Insight, the counter factual to what we know


dot dot dot

A belated response to a package I unexpectedly left for a friend who apologized for not acknowledging its arrival sooner. ended with

” more importantly , I am at a loss for words.  Truly I don’t know what to say . ”

My return reply was this:

Its ok,

“it’s possible to talk about something and have the words themselves not be very telling”

associations ..the dog that didn’t bark?
I stole the quote, but it’s applicable
We live in strange times, and life is strange.
Obviously i was feeling a bit spunky…just looking at the word, makes me laugh.

to exchanges robbed of words but positive sentiments
you are very welcome.

His response:

“Riddle me this.”

I share this as example of human to human conversations.
There’s no chance that a cheeky chatbot would have written such a response. It’s why people are less predictable, making their every move less certain and the exciting part–capable of learning–both to be good or to be bad.

This was my reply.

riddle suggests you want an answer,
don’t have a personal one,
here’s what I’ve been reading and thinking
One. Roger Schank’s latest blasts courtesy reminder from another cognitive scientist acquaintance I made recently:
(Roger writes some great pieces on this…if you find it interesting as I do, here’s another series
Two, the dog that doesn’t bark? Shorthand for a famous turn of the phrase by Conan Doyle ascribed to Sherlock holmes seeking to solve a crime in which it was the absence of information that he cleverly used to solve the crime.  (see the short story  The Adventure of Silver Blaze). He collected the data, framed it in context to get information and then  use the counterfactual to obtain the insight.  What happened, what did you see or hear? When do dogs not bark?  when they recognize someone they know, so obviously it was the trainer….
[note this reference appears in The Big Short  too…great movie!]
Three, Comment I noticed by Leda Glyptis who is now at Sapient…what a great bio!
Extracting value from a wealth of structured and unstructured data, however, is not as much a technical problem, as a business problem. Technical heavy lifting will undeniably be needed to get you from having a ‘data lake’ to being a data-driven organisation but fundamentally: saying ‘there are 10,000 species of snake in the world’ is data; ‘there’s one under your seat’ is information; ‘it is asleep right now, so you can get up and walk away’ is actionable insight.

The whole interview is here:   http://www.femtechleaders.com/europe/leda-glyptis/

My point –make the time to be human, take the time to notice and connect to more of what you know.  The payoff? Surprising insights will be yours

 

Looking for growth? Try consciously connecting to wider systems


Transitions to Fall visible in the night sky

The Fall Equinox

Today’s marks the transition to Fall. Unlike the ancients, the equinox remains largely unnoticed and without much celebration in the northwestern hemisphere. It’s just another day that few of us will notice connects visibly to larger connected changes in our environment.

The growing mental distance between our conscious behaviors and the physical world robb us of our cosmic place. The disconnect stops us from developing and practicing a systems consciousness which creates complacency and limits our opportunity to grow.

We are taught the solar system as children, but few of us acquire system thinking. The earth’s orbit of the brilliant sun and the moon’s near orbit influence our daily routine, the hours of wakefulness and sleep.  The subtle but repeating changes in the length of our days enabled a greater understanding of agricultural cycles.  Astute observers of the visible patterns in the evening sky and their movements when connected to other recurring changes on earth made it possible to draw hope and plan.  Only by understanding the relative presence of visible patterns in the evening sky did society find continuity and connection to the past and set a clear expectation for the future.

Few of us draw conscious meaning from the changing appearance of light on the horizon or the position of stars in the sky.  We rely on universal artifacts that record and track time–calendars and clocks to keep us on task, on target and anticipate near or longer term what’s next.

Technology continues to free our time to devote our attention to leisure as well as industrious efforts.

A consciousness that focuses on slight differences amidst recurring patterns might make us seek solutions beyond the immediate cause and effect we observe.  The coincidence of the earth turning or rotating on its access while moving in orbit around the sun is only perceptible when you track the changing location of the sun in the sky throughout the day.

In your day to day transactions how much are you noticing about the changes that are happening around you and the forces that produce these actions?

