What does a 16th century mathematician have to do with modern marketing and customer experience? More than you might think. In today’s episode we look at Nicolaus Copernicus, and how shifting perspective can lead to new insights.
Okay, today we’re talking about Copernicus. Right. So today I’m going to talk about the name of my blog, which is CopernicanShift.com. A sometimes we get questions on what is the Copernican shift and what does that mean? And let me just talk a little bit about the blog name. Talk a little bit about Copernican shift, talk a little bit about Nicolaus Copernicus, and relate the whole shootin’ match to CXM.
So let’s go on a little ride here for the next few minutes. Let me talk about Mr. Copernicus for a second. So Nicolaus Copernicus, lived until the age of 70, died in 1543. And he’s generally credited with the kickoff of the scientific revolution. He was actually a mathematician, astronomer and a Catholic clergyman. And if you know anything about history, or Copernicus, he’s the person who first suggested that perhaps the Earth was not the center of the universe, but maybe the Earth rotated around the sun.
That particular insight kicked off something called the Copernican revolution. And most people credit it with kicking off the scientific revolution and the Renaissance — so pretty important figure in human history.
He lived in Poland. He was a polyglot, and a polymath. Pretty impressive individual, had a doctorate in canon law was also a mathematician, astronomer, physician, classic scholar, a translator, a governor, a diplomat, and an economist. And he came up with some pretty interesting economic theories including Gresham’s law, which if you remember, eco 101 was a pretty big part of that course.
So let’s talk a little bit about what Copernicus did and why he did it. So the cool thing is he worked very closely the with the Catholic Church. He lived in an area of Poland near Krakow, which is actually where my Polish side is from as well. And while he was working for the church, the church had a problem. The church was using a Ptolemaic view of the universe. And the Ptolemaic view of the universe is that the Earth is at the center of the universe, and the stars and the sun and all the planets rotate around the Earth.
And, you know, it’s not an insane theory. It sounds maybe laughable today, except for some people, I guess. But most of us would say, that’s obviously ridiculous. But if you were to stand in a field for a few days, I’d encourage you to do this sometime before it gets too cold. And you know, in the morning, the sun, you know, rises in the east, and goes across the sky and sets in the west. And if you stay in the field overnight, the stars appear, and the stars rotate across the sky. And then in the morning, the sun rises again in the east, and goes around and goes down in the west. Earth appears flat. Earth appears unmoving. And it looks like everything is moving around the Earth. It’s a perfectly natural way to say, Hey, what’s going on here, my observable system tells me that the planets and sun are rotating around the Earth.
Now the problem with that system is there’s a bunch of things you can’t do correctly. For example, they could never quite get Easter, right. They couldn’t get the equinoxes, right, it was very hard to predict when things were going to land. And there are other things like the retrograde motion of Mars, which made no sense. And so what they did is they had a set of mathematical formulas that they kept adding on top of the kind of base model to try to refine it. And while they did get a little bit closer every time, they can never quite get anything to land correctly. So part of Copernicus’ job was to — he was a mathematician — was to try to calculate a new model. And as he worked on it, he came to a startling conclusion… realization… epiphany, whatever you want to call it, which was maybe, maybe the Earth’s rotating around the sun, which would also explain that motion. And when he ran those numbers, and when he did the math on that, he realized that everything fell into place. Suddenly, it all made sense.
Now, Copernicus was no idiot, obviously. And so he decided to hold off on the publication of his conclusions. He wrote them all up in a book called “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres.” And the legend has it that the first edition of that book was handed to Copernicus on his deathbed in 1543. Because, you know, what he was suggesting was heresy. And if you know anything about the Catholic Church in the 1500s, heresy would be a bad thing. So you don’t want to do that. He, I think, very neatly escaped, being branded a heretic by publishing the book upon his death. That’s a very clever move.
And it took a while, I mean, 30-40 years for it to spread. But as the theory spread, and of course, as it also made it a lot easier to do the calculations of when the equinox is going to occur, and when celestial bodies are moving the way they’re moving, it started to gather hold.
And what he did, and what I think is kind of powerful about Copernicus is he didn’t really “invent” anything. What he did is he, he basically challenged preconceived notions. And he said: Maybe our observation is different from our reality. Maybe our perception is incorrect. And the reality is something else. And so the perception is that the Earth is moving around the, excuse me that the sun is moving around the Earth, the reality is that the Earth is moving around the sun. And this matching of perception and reality, was a very compelling idea. That unlocked a lot of other insights.
And so I think about how we operate today, in many of our companies, we have a perception of how things are working. And then there’s a reality. And the perception gets in our way a lot. You know, one of my sort of favorite examples is customer care and marketing. There’s a group of people in most companies in Customer Care, whose job it is to primarily solve a problem and get people off the phone as fast as they possibly can. Because time on call is a core metric. And then in another building in a separate budget, in a separate reporting structure, there’s a group of people whose job it is to get people to talk to them. And they spend millions of dollars to do that. The reality is that it’s the same person. Our perception is that we’re dealing with different people, because we have different metrics for different teams. And we’re working in different silos. The reality is that we have one person who’s having radically different experiences with our company.
So when I kind of got into this whole Copernicus stuff was actually came from, was originally mentioned to me in passing, as part of a pitch that we were doing when I was at Gray, Gray Advertising. This was back in 2003, or four. And the CEO there was John Clinton, so I’ll kind of tip my hat to John, because John just mentioned this, he used as a pitch thing. I don’t remember how the pitch went, if we won or we lost. But we used this idea. but I just fell in love with it. And I registered the URL back then. And I’ve been, I’ve been leveraging it and talking about it ever since. So thank you, John.
Anyway, so as I think about how we need to do Copernican shifts in our own lives and our own companies, I also think we’re constantly confronted by this reality and perception conflict, in way things appears not necessarily the way they are. And so and I think the core of it, and the Copernican shift, that most companies have to go through, is that in our day to day existence, it seems like the thing that’s most important is our product, because we spend all of our time on and we argue about it all the time. And that’s what we’re all about. I get it, I get I totally, I’ve been there a million times. Every single day I’m there.
The reality is that without the customer, there’s no product, there’s no company. You know that the customer has to write a check, or pay money, or pull out a credit card or whatever they need to do in order to be able to have a company. And so this reality of thinking that the company is paying us and thinking that our job is about our products, is in conflict with the reality that it’s the customer who’s paying us and the customer is using our products to get a job done or solve a problem.
And so that shift for me is something that I’m always looking for and always see and helps look around corners a bit. So look for your own Copernican shifts in your own lives. Where is your perception different from reality and and where is that reality perception conflict causing you problems in your life.
And we’re going to talk about this more as we go down the road. But for now, this is the CXM Experience with Grad Conn, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.