JUNE 5, 2019
Focus on Listening: The Importance of Hearing Weak Signals
Author Dan Pink, whose new book, “When,” explores the science behind why it’s more advantageous to do certain things at certain times of the day, recently sat down with Dov Seidman, LRN’s founder, chairman and chief executive, as part of the #HOWMatters series.
When asked by Seidman why he always seems to be onto a trend before other people, Pink talked about being attuned to what he called “weak signals.”
“If you think about just how you hear and see the world, there's strong signals and weak signals out there,” said Pink. “I've always been interested in the weaker signals. The strong signals, eh, whatever, they're not that interesting to me.”
It’s about the way a person tunes their ear to listen to weak signals, he said.
“Specialization is important, but I think that being a generalist is actually also important, even more so now,” said Pink. “So, if you're interested in a variety of different topics, you begin to see connections among them. And then you begin to hear some of those weak signals.”
He cited as an example the 2016 presidential election, in which pollsters, pundits and so many others missed the signals that led to the improbable outcome.
Pink blamed that on people staying in their cocoons and silos, listening to the voices inside their own echo chambers, unaware of what was happening with people who don’t share their beliefs or values.
“They weren't watching, they weren't looking at things,” he said.
Pink recounted a conversation he had during the 2016 primaries, with someone from the media industry, and he told the person Donald Trump was pretty popular because people knew him from his network television show. The man disagreed, and was incredulous when Pink said more people knew Trump from his show than knew Jon Stewart from when he was on his popular cable show.
“I'm like, ‘He's on a network show and the other guy's on a cable show.’ And he's like, ‘Well I don't know anybody who watches that show...and I'm thinking, ‘What kind of silo are you in?’ So, if you break out of your silos and start sort of listening and reading...I think it can be helpful.”
That is an important lesson for ethics and compliance professionals who must always remember to seek input from as many sources of information as possible, and to be aware of biases, both personal and organizational.
Seidman said that speaks to the need to develop the capacity to better hear weak signals.
“I think we're living in a world where there's more of them, and we have less time to intuit them and connect with them because they're going to come at us faster,” said Seidman. “What do we need to do to develop the capacity for weak signaling?”
Pink suggested breaking out of information silos by reading about subjects not normally of interest; for instance, sports fans reading about theater, and someone uninterested in sports taking an interest.
“You have this...incredible echo chamber where everybody talks to people who are just like them,” he said, referencing as an example how while more people move away from organized religion, while many others are more fervent believers than ever.
“Yet those people don't know each other, they never talk to each other,” said Pink. “They're scarcely aware that they exist. … And I'm not saying one is worse than the other. I'm saying, ‘Wow, that's kind of interesting that you have these two things going in these totally opposite directions.’”