1. Lessons In Leadership
  2. Thoughts from the Zeitgeist

Escape Velocity – Part 2

Mistrust is a black hole.

In my previous post, I made the case that CEOs, acting on data in the most recent Edelman Trust Barometer, can counter the forces polarizing society by creating space for meaningful connection.

What might this space look like? We have all seen it work on a one-on-one basis, where people with differing world views are suddenly thrown together and emerge with a solid basis for mutual respect. It’s not that either person changed their opinions, but that they found a common bond that let them see the “other” in a new light. This has been borne out by the success of the StoryCorps’ One Small Step project, which brings together strangers with opposing views who engage in brief, nonpolitical conversation. The point is not to debate issues, but to simply get to know each other. Before-and-after research conducted with 400 One Small Step participants revealed that they felt greater empathy for all people with opposing views.

This line of thinking suggests that business leaders can help dismantle polarizing forces by providing platforms for meaningful connection — ones based on shared, non-political affinities. This might include establishing opportunities for volunteerism or participation in amateur sports and entertainments. But there’s an easy solution that is readily available — conferences and trade shows. According to our recent survey of event attendees, 80% of respondents say they trust in-person events more than any other available marketing channel. By design, they bring diverse audiences together around an esoteric tribal affinity and shared sense of purpose.

Attendees are generally there by choice. A major attraction is the chance to connect with people who share their business objectives, enthusiasms, and interest in professional growth. Consider a group of ER nurses attending a national medical convention. They probably represent the full spectrum of polarizing issues: political views, demographic differences, and cultural biases. But they are eager to meet every year and listen to each other because they want to save lives. The personal differences just don’t matter.

Multiply this effect by the thousands. Events in America lists over 5,900 events in the US as of 2023. And our own research indicates that attendance is on the rise. That’s why I believe that live, in-person events are the best tool society has to connect people in meaningful ways. We are hardwired to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Participation in large, thoughtfully designed events answers this need. Conscientious, culture-driven leadership can reinforce the call to a higher purpose by hosting their own events or encouraging participation in those hosted by their respective industries.

We have the means to achieve escape velocity from the black hole of polarization, but we need more thrust. Business leaders can be that engine.

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