Customer / Leadership: What Is The Access To Cultivating Greatness?

It is the time of the year that many are pushing out their predictions for 2015. I am not in that business: I lack a crystal ball.  Further, I say that the future is not already made. The future is unborn and how you/i/we show up and operate in this world will shape how 2015 turns out.  So in this final conversation of 2014, I want to share with you my thoughts on what it takes to become great; greatness necessarily involves effecting significant and substantial change.

Let’s assume that you wish to reshape your organisation – to effect significant, substantial, change in the way that the organisation operates.  Perhaps, you wish to transition your organisation from a product-centred orientation towards  customer-centred orientation. And/or shift the fundamental stance of your organisation from ‘extracting value’ from your customers to being generously rewarded (by customers) for simplifying-enriching the lives of your customers. It could be that you want to move from treating your employees as resources (things) to treating them with dignity as fellow human beings…..

What is the access to that?  Is there an organisational equivalent to Ali Baba’s “Open, Sesame!”? You know some kind of hidden magical recipe that provides you access to untold riches, instantly, without significant effort, discipline, and/or sacrifice?  I invite you to answer that for yourself. How has all the strategy stuff worked out? What about all the process change / six sigma stuff? Or the customer journey mapping? What about your investments in CRM systems and other technologies (e.g. IVR) have they taken you to the heights of sales effectiveness and/or customer service delight?  Let’s not forget the VoC feedback- has that unlocked the door to customer loyalty riches?

Greatness does not lie on the road well travelled, greatness lies on the road less travelled. Greatness requires dedication – the kind of dedication that flows from total commitment; this kind of commitment arises in response to a possibility-call that resonates with the very core of your being. Greatness requires the ultimate sacrifice: yourself – your way of showing up in the world and the manner of your travel in this world.  Allow me to give life to this through a story (bolding mine):

There was an artist who was so devoted to her art; nothing else in the world had any attraction for her. She had a studio, and whenever she had a moment to spare her first thought was to go to that studio and work on the statue she was making. People could not understand her, for it is not everybody who is devoted to one thing like this. For a time a person interests himself in art, at other times in something else, at other times in the home, at other times in the theatre. But she did not mind; she went every day to her studio and spent most of her time in making this work of art, the only work of art that she made in her life.

The more the work progressed, the more she began to feel delighted with it, attracted by that beauty to which she was devoting her time. It began to manifest to her eyes, and she began to communicate with that beauty. It was no longer a statue for her, it was a living being. The moment that statue was finished she could not believe her eyes – that it had been made by her….. She felt exalted by the beauty of the statue.

She was so overcome by the impression that this statue made on her that she knelt down before this vision of perfect beauty, with all humility, she asked the statue to speak, forgetting entirely that it was her own work…… there came a voice from the statue: “If you love me, there is only one condition, and that is to take the bowl of this poison from my hand. If you wish me to be living, you no more will live. Is it acceptable?” “Yes,” she said, “You are beauty, you are the beloved, you are the one to whom I give all my thought, my admiration, my worship; even my life I will give to you.” ….. She took the bowl of poison, and fell dead. The statue lifted her and kissed her by giving her its own life, the life of beauty and sacredness …..

– Hazrat Inayat Khan, The Art of Being and Becoming

Let me end this conversation by posing this question: What possibility (or cause) matters to you such that you are willing to be and do as the artist (in the story above)?  It occurs to me that this is question worth pondering and answering as you/i head into 2015. I wish you a great beginning and the very best for 2015.

Customers-Employees-Leadership: Distinguishing Between ‘Caring About’ And ‘Caring For’- And Why It Matters

Given that I find myself in the week of Christmas, it occurs to me that today is a great time to diving into caring. And in particular, I wish to make/introduce a distinction. Which distinction? I wish to distinguish between ‘caring about’ and ‘caring for’. Let’s start with the realm of Customer.

Caring About Customers v Caring For The Customer

I am clear that folks in business care about customers. Specifically, they care about:

  1. Figuring out what makes customers tick – by ‘listening’ to customers through market research, social listening, ethnography, and voice of the customer surveying;
  2. Getting more customers – turning prospects into customers by pushing out the right message, right offer, at the right time and through the right communication channel;
  3. Keeping more of their existing customers buying from them for longer – through a range of techniques including making it easier for customers to do business with the organisation (reducing effort, improving access, improving the customer experience) and through targeted incentives (promotions, discounts, loyalty points);
  4. Selling a wider range of ‘products’ to existing customers – by turning customer data into insight through the use of data mining and predictive analytics or just plain collaborative filtering;
  5. Moving existing customers from lower margin ‘products’ to higher margin customers – through the use of range of techniques and tactics;
  6. Winning back folks that used to be customers – usually through some kind of enticing promotion, discount or, rarely, a new/compelling ‘product’; and
  7. Servicing customers in a smart manner – by using the right combination (digital, telephone) of customer service channels.

