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Archive for July, 2006


In response to a discussion started by my friend Francois Gossieaux – Here’s a quick elaboration on my previous post about Peter Drucker’s assertion that “the purpose of a business is to create a customer”:

While one of the functions or objectives of a business is to create customers (as it is to be profitable), it isn’t its purpose.

Its purpose is its reason for being there – which could be to design the best computers on the market, or build the lightest race bike, or create the best search engine in the world, or help people find great deals on flights and book their tickets online.

Semantics. I know. I may be splitting hairs here, but I think that the distinction between business functions and the purpose (or raison d’etre) of a business is important.

Businesses earn and retain customers by being true to their purpose, which is generally to provide either a great product or a great service, or both. When businesses get in trouble is when they stray from their purpose and begin to think mostly (or only) in terms of function: Creating more customers and becoming more profitable. Hence the difference.

I once worked for a company that started out with a purpose (and quickly rose to the very pinnacle of its industry, where it stayed for a couple of decades), but over time, replaced purpose (creating great products, providing the best quality and customer service in the industry) with function (increasing sales and profits). The result:

1) To cut costs, production moved from the US to asia.
2) The company started buying ready-to-build products instead of designing them.
3) Quality took a nose dive.
4) Deliveries became a problem.
5) Customer service took a nose-dive as well.
6) The functionality and specific (branded) look and feel of the products evaporated into thin air.
7) The company, which had always been profitable and relevant by selling superquality products – but no longer did – found itself forced to defend its fading relevance in a market already saturated with low-price “same-as” products. Within a year of the change, its only resort was to start engaging in price wars with other cheap, similar looking asian imports.

Everything that had once made this company the best in its industry (quality, design, dependability, and superior service) shriveled up and died.

Purpose vs. function. Two sides of a coin that MUST be a) clearly defined, and b) balanced as well as possible.

But back to my example: On paper, the business looked good, at first. By lowering its prices, it created a few more customers than it lost. By buying its products for a fraction of the cost of making them, its profits increased.

For anyone looking to make their company’s books look good in the short term, this was a brilliant plan.

In the long run, however, this kind of strategy (or lack thereof) is the kiss of death for a brand.

Could this particular business have balanced its purpose with its objectives? Yes. Of course it could have. (Heck, it should have.) But it didn’t. Why? Because its leadership didn’t understand a) the difference between purpose and function, and b) the importance of having a purpose. A raison d’etre.

This is why creating customers (and being profitable) can’t be the purpose of a business. Function, yes. Objective, yes. Side-effect, definitely. Purpose, nope.

(If that makes any sense.)

Feel free to disagree. ;)

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I’ve been hanging out in the archives again, thanks to Francois, over at Emergence Marketing. Here are some words from the great Peter Drucker on Marketing… and a few observations you are welcome to comment on:

“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two–and only two–basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

I like the second part of that statement a lot, but I business has evolved beyond the first one: The purpose isn’t to create a customer. The purpose of a business is to serve a customer. Or better yet, to earn a customer or to improve the life of a customer. Businesses can create products, markets, trends, technology, industries and lifestyles, but their aim is not to create customers. That would be… I don’t know, a bit conceited.

Don’t create customers. Create for customers.

“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself. “

Amen.

“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”

Maybe not the most important, but definitely the most chronically overlooked.

“Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it.”

That should be a T-shirt or a poster or something.

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The question: “So… if F360 were to buy an ad in the yellow pages, under what category would it fall?”

The answer: “There isn’t really a category for us yet.”

From Gaping Void, via… well, Gaping Void:


Rule #11: Don’t try to stand out from the crowd; avoid crowds altogether.
Your plan for getting your work out there has to be as original as the actual work, perhaps even more so. The work has to create a totally new market. There’s no point trying to do the same thing as 250,000 other young hopefuls, waiting for a miracle. All existing business models are wrong. Find a new one.
Two words: Boo-yah.

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Earlier today, it ocurred to me that I get bored with things pretty easily. Once I’ve mastered a skill, I move on to the next one. Once I’ve enjoyed a product or a brand for a year or two, I am ready for a change. Laptops, fashion, music, TV shows, authors, cars, camera lenses, websites, software, languages, restaurants, coffee shops… I eventually get bored (or curious about something else – however you want to look at it), and move on.

When I realized this, I kind of felt guilty about it. For maybe half a second, I wondered if that made me fickle. But then, I realized that it was perfectly normal.

Some things wear in. Like… a good SLR camera, a good pair of jeans, a pair of Ray Ban aviators, Campagnolo components, friendships, love, a hand-seeded lawn, handed-down recipes, good books, classic songs, a tweed hat, and even furniture – as long as it is at least three times older than you are. (It’s just science.)

