The Bearable Discomfort of Rebels

Check out my new blog post on the grittiness of being a rebel in the workplace. Rebelsatwork.com

 

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Mormons Are Not The Borg

“Mormons are not The Borg.” That’s what Matthew Bowman answered (author of the new book The Mormon People) when I asked him a couple of weeks ago what was the most common misperception about Mormons. I was at a talk/signing for his new book at the plucky independent bookstore in Arlington/Falls Church: One More Page Books. (This book store in only one year has become the hub of all events literary in Northern Virginia in part because of the decline and fall of almost all the other bookstores in the region but also on account of the great attitude and hard work of the staff.)

I’ve been hesitant to write about my impressions of the book signing lest I come across as mean-spirited, snarky and/or somehow offend my Mormon friends and colleagues. But I keep thinking about the experience, largely because I do not understand the Mormon phenomena in America. (I think a lot about what I do not understand. Are there people who only think a lot about what they do understand?) Last night I was watching this excellent (but more than an hour-long) interview of Brian Dawson, an ex-Mormon who is star and producer of the Mr. Deity video podcast series. (If you haven’t seen these they are a real treat: funny and yet sophisticated inquiry into what the God stories really mean. It tackles all the questions you’ve always wanted to ask. I promise.)

Back to the greatest misperception about Mormons. (Now I consider this my favorite trick question–the one you ask when you really, really want to know the truth. So for example, if I’m interviewing someone for a job, I often use it when I want to really find out someone’s greatest weakness. If you ask someone that question in an interview, they’ll undoubtedly answer with a weakness that is invariably a strength: I work too hard is popular. But if you ask someone what the most common misperception is about them, they’ll often say something like: Well, that I’m not really a people person. BINGO!) Generally speaking, there is no such thing as a misperception.

So when I asked Dr. Bowman to volunteer the greatest misperception about Mormons first he said he didn’t know what to say because there were so many. But then he quickly offered that the Mormons were seen as The Borg. Which wasn’t at all the case.

The Borg

At that moment I looked around the rather small space of One More Page Books, which was filled with, by their count, 85 people–the largest turnout they’d ever had for a book talk/signing. I had arrived early that evening because Author Whisperer @TNebeker had told me they were expecting a large turnout. Nevertheless at about ten minutes till seven, there were maybe 4 people waiting for the talk, including the author. In the next 8 minutes, the other 81 appeared almost instantaneously, like…well…The Borg. The crowd represented all age groups, from teenagers to the author’s uncle but as best as I could tell I was the only non-Mormon in the room.

What struck me right away about the group, what has always struck me when I’m around Mormons, is how positive they are. I’m one of the I believe growing legion of non-practicing Catholics, and I can tell you from experience that when  Catholics are together in a large group they cannot exactly be described as positive and cheerful. (Bowman by the way thought the Mormon and Catholic religions had many similarities, more so than Mormons and Protestants.) But the Mormons were uniformly pleased one of their own had written this important book that was being seriously reviewed. Their questions reflected their pride in their religion and culture, and gentle in-jokes. Afterwards several of the Mormon missionaries (I could tell because they were wearing badges) approached me to ask if I wanted more information about the Mormon church or to further elaborate on answers to my other questions. (Q: Why do Mormons appear to be so prosperous? A: If that’s true, it’s because, unlike members of other religions Mormons become more religious as they become wealthier!!!) But when I told them that I wasn’t interested and wasn’t really a believer, they couldn’t have been kinder or more generous. (Unlike many other Christian evangelicals I’ve experienced who react to a demurral much like the Toro reacts to the Red Cape.)

So I left the event more puzzled than when I entered.  Many of the questions from Bowman’s Mormon audience reflected what appeared to be real inner spiritual experiences. (Did you feel the hand of the Divinity while you were writing?) I left the event with the same respect for the Mormons I’ve always had. Considerable.

