Effectively. The Power of Communication has been adopted by dozens of graduate and professional schools, and was named one of eight leadership books on the U.S. Marine Corps Commandant’s Professional Reading List. It was published in Chinese in Beijing in 2014.

In 2017 Garcia published The Agony of Decision: Mental Readiness and Leadership in a Crisis. The Agony of Decision was named one of the best crisis management books of all time (#2 of 51) by BookAuthority, the leading non-fiction review site. It will be published in Chinese in Beijing later this year.

Garcia has been on the New York University faculty since 1988. He is an adjunct professor of management in NYU’s Stern School of Business Executive MBA program, where he teaches crisis management, and where he was named Executive MBA Great Professor. He is an adjunct associate professor of management and communication in NYU’s School of Professional Studies, MS in Public Relations and Corporate Communication program, where he twice received the Dean’s award for teaching excellence, in 1990 and in 2017.  In that program he teaches courses in communication strategy; in communication ethics, law, and regulation; and in crisis communication.

Garcia is an adjunct associate professor of professional development and leadership at Columbia University, where he teaches ethics, crisis, and leadership in the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science. Garcia is also a Senior Fellow in the Institute of Corporate Communication at Communication University of China in Beijing.

 

Opinion: The Dangers of Indirect Calls to Violence

This post was originally published in the Daily Kos, a progressive political opinion site.

It was also reprinted under the title “Is Trump Responsible for the Violence?” on the leading corporate communication site CommPro.Biz.

 

by Helio Fred Garcia

The French philosopher and writer Voltaire warned that those who can make us believe absurdities can make us commit atrocities.

We have seen this phenomenon play out in all parts of the world for the nearly 300 years since Voltaire first warned us. And sadly, we see it playing out in the United States now.

I have spent nearly four decades studying leadership, language, power, and the intersection of neuroscience, anthropology, and influence. Most of my work has been in the service of helping good leaders become better leaders. But sometimes my work calls on me to send up a flare; to warn others of what I see happening and about to happen. Events of the last few weeks compel me to send up such a flare.

Genuine leaders understand the consequences of their words and actions and take responsibility when they see that they are having a dangerous impact. Self-absorbed leaders do not.

Stochastic Terrorism

There’s a phenomenon well known to those who study violent extremism and authoritarianism: the use of mass communication to inspire lone wolves to commit acts of violence. About six years ago it got the name Stochastic Terrorism, named for a principle in statistics about seemingly random things still being predictable.

Stochastic terrorism doesn’t make a direct call to violence. Rather, it leads people to take matters into their own hands. So stochastic terrorist violence is statistically predictable, even if it will not predict that a particular individual will commit a particular act against a particular person.

A Clear but Indirect Danger

The First Amendment protects free speech but not calls to violence that create a clear and present danger to people. But stochastic terrorism is insidious because it is a clear but indirect, yet still predictable, danger.

The Stochastic Terrorism Playbook

In the weeks just before the 2018 mid-term elections we saw President Trump use many elements of the stochastic terrorism playbook, that were amplified by conservative media and by Trump supporters who were running for office.

These include:

  • Dehumanizing populations. This includes referring to groups of people as vermin who are infesting the country. And carrying disease – in this case including diseases that have already been eradicated or are very rare, such as smallpox and leprosy. But still scary.
  • Claiming that an entire population is a threat.  From his first day in the race, Trump defined Mexicans as rapists, gang members, and criminals. Candidate Trump also called for the total and complete ban of Muslims entering the country. And on his second day in office he passed an executive order, later overturned by the courts, banning people from seven primarily-Muslim countries. What the singling out of these groups, and others, have in common is that they create an Other — a group to rally against.
  • Labeling an ordinary thing a serious threat. President Trump labeled a rag-tag group of impoverished men, women, and children walking north seeking asylum a Caravan. Note that seeking asylum is legal. And the people were more than a thousand miles away at the time, and on foot. Despite this, he further said that the Caravan is invading the country. Hence the very word Caravan (always capitalized) became itself a menacing word, repeated across all forms of communication — in speeches, in social media, and on television news headlines. He called the Caravan a national emergency. He  also called to mobilize the military to prevent its arrival. And this wasn’t even the first time he had used the Caravan scare. He did it in April as well. That group of migrants fizzled out before most of them reached the border.  Those who arrived sought asylum.  We should have recognized the pattern.
  • Attributing vague menacing identities to that group. For example, the claim that the Caravan has been infiltrated by a number of middle easterners.
  • Saying that something is part of an evil conspiracy. In this case that the Caravan is funded by George Soros, which is white supremacist code for an international Jewish conspiracy. Note that the first bomb received in late October was sent to George Soros. Followed by an attack on a synagogue by a person driven by an urgent need to prevent Jews from bringing in refugees in order to kill Americans.

Within a single week in late October we saw tangible evidence of such rhetoric inspiring violence.

  • A bomber attempted the largest assassination of political leaders in the history of the U.S., sending bombs through the mail to more than a dozen people who had each been the target of President Trump’s vitriol. Thankfully, none of the devices exploded, and all were retrieved. But authorities found the names of nearly 100 Trump critics on the bomber’s target list.
  • A gunman attacked a Pittsburgh synagogue during worship, killing eleven and wounding many more. He posted online about “Jewish infestation.” In the hours before the attack, making reference to a more than century-old refugee resettlement agency, he tweeted, “HIAS likes to bring invaders that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” During the attack he yelled “All Jews must die!”
  • A gunman tried to penetrate a Louisville black church but found the doors locked, and instead went into a neighboring Kroger’s store and murdered two black customers there.

There are likely to be further such acts.

Birtherism

Former First Lady Michelle Obama this week, in interviews about her forthcoming memoir, described her reaction to Donald Trump’s birther campaign, which put him on the political map for the 2016 presidential campaign. For years before and during his presidential campaign Trump persistently insisted that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and therefore was not a legitimate president. Trump refused to acknowledge Obama’s Hawaii birth certificate, and frequently made other claims that challenged Obama’s legitimacy as president.

In her book Michelle Obama writes that this campaign was

“deliberately meant to stir up the wingnuts and kooks. What if someone with an unstable mind loaded a gun and drove to Washington? What if that person went looking for our girls? Donald Trump, with his loud and reckless innuendos, was putting my family’s safety at risk. And for this, I’d never forgive him.”

This is a vivid example of stochastic terrorism at work.

Plausible Deniability is an Essential Part of Stochastic Terrorism

The stochastic terrorist uses inflammatory rhetoric in the full expectation that it will trigger someone somewhere to act out in some way. But there is also plausible deniability built in. The stochastic terrorist can deny that he or she had anything to do with the violence that occurs. Indeed, President Trump falls back on this frequently, including in the aftermath of the bombs sent to people he had criticized. The Washington Post reported,

“Trump told reporters later that he did not think he bears blame for the alleged crimes ‘No, not at all,’ Trump said as he left the White House for a political rally in North Carolina. ‘There’s no blame, there’s no anything,’ Trump said.”

But Why Do People Believe Absurdities?

So why do people believe absurdities, which is a precursor to committing atrocities?

The Pittsburgh gunman believed deeply that Jews were importing refugees to kill “our people.”  There was no evidence that Americans were being killed by refugees. But evidence didn’t matter. There was no evidence that the migrants walking north were infected with smallpox and leprosy, claims repeated frequently by conservative media. President Trump even called members of the Caravan “young, strong men” but also said that they were diseased. Why would people believe such easily refutable claims?

To answer that question we need to recognize that the rise of Donald Trump is not a cause but rather a consequence.

It is the predictable result of decades of degradation of political discourse. This degradation was facilitated by a media more interested in grabbing an audience’s attention than in covering issues.  The worst part is that we should have seen it coming.

In fact, we could have seen it coming if we had known what to look for. We should have known.

Even now as the frightening reality is finally being recognized, we seem to be grappling only with the symptom of the problem — what Trump says — without recognizing that there’s a greater challenge that will continue regardless of how we address the immediate problem.

