Applying Economics to Communication Strategy

This week, Elinor Ostrom, a distinguished Indiana University professor, won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. She works for the same university that I do. But, that’s where the similarities stop. I still haven’t won the distinction of chief bottle washer, so I won’t even try to suggest we are on equal footing.

But, the two of us may have similar thoughts about communication. Dr. Ostrom’s body of work has shown that large-scale engineering solutions may look better on the surface, but it is the lack of communication in these endeavors that may spell trouble.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, in its support of her award, suggested that, despite flawless engineering in building dams for irrigation in Nepal, many projects ended in failure. The reason? Building dams cut out local communities and eliminated communication among various factions.

This seems to have some applicability to my recent ramblings about the dangers of e-mail. Technology is a wonderful thing, but relying on digital pathways as the primary way to communicate to staff, friends and business associates is full of danger.

It may be advantageous to engage in face-to-face dialogue and discrete and clear communiqués via videoconference or telephone. These are the tried-and-true pathways to successful interplay. E-mail is a wonderful and efficient tool. However, it quickly loses out when attempting to ascertain the motivations, feelings or intent of the missive.

So, pick up the phone, ask for a sit down or get out of your seat and visit the client. There are untold benefits to doing some things the old-fashioned way.

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