A Micro Solution for the Macro Problem?
Like many of us, I watched the news all weekend, obsessed with the tragedy unfolding in Paris. I watched and listened as expert after expert, politician after politician weighed in on what France must do, what America could do, what NATO might do, what the Gulf States should do. I heard terms like “boots on the ground” and “the dark web” and “coalition like in 1991” and “most powerful nation on the planet.” Statements like “We can win this.”
I heard saber rattling by men who may have once upon a time worn a uniform (but more than likely not) advocating for military responses at a scale to acknowledge this is “World War III.”
I am a strategist, a business and brand strategist (and full disclosure: one who served as U.S. Army officer). Just as business and brand strategies have been transformed during the past decade, so too have the ways wars are waged. This isn’t 1991, after all. It’s not 2003 to 2013, either. Surely we have learned something.
The most powerful marketing movement in the business world in most of our lifetimes has been towards the granular: Real people telling real people what they think about brands, products, and businesses – and the aggregated power of what they think making an actual business difference. Sometimes this comes from the world of high tech: through Facebook, ranking sites like Yelp! Instagram. Sometimes, and I would argue most powerfully, through honest to goodness high touch. Procter & Gamble taught me years ago: “If your mother used Tide, nothing else smells like clean.” In other words: Family.
Right now, we use terms like “lone wolf” and “isolated cell” to think about these agents of terror and targeted destruction. They are recruited because of their disaffection. But, when we drill down, we find wolves actually run in packs. We find there are often brothers involved. Cousins. Friends. Parents. People who suspected something and said nothing.
1. It is one thing for the incipient jihadist to be willing to sacrifice his own life to take a hundred others. What if he knew he was also altering his family’s lives by guaranteeing their return to a world they left behind? That his family and friends wouldn’t be given a ‘hall pass,’ simply because they say they didn’t know what they now don’t want to have known?
2. It’s one thing to know that your son is angry and up to something bad, it’s another thing to know that unless he is stopped, he is sending you back to the land you left decades ago and for very good reasons. Would the parents turn a deaf ear to their children’s rantings and mysterious comings and goings?
We seem to have a belief that these villains hatch sui generis. That no force on earth can interrupt their desire to spread death, once they’ve been radicalized. That the promise of martyrdom is such a compelling lure that nothing can dim its bright and shiny attraction. That the only way to stop an asymmetrical enemy is to march brigades into Raqqa.
I’m saying there’s another lever to pull. A piece of international law that changes the balance of power and acknowledges the scores of small, fierce and obvious decisions that must be coupled with willful ignorance on the part of friends and family to create events like those we witnessed this weekend. Actions must have consequences: Let’s make those consequences personal.
We’re at a crossroad: We can keep bombing military targets that end up decimating civilian populations by accident and thereby create another furious generation. Or, we can lose our reliance on raw firepower and get focused. Very tightly focused.
Let’s get granular.