We can solve the Trump problem but still be as vulnerable to another authoritarian figure who energizes the disenfranchised, the angry, and the scared to similar effect.

Orwell Called It

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In 1946 George Orwell published Politics and the English Language. That brief essay served as the nonfiction treatment for what two years later would become Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four

Most educated Americans are familiar with Nineteen Eighty-Four. This popular novel is based in a dystopian future. The nation is in a continuous state of war. The intrusive and authoritarian government keeps people uninformed, and uses political language that is intentionally misleading. So the Ministry of Peace wages war. The Ministry of Truth controls all information, news, propaganda, and art. The Ministry of Plenty rations food. Our term “Orwellian” refers to the use of language to convey the opposite of reality.

1984first

But most educated Americans are not familiar with the essay that served as the novel’s basis. Sadly, Politics and the English Language helps us understand the current state of the American body politic, and it isn’t pretty.

Says Orwell:

“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.”

“Political language – and with variations this is true of all political parties… –  is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

The problem arises when politicians use language in a disingenuous way, asserting things they don’t necessarily believe and making arguments that may sound compelling but that logically don’t make sense.

“The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were instinctively, to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer.”

However damaging individual instances of political language, of insincere speech, or of intentionally misleading statements may be, it’s the effect of these that causes harm.

The central idea in Politics and the English Language is this:

  • Political speech has the effect of reducing citizens’ critical reasoning skills….
  • …This creates a self-perpetuating cycle…
  • …where as people become less discerning they become more susceptible to political speech…
  • …which further diminishes their critical reasoning skills…
  • …and so on…
  • …and so on…
  • …until a fully uninformed public creates conditions for authoritarian government to thrive.

A Cause Can Become an Effect, And So On: It’s The Cycle That Matters

Presentation4The key idea, though, is the relationship between cause and effect.

Orwell notes that an effect can become a cause, and a cause can become an effect. It’s the cycle that matters. In the end the result is a citizenry that remains intentionally ignorant of the issues that matter, unaware of what is happening to them, and easily manipulated by politicians.

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should and do know better.”

“Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

The predictable result of this cycle is a citizenry that is easily manipulated. It becomes immune to persuasion by evidence and reasoning. And it doesn’t notice the multiple contradictions all around.

Candidate Donald Trump following the Nevada primary, February 24, 2016


Choosing Ignorance:
Identity-Protective Cognition Thesis

Five years ago Orwell’s argument that political language causes a decline in critical thinking was supported by research by professors at Yale, Cornell, Ohio State, and the University of Oregon.  Their study,  Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government, showed that math problems that seem to be about benign topics are easily solved by people with strongly held political views. But when the same math problems are framed in terms of polarized political issues — in this case, gun rights — both progressive-and-conservative-leaning participants have a very hard time getting the math right.

The authors conclude that

“Subjects [use] their quantitative-reasoning capacity selectively to conform their interpretation of the data to the result most consistent with their political outlooks.”

A 2011 essay in Mother Jones by Chris Mooney on the neuroscience of political reasoning helps us understand why this is so.  The piece begins with seminal research from the early fifties by famous Stanford psychologist Leon Festinger, who concluded:

“A man with conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.”

Mooney explains:

“Since Festinger’s day, an array of new discoveries in psychology and neuroscience has further demonstrated how our preexisting beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and even color what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions.”

“This tendency toward so-called “motivated reasoning” helps explain why we find groups so polarized over matters where the evidence is so unequivocal: climate change, vaccines, “death panels,” the birthplace and religion of the president, and much else. It would seem that expecting people to be convinced by the facts flies in the face of, you know, the facts.”

Emotion Trumps Logic

Humans are not thinking machines. We are feeling machines, who also think. We don’t think first; we feel first. What we feel determines what thinking will be possible. This is sometimes known as motivated reasoning.

As described by Chris Mooney in Mother Jones:

“The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience: Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call “affect”). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we’re aware of it.”

“That shouldn’t be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It’s a “basic human survival skill,” explains political scientist Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.”

“We’re not driven only by emotions, of course—we also reason, deliberate. But reasoning comes later, works slower—and even then, it doesn’t take place in an emotional vacuum. Rather, our quick-fire emotions can set us on a course of thinking that’s highly biased, especially on topics we care a great deal about.”

“We have seen this trend for several decades, where for political expediency citizens have been conditioned to not trust any source of news that includes conclusions contrary to those consistent with a political point of view.”

This is likely to be intensified when the news media is seen to be both purveyors of fake news and enemies of the people, two themes President Trump continuously emphasizes. This results in his followers choosing not to believe anything written in such media.

We Apply Fight-or-Flight Reflexes Not Only to Predators, But to Data Itself

Such citizens, who reflexively flee from the facts, are unlikely to be aware of, or even care about, contradictions. Simultaneously holding two contrary positions, the very definition of absurdity, would ordinarily dismiss someone as not to be taken seriously. But in the political world such contradictions seem not to matter.

In such an environment citizens literally are unable to notice absurdities. But the same part of the brain, the Amygdala, that causes the flight response also causes the fight response.  So any intruder is seen to be worthy of a fight.  And violence tends to ensue.

Within a week of Trump calling for a ban of all Muslims entering the country we saw a rash of attacks on mosques and on people perceived to be Muslim or Arab.  We have seen people removed from his rallies while being taunted by Trump from the podium, calling for his supporters to punch the person being removed in the face. In the aftermath of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in August, 2017, which President Trump refused to condemn, we saw dis-inhibition in the workplace. People who previously would have kept their racist or anti-immigrant or anti-Semitic opinions to themselves felt emboldened to act out, treating colleagues and customers with insult, rudeness, exclusion, and even violence.

The New York Times reported last month,

“The hate in the United States came into full view last year as white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Va., with lines of men carrying torches and chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” Swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti have been cropping up on synagogues and Jewish homes around the country. Jews online are subjected to vicious slurs and threats. Many synagogues and Jewish day schools have been amping up security measures.

The Anti-Defamation League logged a 57 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in 2017, compared to the previous year — including bomb threats, assaults, vandalism, and anti-Semitic posters and literature found on college campuses.

Are the Calls to Violence Intentional or Merely Reckless?

Plausible deniability is built into the dehumanizing of groups, making it difficult to draw a clear line between a particular act of speech and a particular act of violence. Some, including the president’s allies, could conclude that President Trump is not making such statements with the intention of people committing violence. Rather, he’s speaking his mind and cannot be held accountable if some crazy person takes matters into his own hands.

Contrast today with 10 years ago. Late in his 2008 run for president Senator John McCain saw the crowd crying for blood, and was admonished by people he respected about the likely effect of his rhetoric. He took those admonitions seriously, and he dialed it down. As a responsible leader does.

The book Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, by John Heilmann and Mark Halperin, describes Senator McCain’s moment of awakening. Senator McCain and his running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, had used harsh language to de-legitimize Senator Obama. Governor Palin persistently declared that Obama “palled around with terrorists.”

Game Change reports:

“As the election barreled toward its conclusion, something dark and frightening was unleashed, freed in part by the words of the McCains and Palin. At rallies across the country, there were jagged outbursts of rage and accusations of sedition hurled at Obama. In Pennsylvania and New Mexico, McCain audience members were captured on video and audio calling the Democrat a “terrorist.” In Wisconsin, Obama was reviled as a “hooligan” and a “socialist.

With the brutish dynamic apparently on the verge of hurtling out of control, a chagrined McCain attempted to rein it in. In Minnesota, when a man in the crowd said he would be afraid to raise a child in America if Obama were elected, McCain responded, “He is a decent person and not a person you have to be scared of as president.” A few minutes later, he refuted a woman who called Obama “an Arab.”

 

Senator McCain heard from two of his heroes: civil rights legend Congressman John Lewis, and life-long Republican and former Joint Chiefs Chair and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Game Change reports:

McCain’s efforts to tamp down the furies were valorous, though they did nothing to erase his role in triggering the reaction in the first place. The civil rights hero John Lewis, whom McCain admired enormously, compared the Republican nominee and his running mate to George Wallace and said they were “playing with fire.”

