Telling Helps Organizations See Differently

Who is your Mr. W? 

Seeing the ordinary in a new way takes more than choosing to “Think different,” as the long-remembered slogan insisted. That slogan became a piece of cultural lore we find ourselves spouting in response to challenging projects. However, there are a considerable number of social aspects to seeing things in a new way. Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman, in their book The Social Construction of Reality (NY: Anchor Books, 1966), hinted at the social parameters that fit their idea that reality is primarily a social construct. One parameter they note is a willingness to hear other people, especially given how our social context plays a role in ideas’ appearance and context. In her book, Invention as a Social Act (Carbondale, Ill: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987), Karen Burke LeFevre debunked our romantic “lonely-artist-in-her-garret” notion of creativity. But still, this myth persists, of the sole creator standing alone outside social reality, thinking differently because they have an uncommon bent toward genius.

We are helping one of our global clients shift their culture even further toward innovation. In our process, we’ve started to examine how the client synthesizes information and how they socialize information. In other words, how do we collect up our research and pull out the salient bits? And how do we share those bits with the people around us who are also invested in that answer? It turns out that collecting information and communicating information are two sides of the same coin. We do the work of synthesis and selecting which information is important in the very act of forming words to tell what we know to the colleague or general manager standing before us.

In contrast to the artist-in-the-attic, it is interaction with others that helps us see things differently. Or, at the very least, it is a combo platter of communicating with others and time alone in the garret.

Either way, the notion of suddenly seeing things in a new way reminds me of this old TV spot featuring “Mr. W.” Wind energy is a given today, but that was not the case14 years ago. Social interaction plays an awkward role in this old German spot—until it doesn’t.

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