The Effect of Foreign Policy [on business and design] by Bruce Nussbaum, 2003

When I come across articles like this PDF of an editorial Bruce Nussbaum wrote in 2003 for BusinessWeek, I am again reminded of why he always beats me to the punch. But seriously, here is a prophetic and insightful paragraph, one that would do us all well to read and remember. Don’t forget to read the rest of the PDF too. I’d gush a little more but I already have a brown nose.

The Effect of Foreign Policy – Fall 2003

As this new business cycle begins, the world is also very different. We can no longer assume that exporting American culture and the physical and symbolic icons that represent it will work anymore. In the ‘90s, the US was at the forefront of integrating the global economy and the global culture. Today, the US is pursuing a unilateral foreign policy that is at odds with a multilateral global economy. US policy is in many ways a force for disintegration. The world’s immediate reaction to 9/11 was to get closer to the US. But the foreign policy response of Washington was to go it alone, to move away from much of the world—including old friends in Europe, Canada, Mexico and much of Asia and Latin America. I have never seen the anti-Americanism now prevalent in once-friendly countries. It does not bode well for the business of generating and exporting American cultural artifacts, be they products or services, brands or celebrities, movies or music, computers or software.

A disaggregating world culture means that designers must learn to understand many other cultures in many markets. They must learn to manage people from different cultures, respect what they have to offer and learn from them. Many of the best design firms already do this very well. Others must learn quickly.

The past three years have been so bad that perhaps we have forgotten the joys of optimism and the possibilities of growth. It is time to shake off defensive posturing and reshape a design model for success. It is time to be cool and to have fun again.

I must add however, that designers are already at the forefront of understanding cultures and societies, we are wholly aware of the differences in the ways of doing, eating, sleeping, being amongst peoples everywhere. In the three years since Bruce wrote this paragraph, how much of this message has seeped through to those on the other side of the table, the decision makers, the controllers of the purse strings?

I do believe that it is not enough for the design community to know and understand our ever smaller global village, as I think of pesti cola. This article "A New Brand of Power" in the Washington Post yesterday articulates this far more succinctly than I,

The cool quotient in products may boost profits and amuse consumers,
but what’s its significance for the nation’s future? Quite a lot,
actually. The rising power of brands has implications for public
health, globalization and the environment. It may even be changing the
political equation.

There’s a cliff hanger intended to compel you to read the rest, and read the rest we must, for this I believe points to a far more powerful trend, one which releases a deep wellspring of long damped idealism. Another teaser from the same article,

If brands are both valuable and vulnerable, political consequences
follow. Mighty companies have so much riding on their corporate image
that they quiver in the face of customer opinion. And if they are
mass-market companies, customer opinion is the same as public opinion,
so corporate bosses become as sensitive to political and social shifts
as elected officials.

Yes, markets are conversations, and conversations, as Tom would have it, lead to communication. And change, even a teensy shift, in perspective. Which in turn… oh wait, that’s the domino theory of world peace. Whoops.

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