Somebody said we were allowed to think out loud. Pardon the mess.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Conversation?

I'm getting an embolism from all this semantical gyration about what makes a "conversation".

Customer-people are analog. Companies are digital. The analog employee-people within companies trying to respond to analog customer-people, and vice versa, would really appreciate it if the damn digital blackbox would park itself in the corner and just count the receipts while people get on about the business of reaching out to one other and bonding the way they were built to do before Adam Smith came along and got everyone twisted in their own knickers.

They can sing each other songs, argue, blow kisses, arm wrestle, or just bathe in each other''s glow. Beautiful, self-organizing markets of free choice. The medium is the message. The message is: *directed* communication is NOT conversation.

There. I'm done. I'll go stand in my corner now.

Friday, January 14, 2005

"You wrote that?"

Blogs are the new Business Cards


Yee-ow! Friday! It's been a whirlwind week. I've been enmeshed in business conversations on the effects of global change and tumult on the lives of the anonymous "Us" and also deeply into in the dynamics of how Security Guards say "Please," "Thank you," and "Naturally, we..."

But packed within this week of infinite meetings talking about matters of import to many, many concerned people, were moments of "A-ha!".

7 or so were the result of the natural course of events of invested people talking through their challenges. But two others, were due to this blog.

Of course, this is "Accidental."

For instance. I was introduced to the ex-COO of a somewhat note-able institution here in the States. We got to jabbering about sports and kids, the challenges of encouraging our kids' ambition and independence while at the same time keeping them out of the principal's office or jail. (Interesting segue, huh?) After the inevitable "What do you do?", we talked some about work. Natch, the talk went to what we hoped work could be versus what it usually turns into.

Then, a particularly spiky and unresolved thought reared its head: this guy had some undone business: "I always wondered why I couldn't get my people to see what I saw as opportunity?" Of course, I was eloquent in my response: "I know what you mean."

Perhaps it was because of what we'd shared earlier about our interpretation and understanding of our kids' challenges or, maybe, just thanks to his patience, he asked "Why is that?"

I mumbled something about the dilemma of hierarchies hobbling the ambition they were supposed to enable. Then I stopped. And said, "You know what? Sometimes they can't see you. Or understand what you're about. I read a story in National Geographic years ago, about how the base of Mt. Everest was a holy mess with empty oxygen tanks, trash and all kinds of shit left over from the explorers. A huge pile of barf left at the edge of beauty and possibility. But someone else had to clean up. Sometimes, we don't explain why the shit is there. Or we don't get our vital role as tidiers after the explorers"

He tilted his head. Was he gonna punch me? Run? Make a polite exit? I felt like an idiot for having spun off into the unlicensed, goofy territory of "speech-i-fyer."

"I remember that," he said.

"Yeah, it was a great article. I .grew up with the the National Geographic," said me.

"No. I remember that example about bosses."

We talked more about some of the challenges of being a boss and of communicating, and I turfed out an example of the frustration: Norah Jones with a mouthful of rocks

"Yeah!" he said, "That's what I mean!"

"There you go," says eloquent me.

"No, i read that--That's so right. Somebody gave it to me! Somebody sent me that. That was you?"

It's a small world. I have a new client. Because I made a new friend. Not an acquaintance. Thanks to this blog.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

What Would Toshiro Mifune Do?

Via Dewayne Mikkelson and Shadow his Webdog comes this jewel from Brokentype. What a great read on sensibility, identity, honor and so forth as viewed through the personalities of one of Japan's iconic film stars and the director who most complemented his persona. Four concepts: Pride, Suck-it-up, Don't look back, and "Change." A snippet:
1) Pride

I have a theory that the only thing a man needs to do to live an honest life is to imitate Toshiro Mifune. He's often described as Japan's Clint Eastwood, (which is annoying since Clint Eastword stole his man-with-no-name persona wholesale from Mifune's performance in Yojimbo, right down to the charro root) but Clint Eastwood is a terrible model for masculinity. He trades dignity for cool, duty for revenge. While Eastwood has some kind of restrained rage smoldering inside him, Mifune has pride. A pride that is so otherworldly it shimmers on the screen like some new, previously untapped emotion.

