Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Lessons from the 2008 US primaries for business

I usually keep myself from dealing with politics on this blog because that's not its purpose. However, sometimes politics provide good examples for business, if not in terms of concrete actions at least as regards communication. In the past couple of weeks I have been following pretty closely the US primaries and the heated battle between Barack Obama and Mrs Clinton. A couple of key lessons to take home:

  1. consistency of message is paramount - Obama's message has always been "Audacity - Hope - Change" and ever since the DNC of 2004 he keeps talking about the irrelevance of "red" and "blue" states vs the utmost importance of the United States. Clinton's focus of message has moved from experience to change as voters showed an inclination for what the Senator from Illinois proposed. Even though adapting is important, there is considerable risk in doing that in such a short period of time. The same holds true for communication of products and services. Consistency is really paramount and if you have to adapt to an audience, then you ought to look for a smooth transition.

  2. values-based communication works - Obama's message has been very much about the traditional US values that historically have been behind the drive of the American people to forge a "better union" holding a number of truths as self-evident. Clinton's message is about her more than it is about values. Values-based communication is extremely powerful when there is an alignment between the values of the communication and those of the audience.

  3. positive massively surpasses negative communication - Obama's pitch is about what he can offer whereas Clinton's is about why Obama is not good enough. The human mind can picture positive messages but has hard time with negative messages. Tell people what you want them to do, not what you don't want them to do because the former gives an objective whereas the latter defines a scope of avoidance.

  4. dream beyond current means or risk being mediocre - Obama speaks about what might be that seems very much out of reach today considering existing resources. That is what inspires people and the power of inspiration drives exceptional performance. Would there have been Picasso if he had not dared challenge the status quo and what was widely considered to be  acceptable with early twentieth century's painting standards? To inspire your teams, your customers and your investors make sure they buy into where you want to go and they will help you get there. No major accomplishment in business is possible without the audacity of dreaming beyond current means.

  5. authenticity and transparency are huge assets - when too much information and message spinning goes on the message ends up having no effect or the opposite effects from those initially intended. Ultimately when one is taking the risk to lead they have to accept that there may be mismatches between what they say and what an audience wants to hear. Elimination of those mismatches is an illusion and vowed to fail. Rather, being candid about those differences is what ultimately leads to a match between an offering and a market. In other words, being humble, accepting multiple iterations in order to get a message right and doing so while preserving transparency and authenticity is a good recipe for success in communications. That may seem to contradict point 1, but it does not; rather it provides a balance between consistency and the absolute need to be receiving feedback from the audience.

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