Conflict Resolution|Mediation|Negotiation|systems design

Medici, Mediation, and Intersections

Michael Leathes gave a characteristically provocative and inspirational address at the 4th ICC International Mediation Conference in Paris on February 7, 2013.  Former in-house counsel and a founder and director of the International Mediation Institute, Leathes has posted his speech and the amusing slides that accompany it on the IMI web site.

Leathes argues that there are times in history that call for the ability to intersect one technology or skill-set with another seemingly unrelated one.  Apple, says Leathes, is testimony to the intersection of art, technology, entertainment and business.  “Geek” intersected with “chic.”  This is what Leathes calls the “Medici Effect” (citing the book of that name by Frans Johansson).

The Medici Effect: Breakthrough Insights at the Intersection of Ideas, Concep... by Frans Johansson [Hardcover]

The postulate, says Leathes, is that “being positioned at the INTERSECTION of disciplines and practices creates an explosion of ideas and new solutions.”  (excesses in original)  And mediation, says Leathes, is exactly such a phenomenon.

Mediation sits at many intersections: conflict and consensus; litigation and negotiation; problem and solution; public policy and private process; art and science; and others.  Mediation is both a practice and a theory, cutting across negotiation and justice, practicality and academia, and needs and demands.  Good mediators must be polymaths at the INTERSECTION of neuroscience, cultures and processes, as well as consequences at human, social, ethical and legal levels.

Leathes also cites Frank Sander’s observation that the greatest obstacle to broad adoption of mediation is its call to do things differently — what Sander called “the deadening drag of status quoism.”  Yet Leathes cites various surveys on corporate use of mediation, and relates them to a study of P/E ratios of companies, to conclude that “the P/E ratios for the most dispute-wise companies were 28% higher than the average for all the public companies in [an AAA] survey, and 68% higher than the average for all companies in the least dispute-wise category.”

Leathes thus argues that companies’ systematic use of facilitated negotiation to address problems yields more economically efficient outcomes, and therefore more valuable enterprises.  Thus conflict management systems yield value, and “intersections” of collaborative problem-solving and litigation are critical to obtaining competitive financial results for enterprises.

Finally, Leathes reminds us of GE’s Six Sigma principles from the mid-1990s, classifying litigation as a “problem” or “defect” posing manageable risks and susceptible to control-based solutions aimed at decreasing their prevalence.

All in all, an exciting set of observations.  And a timely reminder (at least for me) that facilitated negotiation is a skill that is better taught to future MBAs than to future JDs.

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