Sunday, March 01, 2009

Living in a World of Knobs

Yesterday, Rush Limbaugh is said to have fired up the troops at a major conservative conference. This, combined with a recent dinner with a friend who absolutely believes that the right answer to ALL of today's economic woes is to let the free market solve the problems, caused me to think about whether we live today in a world of many knobs rather than one big switch.

Let me explain.

If you imagine a dashboard for running the world (or the country, if you want a "smaller" picture), the image that would be conveyed to describe Limbaugh's world would be one with a gigantic switch whose two settings are: on one side is "government intervention"; and on the other side is "let the market take care of it". Limbaugh is essentially saying that the latter is the solution.

Alternatively, another dashboard might exist: one with multiple knobs, perhaps divided up by industry or discipline with varying degrees of government and private sector support represented around each knob. This latter is more of what is being used by today's U.S. government.

So what does this have to do with communications? A lot. It's obvious that in the former scenario, communicating the mission and vision is relatively easy. It's simple and clean.

But in the latter scenario, communicating is much tougher. There are nuances that are being implemented that can complicate the story.

However, we believe that even in a world of knobs -- which is likely the world in which most technology start ups live -- it is possible to develop as clean a communications strategy. It's what we at Roeder-Johnson call a "high concept". It requires stepping up above the individual knobs and seeing the single common vision that unifies all of them.

It may not be easy to define the "high concept"; but it is very important to do -- at any time of the market, especially now. We are living through a time of tremendous complexity, where everyone has many knobs they have to deal with every day. This means, for a company to raise itself above all of that fog of knobs, it needs to simplify its message.

Whether you agree with those who represent the "switch" vision of the world, there may be a lesson to take from them.

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