The pride Akira Kurosawa evoked in collaboration with Toshiro Mifue has nothing to do with the Hubris of Greek Tragedy. Akira Kurosawa's great gift was to take the stories of the West (the cowboy western, Shakespeare, the detective novel) , dip them in Japanese culture, and bring back a story that was different from anything we could have hoped for, and twice as true for it. In Kurosawa's films, pride is not fatal - it is the only way to survive. In Stray Dog (one of the first films starring Mifune) a rookie police officer has his gun stolen on a train, and scours the city for it. He doesn't sleep, he doesn't eat, he certainly doesn't change out of his white linen suit; he is single minded in his determination to salvage his dignity (It's no accident that this all takes place before a backdrop of Japan's humiliation following the war) and when he finally confronts the man who has the gun he looks upon him without an ounce of sympany. Pride is the motivation for living, and when you've lost it, you cease to be human.
Way cool and thoughtful. I'm breaking out my dusty old VHS of "Rashomon" or "Yojimbo" once we get the kids to bed tonite.

UPDATE: Okay, watched Seven Samurai instead. Went back and reread the Mifune piece because one segment of it bothered me: Number 3, Suck-it-up...
With pride, there's a profound revulsion to the pathetic.... In The Seven Samurai he curses at an old woman who recounts the miseries she has endured. But Kurosawa isn't saying that grief and misery are to be taken lightly - they are everywhere in his films - the crime is to let them loose, to acknowledge them publicly, to let them master you through expression. It is the opposite of what every psychiatrist will recommend, and it is the best thing to do. Keep it inside and create yourself from it. It's the only thing you can be sure of, the only self-perpetuating resource your will ever get. You can't rely on love or loyalty or happiness, but if you learn to build a wall out of sadness you can keep the legions out.
Ouch. Real self-abasement is the ugliest of indignities. (As opposed to the feeble attempts at apology for typos, randomness, etc as I spin and spew War and Peace-length posts chock full of certitude and bluster at this blog's four readers--see, there I go again.) And there is no honor in lamenting the past, only in resisting its failures power over you. But I think it's wrong to suggest "Keep it inside and create yourself from it. It's the only thing you can be sure of, the only self-perpetuating resource your will ever get... if you learn to build a wall out of sadness you can keep the legions out."

To me, that's the opposite of Kurosawa's messages: Strength, not hardness, from hardship. Inner will, not willfulness or outer complaint. Pride makes you stronger, but rage and denial makes you brittle and unable to parry the inevitable feints and failures of life. His message is that life is ugly, and that the life of samurai is often ugly and fruitless. That people are failures of the ideal. Failure of will. But Kurosawa's cinematic framing and pauses seem to say that he'll take the sublime hope of a peasant's life, quietly lived, rather than the noisy, unforgiving code of his rootless Ronin or Samurai.

And maybe that Pride is a stopgap when your service is to others, till you find service to yourself a worthy cause. Or something like that.

Okay, it's 3:45. Time for a bit o sleep.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The challenges of modernity:
• Believing our own PR
• Numbers over sensing
• Valuing SigInt over HumInt


Gordon Housworth over at always worthy ICG Blog, highlights a piece in Jan/Feb "Foreign Affairs" by foreign policy emeritus Edward Luttwak
One reason why the CIA favours rendition [summary deportation of suspected Muslim extremists to Arab states for interrogation] is its lack of interrogators who know foreign languages -- and I mean not just difficult languages such as Korean, but also easy ones such as colloquial variants of Arabic, or indeed modern standard Arabic, in which fluency requires only a few months of moderate effort. Companies instruct their salesmen to pick up Arabic when assigned to Middle East spots, but the CIA is apparently a less demanding employer. The CIA's degeneration, however, is of far broader scope. The Mormons and cow-college graduates who have come to fill the ranks of the Directorate of Operations since the Ivy League's post-Vietnam desertion are simply too provincial for the basic craft of the espionage trade, the recruitment and handling of foreigners as agents. So long as the Cold War lasted, the solid products of satellite photography and all manner of electronic intelligence masked the erosion of espionage skills without which there is no going after terrorists. While competent case officers with languages and tact are few, deep-cover operatives are absent -- the US has been engaged with Iraq since 1990, but the CIA did not have one agent in its government when war started anew in 2003, nor any operative on the ground. Now, ordinary Army and Marine officers are doing a better job of recruiting Iraqi informants than the CIA.
To my eyes and ears, Luttwak describes precisely the challenge of corporate America here also--a cultural weakness, a looming competitive disadvantage: Our belief in the shiny, sexy--the touchable--the evermore ubiquitous, technology.

