Too Perfect?

July 12, 2013

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The other day I was flicking through some back copies of Harvard Business Review (only, clearly, because I had finished my edition of Stuff) and there was a very interesting piece of research mentioned. A Professor Zakary Tormala has shown that people find experts and other figures of authority more compelling when they seem less sure of their opinions.

This got me thinking. Most of my clients are obsessed with being perfect. Every word of every statement is obsessed over, inaccuracy is frowned upon, no action is sanctioned without checking and double checking, often by the legal department. Thinking about it, though, how sensible is this? We’re not like this in real life, with each other. We merrily make errors and correct ourselves. We’re happy to be corrected in the conversations we have and don’t think anything of stumbling over words, or getting a few facts wrong.

Lou Gerstner, the IBM CEO and the man who is credited with bringing “Big Blue” back from the brink, used to be an enthusiastic contributor to the online conversation which he initiated across the company. He was famed for his typos and appalling spelling and admired all the more for it. His enthusiasm and willingness to engage was extremely refreshing for people used to receiving drab corporate-speak from HQ.

What this and the research suggests is that to err is human and, in the age of social media where the conversation holds sway, being human is good. This is worth bearing in mind, perhaps, when you are considering whether to launch that blog or Twitter feed, or whether to comment in online forums, and the extent to which content needs to be pre-approved’.

Indeed, I would almost argue that in many ways, “corporate” communications is becoming increasingly irrelevant. People increasingly want to hear from and to build relationships with people, not companies. And if they do come across companies, they want to see the people within. They want to understand what makes them tick, whether they share the same values, whether they would, personally, endorse what the company does.

Maybe we should be arguing, always, for “human communications” and encouraging our clients to embrace imperfection along with all the accompanying authenticity, attractiveness and warmth.