Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

(also seen at basil and spice)

My first reaction to Barack Obama's "More Perfect Union" speech was how utterly un-American it was.

My second reaction is that I only hope that he continues down that path, because if he does, he offers America a tremendous opportunity to move out of and beyond the morass it finds itself in.

His handwritten speech was not for American Presidents only; it demonstrated three of the best qualities that any leader can possess and what constitutes taking on the "real" special interests or shall I say cultural proclivities that have got America and many American companies into the morass in which they finds themselves.

Conflict Avoidance – As a country and as a people we don't deal very effectively with conflict. Instead we react to it by either "bunkering" and trying to deny reality (such as continuing to believe we could go from supreme creditor to deepest debtor, without negative repercussions for our global standing and influence) or by becoming belligerent and hostile. In his speech, Obama stepped into the fray, articulated and understood without condoning the positions and points of views of the parties he focused on and then took on another current and self-defeating American tendency.

Transactional Myopia – America has slipped from the high minded and highly principled mindset of figuring out the right thing to do and doing it to a transactionally myopic "get the deal, do the deal, next deal" way of thinking and behaving. American culture has replaced relationships with transactionships which are "zero sum" and always short sighted. George H. Bush was less myopic and understood that if you break Iraq you own it, whereas George W. Bush's leadership (or lack thereof) derives more from his M.B.A., a degree not known for developing people who are circumspect. People's conversations, even with their loved ones, have all but been replaced with negotiations. Negotiation is about winning or avoiding losing; relationships are about relating. Relating requires listening in order to understand vs. listening in order to come up with your next counterpoint. Obama senses the short sightedness and doomed-to-fail transactional approach and this may explain his reluctance to engage in "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" banter with Hillary Clinton. The effectiveness in that approach for Clinton garnering votes in Ohio and Texas only speaks to how many Americans are stuck at that low minded, low ideal, take vs. give state of mind (which one can understand when surviving daily can distract anyone from high mindedness). Obama enjoined and ennobled us to do better by transcending out of transactional myopia and implied that in doing so we would be able to transform America from where it is to where it could be.

Object Capriciousness – "Object constancy" is one of psychology's most awkward, but most explanatory terms. It is the ability of a person to maintain a connection and a relationship with another person, a goal, or hope in the face of disappointment, frustration, hurt and injury. It is the single greatest measure of maturity and its lack, the greatest indicator of immaturity. That is why children and immature adults when upset with a friend or a spouse, will completely lose their connection and throw away a relationship by declaring: "I hate you, you're not my friend" or "Let's get a divorce." Obama demonstrated this by asserting his continued support and even love for the Reverend Jeremiah Wright while decrying his statements and positions and confronted all of us with our continued relationships with people we disagree with. Awareness of this is also what caused a philosopher (whose name I can't find) to conclude: "The measure of a civilization is how it treats those who have hurt it."

Until and unless a leader, be it American President or corporate CEO can enjoin, ennoble and empower his people to overcome their conflict avoidance, their transactional myopia, and object capriciousness a country or a company will be stuck wondering what ever became of it rather than seizing the grand opportunity of what it could become.