Intangibles?

I had an interesting conversation last week about intangibles. I think this word gets used in strange ways.

When businesses talk about “intangibles” it seems to me they mean things that can’t really be measured but can be felt. Yet they then attempt to measure them and use this word – intangible – to describe them as if they literally can’t be felt.

Which is odd. Mention a person or brand to me with a strong identity and I will have a strong felt reaction. So will most people. We might put some rational words to that reaction but there will be a feeling at the core of it. The feeling may be disgust delight excitement… and it will almost certainly have a physical response that goes with it, a gut feel.

It seems to me that if we can’t value – in the minimal sense of actually paying attention to – the felt reactions in our own bodies… we’re missing something pretty vital. And as my friend Mark Brady points out, no-one threw themselves on a hand grenade for a spreadsheet.

This is a can of worms I know, but I felt like opening it.

7 thoughts on “Intangibles?

  1. Tom Asacker

    Can of worms? A metaphor. Quite intangible. 😉 In fact, everything of value today is intangible and ethereal. It’s all about feelings!

    Reply
  2. John Dodds

    Intangibles inbusiness are things that can’t be measured but FDs like to do so in order to inflate the balance sheet – be very sceptical. This is where the can of mould worms that is brand valution came from in the 80s.

    Reply
  3. Jesper Bindslev

    “When businesses talk about “intangibles” it seems to me they mean things that can’t really be measured but can be felt. Yet they then attempt to measure them and use this word – intangible – to describe them as if they literally can’t be felt”

    Johhnie – I like your thought on intangibles as feelings, However I see intangibles as a step before feelings, where feelings is a derivative of the intangible (as well as a derivative of the tangible part) of the value generation. to me it makes sense to make this distinction between “value generation” and “feeling”.

    An example: I may buy a mac due to 3 value props – 1) it gives me an apple-user-image 2) i need a computer and the mac is more effective one than the pc 3)its small and can conveniently fit in my back pack.

    Each value propositions 1) being more intangible and 2) & 3) being tangible, leads to feelings or perhaps together to one big happy feeling. It is the intangible or tangible “value generation” that leads to “the feeling”.

    Does that make sense?

    Reply
  4. Phil Dourado

    Ooh, ‘intangibles’ are indeed a can of worms Johnnie. The Economist says the acid test is whether it hurts if you drop your competitive advantage on your foot. If it does, you’re not generating enough value through weightless ‘intangibles’.

    Reply
  5. Johnnie Moore

    Thanks for the comments. It is a can of worms. That’s an image of course, but it articulates a felt experience.

    Jesper, you’ve got me thinking like I did when I was studying Philosophy. Does the tree in the quad still exist when no-one is looking at it?

    Reply
  6. Jesper Bindslev

    @ Johhnie – As Always – happy to help:)

    As a practice of creating good feelings – Lets reframe the core. Rather than the cow methaphor How about calling it a “Play zone, or “adventure” with so much more to be explored:)

    There’s alot of good stuff in there and a strong language can help us co-create a better understanding of intangebility – something organizations could definitely benefit from;)

    Reply
  7. Tom Guarriello

    I think much of the discomfort with “intangibles” in the business world is founded in our preoccupation with quantification. Things that don’t have numbers attached to them make businesses uneasy…even though, as several commenters have indiciated, the most important things in life (love, joy, fun) are beyond the power of quantification. It’s always interesting to watch people futilely try to squeeze these dimensions into numerical boxes, rather than simply allowing to be what they are: qualitative experiential realities.

    Reply

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