Henry Mintzberg (pic) is probably the world's number 1 expert on strategic planning. And its harshest critic.
In his most famous book on the subject, The Rise and Fall of...he upset just about every business guru (and lazy manager) by demonstrating a number of uncomfortable truths:
- there's no correlation between the quantity and quality of strategic planning and the outcome for the business
- obsessing with forecasting is a waste of time as no forecast is much use for very long or for long range thinking (most forecasts lose their accuracy quite quickly)
- "strategic" staff tends to create unnecessary work and highly political internal focus
- "thinking" separated from the organisation's key processes is largely ineffectual
I think there's another one: most strategic planning (including that which marketing, political and advertising folk indulge in) is misguided because it is based on a poor grasp of how things work.
In general management's case this can be about anything (as Pfeffer illustrates in the companion piece to Mintzberg's meisterwerk)
In marketing and communications, it tends to be about mass behaviour.
If you don't understand how that works OR if your model's assumptions are half-baked then...what chance do you have?
So while the old S King "where are we now, where do we want to go, etc" strategic triangle is all very well but I'd just like us to have a little think about the behaviour we're trying to change and how it arose (if you don't get that then how can you hope to change it?)
Maybe "how did they get to do this?"? Don't bother with anything else til that's cracked.
On my google alerts I get to learn about any number of Herd-related stuff. For example, the endless excitement/disappointment around the Thundering Herd of Marshall University (various college sports teams and their fans). And more than I ever wanted to know about herd-culling in various populations of deer, bison, buffalo and cattle....
And there are various folk in the bloggersphere blogging about (or rather mostly against) herd behaviour. Curiously, it seems a popular stance for those on the Righter side of things: don't follow the herd! think for yourself! Etc...
But the smartest thing I've seen lately is more sympathetic: following the Herd on holiday is mostly a good idea. You know that the sights and the facilities you want will be there, if other people are also going there; going somewhere stubbornly different or at a stubbornly different time (kids on the red-eye, discuss) is likely to be much harder...
Other people - and their behaviour - are particularly useful guides to what's going on, what to expect and what is or isn't safe/fun/valuable. They see what we can't see, taste what we can't taste, do what we can't yet do. Sometimes we read their recommendations, other times just their body language. In a social creature such as ourselves, other people are an essential information source. And why the heuristic "people like me think/do..." is so useful and all pervasive in our lives.
And why that old line from When Harry Met Sally still sings:
Prompted by Tom's comment yesterday, have been pondering this simple description of what our interventions - the social objects we create for our consumers etc - actually do:
They distort the existing social systems that shape our individual behaviours (e.g. by creating new connections between people, by amplifying/fuelling certain existing connections so that folk see each other's behaviour more clearly and frequently or by seeding new behaviours within these systems).
Hat tip to Barbara B and Jason O for this: nice piece on swarm intelligence in the NYT yesterday. Stupid (i.e. unintelligent or unthinking) agents can be collectively very smart (not just in guessing outcomes as James and John have shown); collective smartness doesn't need smart individuals.
According to Dr Iain D Couzin, whose work is the backbone of the article, the similarities between animal and human behaviour are striking:
“You look at liquid metal and at water, and you can see they’re both liquids,” he said. “They have fundamental characteristics in common. That’s what I was finding with the animal groups...”
The underlying mechansims seem to be the same, in ant and human alike.
Why is this important?
Well, if you're trying to understand mass behaviour, how it arises and how to shape it, maybe you don't need to dig deep into individuals' motivations and psyches...maybe understanding the rules of how the individual agents interact is enough...
Maybe the kind of mathematical biology that Couzin and co use could help us get there quicker and more preciesly. We've just got to get over our notions that humans are something somehow other or better than other social animals; maybe we play by just the same rules, we just fool ourselves that we don't.
More of this anon, have an exciting project in this area which is coming to the boil...
According to Adage WoM is now worth $1bn per annum (and growing).
The piece cites
"research suggesting it is more effective than other forms of advertising. For instance, a recent Nielsen Global Survey of over 26,000 people found that nearly 78% of respondents trusted "recommendations from consumers," a total 15% higher than the second-most credible source, newspapers. And this trust...leads to more sales at the cash register"
But I think what folk (including those lovely people at Ad Age) mean by WoM is the things that marketers do which are specifically designed to generate a WoM response.