Civil Rights Legend, Representative John Lewis (D-GA)

Another prominent African American was watching with alarm. Colin Powell had been friends with McCain for twenty-five years. The senator had been actively seeking his endorsement (as had Obama) for nearly two years. Powell warned McCain that his greatest reservation was the intolerant tone that seemed to be overtaking the Republican Party. McCain’s selection of Palin bothered Powell because he saw her as polarizing. He was dismayed by Mc-Cain’s deployment of Ayers as an issue, perceived it as pandering to the right.

And then there were the hate-soaked rallies, which he considered anti-American. This isn’t what we’re supposed to be, he thought.

Powell had leaned toward staying neutral, but these outbursts were all too much—and McCain had moved only belatedly to stop them. Obama, by contrast, had displayed terrific judgment during the financial crisis, Powell thought. And his campaign had been run with military precision; the show of overwhelming force struck the general as a political realization of the Powell Doctrine. On October 19, he endorsed Obama on Meet the Press.

Colin Powell endorses Senator Barack Obama on Meet The Press

The general’s repudiation was a stinging blow for McCain. Beyond their longtime friendship, Powell represented the same brand of Republicanism as McCain’s. Tough on defense. Fiscally prudent. Pragmatic and nondoctrinaire. McCain had to wonder what had become of him if his current incarnation was repelling someone like Powell. He was startled by the crazies at his rallies. Who were they? Why were they there? And what did they see in him? In the final two weeks of the race, McCain began to try to salvage something of his reputation.

He put away the harshest of the personal invective against Obama and went back to talking about the economy, rash spending, and Iraq.”

Leaders Choose Responsibility

Senator McCain saw the unintended consequences of his fiery rhetoric and stopped. As a responsible leader does. Leaders choose responsibility, even if there is not a direct line between what they say and the violence or threatened violence that ensues.

There are two possible conclusions about President Trump’s incitement of violence. Either it is intentional or it is reckless. Either he wants the violence, or he doesn’t care about the violence. Neither absolves him of responsibility. Indeed, it may be even more frightening if the violence is not his intention, but that he is indifferent about it.

The poet TS Eliot gave us a way to understand this.

TS Eliot

He said,

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm; but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”

But whether intentional or merely the result of indifference, the victims of violence experience it as real. And an effective leader would stop.

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Please note: Helio Fred Garcia is executive director of Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership and is on the adjunct faculties of both New York University and Columbia University where he teaches, among other things, ethics. But the views expressed here are solely his own and not necessarily reflective of any other entity.

 

Logos President Interviews on Women Worldwide Podcast

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Logos Consulting Group president Helio Fred Garcia was a guest on the June 1, 2018 Women Worldwide Podcast hosted by Deirdre Breakenridge. The podcast is also broadcast on the C-Suite Radio Network.

Deirdre Breakenridge, host of Women Worldwide

Breakenridge is the CEO of Pure Performance Communications and the Author of Answers for Modern Communicators: A Guide to Effective Business Communication.

After more than 25 years of mentoring women and professionals in business and communications, Deirdre Breakenridge, an author, speaker, and consultant, launched her podcast, Women Worldwide, on C-Suite Radio to give women, and some men, a voice and platform to discuss their challenging yet rewarding career journeys. Interviewed by Breakenridge, women and men around the globe share their incredible stories; those who have experienced the heights of success and at times, the agony of defeat. With a vision to impart wisdom and to help people to soar to new heights, Women Worldwide uncovers different perspectives and ways for C-Suite listeners to find their inner strength.

 

The interview began with Breakenridge asking Garcia to share his journey as an immigrant to the United States.  Garcia responded,

I guess my journey is what you might call a typical American immigrant journey. I got to this country from Brazil when I was six. I actually arrived one week before first grade. And I didn’t speak a word of English… My first day of school I couldn’t understand what was going on and the teachers just concluded that I was dumb. Because of my appearance — I have fair skin and blue eyes and then had blonde hair — they didn’t see me as the typical Latin American immigrant. They just assumed that I was a dumb kid.”

Garcia described how he was essentially ignored by his teachers for the first five years of school.

“But in sixth grade a very special teacher took me aside on the first day and asked me a bunch of questions. And I have a vivid memory of her just smiling and beaming and her her chin lifting up to the sky and she let out a deep breath and said, ‘My son, you’re not stupid. You don’t speak English. And she realized that for five years I hadn’t failed in school; the school had failed me. And she made me her project.”

Garcia then described how that teacher had kept him after school for 90 minutes every day for a full year.

“We caught up with all the English I hadn’t learned and she had me begin to memorize public documents– the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address.  She had me speak in the front of the room. She had me do elocution. She had me recite so that every syllable could be heard in the back of the room. She had me put marbles in my mouth and do it again so she could hear every syllable. And by the end of that year I was not only caught up, I was way ahead of my classmates.”

After Garcia recounted his personal journey, Breakenridge shifted the discussion to issues arising from Garcia’s latest book, The Agony of Decision: Mental Readiness and Leadership in a Crisis.

You can hear the entire interview here:

 

 

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Communication in E – Commerce: Guest Blog by Erna Li

Introduction by Iris Wenting Xue

This is my first in a series of guest blogs featuring my recently-graduated capstone (thesis) advisees in New York University’s Master’s in Public Relations and Corporate Communication.

I myself was a guest-blogger when I graduated two years ago from the program. (See A 10-C Model for Apologies here.) And it is my great honor to become a Capstone advisor and contribute to the program.

In  her capstone, Erna Li conducted analysis on the China-born e-commerce company Alibaba and compared it to American e-commerce company Amazon in terms of social media and business model aspects to learn best practices.  She focused on the challenge of building messages that resonate as the companies expand from just domestic online shopping platforms to global online retailers.  You can read the entire capstone here.

Communication in E – Commerce: Guest Blog by Erna Li

ErnaLi

Online shopping in a cash-based country could be a dream to a teenager. I still remember the excitement of winning the first bid for a backpack on eBay at my senior high school in China. After shopping online for over ten years and learning public relations/communication for six years, I realized how important it will be if e-commerce companies could strategically convey messages to their target audiences. They need to send out the right messages at the right time via an appropriate channel.

We assumed that communication would be easy for of e-commerce companies compared to other industries, because  e-commerce is online, global, and almost everywhere.  However, successful e-commerce companies face unexpected challenges when they try to expand to other territories.  They need strategic communication to overcome challenges that occur in international environments.

Alibaba Case Study: Born in China, Created for the World 

alibaba

Alibaba is an enormous China-founded e-commerce company. This company powers 80% of online commerce in China. From flight ticket reservation to fresh fruit delivery, consumers are able to find most kinds of services they need. At the end of December 2014, Alibaba had almost 334 million active buyers on its website.  Such success would not have been possible without a social media and public relations campaign.

Alibaba Corporate Communication Strategy: Domestic Shopping Day to Global Shipping Festival

GlobalShippingFestival

Each November 11th since 2009, Alibaba has launched a domestic online shopping celebration campaign. The date is well known in China as Single’s Day  — the date’s number eleven represents people who are single. Initially, the idea was for singles to celebrate their freedom and independence. Now, it is also an excuse to shop. People are more than welcomed to shop online whether or not they are single.

The above image is a screenshot of the Alibaba website. It says that all merchandise is available for at least a 50% discount on November 11th. Every year the discount theme is similar. Before 2014, Alibaba’s corporate message was about the discount and coupons. After Alibaba went through 2014 IPO, Alibaba changed its message and emphasized its global shipping services. The target audience is mostly the Chinese who live overseas. That is to say, Alibaba upgraded its shipping from purely domestic to global.  However, Alibaba’s website is not available in English, which could limit participation of the international buyers in the Global Shipping Festival.

Best Practice

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 12.22.35 PM

(http://fortune.com/2015/11/11/alibaba-singlesday-record-2015/)

With their successful public relations and social media campaign, Singles Day in 2015 reached e-commerce sales to $9.8 billion. The chart above shows how Single Day’s revenue in China was more than all sales volume during the U.S. shopping holidays in 2014.

