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I’m encouraged when I find real-world examples of finding value in differences. It reaffirms my belief that we are doing good work, the right work, in helping companies do better business through valuing cultural differences.

The latest example appeared last week, in a podcast interview that Vox-founder Ezra Klein conducted with distinguished economist Prof. Dani Rodrik,  It’s a fascinating conversation, one that challenges you to look at the world of trade, finance and economics differently. There is one passage in particular that caught my attention. At 00:26:00 the following exchange occurred (excerpted for relevance):

[Ezra Klein] People look around and they say, you know, “Wouldn’t it be great if we all just became more alike? If we all just moved down the path towards enlightened technocratic rule together?

Okay, pause here for a moment. It’s statements like this that have me shaking my head in grave disappointment at the podcast app on my smartphone, “No. No. No.” Mr. Klein went on:

And something I see in your work is a real emphasis that, No, countries are different. They have different cultures, they have different needs – there is much more that we don’t understand about them that economists like to admit. I see you as making an argument for an economics that has much more appreciation of difference and how little we understand about what makes different countries work differently, and, as such, places a lot more value on the institutions that allow them to continue working differently. Is that a fair reading both of you and of your critique?

Prof. Rodrik’s response is one for the ages:

[Prof. Rodrik] I don’t think that there is a single, ideal way of running an economy or organizing a society. There’s no one-to-one mapping between what markets need and how you can organize these supporting institutions. So there is huge multiplicity in terms of how can do these things, reconfigure these things, and still achieve outcomes that are broadly prosperity-producing. The range of variation that we observe – it’s probably tiny compared to what we could have. In some sense we ought to be much more imaginative and courageous in terms of thinking about how we can reconfigure our systems. The notion that we’re all sort of converging on an identical model of capitalism is not just empirically and historically wrong, but also counter-productive to the deployment of that kind of imagination. Which is our only chance of saving ourselves because of where we are right now.  

I admire Prof. Rodrik’s curious and searching approach to economics very much. I find it healthy and eye-opening. In fact, and he says it as well, I also believe approaches like his are necessary to future survival, economic as well as societal.

Throughout developed capital markets, namely the US and Europe, there seems to be a great deal of fear that the world is changing and the only way to deal with the change is to put up walls, construct barriers. Among the current ruling classes there is fight to the death to keep things, not as they are, but the way things were and, in the popular imagination at any rate, have always been. Brexit, Trump, autocratic rule, tariffs and trade barriers are not only futile fights against the inevitability of change, they also limit people to the possibilities of what could be. As Prof. Rodrik puts it, by focusing on the comfortable models of the way we’ve always done things (supposedly), and to only consider one ‘right’ way of doing things, is counter-productive to finding new solutions.

What are these new solutions? There are two publications I’m currently reading that may provide some clues:  

China’s Cosmological Communism: a Challenge to Liberal Democracies by Didi Kirsten Tatlow of the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS – Berlin). Makes a convincing case that the future may belong to the Chinese.

The Dawn of Eurasia: On the Trail of the New World Order by Bruno Maçães. The author weaves history, diplomacy and travelogue to give a convincing view of a new world that has China as the driver.

You can find the podcast between Mr. Klein and Prof. Rodrik here: The Ezra Klein Show – What economists and politicians get wrong about trade

A transcription of the passage excerpted above can be found here: The Ezra Klein Show – Prof. Rodrik, partial transcript

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“I firmly believe that whether you’re building a company or leading a country, a diverse mix of voices and backgrounds and experiences leads to better discussions, better decisions, and better outcomes for everyone.”

In the week following Republican candidate Donald Trump’s loathsome proposal to stop all travel in and out of the US based on religion, until “we figure out what’s going on” with “terrorism,” there have been a number of voices raised in protest. Finally. Trump’s brand of nationalistic fascism is nothing new,  and we’re seeing a resurgence of it around the world as crisis and change make people afraid. But Trump has hit a new low for Americans, at least since Japanese-Americans were interred and stripped of all possessions and dignity in the panic following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December , 1941.

