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The difficulty for a clever person to understand clever business value

& the senselessness and sense of making ROI`s and business cases

Blogpost by: Onetrail
From: Friday 11 August 2017

Explained in language with a mathematical explanation of a linguistic study

Executive summary

Part 1 discusses that the ‘incomprehensible’ may be concretely referred to in vague words. An example of an anthropologist research into counting of indigenous people is discussed in which the number six is incomprehensible. An argument is giving that we in the modern world can also be more indigenous than we tend to think of ourselves. What does that mean for doing business?

Part 2 discusses that companies could be viewed as ‘tribes’ and their value propositions, with at least six advantages, as their, at first sight, incomprehensible magic totem poles. We may count to six but not (visually and mentally) understand six. That is on average for most people a neurobiological fact.
Both the customer and supplier (proposition) exist as more than six elements so the question is how to come to mutual understanding? Customer (or prospect) and supplier must both be initiated into their business`s by each other in order to understand the possible business value of a supplier. The process of understanding takes time. Translating this business value into the language of the customer is more than ‘good communication skills (listening, asking feedback etc.)’ for you really need to understand your customer.
‘Rituals’, or methods into getting to understand the customer, are traditionally the making of an ROI and/or business case. Making an ROI and/or business case is not something you do for the customer, but together with the customer in order to actively get initiated into the business of the customer.

Part 3 discusses the takeaway business (and technical product) lessons. Business value of a proposition of a supplier for a customer cannot be calculated. The meaning of an ROI or business case can be a means for you as a supplier to get to understand the business of the customer or a way to actualise your expert knowledge of the customer or to focus both your mind and your customers on ambitious goals to increase the chances of success. ROI`s and business cases are like diplomas, they do not guarantee expertise, but in striving for a diploma one can gain expertise. The more expertise one has the better ROI`s and business cases one can make.
From a technical perspective simplicity, getting to the essence, is also an ideal to strive for. An example from system integration between selling suppliers and customer buyers is taken and visually presented to show the power of aiming for simplicity. That system integration is neurobiologically founded!


Part 1: counting is as easy as a child`s play

Imagine a diagram with a horizontal X axis and a vertical Y axis. Well that is not that difficult. On the X axis the numbers 1,2,3,4…are written. Imagine these numbers refer to pineapples. On the Y axis the numbers 1,2,3,4…are written as well and refer to where the ‘largeness’, the ‘size’ of groups of pineapples are placed. The distance between the black dots refers to the perceived difference in size between the amounts of pineapples in the groups. The more distance between the dots refers to the more the perceived size of the groups. How would you relate the groups of pineapples to the distance? You would probably proceed very linearly like this:

Source: Alex`s adventures in numberland/Getallen ontraadseld from author Alex Bellos
building on the work of the linguist Pierre Pica

The distance  between a group of three pineapples and a group of four pineapples is the same as the distance between a group of seven pineapples and a group of eight pineapples for 4-3=1 and 8-7=1 as well, thus the distance is 1.

However, if you would ask the same question to someone who is not initiated in counting, like indigenous people (for example the Munduruku) and children, this question would be answered quite differently. Probably they (rhythmically) would proceed more in an algorithmic way like this:

Source: Alex`s adventures in numberland/Getallen ontraadseld from author Alex Bellos building on the work of the linguist Pierre Pica.
The Munduruku can count up until 5 and it is interesting to see, not noted by Bellos, that between 4 and 6, which as 5 as an average, that the linear line becomes algorithmic and that the distances between 6-7, 7-8, 8-9 and so on are more and less the same as big number (as different kind of infinities for example) are for us more and less the same

