How Social Psychology Devoured its Own: Amy Cuddy, the TED talk “Power Pose” former HBS professor

 

A 2017 NYT Magazine article by Susan Dominus notes below the rise of a field: social psychology–and how one of its most visible experts, Amy Cuddy, whose TED talk with more than 43 million viewers–became a victim of a reform movement launched from within (P-hacking).

The field is of interest to diplomacy as it relates to the group-level, touching on such mainstays as groupthink, persuasion/influence, and more. (The larger story of Cuddy, is also interesting–and her main idea, that you body language can influence others, although now under scrutiny, is still interesting and useful, as well.

 

One of the seminal social-psychology studies, at the turn of the 20th century, asked a question that at the time was a novel one: How does the presence of other people change an individual’s behavior? Norman Triplett, a psychologist at Indiana University, found that when he asked children to execute a simple task (winding line on a fishing rod), they performed better in the company of other children than they did when alone in a room. Over the following decades, a new discipline grew up within psychology to further interrogate group dynamics: how social groups react in certain circumstances, how the many can affect the one.

The questions grew even more profound, using experiments to tease out universal susceptibilities, raising the possibility that behavior was more easily swayed by outside forces than personality researchers previously believed. The field reached a moment of unusual visibility in the mid-20th century, as practitioners, many of them Jewish refugees or first-generation immigrants from Europe, explored, post-World War II, the way group pressures or authority figures could influence human behavior. In one simple study on conformity in 1951, the social psychologist Solomon Asch found that people would agree that one drawn line matched the length of another — even if it clearly did not — if others around them all agreed that it did. In subsequent years, researchers like Stanley Milgram (who tested how people weighed their consciences against the demands of authority) and Philip Zimbardo (who observed the effect of power on students assigned as either prison guards or prisoners) rejected the traditional confines of the lab for more theatrical displays of human nature. “They felt the urgency of history,” says Rebecca Lemov, a professor of the history of science at Harvard. “They really wanted to make people look.”

Since the late 1960s, the field’s psychologists have tried to elevate the scientific rigor of their work, introducing controls and carefully designed experiments like the ones found in medicine. Increasingly complex ideas about the workings of the unconscious yielded research with the charm of mesmerists’ shows, revealing unlikely forces that seem to guide our behavior: that simply having people wash their hands could change their sense of culpability; that people’s evaluations of risk could easily be rendered irrational; that once people have made a decision, they curiously give more weight to information in its favor. Humans, the research often suggested, were reliably mercurial, highly suggestible, profoundly irrational, tricksters better at fooling ourselves than anyone else.

Already relatively accessible to the public, the field became even more influential with the rise of behavioral economics in the 1980s and 1990s, as visionaries like Richard Thaler, (who won the Nobel Prize in economics this month) found applications for counterintuitive social-psychology insights that could be used to guide policy. In 2000, Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the best-selling “Tipping Point,” applied irresistible storytelling to the science, sending countless journalists to investigate similar terrain and inspiring social psychologists to write books of their own. In 2006, Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, published the best seller “Stumbling on Happiness” — a book that tried to explain why we plan so poorly for our own future. That same year, TED started airing its first videos, offering a new stage for social psychologists with compelling findings, ideally surprising ones. The field was experiencing a visibility unknown since the midcentury; business schools, eager for social psychologists’ insights into leadership and decision-making, started pursuing social psychologists, with better pay and more funding than psychology graduate schools could offer.

via When the Revolution Came for Amy Cuddy – The New York Times

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Teaching Children the Basics of Diplomacy

Wouldn’t it be great if children could see different sides of a standoff and resolve their own disagreements?  Emily de Schweinitz Taylor wrote an interesting book that does just that.

 

Rather than assume our children will learn collaborative problem-solving, perspective taking, and empathy in a vacuum, as parent mediators, we take an active stance in teaching our children how to work out their more intense, recurring conflicts with each other. Over time, our children gain the ability to collaboratively problem solve without our oversight. In short, our input of direct communications training during our children’s younger years will help us raise a generation of mediators prepared to handle the conflicts our children will naturally encounter throughout their lives.

via Raising Mediators – Home

 

Ambassador Blackwill on How to be a Successful Diplomat

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What makes a good diplomat?  Robert Blackwill works on  China, Russia, the Middle East, South Asia, and geoeconomics with experience on the NSC, as ambassador to India and as presidential envoy to Iraq. He has a few ideas.

And he should know. As a policy street-fighter he stood up to Donald Rumsfeld with words and arguments, and, according to Andrew J. Grotto, is both “brainy and brawny”:

Blackwill … began his career in the Foreign Service, where he served for 22 years. At the State Department, he worked for Secretaries Kissinger, Haig, and Schultz, and was U.S. ambassador and chief negotiator at the Warsaw Pact talks on conventional forces in Europe from 1985-1987. From 1989-1990, he served as special assistant to President George H.W. Bush, where he advised on European and Soviet affairs, and where Condi Rice was one of his subordinates. He then began an academic career at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where he taught international security policy and wrote on Russia, arms control, transatlantic relations, and U.S.-South Asian relations.

