Social Media antithesis of Traditional Diplomacy?

May 21, 2012 § 1 Comment

Writing last week on Carnegie Endowment’s Digital Diplomacy forum, I called the social media the antithesis of diplomacy. I was speaking primarily about the clashing images – social media being fast and breaking things a la Fackbook’s motto and diplomacy moving slowly and cautiously. Wondering if the ambivalence of social media has more to do with what type of diplomacy we are referring to: (old) traditional diplomacy or (new) public diplomacy?

Both types of diplomacy, as the recent events between China and the US demonstrate over the Chinese dissident illustrate, are necessary. However, they operate using different communication methods and media. Traditional diplomacy, especially those aspects dealing with sensitive negotiations, place a premium on interpersonal communication. This preference for interpersonal contact may explain some of the resistance. Yet, while the new media may be the antithesis of traditional diplomacy, social media appears to be the requisite NEW tool for the NEW diplomacy.

For the new diplomat, or what Daryl Copeland calls the “guerrilla diplomat,” the front lines of diplomacy today have moved from the private, cosseted corridors of power to the people power of the streets.

“Today’s diplomatic encounters tend to take place publicly and cross-culturally: in a barrio or a souk, in an internet chat room or a blog, on main street or in a Quonset hut set astride the wire in a conflict zone.” — Daryl Copeland, Guerrilla Diplomacy

This new image of the people’s diplomat mirrors that described by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her Foreign Affairs piece last December. To operate effectively in such a rich social, public context requires new tools and approach. As Ambassador Sarukhan said during #digidiplomacy, diplomats now must be nimble, quick, and agile.

Yet, in using these new tools, diplomacy may be also further transformed. Communication tools are not neutral content vessels, but transform the user in the way that they are used. Hence, the significance of Ambassador Sarukhan’s follow-up observation on the move to atomization in diplomacy.

CarnegieEndow : @Arturo_Sarukhan: I think social media will atomize the authority, role, and profile of ambassadors and embassies #DigiDiplomacy

Rather than clashing, the new social media and the new public diplomat may be co-evolving – one shaping the other in 21st century diplomacy.  As they evolve, rather than being leery of social media, public diplomats will have to become more skilled at incorporating and creatively expanding its relational, networking and collaborative public diplomacy capabilities.


The Ironies of Social Media in Public Diplomacy

May 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

Thursday morning I attended the discussion on “Digital Diplomacy: A New Era of Advancing Policy” at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington and on Twitter at #digidiplomacy. Carnegie had already posted video and audio of the event by early afternoon.  USC PDC alumnus Matthew Wallin blogged his assessment of the discussion shortly there after.

Being the academic dinosaur that I am at heart, I came home typed up all my notes. Then, as an exercise to help me develop my social media skills, I compared my notes to the Twitter feed.  @StephanieDahle, former journalist now at Brookings, has really mastered the medium. Good to study how she captured the idea without resorting to sqeezwrds.

My next step was to construct a theoretical framework around that comparison.  Yes, I really am an academic.

And, having had the luxury of further scholarly reflection, I was struck by several ironies. Some of the ironies are captured in the tweets.

Irony #1: Social media —  the antithesis of diplomacy?

Yesterday’s ambivalence about the use of social media was palatable. On the one hand, there was a sense of excitement. Martha Boudreau, of Fleishman-Hillard and co-sponsor of the event, opened by capturing the promise of what the buzz of new media is all about.

Boudreau shared some of the mind-numbing numbers on social media, but said its relevance to diplomacy goes beyond numbers. For Mexico’s Ambassor Arturo Sarukhan, social media was not just about relevancy, social media was a necessity.  He shared his adaptation of an old Mexican saying to underscore his point. It used to be, “If you moved, you were not in the picture.”  He up-dated that saying for Twitter:

@colehutch: #digidiplomacy “if you don’t tweet, you are not in the photograph.” meaning if you aren’t using social, you aren’t relevant diplomatically

On the one hand, there was excitement. Like the new toy on the block, all the kids are asking,    What is it? Can I play with it too?

