Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Where The Right Answer Is a Question

Hats off to the Exploratorium in San Francisco. This exactly captures the reaction it is striving to evoke from its visitors, young and old alike.

The Exploratorium goes where flat-footed edu-tainment cannot tread. It's a collection of brilliantly crafted exhibits designed not just to educate but to spark a sense of wonder and stir curiosity within. Each display has been purposely made to compel its audience to physically interact with it, to engage in the sort of playful experimentation that yields rewarding results and engages the participant in a willing game of detective work to figure out what's going on.

As the street banner suggests, it is particularly well suited for helping youngsters learn. The setting encourages them to be absolutely fearless in their pursuit of knowledge. Any self-consciousness they might have about the limits of what they know, or of making mistakes or worst of all failing - the collection of forces that might otherwise hold them back and rob them of an enriching experience - melt instantly away the moment they step inside the Exploratorium.

You could also say that a hallmark of an good account planner is to work in a similar way. We didn't have a child-like capacity for play in mind, we were thinking rather about the role to stimulate further investigation. To deepen the inquiry in a meaningful way that advanced understanding of the challenge at hand, through iterative probing that gets quickly to the heart of the matter.

There are many situations in the communications or consumer behavior worlds in which a question being evoked as a response to a stimulus - or as the effect of an interaction - would be a vast improvement to what it elicits today.

Inspiration to do better, fluttering in the breeze on Gough street above the heads of commuters making their way wearily to work.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What's The Best Way To Make Careful Decisions?

Good decisions are rarely made carelessly. So there's an intuitive logic behind making careful decisions, whatever climate of decision making might prevail at the time.

In this era of flux, one characterized by many practitioners and pundits challenging existing principles in search of new and more reliable wisdom, this subject of intuition vs analysis and their relative value in decision making is highly topical.

In our view, the issue is rooted in a timeless theme of management science: the issue of thinking vs feeling in decision making.

The idea of using feeling in the context of decision making makes many people uncomfortable which is why intuition gets a bad rap. Emotion is associated with a lack of discipline and robustness in analysis (with good reason to some degree). The fact that intuition cannot be attributed to a specific place, to a linear, observable, concrete set of facts also makes it an easy target. Intuition cannot be explained. It emerges or not.

This character of intuition raises the other main driver of discontent that emerges with reliance upon it: the lack of control. Management needs to be confident it can replicate results, to assure the effective use of resources and ultimately the return to shareholders.

Which leads us to the underlying human issue in play here, which in my view is trust. Decision making begets responsibility and accountability. One feels no better having put that trust in the hands of so called 'experts' whose predictions and recommendations prove subsequently to be wrong than in an internal capacity which transcends tangible analysis and which cannot be explained.

Sound use of intuition depends on sound judgment, itself a product of experience and the right kind of reflection. As with any tool, erudite use comes from knowing how to use it and when. And when not to. This I believe, cannot be taught nor prescribed and in part sustains its immense value among those practitioners who do it well.


The topic was a provocative one shared in the Working Knowledge Bulletin by Harvard Business School by Profession James Heskett. The Full article appears here, and inspired a lively disucssion among a dispersed community.