And yet when I listened to the interview with Brian Dawson, the former Mormon now Atheist who speaks quite eloquently about his spiritual journey, I’m again confronted with what I consider to be the profound mysteries of the Mormon Church. The Book of Mormon ‘s purported historical accounts of the pre-Columbian civilizations and conditions of North America have now, to the satisfaction of many, been disproven. (Most recently, DNA tests show no trace of semitic-linked genes in indigenous North American populations.) The theology, which is complex and still developing, posits a pre-life and after-life that are significantly different from that of most other monotheistic religions. (In my admittedly brief scan of Mormon apologetics prior to writing this, I was struck by their argument that critics must remember Mormonism is still a young religion, less than 200 years old. After all, Islam certainly did not have its act together in the 8th century. The comparison was valid…and surprising.)

By the way, the Brian Dawson interview I’ve linked to is part of the Mormon Stories podcasts. These interviews feature prominent Mormons talking about their faith. From what I could tell all the others interviewed were true believers. I can’t imagine any other denomination that would allow a non-believer more than an hour of quality air-time to express his opinions. Mormons strike me always as very secure in what they believe.

My puzzlement over the Mormon religion also affects my views about Mitt Romney. (Bowman had heard that John Huntsman is actually a non-practicing Mormon,) Romney famously describes himself as a man of data. And yet he says he is proud of his Mormon faith, which implies he accepts the founding documents of the Church, which appear to me to be data-free. What can I conclude from this? Either he is not really the empiricist that he claims to be (i.e. he really believes) or he is in fact somewhat of a religious hypocrite.

Well, I’ve rambled enough. I’ve been thinking about the Mormon religion for almost 40 years now. (I went to high school in West Texas where we were always fending off their ministries.)

I’m afraid I have yet to achieve clarity.

Be a Good Manager, Not a Bad Novelist

Sometimes I talk to well-meaning folk, even friends, who will say something to me like: “I’m going to host a morale-building session with my team tomorrow night.”  Or maybe you’ve been in a situation where a manager comes up to you and says something like: “I’d like to give you some positive feedback.” Every time I hear phrases like that, they make me twitch. My eyelid clutches.

I know there’s something not quite right when managers say those sorts of things, but what is it exactly? Now I think I know. They’re not actually DOING the action they’re talking about. They’re just TALKING ABOUT the action they should just be doing.

Perhaps that is not crystal clear.

The best example I can think of is the advice I have often heard concerning writing fiction or plays. Let the Action and the Characters convey the meaning. Under no condition should the writer devote several paragraphs to explaining to the reader what the morale of the story is. (Perhaps the only writer who can get away with this is Proust, and that’s debatable.) The morale of the story is revealed implicitly through character and plot and also through the interaction of both with the reader. (I’ve been trying to find good links to people talking about this issue. Haven’t found the perfect one, but this Guardian series on famous writers’ best practices for writing is golden!)

So the next time you want to give someone positive (or negative) feedback, just do it. Don’t “rococo” it with a self-referential prologue. By the way, that’s another reason why self-narration is a bad habit for managers to acquire. As soon as you say something like you’re hosting a morale-building session, you’re shifting the focus away from the team and on to Wonderful You, thank you very much.

So if you’re a manager, pay attention to what you’re saying. Listen to yourself. And if you say silly things that are better left unsaid, Stop Saying Them. Like a very good novel, let your actions and your character speak for themselves.

Be a Good Manager, Not a Bad Novelist

Sometimes I talk to well-meaning folk, even friends, who will say something to me like: “I’m going to host a morale-building session with my team tomorrow night.”  Or maybe you’ve been in a situation where a manager comes up to you and says something like: “I’d like to give you some positive feedback.” Every time I hear phrases like that, they make me twitch. My eyelid clutches.

I know there’s something not quite right when managers say those sorts of things, but what is it exactly? Now I think I know. They’re not actually DOING the action they’re talking about. They’re just TALKING ABOUT the action they should just be doing.

Perhaps that is not crystal clear.

