If a lion could speak

The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein famously discusses in his 1950s book ‘Philosophical Investigations’ that ‘If a lion could speak, we could not understand him’.

Wittgenstein’s theory is that even if a lion could somehow speak our language, or a ‘Lionese to Human’ Google translate app was developed, the lion would still struggle to clearly articulate his point of view to a human being or tell us a compelling story. But why would this be?

Wittgenstein explains this potential breakdown in communication is because lions do not have ‘any conceivable share in our world’. In other words, the lion’s utterances would be meaningless to us, because they would not be based on a shared sense of context. The way a lion thinks about - and views - the world is so different to humans, or indeed other animals, that they would be coming from a completely different frame of reference or context to the human they wanted to chat with at the watering hole (or pub!).

Had Wittgenstein pursued a career in marketing rather than philosophy, would he have made a similar observation about today’s marketing communications? As marketers, are we effectively falling into an ‘if a lion could talk’ trap by not first creating a shared sense of context with our intended audience? Are we too focused on getting our side of the story out, without framing it within the audience’s context or world view?

Marketers can significantly enhance how we communicate by creating connections to a specific context. All customers, including those in a B2B situation, have a context in which they approach a product or service.
This is both a practical context, such as specific deliverables they need to complete during the week, and an emotional context, such as the desire to succeed, earn a promotion, or to continue to provide for family. If we first understand the practical and emotional context of our customers, we can then more effectively communicate with them, rather than at them.  We can use that sense of context to describe how a product or service creates an enabler, or removes a barrier to meeting their practical and emotional needs.

At Ideas and Action, the first thing we do when working with our clients, is to understand their target audiences and the latter’s practical and emotional needs.  This gives us a frame of reference upon which to base all subsequent messaging and communications.

It may be tempting to leap straight into a discussion on the technical aspects of how a solution works.  If, however, we are unable to establish a meeting of minds up-front, our audience will struggle to grasp its relevance to them, and why they need it in their lives.

Wittgenstein went on to somewhat contradict himself by adding to his theory, that if a lion could talk ‘he just would not be a lion anymore; or rather, his mind would no longer be a lion's mind’. Perhaps Wittgenstein was making the point that even with a shared language, to effectively communicate, marketers need to truly get into the minds of their audiences, and view the world from their context.

Complements to Gender Diversity

Diversity of thought and approach is vital for marketing teams to generate innovative ideas and find new ways of implementing campaigns and communications. Seeing the significant business benefits that diversity brings, many sectors – from governments to manufacturing to financial services – are focusing on improving diversity in their organisations.

The current diversity agenda for many sectors and companies appears to be primarily centred on gender diversity. Certainly, there is more to be done to improve female representation in a number of sectors. In financial services for example, women represent just 19% of senior managers and just 2% of CEOs. Gender diversity is also shown to be good for business. A recent study by the Peterson Institute and EY found that a company with 30% female leadership could expect to add up to six percentage points to its net margin when compared with an otherwise similar business with no female leaders.

Focusing on improving diversity of teams needs to be done with a specific objective and purpose – to bring different thought processes and approaches to bear on business issues and opportunities. Certainly diversity of thought and approach can be gained from a more balanced gender split in senior positions and teams. For example, a study by McKinsey found that women tend to demonstrate five of the nine types of leadership behavior that improve business performance – such as people development and participative decision making – more often than men.

Gaining the benefits of diversity of thought and approach can also come from achieving diversity of culture and personality types, as a complement to gender diversity. At Ideas and Action, we find that the best creative ideas and the right course of action to deliver to our clients comes when different people on our team contribute from a different cultural or personality point of view.

We are fortunate to work with a culturally diverse team, with colleagues from the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Belgium, the Philippines and New Zealand. As we work with clients with a global reach, this diversity of culture helps us to view their challenges and opportunities with an eye on both universal truths as well as local cultural nuances. Being able to draw on, and combine, the strengths of different cultural approaches creates a powerful team. For example, a strength of the Philippine business culture is building professional relationships founded on genuine interest in colleagues and clients, and not merely the business of the company they represent. The New Zealand business culture on the other hand, focuses on respect earned by actions, not status, and is characterised by a can-do attitude that goes a long way towards solving problems and finding creative means of getting things done. Together, these different approaches enable us to develop solutions for our clients that not only solve for today’s issues, but are also positioned for the longer term.

We also have diversity of personality within the team. A common methodology for assessing different personality types that many of us would have completed is Myers-Briggs. This framework looks at the strengths of different personalities, and what they can bring to a business. Within our team, we have a good diversity of personality types. Some are ENTP or ‘Debater’ personalities, being smart and curious thinkers who cannot resist an intellectual challenge. This is balanced by others in the team who are ISTJ or ‘Logistician’ personalities, being practical and fact-minded individuals whose reliability cannot be questioned, and INTJ or “Architect” big picture strategic thinkers.

In order to operate effectively and efficiently as a marketing and communications consultancy, it is vital that a mix of personality types come together, balancing the need for keeping an eye on the big picture, and incorporating new insight and ideas with the ability to work through implementation challenges and achieve delivery for our clients.

Understanding that this diversity of culture and personality exists, and embracing the strengths in those differences, are vital to working together more harmoniously and ultimately, more effectively for our clients.

The diversity agenda is vital for all businesses, and needs to go above and beyond the easier-to-spot gender diversity agenda, to also building a team with diversity of thought and approach. Both of these can often come from achieving diversity of culture and personality type diversity, as a complement to gender diversity.