Digital tools, analog thinking – doubt as a contributor to the success of communication management

No sooner have we adjusted to the VUCA corporate environment in the 21st century than we are confronted with even greater complexity. In 2020, U.S. futurologist Jamais Cascio coined the acronym BANI for the future business climate: volatile becomes brittle, uncertain becomes anxious, a previously (merely) complex environment becomes nonlinear, what was ambiguous is now incomprehensible. So, the question arises: what kind of contribution can management functions make on this journey into an increasingly uncertain future, and what do they embody at their core in the face of all the necessary adjustments to meet these new requirements?

At the same time, expectations are high – not least for an orientation discipline such as communication management. The need to draw comparisons with the existing competencies and abilities of communicators is made even more difficult by the fact that perceptions in related management disciplines continually oscillate between complete underestimation and severe overestimation. Although this certainly has to do with the specialist nature of communication management, which is perceived as lying somewhere between human quality and sorcery or virtuosity, the endless loop of the media cycle, which gives communication work a strong momentum of its own compared to other, more sequential management disciplines, can obviously seem strange to outsiders.

A way out of this contradiction between growing demands on what performance contribution communication management can make in the age of BANI and a simultaneous lack of clarity about what professional communication can (and cannot) actually achieve proves, on closer inspection, to be a dead end. The separation between the substance and communicative mediation not only creates processes in companies that place communicative advice downstream of the actual decision, when it is too late, it can also – as Timo Frasch aptly wrote in a recent piece for the FAZ – lead to an understanding of communicating vessels in communication. In his view, there are some fundamental questions that need to be answered: “The worse the issue, the better the communication has to be?” and “Do great communicators only really come into their own when they have to sell the latest piece of junk as a breakthrough?” In both cases, however, the real added value of communication management does not lie in the act of communicating against all odds, but rather in the determined and effective consultation prior to the communicative act itself.

Although the current debates about the future of communication management are primarily characterized by the continued role of digital technologies and artificial intelligence, the requirement of classic analog thinking is evident here – which recognizes grey areas, compares future expectations with potential actions, and, above all, systematically allows for doubt. Although digital tools with their binary logic can help to penetrate reality and clarify questions of relevance, their in-built tendency towards certainty also limits their effectiveness. The writer and translator Anja Utler recently demonstrated this using the example of an incorrect AI translation for a (not easily translatable) Russian word. Her theory: “The way in which AI functions – eliminating gaps in knowledge even in the tiniest details – makes doubt appear to be something that is absolutely inadmissible.”

The line between professionally justified doubt and destructive doubting is of course blurred, and there is no question that corporate communication management cannot limit itself to the role of the disheartened spoilsport. However, if doubt in communicative consulting is backed up with substantiating data, alternative future projections, and specific recommended actions, we have the ideal conditions for our discipline to make a high-quality contribution, even in the age of BANI. However, where communicative doubt is ignored, either because the conviction of the high-quality substance of the particular matter is unshakeable or because the credible communication to stakeholders is only perceived as enabling actual entrepreneurship – and therefore as something to be neglected – it is not only communication management that is destined to fail in the future.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

I accept that my given data and my IP address is sent to a server in the USA only for the purpose of spam prevention through the Akismet program.More information on Akismet and GDPR.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.