March Book Review

Acclaimed author Fran Liebowitz recommended that you “think before you speak” and “read before you think.” Here’s what we’re reading right now and why we think it matters.

 

Org by Ray Fisman and Tim Sullivan

In Org, Fisman and Sullivan attempt to explain many of the idiosyncrasies of the firm using the framework of organizational economics. Citing examples ranging from the U.S. Army to Al Qaeda and a one-man artisanal eyeglass maker to British Petroleum, Org highlights the tradeoffs and tensions inherent in marshaling any number of human beings toward a larger goal. Succinct, well-written, and easy to read, Org offers an insightful reexamination of the entire business—everything from culture and innovation to management and incentive alignment. 

 

The Enlightened Capitalists: Cautionary Tales of Business Pioneers Who Tried to Do Well by Doing Good by James O’Toole

The Enlightened Capitalists is Marshall Business School (USC) emeritus professor James O’Toole’s history of “Enlightened Capitalism,” the belief that enterprise exists to both turn a profit and help people. Though his examples, like mill owner Robert Owen (who created a utopian town for his workers), and James Lincoln (whose still-successful Lincoln Electric shares profits and has not laid anyone off since 1947) predate the modern concept of the B Corporation, they share notion that profit and stewardship are not mutually exclusive. Though the philosophy has faced many detractors, ranging from other capitalists worried about their bottom lines to labor unions worried about being rendered obsolete, O’Toole’s general finding is that doing the right thing can be good for business as well.

 

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

Grit the book’s eponymous character trait is essentially a measure of effort and stick-to-itiveness. The subject of extensive research by Duckworth, a McArthur Genius Grant winning psychologist, grit is heavily correlated with success. In the book, Duckworth profiles a number of “grit paragons,” who range from rags-to-riches business executives to teen-aged spelling bee champions, in order to teach readers how to become “grittier.” Her insights are applicable personally (Duckworth includes a diagnostic test and steps to improve your score) and across a wide range of industries—LLI has worked with grit in the past to help corporations internally rebrand. In short, Grit is a worthwhile read for anyone who wants to perform better when faced with tough challenges.

 

Doing What Matters: How to Get Results That Make a Difference - The Revolutionary Old-School Approach by James Kilts

In the world of social media, the 24-hour news cycle, and bottomless email inboxes, we’re constantly inundated with distractions. Acknowledging how easily the workday can be overwhelmed by all of these stimuli—not to mention never-ending meetings and trivial workstreams—Kilts suggests we only do what really matters. Filtering out only the highest priority tasks and focusing your efforts where ROI is greatest, Kilts argues, allows you to achieve higher productivity and revolutionary results. In other words, selectivity breeds success.

Chilean Sea Bass: A Marketing Miracle

Most consumers would be hard pressed to name the last time they ate Patagonian toothfish or its cousin, the Antarctic toothfish. Chilean sea bass, however, is instantly recognizable. The melt-in-your mouth delicacy is served in many of the best restaurants and costs around $15 per pound (ground beef, by comparison costs $3.80 per pound).[1] The funny thing is, toothfish and Chilean sea bass are exactly the same thing.

Before the late 1970s, Chilean sea bass did not exist.[2] Antarctic and Patagonian toothfish did, but few people paid them any mind. As global fishing stocks dwindled, however, fisherman turned to longlines, which run deeper underwater. In South American waters, these longlines pulled up an increasing number of toothfish, though this ugly, unknown species of fish was usually thrown back.

Enter Lee Latnz. An American fish dealer who specialized in bringing new fish to market, he stumbled across the Patagonian toothfish in Chile. White, fatty, and without a strong “fishy” taste, he thought it might do well in America. As bycatch, it was also incredibly cheap.

