I generally try to stay away from politics in my LinkedIn posts. As a rule, I try to keep it strictly business. This set of recommendations deviates from that rule in this post because businesses live in the context of the society (governed by political systems) that they operate. It is my opinion that the theme I have laid out in the previous two posts has its roots and solutions both at a societal level and in the microenvironment that is a business. So these recommendations are not only focused on reinforcing and in some cases changing both behaviors and the beliefs that support them. And these recommendations are relevant to both business leaders, and also our political leaders:
- Be better listeners— listening, really listening can be a wonderful first step toward working together toward common goals and eventually success. I was taught (by a wonderful coach named Peter Hawkins) that listening is more than just understanding the message that a person is trying to convey to you, it has a lot to do with empathy. Empathy brings a whole new dimension (an understanding of the motivations of the person you are listening to) to a conversation. Better listeners are more likely to walk away with an agreement that makes both parties happy and that is enduring.
Improving our listening skills will mitigate against what appears to be a growing inability to be civil and compromise, i.e. improving our ability to listen will improve our ability to get things done in both government and business. And, I can say this strongly enough, the government must operate and achieve certain objectives for the country as a whole to be successful. This idea that gridlocking the government is an effective way to govern is malarkey. Without an understanding of where the government stands (no ping-ponging between administrations) and timely action on important issues the whole country suffers and over time it erodes our ability to succeed. We have allowed our political leaders to be lazy for too long. It is time that we demand that they work together and develop an agenda that we all can buy into!
This applies to business too. I have personally seen the damage that can be done when people lack the civility and empathy necessary work together and succeed. The issue is that all too often short term success can be achieved by means of bullying and insisting things be done one way. This strategy might work in the short term (especially when people need their paycheck), but over time it is corrosive, drives good people away and dulls the performance of those who stay.
- Reform our political system— our political system, as has been stated many times, “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” I always smile when I read that Winston Churchill quote, but it is true. We are very lucky that we live in a democracy, but changes need to be considered and some need to be made. Instead of making a list here, I will make a single recommendation.
We need to identify a “blue-ribbon” panel (these would be folks with the intellectual and analytical horsepower to make recommendations that will work) to look at the political system in the context of harmful changes (in terms of gaming the system, e.g. gerrymandering) that have become institutionalized and places where government (and/or the political system) has not kept up with changes to society and technology and make specific recommendations for reforms to address the issues.
I will state unequivocally that the purpose of the reforms is to make our politicians:
- Be real leaders and be accountable to the constituents for making things happen, not preventing them from happening;
- Think in terms other than this minute and themselves. There is too much short term, self-centered thinking going on among politicians and it really has to stop, because greatness is built on (and maintained by) selfish ad-hoc thinking.
- Improve education (its depth and its scope)—this is the elephant in the room. Semi-skilled manufacturing jobs are not coming back and we have a severe shortage of skilled technical labor. We need to make sure that the next generation of Americans have the skills that will be necessary to succeed in the post-industrial age. And, to the extent possible we need to retrain those who have lost their jobs and lack the skills to participate in today’s economy. Since there will be dislocation that can’t be fixed in the short term, we also need to figure out how to deal with workers who we are unable to retrain.
- Embrace free trade—play on our strength in being competitive, but don’t stand for people who cheat—we need to do a better job making it clear that free trade creates jobs, not eliminates them. The loss of jobs in the US is due to technology replacing workers, not jobs going overseas. There are many people who have don’t a good job articulating (but obviously not conveying them) the arguments for free trade (just Google “arguments for free trade), so I will not try to improve on what has already been done well. We just need to all get on the same page and move forward.
- Manage Intellectual Property—Good intellectual property protection is both a balancing act and a good thing (if implemented properly) to do. Managing intellectual property provides incentives for entrepreneurs to make investments and take risks. When Pat Allin and I were contemplating Textura, we spent a lot of time thinking about competition and what kinds of barriers to entry we might erect to give us a chance to get strong enough to compete. We didn’t need an infinite time limit on our patents, just a reasonable amount of time and probably wouldn’t have started Textura if we didn’t feel we could get IP protection.
Managing intellectual property doesn’t just mean protecting it, it means rules that ensure that patents (and other forms of intellectual property protection) are not abused. It also means understanding when to protect intellectual property and when to share it. The post-industrial society is more about intellectual property than ever before, it is important that we think about how the world has changed and make some holistic changes in the laws governing intellectual property management that make sense in the context of today’s world. This whole process starts with a reassessment and possibly reworking the framework that defines intellectual property management.
- Make science great again— Our world is defined by science and I don’t just mean explained by it. Science has been the force that has formed (for better and worse) the world we have today. There are two issues here:
- We are not preparing the next generation of Americans to participate in a science-driven economy. This subject is dealt with in bullet point 3, so I will only say that education needs to include a heavy dose of science and math, they are the basis upon which the modern economy runs.
- We need to invest in basic science. Basic science provides the foundation for business innovations and that drives growth and prosperity.
I close this section noting two things:
Science is not perfect because science is practiced by people and people are not perfect. One should not condemn science because of its failings, one should examine scientific findings with the same critical eye that you would any proposition that requires your attention and suggests actions. Using the periodic failing of scientists to get it right to condemn all science would be like condemning the entire human race because some relatively small percentage of the population is “bad”.
Science doesn’t exist in a vacuum and it shouldn’t be practiced in one either. Decisions should rarely be made after accepting weighing only one dimension on the decision matrix. So, other considerations are should always be considered before making decisions.
Lists that get a lot longer than five items are just too hard to focus on. I had wanted to limit this list to five items. I just couldn’t do it. And, I am sure that you are thinking of other items that I should have included. Please judge me for what I included instead of what I didn’t. That said, I would be happy to hear from you about other items that you think should be on the list. But to make it worthwhile, I am going to ask you to tell me what comes off the list for every item that you suggest I add.
Copyright 2017 Howard Niden