Invention and Communication


The great management guru Peter Drucker (1909-2005), in his master work,The Practice of Management‘ (1954), wrote that the purpose of business is to ‘innovate and to market’.

When I read this, nearly thirty years ago, I was struck how useful this simple, yet powerful insight is.

My career at the time was in marketing and I’d recently returned to college to build a more structured approach to this career.

What I found however, after reading another great book, ‘Postmodern Marketing‘ (1993) by Stephen Brown, actually was, that marketing possessed no theory.

As Brown put it, the famous 4Ps, might actually be adapted to become 18Ps, or ‘infinite P’, as I now understand the problem.

This problem of choice within complexity, marketing theory hardly deals with.

Eventually, I found an answer to the deeper question of complexity across, in-front, within and behind human decisions.

Marketing was merely a method of industrial practice, while communication is the actual theory behind marketing, business itself and more widely, behind much of life.

In fact, communication theory was a late starter for its academic grounding.

The first professor of communications, Wilbur Schramm (1907-1988), was appointed to a chair at University of Illinois (US), only in 1946.

This start-date is especially late considering how profound communication is now considered in order to examine human and all life.

As Paul Watzlawick (1921-2007) made clear in one of the many definitions of communication to offer insight:

                         ‘You Cannot Not Communicate‘                               

Only when I found the discipline of communication ethics did things make sense.

Industrial marketing, or actually communication had to be about ethics too, right?

Business had to be ethical, did it not?

And if marketing was about serving people, it must be grounded by ethics which concern people also?

I subsequently joined a multinational network of corporations undertaking programmes of ‘corporate social responsibility’ and ‘sustainability’. Strangely, the same questions persisted.

Strange, because the most well-resourced companies in the world with the smartest people working for them, certainly didn’t know the answer to these same questions.

Where were the ethics behind their grand ambitions?

Now, I’ll get to the nub of this post.

Both communication and ethics are theories fundamentally necessary to examine human being, both in its singular and collective forms.

Together, they comprise a deeply rooted and practical standpoint for anyone

to evaluate their human relations and everything besides.

If you don’t start with this foundation, you’re likely to go-off, in the way of marketing or much of business today.

Selling stuff, ‘people don’t need, to impress people they don’t know’ as one film-writer put it.

So what is the connection between innovation and marketing, more accurately ‘invention and communication’?

This simple task of reducing complex issues to graspable alternatives is useful, if not viewed too reductively.

So the problem is not ‘freedom or imprisonment’, or ‘capitalism vs communism’, or whatever outdated duality creates misunderstanding or disagreement.

Communication is defined by continuous flows in time: 

The Universe, life, our brain, human being, human relations, people-in-community, organisations and networks etc..

All flow with meaning, interpretation, data and dualities, changing and updating continuously.

Life is communicative, the multiple exchange of meaning and action by complex beings living always in highly complex communities.

For any individual to make absolute sense, in such a multi-level, multi-dynamic, multi-detail movement is only a momentary illusion:

         This illusion probably generated by our unadapted brains using templates formed in earlier times, when we required different, simpler perhaps, cognitive skills?

While here’s the pinch.

If we live in a communicative world, certainly not a market although we occasionally visit one. Nor a business, tho’ they employ us.

A communicative world and life where imagination and interpretation lead to invention, also leads to a question.

What is the over-riding issue defined via communicative interaction and invention?

This is where ethics finally emerge.

After years of wondering, ethics it became clear to me, is the ancient Greek name for a simple human faculty.

The ability to decide our values, together and apart.

While values are controversial because everyone holds their own values.

They, like we, are always subjective.

There is no simply objective reality we can, any of us know.

Consider the size of the Universe, or even the world? 

Consider, how much you know about either, as a per centage if you like? .0000000000000001 % of your local community perhaps? Not even!

And its all dynamic, so changing literally at the speed of light, a lot of it anyway.

Now consider your body, with most of it on the inside, so you can’t examine the reputed 87 trillion cells that make up your own organism.

Or consider the size of the digital construct?

How many trillions or billions of messages are sent each second around the world on digital networks, or how many words are spoken on mobile phones, written on web-pages, or coded via database applications.      

Its awe-inspiring and mind-blowing in equal measure, surely?

And lastly, yet not leastly, remember your own biases, sensory, linguistic and even the tools you use.

The ‘measurement problem’ is well-known in science, because different tools reveal different results and so many tools are available, used by so many subjective users, that the number of results for any calculation is technically infinite.

Values necessarily intercede in acknowledged and unacknowledged biases and behaviours, that define and determine the world [s] we each inhabit.

We can only agree ‘naturally subjective’ values, or agree to disagree over these values.

And where disagreement is damaging, we may agree to consider the level of damage our disagreements pose.

This is a conundrum for our entire civilization at present, expressed as our inability to address fake news.

Specifically, relating to language values which are also dynamic and what is called ‘indexical’ in some communication studies.

Concepts like trust, truth or honesty are simply not universalizable, at least based on their independent or objective reality.

Imagine what a child in Bangladesh might require of these words, or a slave labourer in a copper mine.

Or a judge in the High Court, or a business-person. 

A lot of communicative work goes into the interpretation of values.

In ‘days of yore’ these agreed meanings might remain largely stable over decades, while they do change between users and over time.

Science addresses these values as communicative logic, the methodological examination of how we discern and identify shared — agreed — reality.

Yet science is undertaken by people and they have values which even affect their experiments at an atomic level.

Today, everyone can identify their own life values and share these, while science balances human needs, through common ‘methodological’ discernment.

Yet science cannot take-away or change your values, only you can do that, through self-learning.

In the digital-dynamic complexity of our present — in the developed economies at least — all human values are under re-examination.

This is because many more people are applying their new super-power, the digital machine, to the issues of an entire planet.

We are today, analogue animals in a digital age. I say, thank goodness.

The digital realm, increasingly powered by artificial intelligence (AI) is allowing us to evaluate — examine our values — in ways and at scales never possible before.

With so many involved too. And from so many traditions and backgrounds.

It can be quite confusing for those wishing to remain living under safe certainties.

Today, many people are simply carried along by outdated beliefs. crafted in a less dynamic period of history, yet sustaining them despite the inherent risks of steering by ‘looking in the rear-view mirror’ of a world changing dramatically.

The two entwined theoretical fields, communication and ethics, provide some grounding to enable people to examine their worlds anew.

Employing the power of digital systems to counter the effects of fake news and declining trust, by looking at the world through a new lens, a lens cleaned of the past and many of its outdated ideas.

However, also renewing the best of the past in order to find new ways to live together at this time of multiplicity and complexity.

Time is of the essence, yet ‘timeless time’ [5D] is the new dimension which the digital brings.

Today, we can address the deep cognitive dissonance encapsulated by our own limited experience, through a social adaptation filtered via a new way of looking at the world and being in the world.

Communication ethics begins in the moment of relation, the first moment of perception, the commitment to communicate or ignore.

And during this first examination of our own values, and the values of others, a commitment to reducing age-old prejudices and to building shared dynamic agreements, towards a new different and better future, for all life.

A new digital social contract for the dazed and confused analogue wo[man] [5D].