got golden handcuffs?

Last week the cover of the Economist headlined BE AFRAID, Occupy Wall Street grew by giant steps around the US (in Portland, OR, where I live, the mayor and police joined ‘the 99%’,) and the balance of power shifted yet again in Syria.

David Berreby’s excellent article in Strategy & Business argues that we modern humans are actually well-adapted to live in this kind of a world.  It’s a fresh and well-researched view of what it means to be fit for the Information Age reality, what puts us at our best, and our natural urge for freedom.  One CEO
… put an end to all the complaints in one swoop, when he switched the teams from salaries and work rules to a hunter ethos: a team gets 26 percent of the company's take from a client. How and when it works is up to the team. Productivity has almost doubled… 
Freedom and responsibility are the very best golden handcuffs there are…
I happened also to review this TED talk by Harvard researcher Dan Gilbert, arguing that,  no matter what happens, we’re psychologically adapted to be happy about it.  (Predictions to the contrary, a lottery winner and a new paraplegic are equally happy one year after the event…)   Most of us our are short on friends who are happy about the Euro crisis and the financial industry in general, nor are they likely to happy about it in a year’s time, but there’s some good pondering here.  Gilbert’s research shows pretty clearly that we’re strongly inclined to make it all OK.  And yesterday a BBC health news article goes further into how the brain ‘rejects negative thoughts.

I am inclined to agree. The weak ties that enable innovation, as Richard Ogle demonstrated in Smart World, are key to forging new ways to thrive in our fast-changing reality.  Berreby argues that they come naturally
Perhaps the information economy, that purely human creation, reproduces our ancestral environment, replacing literal landscapes and foraging with a virtual version.
changes promote autonomy, flexibility and "weak ties" and that the "changes associated with post-industrial systems" are "more compatible with humans' biological nature than those occurring in earlier ones.
You probably believe that the ability to learn is the sine qua non in business.  And maybe you’re on to your own and others' desire for freedom and autonomy as the ultimate golden handcuffs.  Certainly some leaders have learned to put them to good use.

So we like to learn, we’re good at change - but we have a tendency to tell ourselves that things are better than they are.
How much trouble are we really in?

And how might we know? What combination of models and thinkers might help us see beyond our biases and blindness?

Got any ideas?

To increase your value, mind your promises

There’s no doubt that our economic world has changed and continues to change. And there’s little doubt that most people don’t like change – Neuro scientists agree – a great majority experience ambiguity as a threat. Further, the worst threat of all is heightened in a shifting economy: that we might lose, we might be rejected – not included in the exchanges of our choice.

two guys thought bubblesExchanging with others is how we humans thrive. We have a strong desire to contribute – it’s in our biology. Not surprisingly, our brains are well-equipped with wiring about exchanges, both as contributors and as recipients. Much of what goes on ‘inside our heads’ is about where we stand with others, the value we provide and what they provide us, who we can trust and for what, and whether people genuinely know and care about us.

hudsonWe can spark ingenuity by focusing on others’ vulnerability and how we want to serve them – and we quickly becoming energized. As a Business Anthropologist, I would like everyone to view commerce as an opportunity. Though the brain can’t do that in the context of a threat, fear is automatically trumped when we’re faced with ‘our people’s’ concerns. We’ll jump into a freezing river, or whatever it takes.

Day-to-day commerce is somewhat less heroic – to the consternation of some and the relief of others. In the modern world, we are called upon to articulate what others can rely on us for. During most of human history – the 3 million years when the brain and society were evolving together – our ancestors knew their trading partners their entire lives. They did not have to design new exchanges, articulate brand promises, and engage in sales conversations. But we do. Much as we might like it to be otherwise, other people do not automatically know what we can promise. We have to tell them if we want them to know.

Though it may not get your adrenalin spurting like an emergency plane landing, being current with the value you add is your primary responsibility. Worse, in a shifting world - though you may not like ambiguity nor view it as an opportunity, peoples’ concerns change, and as they do, you’ll probably be called upon to update your promises. I invite you to ask:

  • What do you want others to rely on you for?
  • What’s the most valuable promise you can make (and reliably deliver?)

Fortunately, our brains are highly wired for that very question: to both make the promise and to consider the value of others’ promises. (We’re built to orient ourselves to exchanging with others.) Promises reduce ambiguity. Being mindful of what you promise will increase your value and make you a desirable trading partner.

What might you promise this year, this month, this week, today, to address others’ concerns?

Time to Reposition?

I listened to a podcast with Jack Trout of Positioning fame – indisputably one of the greats - a day or two ago.  He has a new book, Repositioning: Marketing in an Era of Competition, Change and Crisis.  The question set me to wondering whether –given the impact of economic, climatic, social and political concerns in the last 18 months – we aren’t all facing the challenge to reposition.   

Asked why his original 1987 book is still a must-read (probably by someone who hadn’t read it), he politely pointed out that the subtitle says it all:  The Battle for Your Mind.  He went on to clarify yet again that marketing takes place in the mind of the prospect. 

It’s remarkable to me that so many marketers – some highly paid – still don’t get that point.  The 12 bloggers in this recent eBook - including yours truly -  implore marketers to learn to tune into the mindset of their customers in 2010.  This is still a necessary reminder after all these years???  Trout jokes in the podcast that even now, when he’s brought in to ‘fix’ a brand [one assumes for significant fees], many on the marketing team are obviously counting the minutes till he leaves, when they go back to doing exactly as they were doing before he got there

There's little doubt that prospects’ worlds have shifted significantly in the last 18 months.  The question  of repositioning certainly seems warranted.  How might each of us serve those new mindsets?

Another imperative to Reposition came across my screen same day,  in a new article in Strategy and Business  
We already know that companies with an articulated purpose that goes beyond simply the expediency of “making more money” have fared much better in the downturn. They will also fare better in the recovery. 
I’m off to buy the book.

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Are You Fit to Thrive in Any Economy?