Engaging the company’s mind in strategy

Human consciousness is amazing and as explanations of it advance, perhaps we can adopt more of these techniques to better ‘design’ organisations.

Here are a few thoughts on how using the principles Daniel Dennett’s ground-breaking explanation of consciousness (Consciousness Explained, 1993) in a business context could unlock your company’s potential.


Enable and oversee not command and control

One of the central themes of Dennett’s work is that there is no such thing as one ‘stream of consciousness’, rather there are multiple channels in which specialists in the mind (almost randomly) solve problems when confronted with a challenge.  These solutions are drafts, ‘Multiple Drafts’, which are logically analysed in the brain until the ‘best’ option arises.  Critically, this is not a hard-wired design, but develops and survives because it works!

There is no one place in the mind where everything is defined, analysed and given meaning.  Counter-intuitive to some, but it works, and it works brilliantly!

In your company think about it, if everything is conceived, defined and scrutinised by a central function (e.g. the Board), the ‘Group Think’ phenomenon is inevitable.  Success lies creating the conditions where there’s a central company purpose but structure/design emphasises the conditions for consultation across the company (and in the supply chain) on customer experiences and business capability. ‘Multiple Drafts’ of new product ideas, process improvements and new markets etc. will be encouraged and the best choices taken.


Mind your language

Development of human consciousness is believed to have accelerated when we began to speak what we thought – this led to a rapid growth in the number of alternatives considered to support survival.  The more we talk the more we understand what we mean, what we don’t mean and therefore how we can then take the best course of action.

In the context of the above, time needs to be spent encouraging the verbal articulation of ideas, problems solutions, objections etc. and a way of positively reinforcing its use.  Speaking rehearses the meaning of thought and so makes public the consciousness of the company.  Having this on-going and constant strategic conversation will separate the good from the great companies.

So, less of the written reports and more of the verbalisation of the issues and solutions in question.  Companies have a common vocabulary to talk about their customers, their needs and the company vision etc. which is useful, but should not be sacrosanct.  In todays’ accelerating economy even fundamental ways of articulating a market can be outdated quickly.


Plastic fantastic

Human genes account for our amazing progress and individual traits through the phenotype have enhanced our prominence and impact.  Our particular form (phenotype) also has a prodigious ability to learn within our lifetime rather than be completely hard-wired from birth. This is called plasticity.

The increase in plasticity is likely to be the greatest capability a company possesses in the future.  It seems that the company genotype and phenotype have been known for a long time – we know what a good business looks like.  In the future however, more energy is needed to learn and adapt in real-time – becoming increasingly plastic!

This plasticity will be a company’s ability to adopt the right ideas (memes) – initiative them, borrow them, share them.  The ability of an organisation to assimilate useful ideas will be the critical and be the defining competitive advantage of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. What’s important in life, environmental sustainability, a good corporate citizen, fashion trends and attitudes to automation are all examples of memes that a company need to address in what it does and how it does it.  And critically, make sure they are embedded through their internal company memes, which can be past on as the company grows.

So, if your organisation opens up and provides people with the maximum opportunity to influence strategy, can tolerate a breadth of opinion and invests in an environment where ideas are developed shared and talked through, perhaps you’ll be conscious of great things!



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