At TEDxNewSt, an independently organised TED event, last week a panel of speakers gathered to discuss why better human understanding is the future of business success.
Chaired by Jim Prior, the chief executive of the Partners, the session covered four key themes - an examination of how the mind works; emerging thoughts and insights into how we will connect and communicate in the future; an exploration of the nature of experiences and the memories they form; and new definitions of business success and how in the future we will need a more holistic interpretation of value.
The goal was to get beyond the rational, logical approach to business, but could this be achieved?
Rory Sutherland, the IPA president and vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK, described human understanding as the future of business. "It is not enough to rely on the balance sheet to tell you what you need to know about your consumers," he said.
Sutherland argued that all business activity is subjective and that, equally, humans don't have an objective scale so each judgment is a comparative one and our value system is arbitrary. This affects the way we consider and purchase brands and that degrees of reward could incentivise consumers better in the future in making brand choice.
The theme was further explored by Peter Sells, the head of mobile at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, who argued that because of this subjectivity, a lot of data that advertising agencies use is hopelessly optimistic and that you can't understand consumer behaviour by asking them. "Don't rely on consumer research in an innovation business," Sells said, citing Apple as an example of a successful company that doesn't.
His colleague Tim Jones argued that consumers are emotional rather than rational and gaming could provide a way for brands to connect with them, pointing out that gaming provides an emotional reward that can build brands.
A digital mindset is crucial for the future given that people - through social networking - have become obsessed with sharing data, was the theme for the next session. Thomas Power, the chairman of Ecademy, said that the amount of information that is coming into our lives will increase tenfold by 2012 and by 1,000 times by 2020, creating what he termed as a "data sickness".
Because of this, we will need to filter more effectively the information we receive, which will then have a profound effect on society and institutions. To adopt a digital mindset will take a change in our mental state to what Power calls "Open Random Supportive". He argued that most institutions are, however, "Closed Selective Controlling" and are built for a world that no longer exists. The fact that everyone is connected to everyone else and that people are constantly becoming violated and interrupted onand offline suggests that the days of control have gone.
Power argued that technology has become a species that we are merging with through a process of trans-humanisation and we must embrace this through an ORS approach to data and people in order to make sure that we ensure "network thinking".
Mark Lund, the COI chief executive, described social networking as the biggest shift since the invention of the printing press and that it was a place that the state had to be at the heart of.
As a consequence, brands had evolved from providing to engaging to mobilising and that social media was the tool of choice for this.
He said that the current government, with David Cameron's "Big Society" initiative, is more intent on mobilising the population than virtually any that preceded it.
However, the challenge of rallying the population was more difficult than when Lord Kitchener implored young men to sign up to fight in the Great War or when Winston Churchill made his "blood, sweat, toil and tears" speech during the Battle of Britain.
"The degree of complexity has increased, the competition for media is greater and trust in politicians has gone," Lund said.
Nonetheless, in order to connect with people, the thoughts and images needed to be as strong as they were with Kitchener's "Your Country Needs You" poster.
The difference between the "remembering self" and the "experiencing self" was explored in the third session, with particular emphasis on how the senses are a gateway to the subconscious.
The way a brand uses sound - be it in call centres, in advertising, in shops - has an impact on what consumers think of it. Indeed, research showed that sales increased significantly when the "soundscape" of a retail environment was changed. Julian Treasure, the chairman of The Sound Agency, argued that "if a brand is a promise delivered, it needs a multi-sensory experience." His words were supported by a live performance by the singer-songwriter Randolph Matthews, whose music aims to fuse his UK experiences with those of cultures around the globe.
The relationship between business and culture was also explored, showing that, to avoid "clone towns" of homogenous experiences, art was becoming an increasing part of mainstream business.
The final session looked at how business success will be defined in the future and the changing interpretation of value. Paul Feldwick, a former account planner at BMP DDB London and now an independent consultant, argued that the concept of creativity needed to be redefined into one that included aesthetics and artistry rather than just innovation or originality, while Gerd Leonhard, the media futurist and visiting professor at Fundacao Dom Cabral, said that in the truly connected world ownership can no longer remain exclusive.
With the physical embodiment of media disappearing, the old rules of scarcity creating value will disappear. "People won't copy any more, instead everything will be a remix," he argued, using Facebook as an example - the social network site is now the biggest broadcaster in the world, but, he pointed out, it must be remembered that it doesn't actually own anything.
See http://www.tedxnewst.com/ and follow the day on twitter.com/tedxnewst