192. How Diplomats Balance Confidentiality & Transparency In The Digital Age

11 takeaways from this talk:

00:07:24 In the 1970s, telephones were fixed, stationary objects on every street corner and attached to the wall in your home. In the 1970s, mobile phone was an oxymoron.

Anyone born before the1970s watched the world evolve from the fixed, rotary phones of yesteryear to modern pocket-sized computers with blue-tooth ear pieces. In the 21st century, calling it a mobile phone is redundant.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall in my lecture Managing age, cultural & personality differences, jerks & assholes at Sup de Pub that humans alive today have been divided up into four different age generations:

00:08:11 That being said, some people today may argue that digital diplomacy is an oxymoron because ‘true’ diplomacy is confidential and protected communication conducted in safe spaces without fear of the conversation being made public.

As with the rotary phone, digital diplomacy will eventually cease being an oxymoron and become a reduncy. In fact, we are witnessing this evolution.

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Technological field notes from a US diplomat:

00:09:01 British comedian Jimmy Carr once told me (The Honorable Matthew W. Barzun) that, even at the height of his career, whenever he is trying out new material, maybe 3 out of 10 jokes will get a laugh.

“A song nobody likes is still a song. A play that nobody likes – and even walk out on – is still a play. But a joke that nobody laughs at isn’t a joke; it’s just a sentence.” -Jimmy Carr paraphrased

Disagree? Listen to these sentences:

Diplomacy, for obvious reasons, tends to be risk-averse, preferring to err on the side of overly-cautious than to step too far beyond your role and offend some of key importance; especially when that offence may negatively affect millions of people around the world.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For a great explanation on how diplomacy and decision-making fallacies adversely affect diplomacy and political negotiation, read the book You Can’t Enlarge the Pie by Max. Bazerman, Jonathan Baron and Katherine Shonk.]

00:12:23 Microsoft Encarta was “was a digital multimedia encyclopedia published by Microsoft Corporation from 1993 to 2009,” when it was discontinued. Despite its short lived success, this digital endeavour was enough to beat out the Encyclopedia Britannica for a short time.

Since then, Wikipedia, despite its mistakes and shortcomings, has dominated both Encyclopedia Britannica and Microsoft Encarta. Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s founder, didn’t actually start Wikipedia as it is known today, but originally as Nupedia, “an English-language Web-based encyclopedia whose articles were written by volunteer contributors with appropriate subject matter expertise, reviewed by expert editors before publication and licensed as free content.”

Encyclopedia Britannica’s 5-step information confirmation was nothing compared to Nupedia’s 10-step information confirmation process. This process, as we know, failed miserably, with only 9 articles being published during its first year in existance. Thus became the birth of Wikipedia, where anyone could create and modify articles at will, with the global community keeping the fact checking in check.

Everyone makes mistakes; nothing is ever free of errors. All of Wikipedia’s predecessors also contained a bunch of mistakes that required constant revision and upgrades, but wikipedia’s mistakes could be fixed, and information improved in mere seconds rather than having to reprint an entire series of books or sent out new CDs.

Do you want one stupid tweet to mess up a quarter of all the work you’ve ever done?

You will make mistakes, but dilute your one dumb tweet among a hundred really good ones, and your career might be okay.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall in my interview with Kevin Knight on expat community management that when running a socially networked community too large for one person to police, make yourself redundant. Identify the leaders who naturally emerge within your community and offer them to become admin, official event organizers, or content writers. This allows you to focus on growing and improving the community, services and projects, and your members have more things to do. Sub-communities will even begin to emerge inside of your community.]

00:16:42 Generation Z today don’t have the same profound feelings associated with the attacks of September 11, 2001 as prior generations do. GenZ are of course familiar with it and understand its implications, but they were simply too young to fully grasp it.

Issues that dominate the previous generations are foreign policy – drones, international policy, etc. However, issues that dominate today’s youth include more domestic policies such as gun control, police violence, and racism.

00:22:15 The real power of the internet is its ability to connect so many different people and departments together so seamlessly.

00:28:52 10 rules of ‘muckdom’ from the 1997 book Locked in the Cabinet by Robert Reich:

  1. Immediately pass all baggage to your assistant so you’re free to move and work.
  2. Always be first through any door.
  3. Walk fast and with purpose.
  4. Dress the part.
  5. Get in front of the camera so people see how important you are.
  6. Never arrive early; even arrive a little late.
  7. Shake hands quickly and look at someone behind them so the current handshaker doesn’t try to keep you too long.
  8. Respect the hierarchical chain of command.

That was 1997, this is 2014 and times and expectations have changed.

Admitting ‘I don’t know’ and then listening builds trust and credibility. Learn to listen, and people hear you differently.

I (Matthew Barzun) sat next to American diplomat John Kerry while he made 2 very important telephone calls, and only heard Mr Kerry speak 10% if the time. Why? Becaues he listens. Because when he speaks he asks important, intense and open-ended questions, and then he listens.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Recall in Stan Christensen’s lecture Common negotiation mistakes, underhanded techniques & how to improve at Stanford University that effective negotiation really boils down to creative problem solving and effective relationship management, and that you should think of communication as convincing the other person that you can hear them and that they are being heard. The fact that the other person feels like they are being listened to is the most important part of persuasion.]

00:34:34 Gun laws, police violence, women’s rights, LGBT rights… As a diplomat, whether or not it is your responsibility, if people are talking about it, it’s your responsibility to address it and at least know what you are going to say about it, or be able to tell people where they can go to find out answers and information about it.

You’re at your best when you are humble and self-critical.

00:39:04 Diplomats are no longer the central source of communication. Anyone with a twitter account can freely send messages and communicate with terrorist twitter accounts.

00:49:00 Email can be an intimate form of communication if you treat it like a conversation. Be authentic, friendly, and respond to people quickly; even if you don’t have an immediate answer.

The Honorable Matthew W. Barzun at the World Leaders Forum at Columbia University 2015

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