Most companies traditionally view their bottom line as a statistical or numerical value.
They typically measure success based on quantitative data like sales, while qualitative data like documents or words (while useful), are not generally what CEO’s are looking for. But what if this focus on the analytics was not only insufficient but potentially outdated? Spearheaded by the success of Xerox’s holistic approach to service documentation, a new focus on “right brain thinking” (and what it means for the future of business) is on the horizon.
Left or right, east or west, democrat or republican, most of us are used to the deep divide represented by “opposites”. This dynamic takes on an even deeper meaning when it comes to describing the relationship of right brain to left brain thinking. Without delving into Bill Nye territory, we can explain the right brain as responsible for random, intuitive, subjective, and holistic thought processes, whereas the left brain is responsible for logical, sequential, analytical or objective thought processes. In other words if you ended up as a philosopher, you’re likely more “right-brained,” and if you ended up as an engineer you’re likely more “left-brained”.
In his book A Whole New Mind, TED regular Daniel Pink looks at the importance of right-brain thinking skills. Pink sees the ability to tell a story as an increasingly critical skill for business, especially in a technology driven society where large volumes of information are accessible instantly and continuously. “What begins to matter more is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact. And that is the essence of the aptitude of Story – context enriched by emotion”, says Pink. The personal element of storytelling is particularly useful in business as it brings additional dimension to standard interpretations, and (depending on credibility) provides valuable insight within organizations.
To illustrate his point, Pink looks to Xerox and their famous “Eureka” system, which is essentially a database where service people can document their repairs online. This includes not only the traditional, statistical information (time, date, length of appointment) but also any “notes” about what the individual observed during the call. Pink says, “Xerox [recognized] that its repair personnel learned to fix machines by trading stories rather than by reading manuals “. In this case the notes in the Eureka system serve as stories and have helped Xerox to find new and simpler ways to repair their products. Xerox encourages collaboration between their employees in order to work towards finding better solutions, and in doing so looks beyond the typical business strategies of time saving and number crunching.
So while most companies might view “water cooler talk” as detrimental to an efficiency objective, Xerox has capitalized on storytelling by creating a system to store and transfer knowledge. Storytelling and knowledge creation has also been a big part of Xerox’s customer service strategy, as worldwide Director of Xerox’s customer service Tom Ruddy says “When people hear about Eureka, they always want to see the software. But it’s really the environment that we are creating … We realized early on that technology wasn’t the solution-that if we didn’t work on the behavioral side of the equation, it wouldn’t be successful”. The Eureka system has lead not only to increased knowledge creation but also innovation and improved service techniques. So if anyone benefits more than the management and employees in this situation, it’s the customers. Not only can they enjoy more efficient service, but the employees they deal with are probably happier too.
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