One of the most eloquent voices is Google’s CEO Sundar Pinchal, who speaks with the voice of experience and authority. It’s worth the read for anyone who is concerned about allowing everyone from different cultures the possibility to be respected and to perform their best.

Let’s Not Let Fear Defeat Our Values.

The rule of the Kingdom of the Netherlands will transfer from Queen mother, Beatrix, to her son, Prince Willem-Alexander, on 30 April, in little more than one week. In preparing for the celebration, the State has commissioned various art and cultural works to commemorate the occasion.

Schermafbeelding-2013-04-19-om-10.49.06One of these works, the so-called King’s Song, has generated much negative commentary in the Dutch press. “Old fashioned drivel,” “schmaltzy,” and “forgettable,” are some of the more tame comments. Some commentators, perhaps full of Dutch courage, have even suggested that the composer be tarred and feathered, and worse. The critique has been so intense, and in some cases so personal, that the composer, John Ewbank, has resigned his commission. I’ll admit, my first reaction to the song itself was little more than lukewarm: “What do you people have against melody?!” was my first comment to my wife, who wisely holds her tongue against defending “her people” against my tirades. She knows I’ll eventually come around.

And come around I have. I came here to rant about the lack of diversity in the song’s text. To point out the irony that both the man who will be King and his wife who will become Queen – Princess Máxima of the Netherlands (née Máxima Zorreguieta Cerruti, of Argentina) – are both “allochtone,” of non-Dutch ancestry, yet there’s nothing explicit in the text about the diversity this country usually celebrates.

But then I watched the song’s accompanying video. I’ve been completely won over. I find the video a marvelous and genuine Screen Shot 2013-04-22 at 12.55.26 PMrepresentation of all sorts of diversity in the Netherlands. And without the “Coca-Cola commercial” artificiality, where you magically wind up with exactly one of each national type – exactly one Asian, one black, one Pacific Islander, etc. The King’s Song video shows all sorts of diversity in a broad variety of Imagesettings: white, black, asian, young, old, all socio-economic levels, rural/urban, handicapped, obese (the heavy guy munching on friet at the train station is my favorite – just your ordinary “kerel” enjoying a snack), LGBT (lots of gays!) – even a hipster! And what comes through when you watch the video is these people aren’t from any sort of casting agency, but are truly the people you meet every day in this country. Well done! Image

Okay, the song’s not the strongest. And, as they are now saying, if your goal was to unite the Dutch in their dislike of something – mission accomplished! But my lesson learned is what it often is in multicultural situations: before you pass judgment, get the whole picture. And remember, as always, that context is everything.

Professional Capital, a sales training organization, offered a “knowledge seminar” in Rotterdam this week, “Effective ImageSales Management.” Even though I’m not a sales manager, and the last time I worked in a full-on sales position was back in 1990 when I worked F&I at Cypress Coast Ford in California, I wanted to gain more insight into more modern sales practices. As well as some of the challenges salespeople are dealing with in this brutal economic environment. The organisers were gracious enough to make a place for me and I attended the small gathering.

The first thing I noticed was how tall and good looking the other men were. Yes, all men. All tall and good looking. And white. All in their mid- to late-30s. That should have signaled to me what was coming. Even though they were from a broad variety of industries (construction supply, financial services, IT), they were dressed identically in the uniform of the urban Dutch professional: jeans or slacks, open dress shirt, good shoes.

It was a good session. An excellent and well-moderated format by Maarten Colijn, from the organization. Lots of good ideas exchanged, case situations explored and the challenges of being a sales manager in a tough economy the order of the day. But there was an undertone which disturbed me and it wasn’t until the drinks and informal session afterwards that I discovered what it was.

