Monday, January 19, 2009

Give a Man a Hammer: Everything Looks Like a Nail

While this post does not fall neatly into the Leadership Module chronology of my Masters programme, it is still worth including it here. I am filing this anecdote under ‘analysis’, as it is also about awareness and how we each perceive the world through our own unique set of filters.

Today I received a well-written, considered and thoughtful corporate identity design brief from an accountancy firm. It was about twelve pages long. On one of the pages they had outlined their corporate brand values: Professionalism, Trust, Integrity, and so on (you can probably guess the rest of that list). There is nothing unusual in that, or indeed that they had also measured how they thought their current corporate identity rated against each of those values that they aspired to. What was really worth remarking on (to my eyes) was that they presented all of this as an Excel spreadsheet: with each brand value rated to two significant places of decimals (for example: Professionalism = 4.32). This was annotated with side-commentary giving statistical variance on each value – presumably for those readers with the accountancy firm itself who may be interested in querying some of the numbers.

At first I was gobsmacked on reading this. Then I was incredulous. My designer-brain knew that this laboriously-crafted slab of information was functionally useless in relation to the actual design project itself. However, pausing and giving it a second thought, what I then saw was a group of accountants working together, scratching their heads, most likely baffled by all of the unquantifiable ‘brand stuff’ and trying to articulate just what they needed as best as they could. Knowing something about the basic marketing principles involved, but struggling to grapple with them using their collective mental toolkit. In order to get something down on paper that they all could discuss and agree on they had to convert it into the lingua franca of their own profession: a mathematical table.

So while seeing oneself as working in an organisation with a Trust Score of 3.72 is probably one mental somersault too many for a designer’s mind, it must makes sense within these people’s world-view. Trying to see both sides, I have to guess that the incongruity of fuzzy-logic concepts like integrity and trust being pinned down in this way is as jarring to me as the ultimate business utility of those marketing concepts might be to these accountants.

Some useful questions arise here. What are my own mental filters? Which ones help me to perceive the world in an advantageous way? Which ones hinder my perception and create my own blind spots?