Forget leaders, we need inspiration

18th Jan 2006

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Once upon a time big organisations used brand and advertising to present a trusted face to consumers as they replaced local businesses. Today, we have relationship marketing and corporate social responsibility to do the same job. But if these ideas are to transform the heart of our businesses we are going to have to change the way we think – not an easy task.

Don't leave it to the academics

Now, thinking is a serious business; not just for academics whilst the practitioners get on with the real work of doing. If you don’t believe me, just count how many times in the next week you hear something akin to ‘marketing need to think differently’, ‘the trouble with IT is that they’re very traditional in their thinking’, or ‘our problem is we cannot change the way people think’. Annoyance at the way others are perceived to think lurks at the root of many CRM problems.

The challenge of thought leaders

Our 'business mind sets' are also being increasingly challenged by influential ‘thought leaders’:

  • "How could you make business kinder?" posits Anita Roddick of The Body Shop.

  • "You hope that business might do the odd thing to be friendly to you… the term for this thinking is corporate responsibility" says David Cameron, the new leader of the UK’s Conservative party.

  • "Throw out all notions that ‘this is how things get done’ and start again; only bring back the things you know work" advised Clive Woodward, manager of the winning England Rugby Team.

Anita, David and Clive and others like them are throwing business a challenge; are we geared up to meet it? Do we take the time to think, or are we so absorbed by benchmarks and best practice that we are copying ourselves to extinction.

The time to think

It's strange, but if you sit at your desk to think – people will feel quite at liberty to interrupt you; after all you are not 'doing' anything. Run around being busy, and they’ll leave you alone. Yet, as our organisations hit the white water of environmental change, we need more than ever to think about options, rather than wallow around in a mire of compromise and muddle. The rapids are a dangerous but necessary place to be, for its where innovation happens.

Thinking is at the heart of change management

Holgar Nauhermer, of The Change Management Toolbook agrees. Last year he completed a large study in the practices and realities of change management. The research concludes that business transformation is the result of organisational learning. Organisational learning, in turn, is the result of individuals thinking through the disadvantages and opportunities of options: frequently based on trial and error. Courting failure is better than adopting best practice. (See our interview with Ajay Kelkar of HDFC Bank)

More interestingly he has found that giving people the time and facilities to think creates the motivation to get rid of the 'we don't do things like that around here' mentality.' Why? Because people improve their own personal mastery,and feel they are gaining something valuable from the change. (see Change Management – Jennifer Kirkby)

Co-creation is the condition

There is only one condition for this to work-co-creation. People should work together to enhance each others thinking. They need to appreciate different thinking styles e.g. creative, analytical, intellectual and what each brings to the party. Sometimes you need systems thinking for the big picture and sometimes scientific thinking for analysis; meditation is recommended for insight. If your organisation lacks some thinking styles you may be missing out; I'm frequently told of the dearth of big picture specialists.

Conflict is Greek

Edward De Bono, a great exponent of the disciplines of thinking, criticises the habit of Western thinking for having its roots in conflict. This, he says, goes back to the Greek Gang of Three - Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Conflict has its place, but there is more to be gained in organisational learning by parallel thinking.

Parellel thinking is where everyone looks at a problem from different views at the same time. It’s akin to a group walking around a house to look at each view together, rather than all looking at different views at the same time and arguing about which is correct. Thus a problem is put on the table and everyone must, at the same time, look at it in the same light. This is his 'Six Thinking Hats' method used to advantage by a number of organisations including Geoff Young at Sanity Group, who uses it for strategic planning (see our interview with Geoff Young)

Conflict resolution

Companies who have not put staff through Myers-Briggs ( or TMS Team Learning ( training to understand different thinking and learning styles should consider doing so. It can be most revealing to find out why some people are rooted in detail, whilst others seem to annoyingly know the answers off the top of their heads, without any substance. Why do some people weep and wail over the way policy will affect staff, whilst others have tunnel vision on the goal in hand. Understanding and appreciating the differences, puts people on the same course and overcomes the need for conflict resolution.

