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Brands, Old-School Diplomacy & the New Humanities

We’re up to our ‘proverbials’ in Brand Advocates, Influencers & Champions. The social shock troops have to no little degree saved a lot of the big consumer multinationals from themselves. They have proved themselves both central in driving relevance and a vastly improved and far more respectful model of customer service. They are to that end critical in securing the survival of relevance in many multinational brands who until quite recently had acted with old school impunity and arrogance when called to account.

But the blunt grassroots tool for creating better is just one of two required to secure an improved human existence in the face of our stratospheric levels of consumption and the brands who feed it.

The other (just as important as its grassroots cousin in shaping what better looks like) is of a more nuanced and rarified nature. It is subtler, sharper; multi-faceted, fluid; intricate.

To build the more resilient and adaptive form of governance and influence that multinational businesses are increasingly going to require will take more than just an MBA upgrade on the usual business school thinking and doing.

It will demand a new creature.

“The effective leader will jettison vertical integration information hoarding and dogma in favour of optimization, recalibration and negotiation.”
7 Revolutions, Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS)

To navigate the ever-greater complexity and turbulence of our accelerating world, leadership must be augmented by a new kind of executive corps.

The cat’s cradle of interdependencies, interrelatedness and infra-connectedness of global business and the ascension of global brand potency in regards to global acts of responsibility demands more than a just ‘a faster executive horse.’

“A well-run business that applies its vast resources expertise and management talent to problems that it understands and in which it has a stake can have a greater impact on social good than any other institution or philanthropic organization.”
7 Revolutions, CSIS

Execs are increasingly finding themselves participants in and the conveners of dynamic and diverse conventions of actors and agents within the sphere of their commercial and social interests.

This new and more fluid model of engagement in the scale challenges that face both their businesses operationally and systemically, and the communities in which they seek to thrive, will become the norm.

“Strategic coalitions consisting of governments, corporations, NGOs, and academic institutions will be necessary in mounting effective responses and capitalizing on important opportunities.”
7 Revolutions, CSIS

The brutal truth is that they will be ill-prepared and increasingly incapable of managing and orientating these groups to any great degree, because they simply do not have the skills and the training to do so.

To be brutally frank, the Davos & Done school of global stewardship needs a hearty and well-placed kick up the arse.

Watching the currently fitful and flawed nature of a new world brand conversation should be all the proof we desire.

Current 21st-century brand dynamics demand that brand leaders be capable of meaningfully engaging in a conversation that often spans a staggering breadth and depth of subject matter:

  • operational and systemic excellence, innovation and advancement
  • geopolitical sources of volatility and influence
  • the impact of global and local financial governance & volatility
  • the evolving nature and mandate of labour rights & the social contract
  • enlightened and reasonable understanding of adaptive governance models
  • the impact of technology both systemically and socially on global value chains
  • clarity and influence on relevant local, national and transnational regulation
  • a clear understanding of the value of enlightened sustainability practice
  • resilient growth modelling that embraces both quantitative short-term and qualitative long-term objectives

Add to these the escalating nature of responsibility and the multinational business’s ability (and more importantly its obligation) to focus all of its skills on improving both its own systemic nature and ecosystems as well as that of the societies, cultures and environment in which they are rooted and the need for a Master class in Brand Diplomacy quickly becomes critical to the successful evolution of our human existence.

The new leaders and those that advise them will not only require an audacious breadth and depth of understanding but also, even more importantly, the artistry to navigate the nuances, multiple agendas and cultures of the multiple actors and agents operating within their realm.

This leads me to believe that this is the dawning of what I like to call The Age of Global Brand Diplomacy and the Rise of the Brand Diplomat.

Real diplomacy is a rare gift of the few that exists usually only by accident, quirk or happenstance. It requires a very particular education: a highly diverse, immersive and passionate pursuit of breadth over fashion, depth over trend. It demands a real investment of purpose and person – a commitment of measurable integrity.