The last few posts her have mentioned a falling out occuriing, a disillusionment with the tools generated by our other tools: Companies. Nick Carr blasts IT as becoming inconsequential. CFO magazine tracks best practices to a price-of-entry parity basement, quickly and easily replicable competitive advantage therefore, becoming no advantage at all. We doodle our dreams of process and network on whiteboards ignoring the impact of the decimation of proximity in these developments. Throughput gets privilege, making proximal sweat and effort, a lost reseourcefulness and bucket-brigade esprit d'corps an anachronism. The losses are tremendous up and down the heirarchy, equal to the distances created.

Two thoughts come to mind, both from the same book: Arts with the brain in mind.

Author, Eric Jensen: America is a feeling-phobic society. [A good interview with longtime neuro-writer Jensen, here.]

And Rolf Jensen (unrelated), Director of the Copenhagen Institute for Future Studies.
We are in the twilight of a society based on data. As information and intelligence become the domain of computers, society will place a new value on the one human ability that can't be automated: Emotion.
The CIA would do well to learn this. As would the Business Roundtable.
Chicken, or Egg? Goal, or Ambition? System, or soft squishy things called people?

My new Skype pal and longer-term much-admired blogger, Johnnie Moore, has been pondering some good stuff. He began by wondering after Southwest Airlines' success, then the meaning, matter and mirage of "goals"...
I think what happens is that brands emerge out of the soup. After the event, a large number of Alpha Males lay competing claims to having invented them (success has many parents, failure is an orphan). As the history is written, many happy accidents are reinvented as the results of smart goal setting and thorough planning.

(I used to be a planner in ad agencies; every planner I ever met acknowledged that our real speciality was post-hoc rationalisation of creativity).
Couldn't agree more. Stan Richards of the Richards Group (Southwest Airline's longtime ad agency) once said, and I paraphrase: Creatives may come up with a deeper truth that's far more relevant and powerful, but "off strategy." In those cases, we rewrite the strategy. A very wise man. Johnnie continues...
All this creates the Myth of the Goal. A story is told that suggests the only way forward for any grown-up organisation is to idealise a future state, compare it with a present state, and do the gap analysis. As Ben so shrewdly observes, that analysis of the present state will very likely fail to capture the multiple, apparently small, details that make any organisation what it is.
Johnnie then relates his frustration with "idealized futures," which I can't fully agree with. Idealism has been dumbed down and denigrated in popular culture to the point where someone saying "there are no good movies anymore" or "we want to lead our industry" counts as Idealism. Nah. As I read recently on a friends blog, that reduction and cop-out is akin to saying a Porsche makes a good paperweight. Johnnie then bridges things nicely with a follow on post about Fundamental Attribution Error -- judging our insides by other peoples outsides or their actions; allowing our feelings to align and react to what may be an innocent but not obvious chain of events that we don't understand but get to feeling victimized by and about. FAE: the inability or unwillingness to understand context and subtext in others, instead, we prioritzing our own bag of junk, our pathology and agenda--it's the kiss of death for marketers and managers, as just scribbled in Johnnie's comments:
Isn't FAE the result of us wanting to deny the obvious: Shit happens for reasons we often didn't see coming, usually because our heads were down working on some "officially important" trifle Two choices, embodied in a phrase some wise person once sent me: When you come to the edge of all things that you know, you must believe one of two things: There will be earth on which to stand, or you wil be given wings to fly.

