Over a lifetime, I have a spectacular record of failure when assuming stupidity in others. Almost always, the flaw in my reasoning is my own misunderstanding of what the “others” are trying to do and how they are trying to do it.
I doubt I am alone.
Every political writer with access to the Internet has an opinion on President Donald Trump and most appear to have used that access to express it.
Yet I have this nagging feeling they are missing something and, if I limit my reading to what they tell me, so will I.
The Harvard Business Review is not the first place political strategists go to find something insightful, but nor should it be the last. Winning an election is like selling a product and the Harvard Business Review is a pretty good place to learn about that.
Roger L. Martin is a Professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Earlier this month he published How the Attacks on Trump Reinforce His Strategy.
Simply stated, Martin’s thesis is that Trump could not win in the category of politician so he had to create a new one – preferably one he could dominate.
According to Professor Martin, “To establish the legitimacy of the category, he made a consistent and devilishly tautological argument: In the category of traditional presidential candidates, the politicians are all politically correct. When they get in power, they fail you. Hence you don’t want a leader in that category — you want one in a new category called politically incorrect presidential candidates. I have been a huge success in business by being politically incorrect. Therefore: political correctness = failure, and political incorrectness = success.”
If that was to be the winning strategy – you never know until the results are in – it is difficult to imagine a more suitable adversary than Hillary Clinton. She might have been able to move toward Bernie Sanders – and she did – but she was trapped like a fossil in amber in the category “politician.”
But now what? In theory, the election is over though, in practice, elections no longer end. Among commentators, there is far more concern about the impact of a particular action on poll numbers than on policy.
To suggest that the coastal ribbons of blue are apoplectic at more or less everything the Trump administration has done (especially the travel ban) is to administer heavy sedation to the concept of apoplexy. Yet their outrage focuses on his being un-presidential.
In their efforts to feel good about themselves (it’s not who we are) the coastal apoplectics might actually be helping Trump to achieve his goals.
Again, according to Martin, “His detractors keep on asking how long Trump can keep on defying gravity. They are asking the wrong question. They should be asking how their form of criticism is strengthening Trump.”
Professor Martin makes a point about strategy that I might have made about sales but the difference is irrelevant as the observation is correct.
“…understand and empathize with your customers. When they are doing something that you think is crazy, don’t blame them. They aren’t a ‘basket of deplorables.’ They are your customers. Don’t explain why they are making a terrible choice when they choose your competitor’s product. Understand why they are buying it and give them a compelling reason to buy yours instead.”
There are few groups more deeply embedded in the category “politician” than political consultants. It is what they know and more importantly what they sell. But, when competing with President Trump, they are not competing inside the category “politician,” they are competing with something different and they appear to have no answer to the new rules – if indeed they realize they are in a different arena.
“She [Secretary Clinton] sold customers what she desired them to want: a product that was compelling to her and her management team.” Secretary Clinton might have left the stage, but those who share her views appear to be following her path.
Will it have the same result?
“He [President Trump] is still using the same strategy today, and it continues to work. If his opponents want to outmaneuver him, they will have to try a different strategy. Theirs is not working.”
It might be time for the President’s opponents to stop assuming stupidity.