Time To Start Listening

Whether you attended the inauguration on Friday or the women’s marches on Saturday, millions of people in Washington, DC, and in cities across the world, understood that their voices are louder and have more impact when they ring together.

Now it’s time to start listening. It just may be tougher than it sounds.

According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, people are “four times more likely to ignore information that supports a position they don’t believe in.” Meaning, if you watch MSNBC, you don’t watch Fox News, and if you’re a Republican and you have a friend who’s a Democrat (unlikely as that may be today), you can’t even talk politics without it devolving into a screaming match.

I declared 2017 as the Year of the Peer prior to election day because, regardless of the outcome of the presidential contest/reality TV show, we were destined to be a more divided nation. It was also apparent that trust in our institutions was clearly suffering. Here’s how I described the situation in October, 2016:

“Regardless of whether you’re a Trump or Clinton supporter, the tenor of the campaign itself has sunk to new depths. Yet when it’s all over, we’ll be reading about the importance of healing and uniting the country. Ironically, the same media that fueled the fire and aggravated the wounds will start handing out medical supplies.

“The problem is this: The deeper the wound, the longer it takes to heal — the more likely it will leave a scar. The lower we go, the tougher it is to climb out of the hole. The harder is it to trust one another again. The tougher it is to make the transition from fighting against each other to fighting for one another. Regardless of who prevails in the election, we may be headed for one of the toughest recovery periods since the Civil War.”

As for the decline in institutional trust, it’s now been documented. As we look again to the Edelman Trust Barometer, institutional trust — including government, media, business, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) — has plummeted.

Let’s look at government and media specifically. If you want to put government gridlock in historical perspective, consider that in 1948, Harry Truman campaigned against what he called the “Do Nothing (80th) Congress,” which passed 906 pieces of public legislation. The 112th, 113th and 114th Congress combined (our last three) passed 908 public laws. It’s no wonder the 2016 electorate looked outside the establishment to Trump and Sanders.”

Our political leaders, however, are not entirely to blame here. The media have turned politics into a blood sport. Attempts at collaboration and compromise breed serious casualties. It’s all about winners and losers, as someone is always vilified as having “sold out” or having “caved to the other side.” Conflict spikes ratings and readership, but it creates an impossible climate for our elected officials — it’s the kind of climate change we don’t talk about often enough.

I’m not knocking conflict. It can be a healthy byproduct of open, honest dialogue. I just think it may be time to get back to boxing and leave the bare-knuckle fights back in the steel cage. As long as everything remains a zero-sum game and those who collaborate to reach sensible compromise continue to be marginalized by the media (and the public), trust in institutions will continue to suffer.

The flash of good news from Edelman is that we trust one another (people like me) as much as we do academic and technical experts. Sounds to me a like a good place to start.

The Year of the Peer is directed at leaders who are challenged with preparing themselves and their many stakeholders for a future most of us can barely imagine. As citizens, I hope we channel all the energy and good intentions we saw over the past few days and aim it toward moving our society forward by listening for understanding, seeing the very best in each other, and finding areas of agreement to establish a foundation for doing good.

Together, we can accomplish anything. We just have to start listening.

*Image: Dreamstime.com

We Are All Americans

Last night’s election results were a big surprise to many – me included.  Political strategist Steve Schmidt said that because trust in institutions (government, media, business, non-governmental organizations), both here in the U.S. and around the world, is at an all-time low, voters were seeking an alternative to the establishment/institutional  candidate.  It was the year of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.  No matter how much the media (see list of untrustworthy institutions) told us the election was over, the voters said, “Not so fast.” It appears that when Americans were faced with the choice of staying the course or trying something new, Trump’s argument, “What do you have to lose by voting for me?” resonated with just enough people in enough states for him to win the election.

In what I regard as the most divisive political contest of my lifetime, we’re going to be challenged as never before to bring our country together.   I can only hope that the collaborative tone Trump struck in his acceptance speech rings for the next four years.  As I wrote in an earlier post, Collaboration Trumps Competition, we have our hands full and we will all have to play our part in healing our nation.  My hope is that between now and January 20th, we can begin to see ourselves once again, not in terms defined by partisan politics, but as peers – as Americans – united in doing what’s best for our country and to serve as an example to the world in the years ahead.  I look forward to touching on this subject during our Year of the Peer Podcast Series.  Now that your vote was heard on behalf of your candidate, lend your voice to unite our country.

Collaboration Trumps Competition

When I thought about a headline before writing this post, the first thing that popped into my head was what you see here, “Collaboration Trumps Competition.”  I didn’t connect it to the presidential election at first and yet it’s fitting. So here we go.  Regardless of whether you’re a Trump or Clinton supporter, the tenor of the campaign itself has sunk to new depths.  Yet when it’s all over, we’ll be reading about the importance of healing and uniting the country.  Ironically, the same media that fueled the fire and aggravated the wounds will start handing out medical supplies.

