"But...her [or his] heart is [or was] in the right place" is rapidly becoming the standard excuse for poor planning, bad behavior and even catastrophic misunderstandings in the workplace and in our personal lives. I've found that the use of the phrase is common in both large for-profit corporations and non-profit entities, and that it can frequently be heard in political conversations, sports arguments and any other setting you can think of - in other words, nobody seems to be immune.
I think it's time to identify the use of the phrase and what it means for us as a threat, and to use it as a catalyst to be better human beings, both within and outside of work.
Physically, while I'm not a biologist, I assume that having your heart in the wrong place is cause for major concern. Metaphorically, let's use the Cambridge Dictionary as our source, which states that the phrase is used when someone only has good intentions (regardless of the outcome). As we well know, however, the road to failure and ruin is often paved with the very same thing.
Now, I'm not saying it doesn't matter whether or not your heart is in the right place. It does - I've met many people throughout my career and life who had serious heart placement issues, and I've seen the often unhappy and divisive results.
The central issue with the rampant use of the term, in my opinion, is that we have become far too comfortable with setting the bar so low for ourselves and for others. I believe that having your heart in the right place is only a baseline, and something that should be implied as being part of an empathetic human being. We should and must expect much more from ourselves and from others. So how can we go about changing the paradigm?
In thinking about a more attractive future state, my mind continues to come back to data. We all use data as our foundational backbone when trying to prove a point - if the data says so, it is so. However, any of us who have worked around or with data for any period of time (which would be nearly everyone) know that all statistics, regardless of the issue in question, can be twisted or taken out of context for any specific user's benefit. I can state from experience that there are many businesses out there that incentivize this selective use of data - in other words, don't let the facts get in the way of a good story.
To get us back on track, it's going to take a committed group of people and organizations who are willing to risk vulnerability in the spirit of transparency. There are already marketers and companies out there who are doing it (one of my marketing heroes, Doug Kessler, shares a few examples here), but there could be so many more. Our message, I think, can be positioned as a question: "What would your 7th grade self think of how you use data?"
To me, the question evokes a powerful image and connection to the past, as many 7th graders spent part of that year mired in the rollercoaster of emotion and intense work that comes in creating and presenting a science project. The first thing we learn in our lessons about science projects is the Scientific Method, and I think many of us have forgotten just how valuable that method can be outside of proving that volcanic eruptions are actually due to the combination of large quantities of baking soda and vinegar. It's so simple, and yet so wonderful:
- Make an observation.
- Ask a question.
- Form a hypothesis, or testable explanation.
- Make a prediction based on the hypothesis.
- Test the prediction.
- Iterate: use the results to make new hypotheses or predictions.
In many of our jobs, and certainly in mine as a content marketer, we spend our days asking questions, making observations, testing our hypotheses and making predictions. Yet, the temptation is always there to skip a step or adjust the results because something didn't happen the way we thought it would. But isn't learning those lessons part of the fun? Isn't that what makes us better at our jobs and, ultimately, better people? Our 7th grade selves would be very disappointed if our science project that year was the last time we showed every piece of the data, warts and all, and analyzed what went wrong as much as what went right.
Let's commit to being better stewards of our data, and matching our good intentions with a better process. If we can build a movement based on utter transparency and the objective release of all data that pertains to each issue, I have to believe that we can become become a society of people whose hearts are in the right place, but whose minds are there as well.