What is Art?

My tender auricles twitched this morning at the propagation of that wonderful phrase, the art of the possible.

In fact, I do hear it every other day, particularly from BPO contact centres. They hold it dear and squirt it forth it with blunderbuss abandon.

But what does it mean, and why is it so appealing to them?

Well it originates in the political philosophy of Realpolitik. You know, the prioritisation of pragmatism over ideology.

The premise goes like this: the idea achieving all your goals is unfeasible, and pragmatism (which will involve reprioritising immediate goals and some compromise) is essential, in order to achieve the most you can under circumstances.

Bismarck was a great exponent of this, stating:

“Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best”.

Everything is based on pursuing a course of action that will satisfy minimum requirements necessary to achieve a goal. This holds decision-making as the rational process of finding an optimal choice based on the information that is available.

Well, ok. But is that not stating the obvious?

Where is the art in all that? It’s just about rational decision-making. Weighing up the pros and cons and being realistic. Maybe it also reflects the common-sense approach of picking some low-hanging fruit. Getting some wins under your belt? The list could go on. But art? I cannot see it.

But this concept has categorically gained mega traction.  Everybody seems to have cultivated a tacit acceptance of the art of the possible principle.  It lingers in the collective subconscious.

So why do BPOs cherish it so much?

Well, it helps to propel them onto their platform of the great saviour and moreover permits them to qualify what they do as great into the bargain.

And the arch-charlatans entertain a 3-stage routine to which they willingly recourse.

Firstly, in all their discourse, they emphasise the possible part. Nobody can argue with this of course, because no rational person would expect the impossible, would they? They set the scene by reminding us always that the world is tough, and we are all constrained by costs and every other potentially confounding aspect of the wider picture.

And they make it as grim as they possibly can. It’s not realism, but a deliberately negative exaggeration.

The further down into the mire they can take you, the more impressive even their sub-mediocre solutions will seem.  This is the Problem and Implication part of SPIN selling, which leads to their Need Pay-off.

And that pay-off is the second stage, the art part which will be applied to the science of the possible. (this is why so many of these swindlers like to use the ‘art blended with science’ metaphor).

The ‘art’ is their expertise, or their masterly ministrations, or professedly both. It’s presented like magic or alchemy.

But there’s no art to it at all.  It’s just about gaining your acceptance that you cannot demand too much from them, being convinced by their depiction of dire circumstances and then allowing them to do something (often just common-sense stuff) that will impart some alleviation.

And sometimes it does look like a good deal.

The cherry though, is the way that quality is factored in. That’s the lock.

When solutioning, BPOs will doggedly bed in processes that minimise variation and accordingly control costs and maintain consistent outputs. They then draw on technology to route enquiries in the most efficient ((though not necessarily the most effective) way.

It is in their interest to keep everything consistent and efficient (ahem, for them). They will for the most part define the detail of the services, to which they will deliver a measurable performance.

And when people deliver a service that meets specifications, this equates to quality. Because quality is by definition about meeting pre-defined standards, whatever they might be. The possible – and the acceptance of this – sits as a convenient safety net.  The standards will only be defined in terms of what is possible and therefore achievable.

You don’t get BPOs signing up to stretch targets. No real commitment to disruption and changing paradigms to smash through boundaries. That’s for the PR team to blather on about.  And because everybody has been attuned to the imitations of what is possible, you will rarely see client organisations insisting on truly demanding targets, which tend to be driven by vision, which few of the dimwit client vendor managers will have in their collective toolkit.

So, the BPOs find themselves in a position where they can evidence ‘quality’.  And that is what they report on and what client organisations trumpet as evidence that the outsourcing decision had merit. There is a lovely little pert bonus here. When most people see the term quality but rely on their own interpretation of what that means, without distracting themselves with the triviality of detail.

Consequently, they are likely to miss the fact that service really falls several notches below ‘the next best’. Frequently, it would need war criminal-degree cosmetic surgery to get it back to recognisably crap.

And that is because most people have a different point of reference for quality. They don’t compare a product with its specification, but with comparable products. What they hear is a report of validated high quality for customers and they accept it.

Of at least, they allow others to accept it, even if they know the truth.

Which brings us back to the fabled question of ‘what is art?’

Rubbish, I would say.

unsplash-logoSteve Johnson

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