Slags on business without facts

My post Rationality is an illusion elicited a strong response from a business journalist.

The response(and subsequent responses) actually triggered significant further thoughts and clarifications. I thought my response to that is worthy of a separate post.

@Bassi Kumar:

“All the points you make are very genereic and can also be attributable to everyday people. Why just slag businesses?”

Exactly! I am trying to be business-focused with this blog. I am not saying this very human behaviour is limited to business only. Business is another human/social activity where human nature is at work; but often denied.

“the boss gets the fastest/best/most powerful computer to surf the web” – what century do you live in? This sort of practice doesn’t happen at all these days.”

The answer is: this century. I have seen this practice with my own eyes – so “doesn’t happen at all” is actually not true in my experience.

This is human nature at work – if a boss feels more privileged than the workers, that feeling would manifest itself in many ways – the better office, the car space, the gruntier computer…

“How can you prove that companies do checklist marketing?”

This is my observation on how marketing is taught and practised by many businesses. I have actually seen it done, and I have seen results that seem to imply that approach.

Example:

The Commonwealth Bank has top-quality “marketing”. All their funky advertising is done professionally, with professional writers, designers, and cinematographers. The message is very well crafted and consistently communicated. No doubt all the legal i’s are dotted. They are clearly saying they are determined to be different.

At the same time, their (professionally designed) brand and (professionally developed) business processes continue to reinforce their history as (the?) most conservative bank in Australia.

Suddenly we see this conservative respectable older gentleman who is dressed like a trendy teen bopping down the main street to gangsta rap…

This may not tie in with your observations of course.

No, I can’t provide empirical “proof” as such. I may well ask you to provide proof of the opposite.

“Marketing is meant to be about … promotion … Promises are reflected in discolosure statements and contracts.”

Traditional marketing is about trying to consciously, and sometimes inauthentically, manage the market’s expectations. It has been a standalone activity focused on saying the right things and wearing the right clothes. This is not good enough.

Everything is “marketing”. Everything you DO communicates something. Actions speak louder and all that. Your brand does make promises about all sorts of things. Even the way you write your contracts says something about your business.

If we could simply limit all promises to explicit and legally-enforceable elements, we would be well on our way to eliminating all business misunderstandings.

Example:

The Coca Cola brand promises fun, youthfulness, endless summers. These are encapsulated in the brand and its collateral. None of these are legally binding. And yet, should these promises be violated, customers will feel that breach of integrity. That is why Coca Cola’s activities – from overt ads, to people relationships, to CSR programmes – are tightly managed to ensure this message consistency.

Virgin Blue is another example of good consistency of implicit and explicit promises. Even their fineprint reflect their brand values and personality!

I am trying to encourage a view of businesses as whole/integrated entities. You can get individual items on checklists legally sound and right and perfect, yet lose sight of the whole picture which may well be in shambles. The avoidance of fractured personalities and the creation of aligned unified actions are big challenges for many businesses.

My observation is that many businesses, when faced with a challenge or new concept, focus immediately on the minute details, sort them into little boxes, and then proceed to rationally get all those individual details right. “Just show me the facts” as it were. But no one is looking at how these little details add up to a whole. No one is considering the emotive, non-factual aspects of the whole. The tiles and door knobs are perfect, but what does the kitchen look and feel like? Tom Peters, amongst many other thinkers, all recognise the importance of this soft, unquantifiable stuff of business.

“Maintaining a culture that attracts and encourages workplace psychopaths and bullies. Who? Where? How? This is just a meaningless statement with no facts to substantiate it.”

Much literature has been written up about this – just do a search on psychopaths in the workplace and you will find plenty of articles, research and books by psychologists, management consultants and others.

Two books I have read are: Working with Monsters by Australian profiler Dr John Clarke, and The No Asshole Rule by Professor Robert Sutton. One of these had some frightening stats on the financial loss to businesses in the UK from workplace bullying.

I am sorry you feel/believe that I unfairly “slags” off business without ground or facts. It is obvious that my thoughts and observations create a level of frustration for you. As you can see from my long responses, however, I do find your comments thought-provoking. I don’t have to agree with your views, but I do appreciate you posting them.

@Stilgherrian:

“I think what you’re saying is that businesses (in general) claim to act rationally in their own best interests, but that non-rational elements mean that decisions are sometimes not in the best long-term interests of the firm.”

This clarification is important: there are both rational and emotive components to every decision.

I am not advocating the abandonment of logical/critical thinking, legal considerations, or divide-and-conquer problem-solving methods at all.

This is about balancing attention to details and maintaining a big picture, cross-silo view. This is about valuing the facts and logical analysis, as well as listening to the gut-feel and the heart. This is about highlighting how the pretence of rationality can hide deeper issues and considerations that a factual analysis approach cannot elucidate.

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