A Covid particle is not the only airborne presence that now threatens us — so, too, are emotional expressions of fear, anxiety and uncertainty. This new context of pandemic, together with climate change and culture wars, changes the air we breath, literally and metaphorically. To be successful, business must make a course correction — a shift from a marketing focus founded on corporate-speak and a lexicon based solely on money, to a real creativity based on understanding real people, living real lives, real time…and the role in society a business plays.
The Coronavirus pandemic has changed people’s typical ways of working, shopping and learning. Equally — or perhaps more importantly — this destructive visitation has basically altered the way people relate to space and time. In terms of daily movements, we find ourselves on lockdown or otherwise restricted in a way that limits options for mobility. And with businesses, stores and schools closed or on remote status, many of us have more (but in a sense, unwanted) time on our hands. Not only work, but even sleeping and eating have become unhinged from our customary schedules. In this sense, people have more flexibility, because of less external demands, but humans like ritual and predictability. Then there is the social incompleteness of not seeing facial expression when masks are worn. And let’s not forget the time spent searching for where to buy toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Many standard, everyday things now seem problematic or uncertain…except perhaps online purchasing (Amazon retail), online communications (Zoom, WhatsApp), online entertainment (Netflix) and liquor delivery. Yet, these, too, can have some negative effects.
Under these circumstances businesses must question all its business-as-usual assumptions, as well as its tried-and-not-necessarily-true methods and models. It’s not good enough for businesses — or for the public — if companies just say “We are all in this pandemic together”… but please buy, say, my marinara sauce or my shampoo.
NOW THERE IS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR A BUSINESS RE-DESIGN
In this pandemic abyss lies an opportunity for business to transit through a rite of passage to a new paradigm. This new context requires a perspective gleaned from understanding the nature of mind and of human nature. This can be gotten to through knowledge from such topics as neuroscience, cognitive science, literature, philosophy, anthropology or history. A major issue is, attention must be paid to how people really operate over a longer time-continuum than the top-of-mind answer to the question, Do You Like this Product? Seeking an understanding of what lies underneath the superficial will redirect attention to a number of fundamental shifts now required for business success. These include:
Living an Artful Life: Creativity and the Experience of a ‘Delicious Agony’
With rare exceptions, creativity is hard for a business because business really doesn’t know what creativity is, even though most executives in recent years say creativity is the most critical human quality needed for its success.
Hiring for creativity is a big problem! Creativity cannot be surmised from a resume. Nor is creativity found in case histories that, by their very nature, entail an analysis of the past and hold context constant. Creativity is also not synonymous with problem-solving, but in most cases, the usual in-office attitude brought to bear against a problem is, “Given my experience and my socialization into industry and corporate doctrine, I know how to do this,” as opposed to the creative stance of “I have to go through the chaos of not knowing to get to the other side.” Business is extremely risk averse. In contrast, Charles Eames, the eminent designer of objects and brands, alerts us to the necessity and beauty of this risk-filled interval, by calling it a “Delicious Agony.” Relatedly, what turns creativity into artfulness is one’s sense of wonder and of the mystery of life. As Bruce Springsteen said, “Have unclad confidence, but doubt. It keeps you awake and alert.”
Most importantly, creativity can’t really be taught — at least, directly. Creativity comes from passing what you know through the sieve of one’s own self-story. As Martin Scorsese said: “The most personal is the most creative.” A case in point: Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock, the pop music duo of “Air Supply” said, “Writing Rock love songs was not by design. It was just an expression of who we are.”
Another misunderstood aspect of creativity is it’s not a consciously directed process. A person caught in the very process of creativity is more a self-witness than an active director. Moreover, creativity is more sensual and visceral than it is wholly linguistic, logical, rational or linear. Even Albert Einstein, one of the greatest scientists, said his ideas mostly came from “the intuition of my body.” Relatedly, Spielberg’s advice: “listen to your whispers.” Notice the two words in these two quotes, “my” and “your”. They are personal. No one else has them. No one else can engage that way because no one has your self-story.
Creativity stems from sensuality — the ability to be present to yourself, to be open to your own experience of your own experience, moment-to-moment, second-to-second. As the poet and novelist, Rainer Maria Rilke, suggests, creativity is aided by having many experiences and having many different kinds of experiences. This exposure supports combinatorial thinking which is the wellspring of innovative thinking. Above all else, sensualists have a certain attitude toward what they are working on. They engage with what they are creating as a living thing that does its own thing. And they let that be. They let their in-process work speak to them, and they are open to that voice. Sensualists live in feeling and not in the dictates of corporate dogma.
Appreciating Each Person is a ‘Multitude’
From CEO down to summer intern, all need to be sensualists. That is the root of creativity.