Most other things, on the other hand, wear out. Their utility diminishes over time. Case in point: I used to LOVE Starbucks. Really. I did. I was a Starbucks addict. I would go out of my way to go spend $3.50 on a coffee, even though I was never really much of a coffee drinker, just because Starbucks was… well, Starbucks. Fast forward two years, to the here and now: I don’t really care about Starbucks. It’s become the norm. The middle of the bell curve. The boring soft center of the coffee drink industry. It has lost its spark. Its appeal. Its relevance.

A few weeks ago, a Starbucks opened up less than a block away from where my laptop spends most of its day during the week, in arguably what might be the hottest retail space in Greenville, SC, and I haven’t been in yet. It’s within walking distance of where I spend most of my day, but I would rather walk the extra five blocks to get my coffee from the new French place that makes croissants and pains au chocolat that taste like the ones I grew up with. Their coffee isn’t great, but I get to chat in French with the owners, its clientelle is a little more interesting, and the experience has a subtle but unique charm.

The experience at Starbucks, just like the experience at Best Buy or Target or The Gap is always the same. At best, predictably enjoyable, regardless of where I am. Predictably vanilla. Predictably safe. Predictably… uneventful. (Target still manages to stock its shelves with cool stuff, but I am seeing the writing on the wall.)

Suddenly, I find myself un-wowed by the very companies that, just five years ago, were rewriting the rules of their respective industries. When the rebels took over, they stopped being rebels. They became the soft, boring middle. They stopped innovating and started playing things safe. They turned into the exact opposite of what made them successes to begin with. That’s sad.

What scares me a little is that a) these brands don’t seem to be evolving, and b) they aren’t really being replaced by anything better or smarter or cooler. It’s like being in an episode of the Twilight Zone in which the protagonist (me) is stuck in an ecosystem of deja-vu brand experiences.

Scary.

Come on, brand managers. Wow me. Surprise me. Give me something to talk about. Anything. Make me smile and nod my head and say, “yeah, that was pretty cool. That was pretty unique. I can’t wait to tell my friends about this.” The downtown L.A. Standard Hotel did it. The men’s room at Bandera’s (Chicago) did it. Sip in Greenville did it. The Encounter restaurant at LAX did it. The Hudson Hotel’s bar in NYC did it. Believe me: So can you.

Here’s a little something I found on Swamp Fox Insights (via orange yeti) that kind of sheds some light on the whole boredom, ephemeral nature of rebels, innovation, and the big unstoppable wheel of progress. Hopefully, it’ll stir some creative juices… or at least inspire a little necessary mayhem.

“In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed – but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and what did that produce – the cuckoo clock!”

- Orson Welles, as Harry Lime in The Third Man.

“The intersection of diverse cultures sparks intense conflict and creativity. Innovation is a passionate, messy business, not for the faint hearted or the weak minded. (…) The fundamental impulse that sets and keeps the capitalist engine in motion comes from the new consumers, new goods, the new methods of production or transportation, the new markets, the new forms of industrial organization … that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. It is what capitalism consists in and what every capitalist concern has got to live in.”

- Joseph Schumpeter

So there you go. I thought I was fickle, but it turns out that I’m just a capitalist. Eh. Who knew!

PS: If you think that this post echoes Tom Peters’ assertion that Innovation comes from “pissed off people”, you are’t wrong.

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Call me lazy, but instead of writing something insightful for you guys today, I’m going to share some of my favorite finds from my morning’s croissant-induced online browsing.

All quotations courtesy of Pulled Quotes.

On retaining talent:

“One of my favorite cliches is “there is no such thing as indentured servitude”. I use that line to talk about the fact that talent can’t be bought and sold. It must be retained with something more than money.”

Fred Wilson


On finding out what works:

“I have no earthly idea what really works. I don’t know if it’s lunch or that powerpoint or the Christmas card I sent last year. But you know what? You have no clue what works either. I’ll keep experimenting if you will.”


Seth Godin


On why blogs work:

“Bloggers drive blogs, share price drives traditional media. Blogging is personal, traditional media is corporate.”

Mark Cuban


On remembering what creativity really is:

“Creativity is an act of open disobedience against the norms. Creativity is an act of courage.”


Chris Bailey


On innovation, grabbing life by the horns, and not pissing your life away:

“Do things that are gaspworthy.”

That was one of the main messages delivered by Tom Peters, the influential business thinker and management guru, in his speech yesterday at Epsilon’s Integrated Marketing Symposium 2006 at the Quail Lodge in Carmel, CA.

