Johnnie Moore

The tyranny of the explicit

Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

I think that business suffers from the tyranny of the explicit.

Its desire for measurability and proof makes it focus on the explicit element of what happens in human relationships. There’s quite a lot of evidence that this is like the bit of the iceberg that shows above the water… interesting but very far from whole story. The best book on this is Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind which documents the extent to which what the author, Guy Claxton, calls the Undermind is at work in our everyday lives.

Just today, Curt Rosengren blogs a report from the Wall St Journal Career Journal on Intuition on the Job

Professor John Mihalasky and his associates at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark tested hundreds of business managers for intuitive ability. They are convinced that effective, superior decision making correlates highly with intuitive ability.

For one of their experiments, they chose 25 managers who had held top decision-making jobs for five years. All were from small manufacturing companies (less than $50 million in sales) to ensure that their decision making hadn’t been diffused by committees.

The results were remarkable: Of the 25 men selected, 12 had doubled their companies’ profits in five years. Eleven of those 12 scored high on the intuitive test.

So intuition is key, yet many business processes strip the intuitive out in favour of the explicit and rational.

I’d like to dwell on one manifestation of this. The problem with a lot of standard marketing practice is that it reduces the bandwidth in conversations between a company and its clients, and thus risks reducing the scope for intuitive learing.

Market research puts a researcher between the company and customer, so that customer feedback is pasteurised. Researchers see it as their job to expertly interpret what they hear; they may be using their own intuition but they also risk reducing their client’s experience of the customer to the explicit and reduce the bandwidth.

Likewise, the subsequent marketing relies on expert middlemen to refine the organisation’s message the other way.

I’m not saying that these practices are inherently wrong, however over-reliance on them may be toxic.

In their wonderful book, A General Theory of Love the authors describe an experiment in which a baby interacts with its mother via a live video link. Although this reduces the amount of communication between them, all seems well. Then, however, they introduce a 2 second time delay in the pictures in each direction… and the child becomes very distressed. They argue that synchrony is a key element in the bonding.

I fear that marketing strips the synchrony out of relationships by its desire to average out the multitude of attitudes and expressions and by introducing long delays in communication. Ad campaigns are crafted over months, often in a desire to avoid risk, and companies lose the ability to respond spontaneously.

I also suspect that often the investment in refining communicaton to the outside world becomes a useful distraction from difficult, unspoken difficulties in communication inside the company. That’s another failure of human bandwidth.

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