Then, on the other hand, there was the wariness.  Alert to the apprehension, or perhaps skepticism, the panelists seemed on the defensive from the get go.  Alec Ross, the guru of social media @State and first of the panelist to speak, immediately introduced what became the mantra echoed among the discussants: “social media is a TOOL.” He emphasized that by saying he was a Medieval History major.  He wasn’t interested in technology, but in advancing policy interests. Using social media was a tool for advancing policy interests.

All the panelists repeated the mantra at least once or twice each time they spoke: “social media is a TOOL.” Nevertheless, the very first question from the audience was a not so much a question but a statement about the failings of social medial as a substitute for personal contact in diplomacy.

Why the mantra of “social media as a tool” may fail to resonant or have difficulty taking hold with the diplomatic community may be because of the contrasting images of social media as a tool of the fast and furious and the image of diplomacy in unhurried lap of pearls and dark suits. Both images may need updating or refocusing. However, the contrasting images that linger were captured in a statement by a panelist and a reflective observation by the discussion moderator.

 “Another motto at Facebook: ‘Move fast and break things.” —   @Sarah Wynn-Williams of @facebook, former New Zealand diplomat and current manager of public policy at Facebook

 To which, Tom Carver of the Carnegie Endowment, who was moderating the discussion observed: “That’s the opposite of what diplomacy is:  “Move slow and be careful not to break anything.

Viewed in this light, the ambivalence of social media makes sense. Social media could be seen as the antithesis of diplomacy.

                 Irony #2:  Social media  — promoting anti-social behavior?

Since its debut, everyone has talked about how the new media was so personal. How it connects everyone. How, well, how social the social media is. The name even changed from new media to social media.  Yesterday, it was digital media. And the some of the stark reality of social media came out in a rather surprising remark by Alec Ross. It became a top tweet and re-tweet.

 @StephanieDahle “Social media tends to punish moderation” – @AlecJRoss #DigiDiplomacy

Ross made the comment in the context of speaking about the tension between representative democracy (i.e, Congress) and direct democracy, or citizen using social media to make their voices heard. Ross remarked, “Social media punishes moderation – those who seek compromise – and amplifies extremism on both ends.”

On the surface, that sounds true.  In a crowded platform, the extreme voices stand out. They get the visibility or listened to. Moderate voices are easily drowned out. Several researchers have been studying how the media tools/conventions are contributing to a more polarized atmosphere in U.S. politics.

Which, going back to diplomacy, may be another reason to be leery of social media. If diplomacy about building relations, compromise and accommodation to others is at the core.  Also, compromise and learning to modify one’s behavior in relation to others is at the core of social behavior. Also, while moderate voices may be easily drowned out, they nevertheless tend to resonate with the widest audience. How ironic it would be if social media is promoting anti-social, uncompromising behavior.

Having pondered these ironies, I am now the more curious about social media’s evolving role/s in public diplomacy. Yes, Phil Seib, your new book on social media and public diplomacy is next on my reading list.


For an interesting study on the emergence of new media phenomena with the mass media, see Diana Mutz “How the Mass Media Divides Us,”  from Red and Blue Nation, edited by D. Brady and P. Divola (Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2007. Publisher URL:

For more recent collection of studies on assessment of social media in international political contexts special issue of Journal of Communication (April 2012) edition by Philip Howard and  Malcolm Parks, “Social Media and Political Change: Capacity, Constraint, and Consequence.”

* Blog originally published on USC Center for Public Diplomacy Blog Roll.

Connecting Dots – Tara, Policies and People

April 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

For some time I’ve been contemplating how to connect the dots in public diplomacy. In an interconnected world, most everything is connected. Since class for the semester finished last night, let me try my hand with observations for this week.

I’ll start with the dinner for Tara Sonenshine on the eve before her swearing in ceremony as the new U.S. Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy. Seems like I had been hearing about “Tara” for weeks. The first name basis everyone was using appeared to capture her spirit. She entered the room with a burst of energy, enthusiasm. Very personable. And, definitely ready to go, which is exactly what she will need.

