I Thou

Emotional intelligence is perhaps the most important attribute of effective members of an open business ecosystem.  Professional expertise matters a great deal, but if not expressed with maturity and care, the close relationships on which the ecosystem depends cannot function.  Human resources strategies can be designed to recruit, train, motivate and promote those with emotional intelligence.  The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber presented this idea well.  He said we can treat each other and ourselves as an “it” — as objects to be driven, threatened, used. Or we can treat each other as “thou” — persons to be respected, cared for, learned from, with values, creativity and giftedness.

 MIT, ARM Holdings

 “Social networks…transport all kinds of things from one person to another.  One fundamental determinant of flow is the tendency of human beings to influence and copy one another.  People typically have many direct ties to a wide variety of people.  And each and every one of these ties offers opportunities to influence and be influenced.  Students with studious roommates become more studious.  Diners sitting next to heavy eaters eat more food.  And this simple tendency for one person to influence another has tremendous consequences when we look beyond our immediate connections.”[i]

In 2008 and again in 2010 Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School and James Fowler of the University of California at San Diego published groundbreaking research.  Using data from the Framingham Heart Study as well as other research,[ii] they demonstrated that mood is contagious across social networks.  As described by mathematical biologist and game theorist Martin Nowak,

“Happy people tend to be clustered together, not because they gravitate toward smiling people, but because of the way happiness spreads through social contacts over time.”[iii]

As I got to know more leaders across the connected community I was impressed that people were consistently friendly, open and helpful to me.  They were notably generous with their time and insights.  Somehow the kindness and the care consistently exceeded my expectations.  I finally concluded that there is a level of emotional intelligence across the community that is consistently high.  And with their emotional intelligence and self-awareness people are happy and quite pleasant to be with. This in turn helps with the relationship-intensive nature of the business, and is fed by that as well.

Richard Beckhard of MIT was one of the three founders of the field of organization development.  He used to teach his students to “use yourself as a probe”  to understand organizations.  By this he meant,

“Notice how you feel, how people are.  Compare and contrast your perceptions in this way, and if you experience consistent patterns, consistent differences, explore what they mean.”[iv]

For the past few months I have been immersed in the connected community, and I’ve been using my body as a probe.  My overarching impression is one of calm, of a network of people who while they work hard, stay centered.  I have come to the conclusion that I can’t fairly describe the connected community without at least noting this deeper sense, this feeling. And, consistent with the studies of Christakis and Fowler, this calm seems contagious.

I commented on this one day to Charlene Marini, an ARM executive, former chip designer and soon to be segment head for the Internet-of-things as we sat — calmly — in the ARM offices in San Jose.

Charlene surprised me by saying, “Of course.”

From Charlene’s perspective, the feeling I was sensing is part of being competent in the job.  ARM is in the relationship business and it is essential that ARM staff be emotionally intelligent.  Emotionally intelligent people don’t go about their day all stressed out.  People within the company are very intellectual, and it is standard that discussions are solved by logic and facts. ARM intends to be a thoughtful and precise business culture, but it also intends to be an emotionally healthy one.

Charlene spoke of people being “ARM shaped” — a widely used term of art in the company — and tried to describe what that signified.  She gave an example of someone who would be unlikely to succeed.  She described how some people become manic under stress.  ARM people “roll with things.”[v]

ARM people work mostly in teams, and accomplishments are celebrated and evaluated as a team.  Individuals do not as a rule get kudos.

Charlene mentioned that evaluations at ARM focus on teamwork.

I followed up with Ian Thornton at ARM corporate headquarters, and received the following email:[vi]

Every year, everyone gets measured using the following table:


  Needs SignificantImprovement NeedsImprovement Good Excellent Outstanding
Teamwork & Selflessness          
Partner andCustomer Focus          


Employees mark themselves.  Managers mark them too.  You then compare notes, and the differences are discussed.  The results of those conversations are sent up to the manager’s manager.  I would expect that most companies have similar devices, but at ARM these are taken very seriously.  We use it to reinforce organizational values and culture.  Employees who display those values are called “ARM-shaped” (literally, we do) and remember that ARM’s logo is a blue square, so there is some British tongue-in-cheek humour in that comment.  I am proud to be a blue square.”

