Context

The author’s latest book, Understanding Business: The Logic of Balance, is now available on Amazon. Click here to go directly there.

Description: Building and managing a large corporation on values such as honor, integrity, obligation, and trust may seem antithetical to achieving and sustaining business success. But if you want to engage your most critical stakeholders—your employees—at the highest level, those are exactly the values you must leverage and prioritize.

It’s not that companies ignore what seasoned business leader Gary Moreau calls the “soft tools” of business management. However, in placing more emphasis on the measurable tools of development and growth, such as quantitative marketing and financial modeling, executives tend to make the soft tools secondary when it comes to achieving their business goals. And without the real trust of those who do the work, companies won’t grow in a sustaining way.

In his latest book in the Understanding series, Moreau shows business leaders—especially those just starting out—how to establish real trust with those they lead and create an environment that is inclusive and appreciative of diversity, from culture and gender issues to leadership styles.

Understanding Business: The Logic of Balance shows you how to balance soft tools with popular, measurable tools to improve company culture and achieve overall success.

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A tree exists in context.

Context is everything. That’s nothing new. It has been this way since humankind first invented language as a means to communicate.

Because language is a human invention, unlike sunshine and rain, it is imprecise. Context provides clarity of meaning. This is particularly true in a language like Mandarin where words can take on very different meanings depending on how they are being used—their context.

I am fluent in almost every language in the right context. If I am on an airplane anywhere in the world and the flight attendant rolls the beverage cart down the aisle, hands me a bag of peanuts and asks me a question, it doesn’t matter what language he or she uses. I know with certainty that he or she is asking me what I would like to drink.

Context is particularly important given the reality of what Buddhists call emptiness. It is not a state of nothingness, but recognition of the fact that everything in the universe is interconnected. No action or behavior exists in isolation.

There is a dichotomy to the interconnection of everything. It can be used as both a tool of understanding and a tool of disinformation.

I was reminded of this reality recently when I read two news accounts on a single day regarding Chinese intentions. One article related to the one belt, one road initiative, a cornerstone of President Xi Jinping’s economic and political agendas. The other had to do with China’s willingness to help satisfy US objectives in North Korea.

Both articles painted a rather negative context around a single word—self-interest. The one belt, one road article essentially argued that the investment of trillions of dollars in the infrastructure of Southeast Asia was a Chinese ruse to build hegemony in the region and to isolate implied rival, India.

The second article challenged China’s willingness to de-nuclearize North Korea both because China is North Korea’s largest trading partner and because if a war between South Korea/US and the hermit kingdom were to come to pass, China did not want to invite North Korean aggression, their common border extending 880-miles (1,420 km).

Language itself is a dichotomy that derives much of its meaning from context. Meaning is seldom obvious without it. A single word can be laudatory or pejorative.

The unbridled pursuit of self-interest is the very foundation of the free market capitalism that the US economy is built upon. It is the “invisible hand” that Adam Smith used to describe the market forces of self-interest that generate free market competition—the golden nectar of capitalism itself.

When used to describe those that we wish to characterize in an unflattering light, however, self-interest becomes an adjective laden with implications of selfishness, arrogance, and immorality. It suggests one is not interested in what is fair or right—or compassionate.

But isn’t self-interest at the very core of democracy? If not, what then is identity politics? Why do political candidates spend so much time and effort articulating specific policy issues? Why do political debate moderators focus almost exclusively on questions of how and what? And why does experience matter, as virtually every political incumbent would have us believe?

Freud argued that all of life is personal. We are the lead character in all of our dreams and the monster in all of our nightmares. This is the context in which we live our lives, not the barrier to living a good life.

Of course the Chinese act out of self-interest. So do the Americans, the Russians, and virtually every member of the European Union. Even Switzerland’s famous neutrality flows from self-interest. The citizens of all of these countries also breathe and require food and water to survive. What’s the point?

Since self-interest is universal, it can only acquire a negative connotation in a certain context. And that context, more often than not, is hypocrisy.

Hypocrisy is the context of delusion or worse. It is a blight on human integrity and the search for truth. It is the weapon of prejudice and conceit.

Researcher Albert Mehrabian performed several studies in the late 1960’s that established that the words themselves play a minor role in the effectiveness of communication. Tone and body language, he concluded, were far more important.

Both tone and body language are components of context. As is intent and, most importantly, so are the other words used in the communication. A tree is a tangible and singular thing. But it exists in the context of the weather, the soil conditions, altitude, and the landscape in which it resides. A tree, in other words, is just a tree in the narrowest sense.

So, too, is every news story ever written or reported. The words employed are secondary to the context in which they are used. Every news reporter, every commentator, and every editor, works within a context. It’s a given.

And that’s okay so long as we, the readers and listeners, don’t ever forget that universal truth.

Contact: You may reach the author at gary@glassmakerinchina.com