*Knowing* in this instance is less about encyclopaedic knowledge of facts but more understanding what people inherently want. Business policies and systems don't take this fundamental man-hole into account, or rather, they create an even more dangerous one by implying that more "linear" rules are the answer. Customer and employee understanding begin at the beginnning, with people understanding. Which as we know, managers don't learn in B-school. There's your invisible 90% of the iceberg, Johnnie. But not unknowable.

To follow on the earlier theme of LUV's success, I give you JetBlue's David Neeleman from October's Chief Executive magazine: "When I get treated poorly, it really pisses me off. Then it pisses me off that it pisses me off."

See, Neeleman knows that if he can get his people to agree on the fundamental injustice of bad service, of "pissing people off," then they can use that simple, yet firmly held idea, and act nimble in ways that make obvious sense to JetBlue's mission, the same way Kelleher said, "If we're not enjoying ourselves, what's the point?"
For similar examples, scroll down a post to the Metaphysics of Work. In simple terms it means that marketers and the executives who hire them are makers and finders of meaning, makers of means to ends, not of "media buys" or "passenger miles." Our consumers are employee and ticketholder.
Bob Lutz, Blogger

New GM Vice-chairman, ex-of Chrysler fame has a blog. With comments, no less.

They be talkin' cars big time and he seems generally interested.

Cool.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Metaphysics of Work

I didn't know until someone pointed it out, but it seems Hugh over at Gaping Void and yours truly are channeling each other. Here's Hugh...
I said in The Hughtrain that people are becoming more spiritually more demanding. And they want products that better reflect this.

Which means your brand will have to do a much more clever job of articulating all the "good stuff": Values. Purpose. Belief. Integrity. Compassion etc.

Sadly for the typical Madison Avenue ad agency, this stuff is not the preferred currency. They prefer to go with what they know best: Vanity. Greed. Fear. Lust. Paranoia etc.

We'll see how much longer they can get away with it.
Nice choice of lexicon. And no, not too much longer, Hugh. The screech and flourish about morality and values of the 2004 election was an odd, refractive example of the coming train wreck. It's not that values don't or won't matter. They will, exponentially so, as our lives grow more electronically connected, yet sidestepping and highlighting, not eliminating, the need for that vital social-animal leftover: physical proximity. No. Values have weight, it's simply that the conversation nationally is about as satisfying as the ones that we engage in commercially, professionaly, 9 to 5: They have all the traction of snail snot. As I posted in his comments:
Hope or Fear?
Joy or Jealousy?

Making the former requires humans, philosophers. The latter, robots and technicians. Robots are easier to calibrate, hence their appeal but also easier to copy, hence their weakness. Yes, a clash of Ideals and of measurement systems indeed. Buckle up.

Geez, have I been clearing brush for the Hughtrain all this time? Clang, clang, clang went the trolley...
Then I tagged this link just to tweak Hugh's revelation a bit:



If you're a regular reader you may have seen reference to the above table from time to time. It's part of a handy alphabet we built at our little idea manufactory to aid in the search for strategy and solutions that people won't easily forget, or shun. Nor want to.

It was born out of hairpulling frustration.

As a Creative Director, often on the hook for reviving challenged brands or ones fast-turning irrelevant, I'd come to see that all the marketing buzzwords slung at me by brand managers, bosses and what-not were meaningless. They may have mattered for 15 minues in 1985 but, now, nobody cared. Branders were really spraypainters and spacklers. Uniquely self-organizing things like markets were victims of modernity and of the measurers that modernity births. Truly weird, because the most righteous capitalists and free marketeers will rail for the unimpeded flow of capital and ideas, for "truly free markets," and then... they'll proudly show you an org chart of their outfit that would give a socialist morning wood. The suggestion of market forces at play, of an "invisible hand" allowed to work, within their little kingdom would elicit cries of " We can't do that! It would be anarchy!"

It's funny and tragic at the same time. Funny because St Augustine is said to have mumbled a similar strain once upon a time: "Give me chastity and sobritey, just not yet."

Two mindsets, each looking for connection and consistency, but tangled up in their words and frames of reference.