Here’s Blackwill’s advice:

Possess an abiding interest in and passion for the art and craft of diplomacy and international relations.  If this subject matter does not feed you, if you do not have a compelling instinct to learn about the world, pursue a different profession.

Demonstrate an analytical temperament. Our current culture encourages ideological predisposition and rigidity.  We are invited to have an opinion without first having a full command of the facts.  Resist the temptation to prescribe before you analyse.  Dean Acheson understood how hard this is, “I was a frustrated schoolteacher, persisting against overwhelming evidence to the contrary in the belief that the human mind could be moved by facts and reason.”

Write well and quickly. Nurture your ability to rapidly produce quality prose.  Read and learn from great writers.  Try George Orwell, E. B. White and John McPhee.

Be verbally fluent and concise. George Shultz observes that listening is an underrated way of acquiring knowledge.  Pay attention, speak only when necessary and keep your comments brief.  These are not qualities highly prized in academia.

Ensure meticulous attention to detail. Whether your work is going to the President or Prime Minister, to your immediate superiors or to your peers, each deserves a flawless product.  Don’t accept less of yourself.  Jeff Bezos stresses, “If you don’t understand the details of your business you are going to fail.”

Be a tough and effective negotiator. Getting to yes is not the objective of a diplomat.  Begin instead with what best serves your country’s national interests and then seek to achieve a negotiating outcome as close to those requirements as possible.  Adopt clear red lines and do not compromise beyond them.  And as James Baker advises, “Never let the other fellow set the agenda.”

Build long-term physical and mental stamina. With the exercise of power and responsibility comes continuous 12-16 hour days, filled with pressure and stress.  Be fit.

Accept dangerous assignments. Diplomats frequently serve in menacing locales, sometimes die in the line of duty.  From Libya to Iraq to Afghanistan and beyond, this is not a line of work only conducted in rarefied surroundings.  Reflect on your degree of anticipated personal courage before entering this profession.

Study history. Former Harvard faculty giants Ernest May and Richard Neustadt eloquently counsel thinking in the context of time.  They insist that knowledge of history does not provide exact policy prescriptions in present circumstances, but it does illuminate choices and raise central questions of policy formulation and implementation.  A good start is Henry Kissinger’s A World Restored.

Prudently speak your opinion to power. Be ready to disagree with evolving policy when it really matters.  But choose your dissenting moments wisely.  Don’t badger your principal.  And if such policy differences become paramount, don’t whine.  Resign.

Be loyal and truthful to your boss. Never question outside of government a decision made further up your bureaucratic chain of command, no matter how much you disagree with it.  Once such a decision is made, your professional duty is to try your best to implement it.  There is nothing courageous in disavowing your Administration’s decision in whispered tones in social settings.  And never misrepresent or lie to your official superiors, no matter how expedient it might appear at the moment.  If you do so, you should be fired.

Cultivate policy resilience. If the Duke of Wellington never lost a battle, most generals do – and so will you. Expect periodic policy defeats and energetically move on to the next challenge.

Acquire relevant work experience. Invest time, energy and effort in your own professional development.  Don’t thirst for too much power and responsibility too soon.  In diplomacy – as in most endeavours – experience is a crucial component of success.  As Renaissance painters demanded, apprenticeship is a necessary step in professional enhancement.  Would you hire a plumber who was academically well versed in water distribution, but had never installed a pipe?

Know your political ideology. No matter how flattering a foreign policy job proposal may be, ask yourself whether your ideology is compatible with that of the offering institution.  Not to do so is to invite endless professional pain and torment.

Take advantage of luck when you encounter it. When Napoleon was asked what kind of generals he looked for, he responded “lucky ones.”  Be ready when events in the world provide policy opportunities you can exploit.  Getting on a personal professional wave you can ride – and that you want to ride – is also importantly a matter of good fortune.  Relentless attention to the other fourteen characteristics enumerated here will put you in the best position to partially make your own luck in your career.

via Harvard Belfer Center 

The Life of a Real U.S. Diplomat Chief of Staff

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Let’s agree to disagree on the use of the descriptor “diplomatic,” as in “she’s very diplomatic in how she handles idiots at work.” of diplomacy. In other words, diplomacy may be a formal mode of negotiation, an alternative to military conflict, or even an organizational bureaucracy/process (“let them handle it diplomatically”).

To wit, its not really about being “nice” to people.

Kim, who is currently chief of staff to Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken, questioned the widely accepted meaning of the word “diplomatic” as nice and tactful.“It’s not about being nice to people or not saying hurtful things. In fact, in the jobs that I’ve had to do, we’ve had difficult and sometimes combative conversations,” she said. “In the most acute cases, like North Korea or Iraq, it’s about talking to someone so that guns don’t get pulled out. It’s a way to avoid or end conflict, and to get people to compromise.”

Source: Diplomats in the Trenches: ‘Diplomacy Isn’t About Being Nice to People’ | HuffPost by Nicholas Kralev

#REXIT

When President Trump announced the decision to pick a Sec State from Exxon, bringing private sector talent to the country’s foremost institution of diplomatic power, many were skeptical. I shared those concerns–but one friend pushed back, wondering why someone with business background couldn’t succeed in such an important position at the top of government service? I decided to withhold judgement, to give him a chance.