“Do cool stuff that make people gasp,” said Peters, who looked older and angrier than in his “In Search of Excellence Days” (the book he co-authored with Richard Waterman in 1982 that was hailed by NPR as one of the Top Business Books of the Century). “Don’t piss away your life.”

He changed his speech at the last moment after having learning this week that one of his best friends has a terminal illness, Peters said.

Also noted

“Innovation comes “not from market research or focus groups, but from pissed off people.”

DM News


On passion and work:

“Whether you are Jack Welch or the Dalai Lama, it is dangerous not to do what you love. If you don’t have a level of passion that drives your thinking about what you’re doing day in and day out, there will be others out there who are passionate who will overtake and outrun you. People who care will take the initiative away from those who are half-hearted. So loving what you do is a competitive imperative, not simply a nice thing to have.”

Knowledge @ Wharton interviews Mark Thompson and Stewart Emery, co-authors along with Jerry Porras of Success Built to Last


So there you go. Now we’re all on the same wavelength. Have a great Tuesday!

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Instead of looking for new places to defile with a) lousy advertising for b) lousy products, how about this: Leave our toilet paper, our barf bags and our eggs alone.

(What’s next: Sliced bread? Receipts? Utility bills? Stamps? Bar soap? Diapers? Please stop the madness.)

To all advertisers:

(A short letter)

Printing lame “ads” on toilet paper, eggs, and barf bags is spam.

Yeah, spam. (Not advertising.)

It isn’t good, it isn’t effective, and it makes you look bad.

Please stop. You’re embarrassing yourselves, and you’re getting on our collective last nerve.

Sincerely,

People with brains.

Here’s what you do:

a) Stop with the gimmicks.
b) Get back to creating great products (like the companies that don’t need to advertise on eggs, toilet paper and barf bags).
c) Even if you can’t make great products, please find someone who’ll put together some great ads for you. We might not buy your stuff, but at least we’ll be entertained.

THE SPIN ZONE

On a related note, the funniest quotation of the week (and it’s only Monday) comes to us via John Moore’s “Brand Autopsy” blog, and is from Phil Gee (US Airways’ spokesman), explaining US Airway’s decision to sell advertising on their air sickness bags:

“The airsick bag is not used like it was in the past — primarily with turbo-prop aircraft and cabins that weren’t pressurized — so the negative connotation of the sick sack has gone away.”

Phil, if you managed to say that with a straight face, you’re my new hero.

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Michael McDonough
brings us this list of the the top 10 things they never taught him in design school. (Article courtesy of DesignObserver.com via the IdeaFestival blog.)

Why should any of this matter to anyone who isn’t a designer? Because many of his observations apply to other disciplines as well, whether you’re in marketing, PR, brand management, accounting, senior management, engineering or retail. If you love what you do, you will find some great lessons here:

1. Talent is one-third of the success equation.
Talent is important in any profession, but it is no guarantee of success. Hard work and luck are equally important. Hard work means self-discipline and sacrifice. Luck means, among other things, access to power, whether it is social contacts or money or timing. In fact, if you are not very talented, you can still succeed by emphasizing the other two. If you think I am wrong, just look around.

2. 95 percent of any creative profession is shit work.
Only 5 percent is actually, in some simplistic way, fun. In school that is what you focus on; it is 100 percent fun. Tick-tock. In real life, most of the time there is paper work, drafting boring stuff, fact-checking, negotiating, selling, collecting money, paying taxes, and so forth. If you don’t learn to love the boring, aggravating, and stupid parts of your profession and perform them with diligence and care, you will never succeed.

3. If everything is equally important, then nothing is very important.
You hear a lot about details, from “Don’t sweat the details” to “God is in the details.” Both are true, but with a very important explanation: hierarchy. You must decide what is important, and then attend to it first and foremost. Everything is important, yes. But not everything is equally important. A very successful real estate person taught me this. He told me, “Watch King Rat. You’ll get it.”

4. Don’t over-think a problem.
One time when I was in graduate school, the late, great Steven Izenour said to me, after only a week or so into a ten-week problem, “OK, you solved it. Now draw it up.” Every other critic I ever had always tried to complicate and prolong a problem when, in fact, it had already been solved. Designers are obsessive by nature. This was a revelation. Sometimes you just hit it. The thing is done. Move on.

5. Start with what you know; then remove the unknowns.
In design this means “draw what you know.” Start by putting down what you already know and already understand. If you are designing a chair, for example, you know that humans are of predictable height. The seat height, the angle of repose, and the loading requirements can at least be approximated. So draw them. Most students panic when faced with something they do not know and cannot control. Forget about it. Begin at the beginning. Then work on each unknown, solving and removing them one at a time. It is the most important rule of design. In Zen it is expressed as “Be where you are.” It works.

