The following is an interview with Dick Martin, author of Otherwise: The Wisdom You Need To Succeed in a Diverse and Divisive World. Martin, the former executive vice president of public relations, employee communications, and brand management for AT&T, has written a number of other books published by AMACOM, including Rebuilding Brand America: What We Must Do To Restore Our Reputation and Safeguard the Future of American Business Abroad.
What’s OtherWise about?
It’s about bridging differences, whether based on race, ethnicity, culture, faith, sexual orientation, or even politics. Globalization, immigration, the U.S.’s changing demography, the so-called “culture wars,” and political polarization have made it more important than ever for business people to understand customers, employees, and communities that are so different they may often appear to be “Other.”
What kind of research did you do?
I started by reading everything I could find on the subject of political polarization. That turned out to be an entire library with academic studies, magazine articles, and books going back decades, not to mention a ton of online material. That led me to a long list of research in the broader social science, psychology, and even evolutionary anthropology. And that led me to a deep study of demography. My timing was good because the 2010 U.S. census got underway while I was doing my research and lots of experts were speculating about the probable results. I was lucky enough to be able to interview people who have been thinking about these issues for years, like the Berkeley sociologist Claude Fischer and Dr. Beverly Tatum, the clinical psychologist and president of Spelman College.
In addition, I interviewed some leading executives who seemed to have figured out important aspects of the issue. For example, Ben Verwaayen, CEO of Alcatel-Lucent, Bob Selander, former CEO of MasterCard International, Jack Rowe, former CEO of Aetna, and Reynold Levy, president of Lincoln Center.
What did you learn?
The first and most obvious discovery was that the nation’s ethnic, racial, and social makeup was undergoing the biggest change since the end of World War II and the birth of the Baby Boomer generation. That had obvious implications for the business community – not only in marketing, but also in recruiting, management, and almost every phase of operations. And I didn’t see much evidence that CEOs were paying close attention.
I also discovered that scientists were making real breakthroughs in the study of human cognition and behavior. For example, psychologist Jonathan Haidt (The Righteous Mind) suggests intolerance is the product of gut instincts run amuck, turning anything worth arguing about into a battle between good and evil. Biologist E. O. Wilson (The Social Conquest of Earth) considers it an evolutionary adaptation of group selection. Behaviorist Daniel Kahneman (Thinking Fast and Slow) chalks it up to the primitive, but nearly instantaneous cognitive processes that bypass dithering in the interests of survival. These guys may have the details wrong, but there seemed little question to me that some level.
Dick Martin is a writer whose articles have appeared in the Harvard Business Review and other publications. The author of Tough Calls, he was executive vice president of public relations, employee communications, and brand management for AT&T. He lives in Summit, New Jersey.