Which is more important: Content or Context?

Perhaps this might help you think about your challenge….

Imagine taking a group of kids from various parts of this country and placing them in a classroom seated at desks and blind folding them. What would be their reaction to a car backfiring from a busted muffler in the parking lot below?

Some children will simply flinch if they live in an industrial town. For those who live in a bustling urban setting, you may see a flinch and a turn in the direction of the sound. In the case of a child who lives in a high crime, gang infested neighborhood with nightly drive by shootings, you may see them pull off the blindfold and dive to the floor looking for cover. Do you see how three people can process the same content from a completely different context?  Our state of mind can affect our ability to thoroughly grasp or totally misconstrue a situation.

Another perfect example of content vs. context is this story of a subway ride. Imagine yourself on a quiet subway ride home. Everyone is quiet there are several people sleeping while others are reading. At the next stop a man gets on with some children. The children are very disruptive throwing things running into people, just kids behaving rottenly. You turn and say to the man ‘your children are being disruptive maybe you could do something to control them.’ Then the man turns and says “we just came from the hospital their mother just died and I guess they don’t know how to handle it and for that matter neither do I.” Can you see that by understanding the context the same content (in this case the children’s’ behaviour) how your perspective would change from one of being annoyed to that of being considerate and sympathetic?

Context vs. content is like the metaphor of whether the wine or the wineglass is more important in appreciating wine. Before you answer that, consider this scenario.  Say you are going out for dinner to celebrate an achievement in life.  A promotion, birthday or anniversary! Because it is such a significant achievement you order the most expensive bottle on the menu. The wine arrives and with great fanfare the server pours a little into the glass.  You are about to taste the wine and before you bring the glass to your lips you notice the glass is dirty. Not just dirty but filthy!

Question: What would you expect the server and the restaurant to do next? Is it ok to replace the glass with a clean one and pour you another sample from the same bottle? Most people answer that the restaurant should not only replace the glass but also replace the BOTTLE of very expensive wine.

So while the wine was fabulous (content) because the glass was dirty (context) the quality of the wine was irrelevant.

It would be like asking a person who had great skills as a skater, stick handler, passer and shooter to be great at the game of hockey before anyone explained the rules (context) of hockey.  How could that person with all those skills do well in the absence of context of the rules?

You may be asking your team to be great in performing their jobs (content) without establishing the “rules of the game!” In the workplace “context” would look like job descriptions, organizational charts, written systems and procedures. Most important of all: written vision, mission and culture statements. If someone on your team is not performing perhaps it is because the context has not been established.  Establishing both content and context would make it easier to lead your team and for team to perform, don’t you agree?

So which is more important do you think: Content or Context?

 Content vs. Context