Now, let’s turn our attention to caring for the customer. Let’s start with the basic question, who (specifically) cares for the customer?  Let’s make this even more specific, who cares for me?  As a customer, I deal with many companies and I am clear that there is not one company/organisation that cares for me. Not one! I, as a flesh and blood human being, do not show up on the organisational radar. Does anyone in an organisation ever care for me in a business context? When I interact with the organisations that I interact with do I get left with the feeling-experience of being cared for by an organisation? The answer is: No!

Are there any occasions where I, as a customer, feel cared for? Yes. When do I experience this kind of experience? When I encounter a Welcomer. What is a Welcomer? For me a Welcomer is a human being who, in his being, welcomes me as a fellow human being. S/he going beyond the formalised rituals of business and organisational life, beyond the scripts, beyond the transaction, and reaches out to me as one human being to another. I know when this is going on because I notice and experience the English reserve breaking down. There is breaking down of boundaries, whilst still respecting boundary. There tends to be mutual disclosure of the human kind: sharing occurs. And there tends to be smiling, even laughter. As a result of these kind of encounters, I find myself uplifted, smiling, grateful and with a sense of pride in being a member of the human race.  These kind of encounters leave me with hope, with optimism in my footsteps.

I invite you to consider that there is a world of difference between ‘caring about’ customers and ‘caring for’ the customer. Notice the difference: in the realm of ‘caring about’ we are dealing with customers whereas in the realm of ‘caring for’ we are in the realm of the individual customer – that one human being.  There is a vast difference. And it occurs to me that the folks who talk about, evangelise about, preach out all things Customer are not present to this critical distinction.

Does this indifference between ‘caring about’ customers and ‘caring for’ the customer matter? I say it matters – it matters to each customer. You see this is the deepest and most radical meaning of personalisation – speaking to the person of that one person (the customer).  I invite you to listen to the following words:

The general obsession with observing only historical or sociological movements, and not a particular human being …. is as mistaken as a doctor who does not take an interest in a particular case. Every particular case is an experience that can be valuable to the understanding of the illness…….

….. this indifference to the individual, total lack of interest in intimate knowledge of the isolated, unique human being, atrophies human reactions and humanism. Too much social consciousness and not a bit of insight into human beings.

As soon as you speak in psychological terms ….. people act as if you had a lack of interest in the wider currents of the history of man. In other words, they feel able to study masses and consider this more virtuous, assign of a vaster concept than relating to one person. This makes them …. inadequate in relationships, in friendships, in psychological understanding.

– Anias Nin

I invite you to consider that the strongest bonds, usually called loyalty, occurs where one human being experiences himself cared for (as a unique human being) by another human being.  Is it then any surprise that despite the talk of customer loyalty, and all the customer loyalty programmes and tactics, there is so little loyalty between customers and brands.

Caring About Employees v Caring For The Employee

Sure, organisations ‘care about’ employees. It is the employees who do the work – the work that creates value for the the customer. The work that ends up generating revenue and profits. So I find that organisations care a great deal about their employees including but not limited to:

  1. Attracting the right people to become employees of the organisation;
  2. Keeping the most valuable employees;
  3. Getting more out of their existing employees (productivity, collaboration, teamwork, ideas..);
  4. Ranking employees for performance management purposes;
  5. Minimising the costs associated with recruiting, retaining, managing, controlling employees.

Now, who in your organisation actually cares for that individual flesh+blood human being to whom you have given the label employee, and, thus deprived him/her of personhood and turned him/her into a category? Let me ask this question differently, as an employee do I feel cared for? Who do I feel cares for me in this organisation in which I find myself employed?

I invite you to consider that there is world of difference between ‘caring about’ employees and ‘caring for’ the person to whom you have given the label employee.  Does this difference matter?  Of course it matters!  Until this difference is recognised and acted up organisations will continue to grapple with the challenge of ’employee engagement’.  Why should I engage with you and your organisation when I do not feel myself cared for – as a unique human being?

What Has This To Do With Leadership?