Both answers are correct. The relative difference between 1 and 2 is more than between 2 and 3 and the relative difference between 2 and 3 is more than between 3 and 4 and so on. The distance between 1 and 2 is about three times larger than between 8 and 9.  That is the reason why one can find ‘reason’, ‘a logic’, in the arranging of the distances between the groups.  Both answers are correct within the practices of their doings, how they live and what is useful in their worlds. Indigenous people are interested not in counting all the pineapples in a tree, but they have to see with one glance which tree has more pineapples than another tree in order to efficiently spend their time picking pineapples. For a child it is not important to count the pancakes in piles of pancakes for they want to know which pile is bigger. (Gold diggers only have to know who is richer and not how rich the piles to be dug are ).  Counting in the world goes like this: 1,2,3,4,5 and many. After 5 the number is ‘many’. Six is many. How would someone answer the question how many pineapples he has picked if we would count seven? He would answer ‘many’. We are inclined to ask ‘How many’. Maybe you will understand the answer ‘many’ if someone asks you how many hairs you have on your head, how big your family is or if you are happy. You could answer meaningfully ‘many’, ‘I have a big family’ and ‘very happy’. That is perfectly justified. You are not going to count your hairs, your family members or your happiness. The indigenous person is quite happy with his many pineapples!  Well and now arrange big numbers as 86.346.987.999.687., 86.886.567.007.876.564 etc., you would probably regard both (these large uncountable) numbers as consisting of many 'manies'. The case is even more clear when the question is to arrange different sort of inifinities that are infinitely larger or smaller than other infinities. (See the work of George Cantor on different infinities).  You would arrange these infinities as the Munduruku arrange numbers above 4.  What we cannot comprehend in our daily practical lives may be compared to the meaningful concrete meaningful ‘vagueness’. To put it differently: the meaning of numbers cannot be reduced to the (visually) comprehensible. The meaning rather conveys itself also in the use of numbers (as Ludwig Wittgenstein would say). That use is neither subjective nor objective, but that theme is beyond the limit of this paper.  We can meaningfully count with infinities, but an average not even comprehend the number 4. Some people, like the Munduruku, can meaningfully talk about deceased ancestors (as being alive), yet cannot comprehend what they are saying. Maybe some people of the Munduruku, those who can dance to make it rain, can even (partly) comprehend what they are saying when talking about these deceased as some people, idiot savants, can understand big numbers (like Dustin Hoffman in the movie ‘Rain man’ who counted 164 tooth picks in one glance). The rain man as inversely proportional to the rain dancer!


Part 2: the difficulty to understand business value

We all understand that to get ‘initiated’ within a company tribe is a process in time. One has to know the culture, colleagues, the business propositions, processes etc. in order to partake in the ‘essence’ and represent the company whether you are a salesperson, CFO, service or IT employee etc. whether you have customer contact or are at a party talking to a family member. That process in time of getting initiated may take at least six….many months.
However, once you talk to a prospect about the business value of your business proposition you only have about an hour. In the case of Onetrail for example we only have an hour to specify what a ‘clever (many-to-one-to-many rather than a totally incomprehensible many-to-many) connection’ is, what the business value is and what the many concrete business advantages are. Six months must somehow be condensed in an hour. Talking fast and energetically will not do the trick. It is best to realize there is not trick in condensing many months of learning into an hour and better to focus your efforts to cleverly kiss (‘keep it insanely simple and stupid’) by finding mutual understanding of each other’s businesses (or primary processes).
The business value of a clever connection at first sight from within the perspective of the customer is ‘a care free connection’ to relieve daily operations of inefficient processes or optimize daily operations to achieve more efficiency. That case can be made in an easy return on investment (ROI) for luckily most company tribes share a mutual financial language. Rational ROI`s are mostly about efficiency and thus cost savings and lack insight in the real business value.
A business case must be made together with the customer. That can be a difficult task as the market and future are unpredictable. A few scenarios may be depicted to give more body to the abstract ‘many’ (business advantages) to make a (value based less ‘nonfactual’) decision. By this you can differentiate in the amorphous ‘many’. Children may learn to count from 1,2,3,4,5, many to 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11, many. In the end the many as many will always exist in terms of ‘big’ or ‘infinity’ or ‘uncountable’ etc..
Be aware that in making business cases that more than four advantages are experienced as ‘many’ advantages for although we can count endlessly and blindly our brains can only see 3 unities in one instance. Three stones you can immediately see as three, but when someone has thrown 4 of 5 stones you notice that you have to consciously count and miss the overview. (Each of the first three numbers in Arabic (١,٢ and ٣) and Roman (I, II and III) correspondent with how many movements you have to make to write the number, but the fourth Arabic and Roman number (٤, IV) is a symbol in the sense that no four strokes or movements are necessary to write down four. Whatever the reasons are that we can understand to three, maybe because we exist of spirit, soul and body or for whatever reason in this paper we take it as a fact that our understanding stops at about 4). If the stones are ordered in well known forms, for example 6 stones as two triangles, you can see the six stones via one form, and in this case two triangles. Or if 5 stones are ordered at your fingertips your immediately see 5. That seeing is a knowing.
A method of seeing the wood (unique context dependent advantages for you as a customer) through the trees (the many advantages) is prioritize the advantages. For an expert who has business knowledge of a customer that method of prioritizing advantages should not take too much of costly time. If you have or are an expert, the question is why a business case including advantages is necessary for you can trust on the expert? A business case can be viewed in the case of an expert as an expression of expertise and a way to verify the expertise.
The business value of an advantage is hard to further rationalize (or quantify) in a business case. Thus, in the end most business decisions are made not on emotional feeling, but on intuition, your gut feeling and not by rational understanding. The panic of rational understanding about these ‘irrational’ decisions may be tempered by saying that your supplier at least knows your business.


