by Barry Chudakov on November 12th, 2009

Meta Tools

The following is an outline of why we need what Metalife calls ‘meta tools’ and how these can be used to resolve business issues and create dynamic new opportunities.

1. Humans evolved and thrived as tool builders, from axes to telephones.

Inventing and using tools is a human trait that has become more sophisticated over time and is part of the genius of our species. We are the only species that uses tools—McLuhan called them body extensions—to communicate.

2. While we readily use communication tools we rarely notice that these tools influence our thinking and how they compel us to see the world in very profound and powerful ways.

Brain researcher Lucilla Cardinali revised McLuhan’s insights when she reported recently “Once the tool is incorporated in the body schema, it can be maneuvered and controlled as if it were a body part itself.” In other words, once the tool is in your hand, your brain sees it as you! This explains why people using cell phones while driving are typically not mindful of the risk of crashing their cars. Or, due to our mirror neurons, why Fuji women showed a rapid increase in eating disorders once cable televsion was introduced to their island.

3. Our tools have a long history of creating our social structures, including business organization and protocols.

Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1436; Marshall McLuhan wrote The Gutenberg Galaxy in 1962, describing how the form of the printed word influenced both cognitive and social organization in the modern Western world. Why the 526-year wait? I believe McLuhan wrote this and could see it because as a culture we were leaving that galaxy. Examples of this social organization include office layouts and the top-down hierarchical structures of any alphabetically based organization (church, school, government, corporation). Management techniques involving control of employees as well as our notion of problem-solving have their roots in how we build our social structures, again leading back to the communication tools that organized our thinking about the building of those structures.

Photo Credit: Flickr — Kwsnyc

Photo Credit: Flickr — Kwsnyc

4. What many see today as chaos and ‘restructuring’ is the proliferation of new tools exploding or disaggregating what the old tools created.

Of course there are a number of ways to look at the world: historically, culturally, politically, etc. One very useful way is to look at how the world changes when our communication tools change—the focus of this blog and The Metalife Project. In the last 60 years we have moved from a world built by the alphabetic tools of book, magazine and newspaper to what I call the Visual Carnival. (See Steve Rubel’s point #2 ) For example, when any business today ignores employee communications amidst a proliferation of new social media or tries to understand customers and stakeholders without following their networking habits—this business is oblivious to the new world communication tools have created. That oblivion is a significant business risk. Here are six trends and ways to mitigate that risk.

5. With this tool proliferation, we need ‘meta tools’—tools to help us better understand and manage our tools.

An example of a ‘meta tool’ is the metadata that comes with a digital photograph.

6. We need these ‘meta tools’ to be better leaders, better managers, better marketers, better sales people, better communicators.

Many marketers today are using conceptual and planning processes created 30 years ago. This is not surprising: they’re the ones we inherited, we understand them. We have incorporated these processes into our thinking and social structures, while the new communication tools are still external, confusing, mysterious and maybe threatening. However, newer tools have completely new dynamics.

7. The Metalife Project has developed essential new ‘meta tools.’

To understand and capitalize on those new dynamics, you need to think in the likeness and logic of the tools. ‘Meta tools’ are designed to do that. When you use them you see customers and communications differently; you get more usable knowledge, more practicable insights. Just as a photographer uses the metadata that accompanies a digital image to calibrate resolution, adjust contrast and tonality and thus improve an image, we will use meta tools to improve your company’s total understanding of its operations.

In effect, Metalife applies systems logic to communications. This is an uncommon approach, as most corporate organization is functional, with individuals and teams organizing around a tactical delivery. For example, one person or group might typically focus on communications to broker dealers; another might focus on internal communications; another might target customer engineering and sales divisions. The older the corporation, the more these functional divisions become a dynamic not only for communications but for organizing teams to deliver those communications. The result? No one is, in Barry Oshry’s words, seeing systems. No one is looking at the larger picture. Effectively, there is no larger picture; there are only tactical delivery modules.

Metalife incorporates a variety of survey processes and analytical techniques. We will observe and listen and ask questions from many perspectives. Our approach will be to acquire a macro-view of the entire operation. Each of these processes and techniques is a “meta tool” and the data they provide will enable us to arrive at a picture of the corporation or division which heretofore has eluded understanding or accurate evaluation. We call that picture a “metalife” of the corporation or division. And once we have that picture and all stakeholders can see and understand it—then we are in a position to improve it.

8. So what, now what?

  • Communication tools enable connections.
  • At the same time, new and proliferating tools also change and reorganize those connections.
  • Connections matter to all of us. Follow your customer’s and stakeholders’ connections and you’ll understand their behavioral, cultural and directional patterns and passions.
  • You will also start to see communication tools from a different perspective which will enable you to use them proactively and to greater effect.

9. The bottom line: awareness of the role of communication tools in our lives and enterprises pays multiple dividends. The ‘meta tools’ we offer will enhance sales efforts, improve customer awareness, inspire employees and contribute to the overall well being of the company.


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