Challenge: Stock Decline

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 12.19.50 PM

(http://www.barrons.com/articles/alibaba-why-it-could-fall-50-further-1442036618)

Barron’s, an American weekly stock market-focused newspaper, posted an analysis “A Hot Stock Turns Cold.” As the first chart shows, Alibaba’s stock has kept dropping since December 2015. The price reached its peak in November, which also suggests that Global Shipping Day campaign remains an important date for the company.

Situation analysis – Map impact and likelihood

I have learned the following chart from the crisis management perspective during the crisis communication course in 2015. Since then I tried to apply it in other business communication settings.

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 11.46.38 AM

The above chart says that the most likely/ already happened is the stock price decline. The major impact of dropping stock is investment lost and negative influence on financial performance. The possible critical impact is that Alibaba might lose some investors. The major possible impact is that Alibaba’s credibility is criticized and questioned. Wall Street Journal, BBC, Fortune, Reuters and other media outlets might state the controversy from different angles. The critical remote impact on Alibaba is that the declining stock could cause public concerns and shareholders’ disappointment.

In Alibaba’s case, there are two main reasons behind the scene that led to the stock slide.

  • Alibaba has strong domestic and overseas competitors. JD.com is a Chinese e-commerce company based in Beijing. It is one of the largest B2C online retailers. Another strong oversea competitor is Amazon. As Amazon has been in the e-commerce industry for decades, it has stable customer resources and deep understanding of the market. Even some of the Alibaba’s business models are learned from Amazon.
  • A controversy regarding potentially counterfeit products sold through Alibaba has led to negative visibility and stock market declines.

 

Leadership Lessons from an Accidental Admiral

Book Review and Commentary

Helio Fred Garcia Helio Fred Garcia | Bio | Posts
28 Dec 2014

James G. Stavridis tried to leave the Navy in 1981, after his five-year commitment was up, to attend law school.  But he got a call from his Annapolis mentor, then Lieutenant Commander Mike Mullen (later to become Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff).  Mullen said, “You want law school. OK. Let me try and get the Navy to send you to a law school.”  The next day he called and offered to have the Navy send Stavridis to the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.  Stavridis pointed out that Fletcher is not a law school, but school of international relations.

Mullen’s reply: “It has ‘law’ in the name. And it is hard to get orders to it. So you better take it now.”  Stavridis did.  He received a PhD in international relations and was named the outstanding student in his class, setting in motion a career that propelled him to be one of only two 1976 graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy to receive four stars.  (The other, Marine General John Allen, served as head of NATO and U.S. operations in Afghanistan.)

The nation owes a debt to  Adms. Mullen and Stavridis, both for their service and for the decision-making thirty-three years ago that kept Stavridis in the Navy.

navyadm4wtstar

In 2009 Adm. Stavridis was finishing a three-year tour as the four-star head of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) when he was appointed by President Obama to become simultaneously Supreme Allied Commander of NATO (a position known as SACEUR) and also commander of the U.S. European Command (EUCOM). He was the first Navy officer to so serve.  In those two roles he was simultaneously in charge of both all NATO operations around the globe (including the International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan (ISAF)) and all U.S. operations on the continent of Europe.  In those capacities he presided over the 2011 campaign in Libya that ultimately removed Muammar Gaddafi from power.

Adm. Stavridis, who retired from the Navy in 2013 to become the Dean of his Alma Mater, the Fletcher School, has written a memoir of his time in uniform, The Accidental Admiral: A Sailor Takes Command at NATO. (Naval Institute Press, 2014)

Accidental Admiral Book Cover

Worth Reading

The Accidental Admiral is my pick for the best leadership and leadership communication book of 2014.

It is worth reading, not just because it is elegantly written and shows in clear language the challenge of leading such complex organizations.  And not just as a good window into both diplomacy and military strategy over the last five years.  But also for three other reasons:

  1. Because Adm. Stavridis is an inspired and inspiring leader, and The Accidental Admiral is also a handbook on effective leadership, with application well beyond the military.
  2. Because Adm. Stavridis is a proponent of effective strategic communication, again with application well beyond the military.
  3. Because Adm. Stavridis is one of the big thinkers about national security, who will be shaping the views of the next generation of national security leaders.  His views on smart power and open-source security (see below) are particularly worth noting.

Adm. Stavridis lays out the theme of his book early:

“The big lesson that I learned along the way, and which is the underpinning of this book, is in one sense very basic: the world is a diverse and complex place, and single-point ‘silver bullet’ solutions for its problems will almost always fail. Unilateral action is usually a disappointment; alliances, partnerships, and friendships are everything. We must apply international, inter-agency, and public-private connections in creating security in the twenty-first century.”

In many ways Adm. Stavridis echos the philosophy of his mentor, retired Joint Chiefs Chair Mike Mullen.  In his 2009 article in Joint Force Quarterly,  Adm. Mullen decried both the foreign policy and the strategic communication failures of the prior decade.  He chided the nation’s leaders for the arrogance; for assuming that our good intentions by themselves would have us prevail.

“To put it simply, we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate…. I also hope we learn to be more humble, to listen more. Because what we are after in the end—or should be after—are actions that speak for themselves, that speak for us. What we need more than anything is credibility. And we can’t get that in a talking point.”

Decision Criteria: When to Use Force?

One of the challenges Adm. Stavridis faced as SACEUR was achieving agreement and commitment for NATO operations, both in Afghanistan and in Europe, from Nato’s 28 member nations.  His investment in relationships and diplomacy came to fruition during the campaign to protect Libyan civilians between March and November, 2011.  That campaign led to the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi, who was later killed by his own people.  In addition to recounting the run-up to and the implementation of that campaign, Adm. Stavridis offers lessons learned from the Libya campaign that can help inform decisions on the use of force in other conflicts, such as in Syria or against ISIL.

what-is-the-levant-why-obama-says-isil-instead-of-isis-islamic-state

“I do think we can draw some quick lessons from Libya that might inform the decision to engage elsewhere…

  1. There must be a pressing need in a humanitarian sense. This is the somewhat controversial legal doctrine of “responsibility to protect,” or R2P, as it is sometimes called. When large numbers of innocent civilians are being killed or threatened by disaster (man-made or natural), intervention must be considered.
  2. Allies and coalitions are crucial. The age of unilateral action is rapidly passing. Despite all frustrations, working with a coalition is vastly better than going it alone.
  3. Regional support is vital. The presence of Arab coalition partners in Libya was key.
  4. You must understand the language, culture, history, and hierarchy of any nation or region into which an intervention is considered.
  5. Bring lots of capability: intelligence, surveillance, targeting, ordnance, ships, aircraft, and – if necessary (and hope that they are not necessary) – troops on the ground.
  6. Try to minimize casualties. Interventions in today’s world are about relieving human suffering, not increasing it. That means working with humanitarian organizations, energizing public-private connections, using only precision-guided munitions, and paying attention to refugees at sea and on the ground.
  7. It will be expensive. More than you expect. Much more.
  8. Bring lawyers, strategic communicators, and public affairs experts, and engage the media early, often, and continuously.
  9. Do it under the auspices of the UN if at all possible. There may be times when it is not possible, but it is vastly better to intervene under legal norms provided by the UN.
  10. Probably most important, good luck. You will need it. In Libya, we had more than our normal share. It won’t always be so.”

Good advice.  And note that President Obama seemed to follow many of these principles in formulating a response to ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

Lessons for Leaders

But the real value of The Accidental Admiral for civilian readers comes from Adm. Stavridis’ leadership principles.  He summarizes his leadership approach:

“Any leader worth his or her salt understands that leaders must work hard to get to know the people on the team as individuals and demonstrate sincere concern for their families. In addition, they must master the skills and technology of any job; encourage teamwork and demand determination and dedication to task and mission; build innovation as a core competency; and insist on civility. In essence, leaders do best when they approach their position with an attitude of ‘leader as servant,’ always treating their teams with dignity, honor, and respect. No mystery there – except, perhaps, why so few leaders actually put those tenets to use…

People will almost always become what you expect and tell them to be: if you are suspicious and certain that they are going to malinger and procrastinate and do anything they can to get out of work, they usually will; if you tell them that they are going to get things done in record time and give them the resources and goals to do it, they usually will… But the key is always ‘leader as servant.’”