A single data point, an isolated observation always represents an intersection of multiple forces.  Rarely do we capture and attach the presence of all those forces.  We take a picture and maybe the camera will include a time stamp. Digital images capture an instance, using a combination of data such as the distribution of different light across the spectrum, may be audio or even sequence of actions. Mistaking the sun’s movement for our own orbit happens to explain why it’s easy to confuse cause and effect.  The measure of distance between the earth and the sun changes every moment but only within a range that more broadly allows us to pinpoint our relative location in the wider routine path of our orbit.

Not everyone respects astrologers and I’m not endorsing connecting the orbit of the planets as a predictor of performance in any activity.  I’m merely inviting you to take a closer look at the data and the axes or contextual reference points provided.

When you look for growth, it helps to understand the forces that favor your success.  For example, an ascending curve tracking the sequence of Sales over time  may warrant additional reference points.

Goldilocks can help you face your challenges, will you let her?


photo (1)What’s the story? Today’s headlines continue to be filled with a persistent recurring behavior symptomatic of leadership failures.  Most of us are familiar with storybook tales and parables that remind us of particular lessons. No one wants to be The boy who cried wolf. Cinderella teaches us not to give up hope, and I’m sure you have an equally simple take away for the story of Goldilocks, aka the story of the three bears.

Have you considered using simple stories, and in particular the tale of Goldilocks,  to lead differently? 

I’m actually heartened by Mary T. Barra, because I think she gets this lesson. Today’s New York Times report on the ignition switch investigation suggests that unlike her predecessors, she pursued a different approach. This stands in sharp contrast to last week’s New York Times story Business school Disrupted where Jerry Useem offers a glimpse into Harvard Business school‘s decision-making around digital, online education.

How IS it possible that one of the most premier academic institutions in the world–with articulate thought leaders on key business issues related to Strategy, Disruption and Innovation– continue to cling to their old ways, unable to effectively transform themselves?  I’m not interested in their offering per se.  Their decision options resemble those of Fortune 500 business leaders when surveyed.  They find it difficult to pursue a path toward transformation, though failing to try, often cripples their organization’s ability to sustain value and/or their competitive advantage.

I see the decision dilemma as actually two stories. One, the tale of a lizard, or chameleon, and the second the universal tale of Goldilocks.

Steve Jobs sittingSteve Jobs, from what I’ve read, understood how to lead like a chameleon. By association the story of Apple throughout its tumultuous history can easily be interpreted as a lizard’s tale. Academics, however like many cogent, intelligent thought leaders resemble Goldilocks. Their training, the PhD process itself promotes competition, neither intentional antagonism or collaboration. Individual researchers training emphasizes objectivity, perhaps fearlessness, definitely curiosity. Still academics produce results relative to existing thought using an established process.  These predictable outcomes rarely achieve or encourage breakthroughs in understanding.  Occasionally, this process model when most forcefully applied manages to create disruption in existing domains. Leaders in these established environments rely on orderliness, offsite planning and reflective discourse. Failure to challenge their process makes them vulnerable to outside breaches that create havoc at multiple levels within their hallowed institutions and the underlying operating models their continued existence depends. Basic physics teaches that a body at rest stays at rest.  This lesson exemplifies the impact of complacency and comfort, and the necessity to avoid them at ALL costs.

Goldilocks isn’t a morality tale

Adaptation came easily for Steve Jobs , though in many ways he also behaved like a Goldilocks. Constantly moving and sampling new things until he seized on an idea that resonated with his core principles—simplicity , quality and durability, as in built-to-last. His passion for these principles when wrapped around an idea supported peer learning that enabled development of a powerful culture that made his ideas tangible. The Steve Jobs in Walter Isaacson’s book both hungered for new ideas, and was steadfast in his resilience. These qualities resemble chameleons, making it possible to adapt quickly to subtle changes happening in their environment. These thick-skinned qualities made him  tough, capable of weathering transitions and nurturing— both necessary to support transformation and sufficient to support sustainability.   The verdict remains out for Apple itself.

Goldilocks adapts too.  She makes do with what she finds but she herself never undergoes any transition. She changes her environment, it doesn’t change her. Her existence also depends on encounters with normally distributed choices. The variance around the norm makes her choices rational and predictable.  This may explain why her innocence makes us lose sight of the disturbances she leaves behind.