Which brings me to the first link in connecting the dots this week. On the same day that John Brown’s PD blog carried the full text of Tara’s remarks at her swearing-in ceremony, including the great quote: “Policy is about people. Without a deeper understanding of foreign publics, our policies are just flying blind”  …

… there was Al-Jazeera news lineup featuring the Arabic translation of James Petras’ book, Arab Revolt and the Imperialist Counterattack.

The combination of Petras’ credentials (distinguished academic, 64 books, etc.) and the book’s theme of the U.S. track record of supporting unpopular dictators who support US interests are formidable.  Petras made a compelling case for U.S. underhanded and confused efforts to protect its interests over the interests of the people. The article shared the book’s highlights with point by point clarity. Two dots that just made Tara’s job a little harder.

Another dot to connect to the theme of counter American narratives to the US public diplomacy narrative is van Buren’s book We Meant Well.  While the style of Van Buren’s writing is entertaining, his message is sobering. When it comes to winning hearts and minds, the real audience doesn’t appear to be skeptical foreign publics —  who are all too aware of the situation on ground. Instead, it’s the policy makers back in Washington who want results and who control the budgetary purse string. On-the-ground realities versus Washington realities. Public diplomacy gets caught in the middle.

The immediate reaction may be to try to isolate and discredit these and other works that tarnish the U.S. image, sully U.S. policies and make U.S. public diplomacy efforts that much harder.  That’s normal, understandable and a short term option. In the long term, it may not be the optimal solution for addressing U.S. public diplomacy’s perennial woes with certain publics.

What I personally like about Tara’s original quote is the idea that people do matter in  U.S. policy. In U.S. public diplomacy “foreign publics” often seem as abstract as the goal  of “informing, influencing and engaging.” However at the people level, it is not that abstract or complex.  When people are negatively affected by U.S. policies, U.S. public diplomacy suffers.  U.S. policies communicate.

This was the critical lesson in Battles to Bridges.  A major failing in the U.S. grand strategy of U.S. public diplomacy was that it tried to separate U.S. communication strategies from U.S. policies. When U.S. public diplomacy failed it was not the policies, but the communication strategies — or those responsible for communicating the policies.

Trying to operate in today’s environment using an intransigent, rather than an integrative grand strategy sets the new U.S. public diplomacy head in the same position as her predecessors.

If Tara can bring her policy-people message or even the more basic message that “Policy communicates” to U.S. policy makers and begin to integrate public diplomacy into the policy realm, she will have a greater chance of disconnecting the dots that damage U.S. public diplomacy.  And, her tenure will likely be stronger and longer.

Public Diplomacy Teaching 2.0

April 12, 2012 § 1 Comment

When my AU colleague Prof. Robert Kelley invited me to pop in and see what his undergraduate class in public diplomacy was up to I had no idea what I was getting myself into. For those trained in the “old school” — that is, pen, paper and notebook — let me give you the #hashtag — #SIS419AFG — so you can review the feed of what happened in class. I was the only one offline so I have to go back and review it myself.

So I get to class and the four student presenters are loading their powerpoint presentation on one computer and getting reading to follow the online discussion on another computer. The students at their desks all have either computers, iPads or phones to follow the class discussion. Yes, it is an in-class discussion that takes place online as well as offline.

Prof. Kelley (@agencychange) enters and sets the scene. Last week, Dr. Sherry Mueller spoke on citizen diplomacy. At the end of that class a 4-member team was given a public diplomacy scenario on citizen diplomacy. Their task was to recruit American families to host visiting high school students from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a week’s time, the student team read up on citizen diplomacy, students exchanges, U.S. State Department youth programs – and they created their own organization, “U.S. Afghan and Iraq Student Exchange Program.” The student team added social media tools, with the disclaimer that the organization was a practice imaginary organization for class.

