A skeptical look at 2012 and best practices

Skeptic does not mean him who doubts, but him who investigates or researches as opposed to him who asserts and thinks that he has found. [Miguel de Unamuno, “Essays and Soliloquies,” 1924]

What shows up for me when I reflect back on 2012?  It occurs to me that most of what is written on all things business – including customer – is driven by the need of people and organisations to sell something: a product, a service, a solution, themselves.   Put differently, it is marketing.  The job of marketing is not ‘truth’ nor ‘usefulness’.  No, the job of marketing is to bypass the mind and pull the heart strings so as to move the human being to act in accordance with the wishes of the marketer.  And as such that which is written – including every post that I write – should be questioned.  More accurately, it should be tested to determine if it is science or merely philosophy masquerading as science.

I say that the area that needs the most urgent and critical examination into that which is merely philosophy masquerading as science is  in the areas of customer theory (CRM, Customer Experience, loyalty) and best practices.   

Why go to the trouble to question, research, investigate and test stuff out for ourselves?  Because there is a world of difference between genuinely useful theory (‘good theory’ the term used by Clayton Christensen) and that which masquerades as useful theory.  What do I mean?  I’ll let Clayton Christensen speak on the matter:

“Consider, for example, the history of mankind’s attempts to fly.  Early researchers observed strong correlations between being able to fly and having feathers and wings.  Stories of men attempting to fly by strapping on wings date back hundreds of years.  They were replicating what they believed allowed birds to soar: wings and feathers. 

Possessing these attributes had a high correlation ….. with the ability to fly, but when humans attempted to follow what they believed were “best practices” of the most successful fliers by strapping on wings, then jumping off cathedrals and flapping hard … they failed.  The mistake was that although feathers and wings were correlated with flying, the would-be-aviators did not understand the fundamental causal mechanism … that enabled certain creatures to fly.  

The real breakthrough in human flight did not come from crafting better wings or using more feathers.  It was brought about by Dutch-Swiss mathematician Daniel Bernouelli and his book Hydrodynamica, a study of fluid mechanics…. he outlined …. a theory that, when applied to flight, explained the concept of lift.  We had gone from correlation (wings and feathers) to causality (lift).  Modern flight can be traced directly back to the development and adoption of this theory.”

I say that most of what is pushed as “best practice” in business – including the areas of CRM, CXP, customer loyalty – is merely anecdote and correlation.  And putting in place these ‘best practices’ and expecting to win the game of business is about as sane as strapping on feathers and wings and expecting to fly! I say that you should adopt/live the best practice of deeply questioning best practices.

If you disagree with me then please share your perspective.  I am particularly interested in anyone who thinks they have found the equivalent of lift (causal mechanism) for business success, for engendering customer loyalty.  Please know that I am open to being proved wrong, to be shown the error of my ways – and I mean that genuinely.  Or as Clayton Christensen puts it:

“But even the breakthrough understanding of the cause of flight still wasn’t enough to make flight perfectly reliable.  When an airplane crashed, researchers then had to ask, “What was it about the circumstances of that particular attempt to fly that led to failure? Wind? Fog? The angle of the aircraft?” Researchers could then define what rules pilots needed to follow in order to succeed in each different circumstance.  That’s a hallmark of good theory: it dispenses its advice in “if-then” statements.”

And finally, I recommend Clayton’s book How Will You Measure Your Life.  It is a great read. And if embraced it will make a contribution to your life, your business.