The failures and the numbers proved it. The cries for "Different!" were met with, "Ohh, not that different." Real difference (ironically, as in, closer to true and meaningful) made folk uncomfortable. Not personally, mind you. We had those kinds of deeper conversations with our friends and coworkers over coffee all the time. Hey, we're not the robots mentioned above. No. It was in mixed company--bosses and employees, or between marketers and consumers--that we got scared of our selves and our feelings. And of our anxiety over, pardon the term Hugh, the Gaping Void.. So, we faked it. And we kept doing, saying and hearing the same things over and over again.

There had to be a better way, sed I. No, actually what I said was "WTF?"

Hey, it was the turn of a century--what better symbolism for exploration and expletives? So off I went, digging through old books and buying new ones. Talking to marketers, ministers, medics and moms. I culled a good 15 years worth of tattered notes from client projects both failed and successful, and added scads more.

And a pattern evolved. Whether I was talking to HR folks or wrench turners, CEOs or CSRs, happy customers or pissed off ones, there was a bit of harmonic convergence happening. Conversations about how many bags of groceries had to fit into the trunk of hypothetical Mini-van X-100 evolved into conversations about Intrinsic Goods. How, this car "made me feel like a better mom," how this $1000 Generator "makes me feel more able as a husband. Or a man." Or, not. How a Daytimer® Brand planner made some people feel "taller" when others couldn't care less. Something wacky happening here. A nursing staff related their interaction and experiences of their world with the same street lingo of a Crip or a Blood: It's about respect. Insults linger. Get out of my way. Keep it real.

Whoa. Nurses looking for their "props"?

And why not? Hey, nurses are people too. People looking for self-regard, self- and group affirmation. People who get real mad at folks who pee in their corn flakes, rain on their parade; who stifled their righteous search for growth and indiviudation.

They wanted to be "A bigger better me." They had a mental statue they carted around in their heads and hearts, an idealized view of who they ought to be.

It was crazy. Suburban moms and high-rise executives, forklift drivers and suicide hotline volunteers had a chip on their shoulders: Something, some one, some entity was getting in their way. They couldn't see it, necessarily. They all had perfectly rational answers for why they filled the role they did, what its defining social and professional requirements were. And they had their pat answers handy. They knew their role. They weren't so handy at locating what mattered to them, what motivated their identity--that "bigger, better me." Their identity--why they voted Republican or Democrat, hated Macintosh or Windows, loved Survivor or 60 Minutes or Anchor Steam Beer or Wrangler Jeans--that was a mystery to them once you got past the boilerplate answers. They were mysteries to themselves. But, when you hit it--when they got it--watch out.

Now that I've probably completely lost you, an attempt at clarity from last year's series on Brain, Metaphor, Archetype, Brand...

Why is “value” important and what is it?

Who can’t agree that “value” as a concept is central to growing our businesses—capturing market share, improving margins. But what the heck is “value”? But how can such a subjective concept be so central to our economic success, and yet so misunderstood and so difficult to replicate?

If you want a useable answer, don’t ask an economist. Go find a philosopher.

Seriously. Find a philosopher, perhaps one familiar with Immanuel Kant, whose explanations helped me actually get a grasp of what I intuitively always knew, but could never explain without seeming like a blithering idiot.

The key to understanding is, as it turns out, intuitively simple. It just requires us to drop our spreadsheets for a while and get abstract—to use that which causes us, you and me, to feel good about ourselves. And just as night follows day, to recognize that bad coexists with good and how ignoring that fact only gives you half the answer.

First, let’s recognize that “Value” is a Good thing. Capital “G” good. Not a good thing like, “Wow, this chainsaw cuts really well, it’s a good chainsaw” That is a practical, utility-based sense of good. Lower case “g” good.

Okay, how many kinds of good are there? Just two for our purposes here.

An “Instrumental Good” is good for something. Like that chainsaw. It’s transient, it is “Good for today.” A better product, say an improved chainsaw with laser beams, may come along tomorrow which measurably diminishes the previous ones instrumental “good”-ness, its practical usefulness. For example, the Telegraph was once a huge Instrumental Good which long since lost it’s practical value.

An “Intrinsic Good” is always future-based and fixed in it’s worth. And that worth is very high. You might say, “it was a Good thing yesterday, and will be tomorrow and forever”. This kind of “Good” ( or value, or character, or trait, or virtue) is simply Good in-and-of-itself. You don’t argue with it, you can’t argue with it because it’s what you believe. It is part of who you are, and we very seldom argue successfully against our own values.