The problem is this:  The deeper the wound, the longer it takes to heal – the more likely it will leave a scar. The lower we go, the tougher it is to climb out of the hole.  The harder is it to trust one another again.  The tougher it is to make the transition from fighting against each other to fighting for one another.  Regardless of who prevails in the election, we may be headed for one of the toughest recovery periods since the Civil War.

At present, we’re a nation suffering from boiling frog syndrome.  Consider this, in 1948 Harry Truman campaigned against what was dubbed the “Do Nothing Congress” – a body that eventually passed 906 bills.  Compare that to the 112th Congress (283), the 113th (296), and the current collection of legislators (228), with just a few months to go before the clock runs out.  Acrimony has bred distrust and revealed the worst of partisan politics.  Now, it’s become acceptable to get elected to Congress and come back virtually empty handed every two years as long as you hold true to your hard and fast positions.  It happened without most of us realizing how dangerously hot the water has become.

Something has got to change – fast!  2017 should be the start of asking our legislators (and leaders at all levels from every branch of government) to work and play well with others, so we can move our country forward instead of staying mired in the kind of gridlock that holds a country hostage.  To be fair, however, we all have a role to play in making this possible.  As I pointed out in my last post about the Connections exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery, everything is connected.  We not only have to ask more of our political leaders, we have to ask for better behavior by media and business leaders as well.  That starts with us.

If the media cared more about their viewers than beating their competitors, then maybe (just maybe), they would stop covering wackos setting their hair on fire and start celebrating meaningful collaboration and compromise.   Today, collaboration breeds political casualties  – winners and losers, leaders who “caved to the other side.” As long as everything remains a zero-sum game and those who put the country first continue to be vilified by the press, we’ll all be the biggest loser.  Compromise is not a four-letter word. We have the power to send a message to our media and change the climate so that our elected officials can get back to the business of governing.

Speaking of business, effective collaboration requires trust, and business leaders could set a better example.  The recent Wells Fargo scandal is just one among the latest breaches of the public trust in industries ranging from finance to pharmaceutical to automotive, etc.   Companies who respect their customers and hold true to their values (all the time) are companies worth supporting.

I wrote a piece recently specific to business leaders at Shaping the Odds titled Five Reasons 2017 Will Be the Year of the Peer.  Reason #6 is we have no choice. As trust among institutions of all kinds remains low, we’ll have to rely on one another more than ever if we’re going to turn the tide.  Alone, fighting the current seems impossible.  Together, however, we are powerful beyond measure.  Collaboration trumps competition any day of the week.   Since we’re all in the same boat, it’s time to start rowing together and prepare for the Year of the Peer!

*Image from wealthmanagement.com

 

 

Iowa and The Pervasive Role of Peer Influence

All you have to do is check out the findings from the Edelman Trust Barometer to understand why Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump had such strong showings in tonight’s Iowa caucuses.  Consider that Sanders polled at just 7% in Iowa a year ago, and Trump, while a well-known brand, finished second despite lacking the necessary ground game that’s been historically required to finish in the top tier.   Chris Matthews regarded tonight’s caucuses as a resounding defeat for the establishment.  According to Edelman, trust in institutions, whether it’s media, government, business or non-governmental organizations (NGOs), continues to wane.  So it stands to reason that trust in institutional or establishment candidates has taken a hit as well.

What happens when people can’t trust their institutions?  They lean on each other for advice and support.  People will trust the prevailing sentiment of their peers – peers who share a common interest in a candidate during a particular moment in time – more than they will rely on the media or the leadership of either political party.

Young people have spread the word among one another that Bernie is their guy.  They gather in huge numbers at his events and extend their formidable reach on social media.  Up to now, the only question was whether this enthusiasm would translate into votes.  It appears that, at least in Iowa, we have our answer.  As the Sanders campaign enters the New Hampshire primary, they do so with a new bounce in their step.  Trump’s followers don’t share a specific age demographic, so much as they are bound by a common anger at nuanced policies, the gridlock of institutional politics, and a landscape littered with political correctness – especially when it comes across as disingenuous.  2016 is not the year for the “contrived candidate.”

The most recent Edelman survey showed that “trust is rising in the elite or ‘informed public’ group – those with at least a college education, who are very engaged in media, and have an income in the top 25 percent.  However, in the ‘mass population’ (the remaining 85 percent of our sample), trust levels have barely budged since the Great Recession.”  While each candidate approaches the issue of unfairness differently, it’s definitely resonating among the 85% who are tired of getting the short end of the deal!  It’s no wonder they’re seeking someone who is different.

Does this mean that none of the establishment candidates have a chance to win their party’s nomination for president?  Of course not.  They just have to stop acting like establishment candidates and start tapping into the power of peers that’s at work during this election year! On to New Hampshire!

Update: Sanders and Trump win big in New Hampshire!