After the student team presentation, the other students in the class play various roles, ranging from the media to concerned citizens. They take turns pounding the presenting the presenting team with questions. One student, assigned to play the role of an agitator, was from the New York Times. She asks about how the students are selected for the program. Another student, playing a father in Oklahoma, wants to know about costs. A mother from Texas is concerned about insurance coverage for the exchange students. Another student expresses his concerns about the importance of a good Christian upbringing for the exchange students from predominantly Muslim countries. Prof. Kelley, playing along in the role of an excited parent, wants to know what happens if his charge runs across the border to Canada – then what?! “I am the guardian!”

The student team has to keep their cool under fire and answer questions – offline – and online. Each time the team responds to a hand raised in class, the whole class is live tweeting their impressions. Part of the presenting team responsibility is to monitor and respond to the online discussion.

For the uninitiated, this is the world of the digital natives. Having lived their lives in a post-computer, post-internet age, they do not separate “technology” and communication. The technology is seamlessly integrated into their daily communication habits. What they learn and practice in class is how to use those tools more professionally and strategically. For this class, they are required to tweet five times per week. In class, they live tweet.

Welcome to public diplomacy teaching 2.0.

Thank you Prof. Kelley and the whole class – especially the dynamic presenters – for a great learning experience. I learned that grad assistant and PD blogger in her own right, Willow Williamson (@willowfw), secretly masterminded some of the crisis scenarios for the students. Prof. Kelley credited Prof. Nick Cull at the USC Center for Public Diplomacy with the saboteur plants in the audience (totally believable).

But the real credit goes to the presenters. Hard work is still hard work. And their 14-hour days over the past week shows. Just take a look. Their presentation, which included the created videos, integrated US State Dept videos. They created a  blog. And, for their alumni network … “Join our community on Facebook or follow us on Twitter: @USAISEP_SIS419.”

Even better, you really need to see about stopping by class to join them or watch them in action to get the rush of what participating in a public diplomacy 2.0 class feels like. This is the future of PD!

Culture Posts: Oscar Lessons in the Persuasive Power of Stories and Storytelling

March 9, 2012 § 1 Comment

When Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi took the stage to accept the Oscar for A Separation, he spoke of his film as a counter narrative to talk of war and offer a view of Iran “through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics.” During times of escalating political rhetoric, films can help shape and, as Farhadi hopes, reshape national images. For public diplomacy, the Oscars offer lessons not only in culture, but in the persuasive power of storytelling.

In past Culture Posts I talked about the inherent features of art that capture the imagination and serve as a bridge between people. Storytelling is another universally shared communication vehicle that can be used in public diplomacy. Narrative devices can be particularly effective with resistive audiences.

Narrative strategies are likely to become increasingly important in public diplomacy as social media tools proliferate and transform the global village. Often overlooked in storytelling are the persuasive elements.

The Narrative Paradigm of Persuasion

Several decades ago Walter Fisher proposed the “narrative paradigm.” The dominant model at the time was based on Aristotle’s strategies of rhetoric. Persuasion is through marshalling facts and evidence into carefully crafted messages and building a strong argument. The more resistant the audience, the stronger the facts, evidence and argument must be. Debate skills were critical to developing counter arguments to defeat an opponent.

Fisher argued that storytelling could be just as persuasive if not more persuasive. The effectiveness of stories lay in their naturalness. While rhetoric relied on experts with formal training to craft messages, people are natural storytellers. Fisher called people “homo narran” because of their affinity for narration.

Indeed, we begin learning about life and society at an early age through “children’s stories.” We keep up with life and our surroundings through “news stories.” We escape from life’s pressures by getting lost in a novel or movie.

Fisher suggested that stories have their own internal logic. People can tell when stories “ring true” and echo with life experiences.

Over the years a growing body of research from different disciplines has helped expose the persuasive elements of storytelling. It seems on many levels Fisher was right.

Overcoming Audience Resistance and Enhancing Memory

One of the major hurdles rhetorical strategies face is “persuasion resistance.” When people sense someone is trying to persuade them, or have a hidden agenda, they often put up their defenses. If the audience dislikes or distrusts the source, overcoming their skepticism can be particularly difficult.