The best example I can think of is the advice I have often heard concerning writing fiction or plays. Let the Action and the Characters convey the meaning. Under no condition should the writer devote several paragraphs to explaining to the reader what the morale of the story is. (Perhaps the only writer who can get away with this is Proust, and that’s debatable.) The morale of the story is revealed implicitly through character and plot and also through the interaction of both with the reader. (I’ve been trying to find good links to people talking about this issue. Haven’t found the perfect one, but this Guardian series on famous writers’ best practices for writing is golden!)

So the next time you want to give someone positive (or negative) feedback, just do it. Don’t “rococo” it with a self-referential prologue. By the way, that’s another reason why self-narration is a bad habit for managers to acquire. As soon as you say something like you’re hosting a morale-building session, you’re shifting the focus away from the team and on to Wonderful You, thank you very much.

So if you’re a manager, pay attention to what you’re saying. Listen to yourself. And if you say silly things that are better left unsaid, Stop Saying Them. Like a very good novel, let your actions and your character speak for themselves.

Thinking Ain’t What It Used To be

I’ve been reading a great book the last couple of weeks, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kanehan. (I read books like I watch TV, I dip in and out, watching (or reading) several things at one time.) I recommend Kanehan’s book to everyone; it is not as hard to read as you might think–in fact the prose style is very pleasant, although the illustrative mental puzzles do take a bit of effort sometimes. I think most people will react like I have, reflecting on the implications of Kanehan’s findings for how I lead my life, how we make decisions. His major message so far is that all of us need to be aware of the shortcuts (fast thinking) we use and the likelihood that these shortcuts will lead us astray.

Thinking about thinking has ended up being a huge part of my life’s work. That’s a lot of what I did for CIA. It is no reassuring task to write or edit reports intended for policymakers, even for the President, and then pause to ask yourself whether the prose before you actually provides anything useful or insightful to the intended reader. Because the real truth is that facts (outside of science, and even there you gotta wonder!) rarely speak for themselves.  (And it hardly matters at all if they are secret facts.) In those rare instances when they do speak for themselves, then you don’t need an analyst or interpreter to make sense of them. Do you? Most facts require context, invite assumptions, have a back story, and probably also have a future. That’s what the analyst, the real thinker needs to bring to the conveyance of the fact. But it is all too rarely accomplished.

I can’t help but think we have a humongous thinking deficit in today’s world. (We also have significant values confusion and volatility, but that would be another blog.) I don’t watch any of the political debates because I can’t stand to watch people embarrass themselves. But I sort of follow them on Twitter sometimes so I know the various candidates drop Fact Bombs; Speaker Gingrich engages in carpet bombing and Rick Perry often misses the target. It doesn’t matter whether I support the candidate or not: they all misuse facts and encourage the sloppy thinking habits that haunt us today.

Some of our thinking errors have been monumental. For example you would think that when the US and other Western nations began investing in large social welfare programs in the 1950s and 1960s they might have actually done some actuarial planning, plotting out demographic, social, and economic trends to develop projections for how long the economy could sustain such benefits. Now my bet is that in some governments someone actually did something like this, but that inconvenient scenarios were dismissed as worst case scenarios and thus relegated to the low probability trash can. 

This is one of the most common thinking errors I encountered professionally: the association of worst case scenarios with low probabilities. Think about it. I bet most of you do it all the time. You hear worst case, you think “unlikely to happen”. The two values–probability, severity–move independently of each other, of course. There is a variation to this thinking pathology: that’s when worst case is is equated with high probability or even only possibility. In the past ten years, this has manifested itself in obsessive hoarding of gold.

Another area where a little long-range thinking and contextual analysis might cast some interesting light is the immigration debate. Some of us know that immigrants are an increasingly important part of US economic growth and that economic growth is a good way to ameliorate deficits. But these points aren’t often made. If the point can’t be conveyed in a soundbite or factbomb, then it isn’t conveyed at all.

What follows are examples of sloppy–even meaningless–analysis I see all the time even in the most serious publications.

