Making A Difference

Getting ‘Them’ Out of the Equation

Dick Simon (MBA 1980)

Dick Simon (MBA 1980) is CEO of RSI, Inc., a Boston-based real estate development and investment management company, and founder and chair of the kNOwTHEM Initiative. In this video, he discusses the need for leaders to understand their cultural and political differences and the value of open dialogue.

“I’ve been involved in an organization called Young Presidents Organization, or YPO, for international CEOs. Shortly after September 11, a few of us said, ‘This is crazy! We have members on opposite sides of all these conflicts. We have Israeli members and Palestinians, Arabs; we have Indian members, Pakistani members, and no one was talking to each other.’ So we set out as a mission to get top CEOs from around the world from opposite sides of conflict regions actually communicating, actually beginning to understand the other story.

“I’ve spent most of the past dozen or so years engaged through YPO, and now through a number of other initiatives, in getting people past this concept that they know everything about the other. We realized early on that probably the most dangerous four-letter word in the English language is them, T-H-E-M. At that point, every stereotype comes into effect. You stop thinking, you stop listening, because you are operating under the assumption you know everything about them, and once you know everything about them, there is no reason to validate anything other than your preconceived notions.

“We see ‘them mentality’ all over the place—domestically, in political campaigns—where there is really no attempt to understand what the other side is even saying, because the immediate assumption is they/them are wrong.

“The goal is to try to get opposite sides viewing each other as peers, but with a different perspective. If you can break that mold of us/them opposites and make it, ‘We’re peers but I don’t know why you’re thinking this one thing; I disagree with you on that,’ rather than, ‘You are always going to be my enemy that I have to fear,’ then we’ve made huge progress. And that’s when breakthroughs happen.”

(Published January 2016)