Robert Phillips

Expert Adviser; Visiting Professor; Author & Commentator

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"Communication needs to be transformative if it is to thrive"

The Age Of Engagement (Part Two)

26th October, 2012 in Article

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We live in a world of constant tension.

The obvious and increasing tensions are now imprinted on the minds of world leaders, in government and business alike. The water, energy, food nexus is disturbed by a population that continues to boom while natural resources tend towards bust. Polarities persist: global north versus global south; east versus west; fundamentalism versus moderation; obese versus under-nourished; extreme faith versus extreme reason; emotional democracy versus institutional hierarchy. Yet these tensions and polarities can create an energy and an impetus for reform: from thesis and antithesis comes synthesis.

What, then, for the synthesis of a communications world that is, itself, increasingly bi-polar? Deep Science perches on the edge of a continuum where, at the opposite end, Deep Humanity lurks. Ours is a society increasingly driven by maths (with binary reason), our lives ‘optimised’ by search, and semantically steered through networks, often unseen. Yet networks only work because they are connected by people as much as by algorithms – by human understanding and by empathy. They are otherwise only vacant systems. This is not new news: stories were transmitted by word-of-mouth long before the telegraph, the telephone or the world wide web. Networks of old persist.

Communications professionals today must therefore connect and immerse themselves with both Deep Science and Deep Humanity. They must be both mathematician and storyteller; architect and philosopher; able to find as much comfort and commonality with the Chief Technology Officer as with the Chief Communications Officer or CEO. In a business sector that has always held chameleon tendencies, so future-proofed communicators need to wear two skins at once.

This social schizophrenia oddly demands cohesion and coherence, not contradiction. This will, in turn, ease tensions and help us deal better with the extremities of north and south, abundance and restraint, privilege and denial. We can no longer afford this to be a remote intellectual challenge: it is a social imperative and indeed the central calling for the communications profession today. Those who can advise on policy as well as on articulation, who can shape the agenda as well as speak to it, are those who can help tackle the tension-wracked, prevailing issues of our times – and build trust across both networks and hierarchies, with citizens.

In this Age of Engagement, where we have the ability to connect deep science and deep humanity, businesses must re-focus on the societal factors that will restore, build and retain citizen trust. Enter the Chief Citizenship Officer – there to ensure that every major business plays its own part in addressing global issues of water, energy and food, climate and faith. The Chief Citizenship Officer will understand the challenges of demography, just as (s)he will understand both the push and pull of democracy, with all its anomalies. Operating models must be agile enough to adapt to radically different evolutionary speeds – and must equally be adaptable to surprising, technological change, which will never be this slow again. Talent and knowledge now become permanent strategies, not ephemeral options. Properly combining the analytical drive of deep science with the empathy of deep humanity will thus help deliver a society of better good, if not the utopian ideal.

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Copyright 2015 Robert Phillips. Jericho Chambers