Thinking outside the cave, by the Marketing Society’s Mediha Diyaboglu

Mediha Diyaboglu explains how ‘Socratic design’ can be an enabler in marketing’s new era.

Mediha Diyaboglu is a senior B2B marketer and a member of The Marketing Society UAE

We are facing constant change and uncertainty, which pushes us to adapt to the way we do business. The pandemic has accelerated the change exponentially, with the convergence of rapid technological shifts such as digitalisation, artificial intelligence (AI), nanotech, biotech and 3D printing alongside demographic changes, deep shifts in geopolitical approaches and strong moral-political movements.

Businesses with hierarchical structures can end up steering multiple silos from the top down, becoming too slow and unable to compete with disruptive, more agile competitors who use the scaling power of algorithms, AI, user platforms and social media to their advantage to achieve growth and survive in a highly competitive landscape. A move from products to regularly upgradable services has become a new norm. Introducing subscriptions helps build trusted and more secure relationships between brands and consumers. To realise this, we need to completely re-wire the way we think.

What is Socratic design and how can it help?

‘We cannot think even when we think we think,’ is the most fundamental assumption of Socratic design. We mostly repeat addictive thoughts, which are connected to the neuro-dopamine system; the addiction is a consequence of the pleasant feeling that comes from having the same thought repeatedly. These addictive assumptions often lie hidden in the unconsciousness. In order to make them explicit, we need special tools and methodologies that create a collective attention or intelligence that is capable of real thinking.

The old ego thinking that produces the problems is not the same as the thinking that can solve them. Deeply rooted in a practical philosophy, the Socratic design provides an opportunity to shape the future of business in a unique and innovative way. It can not only be applied to develop new strategies, products and services, but also to realise collective wisdom through the art of dialogue.

First, it aligns the moral goals and vision of a business as the foundation from which new innovation can be nourished and developed. A critical investigation of the underlying concepts, assumptions and reasonings takes place next, to create a strong purpose for the company. Analysing explicitly and awakening hidden assumptions will give rise to new lines of thinking, allowing companies to create new meaningful desires and aspirations, and subsequently the services to satisfy these desires. However, new lines of thinking are only possible with a strong, disciplined approach that eliminates old inclinations, power relations, behaviours and assumptions that could prevent innovation.

A great example of this in practice is Istanbul-based Tempo Cağri Merkezi, which applied Socratic design methods across the whole organisation of 3000 employees. The thinking and innovative power of the company was no longer executed from the top down but also from the bottom up, sustaining a life-long development culture.

As marketing leaders, how do we tackle this shift in our thinking?

To succeed, we need to explore frameworks that will help us design this future and create an agile and learning-company culture that can move faster and more intelligently than our competitors.

Successful businesses have a strong focus that is rooted in the company’s philosophy:

  • Why do we exist as a business?
  • What are our values and how can we make them real through every part of the business?
  • What is our purpose?
  • How do we contribute to society?
  • What do we offer to our customers that is of real value?
  • Why is it better and relevant for them?

Consequently, businesses that align their employees with clients and partners are more resilient, and in a better position to ride the waves of change. They will not only ensure consistency in output but build trust with consumers in the long term.

An easy place to start when looking to embrace Socratic design thinking is to ask yourself two crucial questions: Do I want to think this? Do I want to feel this? This will enable you to start challenging addictive thoughts and start to open yourself up to other ways of thinking that can unlock innovation.