Narration works through another dynamic. The power of narration is in its ability to overcome, or really sneak undetected past people’s persuasion radar. Storytelling can engage people before they realize they are being influenced. Amazingly, even if audiences are forewarned of the intent to persuade – “you are not going to believe this” – they may still be persuaded. Why?

Research on entertainment education (use of storytelling in health and social communication) has highlighted two prime features of storytelling and why audiences can be persuaded.

One is the idea of “transportation.” When there is a great story line or plot, the audience feels transported. Transportation is what happens when you get lost in the movie or carried away by a good book. What a good story teller does is take the audience to an alternate reality, new way of thinking, seeing, or experiencing life. This shift can translate into shifts in attitudes and behaviors.

A second element is “identification.” Identification is when we identify or relate to characters in the story. We understand and even empathize with their struggle. Their pain becomes our pain. We celebrate their joy with a knowing smile. Our heart leaps when they triumph! YES! Through identification their lessons become our lessons. Without realizing we were being taught, we learn new attitudes and behaviors.

Through transportation and identification, storytellers can introduce new information to an audience despite their initial resistance. A ready example to highlight the differences in the two approaches would be a campaign about the dangers of underage drinking and driving. A rhetorical approach would revolve around gathering information on teen driving and drinking habits, and the number of deaths or persons affected and craft persuasive messages. In contrast, the narrative approach might be a series of videos of teens telling their stories of what happened when either they or one of their friends got behind the wheel drunk.

As one might guess, the “inform and influence” model of facts and arguments, no matter how well designed and delivered, is often no match for compelling, vivid stories. What’s more is that people tend to remember stories better than statistics. As Robert McKee argues, if you want people to remember, throw out the Powerpoint slides and tell people a story. “Stories are how we remember,” he says, “we tend to forget lists and bullet points.”

Public Diplomacy Implications and Applications

The above elements are only a few of the persuasive elements of stories or narrative strategies. Stories and storytelling have several implications and applications for public diplomacy.

Cultural Diplomacy

The use of film as a cultural art form has been widely used in cultural diplomacy by governments. Film has also been used as a political tool deliberately designed to create negative images of the enemy and positive, inspirational images of the home front, especially during wartime or during conflict. Hollywood was a player during World War I and II.

National Images

Independent of government cultural diplomacy programs, films and even the film industry of a country can influence perceptions of a country as well as feelings toward the people of that country. The Oscar-nominated “Slum Dog Millionaire,” produced by Western filmmakers, generated interest and goodwill toward India. While India’s “Bollywood” has garnered international attention, other countries such as Nigeria and Egypt are vying for recognition.

Nation Branding

Strategic stories have also been the foundation of nation branding campaigns. Mark Leonard and Andrew Small suggested that Norway could tackle its “invisible” image problem by sharing “unheard” stories about Norway with the world. One of the four stories Norway needed to tell was Norway as a humanitarian superpower: “Norway might be only the 115th in the world in terms of its size, but it is leading the world as a humanitarian power.” Perhaps not coincidental of the success of the former U.S. Information Agency was its motto: “Telling America’s Story.”

Soft Power: “Whose story wins?”

In the battle over hearts and minds, Joseph Nye suggested, it’s about “whose story wins.” The growing prominence of narrative strategies in the U.S. military offense against terrorism is evident in the ever-expanding list of related resources on defense and security websites. Just this past November the RAND Corporation partnered with the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy to hold a day-long conference on “Narratives and Strategic Communication in Foreign Policy.” Narrative strategies are being used to design persuasive winning stories, analyze the stories of others, develop counter narratives, and most importantly — gauge whose story is winning.

Social Media, the Story Circle and the Global Village

Prior to the advent of mass media entertainment, people entertained each other by sitting around telling stories. With the proliferation of new media technologies that enable people to not just consume but produce media content, people are back to doing what they do best: telling stories. Storytelling is ideally suited for the social media. Stories are spontaneous, authentic, timely, real and yes, very, very social. Al-Jazeera’s new feature “Storify” walks users through a step-by-step process of creating and sharing their stories. Governments are adopting social media tools, such as Facebook and Twitter. However, as Ali Fisher noted, the challenge is not securing a Twitter account, but knowing how to join the conversation, or perhaps more crucially, how to join the storytelling circle.