Early on in this research I found myself realizing with surprise that within the connected community, interviewees were quite comfortable talking about money — about pricing, margins, market sizes, cost structures and so on.  It dawned on me that in most business settings money is not talked about openly or comfortably, particularly among people who share the same value chain.  Why is this?  I think the explanation may be quite simple:  In most business ecosystems there is a high degree of secrecy because it is understood that the parties are out for themselves, and winners do not want their returns to be seen while losers do not want to reveal their weakness.

By contrast, in the connected community there is a genuine desire for others to succeed, recognition that any given company depends on the success of the whole, and a willingness therefore to be more open about finances.

Finally, one of the most robust theories in social psychology pertains to “cognitive dissonance.”[vii] People have great difficulty keeping in awareness two conflicting ideas.  One of my first interviewees had read an account of how Goldman Sachs executives called clients “muppets,” — not in a good way.  He was insulted by the idea, and couldn’t reconcile how they could deal with daily duplicity.  For him, there would have been too much cognitive dissonance to reconcile cheating a client while having lunch with him and asking about his family.  The answer, I believe, is that the executive would “objectify” the client, seeing him as stupid, unworthy or otherwise deserving of poor treatment — and not as “a person like me.”

This reminds me of a book I read years ago, on the essence of relationships.

More than 90 years ago (English translation 75 years ago), the noted Jewish philosopher and Rabbi Martin Buber published a small religious book called I and Thou.  The book eventually became an unlikely best seller, sold millions of copies and is still taught in colleges today, most often in social psychology or religion courses.[viii]

Buber made a simple but powerful distinction.  He argued that people have two underlying ways of relating to the world.  One of the ways evolved to cope with objects: he called it “I-It” — the world as filled with “its,” or objects.  This could include objectifying other people and seeing them as blockages, or tools or enemies to dispatch.  It often includes treating oneself as an “it” to prod and drive to success without serious regard for personal and community health.

The other way evolved for living in relationship with other people and God, and was based on our innate capacity for empathy.  This way of relating needs to be engaged in order to understand where others are coming from, to listen to and respect their points of view, and to signal our goodwill in non-verbal cues as well as words.  It also teaches we can respect ourselves as well, and that this care is consistent with long-term productivity and creativity.  This mode he called “I-Thou.”

For me personally, the most unexpected feature of my experience doing this study is that the leaders I have met are surprisingly — well, what can I say — I-Thou.

The connected community is no utopia, but it is, to my mind, comparatively advanced.  I hope that in this chapter and in this book I have at least begun to make the case that the current success of the connected community is due to a system of mutually reinforcing features centered on cooperation and differentiation.  If this is correct, then further study should enable us to say more about what is going on here and perhaps even start to imagine what might come next.


[i] Connected, Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler, Little, Brown, 2009 http://www.amazon.com/Connected-Surprising-Power-Social-Networks/dp/0316036145/ref=reader_auth_dp

[ii] Fowler, J. and N. Christakis.  2008.  Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network, British Medical Journal, 337: a2338;  Fowler, J. and N. Christakis.  2010.  Cooperative behavior cascades in social networks.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, USA, 107: 5334-38

[iii] Supercooperators, Martin Nowak, Free Press, 2011

[iv] Richard Beckhard, Class Lecture, Organization Development, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1978

[v] Charlene Marini, ARM Holdings, personal communication, March 2013

[vi] Ian Thornton, ARM Holdings, personal communication, April 2013

[vii] A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance, Leon Festinger, Stanford University Press, 1957

[viii] I and Thou, Martin Buber, 1923, English trans. 1937