11 Jan 2021

Data > Story > Wisdom : Is This The New Alchemy?

Communication – the art of telling more than we know.


Silence tells us more than noise, while space is as valid a design element as any graphic or block of text. Gestalt tells us that the whole is different to the sum of the parts, and we’re all aware that. – whether we like it or not – perception is reality. Communication then, is the art of telling more than we know.

Consider this conversation:

Bernard Woolley : “But, you only need to know things on a need-to know basis.”
Sir Humphrey Appleby : “I need to know everything. How else can I judge whether or not I need to know it?”
Bernard Woolley : “So that means you need to know things even when you don’t need to know them. You need to know them not because you need to know them but because you need to know whether or not you need to know. If you don’t need to know, you still need to know so that you know that there is no need to know.”
Sir Humphrey Appleby : “Yes!”
Bernard Woolley : “Good. That’s very clear!”

A part from demonstrating the cleverness of writers Antony Jay and Jonathon Lynn, this brief dialogue highlights the difference between knowing and communicating – in this case bordering on obfuscation. Clear?


Communication – by definition – is relational. Knowledge is irrelevant if it isn’t put to use – it’s only data as opposed to wisdom. The all pervasive presence of the Internet has reinforced the distortion of knowledge, to the point where ‘fake’ news has become an industry, intended to disrupt and mislead. Once referred to as ‘disinformation’ – a propaganda technique designed to manipulate an enemy – it has spawned into a political weapon in which agendas trump facts and fiction is an engineered reality. So how do we establish ourselves and our products, services – and vision – against this manipulated backdrop?


Communication provides its own answer, for business – by definition – is also relational. Commerce, transaction, debit and credit – none of these terms mean anything in isolation. Profit and loss imply dealings between entities – ‘win, win’ means that both parties have benefited, and that ‘the story has moved forward,’ as the movie industry would say. Communication is about the story, about the motivation and self belief that inspired the principals to work 24/7/365, mortgage houses and risk everything – even other relationships, bankruptcy and health. Convinced of the story only they could tell, the contribution only they could make, the challenges only they could overcome, the problems only they could resolve, they began collecting stones for their own David and Goliath “once upon a time …”


Stories however, must be told. Humanities existence has always consisted of them – historians make their living collecting and collating stories of civilisations – stories of power and corruption, empires and hero’s, romance and war, fortunes made and lost – stories of the human condition regardless of epoch or era. These are often about the silence in the noise, the space in the crowded market place, the moving forward from perception to reality that could only be achieved once your particular part has contributed to the whole.


So there it is – your story of fortune and empire building, your research and development, the decisions you faced when the ethics or values didn’t match, the realities of next week against the perspective of legacy. This is your wisdom amongst the data, the motivation and that your role has shaped the sum of the parts in some unique fashion. You can tell more than you know, because your story is told against the backdrop of genuine relationship and social responsibilities, rather than ‘fake realities.’ You have humanity on your side. To paraphrase Sir Humphrey Appleby: “we need to know everything. How else can we judge whether or not we need to know it?”

Now, let’s begin: “Once upon a time …”