We have 5 senses. Well 6, if you read Friedrich Nietzsche. Or 7 if you read Joshua Cooper Ramo.
Sight, sound, taste, touch, smell.
Visual, auditory, gustatory, kinaesthetic/tactile, olfactory.
Now, when we make choices, what to eat, buy, hold onto — our senses are the huge drivers behind this. Hold onto a cold handrail, we might recoil even though we know that might make us safer on a slippery surface.
Walk past a crepe seller on the street, you know you’ve already had the calories you need but the olfactory and gustatory senses move you to purchase.
But what if you got the smell, purchased, but the crepe tasted like wallpaper?
You’d not be happy and you’d think your olfactory senses misled you.
So it is with services, products, and in my case, consulting advice.
If people who saw your work; heard about your work and even got a sniff of the impact you could have, but when you delivered the goods it was a stinking pile of unedible fayre? You’d not last long.
Let’s think about those who speak, write, eulogise about employee experience; about the next big thing in leadership and who craft a lovely looking tech product that they’re trying to sell to you because it’ll ‘move the dial on performance’.
And those who lead you, who offer to set a strategy that will close the revenue gap, a marketing plan that will bring in the new customers, or a new product line that will steal all the competitors business and make you the most successful company on the block.
But on execution, it’s a rehashed TED talk, an over consulted series of complex systems that aren’t fit for purpose, or a dud of an idea that was never road tested before you put all your chips on the table to win with.
They’re all aroma and no hickory.
This was a phrase that dropped into a text exchange with a good friend and trusted business collaborator of mine this morning and it set sparks running in my mind.
There’s a lot of folks out there — not just the talkers or the writers — but the practitioners and the leaders — who are all aroma and no hickory. It smells like it’d work, but on consumption, it’s awful.
It’s not just our olfactory senses that mislead us sometimes. It’s sometimes a combination. Sight and smell. Sight, sound and touch.
BUT the trick is to use your sixth or even seventh senses to make sure it’s hickory you’re buying and not just the aroma.
The sixth sense is described as ‘’people who seem to have a natural ability to know about things before others, or to know things that other people do not know.’’
It’s also referred to as ESP — extrasensory perception. Claimed reception of information not gained through the recognized physical senses, but sensed with the mind.
Philosophy giant Friedrich Nietzsche described it as “developing a feel for the currents of history, and of placing the present moment within a larger historical story.”
So in the case of being ‘sold’ something and the aroma is enticing, there may still be some reaction in you; that all is not as it seems. The sixth sense may be kicking in. Some mental calculations or deductions that are not just logical — because the smell is good it must taste good — or illogical — I can smell something good I’ll buy the smoke.
You can’t buy the smoke, you can only make the smoke as good as you smell it, by buying the hickory.
We may call it gut instinct. That’s a sort of sixth sense. We now know there are receptors and neurons of the brain process that are not just in your cranium, they’re in your gut too. 500 million neurons in fact.
So that knot, that foreboding that emanates from the stomach or solar plexus, is the thought process at work. Through feelings. And yet, we’re often taught to ‘listen to your head, not your heart’ when we may be better offering ‘what does your gut feel?’
Because the five senses can trick us. And the mind can also play tricks on us as we know. We can think something is real, and to us, it is our reality, but the facts may tell us otherwise. We can somehow override the compelling logical case and still ‘feel’ we are making the right call or choice.
Complex we most certainly are.
Back to the sixth sense. Use it. Are you seduced by the smoke? Only some of the 5 at play so check in with your gut/sixth sense.
So probe. Be inquisitive. Test that you’re buying hickory not smoke.
As an example, when we consult on say, using Agile, sprint-based approaches to work. We want the most WILLING people in the session we run to learn how to use backlogs, user stories and the like. And we provide materials for them (that we’ll also use to run the session). So they’re equipped.
We’re getting those people into a position where they can help others learn our very simplified, but useful, version of Agile working.
So we’re selling hickory else it would just be a smoke-smelling experience for the few that were there.
We might say: ‘we’re creating capability’ or ‘agency’ in others. We might label it a ‘centre of excellence’ (a bit grand that) we’re creating a ‘hub’ or as one client called it ‘A Vanguard Squad’. However we describe it, we’re selling hickory, not just the aroma.