The negotiations will be difficult. Now I’m betting that if the situation was easy to resolve, you wouldn’t need negotiations in the first place. Negotiations are supposed to be difficult. Also lengthy, bitter, hard-fought. This is one of my faves, because you SEE IT ALL THE TIME. (Also see below for discussion on use of adjectives and adverbs.)

It is too soon to tell and its cousin Only time will tell. No elucidation necessary.

The transition will be difficult or The transition will be smooth. I distrust just about all adjectives and adverbs in analysis. These slippery little modifiers disguise many errors in thinking. What smooth means to the writer may not be what smooth means to me. I would rather have the elements of the transition discussed so that in addition to considering the analyst’s judgment, I can develop my own.

The elections are too close to call. Basically, I don’t understand why we spend so much analytic and journalistic energy trying to forecast elections in the first place. An election is actually a specific event in the near future. Its timing is known to all. When it ends, we will know the outcome. If the election is rigged, then our forecast doesn’t matter. I’m gobsmacked at how American journalists in particular have convinced so many people to hang on their every word about events concerning which they have little insight and over which they have little control.

X dynamic is not a problem in Society Y because it only has the support of 10% of the population. Another classic mistake that you see ALL THE TIME and which, at this point, is absolutely criminal. When you hear about a particular revolution not being anticipated, you can bet that this type of analytic statement was at the heart of the faulty thinking. This analytic statement is flawed because it tries to capture extremely complicated societal dynamics in a criminally simple mathematical statement. Before making  such a statement, the analyst needs to examine his theory for social change. Is social change simply an arithmetic progression? Or do movements often gain support suddenly and/or exponentially?

Anyway I think I’ll stop now. Really I’ve just been venting on many of the thinking errors that get under my skin. For a much better discussion, do read Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Calling Republican Candidates

Culled from Headlines:

Mitt calls Newt Zany

Newt calls Romney Liberal

Newt calls himself a Real Politik Wilsonian

Bachman calls Newt Frugal Socialist

Paul Calls Bachman an Idiot

Paul calls Newt an Idiot

Paul calls Perry a Cheerleader

Paul calls Romney Stupid

Paul calls Santorum Stupid

McCain calls Paul Hitler Appeaser

McCain calls Romney Flipflopper

(Putin calls McCain nuts)

Romney calls Himself Middle Class

Huntsman calls Romney Well-Lubricated Weather Vane

Perry calls Romney Fat Cat

Bachman calls Perry Naive

Perry calls Cain Brother

Cain calls Perry Insensitive

Steve Jobs: Good or Bad Rebel?

Fifty years from now, I’m sure Steve Jobs will still be seen as one of the great business leaders of the 20th century.* But I bet the jury will still be out as to whether he was a good rebel or a bad rebel. What I’m referring to is my friend Lois Kelly’s excellent chart detailing the characteristics of good and bad rebels in organizations. What do we mean by rebels, or heretics as I often describe myself?  We’re talking about those people in organizations who have strong views as to how the organization can improve, how it needs to change. They are brave (or foolhardy) enough to stand against the prevailing doctrine of the organization and seriously argue for another way.

Whenever Lois or I have spoken recently about the need for organizations, in these times of demanding change, to make better use of the rebels within their midst, we get asked a very good question. How can you tell a good rebel from a bad one? Lois’s list is a good start at answering that question, but the curious case of Steve Jobs shows, I would argue, how in some cases you as a leader may never be quite sure what kind of heretic you’re dealing with.

Now to be fair to rebels/heretics everywhere, Steve Jobs doesn’t really qualify as a rebel in the way we mean it. Apparently from the very beginning of his corporate/entrepreneurial career, he was at the top of the heap, more or less calling the shots. In fact, it’s quite clear, once you begin to think about entrepreneurs, that being rebellious and restless is one of their essential drivers. One way to think about rebels is as the individuals in your organization who are one or two personality quirks away from being full-fledged entrepreneurs. As a leader, you should consider yourself lucky to have such an asset, if indeed you have a good one.

