Is Your Business Ready for the Conceptual Age? 6 Reasons It’s Not, and What to Do About It

Stephen Rosenberg - Monday, February 14, 2011

I recently asked a good friend if she thought her business was ready for the Conceptual Age. “Absolutely not.” Her rapid, frank assessment surprised me, and got me thinking. There are doubtless legions of businesses that acutely feel the dramatic changes in the marketplace but aren’t sure how to respond. That feeling of powerlessness can cripple morale and spell disaster for businesses. To avoid such a fate, how do we position our companies to aggressively and proactively take advantage of our moving beyond the Information Age and into the Conceptual Age?

What is the Conceptual Age? In his book, A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink argues that the realities of over-supply, outsourcing, and business automation compel a business to focus on creative or cognitive assets. This means that to compete, an organization must embody more than technical know-how and traditional business functions. Increasingly, a company must perform along a new set of metrics that together enable a higher-level of business performance. Alan Greenspan forecast this reality all the way back in 1997, when he announced, "The growth of the conceptual component of output has brought with it accelerating demands for workers who are equipped not simply with technical know-how, but with the ability to create, analyze, and transform information and to interact effectively with others."


How Can My Company Compete? Information is ubiquitous and endless. It’s not about if your business has it (it had better), but how to rapidly analyze and deploy it to keep your decision making one step ahead of your competition. Here, again, Pink’s constructs are helpful. He argues that 6 areas must be addressed at all levels of a business’s operations to effectively compete in the Conceptual Age: design, storytelling, teamwork, empathy, play, and meaning. Chances are your company isn’t firing on all these 6 cylinders. Below are some of our thoughts on how your business can up its game.

Design Though aesthetics are of course important, great design is about more than making your existing products or brand attractive. An integration of form and function from the beginning of any decision making process is critical to out-innovating your competitors. Think Apple told their engineers to build a phone then afterwards asked their design team to make it look nice?

Teamwork The importance of teamwork goes without saying, but building and managing effective teams is easier said than done. It is vital that you understand what motivates your individual team members, and under what conditions they can achieve maximum creative output. Keep in mind, not everyone does their best work in off-the-cuff brainstorming sessions or white board meetings. Whatever strategy works best for you, just remember the imperative that everyone on your team owns the mission.

Storytelling What story does your brand tell? Do the words, images, or even the sounds you use create the appropriate narrative across all channels? Storytelling is so powerful because it helps people digest a great deal of information about your value proposition in a context that they can relate to.

Empathy Telling a story helps create empathy, or a recognition of shared feelings. A business that projects a degree of empathy demonstrates that it is listening to the needs of customers and can respond accordingly. Finding this kind of common ground is critical to building trust between you and your customers. Ultimately, your brand is a promise to maintain that trust - every single time.

Play The amount of “play” in your brand obviously depends on your type of business, though all businesses can benefit from engaging customers on this level. The US Patent & Trademark Office site, of all places, distributes playful mock news shows that effectively add humor to a decidedly dry topic. Recall that humor in communications, though not without risk, contributes to your brand’s voice and personality. Of course, not all play is “fun.” Recall that puzzles suggest solutions, which is no doubt something you believe you provide.

Meaning What is the point?! Why do you exist? Are you creating value, or just pollution? It’s obviously a good idea for your brand to “mean” good quality, service, etc., to your clients, but what else does your business stand for? For example, by staying closed on Sundays, Chick-fil-A cedes a full day of revenue potential every week because of their corporate principles. Even small companies go to great efforts to support worthy causes. With endless options, why should a customer choose you and not a competitor perceived as contributing more to society? Meaning is an opportunity to build your business by doing good.

It clearly takes a lot of effort to compete in the Conceptual Age. On the bright side, every challenge is an opportunity to best your competitor. By proactively managing your business with these 6 featured elements in mind, your company can play on a chessboard while everyone else is stuck with checkers.

Related Reading: Go Local to Grow Big: 5 Ways to Leverage Your Location to Build Your Business