Dubbing it Chilean sea bass—Chilean since it sounds more exotic than South American or Pacific, and bass because it would be more familiar to the American consumer (toothfish are actually part of the cod family), Lantz set about selling his new product. Initially he failed. At the beginning, his only buyers were interested in making cheaper takeout food or fish sticks. By the 1990s, however, Chilean sea bass started to catch on. Revered by chefs for its versatility, it became increasingly popular and found its way onto menus at world’s finest restaurants. In 2001, Bon Appetit Magazine named it their “Dish of the Year.”[3]

As popularity grew, so did demand—and prices. Soon conservationists warned that the global population of Chilean sea bass was dwindling to dangerously low levels and limited the annual catch.[4] The National Environmental Trust reported that 80% of the world’s Chilean sea bass was illegally caught by fisherman like Antonio Garcia Perez, who fled from authorities through 4,000 miles of rough ocean in an attempt to keep almost 96 tons ($1 million) worth of illicit fish.[5]

Continued overfishing and dwindling toothfish populations led to increasing alarm. Early in 2002, the “Take a Pass on Chilean Sea Bass” campaign began in Northern California. A concerted effort by more than 60 restaurants to take the now-endangered fish off of their menus, the campaign spread quickly throughout the United States.[6] It was wildly effective. Consuming the once fashionable fish was stigmatized, causing demand to drop significantly. By 2014, stocks had replenished and Chilean sea bass was one of the most sustainable fish in the world, with 70% of the global catch meeting the stringent MSC certification.[7] Now sustainable, the fish is again popular.

The right branding can make or break a product. The Chilean sea bass story is not unique. Lobster underwent a similar reinvention—in the 19th century, eating the now-popular crustacean was associated with “poverty and degradation."[8] Peanuts were first planted in large numbers in the American South not to eat, but to replenish the soil for cotton.[9] They are now the 12th most valuable cash crop in the US.[10] The taste and texture of the Patagonian and Antarctic varieties of toothfish have been exactly the same for the last 50 years, and yet demand has fluctuated heavily. A more consumer-friendly brand and celebrity endorsements popularized the fish in the 90s. A negative brand campaign alienated those same consumers just as quickly. Whether it’s toothfish, seabass, lobster, peanuts, toothpaste, or soda, the story is just as important as the product. That’s why successful firms don't just make quality products, they integrate them with quality marketing and storytelling.

 

 

 


[1] https://www.seafoodnews.com/Story/1043060/Record-Prices-and-Global-Demand-for-Chilean-Sea-Bass-Lead-Importers-to-Worry-Market-Share

https://www.bls.gov/regions/mid-atlantic/data/averageretailfoodandenergyprices_usandmidwest_table.htm

[2] https://priceonomics.com/the-invention-of-the-chilean-sea-bass/

[3] http://www2.vims.edu/bridge/DATA.cfm?Bridge_Location=archive0502.html

[4] http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/science/cold-science/2002-02-19-toothfish.htm

[5] http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/science/cold-science/2002-02-19-toothfish.htm

https://priceonomics.com/the-invention-of-the-chilean-sea-bass/

[6] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/take-a-pass-on-chilean-sea-bass/

[7] https://www.undercurrentnews.com/2014/01/17/time-to-forget-take-a-pass-on-seabass-as-70-of-global-toothfish-harvest-now-msc-certified/

[8] https://gizmodo.com/lobsters-were-once-only-fed-to-poor-people-and-prisoner-1612356919

[9] https://sciencing.com/list-things-dr-george-carver-invented-peanuts-5896.html

[10] https://www.nationalpeanutboard.org/peanut-info/history-peanuts-peanut-butter.htm

Affective AI: What the New Trend in Tech Says About the Importance of Emotional Connection

Artificial Intelligence has been heralded as “the next big thing” for a few years now—an unsurprising development given the astounding range of applications, from helping people navigate between subway stations, composing emails, automating stores, and even to playing Jeopardy.[1] While tech giants including Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and IBM have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into AI technology over the last couple of years, the importance of AI isn’t limited to the tech sector: almost every Fortune 100 company is now incorporating AI into its growth strategies.[2]

One of the ways that researchers are hoping to use AI outside of traditional tech space is by teaching computers how to interpret and respond to human emotions. Affective AI, software that can intuit human emotion, is still in its infancy, but promises to unlock an entirely new universe of applications.

