Art vs Science: Storytelling saves us from the robots

Advances in technology are reshaping the way in which we live, work, and communicate. With the rise in machine translation, automation and artificial intelligence, a zeitgeist has emerged through science fiction texts such as the cinematic release of “I, Robot” that humans will suffer at the hands of robots as they start to take over the roles and responsibilities of humans, effectively “taking our jobs”.

We are well and truly embedded in the information age, and our continuing evolution of technology solutions to meet human needs has become an integral part of society – digital identification, health biometrics, web metrics, behavioural insights, process monitoring – the list goes on.

The resulting wave of ‘big data’ has driven further innovation, where systems, tools and technologies have evolved to manage the ever growing data dump. These tools enable businesses to extract datasets, transform data into different formats, augment datasets through systems integration, and output rich reporting that highlights insights to further drive performance.

As society progresses towards a data-driven future, and new technologies mimic actions and behaviours once belonging only to humans, it is only natural that there is growing anxiety and fear around where this is all heading. As consumers we are bombarded with messages daily, many of us wrestling with an inbox that despite the best efforts to tame, continues the tide of inbound marketing from every corner of the globe wanting your undivided attention to read their latest correspondence. This all comes at a price for humans at the receiving end of this deluge, as the connection with audiences becomes increasingly difficult due to information overload. In a saturated media environment, companies have to rethink the approach they take to communications, creating authentic, honest and transparent conversations with their audience.

It is these expectations and the deep seated psychological need for inclusion that has shifted social norms to establish group identity, and a sense of belonging that allows us to “hide behind” the polite formalities and empty routines of small talk. For many there’s a constant fear of transgressing the codes of communication of their particular circle. The missing ingredient in online communications is authenticity. In an age of ‘fake news’ much of the content published online “emphasizes hierarchy by maintaining a particular kind of work-speak that simplifies relationships and distances people from each other”. Organisations are faced with communication challenges both internally and externally, as a lack of genuine and authentic communication results in missed opportunities, which if not curtailed can have a significant impact on the bottom line.

The opportunity for genuine engagement has not passed us by just yet. Whole organisations run exhausting agendas – hidden myths to do with competition, perfection or the impossibility of mistakes, kept in place by fear – and in truth, such cultures are debilitating for employees, and inimical to creative thought and connection. A company that is driven by an inauthentic agenda is not only likely to negatively impact their market performance, but it can take an even bigger toll on employees. The marks of this impact start to appear internally also, driven by compulsion, or a feeling of necessity – “an inner voice urges “you must”, “you’ve got to”, or “you can’t not”, sometime with “or else”. These responses are attempts at control. The effect on wellbeing of employees can be catastrophic for businesses – the embedded culture of fear may surface in various forms – self-consciousness, inner conflict, “people pleasing” – all contributors to stress and physical tension.

This type of controlled communications will never lead to conversations that are organic and satisfying – it’s checks, and balances are crude compared to whole mind thinking. For business leaders it pivots on the ability to have foresight and redefine the metrics for success – identifying the human need at the centre of their business model. It’s why successful businesses will always have a strong focus on Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) and Net Promoter Score (NPS) to measure their success.

Authentic communication is not always about celebrating success, but equally recognising weaknesses, and owning them. The social media wildfire that ignites if the audience feels they are being duped can often have a multiplier effect of the issue it was designed to cloak. For years, the power of positive thinking has been drummed into us and it has been corporate and human nature to feel discomfort in disclosing a problem – however the results speak for themselves. Vulnerability displays authenticity – as long as it’s not just another reversed marketing tactic to gasp for airtime in the news feed.

Beyond the rational, analytical methodical approach, organisations need to have a better understanding of their customers and use their understanding of their audience, with some intuition to improve the customer experience, using authentic, honest communication to delight their customers. Citizens now have the digital tools to become active and engaged storytellers alongside more traditional forms of media storytelling.

To fully experience any fictional world, consumers must assume the role of hunters and gatherers, chasing down bits of the story across media channels, comparing notes with each other via online discussion groups, and collaborating to ensure that everyone who invests time and effort will come away with a richer entertainment experience.

Joshua Meyerowitze, No Sense of Place (1986)

Although electronic media undermines the relationship between social situations and physical places, distinct places obviously still exist and place remains an important determinant of many types of interaction. This ‘sense of place’ is best conveyed through the use of storytelling, in which actors are positioned within the narrative to engage the audience and communicate through the power of storytelling. There’s a whole world of difference between communicating effectively – a skill – and communicating profoundly with inner intelligence, intuition, qualities of mind and psychology; and the difference is art not science.

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Joff Crabtree

Joff Crabtree

Digital Experience Specialist living and working in Walyalup on Whadjuk country, Western Australia