reason 53

Reason is a monthly missive from the partners of Essex Two, a vertically integrated communication consultancy. We invite our readers to think in new ways about their business, their customers and the opportunities for meaningful communication between them. Joseph and Nancy Essex

Do the ends justify the means?  Or do the means justify the ends? Several weeks ago at his Senate confirmation hearing to become director of the CIA, General Michael Hayden added his own interpretation to this conundrum.

The question put to the four-star general was a not-so-hypothetical question about how he would respond to an executive request to gather intelligence in order to support a desired conclusion. In what appeared to be a genuine attempt to provide insight rather than to sidestep the question, Hayden explained the differences between inductive and deductive reasoning as they apply to gathering intelligence.

Inductive reasoning starts with the conclusion or desired result carefully defined. The Agency’s task would be to gather information that will support a particular conclusion without regard for any peripheral intelligence that may not affirm the goal. In this way “wants” are achieved without incorporating unacknowledged facts. This is a great deal like assuming a table standing upright has four legs. Only if the table is tested and fails will the lack of supporting intelligence become evident.

With deductive reasoning, “needs” are addressed. The goal is to collect and evaluate intelligence based on understanding the content within the context of an overarching objective. Knowing which leg of the table is missing will permit the table to still support itself as well as a great deal more weight if properly positioned.

I want it when I want it.  When Coca-Cola’s “sip” test confirmed what they “wanted” to know: that a sweeter soda would attract customers away from Pepsi. They never considered that the preference would not hold up if the whole can of cola was consumed. Too much of a good thing was too much for the classic Coke drinker.

Sears “wanted” to upgrade their image and separate themselves from their big box competition by carrying higher end products. Unfortunately, after a great deal of money and reputation was lost, Sears discovered that their customers were not willing to buy contemporary furniture or a $650 suit a few feet from the latest washer-dryer duo. The craftsmen at Sears could not make the leap from hardware.

Xerox discovered that it didn't matter how innovative their computers were, customers were not going to spend big bucks for technology from a copier company. Xerox wanted their customers to recognize how they had grown without preparing them for the growth.

These were not failures of products or management. These less than satisfactory results were the fault of attempting to fulfill “wants” without collecting and considering all of the relevant intelligence. Framed in such a way this conclusion seems reasonable, even obvious.

Don’t know what we don’t know.  Sometimes the view from inside an organization, institution or company is clouded by mixed agendas, internal politics or simply not knowing what we don’t know. This normal unwillingness to consider that there is more to know, or that someone outside of the core group could make a contribution, is more about habit than arrogance.

Asking the “wrong” questions and arriving at unexpected answers is better done by those outside of the core enterprise. Reframing the “wants” in the language of “needs” is better attempted by those who are practiced in connecting with how human beings respond to new ideas.

Success is not just in the comprehensive gathering of information nor in the confirmation of preferred assumptions, but the integration and assessment of that data toward understanding what options are available and the consequences of each option.

The partners of Essex Two have over 36 years of experience helping organizations translate “wants” into “needs” and information into imagination, producing successful communication. Visit the Essex Two website for case studies that demonstrate our ability to stimulate the success of our clients.


Worth your time:  Find Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a book, as one of four film versions, or best, as a play. The story is filled with individuals and groups acting on incomplete information and seeing what they “want” to see rather than what truly exists.


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