At MIT, researchers are using the technology to help address the mental health crisis. They added affective AI to Koko, an online community which crowd-sources emotional support. After reading through many human-generated requests for support and responses, Kokobot could differentiate between different levels of distress, accurately respond to user messages, and provide resources in cases of emergency.[3] Affective AI company Brain Power is trying to help those with autism. Special glasses interpret the facial expressions of others, as well as the wearer’s own bio-markers, so that they can feed social cues and other advice to the wearers.[4] The glasses also collect and interpret experiential data, which can guide the user’s development and allow their caregivers to track progress. Meanwhile, Affectiva is developing a suite for automotive use. Using cameras and microphones placed in the cabins of cars, Affectiva’s software tracks indicators of anger, happiness, drowsiness, and alertness.[5] These insights are used to warn drivers to grab a cup of coffee or take a break when they start to lose focus, calm and redirect those experiencing road rage, and customize playlists to match a driver’s mood.[6]

By pivoting toward affective AI, the tech community is recognizing the importance of connecting with users and the market potential of creating products that address the higher order needs of consumers. The insight that advanced technology alone is no longer enough if it isn’t tailored directly to the target is relevant beyond the tech sector. More than ever, success—whether you’re selling microchips or potato chips—is predicated on connecting with the target’s emotions and values. Affective AI represents the future no matter what business you’re in.


[1] https://www.techworld.com/picture-gallery/data/tech-giants-investing-in-artificial-intelligence-3629737/

[2] https://www.techworld.com/picture-gallery/data/tech-giants-investing-in-artificial-intelligence-3629737/

https://www.techworld.com/picture-gallery/data/tech-giants-investing-in-artificial-intelligence-3629737/

[3] https://www.wsj.com/articles/once-more-with-feeling-teaching-empathy-to-machines-11544713141?mod=foesummaries

[4] http://www.brain-power.com/autism/

[5] https://www.affectiva.com/product/affectiva-automotive-ai/

[6] https://www.affectiva.com/product/affectiva-automotive-ai/

How Third-Party Aggregators Are Destroying Brand-Client Connections

With 20% of consumers now using it at least once per week, food delivery is definitely catching on.[1] As usage continues to increase, however, there is growing discontent with these third-party services. More and more firms are finding that allowing third parties to interact with their customers on their behalf can be toxic for their brands.

Third party aggregators decrease a firm’s autonomous control over its user experience—and therefore its brand. For quick-serve restaurants, where the physical space plays a huge role in defining the brand’s values, delivery disconnects the customer from every aspect of the brand except for the food and prevent vital brand-to-consumer interactions.[2]

At best, decreased interaction with consumers is just that—decreased interaction. At worst, third-party aggregators can actively damage a brand’s reputation. Advertising industry executive Nick Powills, CEO of NLA, used a personal story about one particularly bad food ordering experience to illustrate this worst-case scenario. When food he’d ordered through a delivery service app had yet to arrive ten minutes after the scheduled delivery time, Powills called the restaurant directly. They told him it had been sitting—ready and waiting for a delivery driver—for over ten minutes. One driver cancellation, multiple calls to the app, a terrible customer service experience, and an hour and a half later, the food was finally delivered—to the neighbor’s house.[3] The restaurant, through no fault of its own, will now forever be associated with this terrible experience.

This threat of subpar third-party service is not limited to the restaurant industry. In 2004, InterContinental Hotels Group found third-party websites were hurting its brand and prohibited them from offering hotel reservations on their websites.[4] Practices like listing sold-out properties, adding hidden fees, and using “bait and switch” tactics led to customer complaints about the booking process.[5] According to then-SVP Jim Young, hotel guests associated these hassles with the hotels themselves—not the booking sites.[6] When it is all said and done, he explained, “customers complain about problems during the booking process not to the online booking service, but...to the hotel when they arrive.”[7]

Selling through a third-party aggregator means exposing your brand to a sucker punch—it takes a hit every time the experience fails to live up to brand standards, even if your company isn’t at fault. Creating lasting, positive connections with consumers is crucially important to long-term success. Smart firms are working to earn and strengthen these relationships, not allowing third parties to mess them up.

