On one side, they say "Mobile first!" These are the same people who used to say "Social first!" On the other side, they say "Show me the ROI!" This is what the other side always says. I say "Meh." Both sides trot out slide deck after slide deck either with kinetic-text videos with upbeat music or with dry tables and charts that inform but don't inspire.
They author so many infographics, I'm surprised that nobody is yelling "Infographics first!". All of the speeches, presentations and infographics are laden with either narrative and perspective or statistics and projections proving how the latest fad is the newest version of the Holy Grail. How many trends will rise and fall before people stop bandwagon-jumping and acknowledge the basic truth? The only lasting strategy in the current age of abundance is "Humans first."
I attended the one-day class taught by Edward Tufte because I admire his near-religious adherence to the idea that we can find ways to improve our communication of quantitative information. I did, however, leave with a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth regarding what I perceived as a dismissal of narrative, story and persuasion as legitimate forms of communication.
On the other side of the chasm, I read David Szabo's article on startups and I was struck by something that, along with the rise of the Sniper Apps, is coming back into fashion. Some thought leaders are beginning to remember (or is it unforget?) that experiences that make people happy (or sustainably distract them from boredom or pain) are the key to developing audience engagement.
Although I am on the record for being a hater of lists, I liked Szabo’s article, but could not help notice a couple of Titanic-sized gaps. As a person with a deep background in UX, I believe that questions on happiness are necessary. As a person who also has a deep background in business and technology, I know these questions are not sufficient. Greatness will only come, and be sustained, when a defendable, differentiated business model is present that creates value both in terms of profit and happiness.
People Don't Reduce
On one side, reductionism is rampant in corporate America. The endless parade of unary thinkers, who reduce all human activity to equations when making decisions and wonder why they cannot sustain a significant level of engagement with consumer, partner or employee audiences, astounds me. The answer is simple: Outside of Isaac Asimov's Foundation novels, people don't reduce. Happiness doesn't reduce. I would even go so far as to say that few, if any, human emotions reduce. Human beings and their emotions are rational and irrational at once (which is, in itself, irrational) and yet, the quant cultists keep denying that qualitative and holistic approaches have value.
I'm not arguing that quantitative measurements don't matter. I'm arguing the basic truism that not all that counts can be measured and not all that is measured counts. If the quants were right, then Motorola and the six-sigma ideologues would not have faded into irrelevance only to be acquired for their patents by a vision-driven company.
The chairman of Forrester is lining up against every analyst and predicting a decline for Apple and citing the decline of Sony, all for the lack of a qualitatively driven leader. While I'm not sold on the idea that Apple is headed for a significant decline, as a student in organizational behavior, I do subscribe to the idea that a balanced team of left- and right-brain thinkers who understand and respect the perspectives and ways of their teammates is necessary to drive organizations into uncertain futures.
Balance in All Things
In many enterprises right now, qualitative strategists seek to take advantage of the current pace of investment acceleration in UX/CX/IT initiatives and are shifting the academic and corporate dialog from functionality to pleasure. In this attempt to bridge the chasm that realizes itself in the many forms of business dysfunction that we all see every day, the holists must take care not to go too far lest they make the same mistakes that not only the quants are and have been making, but that all monists have made before.
We must seek balance between quantitative and qualitative approaches. Atomism and holism each have complementary value and, when combined, can build experiences that not only make people happy but also make businesses a nice profit. This enlightened understanding is one of the core ideas that have driven some of the most recent unpredictable successes such as TOMS Shoes.
Each side will rail against the progress made by the innovators in an attempt to rail against the good with cultist cries of imperfection and impurity. Strategic philanthropy is a well-grounded idea that is not only backed by universally hailed academic geniuses such as Michael Porter and Philip Kotler, but also has tons of examples out there in the real world. When talking about purpose-driven businesses, the holistically predisposed must remember that what you resist, persists.
Dan Pink Needs Revision
A Whole New Mind is one of my favorite books from the last ten years. Pink is brilliant in his insight and understanding of the current trends in Asia, Automation and Abundance and how right-brain thinkers will help industry transcend the flatland of flaccid and uninspiring experiences, but Pink is, in my view, incomplete. The current trend of idolatry that surrounds Apple and Steve Jobs may indeed cause a shift toward greater respect for inspired and uncompromising design, but like any other guiding principle, it breaks down when taken to extreme at the expense of acknowledging the required balance and fluidity between itself and its complement.
If the reign of the quants is to come to an end beyond another boom-and-bust cycle (which we are experiencing right now in the social and mobile spaces) the holists must not fight the quants. The holists must not make the quants wrong. And the holists can't just tolerate the quants either. We must embrace the quants and inspire them to make a whole new sum that is paradoxically both made up of, and greater than, its parts.