One of my oldest friends finishes sentences with, “It was the best ever”. My trip to India was the best ever. My weekend in Swindon was the best ever. My current boyfriend is the best ever.
I’ve always loved her energy, but have seriously considered sitting her down and writing her some personal brand guidelines to help her be more consistent. Many a time in the pub I’ve wanted to pull out the guidelines, “No, no Gwen – New York is your favourite city, not Swansea. Look it says it here on page 125. Have you not bothered to read your own brand guidelines?” Of course she hasn’t. She’s a human, not a robot.
Inconsistency is what separates us from robots. Humans are full of motivations, energies, moods and conflicting thoughts. As Mindfulness books tell us how we behave often depends on our mood. Bestselling authors Mark Williams and Dr Danny Penman reassure us that a sandwich from Prêt can be enough to move us from despair to hope. We are complex creatures, with hormones, caffeine and Prêt sandwiches racing around our bodies, making our synapses blink and twitch. So, on second thoughts, I’ll not write Gwen those personal brand guidelines.
But my friend has got me thinking about organisations. My profession – corporate communications – sells consistency. It’s what we do. Our tools are brand guidelines, Q&As, positioning statements, key messages, media training and press releases. Trying to make an organisation made up of 100s or 1,000s of individuals speak with one voice. But perhaps we have focused on consistency at the sacrifice of the human? Have we played our part in producing robotic organisations; machines which reach for a pre-rehearsed response and sound like an automated switch board when what is most needed is an authentic human response?
I’ve started reading ‘Humanize’, a book calling for a human revolution in business. And it resonated with me. The authors argue that we’ve built up a mechanistic business environment that is inhuman: “It’s not built to allow for human qualities, as messy as they are – qualities like being open, trustworthy, generous, creative, courageous, loving, fallible and fun.” They argue that social media came about because of a deep desire for greater humanity:
“Social media wasn’t growing like gangbusters simply because Mark Zuckerberg built a better widget. It was growing because as human beings we all have deep connections to openness and authenticity. We all want power to be closer to us and trust to be present in our relationships. It’s part of being human. Now, thanks to social media, it was becoming part of business.”
I have a slight fear that social media is just leading to us erecting new mechanical structures. I’m seeing more and more Facebook friends “branding themselves” – giving more thought to a status update per word than a team of lawyers devote to a big-pharma press release. I’ve friends you’ll never see without an on-brand smile – even when showing off their ‘spontaneous’ make-up free selfies.
So I don’t have any answers. But I hope we can become more ambitious as a profession. We are in a perfect position to do more than ‘change minds’ or help companies ‘sound more human’. We should be helping companies become more human, embracing “human qualities, as messy as they are”.
Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World | Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant
Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World | Mark Williams and Dr. Danny Penman
I am not a robot | Marina and the Diamonds
Human behaviour | Bjork
For the sake of inconsistency
Perhaps we humans will eventually opt for consistency, we might all be marrying Robots in 2020
This piece was written by Kate Adlington
Photo credit: Rog01