The truth is that WoM has always been with us - long before marketing johnnies came along - and has always been one of the most tangible forms of peer-to-peer, consumer-to-consumer influence that primarily shapes both individual and mass behaviour.
And it's on top of the 'endogenous' (i.e. naturally arising) influence behaviours that the 'exogenous' (i.e. from outside forces like Marketing) WoM behaviour is built.
And it's only the most obvious and memorable form of peer-influence behaviour, not the most important. And actually a lot of it doesn't lead to behaviour change - much of it is phatic</em>. Just social exhaust noise.
When will we get over ourselves and realise that most stuff in the world is not the result of what we do? Real people get on very well without us and always have: what we do builds on what they do and uses the same mechanisms.
Just re-reading the Rizzolatti paper on mirror neurons and empathy I linked to yesterday.
Here's what the open para of the synopsis says:
"Humans are an exquisitely social species. Our survival and success depend criti-
cally on our ability to thrive in complex social situations. But how do we under-
stand others? Which are the mechanisms underlying this capacity?"
They cite Adam Smith - the great hero of the individualist tendency - on the fact that we seem deeply connected to and affected by each other and describe eloquently how they believe mirror neurons provide the physical underpinning of this connection. They - neuroscientists both - have a simple and very Herd view of our like pink-pawed species:
"Humans are social beings. They spend a large part of their time observing others
and trying to understand what they are doing and why"
Unlike those terrible neuromarketing vendors, these two understand the context within which we need to understand brain function - other people...
"Hours earlier the killer, apparently in a copycat version of the Virginia Tech killings in the US in April this year, had posted a video entitled Jokela High School Massacre 11/7/2007, on YouTube in the name of Sturmgeist89 (Stormspirit89)
The video depicted a building resembling the school bursting apart to reveal the killer pointing his gun at the camera. Other material posted on the internet, and removed yesterday following the murders, showed a gunman shooting at an apple in a forest and a 1,000-word "manifesto of a natural selector" outlining the scenario for yesterday's killings and last edited late on Tuesday" (the Guardian)
And copying is a weak force in shaping human behaviour? Just for low involvedment stuff like fashions and popular music? Wish it was so but it ain't
Great piece in this week's New Scientist on recent experiments which have actually shown these key braincells in operation in human brains (rather than inferred them from mu-wave diffusion or observed directly only in other primates).
In case you hadn't been paying attention, mirror neurons are braincells which act both as part of the motor and the cognitive systems - they fire both when an action is initiated and also when it is observed in another individual
A couple of thoughts from top Surfing Dude, Pete Nilewide on the area of participation as a mechanism for bringing about change.
First, this fantastic participative petition for surfers to protect the marine world. Just as we've been saying: give people something to do together and they just might - show them what others like them are doing and they're even more likely to....
Tempted to join in, myself (having fallen off a board or two in my youth). Maybe you want to join, too?
Second, the story of the SurfriderFoundation and how a human line in the sand can be much more powerful than written or electronic messaging in bringing about change.
As Pete says,
"The background is that one nearby stretch of beachfront is the most developed stretch in Australia. 3.5 kms of apartments on the beachfront. There is a long term erosion problem leading to concerns for the buildings. The owners want the government to build a seawall, but that will only lead to more erosion. Environmental groups have been campaigning for years with the only real option being councils and governments buying back the land. Environmental groups have used all the usual tools – petitions, lobbying, news articles etc. But their position was ignored and council was to build the sea wall. (Marketing ignored again!) Then one new guy said we have stop talking and start doing. They decided to put “a line in the sand”. The line being 3.500 people standing at the tide mark where the wall would be. A long line of people. People turned up to participate and the despite petitions of 5,000 or more people failing to gain any response the council could not avoid the issue of the participation of the smaller number of people. Seawall not built."
The thing to remember is that large numbers of people gathered together - real people, not numbers or messages - are really impressive and influential.
For all the fancy numbers, reports and committee protocols, people respond strongest to people. People as a social object?