I was having a conversation with one of my favorite authors, brand-gurus, and all-around-great-guys, Tom Asacker (acleareye.com ; A Little Less Conversation ; A Clear Eye For Branding) the other day and somehow we got on the topic of appendicitis. Of course, we both immediately made the link to brands (what else?) and the following blog post is the result. I really like it - we (Tom and I) hope you do too...
Have you ever wondered why virtually every time you hear of someone being treated for appendicitis, it turns out to be an emergency case?
This happened to my father years ago. He hadn’t been feeling well for a couple of days and the next thing I knew he was being rushed to the hospital with an appendix that was ready to explode.
Why does it seem that your appendix is either fine, or moments away from bursting and spreading deadly toxins throughout your system? Does it go off like a time bomb, with no warning? Does it all happen so fast that there is no chance of catching it earlier, if only to be able to go through the unavoidable surgery in a less frantic and harried state?
Not really. In fact, the symptoms of appendicitis usually develop over a period of up to 48 hours.
The problem is that the early warning signs are often easily explained away by other, more benign theories. The stomach pain is typically attributed to something we ate, stress or constipation, which seems to make sense based on our generally poor diets, and sedentary, stressful lives. And so we allow ourselves to CORRELATE the pain we are experiencing with the things we’ve done that help explain it away.
However, CORRELATION is not CAUSATION, and so many cases of appendicitis are misdiagnosed until the pain becomes so severe and the patient is so sick that the easier explanations no longer make sense. Unfortunately, by that time the only answer is emergency surgery (which is never as good as nonemergency surgery).
Of course, this CORRELATION/CAUSATION error is made all the time in business (think GM). The difference is that with appendicitis, you will figure out your mistake within 48 hours. With business, you could end up hiding the real issues for years while you explain them away with any number of convenient theories like the economy, the weather, the shift in media consumption, the political climate, the uninformed consumers, etc.
The actual cause of this behavior is, most often, a lack of perspective. We become so overconfident in our understanding of our businesses that our brains automatically fill in the blanks with the most logical and expedient answers given our experience and history. Without the benefit of a new lens or an outside perspective, everything can be made to make sense within the context of the most palatable of explanations.
Eventually, however, the organization’s brand will burst. And when it does, the options left on the table will be few and unappetizing.
So what can you do? The answer is easy - ensure that you are frequently soliciting points of view from people who are not so close to, and so vested in, your business that they will avoid the tough questions.
In our personal lives, we have doctors. Most of us don’t see them until it is too late - we are already sick - but we know we should be visiting them at least once a year. They do tests and ask questions and aren’t swayed by the fact that you’ve felt a certain way for so long that it has begun to feel like normal. They also derive no benefit by overlooking or explaining away potential underlying problems.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to surround yourself with an army of consultants. However, you must allow your business, your brands, to be inspected by trusted allies who live outside the fold. People who will ask the tough questions, administer the right tests, and not look for the easiest and least painful explanations.
For, in issues of health – both personal and business – it is best to address small problems early than big problems late. Sure, saving a patient with appendicitis has become routine. But saving an organization with brandicitis is far from it.