Adm. James G. Stavridis

Adm. James G. Stavridis

Adm. Stavridis outlines what he calls “tricks of the trade: important ways in which a good leader can put broad philosophical ideas into operation, make sure the goals of everyone in the organization are aligned, and maintain grace under pressure.”  They include:

  • “Speak and write with simplicity and precision, and don’t accept imprecision from those around you. Casualness in speech and writing can lead to huge disconnects. This is particularly true with e-mail, which – when you hit Send – becomes etched in stone…
  • Prepare thoroughly for key events. Make sure you understand which events truly matter.   Don’t let the chaff floating around in the wind distract you from what is really important to your job…Leaders need to look ahead several months or even a year or two at a time; pick out the events that really matter; and spend an enormous amount of time, energy, and resources ensuring that they are fully prepared.
  •  Be your own spokesperson. When things go wrong, it is much easier to find reasons why you should say nothing than to step up to your responsibilities…. But that gives the impression that the senior leadership is uncaring or unaware…After a sexual assault took place recently in the Australian Army, the Army’s commander, General David Morrison, posted a hard-hitting video and made repeated personal appearances condemning such attacks in the strongest terms and telling the offenders in direct terms: ‘Get out of our Army.’  Similar assaults have plagued the U.S. military, but many senior commanders have held back, fearing that they will ‘prejudice potential juries’ and ‘exert command influence.’ That is the wrong approach in my view – being your own spokesperson means stepping up and calling it like you see it in public.  The Aussies have it right.
  • Carve out time to think. Write down your thoughts. Share them with others whose opinions you respect.
  • Don’t lunge at the ball. Too many decisions are made in haste, under pressure, based on emotional reaction, or with incomplete facts. Take the time to gather the information you need. Don’t be driven by anyone else’s timeline unless absolutely required (i.e., by law).
  • Details matter, but think big thoughts. Balance the time spent on absorbing and understanding details and that spent sitting back from the thicket of the day to day and trying to think through new ideas, concepts, and necessities for your family, your organization, and the nation.
  • Look at the new law or regulation for yourself. Don’t rely on summaries or a staff member’s or lawyer’s opinion as to what the law says. Get it and read it yourself.
  • Organize yourself.  Don’t turn over personal organization to assistants, no matter how good they are. Much of the value of getting organized… is that it forces you to think holistically about events. The essential material thus gets into your head.
  • Carve out time to read. Take a balanced approach: fiction, nonfiction, professional journals, and so on.
  • Make mentorship a priority. Listen, learn, educate, and lead… Walk around and listen to your team. And show up early for meetings.”

Leadership. Churchill

Taking Strategic Communication Seriously

A second reason to read The Accidental Admiral is Adm. Stavridis’ view on strategic communication, which he sees as the glue that holds together all other strategic initiatives.   His recommendations are completely consistent with best practices and with the approach I advocate in my book The Power of Communication: Skills to Build Trust, Inspire Loyalty, and Lead Effectively (FT Press, 2012).  He knows that you can’t move audiences unless you meet them where they are.  In particular, he understands the power of human connection; of taking audiences seriously and engaging them effectively, not as an afterthought but as an essential element of leadership.  As I often say, communication is the continuation of policy, by yet other means.

His philosophy of strategic communication is summarized as follows:

“Effective communication is the key skill a senior leader needs in today’s world… Winston Churchill is said to have observed that the principal difference between management and leadership is communication. Effective communication requires leaders of an organization to take an early and persistent role in deciding how ideas and decisions are shaped and delivered.

Simply stated, the objective of strategic communication is to provide audiences with truthful and timely information that will influence them to support the objectives of the communicator. In addition to truthfulness and timeliness, the information must be delivered to the target audience in a precise way. This generalized approach can be applied to essentially any organization. It may sound easy, but in practice it is as hard as hell. The U.S. Department of Defense and NATO are damn good at launching Tomahawk missiles but can’t launch an idea to save their lives, figuratively (and occasionally literally) speaking.”

Save their lives

He notes that strategic communication is vastly more art than science, but also offers the following insights.

“Here are some things that I have seen work, although none of them is foolproof.

  • Remember that the postman never rings twice. You get only one chance to make a first impression on any story. Pick your spot and start talking carefully, thinking about the setting and the context, getting expert advice, and get out in front – intelligently.
  • You can’t un-ring a bell. Something once said can never be pulled back, especially in the media echo chamber, which demands constant content to fill the 24/7 news cycle. Ill-advised short-, punchy, cute phrases can kill you. Before you speak, make sure you know exactly what you want to say. And remember, there are times when silence is golden.
  • Tell the truth. The most important principle is the simplest: Always provide the truth to your audience. Nothing will more quickly doom strategic communication to failure than a falsehood. A strategic communication team can have a superb message, excellent messengers, and a carefully crafted plan – yet a single lie can bring the entire effort crashing down… Tell the truth and emphasize that you do tell the truth.  Over the long run, it is unquestionably the best approach.
  • Have a good message. The most brilliant strategic communication in the world will not sell a bad message… Again, this seems self-evident, but there are many in the world of strategic communication who believe that a bad message can be sold effectively. It cannot. The strategic message must resonate with the audience because it shares appropriate human values such as liberty, justice, honest, economic improvement, security, and fair treatment.
  • Understand the audience. Can there be two more different countries in the world than enormous Portuguese-speaking Brazil and tiny English-speaking St. Kitts? Or Spanish-speaking, economically strong Chile and poverty-stricken French-Creole-speaking Haiti? The audience is different in each country or territory and each group of people, during each particular season. Therefore, the messages must be evaluated and tailored with the diverse qualities of the receiver in mind.
  • Pull the trigger promptly… Do not let the ‘perfect’ become the enemy of the ‘very good.’ Develop a reasonably good plan fast and execute it right away. Otherwise you are likely to end up back on your heels in the world of the perpetual news cycle. Leaders tend to want to wait until they have all the facts before acting, but they often won’t have the time. Especially in this modern electronic media-driven world you will literally and figuratively be buried before all the facts come in.
  • Think at the strategic level… A strategic communicator must stay at the strategic level and not dip down into the tactical level represented by public affairs…. Indeed, strategic communication consists of a wide variety of tools and processes within a command… Each has a role to play in effective strategic communication at the tactical or operational level, but none of them is a substitute for a strategic plan operating at the level of the entire theater across time, space, language, and culture. At the strategic level, the intellectual firepower of the command must be brought most distinctly to bear.
  • Measure results. Many strategic communication plans flounder because the implementers, thrilled with having developed and ‘sold’ the plan, are completely consumed with its execution and fail to take the most important single step: measuring its results.  The absolute key to effective communication is rolling out a plan, organizing it widely, executing it energetically, and then measuring its results. ‘Organizing it widely’ means making sure that all of the key stakeholders are in on the formulation of the plan – essentially, ‘in on the takeoff, in on the landing.’ Too often strategic communication plans are cooked up by brilliant public affairs professionals, vetted swiftly with the top leadership, and then promulgated. Without wide support on the buildup, though, it is unlikely there will be much ground-level support when the plan comes out.
  • Adjust fire. No strategic communication plan is perfect at conception. All must be adjusted as time goes by. You may go to war armed with the ideas you have, but you will not win unless you are willing and able to modify those ideas along the way – discarding those that fail and welding on new approaches as needed.   One way to approach measurement is to adopt short-, medium-, and long-term views. The short term is immediate reactions – say, twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Medium-term measurement is done after thirty to forty-five days. Long-term measurement takes place at the one-year point. After each of these measurement windows, the plan should be evaluated and recast according to what is working and what is not.
  • Add spice. Strategic communication should not be boring.
  • Maintain steady pressure. Very seldom do strategic communication plans succeed overnight…. All good strategic communication plans take time, sometimes generations, to fulfill.
  • Bursts of energy. The analog of steady pressure, of course, is bursts of energy. In any strategic communication plan there will be moments when it is opportune to hit with bursts of energy…. A creative strategic planner is constantly looking for the right moment to come in high and hard with an energy burst.
  • Accepting defeat and moving on. Some strategic communication battles are un-winnable. Sometimes the message is not going to have any effect no matter how effective the plan.
  • Knowing when you win. Sometimes the hardest thing for any strategic planner is not accepting defeat but rather recognizing victory. As a general rule, ‘winning’ in the world of strategic communication is never clean and seldom obvious.”