“Salesmen are born, not made,” stated one. “Agreed,” said another, “In fact, you can tell within 30 seconds of an intake interview whether he’s got ‘it’ or not.” I found myself initially nodding in agreement, but then caught myself. Hey, wait a minute! What is “it”? And why only “he”? Then I realized. What they really mean is, “When I find someone who is exactly like me, I know I’ve got someone I can work with.” Even though many of the problems, many of the challenges they talked about earlier, upon reflection, were a by-product of this “like searching like” procedure.

Good Looking Guys, v. 1.0

Today’s Sales Manager – an archetypical sampling

Their need for salesmen clones in their organizations, and their inability to tolerate diversity, were evident in the problems we examined:

  • Difficulty in developing new markets;
  • Difficulty in seeing new opportunities with existing clients;
  • Difficulty in finding “common” ground with which to motivate their charges;
  • Difficulty in motivating their people in a difficult economic environment;
  • Difficulty in accepting other ways, other than “my way,” to the client.

It was particularly this last point that later confirmed for me the value of seeing output, rather than input, as the only valid measurement tool.

Input/Output

Appearances are input. Method is input. Approach and planning are input. Individual behavior and reward systems are input. In the sales world, there is only one output, and that’s getting the customer to sign on the line that is dotted, to quote Blake in David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. One of the participants said it well, “The sales world is binary: you either have the sale, or you don’t.” Yet these otherwise accomplished sales managers were racking their brains to find better and more efficient ways to manage their input. Not in the name of efficiency, but in the name of homogeneity. How to find more people just like me? How to get them to toe the line and do the job exactly as I’ve done it all these years? After all, my way must be the right way – it’s worked for me!

The challenge is getting them to reframe the problem. Instead of seeing it as a problem of control and with managing input, a question of letting go, accepting any input that their people attempt, as long as the outcome is acceptable. Getting them to focus their energies on defining targets that are purely focused on output (sales results), not on input.

In other words: do they have the courage to accept any input as long as it meets the agreed-upon criteria pertaining only to output?

A relevant and well-timed email from Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union, in honor of Martin Luther King, jr., the original “99%’er”:

Dear friend,
“There is something wrong with the policies, the priorities, and the purposes of our nation now. And we’ve got to say it in no uncertain terms.”

 

In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said these words to a crowd of 1199 NY (now 1199 SEIU) healthcare workers in New York.

At the time, Dr. King spoke, depicting the existence of two Americas, one “flowing with the milk of prosperity and the honey of equality” and the other defined by inferior schools and people working full time jobs for part-time wages. “Most of the poor people in our country are working every day.”

Today, the gap between the rich and poor is the worst it’s ever been. The fight still goes on, and it falls to us to realize Dr. King’s vision.

What is the single most important thing all of us can do this year to further Dr. King’s vision?


Today, just like in 1968, the fights for racial equality and economic justice are inextricably linked.  Compared to 10 years ago, the average family in the U.S. makes 7% less. This trend is even worse within some of the ethnic-subgroups. In fact, the average Black household is making 14.6% less, and the average Hispanic household is making 10.1% less.

In a time when the excesses of Wall Street executives have been brought into stark relief, it behooves us to pause and reflect not just on the reasons for our outrage, but on the ways we can bring the vision of Dr. King into the world of the 99%.

I say to you that the work is not done. It will take all of us thinking, and all of us working hard to bring about Dr. King’s dream of racial and economic equality.

Tell us what you think we, as a people, can do to most effectively make that dream a reality.

For decades, working people in this country have quietly embodied King’s legacy by taking collective action in the name of justice and equality. But today, corporate greed and extreme politicians have aligned to launch an unbridled assault on this legacy, attempting to withhold opportunity from those who work hard.

The vigilance of the 99 percent movement is a contemporary tribute to King’s brilliance, and among the best ways to ensure that our leaders stop ignoring the “other” America. But it cannot end there.