Given the scale and importance of the challenges they will be faced with and in which they will need to have a profound impact, the new breed of leader will at best be schooled in both the arts and discipline of geopolitics, anthropology, civilisation & culture, the Arts, the history of diplomacy and the intuitive Social Sciences.

So the question for me is not whether a business school of global merit and stature should do this, but which business school is going to rise to this challenge and embrace the task of shaping this new creature more formally? Which school can credibly host the Master class in Brand Diplomacy?

It requires access to and the benefit of an environment that enjoys an effortless multi-cultural aspect. It requires exceptional immersion in a dynamic, accelerating, ‘living’ throng, not splendid isolation. It requires an audacious fabric of skills and disciplines to be stitched together into one compelling proposition.

But most of all it requires people steeped both in the commercial marketed and applied world and that of the NGO the government think-tank and the venerable institution.

It will also require a new trajectory and term of influence and engagement: a longer and greater arc of nurture and development coupled and a more interdependent quality of rolling assessment and dispositional measurement from a far earlier point in the shaping of a mind.

It will also demand a clarity of purpose sparked and elevated at an early age – in much the same way that the British public schools of old shaped the disposition and the ascent to position of boys from their prep school years – through the study of War Craft, the Classics – a living, breathing understanding of how one fits into and then how one might start to run and lead a ‘mini me’ hierarchical society, through the use and leverage of various tools at one’s disposal – the pride and allegiance of the House system, Corps duty, prefecture and eventually the position of Head of School.

The only difference now is that having stepped through that system, the rest was quite straightforward – based upon an assumption of position underwritten by an impenetrable right of entitlement.

The modern world has different demands. The fiercely competitive nature of it cannot be dissuaded simply by an accent and a tie anymore. Quite the opposite. The brutally mercantile nature of it allows no easy options of rides. Resilience and adaptability are critical in the survival of the Brand Diplomat.

In shaping the curriculum of the new Brand Diplomacy we also have the benefit of hindsight and the sensibility of foresight.

We have the advantage of knowing that setting foot in the real world beyond the hypothesis and theory is what ultimately shapes an exceptional leader, so we are already one step ahead of the old model; the raw talent pouring into the world is more connected, engaged, worldly and far more rounded. We also have the welcome addition of having the female competitive advantage in its ascent (something the British public schools could have done well to embrace a lot earlier than they did).

The Business School that chose to accept the challenge of Brand Diplomacy would need to set its sights on those at a school age with the potential to fulfill their potential in this rare space where global politics, commerce, finance and cultural anthropology collide.

I believe that a course in Brand Diplomacy would need to be designed as the culmination of a journey to enlightenment. No posturing blue-tooth slideshow talker will be able to busk or bluff this – this will demand true leadership skills from enlightened and measured minds.

A meaningful course in Brand Diplomacy should plumb not only the usual texts and case studies but also look beyond the 20th-century scholars and students of Diplomacy to the birth of it in the Italian city states of the Quattro Cento and amongst the Bourbon Courts of the Southern Mediterranean. It should look to the life work of the likes of Castlereagh (the subject of Henry Kissinger’s thesis, I believe), the much maligned but now redeemed British Foreign Minister from the era of the Napoleonic Wars - a master statesman who shaped much of the best of the interrelated and more stable nature of European politics, but only by virtue of combining foresight and the subtlest of diplomatic arts - to everyone from Tsar Alexander and his own Regent to the masterful Austrian, Prince Metternich, et al.

To shape the a more resilient future, the business world needs to look past the lazy interrogation of the same old business school tenets and brand pillar thinking to the expansive landscapes of the Humanities and the depths of Geopolitics – to look beyond the One Size Fits All model and embrace the diversity of a Renaissance perspective.

Brand maps and models should begin to resemble more the cosmographic maps of the middle ages and the early powers – where character, tribe, geo-centrism, chronology and purpose exist on one plane seen as a whole.

This would be respectful of the new broader more complex and dynamic world that superbrands exist in and in which they have enormous influence on.

And to be frank, I sense it would be a damn fun course to attend.

So my original question stands: Which business school?

This post first appeared on the Thin Air Factory blog on March 26, 2015.


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