Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Human, all too human

My friend Staylo and I engage in many dialogues on many topics. But we rarely do so online for all posterity. He asked me to read his posting on leadership and comment on it. I really loved the post in that I found it distinct, insightful and nuanced. It was so well written that I found myself puzzled at what to say about it, other than simple praise.

While looking through his posts, I came across an older one on User Experience and the motives from which it arises.

The central point of this post is that the motives of many User Experience professionals are somehow less honorable because they are rooted in obtaining business benefit. While I find this articulation to be very well written and very well thought out, I see some subtle contradictions within the post and also choose to see some of the points from a slightly different angle.

First - I must disagree with the precept that the motive of honest enlightened self interest is somehow less honorable. This line of thought strikes me as pompous, self-righteous and inherently false. Mutually beneficial relationships are not superior because they are more honorable, rather they are superior because they are more sustainable, allow for the reaping of emergent benefits for both parties, they allow for the creation of additional beneficial relationships and ultimately allow both parties to benefit society at large in more meaningful and lasting ways.

When society continues on with the charade that self interest is dishonorable, we end up with the behavior that the post itself identifies as the most dishonorable - acting with disingenuous motives.

Being authentic with your motives is, in my opinion, necessary (although not sufficient) for being honorable.

Second - I must disagree with the precept that "When people are given a viable alternative to soulless, hollow, insincere, inauthentic, self-interested manipulation, they take it. Customers prefer the human, and so do employees". It is not that this is wrong, it is that it is not precise. I would reword it as such "When observant & sensitive people are given a viable alternative to soulless, hollow, insincere, inauthentic, self-interested manipulation, they take it. Observant & sensitivecustomers prefer the human, and so do observant & sensitive employees."

This may be provocative and controversial - but in my experience, many people float through interactions in a fairly careless fashion with an almost singular focus on short term self interest.

Lastly - The title of the post reveals the endemic contradiction with the whole line of thinking - "Being human is a competitive advantage". i.e., Be human, so you can gain advantage.

On the other hand, maybe I'm just too much of a functionalist.


Anomalogue Blog - like it.

Synetic Brand Blog - like it.

My friend Staylo - like him.

Leadership post - like it.

Not embracing enlightened long-term self interest as honorable an desirable - crap.

The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently. - Friedrich Nietzsche


anomalogue said...

Your first point is a straw man argument. The central point of my post was that authenticity is enlightened long-term self-interest, and that being manipulative is not. Remember the title of the post: "Being human is a competitive advantage". The point was this: in the long-term a fake relationship will lose out to a genuine one, and a genuine one is founded on mutual understanding and respect. Not that I don't perceive these questions morally -- I just understand the futility of moral arguments and the persuasive force of practical ones.

Your second point is a more serious one. Your claim is that observant & sensitive people prefer the human, and the rest do not, or don't prefer it much.

I do agree that the observant and sensitive will be quicker and better at distinguishing genuine humanity from phoniness, but does failure to recognize a difference mean the preference doesn't exist? I suppose it could be argued that those who distinguish can tell the difference might also tend to care more about such things. I'm willing to bet, though, that this group is far more vocal than less discriminating folks, and have disproportionately strong influence on brand perceptions as evangelists and detractors, even before their influence is amplified by social media. On top of that brand relationships are trending the personal and emotional, away from mere function. Authenticity is already important, but it seems that all the factors are lining up to make authenticity a decisive advantage in more and more situations.

So, I'm not arguing that an inauthentic brand will automatically fail -- obviously that is not true. I'm not even saying many people will avoid a brand if it feels less than completely real. What I am saying is that if someone is making a choice between comparable options and one feels more authentic than the other, that sense of authenticity is sufficient to swing the choice. I sort of doubt you'll disagree with that one, but we can argue about it more if you do. And of course I am also arguing that authenticity is very difficult to fake. Maybe we can fight over that one?

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