These principles make sense, but like Adm. Stavridis I am often shocked by how many individuals and organizations that use the phrase “strategic communication” seem to be neither strategic nor focused on effective communication.  Rather, they tend to blend the strategic and the tactical, or assume that only one set of tools (media, social media, lobbying) matters, rather than seeing the big picture and aligning all the forms of influence.  The discipline of thinking first at the strategic level, what I call being habitually strategic, is difficult, but the key to effective communication.  Flawless execution at the operational and tactical levels also matters.  But if the strategic part isn’t right, flawless execution can have counter-productive consequences.

Adm. Stavridis offers four recommendations worth considering for strategic communication in the twenty-first century.

“First, strategic communication is a team sport. It must be part of a joint inter-agency, and commercial system. It does no good whatsoever to have a perfect strategic communication plan that is ultimately contradicted by other U.S. government agencies, as – unfortunately – is often the case.

Second, at least for strategic communication that goes beyond the shores of the United States, … the international community must be considered and then consulted often.

Third, as we develop and execute our strategic communication plans, we should ask the simple question: who are the thinkers, the idea makers?… Recognize that the ‘strategic communication director’ is more like the conductor of a band than an expert on any given instrument. Moreover, give the director of strategic communication unfettered access to the commander.

Fourth, and finally, anyone who is trying to move a message must work with all the participants to arrive at a shared understanding of what constitutes strategic communication in an international sense.

These insights by themselves would make paying attention to Adm. Stavridis a good investment of time and energy.  And it is gratifying to see this generation of military leaders — Adm. Stavridis, Adm. Mullen, Gen. Allen, understand the need to be effective both in leading complex coalitions and in aligning all actions with effective communication.

But there’s a final reason to follow Adm. Stavridis: He is helping the nation and its leaders re-think the use of power.

Rethinking Power

In many ways he is following in the footsteps of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government professor Joseph Nye, whose 2002 book, The Paradox of American Power: Why the World’s Only Superpower Can’t Go It Alone described the distinction between hard power — military might and economic clout — and soft power — diplomacy, academic and cultural exchange, and other forms of attraction.   The paradox, according to Nye, is that the more the US would use hard power the more it would squander its reservoir of soft power.  But the converse didn’t apply: the US could use its soft power effectively without diminishing its hard power reserves.  And in his 2011 book, The Future of Power, Nye describes how power is now diffusing and how many threats to national security now come from non-state players.

The-Future-of-Power-Nye-Joseph-S-JR-9781586488918

Open-Source Security

While still in uniform Adm. Stavridis took this approach and introduced the notion of Open-Source Security.  In a TED Talk while still serving as SACEUR/EUCOM, he outlined the concepts of Open Source Security as follows:

“Instead of building walls to create security, we need to build bridges.  Open-source security is about connecting the international, the inter-agency, the private-public, and lashing it together with strategic communication, largely in social networks.  Why do we need to do that? Because our global commons is under attack in a variety of ways, and none of the sources of threat to the global commons will be solved by building walls.”

Among the threats to the global commons — the infrastructure we all share — he includes piracy on the seas, cyber crime, and trafficking — the movement of narcotics, weapons, and humans.  These are done primarily by non-state players, but they create instability and flash-points that can lead to shooting wars.  But there is no single state player solution to these global threats.

Says Adm. Stavridis,

“So here we are, twenty-first century. We know our twentieth century tools will not work. We will not deliver security solely from the barrel of a gun.”

Silouhette of sniper.Stavridis

While some military might may be necessary, and while it must always be available to policymakers, the challenges are much more complicated.  He gives the example of the Afghan security forces.  One of the key challenges they face is that the Taliban restricted education.  So most men and women who serve in the Afghan forces join without the ability to read or write in their own language.  So through a combination of security services, many government agencies of many nations, and private contractors, the Afghan security forces learn to read.  This creates lasting benefits and stability for Afghanistan, and helps fulfill the national security interests of the United States, NATO, and our coalition allies.  But it requires resources of the fifty nations in the mission, plus public-private collaboration.

 

Hard-soft power reastat

He argues,

“Life is not an on-and-off switch. You do not need to have a military that is either in hard combat or is in the barracks. I would argue life is a rheostat. You have to dial it in. And as I think about how we create security in the twenty-first century, there will be times when we will apply hard power in true war and crisis. But there will be many instances… where our militaries can be part of creating twenty-first century security: international, inter-agency, private-public, connected with competent communication.”

 

His TED Talk is worth watching to the end.  It’s just under 17 minutes long.

His conclusion:

“No one of us is as smart as all of us thinking together. No one person, no one alliance, no one of us… My thesis for you is that by combining international, inter-agency, private-public, and strategic communication together in this twenty-first century, we can create the sum of all security.”

I believe that open-source security will be a key organizing principle of much security discussion in the years ahead.  Reading The Accidental Admiral to see the practice in action, and watching the Ted Talk to see the current conceptual framework, will give you a pretty good head start.

Your thoughts welcomed…

Fred

 

 

A Model Apology: Guest Blog by Iris Wenting Xue

Helio Fred Garcia Helio Fred Garcia | Bio | Posts
15 Oct 2014 | 10:51PM

This is my second in a series of guest blogs featuring my recently-graduated capstone (thesis) advisees in New York University’s Master’s in Public Relations and Corporate Communication.

(See my earlier post, On Wall Street, Reputation, and Recovery: Guest Blog by Julia Sahin here.)

About two weeks ago, my Logos Institute colleague colleague Adam Tiouririne posted a blog about a particular part of the discipline we use at Logos, the creation of models that help channel both experience and research into more accurate predictions about the future.

The key to the model is that it makes predictions easier.  Says Adam,

“Every business leader lives with dozens of models… or formal frameworks for how the world works.  If prices go down, demand goes up; if the distance is longer, the shipping costs are higher; if advertising is targeted, consumers are more likely to buy.  No model can ever predict every outcome, but a good one usually comes close.  The key to consistently predicting the future is to craft experience and research into a model — your very own crystal ball.”

Logos Institute - Predictive Models - 2014 SepAn effective model has explanatory power — making sense of a past event — and predictive power — predicting the likelihood of something happening in the future.  A big part of our work at Logos Institute, and in my Crisis Management and Crisis Communication teaching at NYU and other institutions, is finding models with both explanatory and predictive power.  And I often encourage my NYU Capstone students to develop such models.

This year, Iris Wenting Xue took up the challenge, developing a model that helps leaders and those who advise them to understand public apologies – how to evaluate an existing apology, and how to plan to apologize when public trust and confidence are at risk.

The whole issue of a public apology is very timely, from Captain Ron Johnson apologizing on behalf of all law enforcement following the death of Michael Brown and civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver apologizing to professional basketball stars in the aftermath of the Donald Sterling racist audiotapes.

Iris Wenting Xue

Iris Wenting Xue

Ms. Xue is now a research associate of the Logos Institute for Crisis Management and Executive Leadership.  Her NYU capstone was titled, “A Strategic Sorry: Studies on Leaders’ Apologies Using a 10-C Checklist.”  In this work Ms. Xue joins such leaders as James Lukaszewski, whose own eight-step Lukaszewski’s Law of Trust Restoration is required reading in my courses.