Realizing King’s vision for America is about recognizing the value of the collective good, reinvigorating the belief that opportunity is a defining factor of this country and not simply a privilege for the elite. Through collective action, economic justice and racial equality are both achievable.

Thank you for all the hard work you do, and the work we will do together to make Dr. King’s vision a reality.

Mary Kay Henry
President, SEIU

 

On the face of it, the Netherlands has a lot going for it. While it’s not particularly known for its spectacular natural scenery, it has a history of wealth, stability and well-reasoned politics. Well, recently anyway.

Despite this stable and reasoned background, the Dutch government is debating, today, whether to ban the wearing of the burka. Following closely on the footsteps of France (as they also did with the rejection of the EU constitution — ‘nuf said), legislators in the Netherlands are debating whether the burka can be allowed as an expression of religious freedom or be banned as a security threat and symbol of oppression of women and further (!) converting of Europe to Islam. Given the insecure economic times and perception among the majority populace that many of society’s problems are being caused by outsiders, guess which way they’ll go?

Enter Jitske Kramer and this reasoned and balanced look at the issues (cut/paste to your http://www.translate.google.com browser if you’re having trouble with the Dutch). A part of my comment:

“I see the burka-ban in the Netherlands along the same lines as the Sharia law ban in the State of Oklahoma in the US: a thinly veiled (pardon the pun) attempt to attack Islam by rabidly exaggerating a non-existent threat under the guise of ‘security’ or ‘cultural assimilation’.”

I got an email from my daughter Mary today. She is 25 and lives in Riverside, California.

Hey Dad! I was watching a rerun of Late Night With Jimmy Fallon (which I see as the late night show for tech-savvy youngsters, compared to Jay Leno or David Letterman.) and thought of you! You were (/are) the only one excited (and recognized) the new scan [QR-code – see the left column of this blog]. This particular episode had Steven Colbert and a crazy dance and song in it. One random guy in the dance scene was holding a cardboard sign with a scan! I paused the episode, scanned the code and got this website: http://www.latenightwithjimmyfallon.com/blogs/2011/04/fallon-colbert-project-bonus-video-thank-you/ It’s way cool seeing where technology is taking us! Moving forward every day! [See the episode here: Late Night with Jimmy Fallon – Stephen Colbert Sings ‘Friday’ with The Roots (4/1/11) – Video – NBC.com]

It’s wonderful Mary associates me with the “tech-savvy” culture. She could have just called me a “nerd”!!

Roland Berger says, “NO!”

Diversity & Inclusion is a strategic issue that belongs on the CEO’s agenda. Diverse and inclusive companies clearly outperform their competitors on the hard financials.

As CEO, surely you could be forgiven for seeing Diversity & Inclusion as a bit of a soft issue, more political correctness than business concern, and, if anything, a topic for HR.

Well, no. In fact, you would be neglecting a topic that drives tangible financial results and is a strong indicator of management and leadership performance.

More from an outstanding report from Roland Berger Strategy Consultants.

Elmer Dixon, one of the former leaders of the Black Panther Party in the US, will be visiting the  Netherlands. He is currently the President of one of
the foremost executive training institutes in the  US, Executive Diversity Services.  Mr. Dixon will be a featured speaker at the “Freedom Festivals” on May 5th.

In addition he will engage students and managers from companies in discussions around the value of diversity. This tour  provides many opportunities to engage Mr. Dixon to gain the benefit of his many decades of working within society for change.

You can read more about Mr. Dixon’s life and visit to the Netherlands here.

Resolve cultural conflict? Smooth things over? Why? This is a waste of potential creative power. By using the energy inherent in cultural conflict, it is possible to leverage the differences for added value.

The model, based on the research of Prof. Joseph DiStefano and Prof. Martha Maznevski, both of IMD. A summary of this research can be found here  https://srleosalazar.wordpress.com/resources-and-links/ as well as on the IMD site: http://www.ft.com/businesseducation/imd

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