As the old song goes, the times they are a’changing. Businesses are faced with tough choices and it can be tempting to see communications as a luxury, something to be scrutinised and assessed closely for ROI. After all, work gets done, whether people hear about it or not.
Yet, more so than ever, communication is at the heart of how we do business. The knowledge economy has made information more widespread than ever, and what is now scarce is making sense of it. When data is plentiful, we look for guiding minds to lead us through the chaos and tell us how to think, feel and behave.
Communications is key to this process. The psychologist Dan Siegel once said that our minds are social; that what I do affects how you feel. Cognitive science now suggests that this goes deeper than feelings. The language we use affects our thoughts; it shapes what we notice and remember.
In other words, what I say affects how you think, and what you do. The anthropologist Dan Sperber called this the epidemiology of mental constructs: the capacity of ideas to travel through cultures, shaping how each of us thinks, feels and acts. The way people explain the world to us affects how we make sense of our experiences – and so like it or not, we affect each other every day through what we say, by how we communicate.
The work of communicators starts by acknowledging this responsibility. How we communicate matters, and the right words, a powerful image, a transformational idea at the right time, can change the world. For the last few years, I have been campaigning through Mindapples to change attitudes to mental health and teach people how their minds work.
Eight years on, and we are winning the argument. The way we talk about the health of our minds is changing how we treat the subject, and how we treat each other.
The internet has made all this easier of course. Without the power of the web, Mindapples could never have reached around the world in the way it has, from London to India, Sydney to Syria. We are all now part of a global culture; a culture to which we all contribute.
The cultural historian Carlo Ginsburg once wrote that culture is the invisible net that constrains what we do. Communicators define that net, and in doing so, they shape what we believe is possible. We neglect the power of communications at our peril.
The future is uncertain: that much never changes. But there has never been a better time to be a communicator, because now more than ever, we have the tools and the opportunity to shape the world we all want to live in.
Andy Gibson is a conference speaker and consultant on innovation, psychology and technology, and the founder of Mindapples. Mindapples’ charitable mission is to promote the mental health and wellbeing of the public and support everyone to take care of their minds.