IC: Your future is the ability to generate ideas

MADRID – My trusty researcher and I have completed the majority of background work ahead of my putting finger to key and Sharpie™ to A3 paper in crafting my second book, Brand & Talent, out in 2014 through Kogan Page.

Having been around the block in the worlds of internal communication and employee engagement, the whole thing makes for quite depressing reading.  There has been virtually no innovation in the field of internal communication and employee engagement in nearly 20 years.  And using social media isn’t innovative, by the way. Nor is calling it “gamification” (today’s latest old rope).

I think the insight lies somewhere in the region of Dan Pink’s Drive – specifically his observation, which I don’t think he made nearly enough of, that there is a difference between algorithmic and heuristic approaches.  It similarly lies in the territory of increasing scrutiny and debate about the irrelevant that seems to be the stock in trade of the professional associations.

It certainly brings clarity to a point I made to my good friend Mike Klein several weeks ago when we explored LTUAE over some wonderful curry in Brick Lane, London.  I had half-jokingly asserted that internal communication is an organizational capability that no longer required an associated function.  That unlocked some of Mike’s thinking about an IABC-related article he subsequently published on Ragan.com about competence vs advocacy.  My reaction to the draft article he asked me to look at was that distinguishing between whether advocacy or competency were the “right” strategies for an association was missing the whole point.  He begged to disagree.

But having been pondering this and reviewing the research in front of me, Pink has nailed it without intending to.  The association view of the world is one of competence and capturing best practices. Those who know me know my view about so-called best practices.  The profession’s obsession with discovering, rewarding and sharing ‘best practices’ is probably the single best way to institutionalize an inability to innovate.  In other words, in the various associations’ quests to codify and file what the best approaches are, it has rendered the vast majority of practitioners unwilling or unable to think and behave heuristically.  To solve the problem in front of them using a blank sheet of paper.  Which leaves scant few of us to get on with innovating.

I told Mike the real prize was if communication professionals could prove that they could generate ideas that solve problems and overcome challenges – pigeon-holed definitions and competences aside.   He begged to disagree.

So, coincidentally, Pink’s separation of algorithmic and heuristic approaches brings me into agreement with Mike: That a competency-driven approach is about as wrong as you can possibly get, but for very different reasons than those Mike puts forward in his usual eloquent (if not in my case persuasive) way.

Where has this led me? Without spoiling the thesis of the upcoming book, it’s pretty simple.  The role of professional communicators needs to shift from tactical competence to value-building integration to heuristics. Ideas.  Again, I have a passion for organisations and their stakeholder ecosystems as a complex adaptive system where mastery of only a single discipline is worse than useless; it destroys value by overly focusing on narrow competence.  Dan Gray and I call it the down stroke of the T; the value now and in the future will be predominantly in the cross stroke.

This has been proven at the coalface, at least in my personal experience, where my role has been more focused on shaping senior leadership thinking around integration, alignment, and cross-functional collaboration relative to Purpose, Ambition, Proposition and corporate strategy than “how” we communicate and engage.

This, to me, is really where we all ought to be operating.

And yes, of course, competence is needed. But it’s just a foundation, and one that in my opinion has been grossly overcomplicated and made harder than it really is.  I always equate associations attempting to codify this stuff as the equivalent of the church’s use of Latin in Medieval times … trying to blind ‘em with science is the last refuge of the scoundrel.


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