 


[1] https://www.statista.com/statistics/259191/ordering-takeout-delivery-from-restaurants-in-the-us/; https://www.axios.com/ubereats-uber-ipo-valuation-fb086af6-4d57-4518-abbb-39c6a1b600e5.html; https://techcrunch.com/2018/09/18/postmates-funding/

[2] https://www.qsrmagazine.com/outside-insights/are-restaurants-facing-delivery-disconnect

[3] https://1851franchise.com/grubhub-restaurants-beware-they-could-be-killing-your-brand-2703942

[4] https://www.bizjournals.com/tampabay/stories/2004/08/30/story2.html

[5] https://www.bizjournals.com/tampabay/stories/2004/08/30/story2.html

[6] https://www.bizjournals.com/tampabay/stories/2004/08/30/story2.html

[7] https://www.bizjournals.com/tampabay/stories/2004/08/30/story2.html

Combatting the Decrease in Consumer Trust and Brand Loyalty

A recent Forbes article reported “the death of brand loyalty.”[1] Consumers are less and less likely to buy a product on brand considerations alone. Ninety of the top one hundred CPG brands are “losing market share on consistently low-growth categories.”[2]

Blame for brand loyalty decline has fallen on a number of cultural changes that have devalued loyalty overall. Americans now view work and careers as transitional, not permanent: whereas it used to be common to spend an entire career with one employer and retire with a gold watch, now the median salaried worker spends 4.2 years in each job.[3] Over 15.5 million people are self-employed, a number that is only expected to increase.[4] Trends in religion (23% of Americans now identify as atheist, 6% more than decade ago) and shifts in marital behavior (an increasing number of Americans are growing up with divorced parents) reflect similar decreases in loyalty toward traditional institutions.[5]

In an environment where simply being the familiar brand shoppers bought last time doesn’t cut it anymore, companies must work harder to reach and retain their consumers. This involves both continued innovation and, in the words of one CEO, “building an adaptive infrastructure that truly listens to what consumers want.”[6]

Some firms are trying to do just that. Coca Cola recently rebranded Diet Coke in an attempt to appeal to La Croix consumers by adding two flavors and investing in a package redesign.[7] Coke also reformulated the beverage with the same sugarless sweeteners used in Coke Zero Sugar to attract more health-conscious consumers who are increasingly reaching for water.[8]

Taco Bell is working on listening to its already-large vegetarian following. The first fast food chain to earn an American Vegetarian Association certification, Taco Bell is already well known among vegetarians for options like the 7-Layer Burrito, Double Tostada, and the Cantina Power Veggie Bowl.[9] They’re now rolling out a full vegetarian menu, which includes both existing and new vegetarian options. In doing so, the self-proclaimed “underdog” in the sector hopes to strengthen its position by adapting further to consumer demands.[10]

While it is too early to tell exactly how effective these changes will be, Coca Cola and Taco Bell have the right idea. Even if a revamped Diet Coke or the new vegetarian menu flops, both companies are taking a huge step forward by learning to adapt to the wants of their consumer base. Static, out of touch firms eventually fade from the minds of customers and from the Fortune 500 list. The only way to stay relevant (and profitable) is to deeply understand consumers’ wants and needs—and continually innovate in order to meet them.


[1]  https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathleenkusek/2016/07/25/the-death-of-brand-loyalty-cultural-shifts-mean-its-gone-forever/#5d19e9d94dde

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathleenkusek/2016/07/25/the-death-of-brand-loyalty-cultural-shifts-mean-its-gone-forever/#5d19e9d94dde

[3] https://www.bls.gov/news.release/tenure.nr0.htm

[4] https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathleenkusek/2016/07/25/the-death-of-brand-loyalty-cultural-shifts-mean-its-gone-forever/#5d19e9d94dde

[5] https://www.forbes.com/sites/kathleenkusek/2016/07/25/the-death-of-brand-loyalty-cultural-shifts-mean-its-gone-forever/#5d19e9d94dde

[6] https://techcrunch.com/2018/04/23/innovation-can-help-old-consumer-brands-win-customers-and-influence-people/

[7] http://fortune.com/2018/01/10/dietcoke-relaunch/

[8] http://fortune.com/2018/01/10/dietcoke-relaunch/

[9] http://fortune.com/2019/01/11/taco-bell-plans-to-start-testing-a-vegetarian-menu-later-this-year/

[10] http://fortune.com/2019/01/11/taco-bell-plans-to-start-testing-a-vegetarian-menu-later-this-year/

Case Studies: How Treating Employees With Dignity Leads To Success

Over the last few months, our team has worked on applying the concept of dignity to corporate culture to drive success. We were recently introduced to the work of Dr. Donna Hicks (check out our interview with her here), who’s shown how “dignity violations” are a major root cause of business failures. Here are three examples of leaders in this field.