I invite you to consider that this distinction between ‘caring about’ employees and ‘caring for’ the person whether under the label ‘customer’ or the label ’employee’ can be used to distinguish between management and leadership.  Leaders must dwell in the human real, the personal realm: ‘caring for’ the person.  Here I share the following wise words with you:

My lack of faith in the men who lead us is that they do not recognize the irrational in men, they have no insight, and whoever does not recognize the personal, individual drama of man cannot lead them.

– Anais Nin

Something to Consider And Play For At Christmas?

As you head into Christmas and the festivities where hopefully you will be in amidst people who are family and friends, I invite you to be present to the distinction between ‘caring about’ and ‘caring for’ the folks that you will be meeting up with and celebrating Christmas with.  It occurs to me that making the shift from ‘caring about’ the folks you find yourself with, to ‘caring for’ each person that is there will transform your (and their) experience of Christmas.

If you play this ‘game’ you might just find that ‘caring about’ is easy, ‘caring for’ is really difficult. This might just explain why it is that all the folks who speak Customer and Employee make ‘caring about’ masquerade as ‘caring for’.  The interesting thing is that whilst we can hoodwink ourselves in the management suite, our customers and our employees are not hoodwinked that easily: they experience and detect the difference between ‘caring about’ and ‘caring for’ – which is why they are not loyal to us and rightly so.

Why I Prefer Not To Do Business With Customer-Centric Businesses

Why is it that I prefer not to business with a customer-centric business? Allow me to share my answer by referring to the UK grocery market.  Which supermarket chain was applauded, by many, for its customer-centred way of doing business? Tesco.  What was held responsible for fuelling this customer-centred way of doing business? The Tesco Club Card. Through this loyalty card, Tesco captured and made effective use of customer shopping data to grow revenues and optimise profits.  In the process Tesco came from nowhere to became the world’s second largest retailer.

Where is Tesco today? Here is what The Economist said back in July 2014:

… on July 21st Tesco abruptly announced that Mr Clarke would be leaving his job, apparently prompted by a warning that profits in the first half of 2014 would come in “below expectations”. In June Tesco revealed a drop in same-store sales that Mr Clarke admitted was the retailer’s worst performance in 40 years….

Recession taught middle-class shoppers that discounters like Aldi and Lidl were cheap but not nasty; they spent some of the money they saved at higher-end grocers, such as Waitrose and Marks & Spencer……

Tesco is faring badly. Its sales dropped by nearly 2% in the year to June while those of its closest rivals, Asda (which is owned by Walmart) and Sainsbury’s, rose by 3% or better. Despite his exertions, Mr Clarke failed to persuade consumers that Tesco offers better value than the discounters or quality to match the upmarket merchants.

Is this as bad as it gets? No. Here is what the Guardian newspaper stated in on the 22nd of September this year:

Tesco has suspended the head of its UK business and called in independent accountants and lawyers to investigate after discovering that its guidance to the City overstated expected first-half profits by about £250m….

Tesco shares fell almost 8% on Monday morning to an 11-year low of 212p, making them the biggest faller in the FTSE 100 index and wiping £1.5bn off the retailer’s market value. More than £6bn has been wiped off share value since 21 July, when the previous chief executive, Phil Clark, was ousted.

Why is it that Tesco is in such deep trouble? I say that Tesco has arrived at where it is at due to its customer-centric way of doing business.  What do I mean by this?  I mean that the Tops got fixated into harnessing the data yielded by the Club Card to get customers to part with more of their money in Tesco stores.

Was this done by offering customers superior products as in higher quality products? No.  The products were middle of the road yet ways were found of selling these at higher prices through clever marketing and merchandising.

Was this done by providing superior customer service in the stores? No. Tesco cut back on the number of people working in the stores so it was not unusual for the customer to find that there was nobody around to help when help was needed or find long queues at the checkout tills.

Was this done through a superior shopping experience? No. Management chose not to invest in the stores or the shopping experience in the stores. As a result the stores become less and less attractive over time.

I prefer not to do business with a customer-centric business because the management of such a business is more likely to be focussed on extracting value from their customer base through a variety of clever manoeuvres than earning its keep through superior products (Apple, Waitrose), superior service (John Lewis, Zappos), low prices (Lidl, Aldi), or a combination of service and low price (Amazon).

If you are a customer and your supplier is touting customer-obsession then  you might want to think about whether that is a good thing. Is the obsession with providing you with a superior product, superior value,  and/or experience? Or is it an obsession with with finding clever ways of getting you to buy more, pay more for what you buy, and get less in return? You might want to keep in mind that which many remind me of: business is not altruistic.

