Hearts and Minds
In 2008, one of the big national security topics in the Presidential debates was the prison on Guantanamo Bay. Democrats vowed to close the prison because it was, as President Obama still calls it, a recruiting tool for terrorists. Republicans said that it doesn’t matter what terrorists think, the base should stay open. Candidate Mitt Romney went so far as to say that he would double the size of Guantanamo if elected. What is disappointing about the comment isn’t just that he was a candidate for President, but that he calls himself a businessman. He should know better.
Perception is reality. So many people say that, but not enough understand its ramifications in the new millennium. In today’s interconnected world, one must consider a wide range of perceptions. To do otherwise puts you at a severe disadvantage over other competitors.
Too many people appear to have an attitude that it doesn’t matter what anybody thinks about me or my community or my country. We should do what we want and everyone else should lead, follow, or get out of the way. That’s nice, but it is not very realistic.
In the 21st century, no man is an island. To take the saying further, no business, organization, or country is an island, at least figuratively speaking. Actions and words reach a wide audience through cable television, email, Facebook, Youtube and Twitter within moments. With so many varied outlets, the world is all seeing and all hearing, and not everyone comes to the table with the same worldview at the start.
So when candidates talk about doubling the size of an unpopular aspect of the fight against terrorism, it is not just Al Qaeda that hears that message. Other nations and people hear it too. Nations in Europe, Asia, South America, Africa and the Middle East can look at the policies of the United States and decide that they may not want to join in the war effort in Afghanistan, or cooperate as fully on counter-terrorism measures, and even if they do join war efforts, they may not want to do so as vociferously.
It is not enough to consider just national security implications in a debate on global affairs. Equally, if not more importantly, are economic considerations. The United States is the largest trade partner in the world and will likely continue to be in the foreseeable future, but they aren’t the only major marketplace. If businesses and nations are uncomfortable with the cultural shifts of global policies coming out of Washington, they have many other places to invest their money like China, India, Europe, Brazil, Mexico and Russia. The world doesn’t just vote with its money either. They vote with their feet. People don’t have to come to America for tourism. They can go anywhere in the world.
The point is that it is not enough that candidates and elected officials are pro-America. We need the rest of the world to be pro-America as well. That is in our interest. It is in our benefit to not live in our own bubble.
An important example is the ongoing human tragedy resulting from the massive flooding in Pakistan. The most recent numbers point to over 14 million people being affected by the floods in a country racked with poverty, instability, and, yes, extremism. Once again, the United States is the top provider of aid, both military and financial. Most importantly, this will dramatically help address human suffering and possibly ensure some level of political stability, but it also is important for American public relations, to show that that United States is a force for good. That lesson doesn’t just help build a more pro-American view in the affected region but spreads for the rest of the world to see that America is a country that uses its resources and influences to help in times of need.
The same holds true in business, both big and small. What doesn’t sell well in Tuscaloosa may sell well in New York or Charlotte or London and shipping is not so expensive anymore. Once you put a message out via a product or a website, that brand can achieve global reach in minutes instead of years. Likewise, it is critical that businesses don’t suffocate in their own bubble and buy into their own hype without looking at how the rest of the world views them.
This may all sound like everyone should water down their message to be palatable to everybody. That is most definitely not the case. If anything, it should give everybody a moment to realize the potential, not the fears. Companies that want to play to a consistent theme that may not have a huge audience where they are situated may find there is a greater demand through the Internet and social media. For better or for worse, it is actually more profitable to be narrow-minded in the 21st Century than in the 20th.
Consider this scenario. In the 1910’s, if you sold a product that only 5% of the people in your town of 10,000 wanted, you would have a ceiling of 500 sales. In the 2010’s though, if your product or idea only appeals to 5% of the population, it is not limited to a small universe of 10,000, but instantly available to the 300,000,000 citizens (consumers) in the United States and billions worldwide.
In politics, this ability for narrow-minded viewpoints to spread quickly stokes worries that fringe elements may rise to greater power and influence. That is true, but it also means that unknown or currently unpopular ideas that are actually good can find room to grow as well. That is a positive. As the saying goes, you take the good, you take the bad, you take it all and there you have the facts of life.
Businesses and thinkers have unique opportunities in the digital age to make tremendous impacts across the planet. Your company can do well by being small minded but reading out to a higher number who agree with your philosophy or product or you can do exponentially better by creating a broad base of support and interest. The opportunities to create good will are vast. You don’t need to send your money to a foreign land even. Your contributions to the local little league team help create an image of your company that go far beyond the community where you are based.
Doing good deeds pays dividends in the interconnected world of the 21st Century. Perception is reality and you can tap into a lot of different potential clients and customers by appealing to their perceptions. So get out of your bubble, engage the world, figure out how you can be unique with a broad appeal, and do good acts where you can. You never know who may be watching.