Bringing systems thinking to PR

I wish more of us in this field were engineers.

I wish more of us in this field were engineers. I'm certainly not but as a result of working closely with some of the best technology companies in the world, I've been able to interact with a lot of engineers -- and communications pros that could have been engineers. To be an engineer requires a high aptitude for algebra, calculus, and physics. You need to have a brain that arranges, anticipates, and calculates the tangible and intangible interrelationship between values, forces, and unknowns.

Those would be extraordinarily valuable skills in our field given the complexity of networks of stakeholders and the need to anticipate game-changing new forces that affect an organization and its success (competition, technology, globalization).

One of the most powerful concepts that engineers adhere to is systems thinking. Systems thinking is understanding how different elements of an ecosystem influence one another. In nature it can be how plants and animals interact in the food chain, in photosynthesis and decomposition. In engineering it can be how energy and materials interact to support a bridge or building. 

In our field, systems thinking can be a powerful source of thinking and strategy as companies and brands seek to build relationship capital across an ecosystem of stakeholders. Why? As you know, more than ever, building relationship capital isn't about one-way communication to consumers, business partners, influencers, analysts, activists, and other communities. It's about peer-to-peer networks, identifying mutual benefits, evaluating risk, determining friction and resistance, and other factors and forces in the ecosystem. Done well, our discipline isn't linear or simple anymore. It's complex and requires an understanding of interdependent players and variables.  

So next time you're searching for a new hire, consider an engineer or at least someone with an engineer's mind.

Rob Flaherty is senior partner and president at Ketchum

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