Ask a Senior Analyst — Christine MacNulty

Wikistrat’s Facebook and Twitter followers recently engaged in a 24-hour exclusive Q&A session with one of Wikistrat’s Senior Analysts, Christine MacNulty. Questions and Ms. MacNulty’s answers are transcribed below.

Christine MacNulty

Christine MacNulty, CEO of Applied Futures, Inc., has forty years’ experience as a consultant in long-term strategic planning for concepts as well as organizations. She has also specialized in understanding cultural change. For the last twenty years, most of her consultancy has been conducted for the Department of Defense and NATO. She has also worked with many Fortune Global 500 companies.

She is the co-author of Strategy with Passion: A Leader’s Guide to Exploiting the Future, to be released in November 2014.

Christine MacNulty: Since both questions relate to Values, some background is required:

Values are emotional constructs that underpin attitudes and behavior. They are closely related to beliefs, which are convictions that are held to be true by individuals or groups and they are also related to psychological needs. They are longer term and they change only slowly. Beliefs are long-held perceptions that have generally been inculcated from birth by family, teachers and leaders of the society, although they can and do change slowly over time. In some cases they may change quickly, generally through some extreme (good or bad) event. Motivations are the factors that compel a person or group to act and they are functions of values, beliefs and needs. Understanding motivations helps us understand why people do as they do. Behavior tells us the what people are doing. If we understand the why, we have a greater chance to anticipate what people are likely to do next.

The values models we use are based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and augmented by the work of Shalom Schwartz, Geert Hofstede, Ron Inglehart and others.

Monica J. Jerbi: A number of peer-reviewed studies analyzing the cultural theories of Hofstede (1984), Triandis (1995) and Schwartz (1994) show how macro-social and macro-economic variables impact and actually change culture over time, particularly in regards to individualism/collectivism, power distance and autonomy/conservation. These values also shape a country’s ability to transition to a functioning pluralistic democracy, rate of economic development, the likelihood of extreme corruption derailing democracy, etc.

Considering war disrupts macro-social and macro-economic variables, how does this make framing behavioral/strategic communications messages to alter behaviors and attitudes (particularly aimed at potential insurgents and terrorists) harder and what can be done to overcome these additional obstacles?

Answer: First, from my own perspective, I think that assigning a direction of causality to such factors as macro-economic variables is difficult, especially with respect to values. Factors such as access to education and communication may increase the numbers of people with certain values more rapidly than they would otherwise, but it’s a change in values in the first place that creates and increases the demand for the education and communication. And the question itself states that values shape such elements as democracy, economic development, etc. And I agree with that.

However, moving on to the second part of the question: At a very broad-brush level, war generally occurs because one leader/group with one set of values wants to vanquish another for reasons of land, resources, historical argument, religion or ideology. The instigators of the conflict are unlikely to be dissuaded by any communication short of believable threat of annihilation. The people who may be dissuaded are the followers or those who support the fighters in some way.

Understanding values offers one of the greatest benefits to effective influence and communication campaigns. Because they operate at a deep emotional level, messages that appeal to values are far more influential (for good or ill) than messages that address attitudes or behavior — they resonate more deeply and they are more memorable. If we want to influence behavior, of nations, groups or even the behavior in the marketplace, then the closer we can come to appealing to values, the more likely we are to be effective in our efforts.

However, there is an important element here: people are very reluctant (absent force) to act in opposition to their values — especially when they are tied to ideology, religion or honor. The West has sometimes failed to take cognizance of this, and thus campaigns have failed. Understanding values thoroughly enables the crafting of more effective campaigns.

Many strategic communications campaigns, information operations and psychological operations have addressed behavior. Clearly, we would like to prevent people from joining ISIS, for instance, just as we would like to stop people from planting IEDs, but unless we can understand people’s motivations for those actions, that is not likely to happen. And then, once we know their motivations for such behavior in the first place, we need to understand how we, in the West, can motivate them to do differently. And we may not be able to. It may take access to better education, jobs, changes of governments and other action within their own countries.

Having read interviews with former foreign fighters, especially second-generation Middle Eastern and Asian immigrants from the United Kingdom and the United States, it seems that some have felt like second class citizens within those countries, unable to make their way in society, the educational system and employment. Shame and guilt, values inculcated in their parents’ countries, are powerful motivators. They seem to need the validation of honor earned in battle to gain a measure of self-worth. Do we know enough to know how to overcome motivations of this sort?

Finally, what can we do to improve strategic communications? The first thing is to think strategically. Think about Nth order effects. If we have a vision and strategy with respect to a particular country or terrorist group, for instance, then responses to events can be crafted in the context of that trajectory, and can be aligned with the overall strategy. If we have no strategy, then no amount of reactionary crisis communications can make up for that lack of strategy.

Federico G. Barbuto: In a world where globalization is bringing together different cultures, negotiation and common values seem to be more important under the edge of cross-cultural negotiations. However, a diffused “Western approach” of many companies, especially multinational corporation that have their own ways of doing business, clahses with a more adaptive and “culture-sensitive” strategy. In your opinion, will this approach lead to success or to failure, both in business and diplomatic relations?

Answer: The members of the leadership of any nation or organization generally have the values and beliefs of their country of origin, perhaps modified by education, travel, by access to widespread communications/media and proximity to others. They perceive the rest of the world through those eyes. Multinational corporations tend to hold the values of their founders — so the majority have been Western until recently — and reflect Western business practices. The language of business is generally English, and so there is a great deal of Western nuance in the multinational way of doing business.

As the populations of Western countries have been moving from esteem needs toward self-actualization, so has their approach towards business — hence the concerns about environmental issues, sustainability, the role of women and the problems of women and so on. Unless they have a direct and immediate impact, sustenance-level countries do not find those issues as important as the current state of resources, which is why some countries see the West as hypocritical, since the West was not as concerned about those issues when it was itself in a sustenance state.

Negotiation is a form of communication and communication is always at least two-way. The person talking always needs to communicate in the way that the listener can understand — the onus for communicating effectively is on the speaker, whoever that is. The listener needs to listen carefully, rather than “reloading” in order to criticize or comment on what is being said.

Having said all that, there are significant differences between cultures. We have identified seventeen “cultural-cognitive” dimensions that can be very different from culture to culture. Among these, values are the first and most important, but there are others such as:

  • Approach to time and punctuality
  • Willingness (or otherwise) to point out bad news
  • Thinking linearly versus contextually
  • Doing versus being
  • Attitudes toward honor and shame
  • When communicating or negotiating across cultures, the more those involved understand the other culture — in terms of motivations and what might offend, or what concepts might be different — the better. Civility and respect are probably the two most critical requirements for effective communication and negotiations.

    In the near term, I anticipate that most business negotiations will continue in the Western vein, perhaps tempered by a greater understanding of cultures.

    In terms of diplomatic communication, politics will continue to play a major role — whatever the model of communications used — and politicians may use their knowledge of cultures and values as a two-edged sword. They may use it to help negotiations if they see that to be beneficial, or to prevent negotiations if they do not wish to see a reasonable outcome.

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