The Exogenous Zone

Mike Sorohan

Tuesday, June 26, 1:00 p.m. CT

So there I was, minding my own business at the IABC Research Foundation Luncheon, when the speaker, Dartmouth professor Paul Argenti, drops this bomb:

“Why communicate strategically? Because we need to deal with exogenous crises that can come up at any time.”

Huh? Exogenous? I’d never seen that word before. So I did what I normally do in those circumstances. I nodded vigorously and gave my colleague (and sister-in-law) Mara Samuels a knowing look.

What can I say? I’m a guy. I wasn’t about to look dumb, giving a vacant stare when some Ivy League hotshot drops a 50-cent word that he assumes everyone in the room knows. I was going to act like I’d suggested to him ahead of time to use it.

And I couldn’t even break the word down to even give a stupid guess as to what it meant. I got as far as “exo,” which I assumed meant “external,” as in “exoskeleton,” as in, “Mike, please stop removing the exoskeleton from that insect while we’re eating.” But Argenti had used a short “o” when he dropped the word, so I was stumped.

Now, while you’re reading this blog entry, conduct an experiment. There are two test groups: one consisting of women; the second, men. Go to the first group (the women) and say this to them:

YOU: “At the IABC conference, one of the speakers said we need to think strategically, because we’re going to have to anticipate exogenous crises.”

Here’s what I predict what will happen:

WOMAN 1: “’Exogenous?’ What does that mean?”

WOMAN 2: “Let’s go to my computer and look it up on ‘Wikipedia.’”

WOMAN 3: “Yes, let’s!”

(RESULTS: non-competitive inquiry, teamwork, collaboration)

Now, do the same thing with a group of guys. Here’s what I predict will happen:

YOU: “At the IABC conference, one of the speakers said we need to think strategically, because we’re going to have to anticipate exogenous crises.”

GUY 1: “Ha-ha! Good one!”

GUY 2: (NODS VIGOROUSLY)

GUY 3: “Speaking of exogenous, how about those Red Sox?”

ALL GUYS: (AFFIRMATIVE GRUNTING NOISES)

(RESULTS: cluelessness, grunting, male bonding)

In the end, I had to go to my hotel room to look up “exogenous” on Wikipedia. It means: “(from the Greek words “exo” and “gen”, meaning “outside” and “production”) refers to an action or object coming from outside a system. It is the opposite of endogenous, something generated from within the system.”

So what Argenti was trying to say was that we need to plan strategically to anticipate crises beyond our current controls.

I knew that.

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