Lessons from the Iran Negotiations

Most of my work is with groups making decisions. Typically those are strategy decisions being made in uncertainty.

This week I was struck by the reporting of what resulted in a tentative nuclear deal between the rest of the world. It was painful, wrenching, intense, and eventually somewhat successful. In the months ahead more of the same will be necessary to put something in writing.

By U.S. Department of State from United States [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s the story I read from the New York Times:

There were several areas where pragmatists who deal with or participate in group dynamics and the best practices of decision-making could take lessons:

The resolution of the two sides to stay engaged was key. Both sides need a deal. Iran wants to relieve the oppressive burden of sanctions. The implications of an ability to produce nuclear weapons by a Shiite nation has driven fear to the top of the scale for Mideast nations, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Wendy Sherman, the lead American negotiator, used a white board to track agreements and record problems and hurdles to overcome. Seems old school but an ability to put big print in front of groups is where I live. It’s essential. It also points up the need for somebody to be organized, to hold feet to fires, and to not let go until solutions emerge. One uses what works. In Sherman’s case it was brilliant. A failure to keep the group accountable would have led to failure.

The negotiation group also realized that artificial deadlines are a detriment to good decisions. The end of March deadline came from the Obama administration. The French pushed back. The wrangling will go on the months ahead but the spirit of the deal is there and came a bit after the imposed deadline.

It’s much the same when I work with strategy teams. In a couple of weeks one of my clients has an issue involving systemic risk that will involve painful and contentious discussions that have a long history in their region and organization. While I think we’ve set aside enough time, my goal is to have the big pieces of an agreement in place and let the word-smithing discussions to take place after contemplation. Important decisions can always benefit from a bit more time for consideration.

Learn what you can from Lausanne. Keep engaged. Keep organized. Have a driver in place that won’t lift eyes from the road to the goal. Work steadily and painfully, if necessary, toward agreement. Get creative. Don’t hesitate to extend deadlines when the goal is in sight.

April, 2013 - What We're Watching in the Practice

Here’s a quick synopsis of projects, presentations, and work we’ve done over the recent past. I’m also including some trends we’re seeing from the work. It’s been a hectic several months as we’ve found a permanent place to live in a new city, remodeled a dwelling, and settled into home and office.

These days a great number of economic forecasting assignments come my way and the last two months have been no exception. I was asked for three economic forecasts in agriculture, manufacturing, and construction. It’s encouraging to be able to pass along relatively positive news and projections for a change.

Heaviest implications – the effects of a major cybersecurity breach on national/regional economies. Three years ago I moderated and did the closing keynote presentation to the most influential global meeting of information security professionals. 90% believe a major breach is imminent. The Pentagon has ramped up tactics, “weaponized code” is loose on the Internet, information security is now mixed into global conflicts and efforts to prevent access to nuclear weapons. This is a big deal and surprisingly it goes unconsidered in most business planning.

Most overlooked development – the quiet but impactful use of robotics. The development of devices like Baxter and the continuing utilization of manufacturing robots has quietly cut into employment. Expect deeper cuts in the next ten years. With the price point dropping, capability rising sharply, and programming easier look for these intelligent machines to slide into society under the radar.

Trending upward – succession is taking the biggest uptick in my consulting assignments. Transfer of business, top management replacement, and governance are areas where I see rising demand. With Boomers flooding over the 65 age-line and smaller pools of obvious successors available this is going to occupy more of my time in the coming years.

Longer term and interesting – the extraordinary transition society will make as energy sources swing from fossil fuels to renewables. It’s obvious that the effectiveness and adoption of renewable energy sources is poised for a rapid spurt. Legacy businesses have not thought through the implications for their own fields. The swing will most probably take place in the next 15-20 years.

I believe it’s shrewd to have social media presence although how this field gels in the next five years is still uncertain. I like the utility of
Twitter as a scanning aid and I also post sporadically. It’s also interesting to watch who follows the posts. I make no effort to attract followers but I find myself following many who find my posts useful.