Part 3 key takeaways

Congratulations by now you are initiated into the anthropologic way of doing business, the idea of the ‘anthropological account manager’! One must be aware that prospects must be initiated into the business value in order that they can ritually and rhythmically dance around the totem pole and receive the magic benefits. To get this far one must first get initiated by the customer and at least know a few dancing steps to show you can dance and let ‘it’ happen.
‘Formal’ or ‘general’ communications skills as listening, giving feedback etc. are necessary, but not sufficient to understand each other which is a prerequisite to do business. Thus at least concrete specialized market expertise is necessary and an ideal is to really understand the business of the prospects and the customers. Business before and after technology!
The understanding of the customer can be expressed and/or verified by making an ROI and business case, but an ROI and business case in themselves do not necessarily prove that your supplier understands your business. ROI`s and business cases are like diploma`s or certifications: they do not guarantee expertise. Yet in making ROI`s and business cases expertise can be actualised and the mind-set can be better formed.

Getting to know each other’s businesses and expressing that understanding by making things simpler, that is expressing the essence, via a business case, a conversation, an e-mail etc., is hard enough, so one can imagine that at the technical product or service level one really must get to the essence.
Take the field of datalogistics in which systems of buyers (who order products, pay e- invoices) and systems of suppliers or sellers (who give product information, tell about the total inventory, sell products, give status updates about shipping, send e-invoices etc.) are integrated to reach the full potential of communication efficiency. All of a seller's output must be integrated in the core systems of the buyer and vice versa.
Most buying customers have different selling suppliers and most suppling sellers have more than one buying customers. If you can understand one it seems reasonable to have one-on-one integrations with all your sellers or buyers. ‘Seems’ for all those one’s add up too many-to-many integrations:


This conceptual scheme is just for one process, for example the process of asking for product information! This many-to-many integration costs too much time and money. Think about all the system upgrades from different ‘partners’ you will have to implement all the time. Chances of technical and budget failure are high. Throw many toothpicks on the table and try to count them in a glance, in a minute, in 3 minutes. That is only an approximation of the complexity of a technical integration!
‘A Clever Connection’ means reusing existing integrations by which all participants of a trading community only just need one connection, one trail, one clever trail. That is a much better story tale!







By James Roolvink (Department of Learning & Communications Onetrail)

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