The persuasive power of storytelling is not just for winning Oscar films. The communication dynamics of the international arena are ripe for a gradual shift for the narrative paradigm to become the dominant persuasive paradigm. Public diplomacy practitioners and scholars will need to be ahead of this shift because it is likely to be very fast and very global. That is, unless, it hasn’t already happened.


* Amy Zalman maintains a blog on Strategic Narrative

Walter Fisher, Human Communication as Narration: Toward a Philosophy of Reason, Value, and Action (University of South Carolina Press, 1989)

Michael Slater and Donna Rouner, “Entertainment-Education and Elaboration Likelihood: Understanding the Processing of Narrative Persuasion,” Communication Theory, 12 (2002), 173-191.

Robert McKee, “Storytelling that moves people. A conversation with screenwriting coach Robert McKee,” Harvard Business Review, 81 (June 2003), 51-5, 136.

Mark Leonard and Andrew Small, Norwegian Public Diplomacy (London: The Foreign Policy Centre, 2003)

US Air Force Public Affairs Center of Excellence, Strategic communication & Public diplomacy,

Heteropolarity, Wicked Problems, and Collaboration in Public Diplomacy

February 24, 2012 § 1 Comment

Over at, Daryl Copeland was prepping for an upcoming symposium at the London Academy of Diplomacy by unpacking his thoughts on the implication associated with the emergence of a heteropolar world. His thinking about the shift from bipolar to heteropolar world got me thinking about the shift from negotiation/traditional diplomacy to collaboration/public diplomacy.

I still believe as I stated in an earlier post this summer that “Collaboration in public diplomacy may well become the strategic equivalent of negotiation in traditional diplomacy.”

Copeland talks about a shift from multipolar/bipolar world that seeks balance of power based on similar power attributes to a heteropolar world where diplomats try to juggle the balance of differential powers. His description of mutlipolar to me suggests a communication environment ripe for negotiations. His description of heteropolarity may suggest a new communication dynamic: collaboration.

Let me unpack my thinking. Pardon the roughness, this is an idea still swirling.

From Mutlipolar and Bipolar – Negotiations

Here is Copeland on multi and bipolar. I am struck by the focus on power (over), stability, equilibrium, and balance…

“For the past few hundred years, high-level statecraft has been concerned mainly with attempts at balancing power in an ever-changing world. From the age of European empires through to the end of the Cold War, the indicators of national power – armies, navies, missiles, warheads, economies, populations, territories – were carefully calculated, and then balanced and codified in an attempt to engineer stability.”

And …

“From the Congress of Vienna through the Treaty of Versailles and beyond, the search for international security turned on the efforts of diplomats to calibrate power in a manner which produced a workable form of equilibrium. .. For the likes of Metternich, Castlereigh and Bismark, not to mention Churchill, Stalin and Kissinger, power was essentially a function of the ability to compel your adversary to submit to your will. Stability was engineered by fine tuning relationships within and between alliances, first in a multipolar, and then, following World War II, in a bipolar system dominated by the US and USSR.”

To me this type of communication environment is ripe for negotiation strategies and tactics. I am struck by the focus on power (over), stability, equilibrium, and balance. There are far too many books on negotiations to summarize any one here without doing injustice to all.

However, if one looks at the communication dynamics of negotiation they revolved primarily around separate players in a competitive give-and-take trying to safeguard and promote their national interests. Individual player. Individual countries. Individual national goals and interests. Individually-devised communication goals and strategies. Separate. Individual. Competition.

Heteropolarity – Shift in Communication Dynamics

When I look at Copeland’s description of heterpolarity, I see a very different communication environment. The stress appears to be on dissimilarity, diversity, differences.

“An emerging world system in which competing states or groups of states derive their relative power and influence from dissimilar sources – social, economic, political, military, cultural. The disparate vectors which empower these heterogeneous poles are difficult to compare or measure; stability in the age of globalization will therefore depend largely upon the diplomatic functions of knowledge-driven problem solving and complex balancing.”