For business success, whether one’s title is strategist, IT exec, chief marketing officer, product designer, customer service rep or HR manager — a sensual-creative-artful person has an understanding of people as people, not just as a consumer. A sensual-creative-artful person has empathy for the complexity and simplicity of everyday people. There is a recognition that real people can all-at-once be wise and immature, hesitant and impulsive, weak and courageous, and that they can tolerate — and even savor — compartmentation and self-contradiction. As Walt Whitman wrote, “I am a multitude.”
Ever since the advent of the internet and social media, when communication between people and companies were not just in a one-way communication of business-to-audience, business should have changed from thinking only about people as “consumers.” In our new, altered context (circa 2020), now more than ever, business success requires a consideration of the whole person. The category, “consumer,” is too small of a box to put people in.
Life is NOT linear, objective or wholly rational (which invalidates many business models, one such being the “purchase funnel”). Peoples’ experience and behavior is derived from an emotionally-based logic and by symbolic associations they make between things that can seemingly have no obvious connection. Business would be more successful if it focused on comprehending the illogical preferences, the innocent desires, the mess of assumptions, and the untested deductions, people live by. People are not a physics problem. People are embodied thinkers. And understanding people as people requires more than a numeric explanation — it requires an understanding untethered from the usual language spoken in business.
Data gathered via smartphone life — so-called “Big Data” — do NOT assure big insights. The eminent business consultant, Roger Martin, noted when he wrote in Harvard Business Review, Sept/Oct 2017: “Big Data tends to narrow strategic options and hinder innovation” and “To make decisions about what could be, managers should devise narratives about possible futures, applying the tools of metaphor and emotion.”
Big Data robs us of our aliveness, and understanding people in all their aliveness is the basis of prediction, which is the name of the game, especially in these highly complex times. It’s now all too common that business forgets one simple reality: People do not run on facts or logic. Real life cannot be adequately represented by ones and zeroes. Emotion and belief still rule the roost. People do NOT only want more products; people primarily want more life, more dignity, more love and respect, and they want to feel more vital.
All The Metaphors Are Dancing: What Really Is Brand?
“Brand” had been with us since human time began. Millennia before marketing coined the term “branding,” the how, when, and why of people “attaching” to a person, product, or idea, has been nothing less than the engine of history. Attachment is why one product is preferred over another and why people lay down their lives for a cause.
Branding is usually defined by business as the process by which a company or product name becomes synonymous with positive attributes. But the sensualist-creative-artful person knows this definition only points to a mere commodity. The human mind is a maker of patterns, symbols, narratives, metaphor and myths. Human beings are wired to make meaning, not disembodied associations. In making meaning, people do not paint by the numbers.
In terms of how the human mind really works, brand — that non-logical, emotionally-based attachment — is actually obtained under only one condition: when a person metaphorically merges the story he or she authors for themselves about themselves with the story that person has of, say, a product.
Perhaps “The Boss” — Bruce Springsteen — is a good example of this attachment process. As seen in the documentary, “Springsteen and I,” many people express their love of Springsteen by giving voice to two sentiments: Bruce understands me; Bruce makes me feel less alone. That’s a pretty good definition of the feeling a real brand produces. Springsteen’s skill is in telling his story in such a way that people can read their own story into his story. His intention isn’t only selling; it’s in vitalizing ‘The Other.”
Creativity In An AI-Enabled Workspace
This article mentions sensuality, metaphor, paradox, self-story and language use; each a major aspect of the nature of mind and of human nature. Only when this knowledge is brought to bear on now-advancing AI capabilities, will technology begin to entrain the actual workings of human cognition. Thinking, feeling and memory are not logic-based, but they are patterned by emotion and symbolic associations. Such patterns can be excavated. Under such analysis, AI can take a major step forward in predicting human behavior. For example, primarily there are four levels of narrative complexity that are used by people to put their world together, and each individual has one preferred style. Moreover, machine learning, deep learning and active learning would escape from their own atmospheric constraints by employing a knowledge base that encompasses how people compose meaning by pre-selecting what to attend to, by sculpting new evidence to conform to old beliefs, by authoring plots that manifest their self-story and by imagining possible futures that create true stories in which only the facts are fictionalized — this, all in an effort to make meaning on the fly and not wait for a Rosetta Stone
LIFE IS STILL LIFE
By their very nature, sensual-creative minds do not just think about selling; they produce things that bring people more to life. Isn’t that the best definition of artfulness: Creating products and communicating about them in a way that stimulates people to have an expanded view of their world and of the world. That’s exactly what this new world of pandemic, climate change and culture wars, requires: to find a way to create a future that is sustainable and expansive for us all. That means “servicing” people, not manipulating them. Part of servicing is being able to predict in order to make the future, not just adapt to it.
For this, business leaders cannot continue to leave their individual “SELF” outside their office door. Business leaders need to stop thinking of themselves only as money managers and role models, but as human models.
Business leaders should explore more than their spread sheets — they should spread their wings and explore the natural world of real people, living real lives, real-time. If business leaders do that, they will find beauty and they will profit from that.
As Goethe said, “Do not hurry; do not rest.”