tag archive: conferences

If You Want to Generate Strategies for Future Success, Start with Narratives and Metaphors

Terms like metaphor, myth, story  and narrative are not necessarily the first that come to mind when considering how to develop a future-facing national strategy.  But they should be.  This point was made in brilliant ways by the participants at the Atlantic Council’s second annual Global Strategy Forum in Washington DC earlier this week.

Metaphors Shape how We Understand Reality

Our collective understanding of reality is shaped in profound ways by metaphors. A metaphor is a statement suggesting that something with which we are unfamiliar is like something with which we are familiar.  New technologies often produce new metaphors for how we understand society writ large. The idea of the “networked organization,” for example, grows out of a comparison with computer networks. Being able to generate metaphors about the future can help strategists pave the way to creating the systems or processes that will be required for success in it.

I had the honor of sharing the opening session stage with DARPA Director Dr. Arathi Prabhakar and Rhodes College political scientist Jennifer Sciubba and our moderator Toffler Associates CEO Deborah Westphal to discuss Strategic Foresight.

Arathi talked about DARPA’s investments in artificial intelligence, Jennifer explored some of our myths about global demography,  and I addressed our need for anticipatory metaphors (beginning at 44:21).

When Conditions Change, so Must Our Strategic Narratives

Despite our 3 different topics, we all stressed that changes in our global condition means that we must think in new ways about how to be successful.  As the conditions of the industrial age fade away, so will our ability to define success in the terms of that era.

When global trends portend dramatic change, as ours do now, we must assess how we think about success, and rewrite the stories and myths that guide us in our quest to compete successfully.  A hundred years ago, technological conditions privileged size—big tanks, and sizable armies could take territory and resources. Our guiding principle for success became: lets get big and control large spaces.

The rise of computer networks changed our social metaphors. We think in terms of networks now: social networks, networking, and everything from human bodies to neighborhoods as networks.  We didn’t simply discover that all of these phenomena are arranged as networks, we applied a guiding metaphor to discover ways in which they are like networks.

My question is: what’s next? What will be the guiding metaphor of 25 years from now? The organization that can begin to frame an anticipatory metaphor–the future of our own imaginations– is preparing itself conceptually for the future. After that, structures, processes and systems will follow.

And while our conversation at the Atlantic Council was about the American role in the world, the basic takeaways for how to generate strong strategy apply to organizations everywhere.

To see the entire day’s sessions, go: here.


Posted in: Conferences, Decision making, Innovation, National Security, Strategic Communication, Strategic Leadership, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Resilience Narratives Key to Resilient Systems

The 2013 World Economic Forum Conference that began today in Davos is dedicated this year to resilient dynamism. As Arianna Huffington noted earlier in the day, the key concept that gives rise to the need for resilience is our global interconnectedness. Quoting Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin, she cites five attributes that resilient systems characteristically share:

  •  Spare capacity
  • Flexibility — the ability to change, evolve, and adapt in the face of disaster.
  • Limited or “safe” failure, which prevents failures from rippling across systems.
  • Rapid rebound — the capacity to reestablish function and avoid long-term disruptions.
  • Constant learning, with robust feedback loops.

Huffington adds a sixth, “the will to want to be resilient.”

To that list, I feel we must add a seventh requirement for the present and future, Resilience Narratives: stories that will help disparate and potentially adversarial players see themselves as active participants in collaborative futures. Continue reading

Posted in: Conferences, Crisis Management, Decision making, Intercultural Communication, International Politics, Politics and Policy, Strategic Communication, Strategic Leadership Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Narrative for Survival: My Grandmother’s Story

Stories can save lives. In One Thousand and One Nights, Sheherezade uses her storytelling talents to end King Shahrayr’s plot to punish his unfaithful wife by punishing all of the women of his kingdom.  Having put to death the unfaithful Queen herself, the King embarks on a plan to marry a virgin of the Kingdom each night, and to have each killed at dawn.  That is, until he marries Sheherezade, who spends her wedding night narrating to the King a most exciting and suspenseful tale. So exciting that the King puts off her death to hear how the story continues. And so their story continues for a thousand and one nights, after which the King abandons his goal to punish women, and marries Sheherezade.

My grandmother may not have had a thousand stories, but she had at least one, and telling it to an American Consul in 1939 saved her life and that of her husband and baby, when it permitted her to leave warring Europe on one of the last ships to cross the Atlantic. I had the opportunity to tell it at a local TedX event earlier this year, and was delighted when TEDx organizers chose it as one of their favorites.  I’d love to hear about other stories that have saved lives, if you have one you’d like to share.

Posted in: Books & Films, Intercultural Communication, International Politics, Narrative forms, Politics and Policy, Popular Culture, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

SIETAR Conference on Intercultural Communication Begins Today in Denver

The Eleventh Annual Society for Intercultural Education Training and Research (SIETAR) Conference begins today in Denver. This year’s conference is dedicated to the topic of “Risk and Resilience in an Intercultural World.”   In crisis, or other adverse circumstances, reaching across cultural borders can appear to be unduly risky, and it is resilience—the ability to recover from adversity—that must be cultivated if we are to remain engaged with others

SIETAR is a membership organization with satellite groups throughout the United States and abroad. Founded in 1974, the organization was created:

To provide a forum for exchanging ideas about training, theory, and research, and to learn from each other as well as to provide a place where interculturalists could strengthen their bonds with each other. They envisioned an exchange between people in different disciplines and professional activity that would strengthen the theoretical development and practice of intercultural communication.

Keynote speakers include Dr. Todd Conklin, Dr. William Cross and Dr. Pari Namazie.  Conklin is a specialist in human error and safety at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the other of an upbeat book on Simple Revolutionary Acts to make ourselves more engaged, happier workers. Cross heads the Social-Personality Psychology subprogram at the City University of New York Graduate Center.  Cross is well known for his work on African-American identity,  and particularly for his 1991 book Shades of Black: Diversity in African American Identity Namazie works in the field of international human relations management and intercultural management. She is the managing director Atieh International, a strategy, HR and training company focusing on developing business opportunities between the Middle East and Europe.

Posted in: Conferences, Crisis Management, Intercultural Communication Tags: , , , , ,