Love is this kind of Good. The same goes for Truth, Beauty, Justice, Compassion, etc.

Sounds fairly abstract doesn’t it? Well, let’s take that last one, Compassion, to illustrate how this seemingly high-minded worldview can be useful to businesses in search of understanding and advantage.

If you’ve ever sat on hold for 45 minutes to get a product problem resolved, only to be told” Sorry, can’t help you”, or “Not my department” you know the feeling that ensues: For most of us it goes beyond frustration into anger. For those times we’ve destroyed a day waiting for the cable guy, only to have him not show up at all, well that moves things into capital “A” type anger.

Why?

Because you’ve been worse than disrespected. You’ve been insulted. Someone has implicitly said, “Your needs are not important.” Your feelings are irrelevant, your humanity is taken away from you: nobody cares. The visceral response for many customers at this point could hardly be stronger if someone had called their mother nasty names. Now, if you’re not the recipient of this service nightmare you might be tempted to say “Hey, why so mad—it’s only cable TV, or a moldy loaf of bread, or….” The reason? Because this time, it’s not business, it’s personal. The kind of emotion involved here could be called an Intrinsic Bad. Anger is just that. We respond because our personal sense of justice has been abused. An Intrinsic Good shared by all, Justice, has been violated. It goes without saying that this cycle is not one we wish to see inflicted, never mind repeated, in our business operations.

Luckily, there’s an antidote and it has nothing to do with a barrage of memos, threats or incentive plans you can devise. It’s another Intrinsic Good: Compassion.

Yeah, I know: Huh? Stop for a minute and think of a time when someone offered you an unexpected kind gesture. Maybe they stopped to hold the door for you, or let you merge into traffic when nobody else would. Maybe they thought ahead for you, and you benefited, and you didn’t even have to ask. At those moments, the hair on the back of your neck stands up, doesn’t it? Physiologically speaking, endorphins in your brain trigger that feeling, that rush.

The cause for the good feeling? That’s Compassion talking. Someone has validated your sense of Justice and your Faith in your fellow humankind. (Yes, Faith is an Intrinsic Good.) Someone has recognized your needs, your value as a person: you merited someone else’s sincere interest and effort. And you really liked it.

Imagine that feeling harnessed in service of your efforts

Compassion is a big Intrinsic Good and its experience is common to all of us. It’s also the central element to one of the most dangerous or rewarding aspects of our business efforts: Service. Yet Compassion is nebulous, isn’t it? How do you measure the hair on the back of customers’ necks? Manage it? Mandate it?

Easy, talk about it. Relate its relevance and power in real terms. Make it a central value of your organization. Not by mandating or formulizing it. That would be impossible. However, making it “happen” is not.

Talk about intrinsic goods like compassion and their place in your plans. You can incorporate them by shifting the language and expectations of what your company is about and how its members evaluate themselves. Remember what we said about skipping the economists? They’re really gonna hate this part: invite your people, all of them, to write company strategy and policy based on Intrinsic Goods. Have them craft a Shared Purpose that uncovers the things that can make their company, and their actions as employees, an intrinsic extension of their own personal ambitions and beliefs. The benefits are many, and you’ll be surprised to learn that, as a recent business book title goes, Pride means more than money* to your people. And, as you're guessing by now, work has a metaphysical vocabulary. Yeah, Faith does move mountains. But mostly because it inspires people to bring shovels, buckets, spoons and, even, to loan you their dump truck. Or, at least, rent it to you at cost.

The truth is, numbers are inherently “unsticky” as human motivators today. Even CFO Magazine is slagging off "best practices" as death senstences for innovation and growth. CIO magazine, via author Nick Carr is saying things like "Why IT doesn't matter." Anyone familiar with crusty Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy will inherently understand why this has been so for quite some time. Meaning is the real currency—for customers and employees alike, and things like Merit, Energy, Ambition, Truth, Purpose and Community count far more than TQM, ISO or 6-Sigma. The flavor of the month financial and management gimmicks are tools—transient Instrumental Goods—like that chainsaw or the Telegraph: They’re good today, and hairy goats tomorrow. We fall in love with them, then disregard each because, in the end, they ask and answer the wrong questions and rapidly lose their edge.

