Countering Violent Extremism: Beyond Words
by Amy Zalman, Ph.D., EastWest Institute.

Words matter.

Words shape world views. Words provoke action and reaction, which in turn provoke more words. Getting the words right is critically important. Getting the action right is also critically important. And aligning the words and actions is even more important.

Much public diplomacy and other national and international discourse of the U.S. government in recent years has gotten it wrong.

A new policy paper by a Dr. Amy Zalman, published by the EastWest Institute, highlights the mis-steps of the recent past and prescribes solutions for future public discourse.

Dr. Zalman is a senior strategist at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), where she focuses on trans-culturally astute research for U.S. government clients. She also writes the “About Terrorism” reference website for New York Times online division She has a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies from NYU and is highly proficient in Arabic. I met her when we were NYU faculty colleagues.

In reading Dr. Zalman’s assessment of and prescriptions for future public diplomacy I was struck by how much her underlying philosophy aligns deeply with Logos Institute’s own philosophy about communication as an instrument of strategy. And also how her assessment provides valuable insights not only on ways to counter extremism, but also on best practices in strategic communication across a range of disciplines. Read more

What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception, by Scott McClellan

Almost 20 years ago I was head of communication at a major company, and I spent much of every day speaking with reporters. The deal I had with the CEO was straightforward: “I won’t lie to you; I won’t lie for you; you can’t lie to me.”

At one point my boss lied to me, hoping I would pass the lie on to the press. I called him on it, and he promised not to do it again. Then he did it again. I unknowingly passed the lie on to reporters. They found out, and called me on it. So I quit.

Leaving my job wasn’t a hard decision, even though it was a painful one. Among other things, my wife was pregnant with our first child. And I didn’t have another job to go to. But it was one of the best decisions I’ve made.

Then as now I taught communication ethics in a graduate program at NYU. And one of the perennial questions of communication ethics is: When is it necessary to quit? I don’t suggest that there are easy answers. Every circumstance is a bit different. And it’s a highly personal choice. But there are consequences to making the wrong choice. And we all have to own the consequences of our choices.

Comes now Scott McClellan, in a tell-all book about his time as press secretary for President George W. Bush, that will be published next week. Read more

Harvard professor John G. Ruggie has submitted his third and final report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in his role as Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations.

The Ruggie Report is an important benchmark that captures current mainstream thinking on key business and human rights challenges. Ruggie’s recommendations are likely to influence businesses, governments, and non-governmental organizations working to improve corporate human rights performance. Companies seeking to meet stakeholder expectations for corporate responsibility should become familiar with Ruggie’s work.

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Cricket Batsman

Any cricket fans out there? I just got a crash course in the game this week and all because I read the book, Made to Stick, and found its contents virally adhesive …but I’ll get to that in a minute.

First, I’ll take this opportunity to inaugurate a regular segment of our blog called the “Sticky Wicket,” where we’ll offer little tidbits of crisis management counsel.

Tidbit No. 1. Always see the opportunity in crisis. It’s a batter’s game. Those of you who follow cricket will appreciate that companies (and individuals) facing down a crisis are forced to bat on a sticky wicket, much like cricketeers after a thunderstorm. What is a sticky wicket? In general parlance, it means a difficult and unpredictable situation. But it’s also cricket-speak for a wet, challenging playing field — ground that is mushy in places and hard and crusty in others. To quote the Wikipedia, batting under those conditions “… is awkward and sometimes hazardous, as the ball will spin and seam and there will be variable bounce.” Indeed, when a crisis looms, the real-life reputational match could prove not only difficult and embarrassing but season-ending. Or it could provide an unmatched opportunity for a strategic, steely-nerved batter to shine under adverse conditions and redirect his team’s fortunes.

We always counsel our clients to keep this second possibility in clear focus. For a real-life application of the theory, consider Jet Blue (for the record, not one of our clients) and its video apology. Although the apology is not without flaws or critics, the airline’s use of social media was a groundbreaking response to crisis generally appreciated by its customers and the public at large. It helped to put Team JetBlue back into the game.