Now, to some, that’s commercially stunted. We could be paid for running the following three, four or five sessions after the initial one because we’re in the know. And yes, we’d then have 5 times as many people capable. We have done this where the client has a capacity issue and wants to accelerate the ‘mass’ of adept people to call on. But we pride ourselves on not selling that (more hickory I suppose in this instance) and not on selling smoke.
So when any of us speak about Agile ways of working (as an example) yes, we’re doing the aroma piece. As it’s not the total learning package — just a story on a webinar. Yet in that instance, the aroma is from a genuine hickory perspective not artificially constructed lacking the (hickory) substance.
But you haven’t talked about this seventh sense yet? True.
What that seventh sense comes from Joshua Cooper Ramo’s standout (but still not that widely known) book from 2015 of that name.
The Seventh Sense, according to Ramo, is the cultivation of a feeling for the power, possibilities, and nuances of networks. And that the demands of constant, instant connection are tearing at old power arrangements.
We’ve certainly seen this with political agendas in 2016 and to this day. And the manipulation of views by media that is targeted to certain demographics to create fear or anxiety based on untruths and exaggerated claims.
According to Ramo, our transition into a networked world — one in which we are always connected to everyone else through the internet and our phones and by algorithms — is a historical transition on the scale of the Industrial Revolution. Those individuals, companies, and nations that can develop a feel for networks will prosper.
So again, are you trying to buy the smoke that is posted on a network, or the aroma of something in the air put out by a well-branded movement, a government full of spin or a media agenda persuading us what’s right or wrong?
Or are we buying the hickory that is the truth, are we connected to enough insight that we know we can buy the real deal and not just someone else’s cleverly crafted aroma?
Our network sensitivity and utilisation is that Seventh Sense of Ramo’s book.
Indeed, in his examples of those who use this Seventh Sense; often small, nimble, and heavily networked competitors knocking incumbent institutions off their current place in the status hierarchy, he is proving that they know how to use aroma and hickory.
Those based on aroma only, disappear like the smoke they create.
And indeed, some of those incumbents are also based on aroma only, or at best, the fading embers of hickory, hence they can be displaced by the upstart aroma/hickory based network-savvy entities.
Ramo has many quotable aspects of this book but this might be most pertinent for now and for what’s to come. We may need to spot more in our pursuit of what’s right,useful and ethical and not buy into aroma over hickory.
We have all the habits of a new age. The phones. The emails. The clicking of our keyboards. The hand sanitizers. Now we need to develop the instincts. Because anything not built for a network age — our politics, our economics, our national security, our education — is going to crack apart under its pressures.
Ramo had studied with Zen Buddhist Master Nan Huia-Chin who dropped this bomb of a quote:
The Seventh Sense is not merely the MASTERY OF FACTS, but also the training of a VIGILANT INSTINCT.
The book goes on to cover:
- Networks distribute power — just not always as expected
- Networks are paradoxical — vulnerable & powerful
- Networks run through topologies / landscapes and connected fields
- Networks are complex — complex systems create
- Networks are controlled by a new caste — no longer just merchants; soldiers or sages
- Networks compress time
Grasping The Seventh Sense is seeing how networks and the nature of the connected age, can FURTHER not ERODE the things we care most about.
We can perhaps do this by asking ourselves:
- Who and what are you connected to and for what purpose? We are what we’re connected to
- How are you mastering your connectivity? Being aware that devices that give us freedom, also enmesh us.
- What are you learning, from whom and importantly, what are you sharing? Not just content but understanding the power and dynamic of the network that uses that content.
Back to the point of this entire piece, we need to be aware of aroma and hickory. What we’re sensing and what causes that sensation.
Do we want to ‘buy’ the sensation or what causes it?
And to that end, we might be well served by being aware of, and not just giving in to, our olfactory stimulus.
Check whether that’s the ‘hit’ you want or whether you should really be buying hickory to make the aroma yours, lasting and achieving your desired outcomes, impact and engaging experiences.
My belief is, that we need all 7 senses in this next stage of post-pandemic life and work. Be aware of what you’re being ‘sensed’ into and use some or all of the other 6 senses to make sure you’re making the right calls in life.
HT Francisco Reyes for the conversation, that metaphor I shared, that sparked this post. You’re selling hickory my friend. No doubts.