I don’t know what personality profile Goldilocks fits exactly. It’s why I believe today’s popular assessment tools used by many companies in their hiring practices to find cultural fit ultimately don’t matter.  How exactly do profiles help an organization survive? Leaders who worry about identifying Goldilocks may be missing what I find to be the more critical perspective in the story.

What about the story of Goldilocks resonates and endures? (see post two)

Personally, I think on some level, each of us behaves like Goldilocks.  We are often unaware of how our choices create a wake or disturb the system for those who follow. We prefer to limit the number of choices. Fewer options allow us to focus and ultimately find the points of contrast most relevant, or good enough for us now. Once we make the choice, we can keep going,  gain additional experience and be ready for the next opportunity we meet.

Goldilocks always finds a suitable, generally satisfying choice after sampling all of them. What would she do in a complex situation where the choices exceed her ability to sample? The absent inhabitants of her found environment don’t stop her from seizing the opportunity or indulging her curiosity.  Why doesn’t she hesitate or allow uncertainty to get in her way? When the Bears do return, Goldilocks flees and the narrative ends.

Of course, our experiences allow us to imagine the internal voices that often stop us from pursuing what we recognize could create difficulties for others.  A verbal exchange of assumptions often proves surprising and reveals greater diversity in perspective than any of us imagine. These behaviors Leaders need to cultivate and question when presented with Goldilocks canned results.

Ask Mary T. Barra if the risks were worth the time her predecessors saved shutting down alternative thoughts, questions left unspoken and open issues under examined? Does complacency in your process overrule critical thinking and exchange among peers of diverse perspectives? Should PhDs be reviewed only by the experts in their own domain? What are the principles that every report and process should adhere?

The challenge for management and leadership isn’t to isolate Goldilocks, but to encourage and nurture transformations and mindfulness .

The best gift you can give–space to be heard


Collaboration

Collaboration (Photo credit: yuan2003)

I grew up in a big family and the only way to survive was to learn how to collaborate with my siblings and work out a strategy to move mutual interests ahead. That meant, I had to learn to be good listener and less a manipulator. Harder still was something I didn’t understand and only learned later–being right is over-rated.  It’s easier to create a willing partner to my ideas if I allow others opportunity to put their gloss on it too.

I guess I didn’t realize or value my natural collaborative style. It took me by surprise in many work situations that few people were as willing to coöperate. That for all the times I used my strengths and capabilities to enable others whose talents or expertise was in a different domain, I discovered I couldn’t always end-run their barriers.

After a couple of serious catapulting maneuvers that I knew would be career ending, I benched myself. I took myself out of that arena and went to find a new game and new players. Years later, I began to recognize that perhaps there was another way to help people make needed changes and liberate both their own career and the organization?

I revisited some of my graduate studies in natural bias and incongruity of human decision-making in the face of uncertainty, specifically the work of my professor Hillel Einhorn and Robin Hogarth and that of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. I was green when it came to internalizing new ideas, some of them were easier to grasp than others and the formulas often eluded my connected comprehension. What did stick was the following:

In complex situations, we may rely too heavily on planning and forecasting and underestimate the importance of random factors in the environment. That reliance can also lead to delusions of control. “

 

It’s akin to finding something familiar and thinking “oh yeah, I got this.” Only to discover that you can’t exactly do it. Random elements aside, its difficult to recognize some subtle elements. Knowing all the steps to a good forehand stroke or golf swing, isn’t the same as actually connecting movements that successfully contact and propel the ball.

The problems and inconsistent behavior presented by unconscious intuition make linkages difficult, and prevent us from fully leveraging learning from parallel experiences. In my case, I found it difficult to extend and apply to interpersonal relationships the lessons and discoveries extrapolating risk I learned statistically modeling people’s financial behavior.

