"No more effect than a sparrow's tears," quoth John E. Thayer III, Research Fellow, Peabody Museum, Salem, Massachusetts. The occasion was a symposium in Boston on March 15, 1986, on Japan in the United States, subtitled "Do we really understand each other?" Thayer was one of sixteen distinguished participants noting that despite heightened sensitivity to bilateral problems and realities of conflict resolution, the two countries still are not listening to each other.
The listening problem is one that boards of directors also have with respect to certain stakeholders' interests and the many forces at work in the environment. We can go as far back as Sophocles ( Antigone, 442-441 B.C.) to hear, "It can be no dishonor to learn from others when they speak good sense." The more recent environmental turbulence in which corporations must now function has heightened sensitivity to the complexity of doing business worldwide. However, unless the advisors "speak good sense," and competitive or other perils are acute, boards of directors tend to entertain only limited advice from outsiders.
The recent director and officer (D&O) liability insurance availability and cost crisis causing some directors to defect from boardrooms is one such acute peril. Dr. John J. Arena, president and chief executive officer of Endowment Management & Research Corporation ( Boston), points out that this trend is one "in which boards of directors are currently in a self-destruct mode." This trend, added to the chronic problem of business complexity, has forced many corporations to look to other means for getting expert advice. It is important to listen for early warning signals from forces potentially impacting fu