What’s Deep Understanding of Deep Meaning?

Four banks in Chicago were sending out credit cards as free samples.

In the 1960’s, banks in Chicago were introducing a new concept in consumer credit: general payment cards that you could use all over, not just for specific purposes or at a specific sponsoring merchant. The banks weren’t waiting for people to apply for or otherwise request the new cards. Four banks in Chicago were literally sending them out as free samples. I didn’t work in the industry then, and I don’t know how they determined which guinea pig customers would become the early adapters and receive the initial cards with their associated grants of credit. But one of the banks found me, determined I was credit-worthy, and sent a card to me. To me, but maybe not really to me: they sent it to me under my birth name (Garfield), which I wasn’t using at the time. So we know the bank wasn’t really paying attention.

I didn’t know that I’d been sent the card. That’s right—I didn’t know I was getting a credit card in the mail, and I didn’t know to look for it.

Consequently, I didn’t know when (or even that) the card had arrived and had reached the mailbox that was unsecured and maybe that we even functionally shared with the other residents of the 3-flat building (sorry—I don’t remember). What I remember very well is that one of my neighbors, who had the scruples of a mushroom, or maybe of a slime mold, intercepted the card addressed to me, signed it as Thomas Garfield, and started to buy things with it. 

Fortunately, this neighbor’s mental capacity matched his scruples. He didn’t seem to recognize that requests for payment would arrive, and that if he didn’t intercept and pay the bills, maybe I’d notice that something wasn’t quite right.

Sure enough, I started receiving bills. I didn’t recognize the threats to my creditworthiness, and I don’t think that the concept of identity theft had even developed at that time; I just feared that someone thought I owed money for purchases I didn’t make. So I contacted the bank, and they worked some magic and ultimately set things right. The charges went away. The bills stopped coming. Deactivated, the unrequested and unwanted credit account faded away. I didn’t know at that time that credit cards would become ubiquitous and vitally central to my own life and work…and that years later, I would jump through hoops to get a credit card. That’s another story. 

This episode ended without lasting damage. Probably the worst part of the experience was that I didn’t know how to behave in the aftermath when I saw Mr. Mushroom-SlimeMold around the neighborhood. Of course, he had no shame. Fortunately, the encounters were few, as I moved to California that summer.

Now, I want you to think for a moment about possible takeaways from the story you just read. So, mark your place, turn away from the screen or the page for a bit, think, and articulate to yourself what impression it made/what you got from it/what it means. 

Now that you’re back, I’ll go over some of the things I think the story might be about and mean:

  • It might be about me as the person behind this article and the legitimacy I command as a business voice and as a storyteller.
  • It might be about changes in attitudes and realities about protecting payment card data and adverse outcomes that are now mitigated by today’s Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCIDSS).
  • It might be about the personal experience that drove my commitment to supporting the PCIDSS when doing so became my job.
  • And of course, it might be about any meaning that you find in it, based on your own background, experience, values, attitudes, and other elements that you bring to interpreting it.

In any case, the story illuminates something about business, and in so doing, it aligns with a deep understanding of the deep meaning of a business challenge.  

So let’s look at deep understanding of deep meaning. What is it? I’ll address the question backwards. 

Deep meaning is a rich, complex, subtle, nuanced level of content significance.  

By deep meaning, I mean a rich, complex, subtle, nuanced level of content significance. Deep meaning goes beyond denotation. Deep meaning accounts for connotation, variations, alternatives, possibilities, complexity, implications, and relationships. 

Deep understanding is a highly internalized, fully integrated, and functionally intuitive level of mastery and capability.

By deep understanding, I mean a highly internalized, fully integrated, and functionally intuitive level of mastery and capability. Deep understanding can pertain to what you know or to what you do. Deep understanding goes beyond conventional recognition and working knowledge. Deep understanding is when you “grok”—that is when you experience immersion in total and absolute recognition and comprehension[i].

Story embodies clarity, specificity, and insight.

Now, let’s go back to where stories come in. How do stories get you to deep understanding of deep meaning and the business effectiveness they can enhance? The keywords are clarity, specificity, and insight. Story embodies clarity, specificity, and insight:

  • Story drives clarity: when you hear a good story, you see it play through your mind’s eye like a movie, and you follow it easily, effortlessly. Story drives clarity.
  • Story drives specificity: when you hear a good story, you see in your mind’s eye precise, vivid, detailed, concrete images, not vague, blurry impressions. Story drives specificity.
  • Story drives insight: when you hear a good story, you go beneath and beyond the surface. You grok.

At this point, you’re well launched into deep understanding of deep meaning—both with respect to the particular matter at hand and also as a habit of mind that you can generalize, scale, and continue to develop.

How important is deep understanding of the deep meaning of a business challenge? I ask you to reflect. Have you ever tried to be effective without the clarity, specificity, and insight that anchor deep understanding of deep meaning? Have you ever found yourself and your colleagues not knowing what you were doing or why? Have you ever not even known how you would recognize a successful outcome if it thrust itself upon you?

For a bit more about the importance of a deep understanding of deep meaning of a business challenge—and a story you might recognize—See Part 1 – 3 Little Pigs Do 3 Construction Projects: Why Did Only One Project Succeed?

For a challenge to explore your own ability to develop deep understanding of deep meaning—based on another story you might recognize—See Part 3 – King Midas and the Golden Touch: An Exercise in Finding Deep Understanding of Deep Meaning.

[i] Robert Heinlein coined the word “grok” for his book Stranger in a Strange Land to indicate the experience of totally getting something. “Grok” now appears as a verb in many English language dictionaries and is accepted as a Scrabble word.

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Suzie Garfield

Suzie Garfield has decades of experience in the worlds of business, technology, education, and performance. As a computer programmer, teacher, trainer, storyteller, coach, and mentor, Suzie faces any question or challenge with an exploratory, agile, "yes-and" approach. Suzie holds Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Mathematics and in Literature, a Ph.D. in Humanities/Comparative Literature, an MBA, and certification as a PMP. As a developer of business application systems and a project leader and manager, she has seen again and again how intention, expression, and interpretation converge to support and to subvert business and technological relationships, outcomes, and results. Suzie shares her insights into how verbal and quantitative processes impact real-world outcomes and how a deep understanding of the products and services we envision enables us to build and deliver them.