Aligning Communication Strategy to Communication Environment

Whenever there is a new communication environment existing strategies – especially those that have worked so well in the past – need to be reassessed. The main thesis of Battles to Bridges of why post 9/11 public diplomacy was failing: the strategy was out of alignment with the communication environment.

Copeland ‘s explanation of his choice of heteropolar over multipolar makes the new dynamic – differences – even clearer. But it seems that the focus is still on competition to achieve balance.

“Among the commentariat, and in both the academic and scholarly press, the mainstream view is that world politics have returned to some kind of a multipolar dispensation. The prefix multi suggests the existence of multiple poles of more or less the same type, as was the case in Europe, for example, in the 19th century. From that observation it follows that traditional means can again be used to establish some kind of new balance, one based largely upon conventional assumptions about the nature of power and the use of influence.”

And, the focus appears to still be on individuals. Copeland adds:

“With the advent of globalization, international power and influence have become atomized.”

This is where the neon lights start flashing: “atomize”

Atomized Reduce (something) to atoms or other small distinct units “ – Merriam-Webtser Dictionary

The atom is the icon of the 20th century. The atom whirls alone. It is the metaphor for individuality. But the atom is the past. The symbol of the next century is the net.” — Kevin Kelly, New Rules for the New Economy

That is net as in networks.

Then there’s Stephen Borgatti and Pacey Foster  in their survey of organizational research they found “a shift in the second half of the 20th century away from individualist, essentialist and atomistic explanations toward more relational, contextual and systematic understanding.”

And, Thomas Malone, who described a shift from from hierarchies that “command and control” to networks that “coordinate and cultivate.”

 Atonomized Bipolar to Interconnected Heteropolar

Rather than “atonomized,” I would say “interconnected” heteropolar world.  A heteropolis is a world of differential powers that are interconnected and interpenetrating. In a heteropolis, negotiation as an individual, competitive communication strategy is difficult at best. This is why there may be balancing problems.

In an interconnected heteropolar world the goal is not stability, or balance and power over. If everyone is connected, the idea of competition, power over can be counterproductive. Submitting others to one’s often engenders resentment, which can be self-defeating in the long term.

Rather than balance, the goal is adapting to constant change and accommodating differences. And, rather than individual “knowledge-driven” problem solving, it will more likely be “relations-driven” problem-solving. Why? Because of the nature of the problems that need solving.

The True Beauty of Herteropolarity: The Diversity to Tackle Wick Problems

Added to the interconnectedness of differential power players in the heteropolis are the interconnectedness of complex “wicked” global problems. Lucian Hudson in his study “The Enabling State,” on collaboration for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, talked about how governments increasingly have had to join hands with corporate and nongovernmental organizations to tackle complex or “wickedly complex” global problems.

Complex problems may be the impetus behind Anne-Marie Slaughter’s suggestion of collaborative power.

Complex wicked problems, as Jeff Conklin explains, cannot be solved in a linear, individual manner in which one proceeds to study the problem, gather information, develop and implement solutions. Tame problems can probably be tackled through negotiations and solved by treaties. Wicked problems require ongoing monitoring because the problems evolve along with the solutions.

Wicked problems are so intertwined that trying to solve one aspect of ‘a problem’ creates new problems. Wicked problems also contain socio-cultural dimension. To address wicked problems one needs diversity. Differential perspectives and differential powers.

And this is may be the true beauty of heteropolarity: differences provide the differential power to solve wicked problems.


Daryl Copeland, “Heteropolarity, Security and Diplomacy: Not the Same Old, Same Old,” January 16, 2012 Guerrilla

Stephen P. Borgatti and Pacey Foster, “The Network Paradigm in Organizational Research: A Review and Typology,” Journal of Management 29, 6 (2003), pp. 991-1013. p. 991

Jeff Conklin, “Building a Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems,” Rotman Magazine, Winter 2009, pp. 17-20.