How do they lose it? Since they promote immediate gain at the expense of human connection and those vital Intrinsic Goods, they end up asking for interest and energy we won’t commit fully because instrumental things can’t touch those affirmative values that say “I’m becoming a bigger, better me” by working for or trading with company XYZ.

Yes, tools and results matter. But as leaders we have to walk a fine line between execution and inspiration. We are not our tools. When we forget this we become one-dimensional, one-note and inert. That’s intrinsically Bad because employees and consumers can smell in-authenticity a mile off.

We’re in one of those phases right now: Profits are growing, job horizons are not; expedience rules and it’s making everybody antsy. Never fear, it’s not the first time. History proves that the Bad forces out the Good for a while, and the lesson is learned, forgotten and relearned, just as night does follow day. Out go Conglomerates, Junk Bonds, S&Ls, Andersen, Enron, Tyco and outsourcing, In come the Ethics Seminars and the articles about getting back to basics—doing well, by doing Good. Capital "G" good

The only question is, are you in? Or out?
Why is “value” important and what is it?

Who can’t agree that “value” as a concept is central to growing our businesses—capturing market share, improving margins. But what the heck is “value”? But how can such a subjective concept be so central to our economic success, and yet so misunderstood and so difficult to replicate?

If you want a useable answer, don’t ask an economist. Go find a philosopher.

Seriously. Find a philosopher, perhaps one familiar with Immanuel Kant, whose explanations helped me actually get a grasp of what I intuitively always knew, but could never explain without seeming like a blithering idiot.

The key to understanding is, as it turns out, intuitively simple. It just requires us to drop our spreadsheets for a while and get abstract—to use that which causes us, you and me, to feel good about ourselves. And just as night follows day, to recognize that bad coexists with good and how ignoring that fact only gives you half the answer.

First, let’s recognize that “Value” is a Good thing. Capital “G” good. Not a good thing like, “Wow, this chainsaw cuts really well, it’s a good chainsaw” That is a practical, utility-based sense of good. Lower case “g” good.

Okay, how many kinds of good are there? Just two for our purposes here.

An “Instrumental Good” is good for something. Like that chainsaw. It’s transient, it is “Good for today.” A better product, say an improved chainsaw with laser beams, may come along tomorrow which measurably diminishes the previous ones instrumental “good”-ness, its practical usefulness. For example, the Telegraph was once a huge Instrumental Good which long since lost it’s practical value.

An “Intrinsic Good” is always future-based and fixed in it’s worth. And that worth is very high. You might say, “it was a Good thing yesterday, and will be tomorrow and forever”. This kind of “Good” ( or value, or character, or trait, or virtue) is simply Good in-and-of-itself. You don’t argue with it, you can’t argue with it because it’s what you believe. It is part of who you are, and we very seldom argue successfully against our own values.

Love is this kind of Good. The same goes for Truth, Beauty, Justice, Compassion, etc.

Sounds fairly abstract doesn’t it? Well, let’s take that last one, Compassion, to illustrate how this seemingly high-minded worldview can be useful to businesses in search of understanding and advantage.

If you’ve ever sat on hold for 45 minutes to get a product problem resolved, only to be told” Sorry, can’t help you”, or “Not my department” you know the feeling that ensues: For most of us it goes beyond frustration into anger. For those times we’ve destroyed a day waiting for the cable guy, only to have him not show up at all, well that moves things into capital “A” type anger.

Why?

Because you’ve been worse than disrespected. You’ve been insulted. Someone has implicitly said, “Your needs are not important.” Your feelings are irrelevant, your humanity is taken away from you: nobody cares. The visceral response for many customers at this point could hardly be stronger if someone had called their mother nasty names. Now, if you’re not the recipient of this service nightmare you might be tempted to say “Hey, why so mad—it’s only cable TV, or a moldy loaf of bread, or….” The reason? Because this time, it’s not business, it’s personal. The kind of emotion involved here could be called an Intrinsic Bad. Anger is just that. We respond because our personal sense of justice has been abused. An Intrinsic Good shared by all, Justice, has been violated. It goes without saying that this cycle is not one we wish to see inflicted, never mind repeated, in our business operations.

