Think againNovember 21st, 2009 | Posted by Christian Hicks
When I was about seven or eight, my Dad hung a sign on the wall that faced my bed. It said: THINK. I didn’t know it then, but it’s a classic IBM slogan, coined by founder Thomas Watson. I’m sure my Dad meant well, but the message–actually, in all caps it felt like more a command–became oppressive, even stifling.
That sign was the first thing I saw in the morning and the last thing I saw at night, and after a short while I grew to hate it. I resented being reminded to THINK all the time. It seemed to imply that I wasn’t thinking, at least not enough. Or perhaps not in the right way. I began to sense a certain smugness, perhaps even self-righteousness, about that sign, as if it knew something or had attained something I did not or could not. For years, it tormented me.
While this anecdote probably reveals more about me than any grander truth, I do think there’s a kernel of insight here. This sign represents the old model of marketing communications. It’s a throw-back to that era of one-way transmission, when the inviolate word came down from on high. Companies were in the position of pushing out messages, over and over, confident that with enough volume and repetition, they would be heard and eventually acted upon. In a way, that sign became a stand-in for my father’s word, summing up the fundamental lesson he wanted me to learn above all others.
Today that approach seems prehistoric and misguided. The new principles of marcom are all about listening and entering into dialogue, about giving up control of the message, of tapping into dozens if not hundreds of dynamic channels to connect with people. Hammering home the same message over and over again in the same way is not only ineffective, but potentially counterproductive.
This is all patently obvious, of course. But back then, in a world bound by five TV channels, the daily paper and heavy, corded phones that hung on the kitchen wall, message discipline and repetition was the Rule, a function of the culture and technology and limits of our imagination and experience.
Which leads me to my point. Today, the rules of communication seem self-evident. We’ve all internalized them, and they are the dominant frame for our lives and work. But, like the THINK sign, they are a construct of our time, reflecting what is accepted and expected and available to us.
As technologies continue to morph and our cultures, economies and even nation-states shift to meet the challenges of creating a more sustainable world, how will our communications change? Will they continue to fracture and accelerate? Will they be so communal and malleable? Will the constant stream of instant, always-on information be tolerated as new rules of moderation and the long view take hold?
In other words, how will our communications evolve to reflect and shape the new world that is emerging around us?