And Not Or

Here's a simple tip that leads to thinking bigger thoughts: when confronting a list, think and, not or.

If we've talked in the last few weeks, you've probably heard a version of this. It's central to how I think about things, and it's why I'm having trouble with most of the usual labels for listening tools and services—the labels imply boundaries that limit the potential applications.

Most people seem to approach things as a series of or questions. I see a lot of it in social media circles:

  • Just social or just media?
  • Monitoring or measuring?
  • Analyzing or responding?
  • Marketing or customer service?
  • Software or human intelligence?

The thing about or questions is that they expect right and wrong answers. What if both choices are right (possibly in different contexts)? What if options not on the list are also right?

Focus with Or; Explore with And
Or questions simplify things, which makes them easier to understand. They're great when you need to be very clear about what you're doing or what you need. When choosing between a hammer and a screwdriver, it helps to know if you're driving a nail or a screw. Once you know your objectives, or questions are invaluable.

On the other hand, I do a lot of exploring around the edges of the market. I want to know what change is coming, and where it's coming from. Approaching the market as a series of and questions helps me find the adjacent spaces that the or questions exclude. A typical yes, and question is "what else can it do?"

I find that most questions are more interesting if we replace the or with and, and see where it leads.

Soapbox photo by Steve Rhodes.

Searching for a title made up entirely of Boolean operators: priceless.


About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Studying complexity and futures.
  • Principal, Social Target

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