Orwell is well known today Animal Farm and 1984.
His themes of surveillance, misinformation, as well as his study of the intricacies of the English language has all left its mark on literature.
The descriptive power of his writing has captivated people the world over. Most importantly, his style and message gets straight to the heart of the issue and speaks to us in the same uncompromising manner.
In fact, many startups follow a narrative similar to Orwell’s novels. Entrepreneurs start with lofty dreams, marked with thought-provoking “whys” and noble intentions to make the world better in some way. Before long, something happens. A big customer drops them. They pour money into a failing product a little too long. Either way, they find out that “running a business” isn’t as easy as they thought.
Before long, the whole situation turns a little… Orwellian.
All of the sudden the fire dims and the fuel gets scarce. So they try to save a buck, ask more of their staff and most of all give less to their customers. What happens is the customer begins feeling disillusioned as their requests get ignored. As the disconnect between company and customers increases, businesses increasingly start to believe their own lies.
That’s because when we make professional choices, we alter our course of action by what we say or what we do. But when everything (and everyone) is properly aligned, your market will tell you that you’re on the right track. Here are some of the things that George Orwell teaches us about running a business:
Pay attention to your language
Orwell’s use of the English language to illustrate the act of distortion and cultivation of thought.
Orwell’s novel 1984 brought forward the idea of Newspeak. There’s a famous passage in the novel that justifies the Party’s stance on limiting spoken vocabulary.
What justification is there for a word, which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take ‘good,’ for instance. If you have a word like ‘good,’ what need is there for a word like ‘bad’? ‘Ungood’ will do just as well — better, because it’s an exact opposite.
This quote brought to mind some enterprise environments where customers are kept down by limits on the kinds of questions they are able to bring up.
Equally as many business professionals and industry experts hide behind acronyms that only makes sense to them, much less to the customer. That’s a sure way to confuse and annoy your customers.
Are you a “Big Brother” to your customers?
The famous idea of “Big Brother” also surfaced in the novel 1984. While we see social media as something of a megaphone, many companies still liken it to a telephone. Companies use social monitoring tools to listen in and seek out prospective customers.
But how do customers feel about it? That’s what NetBase and JD Power and Associates wanted to find out by asking how customers feel about social media monitoring by businesses.
The survey revealed that over half of consumers (51%) want the freedom to talk about companies without them listening. What’s shocking is that over 1/3 of consumers using social media are unaware that brands could be listening in on their conversations. And more interesting of all, over 41% of customers believe social media listening is a violation of their privacy.
Instead of going all “Big Brother” on your customers, figure out where to be more open with them. Customers appreciate being on the same wavelength as you, especially when this transparency brings more value to the table.
Not all animals equal, neither are customers
The well-known closing line of Orwell’s “Animal Farm” really drives the point of the whole novel home. At the beginning of the book, the most important commandment of the Seven Commandments of Animalism was,
All animals are equal.
By the end of the book, the commandments are transformed to a singular idea,
All animals are equal but some animals are more equal of others.
The novel centers around how attitudes changed as the farm’s governing body realized that equal rights were not going to work.
Similarly, when you assign customer value according to your business goals you can gain some competitive advantage over competitors who may not be doing the same. According to surveys done by Accenture, businesses that attach customer service levels to customer value are able to increase their revenue by two percent while reducing operating costs by eight percent.
Know your message and its purpose
In the collection of work “All Art is Propaganda: Critical Essays”, Orwell maintains that creative work tends to have a persuasive political message of its creator. This isn’t surprising, since it’s hard to imagine art without a stance during Orwell’s time (The tense political climate never abated after the late 40’s.)
Furthermore, Orwell discusses the role of popular culture and how objectivity is important when getting your thoughts across:
A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.
— All Art is Propaganda
What Orwell is saying is, “making a mistake is a natural part of life and a sign of progression”. Similarly, an entrepreneur’s every action must have a meaning that benefits the business, even if mistakes are made along the way. Making a mistake means you do something in an area where you don’t have experience or expertise yet. At the same time, the lessons of failure and the desire to succeed the next time around is something that many of us have a burning desire for.
Perhaps there is indeed a lot we can learn from Orwell, even though the business world isn’t as politicized as his writing. Can we, as entrepreneurs learn to use the skills preached by Orwell to enhance our relationships with our customers? Can we provide a product in the exact way that our customers demand it?
There is indeed something in common between many successful entrepreneurs. They don’t think it’s wrong to use the power of persuasion to influence or nudge customers to grow the business. Like Orwell, they understand the power of language in suppression of opinion and know how to convey that society is better off with their product.
Are there any more Orwell’s lessons you can use in your help desk conversations? 😉