Jeff Conklin, “Wicked Problems and Social Complexity,” Dialogue Mapping: Building Shared Understanding of Wicked Problems, (Chapter 1) October 2005.

Lucian Hudson, The Enabling State: Collaborating for Success, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London, 2009.

Kevin Kelly, New Rules for The New Economy: 10 Radical Strategies For A Connected World (New York, Penguin, 1999), p. 9.

Thomas Malone, The Future of Work:  How the New Order of Business Will Shape Your Organization, Your Management Style, and Your Life (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 2004).

Anne-Marie Slaughter, A New Theory for the Foreign Policy Frontier: Collaborative Power, The Atlantic, Nov 30 2011.

Cutlure Posts: From the Ahh to Aha! Experience in Cultural Diplomacy

January 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

In previous Culture Posts, I talked about the goal of developing an “in-awareness” approach to culture in public diplomacy. In the comments section, as well as other CPD posts, important observations have been raised about the challenges of cultural diplomacy. Developing a stronger “in-awareness” approach may be the key to designing and implementing rewarding cultural diplomacy initiatives.

In this post I discuss the idea of thinking about culture as a concrete noun as one way to develop awareness.

Culture as a Concrete Noun

When I talk about culture, some may immediately ask, what is culture?

That question may be easier asked than answered. Back in 1952, anthropologists had counted more than 162 definitions with more than 300 variations. More recently, anthropologists have been debating whether culture is a noun, adjective or verb.*

As a noun, culture is viewed primarily as a static thing or object. As an adjective, culture can be viewed as dominant traits and cultural practices. Culture as a verb highlights the dynamic, evolutionary view of culture. Each of these are different ways of thinking about culture and have multiple implications for public diplomacy.

Culture as a noun or object is interesting in public diplomacy when one considers the nature of English-language nouns as concrete or abstract.

Culture as a concrete or tangible noun may immediately bring to mind cultural artifacts and artworks – paintings, sculpture, music, dance, or other types of artistic expression. Art is often the vehicle of choice in building bridges in cultural diplomacy.

Recognizing Ahh and Aha! Moment

Many speak about the power of culture in creating mutual understanding. But why is that? And why do some initiatives succeed and not others?

If one thinks about it, artwork by nature should be a powerful tool for connecting with other humans – regardless of culture. Art is designed to communicate. It is a form of human expression, usually of emotion. Art is also by nature designed to be aesthetically appealing to the senses. By arousing emotions and senses, the ultimate goal of art is to engage and then capture the human imagination.

Most art work is capable of producing an “Ahh” moment. The “Ahh” moment is one of appreciation, or that instance when our imagination has been captured.

Cultural diplomacy can take the inherent power of art and transform it from an “Ahh” moment of appreciation found in one cultural setting to an “Aha!” moment of delight and wonder in other cultural settings. “Aha!” moments occur when we reconcile seemingly incongruent items.

What at first seems strange suddenly becomes familiar. What we were convinced was impossible, suddenly happens. Similar to the punch line in a joke, we get it. We understand.

While I have used art as the focus to illustrate the “Ahh-Aha!” connection, I suspect other cultural nouns such as sports or technology may share this phenomenon.

Diplomats play a critical role as cultural boundary spanners by identifying potential opportunities for creating an “Ahh-Aha!” connection. They are able to unpack the significance on each side and repackage it so that the other understands. Perhaps cultural diplomacy is as much about process as product.

In future posts I would like to talk more about how diplomats serve as boundary spanners between the “Ahh” and “Aha!” cultural experience. I also need to discuss the challenges of culture as an abstract noun in public diplomacy. In the meantime, it would be good to hear from professionals about their experiences with one or more specific initiatives. Perhaps you could contribute a 500-word Culture Post on your observations and experience? (Please send these posts to the CPD Blog Manager,, along with a brief bio and a photo).

* That anthropologists are discussing the global phenomenon of culture in English-language grammatical terms is somewhat revealing.

Original posted on USC Center on Public Diplomacy: Culture Posts, 9 January 2012

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