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Richard Bistrong: How should we share our core ideas?

“Don’t go it alone.” Simple words of both caution and counsel, as offered by the former chief of the FBI’s Global Crimes Task Force, Keith Slotter, in the anti-bribery training film Behind the Bribe.

For those on the front lines of international business, Keith’s simple words can be both inspiring and instructive, as in don’t make compliance and ethics decisions on your own, especially when there’s any uncertainty.

But “Don’t go it alone” might sound too simple and not nearly informative enough for a robust anti-bribery program. But I wonder if we’ve reached the point of the “curse of knowledge” that Chip and Dan Heath talked about in their book, Made to Stick.

As the Heath brothers share, the longer we know something, the more difficult it can become for us to “share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners’ state of mind.” In other words, “we lose awareness that we are talking like an expert,” and we start to “communicate as if the audience were you.” In sum, “we forget that other people don’t know what we know.”

What the curse of knowledge might mean for programs that have evolved and for compliance leaders with tenure and experience is that “once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it.”

This is what a former supervisor of mine would call a “high-class problem,” in that this information imbalance has resulted from evolving, robust, and now experienced levels of compliance programs and compliance leaders. That’s great news. But given that well-practiced compliance leaders can’t unlearn what they already know, how can leaders and listeners beat the curse of knowledge together?

There’s a lot to communicate in an anti-bribery program. But can we do so in a way that’s useful and lasting to those who must meet commercial objectives in the field?

Think of those evolving and complex remote controls for your TV. Now we have what seems like endless buttons, but all we really want to do is change the channel. Likewise with compliance programs, complexity doesn’t necessarily translate into “ease of use.”

“Coming up with a profound compact phase is incredibly difficult,” as the Heath brothers say. There are mounds of international laws and regulations, guidance, standards, and codes of conducts.

So amid all this, how do we find our core ideas and then express them in ways which are understandable and compact, while “enduringly powerful?”

The Heath brothers provide a road-map for that, too.

Use storytelling, they suggest, which I also hear from compliance leaders as a best practice. “Stories can almost single-handedly defeat the curse of knowledge,” according to the Heaths, and have the amazing dual power to stimulate and to inspire.

But it’s not just the story, it’s the moral of the story, along with “concrete language, specific protagonists and a real-world setting.” When all of these come together, everyone beats the curse of knowledge and “benefits from a shared understanding of the strategy.”

And when leaders use stories and language which is both specific and sensory, that helps everyone in the work force understand the message, which ultimately become a “part of the organizational vocabulary.”

So back to Keith’s “Don’t go it alone” message.

Why not test the Heath brothers’ advice by weaving Keith Slotter’s simple words into day to day conversations — at the end of your compliance training, a sales roll up, or any conversation with a forward based employee?

Here’s Keith in the one minute trailer of Behind the Bribe:

To request a demo of the full eleven-minute video or a licensing fee schedule, please click here.


Richard Bistrong is a contributing editor of the FCPA Blog and CEO of Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC. In 2010 he pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to violate the FCPA and served fourteen-and-a-half months at a U.S. federal prison camp. He was named to Compliance Week’s list of Top Minds in 2017 and was one of Ethisphere’s 100 Most Influential in Business Ethics in 2015.

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