I suspect it was no accident that Simon Anholt's masterclass was held on the 28th floor of Millbank Tower -- one of the higher points in London (though, not yet the Shard). Instantly we were breathing the rarefied air of the global consultant, able to grasp distance as an illusion and imagine ourselves making our mark on any one of the august institutions reduced to LEGO blocks before us.
If you have never heard of Simon Anholt, don't own up to it. Those who have tend to be VIPs -- he's on first name terms with more presidents and prime ministers than most of us can list. Some call him a political entrepreneur, others a global image consultant -- I see him more as a nation therapist, helping countries and more lately, cities, find themselves and their place in the world.
And just like so many caricatures of therapists, Anholt's recommendations can appear gnomic -- remember Bhutan's Gross Happiness Index? -- or shockingly direct: more than once he has recommended a country simply avoid being in the media at all since no one will have anything good to say about it. But the patients always improve; nation-therapy works.
Working with 164 billion points of data -- recorded perceptions of 20,000 people in 20-28 countries each year Anholt is able to rank countries on an index of global popularity known as the Anholt GfK Roper Brands index, reveal what makes them a place to visit or a place to avoid and help them make tiny shifts of behaviour to get remarkable results.
Large leaps up or down the index are rare for any country: the only one in recent memory being the first time Obama was elected -- which led to the USA moving from sixth place in the category of governance to first. But if you understand that moving only a single place in the index correlates with a 2% rise in exports and an 11% increase in tourism, you don't complain. Everyone at this masterclass wants to know if the Olympics improved Britain's place: it didn't. However at third it didn't really have anywhere to go: "Your reputation is only rented," says Anholt, "And if you find ways to keep paying the rent, it helps you to stay where you are."
But this is a 15-year-old story. If you want to catch up with his achievements, many are on the web including this short lecture to Europe given only months ago. What excites Anholt's interest today, is not so much how to shift individual countries one by one, but whether or not his insights and the knowledge accumulated have long term implications for global governance.
Understandably, eyebrows rise when a man whose expertise until now has been at the service of individual governments begins to talk about managing them. But if anything, Anholt's focus is on a bottom up style of influence, not top down. Just as a teacher might seek to improve the atmosphere in the classroom by giving every pupil, whatever their level of ability, a sense of their own value, so Anholt believes that helping each country to develop its own contributions to the international arena, will result in a more benign globalization "success" he points out "is when other people are glad you exist".
His MARSS model, derived from 20 years of studying the preferences of diverse citizens of the world, identifies five clear measures on which global reputation depends. In this list the first is the biggest:
Morality - how good are you?
Aesthetics - how beautiful are you?
Relevance - how much do you impact on me?
Sophistication - how developed are you?
Strength - how strong are you?
What used to be the deciding factor in global power games, guns and money -- described by Joseph Nye as hard power -- are at the bottom of the list of ordinary citizens' requirements of other countries. The remaining three are all elements of soft power, measuring success at engagement, attraction and inspiration.
It's no coincidence that Anholt's data is shaping up in this way at this time. As I described myself in a recent speech to NATO, the context within which globalisation is evolving is increasingly soft - more connected, more mature in its understanding of agency, less macho. The hard power of guns and money has left our physical world on the brink of collapse and a certain humility -- or is it pragmatism? -- has allowed the benefits of cooperation and more devolved responsibility to arise.
At the same time, technology and the internet have allowed more connectivity than ever before, making it easier for peoples' voices to be heard. I was surprised that Anholt did not brandish the growing number of petition sites -- Avaaz being the largest with 20 million regular participants -- as evidence of his MAARS model. These new global activists see themselves as citizens of the largest country in the world - public opinion. They are not the same people that Anholt has been polling all these years, but the campaigns they wage -- from protecting the coral seabed to getting to grips with 'the war on women' -- show they are on the same page and gathering pace.
Of course the idea of competitive altruism (nicely outlined here in Nice Guys Finish First by Charlie Hardy and Mark van Vugt) is not new to corporates who have been playing green in public for some time, developing Corporate Social Responsibility programmes in an undisguised bid to gather market share. But CSR for nations? It seems obvious -- but why has it taken so long to grab the imaginations of leaders?
According to Anholt, the problems lie in the amount of control any one leader might have over a global audience. Whereas corporates know their market, countries cannot -- the global public is too vast and diverse and largely ignorant of the real facts on the ground of the countries they are assessing. Taking all the factors into account, unfocussed global public opinion (distinct from the kind of focus shown by Avaaz members) has a mental age of seven -- easy to please, but once crossed, difficult to pacify.
Good global leadership requires an understanding of the non material benefits that accrue from good behavior and a commitment to the bigger picture within which the individual nation will eventually thrive. Such leaders are rare, particularly in democratic politics which demands material proof every four years. Those that have risen to global prominence -- Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Aung Sun Suu Kyi, Gandhi -- are without exception, individuals who have endured abuse and humiliation to the point of abject failure. Their inner moral compass has been painfully forged, no longer dependent on the confirming feedback of an electorate.
Can Anholt develop leaders who can 'be the change they wish to see in the world' through his painstaking coaching, matching behavior to outcomes? No doubt he is making a difference and would like to step up. But maybe he needs more support from other quarters and a wider pool from which to draw clients? A look at the way Buddhist scholar Daisaku Ikeda has been bringing together global influencers might inspire. His movement of the human revolution -- inner change leading to outer development -- has much in common with Anholt's vision.
I would also hitch more media makers, artists, social activists, psycho-social practitioners to Anholt's bandwagon -- those who shape the emotional undercurrents and compelling narratives of our collective lives. In the information age, they have as much a claim to be the architects of global governance as any other. Then we can all explore the possibility of Anholt's nation-therapy amplifying the still small but serious popular movements for change, towards a more benign globalization.
Follow Indra Adnan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/indraadnan