The bridge I sought arrived when a corporate reorganization landed me in outplacement for senior executives and I took the Meyer’s Brigg’s assessment for the first time.  Conveniently, I learned my type –INTP, and shown its rarity in corporate banking and absence among many c-suite executives.  At the time, when I wanted to reconcile my inability to survive a political reorganization, MBTI fueled my rationalization to leave corporate banking.  It was years later than I learned to recognize the confirmation bias at work.

My personal journey of experiential learning continued upon discovering the work of Roger Schank whose work in cognitive psychology emphasizes the importance of story and learning by doing. Story telling represents the synthesis of new learning with past experiences. The newly acquired knowledge can be more easily assimilated and finds outlets that further extend its value and build additional knowledge.  Learning presented whole in a bubble like school without context, doesn’t get the benefit of a road test which denies its connectivity to our perceptions and daily encounters.

But I digress. Collaboration was my topic. Good collaborators succeed because they recognize the distinctions they bring in perspective and perception.  Unexpected encounters or deviations in routine often present a stumble point.  Whether due to lack of confidence, disconnect between knowledge and know how or complete absence of knowledge, its’ risky to reveal our vulnerability.  Naturally, we find it easier to turn to people we know and trust for suggestions, tips, additional insight and information about how to proceed.  Alternatively, situations and circumstances that compel us to do it ourselves,  may arise when  we feel compelled to prove something, test ourselves and maybe distrust assurances others offer.

Which brings us to the challenges in beginning a collaborative venture or willing partnerships. The same stumble points above must be negotiated. Emotions, ever-present in every situation don’t necessarily dissipate because people know each other. Situation or circumstances that defy our comfort zone, know-how or knowledge provide pivotal moments for others to offer help, as long as we free up the emotional and physical space that allows them to voice their thoughts.

It seems obvious but again easier said then done.  The best way to gain the trust, friendship and cooperation of others is to give the one thing everyone wants.

As part of the development team on Collaborating Minds, I met Laurel Tyler a new member on Collaborating Minds.  She reminded me of the following lesson when she shared what makes her effective in working with teams and solving problems.

“People just want to know that they have been heard.”

The simplicity explain my eternal optimism and the approach I’ve found that makes me successful too.  It explains I’m on collaborating minds and helping build that community. If you would like to learn more about this project, drop me a line.

But better, try it. Amaze yourself  and discover how much easier everything gets in return.

May the spirit of the season inspire your listening.

Markets naturally close loops and collapse, can you keep them open?


The more the more

Concepts of interdependent interactions

The current theory about the nature of our universe describes an ever-expanding system.

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey describes the three possibilities pictured on the right as follows.

  • Open, suggests that the universe will expand forever
  • Flat, the universe will also expand forever, but at a rate slowing to zero after an infinite amount of time.
  • Closed, the universe will eventually stop expanding and recollapse on itself,

These possibilities also apply to the concepts of markets, cultures and geography. Yes, I said geography and it is your sense of doubt that both interests me and is the subject of this post.

Life on the Frontier

Ongoing expansion, what I like to call the more the more can be difficult to see; principally because  we recognize boundaries before we understand the opportunity.  What we know doesn’t come to exhaust what’s knowable and often great opportunities present by pushing forward into the unknowable realm. For example, the concept of reproduction naturally creates many from one, ideas too, tend to generate more ideas, one event spawns multiple stories. So why does our mind resist the concept of the more the  more so earnestly?  You did, didn’t you?  In each example, your mind naturally generated the counter case or qualifications that challenge basic beliefs in loose conceptions such as the more the more. Don’t get me wrong, edges prove very useful. Knowing the beginning or that the end is at hand helps, and the more the more merely builds on that realization.

Inability to see an idea’s validity doesn’t preclude its existence.  New concepts find their way into our web of understanding; however more often they are quickly  buried by every day experiences that prove the contrary. Consider the construct, “the United States.” The idea finds expression in a variety of forms, separated by clear boundaries. Which popped for you?  Perhaps the United States appears in your thoughts as a very concrete physical representation such as part of the North American continent, or as an outline on a map. Neither of these describes the emotional representations conjured in the minds of a new citizen, a tourist or a terrorist.

