David Bosshart: Feelings – the weapon of mass persuasion

Hard facts had lost their power, says David Bosshart, the CEO of the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute in our “Outlook 2017” and in his latest publication “Polarization Shocks”. In an abstract and complex world, feelings took on a new role. Commanding these feelings became quite possibly the most powerful weapon of persuasion.

Everywhere around we see a deep longing for the concrete, something that we can hold onto and believe in. Facts alone are powerless. Relying on abstract statistics will not convince people if the data doesn’t correlate with their personal experiences. My truth and my feeling are stronger beliefs than the facts. Today, everybody is encouraged to express his or her personal feelings. Authenticity is critical and it can win people over. If a person on stage is perceived as authentic, people are convinced by the content, and the speaker is judged to be legitimate.

Joseph Stalin was intriguingly correct when he noted, “A single death is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic.” In an abstract and complex world, feelings take on a new role. Faced with strong feelings, statistical evidence is powerless. “Can’t beat the feeling“ was one of Coke’s most prominent marketing slogans. When communication is P2P driven and operates in real time, the ability to share authentic feelings becomes quite possibly the most powerful weapon of persuasion.??

Storytelling has become the tool of communicators whether they are business leaders, politicians, advertisers, teachers. What is more compelling than facts is what facts and figures can’t mediate. Leadership, therefore, means connecting with people’s real lives and their feelings. People want stories they understand that touch their hearts and their minds (in that logical order). ??

The GDI's Thought Leaders Index clearly shows year after year that those leaders who can tell better stories are more credible, more listened to and more liked. It is no accident that most economists, who favor abstract statistics and mathematical models have a hard time winning people’s hearts. Consequently, not many of them are topping the list of influencers. Artists and authors are well ahead of the pack with their ability to tell a story, both in images and words.?

The great Scottish philosopher David Hume concluded in his 1748 work, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, that “Reasoning is itself nothing but a general and calm passion, which takes a comprehensive and distant view of its object.“ Reason follows emotions, not vice versa. Ron Burt, author of Structural Holes, wrote, “What you cannot manage in fact, you must manage emotionally – or socially.”

Any conversation about facts and feeling would be incomplete without a look at faith. The stability of the world today has become undermined by fundamentalists and radical extremists, which tosses the concept of both feelings and facts out the window. These types of threats are bound to increase, adding to instabilities around the world. As Robert D. Kaplan wrote in his article for Stratfor, “The worse the chaos, the more extreme the ideology that emerges from it.”

The importance of the role of spiritual leaders in the Western Hemisphere is clearly illustrated by the results of the GDI's Thought Leaders Index. We reported the influence of a number of religious leaders including Pope Francis, the Dalai Lama or the Swiss theologians Hans Küng and Tariq Ramadan.

The opportunity is to re-balance how such passionate believers can co-exist with the rest of the world with different belief systems. The global, ruling elites need to find sustainable strategies to mediate the faith divide and find ways to provide hope and a vision of a better life for all.

David Bosshart is CEO of the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute for Economic and Social Studies. Dr. David Bosshart holds a PhD in philosophy, is the author of numerous international publications and sought-after speaker worldwide. His work focuses on the future of consumption, societal transformation, digitisation (human – machine), management and culture, globalisation and political philosophy. David Bosshart’s new book "Growing Polarizations" will be published on 16 January 2017.

“Outlook 2017”: These days are not just the beginning of a new year, they carry some transition or even disruption feeling: new conflicts, new actors, new risks. And, obviously, new opportunities. In the context of the “Future of Power“ conference the GDI asks speakers and further global experts, what they think what we are to expect. Their answers add up to our “Outlook 2017“.

Further reads:
Parag Khanna: Direct Technocracy
Dirk Helbing: Decomplexing the globe
Fred Turner: What happens when you free media
Venkatesh Rao: The need for a blue collar cosmopolitanism