Ms. Xue’s Capstone lays out a model: Ten considerations that leaders need to take seriously when they plan apologies.  Too many apologies, says Ms. Xue, are made top-of-mind, without reflecting on what both experience and research show works and doesn’t work.  Her 10-C Checklist provides clarity of criteria on framing an apology that is likely to work.  You can download her Capstone here.

The 10-C Checklist

by Iris Wenting Xue

Leaders contemplating an apology should reflect on ten considerations that can help the apology have its desired effect.

The ten considerations are:

  1. Characteristic:  What is the nature of the event that calls for an apology.  Was it intentional or accidental?  Natural or man-made?  Caused by something done that shouldn’t have been done, or something not done that should have been?  In other words, how much do we know about the thing for which we need to apologize?
  2. Consequence:  What is the nature of the harm?  How severe is it?  How widespread?  Was the harm economic loss?  Injury?  Death?  Insult?  Other?
  3. Culture: What’s the cultural context in which the harm was caused and in which the apology will be made?  Is apology expected?  Popular?  Necessary?  Is it frowned upon?   Is there a culturally-appropriate form of apology (e.g., ceremonial bow in Japan)?
  4. Channel: Where should the apology be made?  Directly to those affected?  Through the media or social media?  On video or just in writing?  In person?  All of the above?
  5. Content:  Is it clear what is being apologized for?  (E.g., what the offender did, not what the offended felt.)  Is the apology complete?  Does it explain how the event happened?  Does it ask for forgiveness?   Does it include an admission of accountability?  Does it commit to take steps to prevent a recurrence?  Does it offer restitution?
  6. Customization:  Is it a general or a customized apology? Is the content specifically tailored for the event in question and for those who need to hear it?  Or is it just a generic statement of regret?
  7.  Change:  Is the apology as drafted likely to change audiences’ attitudes towards the person apologizing, or to make matters worse?  Has the person apologizing committed to changing his or her behavior in the future?
  8. Control.  When will the apology happen?  Will it be seen to be spontaneous or forced?  Is it at offered before being demanded?  Only after demands for an apology have become public?
  9. Cause:  What will be the perceived incentive of the person apologizing?  Is it to genuinely achieve forgiveness? Or to reduce financial harm?  Or to keep one’s job that might otherwise be in jeopardy?
  10. Charisma:  Does the person apologizing enjoy good reputation? Is he or she otherwise respected and popular?  How many times has he or she had to apologize before?  Do those prior attempts make this one seem less sincere?

Reflecting on these ten considerations can help a leader, and those who advise the leader, to more likely craft an apology that will work.

In future posts I’ll share the work of other recent NYU MS in Public Relations and Corporate Communication graduates.  Stay tuned…

Adventures in Time: Technology, Expectations, and the Nature of Work

Helio Fred Garcia Helio Fred Garcia | Bio | Posts
2 Sep 2014 | 11:55AM

What’s on your business card? Twenty years ago this month I was staffing a client investor meeting when an analyst handed me a business card that baffled me. I took it to my client, a very experienced and sophisticated investor relations head of a major bank.  She stared at it and said, “How strange.  Why would anyone want to put their email address on a business card?”

1994: What is the Internet, Anyway?

That same year, the cast of the Today show, in an unscripted moment, tried to make sense of email address protocols.

Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric couldn’t figure out what “@” meant.  Gumbel called it “that little mark, the a with a ring around it.”  Couric thought it meant About.  They asked their producer, off camera, what the Internet was, anyway.  His answer is worth watching.

In the 20 years since, email has gone from being a quaint curiosity to a basic reality of work.

But it wasn’t easy.  Fifteen years ago my firm started working with a major financial services company.  But one of our key client contacts, responsible for internal communication, wasn’t allowed to email outside the company.  Or to access the Internet.

2004: What is a Blog?

And on Meet the Press just 10 years ago the then host, the late Tim Russert, asked the now incoming host, Chuck Todd,  then the top editor at the political newsletter The Hotline, “What is a blog?”

Todd answered by referring to then presidential candidate Howard Dean’s blog as “essentially a digital bulletin board.”  Russert then recast the definition for the audience’s benefit: a “Cyber Bulletin Board.”

2014: Business Cards

Over this Labor Day weekend I’ve been thinking about that pioneering analyst with email on her business card.  That’s because my firm is now ordering new business cards, and grappling with the questions of what to put on the card:

  • Cell phone number?
  • Skype handle?
  • Twitter handle?
  • Blog site?
  • Website?
  • Fax number?! (Overheard at the office: “Does anyone use faxes anymore?”)
  • Titles? Do work titles matter?

And in my case, since I’ll be heading to China soon, and have already planned to have a Chinese translation of my business card, the questions include: Do I put my Twitter handle?   My Weibo handle?  Both?  Neither?

Fulfilling and Managing Expectations

In the case of my business card, the criteria I’m trying to use are these:  What would those who receive my card expect to find there?  And beyond that, what do I want them to find?

HFG Business Card

These criteria track the decision-making criteria we at Logos teach our clients and students on how to make choices in a crisis: What would reasonable people appropriately expect?  And how do we shape those expectations?

Those criteria seem to work quite well here:  Twenty years ago, most people did not expect to find an email address on a business card.  Now it’s completely expected.  The jury seems still to be out on blogs and Twitter; it’s more of a personal choice, or a set of expectations of the individual business card owner.

But the question of business cards is a relatively trivial microcosm of a much larger phenomenon.   A recent surge in connectivity has changed expectations of when one is on the job and how to connect with colleagues.

“…and then the Internet happened and everything changed.”

It seems almost trite these days to note that the Internet changed everything.  It did.

But I believe along the way there was one other event that took that change and supercharged it.  Until just a few years ago, most Internet developments were self-contained:  Search engines (Google), online video (YouTube), news, finance, entertainment, email, phones, Skype, etc.  And we experienced them one at a time.

Then in June, 2007, Apple introduced the iPhone.

Apple Reinvents the Phone

CEO Steve Jobs said that  Apple had reinvented the phone.  And they had.

But they also, eventually, reinvented our sense of connectivity. On one device we now had a phone, our music, and the Internet.  And with the introduction of apps, within a few years suddenly our phones were capable of just about anything.  (I once transferred money to my college-student daughter in Boston from the back seat of a taxi in Beijing, using just my phone and two apps — texting and banking.  The whole transaction — request to me, transfer, notification to my daughter, took less than 30 seconds.  My Chinese colleague was astounded that such a thing was even possible.  Come to think of it, so was I.)

Jobs

Perhaps as significant, Apple provided the ability to link the apps, so that we could seamlessly move from one to another — email to phone to text to calendar etc.) without having to stop and start, or even to understand how it all works.

Smart:Easy

That made it easy for someone like me — who knows nothing about computers — to use the device as if it’s an organically integrated whole.  I don’t know how it works.  And I don’t really care.  I just care that it works.

If you can spare an hour, it’s worth watching Jobs’ complete introduction to the iPhone, if only to hear the audience reaction to his demonstration of how everything is connected.  And to see how only seven years later, we take so much of it for granted.

So suddenly, whether with Apple’s iPhone or their competitors’ recent offerings, we can now access just about the entire Internet on our phone.  We carry more computing power in our pockets than the Apollo astronauts took to the moon. And all of this has now changed our sense of what it means to be on the job.

Work is No Longer a Place You Go

And the integration of everything onto devices makes possible a new way of understanding work.  Work is no longer a place you go.  It’s what you do, wherever you happen to be.  (So it’s valid to ask, should I put my street address on my business card?  Or will just my email address do? My office land-line phone?  Or just my mobile?)

This raises all kinds of work/life balance questions.  But it can also be empowering.  And the possibilities, just a few years into the future, are exciting.

Which leads back to the question I started musing about this Labor Day weekend.  Why would anyone want their email address on their business card?

And I can imagine 20 years from now someone asking this question: Business card?  Why would anyone want a business card?

The Power of Information

by Helio Fred Garcia

Communication has power.  But as with any powerful tool, if misused it can easily be dissipated or cause self-inflicted harm.

