Corporate happiness

Company information often strains the bounds of credibility and is at odds with the reality of the outside world.

by Tom Kowaleski

What's better in this summer holiday period than finding the perfect book for a bit of enjoyment and enlightenment? Getting an early start, I found mine in Stumbling on Happiness (Harper-Collins), by Harvard professor of psychology Daniel Gilbert. It might sound a bit 'pop psy', but it's a fascinating look into how the brain makes life enjoyable by aiding our memories of the past, experiences of the present and imagination of the future. But here's the interesting point: our brain does this not by being more accurate, but by editing what we remember of the past, how we want to see reality today and how we wish to imagine the future. In short, it subtly bends reality to suit our desires and wishes.

Companies often function in this same manner by engaging two flawed actions in communicating to their most important constituencies of employees, customers and shareholders, as well as those charged to follow their fortunes, such as the media and analysts. First, they assume outsiders have the same thirst for complex facts and an equal knowledge of the innermost workings of the company, its processes, culture and history, as they do. Second, they paint a bright picture of a future based solely on their own plans and neglect to balance these against a fast-paced competitive environment.

This is classic 'inside out' thinking. Executives, consumed with their own challenges and opportunities, spend much of their time communicating with each other. Even when speaking to the outside world, they move within a well-defined set of colleagues, business associates and constituents - all of whom understand the basic code. Go a bit further afield, however, to those influential audiences that are critical to shaping a company's image and it's little wonder this complex mix of inside information - no matter how well communicated - often strains the bounds of credibility and relevancy. Companies can compound this by falling in love with their own scintillating vision and plans for the future. They become blinded to the fact that major competitors may be plotting the very same outcome and some may already have a significant market advantage. Is it any wonder we continually read of plans for success that end up anything but, to the detriment of the company's credibility?

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