Utility theory by contrast, attributes a root cause to the propagation phenomena that perpetuates an expectation of quid pro quo, Value for Value. I work in exchange for money that I can use to buy things. Economic principles and monetary theory captures much of the same concepts but is a poor substitute for a universal theory.

Specific, General or Generic

Our mind seamlessly associates specific, general and generic cases of a single construct into a curious looking web of meaning.  Some strands loosely connect on the periphery, while others layer more tightly together around a series of cores.  The meaning that first comes to mind, doesn’t negate the others but may need other distant cross-associations to remind us.Experience can obscure our reality

Let’s talk markets. Most of us spend a significant part of our day working, where we work, or what we do represents a market and our labor factors into the dynamics.  We also consume things, and the choices we make on which items, where and when represents our participation in other markets.  For example, urban societies prefer to cover their feet.  The look –structure and style of these coverings tend to vary by climate, activity and gender. Our mind recognizes the common linkage of the numerous names attached to the variations of these objects  that cover feet.  On this level of linkage, we may attach the same basic utility to all foot coverings. That utility takes on more definitions and attributes when we consider our attachment to our culture and desire to fit in. Do foot coverings in India equate to the usefulness of foot coverings in Brazil or New York City? I cheated just now, I interchanged usefulness with utility to help ease your mind.  To validate the more the more try suspending the first boundary you meet and search your memory banks and reach for greater understanding.

Do you feel ready to put that insight to work in your business?  To grow or better serve the marketplace, we often have to re-imagine the boundaries.

If there’s a dominant player in your market, how might redefining the market give you a bigger share?

Don’t let the edges or boundaries you see stop you from challenging the value of this  representation? You don’t have to challenge the sovereignty of the United States to recognize that there are ideas that transcend the concrete borders, and capitalizing on those may help you serve your existing  markets better and expand into new ones easily.

 

Re-telling our story to see our blindspot

Aside


When we look over the reported numbers in a business, a narrative emerges.  The actions, decisions that made these results possible line up as persuasive evidence of our brilliance or frustration casts aspersions on outside forces beyond our control.

Unless you hold a marketing or sales role, the narrative may not extend to imagine what your customers thinking about your business and what it offers.  We prefer to find immediate causes for the results, and when we come up empty, we start over again.  This is especially true when the results have changed direction.

Scenario A, after struggling for weeks and months, the numbers are starting to go up.  That is revenue, where positive growth in the numbers matter. The cause and effect chain  validates  earlier decisions on investment, strategy, tactics especially efforts in marketing and sales.  All of your decisions, your process and approach are paying off.

Scenario B, after a streak of healthy profits, the numbers are deteriorating.  The supply chain costs are up and revenues are down.  You begin to second guess all of your past decisions, especially the most recent ones that affect your basic cost structure.  But what if you haven’t changed a thing?  What if there’s no cyclical Halloween effect in your business and you are in the middle of five-year contracts on everything?

In both scenarios, the internal self-examination that leads to either accolade or second guessing  doesn’t do justice to your business and its future.  This is part of the deal with metrics that matter, that are meaningful.

We look at numbers and we associate them with behavior we understand.  What we don’t always do is go the extra mile to understanding what the numbers really represent.  Because assumptions behind every reported number dictate what the measure means.

Paul Downs, a cabinet-maker has shared his experience using AdWords in the You’re’ the boss blog.  I can’t find the full story that appeared in yesterdays’ print edition entitled Mistake in a Pay-per Click Campaign, but I can share the link to his series.  Paul’s business was Scenario B and when he couldn’t find any specific thing different internally he began to complain very loosely about wider conditions and blamed them for impacting is business.  It took him months before he was willing to tackle head on the metrics problem .  I don’t want to steal his thunder but suffice to say, that sometimes you have to be sure that you fully understand how a number gets put together before you determine whether its direction means what you think.

Hopefully the Times will post in the online edition the full story, Mistake in a Pay-per Click Campaign soon.  But in the interim, here’s Paul Downs on Why I manage my own Ad Words campaign, and I’d love to hear what you think.  What might have helped him turn things around sooner? What advice would you share with other business owners or division heads?

