Update: Evidence that Culture Beats Strategy – A Story…

As of May 6, 2019, I learned about a wrinkle to this story.  The wrinkle appeared when I listened to Michael Lewis’s Against The Rules Podcast, “The Alex Kogan Experience”  on Against the Rules with Michael Lewis and it puts into doubt some of the claims.  I encourage you to listen to this podcast to go along with this post.  Enjoy!

Original Post:
Once again, in my continual quest to learn, it seemed all was connected and a story was formed.  In the morning I listened to the NYT’s Daily broadcast: The Whistle-Blowers at Boeing from The Daily in Podcasts. The story made clear, despite quality managers, the culture did not make it possible for them to do their job.

Evidence between culture and strategy relates to short and long-term results.  Strategy’s can work for a short time, but in the end, culture determines what happens. This Daily episode resonated with so many other things I had been reviewing and hearing, it indicated to me there was a story being told.  This is the story I heard being told…

Although I am late reading Jeremy Rifkin’s 2000 book, “Age of Access: The New culture of hyper capitalism where all of life is a paid for experience“, it is currently relevant.  Now, because I have the ability to use hindsight, I am amazed by his prescience or foreknowledge about how technology would impact our world.   He accurately  predicted the changes that have taken place because of the Internet, FaceBook, and our almost constant reliance to our online world.  Throughout the book he talks about how it will, and now has, impacted and changed our culture.

Most importantly, near the end, he explains that culture is the precursor or necessary prerequisite to commerce or a market economy.  He points out that trust and empathy, something developed from face to face contact, is necessary for a caring society.  He was concerned that having only an online relationship could cause harm.

I then heard an example of how the harm he predicted may be attributed to online interactions in Carole Cadwalladr’s TED Talk, Facebook’s role in Brexit — and the threat to democracy. Through this presentation she outlines how an online culture was the instigator for Brexit and Trump.  Of course, all of this was possible because of our innate gullibility and our brain biases or the mental illusions we face as humans.

Then I heard another TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,The danger of a single story.  In her presentation she explained how all these things in very simple terms. She explained how it all relates to when we rely on a single story.  Kahneman and Tversky’s work backs up her presentation when they talked about the representativeness heuristic.  The representative heuristic happens when people ignore base rates or likely outcomes and become biased by a story that seems representative, this therefore becomes The danger of a single story.

People are easily manipulated.  The original research on representativeness heuristic explained how i a situation where there were 100 people, 70 of which were lawyers and 30 engineers.  Despite knowing this, after a description was given of a random member of that group that was representative of a lawyer or an engineer, those initial 70-30 base rate probabilities were ignored if they were asked to pick the likely profession of a member of the group.  Instead of using the 70-30 base rate, the participant instead used the description or story to predict which profession, lawyer or engineer, the random participant held. If no description of a random participant was provided, people correctly used the base rates provided to make their prediction.  In other words, people were manipulated by the story.

If this summary is not clear due to its brevity, I encourage you to watch either or both of the short YouTube video’s below about the representative heuristic.  I also encourage you to read MIchael Lewis’s book, The Undoing Project or the many examples of these studies provided online.  Overall these studies demonstrated an innate mental bias we have related to stories.

 

To finish the story, I read a January 19, 2019 column, More Schools and Fewer Tanks for the Mideast, from my favorite columnist, Thomas Friedman.  In this column he drove home the point of developing and creating a CULTURE for a better tomorrow is the most important and effective way.  The story suggests that we need to take action to help others become all they can so we can live and help develop a better world, instead of destroying what could be.

Below is Friedman’s column:

The U.S. should send more soft power and less hard power to the region.

Tunisians last week celebrated the anniversary of their 2011 revolution.Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images

Tunisians last week celebrated the anniversary of their 2011 revolution.Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images

President Trump’s sudden announcement that he’s pulling U.S. troops out of Syria and shrinking their number in Afghanistan has prompted a new debate about American ground forces in the Middle East and whether keeping them there is vital or not. I’m asking myself the same question. To answer that question, though, I need to start with another question:

Why is it that the one Arab Spring country that managed to make a relatively peaceful transition from dictatorship to a constitutional democracy — with full empowerment for its women — is the country we’ve had the least to do with and where we’ve never sent soldiers to fight and die? It’s called Tunisia.

Yes, Tunisia, the only Middle East country to achieve the ends that we so badly desired for Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Afghanistan, did so after having hosted more U.S. Peace Corps workers over the last 50 years than U.S. military advisers and after having received only about $1 billion in U.S. aid (and three loan guarantees) since its 2010-11 democracy revolution.

By comparison, the U.S. is now spending about $45 billion a year in Afghanistan — after 17 years of trying to transform it into a pluralistic democracy. That is an insane contrast. Especially when you consider that Tunisia’s self-propelled democracy is such an important model for the region, but an increasingly frail one.