Southwest:

The Dallas-based airline has a number of programs designed to keep their employees happy. A dedicated Culture Services Department is charged with making sure each employee feels valued by distributing spirit awards and planning events.[1] In 2018, Southwest’s profit-sharing policy led to $543 million in employee payouts (roughly 11% of each employee’s salary split between their retirement accounts and a cash payment).[2] This emphasis on culture has translated into 45 straight profitable years and top marks in customer satisfaction.[3]

Starbucks:

Starbucks calls its employees partners, and for good reason. The coffee giant counts treating its employees with dignity and “creating a culture of warmth and belonging” among its chief values.[4] They’ve followed this up in practice with a program designed to make accommodations for partners with disabilities and a College Achievement Plan that sends eligible employees to Arizona State University at no cost to them.[5] These benefits translate into a 4.1-star (out of 5) overall rating on Indeed and a spot at 132 on the Fortune 500 List.[6]

Hyatt:

The world-wide hotel brand was a top-10 place to work on Fortune’s 2018 list with 91% of employees considering it a great place to work.[7] Their mission statement, “we care for people so they can be their best,” extends past hotel guests and includes Hyatt employees.[8] Bonuses, a “bridge of service” benefit (returning employees are credited for previous years of work for Hyatt) and internal promotions are all a part of this ethos.[9] In addition to accolades for workplace culture, Hyatt has also earned a gross profit ever quarter for the past ten years.[10]

Firms that go out of their way to treat their employees with dignity—both by fostering a positive culture and providing generous benefits—reap major dividends. Meeting the emotional and material needs of employees creates a more dedicated workforce, a higher-quality customer experience, and, as a result, a more successful company.


[1] https://careers.southwestair.com/culture

[2] https://www.dallasnews.com/business/southwest-airlines/2018/02/08/southwest-airlines-employees-get-543-million-profit-sharing

[3] https://www.dallasnews.com/business/southwest-airlines/2018/02/08/southwest-airlines-employees-get-543-million-profit-sharing; https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurabegleybloom/2018/03/06/ranked-the-best-and-worst-airlines-in-america/#4924de61e953

[4] https://www.starbucks.com/careers/working-at-starbucks/culture-and-values

[5] https://www.starbucks.com/careers/working-at-starbucks/culture-and-values; https://news.starbucks.com/views/starbucks-college-achievement-plan-frequently-asked-questions

[6] https://www.indeed.com/cmp/Starbucks/reviews; http://fortune.com/fortune500/starbucks/

[7] https://www.greatplacetowork.com/certified-company/1000120

[8] https://about.hyatt.com/en.html

[9] http://fortune.com/best-companies/hyatt/; https://about.hyatt.com/en/hyatt-thrive/our-people.html

[10] https://www.macrotrends.net/stocks/charts/H/hyatt-hotels/gross-profit

Trends: New Avenues for Consumer Connection

As technology advances and preferences change, advertisers are always looking for new ways to reach their consumers. Stay ahead of the curve by understanding these growing trends:

  1. Online Gaming is Reaching a Huge Audience

    Almost two thirds of the households in America have at least one member who spends three or more hours a week playing video games.[1] Online games like Fortnite, which now counts 78 million players per month, are growing at an unexpected rate.[2] Competitive video gaming is being fueled by this increase in players. One popular competitive video gaming streaming site, Twitch, averaged more than 1.3 million concurrent viewers a day over the last year.[3] Players and spectators both offer significant audiences—and forward-thinking advertisers are taking notice. Gillette began a global partnership with the ESL (Electronic Sports League) in 2017.[4] Fortnite added Thanos, from the movie Avengers: Infinity War, as a playable character in a promotion for the film.[5]

