A couple of decades ago, when I joined Perot Systems, I greatly admired the weekly employee newsletter.

It was entirely prosaic — a text-only email layout-and-design tragedy where bold-face and italicized letters were the boundaries of formatting sophistication.

It was concise and readable, told employees the essentials of what was going on, and, every edition included a story. Not a tale of Ross and how brilliant and fabulous he was, but of a team that had done something that exemplified the company’s aspirations, goals, and values.

Which was far more effective in making sure all employees understood what constituted “how we do things around here” than any mission statement posters, values cards, or other empty gestures.

Perot Systems wasn’t a cognitive enterprise, but its employee newsletter was a step on the right path to making sure whoever made decisions on behalf of the company made decisions Ross Senior and his inner circle would agree with.

It’s no small challenge, and the bigger the company, the harder it is to push and prod the organization so it acts like an organism — a single entity with a single purpose. Large enterprises tend to be more like ecosystems than organisms. Why? Like ecosystems, the component parts of an organization are diverse, self-interested individual organisms — those pesky human beings you’ve probably had to work with once or twice in the course of your career.

Just in case you still aren’t convinced: Your brain, stomach, kidneys, and spleen all have different functions, but they all have the same goal — your survival and success.

Your company’s supply chain, IT, accounting, and manufacturing departments also have different functions, but there’s no reason to assume their managers and staff even care about the survival and success of anything beyond their little silo, let alone agree in any way, shape or form on how to achieve the survival and success of the enterprise as a whole.

One place to start is the golden rule of design: Form follows function, which is to say, understand the problem you’re trying to solve before you start designing solutions.

With a cognitive enterprise, one of the problems you’re trying to solve is how to give customers the impression they’re interacting with the equivalent of a person that acts with intention, not the complex, hard-to-navigate bureaucracy that’s the underlying reality.

There’s no single magic bullet for this. Creating a cognitive enterprise is a tough, tough challenge, as Scott and I discovered while writing the book. One starting point among many: Design the default sequences through which you expect typical customers to pass, and the mechanisms for exiting the default sequences when they don’t fit the situation.

Doing so enumerates what the customer touchpoints are. The next step is deciding what the customer experience should be within each one, for each channel through which customers can interact.

There are, as you might imagine, quite a few different variables to take into account. For example: Should you maximize the number of required touchpoints so as to create a soft, we-care-about-you impression, or should you minimize them so you don’t waste your customers’ time?

The answer, and you knew this was coming: It depends.

For example: If you’re an Emerald Club member and rent a car from National you can walk right past everyone, grab a car, and drive out. National caters to customers who appreciate convenience.

Enterprise, on the other hand, which is part of the same car-rental conglomerate, takes the opposite approach: Someone accompanies you to your car, walking you through every step of the rental process up to and including looking for dings and dents.

Enterprise figures its customers want the personal touch.

Which company is right? They both are. Different kinds of customer have different preferences. What the two companies have in common: Both started with what they wanted their customers to experience, then designed their processes and systems … and educated their employees … to provide that experience.

What else? Three rules:

  • If something interrupts the flow, what changes is the touchpoint sequence, not the touchpoints themselves.
  • Touchpoints are functionally identical, regardless of the channel. What customers do doesn’t depend on whether they’re using the phone, the web, or a mobile app.
  • Touchpoints might initiate or rely on back-office processes, but they do everything possible to hide those processes so customers don’t know anything about them.

Once you escape the one-dimensional mindset that everything is about cutting costs, creating the appearance of cognition really isn’t all that complicated.

In principle, that is. Making all this work in practice is as difficult as business gets.