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The Value of a Full Spectrum View

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My very first quote in the media nearly three decades ago addressed an innovative financing I had just completed as a corporate financial executive. I said, "It doesn't matter what I think. It matters what the market thinks." Whether you are a financier, a retailer, an entertainer, or a political manager, this simple rule applies.

In order to respond to this nearly universal mandate, you need to see full spectrum: to perceive all perspectives and the relative intensity around each view. This essential skill is lacking in nearly every profession. Mastering it is one of the surest paths to success.

As a retailer for much of my business career, I learned the need to be in tune with and respond to consumer tastes, whether or not they matched my personal preferences. If you are stocking last season's shade of green, you are going to have a lot of clearance sales and lower profits. It is not relevant whether you like the new hip color or not.

The reason that Lady Gaga has been so popular is that she perceived that many people feel as if they were at "The Monster Ball" just because they were "Born This Way." Whether Lady Gaga ever felt like a monster because of how she was born is not important. The fact that she perceived a deep vein of emotions within a potential fan base and tapped into it is the reason for celebrity status.

The reason the U.S. Congress and many other capitals around the world face gridlock is because much of the electorate lacks a full spectrum view. The explosion of media choices allows people to choose their news and their own personal version of truth. If you like vanilla, you don't choose chocolate. Therefore most tap into only sources that reinforce their own worldview.

After noticing that a cab driver was reading the New York Times, I told him that I was going to give him a piece of advice that if he followed it, would rate as one of the ten most important pieces of advice he had ever received. I told him to read the editorial page of both the New York Times (the voice of the left) and the Wall Street Journal (the voice of the right). Doing so would allow him to make better decisions, understand the world more completely, and be a far more interesting conversationalist.

It is essential for political leaders to have bedrock views on the issues they care most deeply about and to be true to those ideals. However, they will not get elected unless their messaging reflects an understanding of to how to align and position those core values within the context of the voters' views.

While it would be ideal if all Americans took my advice to the taxi driver, it is essential that until they do, message managers work with a full spectrum view of the electorate's attitudes.

Recently I tweeted:

I received a comment suggesting that this was a partisan view. Actually, as with nearly everything I tweet, it was meant to be instructional. The school I lead teaches political managers and strategic communicators. If they are to do their job, they need to be fully aware of and responsive to the views of the electorate.

There is a reason that during the depth of President George W. Bush's poll ratings nearly every Democrat tried to paint their opponent as a presidential clone. Wise Republican political managers ensured that they defined their candidate's differences with Bush and depending on their district assessed whether they would want the President to come there to campaign for them.

The same is true today for President Obama.

It is essential for political managers, both conservative and liberal, to determine how closely aligned they wish to position their candidate or their opponent to the president. Notably, both hyperlinks were to the Times, the voice of the left, which made my caution more potent.

Those with a global full spectrum view would know that Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, referenced in the second link of the tweet, is a leftist president. Her team decided it was important to distance her from President Obama in the face of her own upcoming reelection campaign. If I had meant to be a partisan Republican, I would not be highlighting an approach that could potentially save some Democrats from electoral defeat in 2014.

The prime political challenge we face is that the majority of the electorate see the world through the narrow lenses of a limited number of news sources and are unwilling to accept the other half or society's views. Finding common ground and gaining the support necessary to act on consensus will require even more skilled political managers adept at seeing full spectrum.

Hon. Mark R. Kennedy leads George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management and is Chairman of the Economic Club of Minnesota. He previously served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and was Senior Vice President and Treasurer of Federated Department Stores (now Macy's).