I recall very clearly these words of wisdom I received from author Stephen Covey, who I met shortly after qualifying as a facilitator of his “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” programme some ten years ago.
Now, to be blunt, I didn’t see them as words of wisdom at the time. Indeed, I was struggling to come to terms with a lot of the language used in the Covey learning experience – it has a whole new dictionary, which comes complete with hundreds of quotes and quips to suit just about every occasion. But, increasingly, I now appreciate what he was saying. People see the same things very differently.
Last week I took several clients and colleagues to the Malcolm Gladwell/Steven Levitt conference, organised by Benchmark for Business (which gets top marks, by the way). I was struck by the story of the Getty museum purchasing a kouros statue for around $7m in 1983 after in-house experts, armed with the latest technology, spent a year authenticating it.
Unfortunately, the immediate reaction at its unveiling to a group of most distinguished art historians was cries of “fake!”, and now the museum website states that the statue’s origins are “about 530 BC, or modern forgery”.
The conference posed the question: how can these experts have such different opinions?
I thought about the recent telephone call I had with my accountants and tax advisers and pondered that differing opinions is actually the norm in business.
Taking this further, I’m continuously reminded by my soon-to-be 16-year-old daughter that my choice of music/film/literature is “lame” (or “random”, if she’s feeling generous), and I regularly find myself thinking “did I see the same game of football, cricket or rugby?” when discussing the weekend’s sport with colleagues.
In fact, I think that everybody sees everything differently.
More often than not, when helping clients create and implement a HEMP (Highly Effective Marketing Plan) and asking them to complete step ten, entitled “Know Yourself”, I find that a group of four or five board directors will write down totally different answers to questions such as “what’s the one big thing about our company/product/service?”, “what’s the personality of our business?” and “what’s our greatest customer benefit?”.
In far too many cases the answers are not just different – they’re completely contradictory! If you dare to pose these questions to your board and you find that your top team has differing answers to fundamental questions, imagine how your sales force might answer and, most importantly of all, your customers?
Just yesterday I received a phone call from a client who said that he found our marketing proposal “offensive”. I listened to his concerns, only to discover that we were 100 per cent in agreement. We had proposed everything he wanted, but his interpretation of our written proposal was completely different from ours.
Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever experienced someone misunderstanding an email, for example? If you were to review your website, company literature and other communications, would they all say the same things, be in alignment, and would all readers take away the same messages? I doubt it.
And here’s the contradiction. On the one hand, we create websites, brochures and other communications to try to help our clients see how useful our offering will be for them. Yet by doing so we might actually be confusing them or, worse, even turning them off.
So what can we do about it?
In the same way you get legal and financial documents checked thoroughly by lawyers and accountants, any sales or company literature should also be run through by the experts before publication – and your experts in this case are your customers. Their paradigms are the ones that matter most.
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