How To Cause Customer-Centricity By Shaping The Work Context (Part 2 of 3)

Recap: Where We Are At

If you took part in the previous conversation you will have a good grasp of the work context that led to the receptionists running to-fro from the front desks to the problem rooms, seeking to keep rooms in reserve so that they were in a position to placate angry customers by moving them to a different-better room, and using their newly acquired guest engagement skills to negotiate with customers – offering them refunds, room rate reductions and/or vouchers.

What Is The Core Challenge Here?

So I ask you what needs to happen for InterLodge to generate its desired outcomes: higher occupancy rates, higher price points per room, higher levels of customer satisfaction, and ultimately a higher share price?  Let’s make this question simpler, what is the challenge here?  Have a go, formulate an answer to that question.

Isn’t the challenge to shift the work context so that it calls forth, naturally and by default, the kind of behaviour that will result in guest rooms being fit for guests, leading to happy customers, leading to less rooms being kept aside by receptionists and no need for the receptionists to offer discounts-refunds on the room rates?

Now look further-deeper, go into the heart of the matter. Venture into territory that few venture into: think!  Keep peeling the onion.

What is the core challenge when it comes to doing that which needs to be done in order to craft-deliver the kind of customer experience (end to end) that causes happy customers?  Isn’t it cooperation? Cooperation between all the organisational actors who directly-indirectly influence the customer experience. Is it not your experience that the bigger the organisation, the higher the importance of cooperation, and the lower the likelihood of finding genuine cooperation?

What Steps Did InterLodge Take To Shift-Shape The Work Context?

According to the authors of the Six Simple Rules, InterLodge took the following three steps:

  1. Did away with the organisational elements that were useless and/or counterproductive.  For example, they did away with the financial incentives which were supposed to motivate the receptionists to improve room occupancy. And they stopped the soft skills “guest engagement” training program.

  2. Made managerial promotion dependent on having worked in multiple functions. Why? To encourage and ensure that managers had a lived-experiential understanding of the work of each function and how it related to the work of other functions.

  3. Changed the work context so that cooperation was called forth between Housekeeping, Maintenance and the Front Desk (receptionists).

Let’s dive into point 3 shifting the work context to cause cooperation as the default behaviour. Imagine that is your challenge.  What specific action/s would you take to shift the work context and call forth cooperation between Housekeeping, Maintenance, and the Front Desk (receptionists)?

What Actions Did InterLodge Take To Generate Cooperation Between The Multiple Actors?

Before I share the answer with you, I invite you to listen to the authors of Six Simple Rules:

Their [receptionists] work put them in the closest contact with customers, and they were the most directly penalised when customers were unhappy. They had an interest in cooperation but had not way to influence the behaviour of other groups – specifically, the housekeeping and maintenance staff.

So the clue is there: find a way to directly expose the housekeepers and maintenance staff to the wrath of unhappy customer/s.  Did management pursue this option?  No. Why? Because the did not find a practical way to expose these folks to the wrath of the customer. The customer was most likely to be angry in the evening when s/her checked into or returned to her room. And this is exactly when the housekeepers and maintenance were not at work.

What did InterLodge do?  Management give the receptionists a say in the performance evaluation of the folks in housekeeping and maintenance.  Did it work? Yes. Why? Because the Receptionists had a say and their say mattered. This is how the authors put it (bolding is my work):

In the past, it had always been enough for these employees [housekeeping, maintenance] to fulfill the criteria and meet the targets of their individual function. Now, people in the the two back office functions were also being evaluated on how effectively they cooperated with each other and with the receptionists, and it was the opinion of the receptionists themselves that carried special weight…. After all, their careers and the possibility of promotion were on the line

Was it as simple as that. Not quite, this change had to work in conjunction with the other big change:

When this change in how personnel in back-office functions were evaluated was combined with the new cross-functional rotation of managers (which gave managers more of an appreciation for the interdependencies among the various functions), the nature of work changed rapidly at the hotel.

How exactly did the nature of the work change?  By this expression the authors are pointing out, in particular, how the way the folks in housekeeping and maintenance ‘showed up and travelled’. Let’s listen once more to the authors:

The housekeepers checked the equipment in the rooms when they cleaned and let the maintenance groups know immediately when something needed attention. What’s more, the two back office functions were a lot more responsive when someone from reception would call asking for help to resolve a customer problem.

What Results Showed Up At InterLodge?

