In my late teens, living in Calcutta, I used to play a lot of duplicate bridge. Or at the very least, contract bridge, if eight players could not be found. This was in the mid 1970s, when sophisticated artificial bidding systems were all the rage.
For those who are interested, I used to play a modified Precision Club system with a strong club, four card majors, weak no-trump, Stayman asking for majors, a “splinter 2 diamonds“, weak pre-emptive 3s and Blackwood asking for aces.
The particular system I was using is not relevant. What is relevant is that it was a complex way of collecting and signalling data: the bidding process in bridge, the conventions used, these are but tools to tell your playing partner something about the cards you hold.
There was this one time when my playing partner and I were playing against my brother and his playing partner. At the time they weren’t particularly serious about the game. Novices. So we did our Precision mumbo-jumbo rocket-science bidding. And they used an Acol-based “natural” bidding system, no frills. And they beat us. And kept beating us.
This was not good.
After all, we had the superior bidding system, the maturity, the experience, the everything. They shouldn’t be beating us.
And they weren’t just beating us. They seemed to know everything about the deal.
Because they did.
Having thrashed us comprehensively, amidst hoots of laughter, they told us what they’d been doing. Which was simple.
While we were knotted-browed in concentration using the most esoteric signalling systems to describe the cards we held, they were using a somewhat more effective one: they were showing each other their cards. Not within the rules, but done to teach us a lesson.
And the lesson was this: remember why you’re doing something, don’t get lost in the what and how.
In bridge, the purpose of bidding is to let your partner know what cards you have. The systems and conventions are meant to help you do that. But the purpose is to signal the cards you hold.
When I talk about engaging with customers, I try and draw on this analogy. Focus groups and surveys are not an end in themselves. They are way inefficient ways to find out what the customer wants to do, ways to discover customer preferences and intent. Today, the customer tells you what she wants, what she intends.
And so it is within the enterprise.
Which is the nub of this post: how the capacity for organisational memory has increased dramatically over the past decade or so (through tools like Chatter) and why it matters. [Disclosure: I work for Salesforce.com, the company behind Chatter].
There was a time when it was normal for a person to spend her whole life at one firm. The contract between employee and employer was trust-based, meaningful and long-term. There was security of tenure and staff turnover was low. Teamwork was high.
There was a reason why teamwork was high. The institution had memory.
Teamwork involves sacrifice. Sacrifice requires humility. Teams work because people allow themselves to be vulnerable in front of each other.
This sacrifice, this willingness to be humble, this acceptance of vulnerability, all this is underpinned by trust, and in turn creates trust.
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