People like people

Senior business folk like numbers. Facts and statistics to base decisions on and to evaluate performance. It’s both rational and sensible.

But occasionally, it is beneficial not to be rational or sensible. As the Apple “Think Different” campaign so memorably reminded us.

Organisations should have plenty of talented members capable of coming up with creative and innovative strategies to immediate and potential business concerns.

But when you want the opposite to rational or sensible, the best thing might be to consult the public. Whether consumers, users, viewers, prospects, advocates, rejecters, indifferents, promoters, lovers, haters or otherwise, each person will have a unique take on a situation.

Each person has their own behaviours, needs, habits, lifestyle, attitudes, hopes, fears and opinions which can relate directly or indirectly to an organisation, market or industry.

And every so often it is beneficial for senior business folk to hear these. To be reminded, inspired, provoked, amused, horrified, informed, affirmed or corrected.

What they hear will either be

  • Something they already knew, and should respond to
  • Something they already knew, but shouldn’t respond to
  • Something they didn’t know, and should respond to
  • Something they didn’t know, but shouldn’t respond to

All are valuable. Whether delivered through ethnographic videos, photo logs, social media listening, user-generated content competitions or through other means, each new piece of stimulus helps evolve the thinking of those making the key decisions.

Facts and numbers are powerful. But people are also powerful. Even hearing the same opinion heard many times before but by a different voice in an unusual situation creates new context and new meaning.

Therefore, we should strive to complement our rational decision-making with the creative expression that comes from voices that may not be found in the board room.

sk

NB: Inspiration for the post’s title is from the Riz MC song of the same name (who, to my knowledge, is the first and thus far only one of my university peers to achieve public success – measured by having a Wikipedia page). The lyrics have nothing to do with the content above, but the title led me to start thinking in this direction.

 

Joining the BBC

A quick bit of housekeeping. This is my last week working with Essential Research. I’ve had a fantastic two and a half years working with the team, and learned an incredible amount. While I can’t talk about many specific things, I have been fortunate enough to work on some projects that have received industry recognition, and these are pretty representative of the areas I’ve been privileged to contribute to. I wish them all the best in continuing their success now that they have been acquired by SPA Future Thinking. However, I bid them goodbye as I have been presented an opportunity too good and too relevant to my interests to turn down.

Next week I’ll be joining the BBC, working for the Audiences team within BBC Future Media. My role will be as a Research Manager working across Digital Media, but with a primary focus on Mobile, Social and Syndication – areas in which I have previously written about.

I’ll continue writing here, and possibly even redress the dwindling frequency of posting. But in accordance with the BBC’s guidelines this will remain a completely personal blog and not intersect with my day-to-day professional responsibilities or interests. This means I won’t be commenting on or opining on news stories that involve the BBC or its partners.

I’m really appreciative of the discussions I’ve been able to have with people as a result of this blog – here, elsewhere online and even occasionally in person. Thank you for your attention and provocation.

sk

Reading the wrong books

Bookshelf at the British Library

Towards the end of his (excellent) presentation at the Google #Firestarters 3 event, Martin Bailie said something along the lines of “It’s not enough to read the right books; you have to go out and do something”.

While I agree with his sentiment, it reminded me that I don’t really read books. In fact, this book is the only one I’ve finished this year. This isn’t a conscious choice; merely a result of prioritising other forms of media during the day, and making very slow progress with a fairly large book on the occasions I do read.

As a child, I was a voracious reader, and fondly remember my weekly trips to Tewkesbury Market to spend my pocket-money on the next Three Investigators book (It wasn’t until years later that, to my horror, I discovered that they weren’t actually written by Alfred Hitchcock). At school I diligently read the set texts in full for my various English assignments, while others were seemingly content to read to watch the film (though now I suspect that less engaged students suffice with reading the Wikipedia synopsis)

I wonder the extent to which I’m missing out by not reading more long-form, particularly when people such as Mitch Joel talk up the benefits of reading multiple books a week.

Because it is not as if I’m missing out on any revolutionary thinking; I’m simply consuming it in a different way.

For instance, I’ve read chapters from both Groundswell and Predictably Irrational this year, only to find that their (original) thinking and findings seem outdated as I’d listened to and read so many different people quote and build upon their arguments in the time since they were published. Even at the Firestarters event, the speakers quoted at length from books such as The Lean Start-Up and Creative Disruption.

Should I still read them? I’m not totally sure (particularly when factoring in opportunity cost) but I suspect I should still try to make the time. A second-hand précis isn’t as powerful as digesting the full, coherent text and experiencing the subsequent inspiration first-hand. While the core arguments of some titles may now be beyond familiar, there would be value in following the author step-by-step through his or her logic, rather than skipping to the end with only a superficial understanding.

Indeed, if anything, my experiences don’t suggest there is no value in reading books. Rather, it seems there is value to be had in reading different books. While I would gain additional understanding through reading a book that I’ve already seen widely quoted; this seems an inefficient means to simply catch-up with my peers. Instead, it would surely be better to augment my second-hand consumption with books that aren’t being regularly quoted elsewhere, so that I can move my thinking in a different direction to the crowd.

One way of doing this would be through “conflict reading” – forcing myself to read books containing ideas I expect to my be contrary to my own thoughts, in a similar way to how I read the Daily Mail as a student to know thy enemy. Rather than engaging in group-think, I would be forced to re-assess my own views in light of opposing theories with their own justifications. When successful, this can help add nuance to ideas since beliefs are placed in the context of what they aren’t, in addition to what they are.

Rather than reading the right books, it might be worth reading the wrong books.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/swamibu/2868288357