  2. Technology is Personalizing the In-Store Shopping Experience

    As bricks and mortar stores face increased competition with the internet and each other, smart retailers are investing in technology that promises to personalize the in-store experience. Walgreens recently announced a partnership with Cooler-Screens, a startup aiming to revolutionize the way consumers interact with the refrigeration aisle. The Chicago-based company manufactures refrigerator and freezer doors which can display everything from the most enticing pictures of the products behind them to digital advertisements for specific brands. Smart data collection allows the doors to optimize their displays based on factors such as the weather or the consumer standing in front of them, and send real time inventory reports as products are purchased. Walgreens has partnered with 15 brands it carries and started testing the technology in a Chicago store in November. Five more pilot tests will be live by the end of the month.[6]

  3. Advertisers are Engaging Cable-Cutters Through Streaming Services

    More than 765 million consumers use subscription-based streaming services each month, and that number is only growing.[7] As these services improve, many consumers no longer view them as a supplement traditional cable—they view them as a replacement. Reaching consumers through streaming services is becoming increasingly important. This type of advertising took a step forward after Goldman Sachs committed another $30 million to Innovid Inc., an ad-tech company that partners with Hulu, Fox, and Roku, and other streaming services. So far, the firm has created and delivered content for L’Oréal, Toyota, Bank of America, GlaxoSmithKline, and others.[8]

As technology advances and preferences change, brands must continue to innovate if they want to stay competitive. Whether they’re finding new avenues for connection, like online gaming and streaming services, or optimizing the consumer experience, identifying and catering to the specific needs and desired experiences of their customers can be the difference between a thriving business and balance sheet woes.


[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2018/04/03/everything-you-need-to-know-about-fortnite-and-why-its-so-popular/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.5e424124d83d

[2] https://www.polygon.com/fortnite/2018/9/20/17884036/how-many-fortnite-monthly-players-2018; https://www.vertoanalytics.com/chart-week-deep-dive-fortnite/

[3] https://twitchtracker.com/statistics/viewers

[4] https://www.simmonsresearch.com/2018/12/19/decoding-esports-fans-justify-brand-investments/

[5] https://www.adweek.com/brand-marketing/fortnites-explosion-in-popularity-is-opening-new-doors-for-marketers/

[6] https://www.wsj.com/articles/walgreens-tests-digital-cooler-doors-with-cameras-to-target-you-with-ads-11547206200

[7]  https://www.wsj.com/articles/ad-tech-startup-innovid-raises-30-million-11546858801

[8] https://www.wsj.com/articles/ad-tech-startup-innovid-raises-30-million-11546858801

February Book Review

Acclaimed author Fran Liebowitz recommended that you “think before you speak” and “read before you think.” Here’s what we’re reading right now and why we think it matters.

Leading with Dignity by Donna Hicks, Ph.D.

Dr. Hicks shares her knowledge and experience gained from an illustrious career studying, teaching, and facilitating conflict resolution in Colombia, Northern Ireland, the Middle East, and the corporate world. Her groundbreaking discovery explains how “dignity violations”—interactions where negotiating parties or co-workers fail to treat each other with basic respect—are the root cause of many of the irreconcilable differences and the reason why many businesses fail. Check out our recent interview with Donna here.

 

Y-Size Your Business by Jason Dorsey

Millennials and Gen Zs bring a lot of value to a business through unique approaches and a next-level technological savviness that stem from being raised entirely in the digital era. In this humorous volume, Dorsey explains how employers can make the most of the younger members of the workforce and effectively integrate them into their companies. After all, “the generation gap is bigger than our baggy pants.” The big takeaway that employers who want to connect with their younger employees must take steps to satisfy their fundamental values had us nodding in agreement the entire time.

 

Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion by Jay Heinrichs

Through a witty, entertaining, and easily readable collection of personal anecdotes and pop-cultural references, Heinrichs teaches a master class on rhetoric and argumentation. A deft combination of discussions of different devices, fallacies, and strategies with familiar examples and the author’s own notes and annotations brings the oft-forgotten 3,000-year-old art form to life. As people who work to communicate as effectively as possible, we welcomed the chance to take an inventory and add some new tools to our toolbox.

 

Leadership Isn’t for Cowards by Mike Staver

Staver approaches leadership from a novel perspective, using a trademark combination of satirical humor, questioning and cajoling to get his points across. Humorous chapter titles, like “How much of an impact are you really having?” and “Do you really know what you’re doing?” introduce the practical wisdom gained from his long career filled with leadership roles. Staver brilliantly accomplishes his goal of teaching his readers to be bona fide leaders, while also modeling the type of creative messaging that deeply connects with audiences.