Encourage open source thinking

Linux is a wonderful case of team thinking. A Delphi study is another extremely useful way to look at the whole scope of an issue, and get agreement on definitions and the way forward. Open source thinking is a skill many organisations should encourage, using 'collaboration software', positive encouragement and mutual goals. And not only with staff, companies like Apple harness customer thinking too. Today it’s not knowledge that is power but team thinking and application. Something found by Vineet Kalucha of Q.Know Technologies (see our interview with Vineet Kalucha)

Perhaps leaders are not so necessary!

In his 2004 book The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki argues that a diverse opinion group of independently minded individuals can reach better decisions than a 'think tank' of like minded experts; especially when there is a common 'cultural' understanding. Maybe our current received wisdom of success through strong leadership should be questioned. Maybe there is another way, if diversity in thinking styles and the constructs of thinking disciplines are put in place alongside organizational ledgends (see our interview with Anthony Impey of Optimity).

Jargon or politically correct?

Another method to help change thinking might be to encourage the use of different language. But, I hesitate in recommending this, as I have seen it abused and become a weapon with which to politically castigate those who will not toe the line. But the use of management speak and jargon is a death knell to thinking (see Winning friends and influencing people). It is also unintelligible to customers when it leaks into their conversations - "I need to transfer you to the retention unit," said an O2 staff member recently when I simply enquired about having my pack number. Fortunately, I knew what that meant but there are many who wouldn’t.


But try a game I recently played with a colleague who wants to change his company’s mindset from inside-out corporate thinking to outside-in customer thinking. We wrote down on a bingo card all the inside-out words and terms people used like, customer centric, customer experience and loyalty. We then tried to have a conversation without using them and think of alternative outside-in words. Try it yourself, it’s not easy.

However, Anita Roddick in her book A Revolution in Kindness says that she found that once she had changed the “language of business from one which is purely economic, to one of reflection, care and dedication to social justice, that people felt they could bring their heart to the workplace. Then and only then did the workplace shift from a Monday-to Friday death to a Monday- to Friday sense of feeling alive." So it can work. Maybe the answer is not to be prescriptive about words, but encourage creativity in language.

The Renaissance

Kindness and business, now there are two concepts to laterally spark off each other to find the heart of relationship marketing/corporate social responsibility. To get there I advocate that we need a revolution in thinking. Something akin to the stir that was caused when Botticelli launched his La Primavera on the Italian scene. That helped change the mindset of the western world from a focus on the afterlife to a focus on individual life, and gave rise to a Renaissance in thinking.

Sandro Botticelli: Primavera c. 1482

My thanks to Paul Crick, of Inforte and Alison Zakers of Pinfold Consulting for their help in the research for this article.

Please add your own thoughts and opinions by clicking on the 'Add your own comment' link below.

Jennifer Kirkby
Strategy & Business Analyst, CMC

[email protected]

Find out more about Jennifer Kirkby

Further Reading:

  • A Revolution in Kindness - Anita Roddick

  • The Wisdom of Crowds - James Surowiecki

  • Taking Stock (A survey on the practices and future of change management) – The Change Management Toolbook

  • Six Thinking Hats – Edward de Bono

  • Seven Secrets of Inspired Leaders – Phil Dourado and Phil Blackburn

  • The Next Hot Topic in CRM – Jennifer Kirkby

  • Change Management – Jennifer Kirkby

  • Winning friends and influencing people - Jennifer Kirkby

  • Interview with Geoff Young, Sanity Group

  • Interview with Vineet Kalucha of Q.Know Technologies

  • Interview with Ajay Kelkar of HDFC Bank

  • Replies (5)

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    By AnonymousUser
    18th Jan 2006 17:01

    Business owes responsibility to itself and itself alone. When it is diverted into thinking of social issues it ill serves itself, its shareholders, its employees and ultimately society. If business does involve itslef in social matters it should only do so where they will beneficially effect its position, not otherwise.