Social Media great for insights not prediction


An example of the share buttons common to many...

An example of the share buttons common to many social web pages. Thanks to http://www.nouveller.com for the free icon pack image. The author (Benjamin Reid) releases the image into the public domain, with the following text available at the source page: “You can use them anywhere you like, absolutely anywhere, anything. No attribution, 100% free.”. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is it really surprising that on social media, generally speaking, people share more emotionally linked thoughts?

What People Really Want vs. What They Share on Social Media.

For my money this is not much of an insight.  After all, humans, like many other animals, are social creatures. From birth, our lives depend on others. In time, those who bring us along and introduce us to the ways of the world nurture specific beliefs and frame our understanding of the world.  Our connections to others are vital to our survival, happiness and success.

Social media simplifies our ability to share and connect. The social impulse that compels us to take part naturally mirrors underlying, maybe even unconscious emotions. The result is a natural  association between content and intention rooted in sentiment. Following the tradition of anthropology, or design research, self-reported assertions such as our tweets or Facebook updates can prove revealing. Tracking and tallying these qualitative data crumbs outline a wider system of association linkages and are wonderful additions to descriptive analysis. Whether linked specifically to more traditional demographic variables or not, they show characteristics,  detect relationships about something or someone; but are no proportional in their representation.

Infographic on how Social Media are being used...

Infographic on how Social Media are being used, and how everything is changed by them. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So what’s the problem? Insights don’t scale. The accompanying graphics suggests that there’s added value, and maybe there is for the casual observer, but at the moment I’m not convinced.

Problem Re-framed

Last week, I shared lunch with a group of people familiar with both quantitative and qualitative research methods to talk about big data.  Design, or anthropology, research methods focus on observing very small groups of subjects in natural conditions.  Watching people as they shop, work, make dinner, go to work etc. The data and analysis skews to the qualitative. Watching what people do has always proved to be more reliable a predictor than asking what they think. Researchers long ago discovered the knowing vs. doing gap.

For the less statistically inclined, probability sampling is necessary but not itself sufficient to make claims about a larger population group.  Exercising diligence in selecting a random sample to ask a series of questions, or observe them can still produce bias or large errors in the results if input from those who respond or were readily available are included.  All surveys include a margin of error due to sampling. National voter exit polls, for example, carefully sample to keep their  margin of error for a 95% confidence interval low, e.g. about +/- 3% . ( For further information check out: Edison research on exit polls)  The margin of error on public opinion polls asking what people believe and for whom they plan to vote is wider than the post voting survey results taken at the polls.

Diary studies illustrate the value in subjective research. Sure, the results are challenging to extend and difficult to scale as the richness of this data does not easily lend to classic systems analysis.  Often in the hands of the experienced researcher, the subtle presence or absence of contextual cues lead to new insights, or deeper understanding of the situation, or present circumstances responsible for a behavior.  Researchers isolating the specific cues come closer to understanding our inner nature and then developing insights into cause and effect.

Build it and….

The inspiration implied in the phrase if you build it they will come, suggests knowledge of what and how to build, this intuition may come from subjective research.  Note, the phrase is neither strategic or predictive of the number or timing of visitors.  Contrast anecdotal indicators to an algorithm churning through significant quantities of transactions to find common elements, the co-related information.  Observational data offer context, while the algorithm provides the measure of total significance.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

If we’ve learned anything from the work of the behavioral economists, humans are predictably irrational.  Why?  The relative strength of an emotion can but doesn’t necessarily overcome reason.  The contextual elements trigger both specific behaviors, as well as unexpected associations and very different behaviors.

We are far from understanding how to successfully integrate expressed wants social media provides with analysis of objective, aggregate data.

As Steve Smith, of Pegasus Capital Advisors suggests, there is great power in pushing the economics analysis up the value chain.  Social media doesn’t create the transaction, the risks focus on reputation which has implications but has yet to disrupt the flow or more accurately allocation of capital.

I’m looking forward to seeing the continuing evolution of social media and the teams of marketing analysts familiar with statistical sampling to help chart a new course. It would be

great if they can help lead the charge toward a more robust metric of success.  One that favors the quadruple bottom line and thus captures Environmental, Social, Cultural (including governance) and. Economic factors.

