The Athena Doctrine

By John Gerzema & Michael D’Antonio

Jossey-Bass | 2013 | 298 pages |$27.95

Reviewed by Amanda Martin

Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” famously sings Henry Higgins in MyFair Lady.

“Why can’t men be more like women?” respond John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio in The Athena Doctrine, whose subtitle “How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future” pretty much sums up the thesis of their book. According to their global survey of people in thirteen nations representing 65 percent of global GDP, two-thirds of those answering agreed that “the world would be a better place if men thought more like women.”

In their 26 page introduction the authors explain how they first became interested in this theory.  John Gerzema, described as “a pioneer in using data to identify social change” ( check out his website, Wikipedia entry, and watch his TED talk) and Michael D’Antonio (part of a Pulitzer Prize winning news team, prolific author, and consultant — check out his website and Huffington Post blogs) had collaborated before on another book, Spend Shift,  which examined the Great Recession of 2008 and its recovery. During the book tour for Spend Shift they noticed that audiences were pointing out to them that “most of the traits exhibited by the successful entrepreneurs, leaders, organizers and creators we profiled seemed to come from aspects of human nature that are widely regarded as feminine.”

Not that it necessarily meant that women were the leaders, but that what were considered traditionally feminine values and traits were what was working, and going to continue being successful, in the 21st century. But what is “masculine” and “feminine” and who decides?

Gerzema and D’Antonio decided that the best way to go about it was to conduct research around the globe to find out how people in the various countries define masculine and feminine traits, see if there were commonalities in the returning data, and then survey if indeed the feminine traits were more highly valued. As Gerzema manages the largest survey panel in the world, Brand-Asset(R) Valuator, “which has conducted studies on more than one-and-a-half million people and fifty-one thousand companies in fifty countries since 1993”, they knew how to do it.

They constructed a special survey of sixty-four thousand people chosen to mirror the populations in thirteen countries that represent 65 percent of the world’s domestic products. What they found was a global population who were filled with anxiety, distrustful of governments and corporations, and “unhappy with the conduct of men.”  The authors asked half the respondents to classify 125 different human behavioral traits as either masculine, feminine, or gender neutral — and found that there was a strong consistency across countries in the answers.

Gerzema and D’Antonio gave the same list of 125 human traits, this time without the gender labels, to another wide sampling of people in the same 13 countries and asked them to rate the importance of these traits to certain virtues. When the data in two samplings were compared, the authors could see what were considered “masculine” and “feminine” traits and what was most valued: and their findings showed that what are defined as feminine traits are what people worldwide equated with making the world a better place.

The book gives you lists and charts, that include all the “masculine”, “feminine” and gender neutral traits and the population breakdown in each country.  Those who replied thought that a mix of the masculine and feminine not only were the key to personal success, but “65% of people around the world believe that more female leadership in government would prompt a rise in trust and fairness and a decline in war and scandal.” The key “feminine” traits: Connectedness, Humility, Candor, Patience, Empathy, Trustworthiness, Openness, Flexibility, Vulnerability and Balance — all of which are explained in greater detail in the Introduction.

The authors decided that the Greek goddess Athena embodied all these traits; not only is she the goddess of wisdom, courage, civilization, and the arts (to name but a few), she also personifies mathematics (good for business), just warfare (not a pushover) and law and justice. Plus she reportedly also gave the Greeks the olive tree.

Quite frankly, if this were all the book was, it would be an interesting essay for academics. But what Gerzema and D’Antonio did next is what makes The Athena Doctrine an interesting book to read. For having done their data collecting and explaining it thoroughly and persuasively, they turn to storytelling, going around the world to find examples (“case studies” they call them) of The Athena Doctrine at work in the world.

The book is organized into ten chapters which cover 13 different countries: Great Britain, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Columbia, Peru, Kenya, India, China, Sweden, Germany, Belgium and Bhutan. In each of the countries they talked with people of different ages and genders, some working on a large scale as part of a government or business, some working on a more personal scale, one-on-one with others, all of whom are embracing an Athena attitude towards the world.  These people and what they are trying to accomplish — and have accomplished — will leave you feeling optimistic about the future. There are numerous examples in every region of the world.

For instance, in England, entrepreneurs have founded successful businesses such as Grannies Inc. where skilled older women are connected with customers who desire a handcrafted sweater, scarf, or hat. The customer picks their “grandmother” and they communicate from start to finish on the project, so there is an emotional connection to the quality product they receive.

