Category Archives: Business Case

Words We Use Say Who We Are

#ChaunceySays I like to watch. Words we use the most paint colorful pictures of how we became who we are…. https://books.google.com/ngrams

If we could ask society what has been most on her mind for her most important institutions during the last few centuries, the words she has used most in her written works would suggest her answers.

The most visually striking “answer” to me from the above word frequency chart of big picture issues is the shift from religion to business as the key organizing principle of society with the crossover point occurring as the industrial revolution began to really take off in 1880.

The growth in business dominance soared as the major institution in socitey peaking in the gilded age of the 1920s,  and then declining after the crash of the Great Depression,  two world wars, and the rebuilding of post-war society up to the mid 1970s,  after which,  business began to reassert its dominance.

Another observation that stands out is education,which seemed to gradually increase in importance during most of the last two centuries up to the mid 1970s just as business began to take off again after a decline. The  mid 1970s is also when mainframe computers began to be widely used in business, and also when personal computers were being introduced to society.

Education also began to decline in importance in the mid-1970s as it settled in at the top of a stew of other big picture concepts, including in order of high to low importance based on frequency of word  use: culture, meaning, science, reality, religion, and philosophy.  What is surprising to me is the inclusion in the middle of the range of use of the soft concepts of culture, meaning, reality, religion and philosophy along with the hard concepts of science in the same  relatively narrow spread in frequency of word use.

I can’t tell you how many times CEO clients and their senior employees have expressed discomfort in the discussing these “non-business” soft issues with me privately even as they wondered what was it that really mattered from the work their companies were doing.

Bottom line:  The lasting impact of people’s contribution to society– of individual employees and CEOs who founded their own companies–matter beyond how much money they make.  All people want to know that they matter.

In the 1990s the Internet pushed its way ‘instantly ” into this stew that had been brewing for over two centuries. This unprecedented  rapid rise in word use for a new word portended the future dominance of a new frictionless society being brought to life with digital technology. The “distance” between what people did and what mattered at the end of the completion of what they were working on began to increase exponentially with the Internet.  It’s hard to tell the relative importance of one bit over another.

Communication between humans has arguably been the linchpin for humanity’s rapid ascent to life dominance during past millennia, and words have been the primary information carriers of this communication.  We are now in the process of shifting society’s basic information language from words to bits while also increasing communication speeds by many thousand orders of magnitude. How will this change the big picture?  One critical way is explored next.

#ChauceySays I like to talk after I listen. Then I know what to say. Once I tried to talk first and the other person got mad. We stopped talking. https://books.google.com/ngrams

A simplified model of communication between humans can be framed simply in terms of what we want from others and what we have to give others, or  “buy and sell” interactions. Two words describe the fundamentally different ways society has learned to conduct this basic communication exchange: RELATIONAL  and TRANSACTIONAL.

Relational Information Exchange

The oldest form of communication, based on word-use frequency in the above chart, is relational.  When communication was used for trading goats for pigs in early times the authentic relation between each trader in terms of trust and knowledge of  past behavior, was probably paramount for a human to remain an active trader in its village.  Relationship was probably as, or more, important than the traded commodity or service over the long run.  This is the relational communication exchange of buying and selling based on mutual satisfaction.

Transactional Information Exchange

A new form of buying and selling exploded in popularity in the 1960s when an electronic “middleman” was placed in between the buyer and seller–a television advertisement. This was the birth of common acceptance of transactional buying and selling in which authentic human “relationship” was severed from the human-to-human information exchange process ; the features and benefits of the commodity or service being offered for sale was described primarily by electronic images of people  (usually actors) selling the product or service.

This was a profound change in the most fundamental activity of humanity; it seamlessly took place without an apparent worry by the general public.

Imagine me offering to trade my goat for your pig with each of us hiring strangers to draw a pictures of my goat and your pig in the dirt by scratching out features and  benefits with a stick, and then having strangers mediate the trade without us being there;  I am sure there were also fees of some kind for the two strangers to close the sale.  This could never happen, right?

Well a modern version of this silly example actually  happened.  Even though Wall Street  and Main Street pretty much use electronic transactional communication exchange for all product and service exchanges today, the word-use frequency of RELATIONAL deal making has remained dominant over TRANSACTIONAL deal making, probably because it reflects our deepest and enduring human need for authenticity.

Today, most of us accept electronic images of people making promises about pictures of products we might buy or sell because it is cheaper and more convenient.  I do this, even though I know in my heart that the images are not real and authentic–they are convenient mirages of reality (is there ever anything else?).  We discount this illusion for convenience, but in the process we have to fight against learning to discount authenticity  itself–losing something we crave that is more valuable than any product we can buy or sell.

Perhaps that is why authenticity is in such high demand today in every aspect of life--it has become scarce.  The absence of  authenticity creates a vacuum for anyone who will say what they really think, unfiltered--REGARDLESS OF WHAT THAT AUTHENTICITY REPRESENTS, good or bad or in between.

Donald Trump’s presidency would not be possible without this demand for authenticity, even though all that authenticity means is saying what you honestly feel and think in the moment.  Comedy arguably trades in authenticity more than any other profession  because comedians reveal truths everyone knows that have not been made apparent.

As we move into the #FrictionLessSociety (another giant step removing us from human authenticity) into fully rendered and experienced virtual reality made of living self-aware information patterns exchanging information, what will it mean to be human?

@viewshift1

Question: Could we be moving in a giant circle from traditional human authenticity, to digital substitutes, to transhuman self-aware information patterns--a new and deeper post-modern level of relational authenticity?