Skip to Content

Power Sheet: Why the UN Is Meeting This Week

New Yorkers call this week U.N. Week, the time every September when heads of state converge on Manhattan for the U.N. General Assembly. Which raises an obvious yet rarely asked question: In the digital age, why do they bother?

It’s so unnecessary. Everyone could stay home and participate in beautiful 4K video. All participants could know from moment to moment who is there and could communicate with any subset of the group by text in a messaging app set up for the occasion or by video. Meeting that way rather than in person would save hundreds of millions of dollars in direct costs. Heads of state don’t travel cheap; in addition, security costs are always huge, and in the wake of the Manhattan bombing over the weekend Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that 1,000 additional law enforcement officers will be deployed for U.N. Week. Indirect costs are unknowable but massive. Much of Manhattan becomes virtually gridlocked for days – the U.N. has issued some 14,000 passes for dignitaries, aides, and press – and New Yorkers know that if they don’t have their own motorcade with police escort, walking is probably the fastest way to get where they’re going.

Why put everyone through this when we no longer have to? Turns out there’s a good reason quite beyond any symbolic value of the photo opps. Leaders know that meeting in person, face-to-face, creates a magic achievable in no other way. At least it feels like magic, though researchers have begun to explain it. When two people converse in person, eye-to-eye, their brains literally synchronize; the same parts of both persons’ brains light up at the same time. We’re not consciously aware of this happening, but we feel it. If those same people hold the same conversation back to back, the synchronization disappears.

When two people look into one another’s eyes, each one’s pupils dilate and contract in response to the other’s. Again, we aren’t aware it’s happening, but researchers have found that this unconscious interaction increases trust between the two people. In person, face to face, we unconsciously mimic each other’s posture and tone of voice, and this too builds relationships.

The physical act of shaking hands possesses a magic of its own. Researchers find that negotiators who shake hands first are more open and honest than those who don’t and reach better outcomes, even with all else held constant. Shaking hands is literally an electric experience: Brain imaging shows that we feel rewarded not only by shaking hands, but simply by seeing other people shake hands.

We persist in the antique ritual of U.N. Week for a very good reason. Humans accomplish things in person that are achievable in no other way. The best leaders know this even if they don’t understand the reasons, and they apply that knowledge in all parts of their lives. We’ll never give up communicating digitally – it’s far too valuable – but leaders know that when relationships count most, there’s only one best way to connect.


Don’t miss the new episode of Aaron Task’s podcast, Fortune Unfiltered. His guest is Carol Roth, a jill of all trades as an author, investor, and entrepreneurship expert.

You can share Power Sheet with friends and followers here.

What We’re Reading Today

Workers threaten GM strike
If a new labor agreement isn’t signed by tonight, thousands of GM’s Canadian factory workers will strike. The factories build engines for SUVs that accounted for 15% of U.S. vehicles sold by Mary Barra‘s company last year. While contract extensions are common in such situations, union chief Jerry Dias has targeted GM before negotiating with Ford and Fiat Chrysler. WSJ

Ellison calls Amazon No. 1 competitor in cloud
At the start of Oracle’s annual tech conference, Larry Ellison acknowledged that Jeff Bezos‘s Amazon Web Services is the leader in cloud computing. Oracle lags far behind it. More surprisingly, Ellison said he no longer considers established businesses such as Bill McDermott‘s SAP, Ginni Rometty‘s IBM, and Joseph Tucci‘s EMC competitors in cloud services.   Fortune

Angela Merkel’s party suffers defeat
In a rebuff to Merkel’s stance on accepting refugees, 14.1% of voters in a Berlin election favored the Alternative für Deutschland party, which ran on anti-immigration policies. Her Christian Democratic Union party won only 17.5%, and  the Social Democrats got 21.6% — not enough for those two parties to form a governing coalition. So AFD will participate in the Berlin state government for the first time.  The Guardian

Building a Better Leader

Trying to remember things in a group setting…
…isn’t easy. A new study finds that people in a group recalled less than when working alone. Inc.

To rise up the corporate ladder…
…you’ll need to pair good work with learning to advocate for yourself. And don’t forget to seek a helping hand when needed. Fortune

We’ve passed peak paper
At least in the office. Use of paper in offices has dropped 10% since 2007. WSJ

Weekend terror

NYPD seeks Ahmad Khan Rahami
While it’s still unclear what role Rahami may have played in the Manhattan bombing on Saturday, police are seeking him after conducting interviews with others connected to the incident. The police have raided what appears to be a residence of some of Rahami’s family in Elizabeth, N.J. Washington Post

A bomb explodes in New Jersey
Law enforcement discovered five pipe bombs in a train station trash can in Elizabeth, N.J. late Sunday night. One detonated while a robot tried to disarm it; no injuries. Officials believe the bombs may be related to the two in Manhattan, one of which exploded and injured 29 people. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said New Yorkers should expect a greater NYPD presence this week. USA Today

Stabbing in Minnesota supported by ISIS
ISIS hailed as “a soldier” the man who stabbed nine people before being killed by an off-duty police officer. CNN

Fortune Reads and Videos

Obama says it would be a “personal insult”…
…if black voters don’t show up to support Hillary Clinton on election day. She has a large lead among African-Americans, but younger voters lack enthusiasm for her. Fortune

Chinese spenders return
The percentage of Chinese households that would rather spend than invest reached its highest mark since 2009. Fortune

Vista Equity Partners will buy Infoblox for $1.6 billion
If the deal closes, it would be the third company Vista Equity has taken private this year. Fortune

Microsoft closes Skype’s London office
Skype was founded in London, but many of the company’s executives have been replaced by Microsoft employees. Brexit may have also played a role because it could lead to immigration restrictions, and tech companies depend on talent from around the world. As many as 400 jobs may disappear. Fortune

On this day…

“Diversity is critical to our business outcomes…We’re supposed to be bringing out-of-the-box thinking and innovation, and you cannot do that unless you’ve got diversity … It’s everything from gender to ethnicity to geographic diversity.” — Julie Sweet, CEO of Accenture North America.  Fortune

Share Today’s Power Sheet:

Produced by Ryan Derousseau