Which brings us back to Steve Jobs. Here is Lois’s list.

Stories about Steve Jobs suggest that he spent his life hopping back and forth between the pairs. (Confess I haven’t read the biography yet.)

  • Steve Jobs was a complainer….and a creator.
  • He was angry….and passionate.
  • He was me-focused….and mission-focused

Well, you get the point.

For me, the aspect of Steve Jobs character that is most difficult to excuse or explain away, and is implicit in several of the bad rebel characteristics, was his rudeness and meanness to other people. (He pointed fingers at others.) There are many stories to this effect, and my favorite (because it rings so true) is the account that Apple employees worried about being in the same elevator with Jobs for fear they would no longer have a job when the elevator doors opened. Jobs was indeed lucky that he was always the leader of organizations, not their employee, because we all know that such behavior in mere employees is rarely tolerated, and for good reasons.  In fact, it is hard to think of a more poisonous workplace situation than when a weak boss allows a strong but pathological employee to run roughshod over colleagues because she delivers on the mission.

Of course Steve Jobs’ personality did cost him the leadership of Apple during the 1980s, an event that he cited as one of the most important learning experiences of his life. But the occasional account that he mellowed over the past ten years or so just don’t ring true to me. The telling and convincing details just aren’t there. I suspect that Jobs, who reportedly ran through 60 nurses in the hospital before he found 3 he could tolerate, remained a difficult and demanding person all his life. But in the end, almost everyone, including some of the folks he abused, believed he was worth it.

The Rebel as Paradox, then, will pose the greatest challenge to the leader who wants to tap into rebel energy. Intensive coaching might help, but we all know spending disproportionate time and energy on one individual will often unbalance an entire team and/or mission. In the end, the Paradoxical Rebel may just have to move on, willingly or not, and your role as a manager/facilitator may only extend to providing the lesson that he might potentially learn from. His future might lie as an entrepreneur. Or the experience of failure may result in the necessary reflection to adjust behaviors. It is always more effective to reflect on experience than on advice. But in the end, it will always be the responsibility of the Paradoxical Rebel to demonstrate that his ideas are worth the price the organization must pay.

*Addendum:  As I was drafting this blog, I did some research on other great business leaders Steve Jobs might compare to. When you google “Great American Business Leaders” the first hit you get is Harvard Business School’s handy database on American business leaders of the 20th Century. It’s instructive just to scan the lengthy listings, scrolling past names such as Elizabeth Arden, Michael Bloomberg, Henry Ford, Edwin Land–the Polaroid genius whom Steve Jobs greatly admired, Edwin Luce, H. Ross Perot, David Sarnoff, and hundreds of others.

It is a pretty cool database, but you know it could stand some serious rethinking in terms of its categorization scheme. For each leader, several facts are provided: age, company, education. But the two categories that frankly struck me as odd were Race and work background of Father, i.e. skilled worker, small merchant, whatever. Why any institution would use the increasingly discredited “race” category as a discriminator of anything of value is beyond me. (I know Federal Law still mandates its use in many instances (and people increasingly are subverting it by picking other categories) but this database would not be subject to that law.) And the inclusion of the Father’s occupation but not the mother’s is just plain weird and totally inappropriate for today’s society. I do think Harvard Business School could do a little better here.

We’re All in the Same Bathtub

When I was much younger, 34 years ago, I ended up having to take Economics 101, 102 before I could start graduate school. I was in the DC area, poor (in the way college kids are poor, which is different from how struggling families are poor), and so I enrolled at Prince George’s Community College. The professor, whose name I can’t remember, was a smart fellow, an engaging teacher, and clearly quite conservative in his economic and political orientation. It was fun and I learned a lot.

