“Organized common (or uncommon) sense — very basic knowledge — is an enormously powerful tool.”
In our communications we often use what we know about our physical and social experience to provide understanding of something unfamiliar -- we use metaphors. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance.
By this mechanism, we elevate some terms from describing a specific thing to representing a category -- for example, ‘shark’ becomes a generality then a conventional term to describe predatory individuals.
Metaphors structure the way we think and talk. Over time metaphors shape the way we act, capping our ability to widen options by keeping us stuck into a specific mode. For an example of this look no further than marketing and its use of ‘war’ as the prevailing metaphor -- customers and prospects are targets, companies engage in campaigns, competitors are enemies, people are in the trenches, etc. How we think about ideas determines what we do with them.
Language is a powerful means of influence. When we use the war metaphor in marketing, we limit our thoughts, understanding, and opportunity. The undefined territory of scarcity of yesteryear has given way to the limitless isle and store of abundance today -- we need new metaphors to describe a different reality to operate successfully within it.
We become habituated to certain ways of thinking, talking, and doing. To make sense of the environment and identify new opportunities we would do well to redefine our language, bring clarity of thought to the way we talk. What we need are new habits.
Three ideas for creating better habits in business:
1. Understanding the game
Before we can change something, we need to understand its nature and impact. Just as we do with words. Rather than trying to change the game, we should work on understanding the game we're in, then shape direction from there.
Much of the ideas on strategy derive from Sun Tzu's The Art of War. It was in this ancient book that positioning in strategy was explained as being affected both by objective conditions in the physical environment and the subjective opinions of competitive actors in that environment.
Tzu wrote that strategy is not linear planning like a to-do list -- it requires fast and appropriate responses to changing conditions. While planning works in a controlled environment, in a competitive environment competing plans tend to collide, creating unexpected situations.
2. Re-defining key concepts
Along with a quickly shifting competitive environment and unexpected situations, language is also in constant flux. The words we choose need to work in the context of our audience. How our words are understood is highly dependent upon the experiences, biases, and context of the listener.
In mature economies with plenty of choices to be had, the game is no longer about who owns what (as it was with positioning) but who is going where. While this concept stems from the 'war of movement' metaphor, we can redefine the movement part.
To grow brands, products, and services -- new entrants and those looking to reinvent their way -- in addition to making smart decisions, businesses need to build momentum. Product/market fit begins with understanding the game we're in. Brands then create momentum by:
- Owning the movement, a direction
- Reflecting flexibility and speed in holding the course
- Bringing customers on a journey, a specific path moving forward
Many younger brands are doing this successfully. Movement allows a business to do several things that can help grow the business. Things like:
- Focusing more on creating and energizing
- Capitalizing from collaboration with customers, partners, even competitors
- Promoting vision as a way to provide direction
- Seeing more opportunities along the way
- Doing their own thing and not being preoccupied or consumed with what everyone else is doing -- this saves energy
3. Finding a new frame of reference
In Finite and Infinite Games: : A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility, James P. Carse says there are at least two kinds of games -- he calls one finite, the other infinite. The difference between the two is that in one the game ends, in the other it continues. Carse says:
- A finite game is played for the purpose of winning; an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play
- The rules of the finite game may not change; the rules of the infinite game must change
- Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries
- Finite players are serious; infinite games are playful
- A finite player plays to be powerful; an infinite player generates time
- The finite player aims for eternal life; the infinite player aims for eternal birth
- All the limitations of finite play are self-limitations
Staying in the game makes business sustainable, playing with boundaries creates opportunities for innovation, generating time provides duration, eternal birth plays on the necessity to refresh, evolve, and reinvent.
Duke University says about 40% of the actions we take each day are governed by habit rather than a conscious decision. When we create the conditions for different habits, over time we harness the value of compounding.