Luckily, there’s an antidote and it has nothing to do with a barrage of memos, threats or incentive plans you can devise. It’s another Intrinsic Good: Compassion.

Yeah, I know: Huh? Stop for a minute and think of a time when someone offered you an unexpected kind gesture. Maybe they stopped to hold the door for you, or let you merge into traffic when nobody else would. Maybe they thought ahead for you, and you benefited, and you didn’t even have to ask. At those moments, the hair on the back of your neck stands up, doesn’t it? Physiologically speaking, endorphins in your brain trigger that feeling, that rush.

The cause for the good feeling? That’s Compassion talking. Someone has validated your sense of Justice and your Faith in your fellow humankind. (Yes, Faith is an Intrinsic Good.) Someone has recognized your needs, your value as a person: you merited someone else’s sincere interest and effort. And you really liked it.

Imagine that feeling harnessed in service of your efforts

Compassion is a big Intrinsic Good and its experience is common to all of us. It’s also the central element to one of the most dangerous or rewarding aspects of our business efforts: Service. Yet Compassion is nebulous, isn’t it? How do you measure the hair on the back of customers’ necks? Manage it? Mandate it?

Easy, talk about it. Relate its relevance and power in real terms. Make it a central value of your organization. Not by mandating or formulizing it. That would be impossible. However, making it “happen” is not.

Talk about intrinsic goods like compassion and their place in your plans. You can incorporate them by shifting the language and expectations of what your company is about and how its members evaluate themselves. Remember what we said about skipping the economists? They’re really gonna hate this part: invite your people, all of them, to write company strategy and policy based on Intrinsic Goods. Have them craft a Shared Purpose that uncovers the things that can make their company, and their actions as employees, an intrinsic extension of their own personal ambitions and beliefs. The benefits are many, and you’ll be surprised to learn that, as a recent business book title goes, Pride means more than money* to your people. And, as you're guessing by now, work has a metaphysical vocabulary. Yeah, Faith does move mountains. But mostly because it inspires people to bring shovels, buckets, spoons and, even, to loan you their dump truck. Or, at least, rent it to you at cost.

The truth is, numbers are inherently “unsticky” as human motivators today. Even CFO Magazine is slagging off "best practices" as death senstences for innovation and growth. CIO magazine, via author Nick Carr is saying things like "Why IT doesn't matter." Anyone familiar with crusty Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy will inherently understand why this has been so for quite some time. Meaning is the real currency—for customers and employees alike, and things like Merit, Energy, Ambition, Truth, Purpose and Community count far more than TQM, ISO or 6-Sigma. The flavor of the month financial and management gimmicks are tools—transient Instrumental Goods—like that chainsaw or the Telegraph: They’re good today, and hairy goats tomorrow. We fall in love with them, then disregard each because, in the end, they ask and answer the wrong questions and rapidly lose their edge.

How do they lose it? Since they promote immediate gain at the expense of human connection and those vital Intrinsic Goods, they end up asking for interest and energy we won’t commit fully because instrumental things can’t touch those affirmative values that say “I’m becoming a bigger, better me” by working for or trading with company XYZ.

Yes, tools and results matter. But as leaders we have to walk a fine line between execution and inspiration. We are not our tools. When we forget this we become one-dimensional, one-note and inert. That’s intrinsically Bad because employees and consumers can smell in-authenticity a mile off.

We’re in one of those phases right now: Profits are growing, job horizons are not; expedience rules and it’s making everybody antsy. Never fear, it’s not the first time. History proves that the Bad forces out the Good for a while, and the lesson is learned, forgotten and relearned, just as night does follow day. Out go Conglomerates, Junk Bonds, S&Ls, Andersen, Enron, Tyco and outsourcing, In come the Ethics Seminars and the articles about getting back to basics—doing well, by doing Good. Capital "G" good

The only question is, are you in? Or out?

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