As Reuben pointed out, many of the ad men of Madison Avenue, that I have loved to watch on Mad Men, were returning to work from the Second World War, and they brought with them into advertising and marketing the language of war.
To this day we continue to use the language of targeting, for example. The idea is that we can select a target group of customers and then bombard them with our ideas and messages, until we win their hearts and minds and turn them to our point of view.
I have written about the language of business before. From a slightly different angle, Sam Keen said ‘Business is just warfare in slow motion’.
But it is fascinating to think how the language of war has spread so widely into business – presumably through the huge influence of advertising and marketing. In business we fight the competition, and our choice of terms such as goals, milestones, burning platforms and beachheads all smacks of struggle and the wrong kind of conflict.
It’s all about winning and losing. Business is only rarely about reparation, or giving.
This frame has been adopted in many market segments, and has also spread more widely into society and every day culture.
For example, we talk of the ‘battle against cancer’. Poet Anthony Wilson writes about this. It would be interesting to try to track the spread of this language from the ad men into the pharmaceutical industry and then into medicine.
The rise of executive coaching doesn’t seem to have done much to halt this process. Senior managers are encouraged to set goals, and achieve their targets. Work life becomes something we all need to battle through. Ultimately we need to compete, and to win.
Of course, we can’t completely blame the ad men.
Psychologists also had remarkable influence on the thinking in Madison Avenue – as documented in Vance Parkard’s great book ‘The Hidden Persuaders‘. For example, how was it that spending rather than saving became the moral thing to do? Just how did consumerism arise?
But then these psychologists were also perhaps high on the apparent success of various psychological innovations (such as the development of personality typing) that arose during the Second World War.
And I suppose ultimately there is nothing wrong with having a frame. Any frame can be helpful, whether it is war, or sport or something else. We can use the language of a particular frame to distinguish and separate things and to make ourselves clear.
But I do think it is helpful to be aware of the frames we choose. This, for me, is at the core of Conscious Business.
For me, Conscious Business isn’t just about behaving ethically, and doing good. Nor is it just about ‘holism’ and everything being connected. It isn’t just about transparency, or personal responsibility, or even better communication.
It is all these things.
But for me, and it is a personal view, Conscious Business is really about trying to understand how we experience the world, and what effect that has on the results we create – both good and bad. It is about seeing our frames.
With that kind of consciousness comes choice. And that feels very worthwhile.