All right. I confess. I’ve always been a bit of a science / science fiction buff. When I was in elementary school, and John Glenn had just made his history-making orbits of the earth, I was sure I wanted to become an astronaut.
I was never a big fan of any kind of fiction as a reader, but I consumed books on the margin between fact, fiction, fantasy and forecast. I can recall reading some nonfiction of the works of the famous science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke, including The Exploration of Space and Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible.
When someone asked me, “Is that science fiction?” I replied, “No. It’s more like science-prediction.”
In movies and television, though, I enjoyed science fiction. I was enthusiastic about (only the original) Star Trek series on TV and subsequent movies (though never so about Star Wars). And movies like Andromeda Strain were a fascination.
So, anyway, I saw the trailer for the movie Arrival and decided to go see it.
Without spoiling it for those of you who have not yet seen it, it’s a story about aliens who contact humans on earth. A linguistics professor, Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is called upon by the U.S. government to help communicate with the heptapods (seven-legged creatures).
These aliens have, of course, shown up unannounced and parked themselves in their oddly shaped vehicles in twelve different locations around the globe. Dr. Banks is summoned to Montana to open a dialog with their presence there.
The government, of course, wants an answer to one simple question: “What is your purpose for coming to earth?”
Instructive for us
Early in the film, we are introduced to the fact that Dr. Banks has written that “Language is the basis of civilization.”
Another scientist and her assigned co-worker in this challenge, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) offers his counter opinion: that science, not language, is the basis of civilization. Donnelly wants to start by trying to find out from them the physics that got them to earth.
Banks wisely suggests, “Maybe we should just try having a conversation with them before we start throwing algebra equations at them.”
Before long, with what seems like slow progress, the government officials are getting impatient. They want more and faster progress in the dialog with the creatures.
In a crucial and telling scene, Dr. Banks points out to Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) something very fundamental. The dialog goes something like this:
Dr. Banks: You want to get to this—am I right? [Writing on the whiteboard: “What is your purpose in coming to earth?”]
Colonel Weber: Yes. That’s right.
Dr. Banks: Well, to get there we need to first understand if they know the difference between a question and a statement. Second, we need to understand if they know the difference between a personal “you” and a collective “you.” After all, we don’t want to know why these two individuals came to earth. We want to know why, as a collective civilization, they came to make contact with us. And thirdly, “purpose” implies “intent.” We need to understand if they have a concept for “intent,” or if what they do is so instinctive that they do not deliberate on “intent.”
How does this help us?
We want to build collaborative supply chains? Right?
But, how do we open the lines of communications in a real and effective way?
When we first make contact with a supplier in order to try to create a collaborative connection, we may appear like aliens speaking an entirely different language.
We show up on their doorstep, and they don’t know if we’re there as friend or foe. They don’t know if our intent is to truly help them by building a truly collaborative and symbiotic (mutually-beneficial) relationship, or if we are there merely to woo them into submission while we plunder them.
While they are being cordial, in the back of their minds may be this nagging question: “What is your real purpose in coming to our planet (our company)?”
Since, for hundreds of years, most customer-vendor relationships have been at arm’s-length, having a participant show up looking for something more can seem, at first, quite threatening.
We need to open the doors by finding a common language.
We need to start by trying to “have a conversation with them, before we start throwing algebra (or, supply chain) equations at them.”
They need to become comfortable with our intent, and that comfort level is built on our language. How we think; how we act; how we respond is very much based on our understanding of the language being used to communicate.
Let’s start with a conversation. Collaboration can follow when the comfort level increases.
Now it’s your turn
How are you opening the doors for collaboration? Are you having difficulty finding a common language? Chances are, we can help. We actually have a new language you can try.
Leave your comments here, or feel free to contact us directly, if you prefer.