According to the authors:

… InterLodge hotel business unit’s gross margin increased by 20 percent within eighteen months. The rapid improvement in margins allowed the company to … nearly triple it [stock price] in just two years.

If you want to understand the logic behind this then I recommend buying-reading the Six Simple Rules.

What Is The Core Insight-Lesson For Those Working On Customer Experience And Customer-Centricity?

The core insight-lesson is spelt out rather pithily and it is one with which I am in full agreement.  The lesson is so obvious and yet neglected.  Why? Because it involves taking the “road less travelled”. What is this central insight-lesson:

To achieve customer-centricity make the organisation listen to those who listen to customers. Changing interaction patterns among functions is much more powerful than creating a dedicated customer-centricity function.

There you have it.  The challenge of customer-centricity is that of disrupting, shifting, and shaping interaction patters so that transformed work context calls forth the requisite degree of co-operation from-across-amongst all organisational actors which directly and/or indirectly affect the customer experience. And the authors have shared how this was done at InterLodge. And they give other examples in their book, which is well worth reading.

Enough for today. In the next and last part of this conversation I will lay out for you (and comment upon) the sociological theory behind tools for shaping the work context. And why it is that the standard-commonplace approaches (hard, soft, hard+soft) to organisational change and customer-centricity do not work. Like they did not work for InterLodge.

Thanks for listening, I hope you got value out of the conversation.

 

 

 

 

What Does It Take To Access And Hear The Richness Of The Voice Of The Customer?

I invite you to take a zen like look into the whole ‘voice of the customer’ thing. By ‘voice of the customer’ I mean the practice of using customer surveys to get customer feedback.  And then turning these individuals customer surveys into tables, charts, reports, and presentations which are fed to managers. By zen I mean a simple direct looking into the concrete reality void of ideology-conceptualisation and self deception.

What do you see when you take that zen like look at this ‘voice of the customer’ thing? Here is what shows up for me: I do not hear the voice of the customer!  There is no voice of the customer! So what is there? Paper, ink, text, diagrams; no human voice speaks.

We, human beings, are masters of self-deception. We are told that being effective with customers starts with customer insight. We are told that being effective involves listening to the voice of the customer. We are told that being effective requires ‘walking in the shoes’ of the customer. What do we do? We get busy with technology centred services that keep Tops and Middles as distant, as insulated, from customers as usual. But now with the illusion of being in contact with the customer!

Before I go on, I wish to make it clear that I am not bashing ‘voice of the customer’ surveying. These surveys, if designed, implemented, and used correctly can provide some useful information. And if the limitations are gotten by those who need to get them (Tops and Middles) then they can be a useful tool. However, this is not what I have experienced. What have I experienced? It occurs to me that many managers use this tools to avoid actually listening to the voice of the customer. And to stay within their comfort zones: the office-corporate environment.

So what does it take to access AND hear the voice of the customer.  I invite you to read and ponder the following (bolding is my work):

How do your decisions affect customers and suppliers? It’s hard for us to imagine this well if we don’t really know the customers and vendors we work with. And we can’t know them if we hardly ever see them. This is one reason why it’s so important to give people a chance to get …., out of their offices, and out of the building, to visit the people they serve.

Whenever manufacturing or design people actually make site visits and see firsthand how customers are using their products, they develop a new insightful imaginative feel for the needs of the customer, and sometimes the plight of the customer. They come face to face with what really works well and what doesn’t work as it should. They hear from other real people what they like and don’t like about the product, what they need and what they’d really like to have if it were just possible. When the end user becomes a face and a voice, a genuine, three dimensional human being, it is much more difficult to ignore his or her interests and needs. This is a natural impetus for good decision making, with the customer’s interest at heart.

– Tom Morris, If Aristotle Ran General Motors

Is this all there is to get another human being – be s/he a customer, an employee, a partner or a supplier?  No. Even in my home I notice that some of us prefer not to be present to that which is so. Why? Because being present to the reality of the impact of our behaviour can be painful especially if we are committed to keeping our existing practices intact.

So what does it take to get another human being: his/her needs, his/her experience, his/her dreams?  I invite you to read-ponder the following:

we need to cultivate a perceptive imagination on two different levels. First, we need imagination on a small scale. We need empathy. You can’t know how you would want to be treated if you were in another person’s shoes unless you can imagine what it would be like to be in his shoes. It is hard to develop empathy in a robust form without getting to know in concrete and detailed ways the people with whom we need to empathise. One of the most important business commandments then should be: Know thy customer. And it’s equal should be: Know thy associate…… Service and empathy must flow through an organisation first if they are to flow out unimpeded to those with whom the organisation does business.

