In this guest post, Dr Brian Mitchell and Evan Mitchell, co-founders of digital culture strategists HOW&Y, argue in this era of the digital master race, marketers are losing the all-important human touch…
Marriage from hell
At the dawn of the digital age, well before the 1995 publication of Daniel Goleman’s ground-breaking Emotional Intelligence, the US author John Naisbitt foresaw complications. His 1988 Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives, predicted the inevitable rise of Artificial Intelligence, and urged a counter-balancing union with its emotional counterpart. Megatrends was a futurist tsunami. Dominating the NYT Best Seller List for two years and published in over 50 countries, it became the forecaster’s bible.
Naisbitt’s visionary ideal, however, proved less a marriage of convenience and more the kind of insect kingdom arrangement where mate eats mate after coupling. It no time, intelligence of the artificial kind set about devouring its emotional namesake.
According to Naisbitt, High Tech should promote High Touch, in the sense that High Touch jobs would likely be those least affected and most in demand in the face of expanding AI and ever-expanding Tech. Fast forward and this has proven true. But unfortunately, while High Touch jobs might be in the ascendancy, High Touch skills have been tragically eroded.
Back in the charts, just when…
Emotional Intelligence is now a natural catch-all label to cover a range of soft skills. While the concept never died, like the Queen back catalogue buoyed by a Freddie Mercury biopic, EI has recently been seeing its own resurgence on the HR charts. Ironically, at a time when its fundamentals, already undermined, are collapsing from within. A 2017 major LinkedIn survey is powerful evidence of the extent of attrition. The two thousand business leaders surveyed identified communication, collaboration and leadership as representing the most significant skills gaps in new hires. Soft skill attributes that are the essential components of Emotional Intelligence.
And we don’t need to look far to find the culprit.
Digital Culture is the saturation of personal and professional life by Tech and pervasive information. It’s the disruption and creative destruction subsequently applied to business models, organizational cultures and management directions and expectations. It shapes the mindset of the employees and new hires, forcing paradigm-setting changes on communication and interaction. And it’s an EI killer.
Talking to a stranger, strangely
Communication is basic to Emotional Intelligence. Listening, intuiting, reading tacit cues, anticipating the interests of the other party and sensitively articulating your own – these are soft skills that have always been at the core of what it means to be effective in leadership and management… even effective as a human… and pretty handy for marketers.
The fact is, communication skills don’t improve on their own. Their natural direction is backwards. And digital culture emboldens this, by expanding the range of communication options. In theory, the more options the greater the quality. In practice, the opposite applies. New technological choices increase the distortion, not the quality, of communication.
A good example of what happens when Emotional Intelligence sags in marketing is the range of consumer services ads directed at Millennials and iGen, that miss intrinsic characteristics of these generations – staying younger for longer, “omnipotentiality” (I can be/do anything), generational rules on authenticity, tension between “image” and “identity”… And end up alienating their market.
EI is frequently aligned with empathy – which entails collaboration. And it’s here that the most damaging influence of digital culture shows itself.
Digital culture, on any social media platform, delights in a zero-sum view of the world. Far from encouraging collaboration with others, it drives competition and envy. If we imagine a hypothetical continuum of harmony, running from one extreme of absolute conflict to the other extreme of absolute cooperation, the influence of digital culture on collaboration has been a wholesale shift of workplace practice and tendency towards the “bad” conflict end. As EI declines workplace disputes increase. A double whammy that becomes a Catch 22.
And then there’s teams
Marketers love teams – not surprising, everyone does – cross-functional, departmental, virtual… They’re ubiquitous. It’s the way to creativity and all things positive. Right? Not without EI – which as we know (and the evidence supports it) is now in short supply. And in its place an addiction to amusing but non-harmonious feelings like Schadenfreude, ever present in social media and destructive to the harmony, creativity and efficiency that the team concept promises.
The value and durability of EI, as both a predictive and guiding tool, used to be well established. However, unlike the Queen revival and Freddie’s legacy, and enveloped as it is in digital culture EI battles to successfully follow the comeback script. Ironies abound in the digital area, but the greatest is that the digitally eroded skills and capabilities of Emotional Intelligence are disappearing just at the time when other digital developments have made their need more urgent.
Off the slippery slope
Take this quick trial for a read on your own conflict/collaboration standing – and an idea of how other members on your teams might sit.
The pattern of erosion of soft skills can be broken. But it first needs identifiable EI markers. Measures that are valid, reliable and quantifiable. Two such criteria stand out – a collaborative mindset, and an understanding of how to address disputes.
EI capabilities that are surely crucial to every aspect of marketing.