Friday, September 29, 2006

Victims of the "Depth Deficit"

The following are on-the-fly notes from the Consumer Engagement conference: Gerald Zaltman, Joseph C. Wilson Professor of Business Administration Emeritus, Harvard Business School.

Zaltman opened his presentation by asking, “How do we make engagement a reality for us?”

The challenge is that new ways of thinking about engagement are essential. Engagement is not a new concept as advertising has always been concerned with engagement. Still, some things have to change as a result of advances made in how the mind works and communication being more complex and diverse as ever.

Zaltman went on to describe what he refers to as the “depth avoidance” on thinking differently. There are so many fears: fear of new and unfamiliar thoughts, fear of change, etc. In interviews Zaltman conducted with key executives, acknowledgement of this “depth avoidance” seemed to naturally surface. From these interviews, executives revealed among teams a lack of courage, lack of consumer insight, vacuums of real thinking, research not viewed as creative input for developing the much desired “a-ha!” Some executives admitted that research in their organizations is viewed as dead weight rather than a springboard, that their teams are not proficient at nurturing new demand, but only harvesting existing demand- an obstacle for many organizations. Zaltman concluded that growing the top line is truly a task for the courageous and the imaginative.

The "depth deficit" in thinking can be characterized by the following:

  • An absence of deep thinking about research questions and what managers most need to know.
  • Failure to go beyond the surface thinking of customers.
  • Failure to use insights from different disciplines to structure research issues or other knowledge to interpret data.
  • Absence of bold, imaginative thinking about what turns on, or engages customers.

How do we as organizational leaders tackle this "depth deficit?" Zaltman proposes two solutions involving process and an attitude. Apply the process to challenge assumption and what could be present that isn’t there, then figure out how to introduce that thought to existing frames. Lastly, possess the right attitude. Many times in Zaltman's interviews with executives, time was mentioned as a major hurdle facilitating the "depth deficit" to go untreated. Zaltman encourages all of us to commit the time. Commit to the process of getting to an idea.


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