We also need to cultivate imagination on a large scale, a vivid vision for our lives and our businesses. We need an imaginative conception of what we are doing, a big picture for the contribution we are making to the world. We need a map with coordinates to guide us in our concrete day-to-day decisions….. With a powerful ethical vision directing all our thoughts, we don’t need long list of rules to guide us. We are both informed and inspired to do what is right.

– Tom Morris, If Aristotle Ran General Motors

Summing up, if I am to access and hear the richness of the voice of my customers, my associates, my value creation partners, then the starting point is dropping my ego which constantly calls out “Me, me, ME!”. And rigorously embracing practices that call forth fellow feeling; moving from an I-It way of showing up and travelling in the world to the I-Thou mode.  What I have found is that as I do this the workability of my relationships and my effectiveness-impact increases. So does my experience of being alive and being fulfilled.  What about you?

I thank you for your listening and I hope you will cause-create a great weekend for yourselves and your fellow human beings starting with those with whom you are in most intimate contact. And if you happen to be a Top or a Middle and are serious about listening to your customers then leave your office and go talk with real flesh+blood human beings. And note that you will not have listened, really listened, until you humanity (the best of you) has been called forth and put into these encounters with your fellow human beings disguised as ‘customers’.  Incidentally, this is what social really is.

Most Important Post I Have Written This Year: What Does It Really Take To Know Your Customers?

This is long conversation and likely to be of interest to those of you who have experienced the limitations of knowledge as it is commonly understood. It may also be of interest to you if you glimpsed the radical difference between knowing and knowing about. If this is not you, then please go do something else.

How Useful Is The Knowledge Gained Through Market Research?

There is a huge industry that caters to the needs of business folks (often those in the marketing function) to know their customers or their target audience/market. I am speaking of the market research industry: qualitative (focus groups etc), quantitative (surveys), and a mix of each. In recent years, a new breed of player has entered this industry: the Voice of the Customer industry with its many technology solutions providers focussed almost exclusively on feedback through surveys. How useful is this research? What are its limits? What can you really know about your customer/s through this kind of knowing?

What Does It Take To Know Your Customer? The Short Answer

There is one well know market research organisation that sells and ‘supplies’ market research to many big brands who are keen to know their customers. This organisation knows it stuff: market research. Given this one would assume that the folks in this organisation would know all they need to know about their customers – those who commission the research (on their customers and target markets). What is actually the case?

One of the growth challenges, of this marketing research organisation, is a lack of understanding, knowledge, of its customers. How can this be?  This organisation has an army of professional market researchers, an array of market research technologies, a broad range of tools that it uses every day; and history/track record of conducting all kinds of research.

Clearly, market research, that this organisations does and sells, does not provide the kind of knowing that it is seeking of its own customers. So the short answer is it takes more than market research whether through focus groups or surveys. Whilst this kind of knowledge may be interesting, even somewhat useful, it is not sufficient.

What Does It Take To Know Your Customer? The Long Answer

To answer this question it is necessary to clearly understand-distinguish between ‘knowing’ and ‘knowing about’.  Once you get this distinction you get why it is that the market research companies has no real understanding of its customers. You will also get why it is that most advice given by sales gurus to sales reps is useless.

Should you use your valuable time to master this distinction?  Let me put it this way, I say, mastering this distinction is one of the most important distinctions, if not the most important, distinction to master for effective living.  Once you master this distinction you can focus on what really generates knowledge. And you will no longer need to be bewitched and misled by the many academic articles, business books, guru, advisors and consultant. You may even see that this stuff is worse than useless, it is dangerous!

What distinguishes ‘knowing’ from ‘knowing about’?

I invite you to read the following passage with someone who has grappled with this question not theoretically but through lived experience:

When I was working on the Meaning of Anxiety, I spent a year and a half in bed in a tuberculosis sanatorium. I had a great deal of time to ponder the meaning of anxiety – and plenty of first hand data on myself and my fellow anxious patients. In the course of time I studied two books ….: one by Freud, The Problem of Anxiety, and the other by Kierkegaard, TheConcept of Anxiety.

I valued highly Freud’s formulations …… But these were still theories.  Kierkegaard, on the other hand, described anxiety as the struggle as the living being with nonbeing which I could immediately experience in my struggle with death or the prospect of being a lifelong invalid……

What powerfully struck me then was that Kierkegaard was writing about exactly what my fellow patients and I were going through. Freud was not..… Kierkegaard was portraying what is immediately experienced by human beings in crisis….. Freud was writing on the technical level, where his genius was supreme ….. he knew about anxiety. Kierkegaard, a genius of a different order, was writing on the existential, ontological level; he knew anxiety.

