Paul Glader’s article last weekend in The Wall Street Journal online about a new twist in the ongoing GE up-from-the ashes saga gave me hope that public relations people will get their day in the sun at this famously left-brained outpost of capitalism.
I’m a great fan of GE — even took some Six Sigma green belt training. Generally,the company has been known for performance management and other pushing and pulling of the human psyche into line with things measurable. This new twist may signal a meeting of minds – left and right — with the new Immelt mantra of growth, change and flexibility. Glader characterized this new approach as ”striking a humbler note after stumbling badly in the downturn.”
GE has spent over $1 billion a year in training, and they are now putting 1,000 managers through their paces to learn how to react to sometimes imperceptible signs of change. They want executives to learn to listen. While this is not entirely new at GE or any other company, it is heartening in its admission: “we don’t have all the answers.” And, it’s good for the approach to marketing and PR we advocate on The Buzz Bin.
This new wave at GE is also good from the point of view of the a right-brain dominant person who had to learn to deal in a left-brain-dominated world of engineers during a 15-year stint in chemicals. Daniel Pink says the keys to the kingdom are changing hands. The new keys are going to ”the creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers” he writes in A Whole New Mind – Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age (I didn’t notice in chemicals, BTW). It is interesting to read between the lines of Glader’s reporting to see that GE is wanting to deal more with context than text; the big picture as compared to details. From the company that applys “performance metrics” to almost everything, this is refreshing.
So, as we’ve moved from farmers to factory workers to knowledge workers to this new creator and empathizer age, public relations should find ways to reassert itself based on Pink’s advice:
- Integrate the emotionally engaging into the purely functional
- Create an involving narrative; not just the facts
- Conduct that symphony – synthesize in addition to analyze
- Look at what makes others tick (hint: it’s beyond logic)
- Do something trancendental rather than just accumulate experiences or things
Peter Merholz of Harvard Business Publishing was quoted by Andrew Taylor in his The Artful Manager blog:
The supposed dichotomy between “business thinking” and “design thinking” is foolish…. Instead, what we must understand is that in this savagely complex world, we need to bring as broad a diversity of viewpoints and perspectives to bear on whatever challenges we have in front of us. While it’s wise to question the supremacy of “business thinking,” shifting the focus only to “design thinking” will mean you’re missing out on countless possibilities.
It seems to me that the business-savvy public relations leader will fit right in.