With the spotlight currently shining on female leaders, like Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg, the timing couldn't be better for next month's release of the The Athena Doctrine. This groundbreaking new book, which features surveys from 64,000 people in 13 countries, presents an intriguing conclusion: Our world would be a better place if more men thought like women.
I had the chance to catch up with one of the authors, social strategist John Gerzema, to ask him a few questions about the book—and find out what his takeaways are for any business owner, regardless of gender.
You conducted an amazing amount of research before writing The Athena Doctrine. What was your biggest takeaway?
We surveyed people in 13 countries from Canada to Indonesia—and two-thirds of them said "the world would be a better place if men thought more like women." Curious about this, we conducted interviews in 18 countries with world political leaders, startups, CEOs of big companies and NGOs. We even visited the tiny kingdom of Bhutan, where we met the secretary of the Gross National Happiness Commission. Yet there was a consistent theme in that the most innovative men and women were breaking away from traditional structures to be more flexible, collaborative and nurturing. In other words, they were applying traditionally feminine traits to lead and adapt to a social, interdependent and transparent world.
What is the biggest mistake small-business owners make that you think the book might help them avoid or correct?
You can’t read a business article today without hearing about "learning from failure." But maybe there’d be less failing if we were willing to admit what we don’t know in the first place. Dr. Ijad Madisch typifies a new idea, that "vulnerability is strength." As he told me, he kept getting stuck in his experiments. And when he asked other colleagues for help, he learned it’s taboo to admit weaknesses in the ego-driven world of medical research. So he started ResearchGate, the science world’s version of Facebook. Madisch believes that too often scientists are controlled by the rigors of publishing and therefore are not keen to talk about their experimental failures. But by leading with modesty and humility, an entrepreneur can solve big challenges by engaging others to join in and help. Today, ResearchGate has 2 million members from 200 countries.
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What is one insight you think small-business owners will be surprised to learn from the book?
While many leaders dream up markets and create unmet (and often unwanted) needs—empathy is at the forefront of true, new and breakthrough innovation. MIT’s AgeLab's Joseph Coughlin and his students created a suit called AGNES (Age Gain Now Empathy System), which allows its wearer to experience the physical effects of being a senior citizen. Here, they are contemplating what its like to drive a car, reach for a store shelf or try on shoes in a suit that restricts movement, dulls hearing and eyesight and creates other obstacles. Built upon the concept of sensitivity to others, listening, feeling, empathizing allows designers to envision products and services that can help improve the quality of life for a rapidly aging society.
Do you think that using some of the insights in the book may be easier or harder for small businesses than their larger competitors?
Many of the ideas we learned from leaders and innovators are broadly applicable to everyone because they're universal human values. The Athena Doctrine is not about "the end of men." In fact, in our research 81 percent of people around the world said "you need both masculine and feminine traits to thrive in today's world." This is really a book about an emergent form of leadership, where interesting creative men and women do not define or restrict themselves by the conventions of masculine structures in business and society. I'm not saying this idea is yet mainstream, but I believe it will be. In fact, I believe feminine values will be the operating system of the 21st century.
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Speaking as a male business owner, what is one behavior I may be doing that the book can help me to either unlearn or amplify?
I'd probably say most of us—particularly us men, perhaps—think of winning and losing as a zero-sum game. But today winning is plural: The best leaders of the sharing economy are not dictators, but facilitators, collecting thoughts and fielding input everywhere. And they empower and lift people up to be heard and share the credit, which ultimately builds support for their decision-making. One such leader we met was Orn Johnsson, a Lutheran minister, who was named a constitutional committee member of Iceland’s new government. Bankers there inflated a financial bubble that wrecked the national economy. In order to repair the public’s trust, the new government listened, included and built consensus with the public to crowdsource a new constitution with input from Facebook, Twitter and other social media channels. We need more leaders who can get to "grand bargains." And often in a period of crisis, our collective femininity is our greatest resource and response.
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Rohit Bhargava is one of the world’s leading voices on creating more human companies and author of the recent bestselling book Likeonomics. Rohit (@rohitbhargava) is CEO and founder of the Influential Marketing Group and is currently working on the third edition of his popular ebook series, the Women of Personality, a curated collection of success stories from visionary women in business.
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