The Harvard University Distinguished Service Professor, and former Dean of the Kennedy School of Government, Joseph Nye, defines power as the ability to get what you want.  In his 2001 book The Paradox of American Power, Nye distinguishes between hard power – military force and economic might – and soft power – attraction.  He says that the paradox is this: the more a nation uses hard power, the more it dissipates soft power.  But it can use soft power all it wants without in any way diminishing its hard power.

The-Future-of-Power-Nye-Joseph-S-JR-9781586488918

Power Shifts

In his 2011 book, The Future of Power, professor Nye describes a power shift from state players to ordinary people.  This power shift changes the game for all concerned: for corporations, for NGOs, for governments, and for all others.  The power shift is this: what used to be the exclusive domain of governments, militaries, and corporations, are now the domain of regular people.

In a TED Talk at Oxford University he put it this way:

“Computing and communication costs have fallen a thousand-fold between 1970 and the beginning of this century… If the price of an automobile had fallen as rapidly as computing power you could buy a car today for five dollars.  …In 1970 if you wanted to communicate from Oxford to Johannesburg to New Delhi to Brasilia to anywhere, you could to it.  The technology was there.  But to do it, you had to be very rich.  A government.  A multi-national.  A corporation…. But you had to be pretty wealthy.   Now, anybody has that capacity… So capabilities that were once restricted, are now available to everyone.  And what that means is not that the age of the State is over, the State still matters, but the stage is crowded.”

We saw that power shift in 2011 when the Chinese government initially lied about a high-speed train crash and its victims.  But Chinese citizens took to the Chinese versions of social media, Sina Weibo and Renren, and embarrassed the Chinese premier into coming clean.

 Information as an Instrument of Power

 A new contribution to this discussion comes from Dr. Amy Zalman, in a recent policy piece in Perspectives.  Dr. Zalman, who is currently the Department of Defense Information Integration Chair at the National War College, grapples with a paradox about information as an instrument of power.

In “Getting the Information Albatross Off Our Back: Notes Toward an Information-Savvy National Security Community, Dr. Zalman notes, “while the effects of the information revolution on national security deepen, the American ability to act powerfully in these new circumstances remains shallow.”

Zalman cover

She says,

“We are virtually drowning in information —the words, images, and sounds through which humans communicate meaning to each other via various technologies, from the human voice to remote sensors. Yet, the United States wields ‘the information instrument of national power’ — as national security parlance would have it — poorly.”

Dr. Amy Zalman

Dr. Amy Zalman

 

She observes that rapid advances in communication technology have fundamentally changed society – not only relations between citizens and governments, but for all forms of institutions among themselves, and among those who matter to them.  She says,

“These changes are so profound as to have chipped away at the bedrock of the international system, the sovereign state. Once considered inviolable, the autonomous boundaries of states are now transgressed daily by people, news, and ideas set in motion by new technologies.

Yet no such revolution has occurred concerning the United States’ priorities when it comes to using informational power. Both in normative documents, such as the National Security Strategy, and in actual practice, the United States appears to think little of informational power as a strategic instrument.”

We Need a Mindshift to Accompany the Power Shift

Zalman argues that incremental reforms will not resolve the basic problem: The United States organizes information activities on the basis of a Cold War mindset.

“During the Cold War, it made good sense to think of the informational ‘instrument’ of power as the capacity to inject American values into populations whose governments and/or technological advancement limited their access to outside ideas.”

Hence the overwhelming success then of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe.   They projected American voices to where they could not otherwise be heard.

But Dr. Zalman admonishes that we are no longer in the Cold War.

“Soon, almost everyone in the world will be able to receive as well as disseminate informational content. There are few populations that are unknowingly isolated from others’ media. The ideological landscape is variegated and complex, not bipolar.”

Zalman Callout

Consider the failure of US public diplomacy in the aftermath of 9/11:

“The failure of the Cold War/Industrial Age model should be clear from the informational debacles of 
the ‘global war on terror.’ In the decade following the 9/11 attacks, just as in the Cold War, the United States sought to “tell its story” to Muslim publics that we imagined not only as isolated from information about the United States, but as geographically secluded in Muslim majority countries.

The effort backfired among not only satellite TV- saturated cosmopolitans in Arab and Western capitals, but also provincial Afghans who in some areas had not heard of the 9/11 attacks. In both cases, the mistake was the same: the United States failed to note that people everywhere already have their own narratives, their own histories, and their own ways of articulating even the values we universally share.”

Prescriptions for Effective Use of Information as an Instrument of Power

Dr. Zalman calls for a new conceptual framework and a new alignment of resources to mobilize power within that framework.  It consists of the following:

  1. Retire the Cold War/Industrial Age Information Model.
  2. Instill a New Framework of Information Power. Using information powerfully today requires the ability to
    • “Act in accordance with the fact that actions, as well as intended communications, relay meaning to others
    • Use different kinds of communicative media to distribute and collect information
    • Develop and sustain networks required to tackle multi-disciplinary issues
    • Engage other stakeholders by aligning goals and interests on an issue-by-issue basis
    • Navigate the symbolic territory of adversaries, friends, and key stakeholders. By ‘symbolic territory,’ I mean that landscape of historical memory, stories, images, figures of speech, and metaphors through which people understand and relate their experiences.”

3. The education of professional senior leaders should reflect and promote a new framework of thinking.

4. The United States Government should organize informational activities to generate informational power.

“Today, we need a new model that reflects the fact that all government actions and activities are potentially communicative, and that this situation poses both risks and opportunities. Every agency should house an office of informational power to develop proactive communications risk strategies, to exploit opportunities for mutual engagement— whether military exercises or agricultural exchanges— and to coordinate with other USG agencies.”

Lessons for Leaders and Communicators in Business and Other Realms

Whether at the national level or at the level of individual business enterprises, NGOs, not-for-profits, and other organizations, we need to think differently about telling our story.

It’s not about telling our story.  It’s about connecting with our stakeholders, and having them share in our story.  We need to be as good at listening as at sending messages.  We can’t direct until we connect.  Or as I say in The Power of Communication, we can’t move people until we meet them where they are.  But that means knowing where they are; caring about where they are; and mobilizing resources to actually connect.

Garcia-book_NYU-SCPS-219x300-1

Your feeback welcome.

Fred

Worth Reading, Sept 24, 2012

  • Media and quote approvals: There’s been an intriguing series of discussions in the New York Times (and Vanity Fair and elsewhere) about the practice of allowing interview subjects to review quotes due to be used in articles prior to print. The Times covered this aspect of political reporting back in July; David Carr explored it more recently in “The Puppetry of Quotation Approval” and in a follow-up article asking participants in the process to weigh in; and then finally on Sept. 20th, the Times issued a new policy that “forbids after-the-fact quote approval.” From our experience, this is a practice that has become somewhat common in the world of financial and business reporting as well (not just relegated to politics), and it will be interesting to see the effects of the Times’ new policy, if any.
  • Distrust in media: A new Gallup poll found that “Americans’ distrust in the media hit a new high this year, with 60% saying they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. Distrust is up from the past few years, when Americans were already more negative about the media than they had been in years prior to 2004.” As Gallup points out, this lack of trust has particular implications during an election year. (via Romenesko)
  • Fortune 500 and social media: The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s Center for Marketing Research issued its latest report on the use of social media by the Fortune 500, which it’s done every year since 2008. Adoption and range of use continues to grow in this group, and the annual study provides a good comprehensive look at global business adoption of social media.
  • New Pew Internet research: The Pew Internet and American Life Project issued two recent reports of interest, one on smartphone ownership in the United States (they found that “45% of American adults own smartphones”), and one on “Photos and Videos as Social Currency Online.”
  • Cultural critique, Gangnam-style: It’s almost impossible to escape the Internet meme of the late summer/early fall – Gangnam Style, a music video by the South Korean artist Psy that’s overtaken the U.S. and much of the world. But The Atlantic provided one of the more interesting cultural insights into the video in the article “Gangnam Style, Dissected: The Subversive Message Within South Korea’s Music Video Sensation.”