American service members arriving in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in 2017.Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

American service members arriving in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in 2017.Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

It’s threatened by labor strikes, the spillover of instability from Libya, a slowing economy that can’t produce enough jobs or income for its educated young people, a 2016 International Monetary Fund loan that restricts the government from hiring, all causing stresses among the key players in its power-sharing deal involving trade unionists, Islamists, old-regime types and new democrats. For now, Tunisia is holding together, but it could sure use one week’s worth of what we spend in Afghanistan.

Why could Tunisia transition to democracy when others couldn’t? It starts with its founding father, Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s leader from independence, in 1956, to 1987.

Though he was a president-for-life like other Arab autocrats, Bourguiba was unique in other ways: He kept his army very small and did not waste four decades trying to destroy Israel; he was actually a lonely voice calling for coexistence.

He educated and empowered Tunisian women and allowed relatively strong civil society groups to emerge — trade unions, lawyers’ syndicates, women’s groups, who were vital to toppling Bourguiba’s tyrannical successor and forging a new Constitution with Tunisia’s Islamic movement. Tunisia was also blessed by having little oil, so it had to invest in its people’s education.

Tunisia, in short, had the cultural underpinnings to sustain a democratic revolution. But political and cultural transformations move at different speeds. The U.S. (myself included) wanted to rush the necessary cultural transformation of Afghanistan and Iraq, but as Peter Drucker once noted, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” That fact — plus our own incompetence and their corruption — has eaten alive the U.S. democracy efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

All of this shapes how I think about Trump’s abrupt order to withdraw from Syria and desire to get out of Afghanistan. I think he is right on Afghanistan. We’ve defeated Al Qaeda there; it’s time for us to negotiate with the Taliban and Pakistan the best phased exit we can — and take as many people who worked for us as we can. Afghanistan has hard countries around it — Russia, Pakistan, India, China and Iran — and they have the ability to contain and manage the disorder there. We gave at the office.

I’d keep our special forces in Syria, though, but not because we’ve yet to defeat ISIS. ISIS is a direct byproduct of the wider regional struggle between Sunnis and Shiites, led by Saudi Arabia and Iran. ISIS arose as an extreme Sunni response to the extreme efforts by Iran and pro-Iranian Shiite militias in Iraq and Syria to ethnically cleanse and strip power from Sunnis in Iraq and Syria. As long as Iran pursues that strategy, there will be an ISIS in some form or other.

That’s why the only peace process that could have a stabilizing effect across the Middle East today is not between Israelis and Palestinians — but between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

What the small, not-all-that-costly U.S. force in Syria does that is most important is prevent the awful there from becoming the truly disastrous in a couple ways. It does so in part by protecting the Kurds and moderate Sunnis from the murderous Syrian government and Turkey. The mainstream Syrian and Iraqi Kurds have been, for the most part, forces for decency and Western values in that corner of the world. One day we might build on their islands of decency; they’re worth preserving.

Our forces also help stabilize northeastern Syria, making it less likely that another huge wave of refugees will emerge from there that could further destabilize Lebanon and Jordan and create nativist backlashes in the European Union like the earlier wave did. To me, the European Union is the other United States of the world, and we and NATO have a vital interest in protecting the E.U. from being fractured over a fight over the influx of Mideast refugees.

Finally, I’d take $2 billion of the $45 billion we’d save from getting out of Afghanistan and invest it regionally in all the cultural changes that made Tunisia unique — across the whole Arab world. I’d give huge aid to the American University in Cairo, the American University in Beirut, the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani, and the American University of Afghanistan.

And I’d massively expand the scholarship program we once ran by which top Arab public school students were eligible for a U.S.-funded scholarship to any U.S.-style liberal arts college in Lebanon or anywhere else in the region.

I’d also massively expand student visas and scholarships — especially for Arab women — for study in America. And I’d offer 5,000 scholarships for Iranians to come to America to get graduate degrees in science, engineering or medicine, with visas available in Dubai. That line would be so long! Nothing would embarrass the Iranian regime more.

And I’d give Tunisia a $1 billion interest-free loan and quadruple the size of the Tunisian American Enterprise Fund that promotes start-ups there.

The other $43 billion I’d spend on new infrastructure in America.

Since 9/11, we’ve relied almost entirely on hard power. Some was needed, some is still needed, but most of it failed. It’s time we tried more soft power. It’s time we focused on giving more Arabs and Iranians access to the ingredients that enabled Tunisia to transform itself by itself into a democracy without a single U.S. war fighter.

Yes, it will take a long time. But there was never a shortcut, and the approach we tried with the Pentagon in the lead has only led to multiple dead ends.

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.

Thomas L. Friedman is the foreign affairs Op-Ed columnist. He joined the paper in 1981, and has won three Pulitzer Prizes. He is the author of seven books, including “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” which won the National Book Award. @tomfriedmanFacebook

 

Please share your thoughts.  I will continue to work at generating comprehensive improvements through the creation of pervasive, reciprocal, selfish, selfless, synergistic interactions so everyone and everything benefits, or by practicing paneugenesis.  I look forward to hearing about the how you help generate all good for everyone and everything.

If you want to contact me:
Email: BeWellr@gmail.com

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