Then there is the successful car-sharing company “WhipCar” which connects people who own cars they’re not using for a day or longer to those who need to rent one. At the time they were interviewed, WhipCar’s fleet of individually owned autos was about to exceed 15,000 vehicles and there are versions of this model starting to be seen in urban centers worldwide, including downtown Los Angeles.

On a larger scale there is the Golden Company, an organization dubbed a “social enterprise” in Great Britain, which means it blends business with a social agenda. In the financial center of The City of London are bank buildings which are now also homes to beehives ; the hives are tended by the financially disadvantaged youth in the nearby section of Hackney who get to interact daily with the business people/bankers populating the buildings. The Golden Company, besides bringing the business people and bankers together with the young people in an environmentally aware enterprise, is also running a successful business based on the honey produced which goes to various companies who used it for various products (including, of course, selling jars of honey). The Golden Company can be considered sustainable on many levels, including helping the endangered honeybee, creating jobs for low-income youth, using high rises in an environmentally aware fashion, and promoting positive interaction between social groups who otherwise would have little in common.

More examples of creative and flexible successes, all reflective of the Athena Doctrine, are shown worldwide. In Israel, where women have risen to the top of the military ranks, women soldiers have been shown more effective at check points because of the empathy they show with those waiting to get through. In Japan, a small canning company wiped-out by the tsunami is rebuilt through the spontaneous efforts of a small community who rescues thousands of unlabeled cans containing fish, hand labels the cans one-by-one, carts them to markets and sells them to small stores where customers enthusiastically buy them - allowing the plant owner to rebuild and rehire with the profits, and saving the community.

In Medellin, Columbia, once a center of the drug trade run by violent cartels, the city is being rebuilt with an idea of creating “a climate for peace” using the input of all the citizens for city planning, and aerial gondolas now connect the once isolated poorer hillside neighborhoods where a life of crime often seemed the only option with the vital city center below where there are jobs. In Kenya women organize farm collectives, small and sustainable, and are empowered based on the group action. China is a place where communism is giving way rapidly to capitalism, and the social and environmental cost of bringing 600 million people out of poverty in 20 years is being examined by groups who want to bridge the gap between the government caring for people (and dictating their behavior) and newly rich individuals who are learning the value of philanthropy from the likes of Bill Gates who flies in to give seminars on the joy, and social obligation, of sharing the wealth.

Gerzema and D’Antonio admittedly went out to find examples of the Athena Doctrine, and while some of the examples, both large and small, are successful, it does not necessarily mean that other models are not also working and successful — and sometimes in control of business and politics. And really, how new is all this? Certainly the qualities that are listed are timeless human qualities. Could all of this have been found fifty years ago when it was being proclaimed that the Age of Aquarius was upon us, with its “harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding?”

The qualities could have, but not most of the examples given. Because what is fueling The Athena Doctrine is the human connectedness that is the result of the internet and cell phones — turns out “the minds true liberation” of the song comes from shared knowledge, not drugs. Easy, immediate communication is what is empowering this new world — whether it be the power of one person in Tahir Square using Bambuser, a service invented in Sweden to enable anyone to stream live video from a mobile phone (the inventors thought it would be used to share such things as wedding receptions, they had no idea it would fuel a revolution) or the crowdsourcing of a new constitution, which is what happened in Iceland after the financial meltdown. The Internet means that A University of the People based in Israel, can be successfully designed to be used by poor students worldwide in internet cafes; social media connects “grannies” or car owners with customers and wireless phone service connects diverse farming communities in Kenya with markets. The point is made that the entire continent of Africa pretty much skipped the wired past of telephone cables and has gone right to almost everyone owning a cell phone, enabling instant communication and commerce. Trust and transparency through the new media means that the country of Sweden can promote itself to foreign tourists by turning over its Twitter account on a weekly basis to individual citizens — including a priest, a sheepherder and a lesbian truck driver —  who volunteer to tweet about their country(@Sweden) and five Nordic countries can share an embassy in Berlin.

Besides the list of “feminine” traits, the other words commonly used to describe the enterprises and movements  throughout this book by the authors and the people they interview are: collaboration, communication, compassionate leadership, flexibility, creativity, independence, personal responsibility, spontaneity, empathy, hope, resiliency, justice, sustainability, trust, socially conscious, innovative, caring, freedom, long-term thinking, transparency. If Gerzema and D”Antonio are right, and the recent financial meltdown and current economic challenges are a turning point for a world now connected and communicating by a world wide web, we can all be hopeful that those embracing The Athena Doctrine will end up — if not ruling the world — at least powerfully influencing it in a positive direction. This is an optimistic book and it is always good to hope. Hope, indeed, seems to be a main ingredient for a peaceful and productive world.

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