 

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

In Sapiens, Harari undertakes the spectacular challenge of condensing the entire history of humankind into one book. The understanding that we lived a tribal, hunter-gatherer lifestyle for the majority of our evolutionary history—and are still hardwired that way—allows for a new understanding of human psychology. Building from there, Harari explains how some of the quirks of our species came to be. On top of that, Sapiens provides an example of a fascinating investigative design. By casting his net as wide as he possibly can in his exploration of the human species, Harari arrives at a novel conclusion and expands his reader’s worldview along the way.

Dignity: The Essential Role it Plays in Corporate Success

Larry Lubin, Co-Founder and President, sat down with Donna Hicks, Ph.D., to discuss her work on how companies can drive success through dignity. Donna is the author of Leading with Dignity: How to Create a Culture That Brings Out the Best in People. She is currently an associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University, where she works to help resolve international conflicts.

 

L: Tell me a little about yourself and your work at the Weatherhead Center.

D: We tried to help resolve international conflicts around the world—in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Africa, Colombia. Our goal was to bring parties together for dialogue.  At every talk, in addition to discussing the political issues that divided the parties, there seemed to be another conversation taking place under the table, a non-verbal emotional reaction to what was being said. If I were to put words to it, here’s what they’d say:  How dare you treat us this way? Don’t you see that we’re human beings?” I realized that these emotional reactions were about their dignity, about not being treated as human beings.

L: I’d love you to talk about how the concept of dignity relates to a thriving corporate culture.

D: I got a phone call one day from a corporation that had been having longstanding conflicts between management and employees. I was asked if I would be willing to consult with them to see if the conflicts were dignity related.  Once I got in there, it became apparent that the reason people were feeling so upset at management was because there were dignity issues at the root of the conflicts that were virtually ignored.

L: Help me understand a little bit about how you have applied the concepts to corporations to help them.

D: My strategy is I assume that people are ignorant about dignity.  My experience has shown that very few people, even people with good intentions, know about dignity.  I start out working with management and employees and giving them a basic seminar on Dignity. I try to explore this with them in a way that keeps their mind open, so they don’t feel embarrassed about violating people’s dignity. And this isn’t just management we’re talking about. Employees are very good at violating the dignity of their bosses. We really have to make an effort to learn this just like we would learn anything else.

L: What are some of the lessons?

D: Number one is just asking oneself the simple question: “How do I make people feel?” Even really good people may not have the awareness to reflect on the effect they have on others.

The other thing that my research has shown is that when leaders actually own up and take responsibility for violating dignity, it develops a very strong bond between people. The more authentic someone is in taking responsibility for the harm he or she has created, the deeper the connection that gets created between them.

L: Everybody in corporations is so success driven—you can’t admit a flaw.

D: Exactly. But by admitting that you failed at something, you also give other people permission to be authentic when they make mistakes.  

L:  Now one of the quotes in your book, which I love, is that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” What do you think about it?

D: If a good executive team doesn’t understand how the corporate culture contributes to the way people feel inside the organization, they are likely to fail. Cultural alignment and strategy are inextricably tied if you want success in your company. Culture is what nourishes the strategy. That’s the fuel that keeps them going in the organization.

L: In terms of corporations seeking to thrive, are there general lessons learned?

D: If you don’t have dignity consciousness when you’re developing sweeping policy, that’s just as toxic as if you have a boss who is constantly violating his or her direct reports’ dignity.

This is not an overnight process. Everybody has to work at it. I still mess up sometimes. In fact, I consider myself a recovering dignity violator!  Before I researched and understood the profound effect dignity has on us, I would unknowingly violate others’ dignity.  The point is to take dignity seriously by taking the time to learn about it, and to know what to do when we do violate others’ dignity. Fortunately, there is a process that can be put into place to address the violations and repair the relationship.

L: Any last thoughts?

D: I have a quote from Victor Hugo that says, “There’s nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come,” and I think dignity’s time is now. I think this is the time to raise our awareness about how important it is to treat people like human beings and to have a guiding set of ideas about what it takes to create a culture of dignity in organizations.