    Society is best served by healthy, agressive, competitive businesses maximising their profits and their long term success. That way they will prosper to pay more taxes for government to spend.

    This is not to say that a business should do anything to harm or dis-advantage society or individuals. Far from it. The activities of a business should at the very least be neutral to society.

    Before spending time criticising companies Government and society should put its own house in order. In the UK we have falling productivity overall as a result of hugely increased Government and Local Authority payrolls resulting from the creation of unneccesary jobs. It is for government to show true social responsibility by becoming far more efficient in order to release funds generated from taxes on the profits and wages of business. This money can then be spent where it should be to benefit society.

    Thanks (0)
    By Jennifer Kirkby
    19th Jan 2006 00:45

    Great comment Ian and one put by others. I do believe though that the point is for Business and Government (and Society) to work for the same ends, and not oppose each other. Of course strong, healthy, competitive business is crucial for a healthy society. I would also add another benefit of business, innovation. But there are those who would heap the ills of society onto big business and we are not helping with clumsy attempts at customer management. We all need a rethink, if not an image change!

    Thanks (0)
    By AnonymousUser
    19th Jan 2006 10:41

    Doing business with anybody should be a joyous interaction for both parties. It doesn't matter whether it's buying something at the Flea market or paying your utility account. What's needed is interaction with people who care and value your custom. This is why the people at the coal face are so important as they not only represent their employer but also creates a lasting impression in the customer's mind of their organization. As a consumer I like to spend my money at places where it is a pleasure to do business. If I don't get that feedback it is very seldom that I will return to that place.

    Thanks (0)
    By AnonymousUser
    20th Jan 2006 10:07


    Whilst I agree in principle with some of Ian's comments about business adding value to society through the pursuit of the profit motive, his apparent conclusion that "the business of business is business" is at best short-sighted and at worst a danger to both business and society itself.

    Don't get me wrong, I am all in favour of free, open & lightly-regulated markets, however, in recognition that business and society are inextricably linked in many ways.

    At a simplistic level, they are linked through the chain of supply and demand. Any business that over-charges customers and under-delivers will quickly go out of business. And customers talking to customers greatly influences the success of companies in the market. For example, JD Power research suggests that 25% of customers' choice of mobile telecoms provider is driven by customer word of mouth recommendations.

    At a more fundamental-level, business and society are linked through the framework of government rules and regulations that are essential to ensure that markets remain free and open. The rules & regulations of are set by governments partly in response to society's expectations. The recent greed and excesses of some companies' management in the US resulted in an indignant public outcry and ultimately in the draconian Sorbanes-Oxley regulations.

    Business clearly does not operate independent of society. Successful businesses recognise the different stakeholders and their relative importance when formulating strategy. Although some do this through warm, fuzzy approaches to CSR, the majority do it through hard, economic analysis of the factors that influence business success and how they should respond. This inclusive, stakeholder approach to strategy in no-way prevents them from actively pursuing the profit motive.

    Some of the best thinking on the linkage between business, its behaviour and society is by Ian Davis the Worldwide MD of McKinsey & Company. His recent article about "What is the Business of Business?" published in The Economist and available at the McKinsey Quarterly website ( ) sets out the arguments very clearly. As does the British economist John Kay in his essay on "The Role of Business in Society" available at his website(

    Society is best served by business actively pursuing the profit motive. But business needs to recognise that this can only be done with the acquiesence of society and those who govern on its behalf.

    Graham Hill
    Independent Management Consultant

    Thanks (0)
    By AnonymousUser
    21st Jan 2006 00:29

    Let's acknowledge that great leadership comes from the passionate hearts of leaders. Leaders who do not convey heartfelt conviction seldome achieve greateness in its absence.

    Followers, too, respond at the heart level - to the passion of the leader, and to the passion of others who follow passionate leaders. The pasion can be modest, even silent, in its expression, but it drives people.

    Gotta show passion in your newsletter, for example.

    Thanks (0)