Organizational

Chimps and the Guaranteed Great Leap Forward

Sam Frentzel-Beyme Follow Managing Partner & Strategy Director

The Short of It

  • The most powerful brands do communication extremely well.
  • Organizations should look at how they can become more precise in communication.
  • The great leap forward for organizations will be through clear and precise communications around complex tasks.

In the Third Chimpanze, Jared Diamond calls it the Great Leap Forward (actually calls "them" great leaps as the earlier getting upright part was pretty big, but we'll focus on the later one). That short period of time when we transitioned from our relatively rudimentary existence evolved over the course of millions of years into a species able to domesticate animals, develop agriculture, metallurgy and invent writing and then move on to things like the Mona Lisa, the Eiffel Tower and and the Sistine Chapel.

What allowed it to happen?

A plausible answer, Diamond posits, is the developed structure of larynx, tongue and the associated muscles that give us control over a wider range of sounds. Naturally, it wasn't just that. But with a finer ability to control sounds, we can have a greater variety of sounds, which leads to a greater level of possible complexity in terms of language. The vervet monkey, for example, one of the most widely studied in terms of communication ability, has about ten "words": "leopard," "eagle," "snake," "baboon," "other predatory animal," "unfamiliar human," "dominant monkey," "subordinate monkey," "watch other monkey," and "see rival troop."

The basics, of course, are important.

Just look at a relatively simple message like, “on the other side of that third big tree with the green needles and blue flowers is a massive saber tooth tiger.” If you had to reduce that sentence to “tree, flower, tiger, there,” you could imagine that there might be a good number who wouldn’t be too happy with your instructions (though actual complaints would probably be minimal).

The point of all this?

The great leap forward was about communication. What set Cro-Magnon (European Early Modern Humans), our most recent predecessors from our Neanderthal ancestors, who we coexisted with, was our ability to communicate clear and precise information that allowed for groups to coexist around complex tasks (agriculture, cities, etc.).

If we look at the the most powerful brands, the one thing they do extremely well is communication. Communication in terms of overall strategic objectives. Communication around complex information in terms of research and development. Communication in terms of how it shapes specific messages for specific groups of people they want to connect with. Communication in terms of how it can influence purchase decisions and the subsequent accumulation of revenue and profit.

The best advice often falls in the "Holy anti-climax, Batman!" category. And advice to be better communicators seems to fall directly in that camp. The thinking is that the real secret must be something more magical (could even involve unicorns).

But what if your organization was just a bit more precise in every piece of communication it engaged it? In how it talked about itself. In how it talked about the future. In how it worked together on project execution. In how it communicated about itself to the outside world. And what if you did this for a whole year? A whole decade?

A great leap forward - guaranteed.

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