Saturday, March 7, 2009

Managing Hysteria & Empowering the Greater Good

One of my best friends called me the other day on the way home from work. He's a financial analyst for a local fund here in the LA area, and covers primarily small to mid-cap growth stocks in sectors such as technology and media. He's exceptional at what he does, and I think this has a lot to do with the fact that he examines the cultural aspects of how businesses succeed or fail. He embraces the notion of social currency and firmly believes in it; this was the topic of our conversation, and it got me thinking about hysteria's role in ultimately affecting positive change.

During the Great Depression, people did two main things: they entertained themselves, and they drank (perhaps they drank to entertain themselves). Some have construed this as a form of escapism. Roosevelt's assertions about big business excesses were certainly something to consider in cause and effect. Ayn Rand, a visionary who offered insights that defined a new generation of capitalists, dug deeper. She spoke of the human condition in terms of how socioeconomics create the drivers that dictate the ebb and flow of commerce. In times of great adversity, it would make sense to seek the comforts of culture, good or bad. They tell a compelling story about the desire to assimilate and create a background of relatedness with other people. And often times, this happens in our darkest hours.

Physician and author Niel Micklem in his book, The Nature of Hysteria, sums it up from a mythical viewpoint: "The history of hysteria's changing face in changing cultures makes a fascinating tale of a disease whose features lend themselves with readiness to publicity and yet remain to a large extent a mystery". This same pathology is what seems to exist within our cultural super-ego (from an earlier post "The Id, Ego & Super-Ego of the Social Media Mind"); it is something that regenerates itself, much in the same way we undergo economic cycles. Where we break those cycles is a true question of insight and determination.

If you can accept that "through darkness we are brought into light", even the more detestable or desperate acts of the human condition - things such as prostitution, substance abuse or thievery - can be put into new perspective. If we care to examine these underlying psychological drivers and match them with the environmental elements that condition our actions, we might find that there are windows of hope, as narrow as they may be, in the most unlikely places and at the most unlikely times. I'm using extreme examples here (and alluding to Biblical references) to illustrate the point that all people, irrespective of socioeconomics, crave to be loved and to share to share that love. One of the sobering challenges of life is that we often don't know how to. Or we don't think that we can because we've been conditioned to think this way.

Right now, a certain veil has been lifted. We can connect behind a screen. We can be inspired, even pushed, to get out from behind that screen and interact with someone in a real, physical space. When we speak of social currency, there are tangible assets that we share, but what we are really sharing is the possibility of being loved, accepted or quite simply, understood. When we make mistakes (which we do every single day), we tend to think of ourselves as failures in some way, a constant reminder of some story we have manufactured about ourselves at a formative point in our personal development. But the reality is that we can always restore our integrity, so when we make a mistake, and humble ourselves to see the lesson in that experience, we are actually succeeding at the highest level. Curious about your own evolution? Want to "quantify" it? Count how many times a day you restore your integrity through a handshake, a phone call...or dare I say a Tweet. Better yet, watch what happens to your life.

When Kevin Roberts (Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi) gave us "lovemarks", this was my takeaway. Despite some of the criticism he has received for producing material that was considered to be self-involved, I believe he touched upon something deeply ingrained in all of us. If you apply the lovemarks concept to corporate culture, you can recognize very progressive shifts in consciousness. Companies and brands become living, breathing things. And like the Berlin Wall or Tiananmen Square, these events are not the work of one person, but many.

This last week, the Dow sank to an unprecedented low, and some experts predict that it will likely fall further to something in the 4500 range. A stock index, much like any other marketplace, lives and dies on the vine of consumer confidence. Who engenders that confidence? Company cultures. Who defines those cultures? Company leaders. It ain't rocket science, but it is an exact science. And clearly there's no more room for excuses.

So when we look at the value of media, and we add in all the developing social media channels with which we can relate to one another, we begin to understand the why we are so powerful as communication agents. Because we help each other see the value in ourselves and each other. Great leaders and great managers live by this. They use media touch-points as gateways to create possibility. 

I personally believe that knowing what we possess that has yet to be realized (our potential for greatness), we should never experience anything like this again, no matter how cyclical economics can be. Call it what you will, Manifest Destiny or otherwise, we need to stop making excuses for ourselves and just act. The companies that are doing this are not only surviving, they are excelling and innovating, as well as helping to pave the way for our future.

As for the capital markets, perhaps speculation will give way to true performance, setting new benchmarks for a cultural evolution (or revolution, to look at it another way) that transcends all things business and all things personal.

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