Here’s another reason I like the cricket framework: the sports pundits say that the biggest difference between cricket and baseball is that baseball is a pitcher’s game (i.e., the pitcher takes center stage and is challenged by a series of batters), and cricket is a batter’s game (i.e., the batter becomes the focal point of the challenge as he deftly takes on a series of pitchers). Like cricket, crisis management is a batter’s game.

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New Yorker photo 2/11-18
In this week’s New Yorker Hendrik Hertzberg sums up the reasons that Senator Hillary Clinton’s policy arguments aren’t impeding the momentum that is building for her Democratic Party rival, Senator Barack Obama. Hertzberg notes:

An argument is no match for an aura.

I have been thinking about Hertzberg’s insight this week, and noting both how aura v. argument was predictive in recent presidential elections, and how it holds important lessons beyond politics, for corporations and other complex organizations.

Politics and Framing

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Three years ago, when The Economist first published a special report on corporate responsibility, the magazine took a highly skeptical view, asking whether, to justify its activities, a company must do anything more than simply earn a profit?[i]

Not surprising, perhaps, that The Economist would echo the orthodox arguments of Milton Friedman, the economist who famously wrote in 1970 that the only “social responsibility of business is to increase its profits,” and that corporate social responsibility is a “fundamentally subversive doctrine in a free society.” [ii]

I was intrigued when the British magazine took up corporate responsibility again last month. It seems The Economist has had a change of heart.

The Economist’s 2008 Special Report acknowledges that corporate responsibility is now seen as mainstream by leading companies and concludes that it is worthwhile to single out corporate social responsibility “if it helps businesses look outwards . . . and think imaginatively about risks and opportunities.” [iii]

Why such a conversion in the space of three years? One reason may be the backlash generated by its 2005 Report, which was widely criticized by corporate responsibility practitioners and, reportedly, by members of The Economist’s own editorial staff.

It is more likely that The Economist is simply acknowledging business realities it can no longer ignore. Read more

Why Should the Boss Listen to You?: The Seven Disciplines of the Trusted Strategic Advisor, by James E. Lukaszewski, Jossey-Bass.

why_should_the_boss_listen_to_you_cover_art.JPGHow do you make a difference? How do you obtain and exercise influence inside your own organization? How can you become a trusted advisor, either in your own shop or to your clients?

Master counselor James E. Lukaszewski has written a remarkable guide to gaining the proverbial seat at the table, and then making good use of that seat. Why Should the Boss Listen to You is a thorough, candid, and highly usable guide to the personal attributes that are necessary to influence leaders and organizations. There is no silver bullet. Rather, having influence requires intentional investment of time and energy, and the ability to appreciate the perspectives of those you advise. Says Lukaszewski, “To begin having influence requires a personal strategy of accomplishment, commitment, and personal incremental progress that helps set you apart from the wannabes, the dreamers, and the self-servers.”

Full-disclosure: Jim Lukaszewski is a good friend. We’ve taught together, done professional workshops together, and contributed writing to each other’s projects. We share clients, and often refer business to each other. I blurbed this book. But not just because we’re friends. Rather, because this is an important book, and it can help internal and external advisors become even more effective.

The book is in two parts. The first covers the realities of advising top executives, and includes chapters on how leaders think and operate, what leaders expect, and how to achieve real impact within an organization. The second covers Lukaszewski’s seven disciplines that collectively allow one to become a trusted advisor.

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What Orwell Didn’t Know: Propaganda and the New Face of American Politics, edited by András Szántó, Public Affairs Press, 2007.

Cartoon medium size: Misleading

George Orwell’s seminal essay “Politics and the English Language” noted that precision in language is a reflection of clear thinking. Imprecise language not only reflects weak thinking on the part of the writer or speaker, it causes weak thinking among its audience. Says Orwell:

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 a drink because he feels himself 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.

But Orwell wasn’t interested merely in being society’s copy editor. He noted the nefarious consequences of debasement of language in the political realm:

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

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