Time has proved Tillerson to be a very weak Secretary. Dan Drezner writes today in WaPo, and it’s even worse than many imagined:

Spoiler Alerts has written a fair amount about Tillerson’s incompetence and ineffectiveness as secretary of state. He was so incompetent that I called for him to resign in August. I would wager that everything I said in that column holds with greater force today. His influence within the administration waned over time. His proposed redesign of the State Department was botched, and botched badly. His incompetent management of Foggy Bottom helped trigger an exodus of seasoned Foreign Service officers and crushed morale among the remaining diplomats. It seemed as though he could not visit a region without saying something that offended his hosts. There is no signature idea or doctrine or accomplishment that Tillerson can point to as part of his legacy. He was woefully unprepared for the job on Day One and barely moved down the learning curve. His incompetence undercut his ability to advance any worthwhile policy instinct.

via “Five Thoughts on the Firing of Rex Tillerson

Drezner quotes Peter Baker and Gardiner Harris who pile on, too:

But perhaps the most puzzling part of Mr. Tillerson’s tenure was his poor oversight of the State Department. As a former top business executive, his managerial skills were thought to be his chief asset.

But he failed to quickly pick a trusted team of leaders, left many critical departments without direction and all but paralyzed crucial decision making in the department.

He approved one global conclave in Washington just eight days before the event was to start, ensuring that few leaders from around the world were able to attend. He rarely sat for comprehensive briefings with many of his top diplomats and often failed to consult the State Department’s experts on countries before visiting.

Foreign diplomats — starting with the British and the French — said Mr. Tillerson neither returned phone calls or, with much advance warning, set up meetings with his counterparts. Strategic dialogues with many nations, including nuclear weapons powers like Pakistan, were ended without explanation.

via NYT

Some like David Frum, wonder about the connection between the timing of Tillerson’s firing and the Russia criticisms. Others are parsing the personnel aftermath, wondering what this means for the globalists v nationalist street fight amidst Trump’s appointments. Meanwhile, State Department staff have been told to “freeze further amplification of content that features (Secretary Tillerson)“–which may be the strangest line of all in a Twitter-driven Presidency.

“I think he really will go down as one of the worst secretaries of State we’ve had,” Eliot Cohen, counselor to the State Department under President George W. Bush, told Axios’s Jonathan Swan. “He will go down as the worst Secretary of State in history,” tweeted Ilan Goldenberg, an Obama-era State Department official. [Vox]

Illustration by Matt Wuerker, Politico

A Downsized State Department

statedeptentranceAn update on the so-called “deconstruction” of the U.S. Department of State, where the future of American diplomacy is still uncertain. How will a 30% budget cut impact the national interest?

Does Tillerson have the political clout to succeed?

Will reform lead to streamlined diplomacy?

Can we see the outlines of a Trump policy where soft power is ignored at the expense of hard, military might?

‘But as William Burns, a former deputy secretary of state and the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, put it to me, “Beneath the surface, there’s nothing at all that’s normal.” Hard power and soft power are complementary. Cut out one and American leverage is lost. Wendy Sherman, an under secretary of state in the Obama administration, said, “Whether witting or not, this is not just the disruption of the State Department, it’s the destruction, and the minimization of the role of diplomacy in our national security.”’

“Present at the Destruction”: The Deconstruction of the U.S. Department of State?

via Emily G, Berlin (@EmilyGorcenski)

Last March it appears that even though the “State Department was in disarray” it was still functioning at a moderate clip. Even so, it appeared that the pace had changed, with some calling it “lonely,” with “quiet hallways” and a lot of “sitting around and going home earlier than usual.”

Now, if Max Bergmann is right, what we see at Foggy Bottom, explored earlier this year by ProPublica as “deconstruction of the administrative state,” signals a massive loss of intellectual and social capital for U.S. diplomacy, and may confirm earlier concerns.

What is motivating Tillerson’s demolition effort is anyone’s guess. He may have been a worldly CEO at ExxonMobil, but he had precious little experience in how American diplomacy works. Perhaps Tillerson, as a D.C. and foreign policy novice, is simply being a good soldier, following through on edicts from White House ideologues like Steve Bannon. Perhaps he thinks he is running State like a business. But the problem with running the State Department like a business is that most businesses fail—and American diplomacy is too big to fail.

What is clear, however, is that there is no pressing reason for any of these cuts. America is not a country in decline. Its economy is experiencing an unprecedented period of continuous economic growth, its technology sector is the envy of the world and the American military remains unmatched. Even now, under Trump, America’s allies and enduring values amplify its power and constrain its adversaries. America is not in decline—it is choosing to decline. And Tillerson is making that choice. He is quickly becoming one of the worst and most destructive secretaries of state in the history of our country.

Source: Present at the Destruction: How Rex Tillerson Is Wrecking the State Department – POLITICO Magazine

Perhaps this is what Colum Lynch sees as “Trump’s Doctrine of Diplomatic Chaos,” where unpredictability is explained by UN Ambassador Nikki Haley as a strategic imperative–useful to negotiation efforts.