Profiling has become a “dirty word” in America. Probably because of its association with the practice of “racial profiling.” Indeed, in a perfect world people would not be judged by appearances. Of course this is no perfect world but with laws against it and public opinion all across the country firmly opposed to it, do we still see it in operation? Does it provide some unique benefit to those employing it? A benefit that we cannot replace?
Appearance is important. It serves as a clue.
Apparently someone, or more likely, a list of someone’s, were asleep at the wheel or, so politically correct, they refused to employ intelligent “profiling.” Could it have helped? The problem with profiling, it seems, is to find a balance between common sense and bigotry. All of the 9/11 hijackers were young Arab males linked to a fundamentalist Islamic sect. That is all we knew. It is insufficient knowledge. It is also compelling knowledge: It is what they all have in common. Add to that the fact that all 22 people on the FBI’s Most Wanted List at the time were Muslim, half of them with the name “Mohammed” and you can readily see the enormous influence on our opinion of young Arab males who look like what we know all of the hijackers had in common. They look like the criminals. It is an unfortunate fact for young Arab males who are innocent that people will be more wary of them than of a 75-year old Caucasian grandmother from Vero Beach, Florida. In fact, it can be argued that airport security would demonstrate appalling incompetence if they were not.
Individually, we should be as comforting as possible to our friends and neighbors who look Arab or Middle Eastern and are Muslim. Rightfully so, they need extra measures of reassurance today. Reassurance from those who know them. It cannot be expected from those who do not know them. These attacks also force an increased awareness of the fact that we need some clarification. What is our nation’s policy regarding terrorists. But are we failing to understand some important dynamic? Are we ignoring our limitations? Are we being naïve? Or are we over-reacting?
Creating and managing Identity is critical.
Profiling can be, and often is, misleading. But the alternative is not only time-consuming, it’s impossible. To personally get to know everyone we see is just not possible. Besides, as it turns out, we all use profiling every day. Because it is a useful technique in situations where we have insufficient information.
If it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck and smells like a duck, what are you willing to bet it is not a duck? Until we take the time to investigate more thoroughly, we are left with no reasonable option but to assume based on past experience, that it is most likely a duck. In the case of criminals and terrorists, we do not have the luxury of getting to know each person we see at an airport for example, as we board in 15 minutes, to determine whether or not any individual is a terrorist. Same is true on the street. We do not have time to do background checks and visit over coffee, etc., getting to each person we see everywhere we go. We have no choice but to be suspicious of the “suspicious looking.” And it is Americans that have been the most trusting society.
The potential misunderstanding generated by profiling is a risk we take to minimize other risks. And this method becomes more important as a self-preservation tactic when the stakes are highest. On an airplane, a mistake in identification could cost you your life or the lives of loved ones. This technique is not likely to decrease in use, but increase in use as time passes. Because we all have less time, and more to do. We don’t have time to get to know every person we see every day. We look for clues.
An easy method for quickly evaluating a person,
or company, or a product.
Profiling is easy and useful; we use it everyday –and not just to categorize people. We see the same technique in evaluating companies. Investors, with money at stake, suppliers and lenders with money at stake, will often initially use it as a way to evaluate a company’s promise. In fact, this categorizing technique is a useful preliminary screening process when considering companies to invest in or lend to, or sell to, or seek employment at. To be sure, it should not be the sole method employed to evaluate a company or product, but it frequently has tremendous influence over whether or not to pursue further knowledge about it.
Influencing purchase decisions.
Profiling can be expected to provide reasonable clues about a company – whether or not it is worth getting to know, or a product– whether or not it is worth buying. We’ve all heard friends say “that looks like a good restaurant,” or, “that looks like a good company,” or, “they look well organized,” etc., and those looks influence our opinion and frequently our actions. We don’t have time to get to know every company we see every day.
Therefore, it is important that CEOs recognize that what their company looks like and what it communicates to people is important and should be thought through carefully to be sure it is sending the right message and not sending the wrong message. Corporate image and corporate identity can be useful or it can prove harmful. Corporations are best served by intelligently managing their appearance and their messages to the marketplace, to investors, to employees, to government agencies, to the media and to suppliers, aligning the messages with corporate goals.
Left to chance in a competitive marketplace, you’ll be misunderstood.
An appropriate and positive positioning will not occur within a company’s or a product’s audiences automatically or by accident. Because there are competitors and other opponents actively seeking to define your company in their light and it is not going to be to your benefit. And young Arab Islamic males would do well to step up and take the lead in defining and identifying their position, otherwise, like a company that ignores this reality, they will suffer the consequences of someone else, e.g. terrorists, defining “who they are.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please share with the rest of us through your comments. With that, I will let you take over this blog post in the comments section.