– Rollo May, The Discovery Of Being

Have you gotten the distinction? Kierkegaard knew anxiety in the only way that generates knowing: through experiencing it, living it, being anxious.  Freud, knew about anxiety.

Failing to distinguish ‘knowing about’ from ‘knowing’ compromises effective action and generates unintended outcomes

Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine that I can get a bunch of data about you: name, address, age, marital status, number of children, job, income, what you spend your money on, where you spend your time, your height, your weight, colour of your eyes……  Clearly I know about you. And I might get to thinking that I know you. Do I? Do I really know you as a living-breathing human being?

Before you answer that question, I ask you read and truly get present to the profound insight that is being communicated in the following passage:

The Mexican sierra has 17 plus 15 plus 9 spines in the dorsal fin. These can easily be counted. But if the sierra strikes hard on the line so that our hands are burned, if the fish sounds and nearly escapes and finally comes in over the rail, his colors pulsing and his tail beating the air, a whole new relational externality has come into being – an entity which is more than the sum of the fish plus the fisherman.

The only way to count the spines of the sierra unaffected by this second relational reality is to sit in a laboratory, open an evil smelling jar, remove a still colourless fish from the formalin solution, count the spines, and write the truth…… There you have recorded a reality which cannot be assailed – probably the least important reality concerning the fish or yourself.

It is good to know what you are doing. The man with his pickled fish has set down one truth and recorded in his experience many lies. The fish is not that colour, that texture, that dead, nor does he smell that way

– Steinbeck and Ricketts, 1971, pp 3-3

Summing Up

Life occurs in the arena, is dynamic, is ALWAYS relational, and every observation and ‘lesson’ is context specific.  Knowing occurs in the arenaGenuine, deep, insightful knowing occurs in and amongst those who spend sufficient time playing full out in the arena to transcend discrete objects-events and experience-see relationships, patterns and the deeper structures that generate the patterns and thus the events.

Most of what is spoken, written about and passes for knowledge in Western society is that which can be observed, relatively painlessly, by sitting in the stands observing what appears to be going on (as viewed by the observer with his particular ‘line of sight’) in the arena: knowing about. It is ok for non-relational objects. It is ok for abstract concepts. It is ok for that which is static. It is totally insufficient when it comes to the living: the individual, the social system, life in its fullest expression.

You can never know a human being (customer, employee) through focus groups or surveys. To know a human being you/i must walk in the shoes of that human being and experience situations, people, encounters as s/he experiences them. And this is not as easy as it sounds. Even when you walk in someone’s shoes it is useful to be aware that it is your feet doing the walking. Which means that to get an appreciation for how the other experiences ‘walking in his/her shoes’ you need to have the genuine openness-willingness-curiousity-patience to walk with the other for long enough to get a feel for the others feet such that you arrive at a place where you can walk in the others shoes.

I leave you with the following quotes:

There are certain things you can only know by creating them for yourself

– Werner Erhard

That which really matters in human life can only be known through lived experience; this knowing can rarely be communicated to those who have not created this knowing for themselves through lived experience.

– maz iqbal

Make it a great week. For my part, I find it a joy to be sharing that which I share with you especially after a wonderful experiential vacation in beautiful Dubrovnik.

 

Will Big Data And Analytics Deliver The Promised Land?

This post got published before I intended to publish it. Sorry for this oversight. I have now completed it as intended and am republishing it. I apologise for any inconvenience and thank you for your understanding.

What do B2B technology vendors sell?

No, it is not the technology.  Think again, what do B2B technology vendors sell?  They sell dreams that speak to a fundamental human need. What dreams? Dreams of control-mastery-domination over the ever flowing, every morphing, character of a process we turn into a noun: life.

What need do these dreams take root from and speak to?  The need for safety and security. At some fundamental level we get that nature is indifferent to our survival and wellbeing.  To deal with this anxiety we embrace anything that provides the illusion of safety-security. The Greeks embraced the Gods, we embrace technology and the latest technofix.

I notice that the big data and analytics space is hot right now.  It is the latest technofix being pushed by the B2B technology vendors.  It occurs to me that this technofix is designed to speak to those running large enterprises – especially those who are higher up and divorced from the lived experience of daily operational life at the coal face.