Realized opportunity, value of real customer conversations


Stuart Elliot writing on advertising for  New York Times described the purpose behind Omnicom Group’s launch of a new ad agency, sparks & honey.  The Agency seeks to capitalize on the latest evolutionary shift in the relationship between consumers and marketers, “from a monologue to a conversation.”

Customer services

Customer services (Photo credit: gordon2208)

Really? Brands have accepted that talking with customers no longer means talking at.  But are they really ready for interactive conversation?  Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the move to a higher level of engagement.  I merely wonder how the brands benefit from advertising agencies occupying this intermediary ground, especially when the brands livelihoods increasingly depend on their ability to respond immediately.

Implicit in a conversation is receiving, or listening made clear in non-verbal posture and behavior as much as  words.

As Dave Carroll’s viral video demonstrated, brand reputation can suffer when listening isn’t followed by appropriate responses.  Brand management teams everywhere noticed how translating a bad customer service experience into song  boosted Taylor guitars‘ reputation while tarnishing that of United Airlines . What got Carroll’s goat was the lack of response by airline employees watching other employees  manhandle his precious guitar.  The colorful story in the hands of a capable songwriter also boosted, if not fired up, Carroll’s brand.

To relegate the story as an abject lesson in Customer services misses the wider opportunity listening to your customers affords.  Either way, how will hiring a savvy intermediary help resolve issues, deliver authentic feedback to product development or spawn key insights into the changing behavior of customers for helping a company adapt and ultimately survive?

Why would a company want to pass on the opportunities listening and responsive internal systems can foster?  There’s great value in using smart analytic systems to mine the exchange of key word morsels caught in dialogues with customer service, sales or technical support.

As Peter Shankman, steak lover, discovered one day last year when he had no time or energy to grab dinner out,  but longed for the simplicity and consistency of Morton’s reliably delicious meals. As he describes it, one tongue in cheek tweet before taking off for home resulted in the surprise service of a lifetime. One only Morton’s could coördinate and deliver because they were listening to one of their most loyal customers far from home!

So, yes it matters, what conversations you are trying to make happen.  Increasingly you need to collect the data.  This requires that you will need intelligence gathering or listening posts everywhere your customers are talking about you, including  the virtual conversations. Just because they seem less critical  than face to face exchanges, especially since the nature of the medium is slightly off sync, today no conversation can can be ignored. What customers say, how each of you share it,  and with whom makes them both dangerous and advantageous.  Machine learning systems, algorithms and human insights can  track “the emerging cultural waves”  and that’s how sparks and honey plans to find and then leverage them.  Their business model relies on  their ” proprietary next generation, real-time engagement engine to distribute culturally relevant brand content.”

In the era of big data, business intelligence software has been actively integrating the new feeds and applying similar processes.  The merging of collaboration, productivity  and newer intelligence tools that digest  input from a variety of listening posts shows great promise and opportunity. I haven’t seen Cognistreamer, one of a number of  collaborative and innovation platforms; but I understand it combines feeds from social media, customer service and internal correspondence to allow more fluid interaction across sources operating within and outside the enterprise. I’m sure IBM and Microsoft are busy at work bringing these capabilities to their platform suites as well, I’m just not sufficiently in the loop to know.

I applaud the move toward authentic conversation that can displace the reign of the focus group or on the spot pop-up survey whether it’s at the mall or online. But I’m not sure I buy that ad agencies, or even Dave Carroll’s newly launched Gripevine service, and clever communications can effectively close  the natural gap between producer and consumer.   If I’m looking for a custom fit, or personal response how can any agency deliver,  no matter how clever or deft at communications they may be, the goods and or service I’m seeking?

I wish sparks & honey luck, but I do hope that brands looking to capitalize on the rising consciousness of consumers are also thinking a little more about finding ways to share the responsibilities for insight and innovation across their enterprise.  Giving everyone equal opportunity to engage with customers and share insights that wider conversations make possible, is certainly a great start to creating an innovation pipeline.