Bring Conflict Resolution into the
There are also exciting ways for young people to work in corporate America, make a difference, have fun, and (of course), earn
a decent income. Traditionally, here, we’ve thought about HR
departments or offices that are explicitly charged with dealing
with conflict at the work place.
We are beginning to see signs that the space open to conflict-sensitive professionals inside the corporate world is beginning to
take off. Again, there is no systematically gathered evidence here,
but a few examples should illustrate the point.
Most of us (especially those of us with children and grandchildren) have watched dozens of Pixar movies. Few of us know,
however, how much its writers and producers draw on themes
one finds all over the place in our work, something Ed Catmull,
Pixar’s CEO documents his book on the company. Similarly,
IDEO and other design companies incorporate a whole array of
social science insights about people’s lived experiences in their
projects. Even Second City has a successful business consulting
practice in which it helps clients learn to use improvisation tools
in improving everything from workplace culture to their company’s bottom line.
It’s easy to take a list like this one and say that it only applies
to a handful of particularly cool and trendy companies that are
very much the exception to the rule. However, as we have discussions about building a business sector that is able to make a
profit while building peace as a direct or indirect product, we are
noticing something intriguing in the corporate world, even in the
extractive industries. Corporate executives are figuring out that
their companies cannot survive, let alone thrive, unless they, too,
adapt to a world of exponential change.
Not so long ago, this was the realm of a company’s corporate
social responsibility arm, which often was not taken to be anything more than a dispenser of charity by C Suite executives
who, of course, focused on making money. However, as Nik
Gowing and Chris Langdon discovered in interviewing over 100
of those titans of industry and government for their book, Think
the Unthinkable, there is a growing realization that a company’s
very survival depends on its being able to navigate conflict-filled
In short, we can help.
Go Work with or even for THEM.
Last but by no means least, there are plenty of jobs with the
government, including with the military and the intelligence community. I would actually go so far as to say, especially, with the
military and the intelligence community.
As a product of the 1960s who “majored” in ending the war
in Vietnam, it took me a long time to recognize that the world
really changed in the years after the end of the Cold War and,
then again, after 9/11. I should have seen it earlier. In the early
2000s, I worked at Search for Common Ground, while my wife
was a senior analyst at what is now the Open Source Center
within the CIA. Each year, the two organizations held their holiday parties on consecutive nights. The political discussions at
the two events (yes, we were all policy wonks) were the same.
The only difference is that we didn’t sing Christmas carols at
John and Susan Marks’ house.
Seriously, in the years since 9/11, the American and European
militaries and intelligence communities have changed dramatically.
The experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have convinced most
senior officers I work with that there is no purely military way out
of what we used to call the war on terror and now is euphemistically refer to as combatting violent extremism.
As a former conscientious objector, I find it hard to suggest that
someone consider enlisting, even though the world’s militaries
now have specialties like civil affairs officers, for whom conflict
resolution training is a real asset. Even if you don’t want to join the
military, there are civilian jobs for people with training in peacebuilding and conflict sensitivity. The same holds on the civilian side.
Most North American and European governments have an equivalent of the State Department’s Office of Conflict Stabilization and
Recovery, USAID’s Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation,
or the quasi-independent United States Institute of Peace.
More generally, you will work with young people who do not
want to go and work for them. However, military installations as
different at the Army War College’s Peacekeeping and Stabilization Operations Institute and Fort Polk’s massive training base in
Louisiana are increasingly looking to the NGO world for advice.
In fact, the day after I finished this article, I headed to Quantico
to take part in a Marine training exercise so that young marines
encounter NGO employees here and don’t do so for the first time
in the middle of a conflict zone.
There Must Be More
I have spent the last thirty years working in international conflict
resolution and the last half century studying international conflict
as a political scientist.
In other words, I have embarrassingly little experience working
on the kinds of conflict that most ACResolution readers work on.
In short, while I care passionately about the themes I’ve raised
here, I know that there is a lot more to the story.
So, tell me yours, especially if it pointed you in a different direction from the ones I’ve laid out here.
As a product of the 1960s who “majored”
in ending the war in Vietnam, it took me
a long time to recognize that the world
really changed in the years after the end of
the Cold War and, then again, after 9/11.