Culture eats strategy for Breakfast!

Peter Drucker

It has been a long, long  time since I blogged. But certainly not a long time since I’ve written. 

For the past two years, I have been dealing with the Dell EMC Merger as I went through an MSc in Data Business, with a 16,000 word thesis to produce, All this while working full time and being a husband and a Dad. Needless to say, I like any human being had to prioritise and some things did suffer. My wife and kids hardly saw me. I struggled with work, and keeping on target.

All of my spare time was consumed in Research. There were very challenging conversations, around my research, my work and my personal life. Yeah this Masters was not easy by any stretch. And it was made harder by the largest Tech merger in history. But yet I succeeded, I used Human centred design research with Agile Methodology to design and build an artefact. And its one of huge practical importance, delivers serious revenue, business growth and shows evidence that Influence Marketing is not about the Rock Stars of the Enterprise sector of IT. It’s about the people from the ground up. And its demonstrable that micro influencers carry far more ROI than the presumed superstars in the Industry.

I am now writing this post (actually was now, I was writing this on the 23rd June) ; on a flight to Portugal with my wife and kids for some much needed R&R. And the first thing I do when I relax is blog. Well I love blogging. I have missed it so much.

I am not a very good blogger, but I love sharing my thoughts and getting feedback. I like to share when I can. And the reason I’m blogging now is I have time to think, and I wanted to put my thoughts down. I also am deliberately being a data provocateur, to stimulate the conversation around Influence marketing and influence engagement.

My Masters, is an MSC in Data business, out of the Irish Management Institute and University College Cork.

I took it up because, I wanted to develop myself and keep myself relevant in a very volatile and uncertain industry. I also wanted to learn how to better define the problem I was trying to address with the program I run, that being the Dell EMC Elect. What I found surprising, was that even though I walked away with a human centred artefact that addressed the original problem I was trying to solve, its actually not that relevant or important. In fact it’s the least significant thing about what I learned.

While data is important (hell it’s the new oil, its practically money), its not the silver bullet. It is a silver bullet.  This Masters made me take a step back, and really look at the nature of influencers, Influencer Marketing, Champions, Rock Stars, Unicorns, the whole unwieldy gamut. And when I did I could not believe I was so stupid. The key to it all is of course the people. And the few erudite readers, who are reading this post, were waiting for me to state this obvious thing. And I am going to state it again, its about the people. It really is. And you are probably nodding in agreement.

I am going to challenge your nods though, and beyond the sound byte what does that mean? What is it about the people? Why are they so important? Are they only important because the sound byte says so! Beyond people being customers, having revenue, spending, buying, talking about your product or service or not, what are people? Who are these people? Why do we say they are important? Is it to make them feel good enough to part with their money, their voice, and their time? To me the industry, does not do much to show any more awareness beyond this.

And anyone is free to disagree with me, but I would stand my ground and say the Enterprise Industry, and by and large the IT Industry, does not demonstrate they go any deeper into people apart from calling them the most important asset and then trying to wrangle, revenue, time, knowledge, business growth, opportunity etc etc out of them. And I’m not saying the Industry does not value people, it does. The fact is without people there is no Industry. That said I’ll still say to you dear reader, and much of the people in the Industry don’t fully understand people, and how they are hurting their business and their customers, partners etc. by not fully appreciating who people really are or having a human centred approach to their business.

And I will also take the position that not acknowledging this as the status quo bias du jour,  is defending it. “Debunking the notions” hurts you and your business more than opening up to the idea of it. If you can read people so well then how the hell did you not see Donald Trump winning an election? You can blame the Russians all you want, but he won the election. And how did Brexit happen? Stupid people making stupid decisions?

If you think that, if you subscribe to ideas that nefarious n’er do wells, manipulated things, you are stuck in a status quo bias.

I’m neither for nor against Trump or Brexit, I have no direct stake in those situations. I have my own problems with a dead duck government that would rather pander to the whims of Brussels bureaucrats than engage the UK or US directly themselves at a time when it is ever more urgent to keep communication channels open and flowing.  Again, status quo group think dead end bias right here in Ireland. But I don’t hold theories that my government is full of incompetent people. They are acting incompetently, but that’s because they do don’t see the importance of people, even as they represent them. If I’m yanking your chain, let make it worse and say that I won a wager betting Donald trump would win. I never expected it to happen, but I saw something that few others did not. I knew Brexit would happen, and I was more surprised that no one else could see what I was seeing. I’m no seer or clairvoyant, I just observed what was happening and I focused on the people.  The Democrats on the US and the remainers in Britain committed the same sin. They assumed their perspective was the correct one, and furthermore  labelled those who disagreed or had a different perspective as “deplorables”. This ensured a mental barrier a staus quo bias, and also denied any constructive dialogue to verify that bias and check assumptions. And if you are going to call those who disagree with you “deplorable”, you have not possibility of dialogue, discourse, understanding or even the possibility of changing minds.

So, what is my assertion? Well put simply, people are complicated. (I can hear the sighs already 😉 )

But they really are, and they build complicated networks around themselves. Individuals/ single human beings / persons in networks have fascinating complicated, innovative and downright miraculous effect on other people, places and things. Human beings really are more than they appear to be.

Social Networks are tremendous and fundamentally related to goodness. And if you use a human centred approach to designing your solution you can achieve great things and solve problems through community wisdom.

And for clarification, following an edit of this blog post, I will reiterate I am from the ground up viewer of things. Celebrity and from the top down are antithetical to me. Unless you are talking from a military or paramilitary context. I’m not ignorant nor inexperienced with the chain of command and its requirements in military pr paramilitary organisations.  It is the chain of worship I balk at. Celebrity worship, politician worship, or pundit worship.  And I may talk about that in another blog post in due course.

I will end, that Peter Drucker’s statement, that “culture eats strategy fro breakfast” is a warning to all who are involved in design and design thinking. It is a deep warning, especially for those who think they have the pulse of cultural thinking and conditions.

I offer this final warning as an addition to that.

Don’t assume your cultural interpretation is the actual one that exists when you’re creating or designing. Engage the people you want to help and assess the actual cultural situation as part of your research into your problem or project. Seek out and listen to those who disagree with you. Listen to them, converse. You may not win them over but I’ll bet dollars to donuts their feedback is what really improves your design. If you fail to do that, and many do, your failure will be later and greater and guaranteed if you don’t pay attention to the actual cultural situation.

As a designer or creator, be focused, be resolute but be realistic, most of all with yourself. And remember, people are people. After all, as we used to quip sarcastically in Digital’s technical support group in Dublin “this job would be grand if it wasn’t for the customers”!

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