What I find astonishing is that so few actually ask the following two questions:

1. “What kind of a being is a human being?”

2. “What kind of a culture is human culture?”

What is the defining characteristic of human beings?

Allow me to illustrate by share a story I read many years ago:

Psychologist:  John, you have been referred to me by the authorities. They tell me that you think that are dead. Is that right? Are you dead?

John: Absolutely, I died a little while back.  I am dead. 

Psychologist: How interesting! You died a little back. Yet here you are talking with me. And I am not dead.  So how is it that you are dead and I am not dead, yet here we are talking? 

John: Beats me how this works or why it is happening. I know that I am dead. 

Psychologist: John, I have an idea. Do dead people bleed? 

John: Don’t be ridiculous! Everyone knows that dead people don’t bleed! 

The psychologist suddenly reaches over and cuts John’s hand with a knife. Both of them are looking at John’s hand. Blood, dark red blood, is seeping through the cut.  The psychologist looks at John with the look of satisfaction, of victory. Let’s rejoin the conversation.

Psychologist: John, do you see that blood on your hand? How do you make sense of it? You say that you are dead. And earlier you told me that dead people don’t bleed.

John: F**k me, dead people do bleed!

This is not simply an amusing story.  It is a story that captures the experience of a respected psychologist who has been dealing with many kinds of people, dealing with many kinds of problems, over a lifetime.  This story capture a fundamental truth of the human condition.

It appears that to survive in the world as it is and as we have made it, we need to be deluded. We need to distort reality: to make life more predictable, to make our current situation lighter-better than it is, to see a future brighter than is merited by the facts, to see ourselves stronger, more capable, more influential than we are. Studies suggest that those of us who lack this ability to distort reality and delude ourselves end up depressing ourselves.

What Kind Of A Culture Is Human Culture?

Symbolic and ideological.  Why?  Because human beings just don’t cope well with the world as it is. So we get together into tribes. And the glue that keeps the tribe together is a particular way of constructing the world, a particular way of giving meaning to the world, and a particular way of interacting with the world.  And when I speak world I include human being, and human beings; a human being is always a being-in-the-world as in always and forever an intrinsic thread in that which we call world.

The next question: which ideology do members of society espouse?  The dominant public ideology. In the world of business this is that of scientific management and in particular reasoning and making decisions objectively – irrespective of the past, of tradition, of our personal interests and opinions.

A more interesting question is that about the actual behaviour of the elites, the Tops. What is it that the Tops actually do?  They do that which protects and furthers their interests: their power, their status, their privileges, their wealth, their dominance.  So insight and recommendations (whether from big data and analytics or through conventional methods) that are in line with these interests are heartily accepted and actioned swiftly and vigorously.

Any insights and recommendations that challenge the vested interests of the elite (Tops) are repressed at the individual level, belittled-disputed-ignored at the societal level.  I invite you to read this article which can be summed up as the UK Government sacks the chair of the official Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Why? Because the chair was insisting on the reclassification of drugs. What happened?

  1. The Advisory Council looked at the data (of harm to the individual taking the drugs and others affected by his/her behaviour) on drugs at the request of the UK.

  2. On the basis of the data, the Advisory Council came up with the conclusion that “if drugs were classified on the basis of the harm they do, alcohol would be class A, alongside heroin and crack cocaine.”

  3. The drug rankings, associated findings and recommendations were ignored by the UK government. Why? Because they went against the government’s stance on drugs.

  4. The chair of the Advisory Council challenged the UK government’s refusal to act on the recommendations of the Advisory Council.  So the appropriate UK Government minister sacked him.

What Does The Future Hold for Big Data & Analytics?

If past behaviour is an adequate guide to the future then it is safe to say that technology vendors will get rich. And the business folks will have another layer of technology that they have to manage. One or two organisations may reap substantial benefits, the rest will be disappointed.  Yet, this disappointment will not last long. Why? By that time the technology folks will have come up with the latest technofix!

I leave you with the following thoughts:

1. There are no technofixes to the kinds of social issues-problems we continue to face;

2. Incremental improvements lie in the domain of big data and analytics;

3. Breakthroughs lie in our ability to see that which is with new eyes – a shift in dominant concepts, dominant paradigm, dominant ideology, dominant way of seeing that which is.

Put differently, big data & analytics is a red herring for those who aspire to lead: to cause-create that which does not exist today.  Managers, those whose horizon extends to daily operations and the next twelve months, may find big data and analytics useful – as long as it does not threaten the sacred cows of the Tops-Middles and the corporate culture.