If you have any interest in presidential politics or are the kind of person who can’t look away from a trainwreck, then you probably tuned into the shouting match between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton last evening. It was billed as a debate but as we’ll see in a second, it was anything but. It did, however, teach us something about business.
Debates between presidential candidates have been going on for centuries. You’ve heard of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. While those weren’t about a presidential election, they are fine examples of classic debating form. This is an excellent definition from the International Debate Education Association:
Debate embodies the ideals of reasoned argument, tolerance for divergent points of view and rigorous self-examination. Debate is, above all, a way for those who hold opposing views to discuss controversial issues without descending to insult, emotional appeals or personal bias. A key trademark of debate is that it rarely ends in agreement, but rather allows for a robust analysis of the question at hand.
Was that what we watched last night? I think not. But it’s something to keep in mind as you bring together people in business to debate ideas. How often are ideas discussed freely and openly in your place? When a boss is in the room, how free do the subordinates feel to oppose his or her point of view? Do facts surface that allow for the robust analysis which is the goal, or are people entrenched in the positions with closed minds?
Imagine if last night had been a moderated discussion, based in fact, of how to fix a problem our country is having. The goal isn’t to convince people to vote one way or the other but to surface the different, well-reasoned points of view about approaches to an issue and allow the voters to make their minds up on that basis. Nice dream, right?
Now think about trying to do that in a business setting. Maybe it’s the person or persons who need to make the decision that moderate. I suspect the decisions taken after such a debate will be sounder than those that follow free-form arguing, politicking the boss, or emotional exchanges. Maybe we should debate it?
Like a lot of other people, I watched the presidential debate last week and I’m very much looking forward to the remaining few. As you know we don’t do politics here but I think it’s safe to say that President Obama probably didn’t do very well in making his case. The primary critique seems to have been that he didn’t aggressively push out his point of view and he didn’t state factual errors forcefully enough when his opponent made them. Some on the left complain that this has been his problem for the last few years – all of the accomplishments for which the administration takes pride haven’t been promoted well enough, or at least loudly enough to drown out the criticism. I, of course, took away a couple of business points which I’d like to share.
First, history shows that most incumbent presidents lose the first debate. I suspect it has something to do with the office. I don’t recall hearing of many meetings with any President in which people tell him he’s wrong and argue against what he wants to do. After a few years of no one getting in your face, it must be a shock when someone does.
I’ve seen that in business too. Some top folks do encourage honest, open debate from their staff but I’ve been around many who don’t. “My way or the highway” seems to be the order of the day. Real leaders like debate. What I think is ideal is a sort of benevolent monarchy in which the head person will make the call but will do so only after fact-finding and honest debate with an open mind .
Second, it’s nice to do anonymous good acts. However, when your ability to stay in business depends on the good will of your customers (which is what an election is about), you need to make sure that everything you do is publicized loudly and amplified by those for whom the good work was done. Letting people know what you’ve accomplished isn’t bragging – it’s a critical part of staying in business or employed. If you’re in charge of a department, you need to let the higher-ups know of your group’s good work. If you run a business, your customers should know how you’re helping them as well as others. If you have a job, letting the boss know you’re helping the team is important even if it’s obvious. Of course there’s an obnoxious way to do so as well as an acceptable way but that’s another post.
Did you watch? Does this make sense?
Tonight is the first of several debates in the current campaign for president and I’m very much looking forward to it. These things are great theater even if they’re usually not particularly informative. I liken them to trade shows – no one ever makes any huge news at them unless they make a mistake. The big stuff is saved for an event one can completely orchestrate and the debates (or trade shows) don’t qualify.
I think, however, that these events might be a bit different this time around and it has nothing to do with the candidates themselves. They will not answer the question asked but instead will put out whatever talking point tested well. They generally won’t get too specific about anything and they’ll probably spend more time on things that have very little to do with solving the challenges that face the country and more to do with the loud nonsense that seems to surround our elections. One thing will be very different, however, and that may make all the difference.
85 percent of tablet owners use the device while watching TV, according to one study and Nielsen says 45 percent of Americans use their tablet while watching TV daily. Throw in smartphone use and suddenly there is a majority of people conversing and fact-checking in real time during the debates. In addition, one hopes that there will be sentiment analysis pushed out by the major firms in that field as we go. I wonder if either campaign is smart enough to be monitoring that during the debate and if either candidate will be told to adjust anything during a break? It’s sort of the digital version of the positive/negative lines CNN usually runs based on a panel twisting dials.
Lincoln knew you can’t fool all of the people all of the time and given that there will be real-time fact checking happening concurrently tonight, I don’t think these guys will even be able to fool all of the people some of the time. Another example of how technology has changed media and politics for the better? I think so. What do you think?