During one afternoon lecture, I remember Prof getting quite excited about how wrong it was for government to promulgate laws and regulations that imposed non-economic costs on businesses. How it messed up the purity of economics, I guess. At the time he was citing examples such as the relatively new requirement for companies to control pollution. Everyone in the class nodded in agreement but I decided I couldn’t let that one go. I raised my hand and noted, based on my not very commanding knowledge of economic history, that over the centuries many different “noneconomic” costs had been imposed on businesses: they couldn’t employ children just to get the cheapest labor; they couldn’t force workers to toil in unhealthy conditions; they couldn’t build cars that were firetraps. In the end, it seemed to me then and it still seems to me now, businesses are just another element in society and culture, and they essentially have no choice but to operate in accordance with whatever the socio-cultural norms are at the time. Being a business doesn’t exempt them, neither does the argument that certain costs are noneconomic. Given that currency itself is a social construct, in the final analysis all costs are noneconomic, or so it seems to me. (I know that last sentence doesn’t really make any sense, but it does accurately convey my thinking (muddy) here.)

The “occupy” events of the past few weeks and the growing discussion of Corporate Social Responsibility have reminded me of that Economics 101 class. I can’t help but think that we keep making silly distinctions about what category things fall into–such as economic vs. noneconomic, domestic vs. international, nature vs. man-made–when the rather obvious reality is: We’re All in the Same Bathtub. The “occupy” protests really are about trying to change the current social norms as they apply to business and profit. My guess is the very act of protesting is already changing those norms, but it is also probably true that the fact the protests are occurring indicates the norms are already changing.

In doing a little research for this post, I found an interesting discussion on this blog about economic and noneconomic costs in society. The following expresses what I’m thinking much better than I ever could:

Donohue-White submits (with very good reason) that every “market economy is shaped by the culture in which it exists, and, in turn, it affects the daily practices and customs of the people that comprise it.” By the rather broad term culture, she means the sum of “customs, traditions, and practices of a people.” In turn, the market exerts an influence on the culture in which it subsists, fostering particular sets of virtues or vices. Market and culture–while certainly conceptually distinct–are inextricably bound up in the concrete, practical affairs of a people. On this view, the market cannot be properly evaluated without recourse to the culture and society that shapes it AND to the impact the market has on this same culture and society. The “economic rationality” exhibited by many contemporary corporations seems to be largely devoid of the consideration of non-economic “costs,” particularly with respect to treatment of workers (wage, outsourcing, lay-offs), wealth accumulation and disregard for local and expansive tradition.

Because we’re all in the same bathtub, the argument that socially responsible behavior is not relevant to corporations or doesn’t make good business sense just falls apart.  US companies for example are already feeling the consequences of our declining education system. They can’t find the highly skilled workers they need, or at least not enough of them. Their transportation costs are rising because of the decaying transportation system. Internationally, I remember people making the argument that Somalia was not worth anyone’s attention, and so we ignored it. Ten years later, Somali pirates over the last two years have cost business $7-12 billion once you count all the related costs.

As automation and internet networks intrude into every line of business, I’m betting these changes will not only cost jobs; they will eventually shrink the size of corporations, including their profits and revenues. I can imagine a day when corporations evolve away from being primarily money-making activities to actually embracing their social responsibilities as one of the fundamental reasons for their existence. Business and government both will become less important organizing concepts for society. At first corporations will embrace greater community involvement as a clever way to market what they do; eventually I think some of these community activities may actually end up generating revenues for them and perhaps creating new types of jobs for the economy. They may no longer be profit-making entities, although they will still make money. Already I think you can see signs of this in the rise of NGO’s and other nonprofits in the world economy. Public Services International notes that NGO’s are now the 8th largest economy in the world, employing more than 19 million paid workers. The US is currently home to about 1.5 million nonprofits, with 30-50K being created every year.

Being in the same bathtub applies to the world economy as well. When the bathwater gets dirty–i.e. during the global financial crisis–everyone suffers. Until we discover sentient (and prosperous) life on other planets, we will have to find a way to make this financial system work, despite its imbalances. There is simply no other place for China, or any other country, to invest its trillions.

