“Lift the kimono” but do it the right way: Cern fails with Will Self
Opening up your corporation to media scrutiny is a good tactic. You can reveal your values. You can make your corporation more personal, show its values. Yet there are dangers. And this week Will Self showed what they are in his walk around the Hadron Collider at Cern on BBC Radio 4. The European Centre for research smashes particles at great speed and with great energy to find out what’s happening in that world of physics.
Cern fails to expalin
But Cern, with all its intellectual and physical power, failed to explain to him, not a stupid man, what was going on.
Yes, particles were bashing into each other. Yes, the physicists were understood more about how they reacted to each other. But what was the big picture? Why? And what were the big issues they were solving?
He was perplexed. So was I.
And so should we be. We pay for Cern. Its objective is not to provide employment for scientists, but to explain. And if, in the mid-term let alone the long term, they cannot explain what they are doing, why should we spend our money on it?
Lift the kimono
Cern did something called “lifting the kimono”, revealing a bit of itself to incite interest. In this instance of corporate communications Cern failed.
The Tatler magazine “lifted the kimono” recently and it seemed to work. We saw an up market magazine explain how and why it works.
Three things to do
From the Cern case and the Tatler case we can get some guidance on corporate exposure:
1 Make sure your corporation can explain itself in broad terms throughout the organisation: piecemeal explanations without some “helicopter vision” of how their work fits into the whole picture will fragment the picture. “Helicopter vision” means that people see where they fit into the whole and can explain it.
2 Make sure you have concrete examples of what you have done and what the benefits are. Cern could not convince Self despite the great work done there.
3 Don’t just use your jargon: make sure those outside your organisation will understand. The Cern scientists used a lot of jargon to explain why their work was important. Often Self did not get it. They should have tried to link what they did to what he understood.
Will Self can be critical. Can be acerbic. But he is enthusiastic as well. If Cern had followed my rules, they would have won him over. And we would not today be thinking “why are we paying for this?” And Cern thinking: “how did that go wrong?”
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