Brené Brown is a professor, author and public speaker who studies human connection. As a scholar in social work, she spends her days transforming the intangible, such as feelings and relationships, into hard data. She does this work to help us all understand ourselves better.
In a TED Talk, Brown reveals the story and findings of her hard-won research on vulnerability – a seemingly unquantifiable human condition. She approaches her work from both the emotion- and data-driven worlds in which she lives, saying, “Maybe stories are just data with a soul.”
From our professional lives to our personal lives, vulnerability exists everywhere. No matter where that uncomfortable emotion lurks, often our first response is to numb it with any number of vices. But Brown believes that you can’t selectively numb emotions like vulnerability and fear and disappointment without numbing everything else, like joy and love and happiness.
If you embrace it, vulnerability can lead to some pretty amazing things. When we let our guards down and open up to new possibilities, it can be scary but rewarding. This is true in both our personal and our professional lives. That place of vulnerability is often the birthplace for creativity and innovation. “Thinking outside the box” is a popular idiom for good reason. If we stay protected and safe, within our little box of familiar ideas and familiar processes, we stop growing. But, if we dare to be vulnerable and move outside our comfort zone, we find new ways of doing things.
Companies and leaders that embrace vulnerability aren’t afraid to get out on the edge. And that edge keeps them sharp and ahead of their competitors. They leave those who are too scared to let themselves be vulnerable in the dust.
If numbing and avoidance sound troubling in one’s personal life, consider how those same behaviors affect the professional world. Individuals aren’t the only ones who would rather stick their heads in the sand than to face the unknown – and potentially uncomfortable – facts of a given situation.
When business leaders collect and analyze data, what they are really doing is turning an unblinking eye to the performance of their company and its employees. This measurement requires them to open up and to be vulnerable to what they might find, and that level of vulnerability requires courage.
Just like the man who doesn’t want to open himself to the idea that he hates his job – and instead drinks every evening after work to “wind down” from a stressful day, or the woman who uses her lunch hour every day to shop online so she can get a “mental break” from her life – some companies would rather numb themselves to the discomfort of the truth rather than face it.
When leaders don’t have the courage required to be vulnerable, they fear measurement because it makes them take a hard look at their performance. However, gathering the courage to take that hard look can only lead to better things. Sure, it may be uncomfortable, or even painful, at first. But good things await the businesses that dare to take an honest look at themselves. For example, measuring performance can lead to:
- Improved management and delivery of products and services, leading to happier and more loyal customers.
- Clearer picture of the cost-effectiveness of programs and processes for increased ROI.
- Better communications internally among employees and externally among clients, vendors and the public. These benefits lead to happier and more productive workers, better vendor relationships, and increased brand perception.
- And many, many more “good things” that can be measured.
Measuring data allows us to measure performance, another seemingly intangible but human quality. In order to reveal information through measurement, companies have to open themselves up to vulnerability and be prepared to face whatever they might find. If they find good things, then they know what they’re doing is working. However, if measurement reveals bad things, they can take steps to correct the problems, leading to a better outcome for everyone involved. But they need to have the courage to find out.
What is your corporate conscience telling you? Will you be the type of company that sticks its head in the sand, when it comes to measurement? Or do you have the courage to be vulnerable and make measurement a foundation for success?