One final link. The latest piece in the Harvard Business Review by Rosabeth Moss Kanter powerfully discusses some of these dynamics. Money quote:

Only if leaders think of themselves as builders of social institutions can they master today’s changes and challenges.

On CIA, typewriters, and sensemaking

Check out my guest blog post on IBM’s Smarter Planet blog.  http://asmarterplanet.com/blog/2011/09/10766.html

Turkish Insights

Today is my 8th day in Turkey, a country I had not been to until now. (I’ve had the good fortune to visit much of the world, with the exception of Latin America and Asia, which are underrepresented in my travels.) I had no idea before the trip began that this journey would be such an eye-opener. Turkey is bursting with the new energy coursing through the planet. Unlike the US and the West, which at this moment appear overwhelmed by problems of their own making and undermined by an epic clash in values—particularly in the United States, Turkey strikes you as a country optimistically committed to its future. I know Turkey has problems—after all every society has, but they do not appear to be defeating the optimism of the Turkish people.

Some impressions I’ve made:

Turkey is pointed toward the East and has the opportunity this century to truly optimize its natural position as the connector between the East and the West. I suspect, however, that Turkish businessmen and the Government, if forced to choose, will declare “Go East, young man.” Flying around on Turkish airlines I’ve studied their route map. Today, they fly to 14 destinations in India, China, and the rest of Asia, compared to six destinations in the Americas, 4 in the US, 1 to Canada, and an intriguing connection between Istanbul and Sao Paolo, Brazil. True, Turkish Airlines has an impressive flight network in Europe, flying to nine German cities alone, but this is almost matched by its comprehensive coverage of the ‘stans, other former Soviet Republics, and the Middle East.

Turkey is still traveling on the uphill slope of its potential curve. Turkey is edgy in a good way. Just a short walk on the streets of Istanbul reveals all the cracks and fissures in the society. For example, every possible perspective on the role of women is seen walking on the boulevards: the great majority of women dress Western but head scarves and veils are also common, particularly in Istanbul. But most people on the street seem to be happily exploring how all these different value structures can best fit together, rather than choosing to believe there is a problem. It is altogether common, for example, to see women eating together at a restaurant, dressed in the full range from Vogue magazine to village traditional. I’m not familiar enough with Turkish politics to know if this generosity of acceptance extends fully to their politicians. I suspect that it doesn’t, knowing that politics, at least in the modern era, seem to thrive more on dwelling on problems than on devising solutions. But I can’t imagine Turkish politics has yet sunk to the level of American politicians, who are now fashioning their campaign platforms around our differences.  I’ve asked our tour guides questions, for example, about Turkey’s attitude toward Greece. My questions are dismissed as silly; we’ve grown beyond that. If only the West could learn again how to grow past problems, rather than dwell on them.

Turkey, I think, is not so often discussed when we talk about Islam, politics, and the Muslim religion, but we need to focus on it (and Indonesia) more as we think about how Islam will contribute to the setting of new global norms in the 21st century. Turkey, at least, strikes me as a very positive example. On September 11th, between 8 and 9 am East Coast Time, our tour group was sitting in Suleyman’s mosque in Istanbul, listening to our guide explain Islam. About halfway through the talk, many members of our group made the connection between the date and our context, and I think many of us—but not all—were happier to be in a mosque than to be in the US at that very moment. Turkey’s Islamic identity produces some interesting nuances in its relations with China. The Turks consider the Uigers to be part of the ancestral Turkish nation; the two languages have many similarities. So when we think about how international politics will evolve in the decades to come, one mental model we need to discard is that all situations involving significant differences will involve the US. You can imagine, for example, tensions between a country such as Turkey and China developing over the question of how China treats its Muslim population.

I could list more impressions, at this point all positive. Social media seems to be everywhere, for example. But the bottom line for me and many in our tour group, including veteran financial advisers and investment types, is that Turkey is much more appropriate exemplar for the world today than the US. And that was an impression I had no expectation having when I arrived.