An Invitation to the Ball

Let's fill a ballroom

Many efforts to redesign the global finance system fail to place the policy work in a social setting, at least not explicitly. The setting does not get as much attention as the agenda, although it deserves to. I sometimes hear that decision-makers are not interested in another “consultative process,” diplomatic code for roundtables, panels, lectures, discussions and meetings. Although enormously productive and exciting for the aficionado, such efforts can lack vitality and fail to hold attention or create lasting impact.

The back and forth with stakeholders and opinion leaders often resembles a dance in the way in which various ideas are handed from one person to another and back in evolving forms. Working its way deeper and deeper into the process, the idea of the dance keeps emerging with more and more intensity such that it has finally dawned on me that we might consider, as in days gone by, nestling a real dance inside this consultative process, a “ball” as Cinderella might say.

Professor Dianne Davis of the International Council of Caring Communities provided me with the most concrete example of why this might work. In her work with the UN on urban architecture and its relationship with the community, Dianne found herself in Hungary, I believe, with a large party of decisionmakers. At some point in the process, Dianne had the bright idea that a dance would be a great way to break the ice – bring people together personally – and set the tone for the work, which could not be effective without solid personal relationships underpinning it.

And although the events in Hungary happened some years ago now, Dianne’s talent was again richly on display at the UN Music as a Natural Resource event at the National Arts Club last year. This event explicitly highlighted the power of music, and by implication arts and culture, to improve social conditions in a most powerful, social and richly artistic evening.

A necessary result of a culturally rich consultative process will be artistic exposure to financial capital. Once that channel is open, a two-way flow may result in the transmission of important messages and cultural objectives to the often cloistered and overly masculine financial community, and a return flow of enabling capital for the ongoing survival and development of cultural initiatives, and Mother Earth herself. It is with this vision and objective in mind that I seek your input and advice.

There is another emergent narrative that is rarely mentioned in the context of policy discussion, and that is the therapeutic framework for strategic engagement and intervention with the financial class. A proposal I have recently read captures the entire finance community, but it does so primarily within the realm of financial engineering and law. To the extent that it engages with the finance community as a cultural milieu, it is targeted at the upper echelons of the academic, governmental, asset owner and technical communities *in their workday roles*. This targeting is expressed in the technical language of the proposal and the dry nature of the consultative process. To be sure, this is a recipe for success with a large proportion of that class of finance policy professional about whom we are concerned. But the truth is that there are at least two distinct and culturally different communities within finance, and I believe we need to understand the psychology and anthropology of the landscape well enough to target both, making use of different strategies as appropriate.

Although the common negative perception of Wall Street and finance capital at the upper echelon is generally a rather one-dimensional caricature that looks like a cross between Ebeneezer Scrooge and Al Capone, those two individuals are in fact very different, as are the components of the financial class that they symbolize. If Scrooge is the caricature of the banking true-believer, Capone is the caricature of the trader, the modern computerized buccaneer sailing and marauding on the digital high seas of international exchange. Perhaps the trader is a precursor of the policy silverback, the archetypal succession an analogy of the maiden and the crone. In any case, as I see it, engagement with the trader offers a distinctly different set of opportunities and challenges than engagement with the priests and intellectuals in the temple of economics.

This is partly because the sensual desire aspect is perhaps more overt and accepted in the trader, not so sublimated or denied as in the priest.

I brought this subject up with a psychologist friend recently. Given her deep understanding of the human condition and its driving forces, I wanted to talk to her about the psychological profile of the trader, as revealed in Michael Lewis’ blockbuster book, “Liar’s Poker.” The book chronicles the rise and fall of Michael Lewis’ career as a trader on the Salomon Brothers corporate bond desk in its heyday. It is in fact a psychological and sociological profile of this class of urban professional, and lays bare with a stinging but compassionate critique their colorful language and primal motivations. The hallmark of success in such a profession is not just the money, but to be known on the trading floor as “a big swinging d#$k.” This psychological profile requires us to develop a completely different strategy for this breed of financial professional.

As the moral of the story became apparent to my friend, she had a flash: “Get Bruce Springsteen.” Perhaps he could be the opening act at The Ball; to be followed perhaps by a waltz, or Pachelbel’s Canon in D.

The imagination runs wild. If this resonates, do share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section.

Nature, Culture, Policy, Finance | Will, Spirit, Heart, Body | Feeling, Thought, Balance … Action