6. Don’t forget your goal.
Definition of a fanatic: Someone who redoubles his effort after forgetting his goal. Students and young designers often approach a problem with insight and brilliance, and subsequently let it slip away in confusion, fear and wasted effort. They forget their goals, and make up new ones as they go along. Original thought is a kind of gift from the gods. Artists know this. “Hold the moment,” they say. “Honor it.” Get your idea down on a slip of paper and tape it up in front of you.

7. When you throw your weight around, you usually fall off balance.
Overconfidence is as bad as no confidence. Be humble in approaching problems. Realize and accept your ignorance, then work diligently to educate yourself out of it. Ask questions. Power – the power to create things and impose them on the world – is a privilege. Do not abuse it, do not underestimate its difficulty, or it will come around and bite you on the ass. The great Karmic wheel, however slowly, turns.

8. The road to hell is paved with good intentions; or, no good deed goes unpunished.
The world is not set up to facilitate the best any more than it is set up to facilitate the worst. It doesn’t depend on brilliance or innovation because if it did, the system would be unpredictable. It requires averages and predictables. So, good deeds and brilliant ideas go against the grain of the social contract almost by definition. They will be challenged and will require enormous effort to succeed. Most fail. Expect to work hard, expect to fail a few times, and expect to be rejected. Our work is like martial arts or military strategy: Never underestimate your opponent. If you believe in excellence, your opponent will pretty much be everything.

9. It all comes down to output.
No matter how cool your computer rendering is, no matter how brilliant your essay is, no matter how fabulous your whatever is, if you can’t output it, distribute it, and make it known, it basically doesn’t exist. Orient yourself to output. Schedule output. Output, output, output. Show Me The Output.

10. The rest of the world counts.
If you hope to accomplish anything, you will inevitably need all of the people you hated in high school. I once attended a very prestigious design school where the idea was “If you are here, you are so important, the rest of the world doesn’t count.” Not a single person from that school that I know of has ever been really successful outside of school. In fact, most are the kind of mid-level management drones and hacks they so despised as students. A suit does not make you a genius. No matter how good your design is, somebody has to construct or manufacture it. Somebody has to insure it. Somebody has to buy it. Respect those people. You need them. Big time.

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I ripped the meat of this post from a brilliant piece over at Logic + Emotion (one of my new favorite blogs). Whether you’re one of those prolific people – some may call you multi-talented or super creative, or just… smart – or have one or two working for you, you owe it yourself to read the entire post and look into these concepts a little deeper. Why? Because there still aren’t very many places where T-shaped creatives can fully unleash their superpowers, allow them to blossom, and infect others.

You have to understand that folks like these are basically the James Bonds of the business world. (Except for the whole debonair seduction bit, the laser watch, and the explosive pen.) They probably aren’t the best at running a business or a department on their own, but when you assign them to a project and a team, their skillset, talents and initiatives increase your creative and operational capabilities to such an extent that you’ll be looking for more of them pronto.

The most creative companies – which should attract folks like this more than most – are typically design studios and ad agencies, but the norm there – just like it is for their less creative corporate brethren – is still to match specific skills with the same positions that have made up their HR-friendly roster for decades: Graphic designers. Copywriters. Web designers. Media planners. In this regard, most creative agencies are creative only when it comes to the work they produce, not in the way they think of their business’ architecture and direction. Most, by design or by accident tend to get bigger instead of getting better.

I’ll say that again: Most companies tend to get bigger instead of getting better.

When a T-shaped generalist shows up on their doorstep, most companies have absolutely no idea what to do with them, and it’s a damn shame for everyone involved. These are the people who typically usher quantum leaps in innovation, creativity, and new business for organizations who invite them to the table.

(Before you send me hate mail, note that I said most, not all. If you are a creative studio or agency and feel that you are one of the few who don’t fall into this category, I would love to hear about what you are doing differently, and how you are finding your T-shaped wonders.)

Anyway. Here’s some of the meat from the piece:

“With consumer behavior evolving toward a more empowered status—the definition of creativity has shifted from one-dimensional skills to a four-dimensional type of creativity that blends logical thinking with creative problem solving. Individuals possessing this “New Creative Mindset” blend Analytical, Expressive, Curious and Sensual qualities into their thinking process. The result is a holistic approach to creativity that is effective across multiple touch points and experiences.


“Can an Information Architect embody this kind of mindset? What about an Account Director? I think as human beings we are all capable of thinking like this. But as designers, communicators, marketers and creators of experiences—for us, it’s even more critical to become multi-dimensional creative thinkers and problem solvers. I’m not the only one talking about this. Tim Brown from IDEO evangelizes “Design Thinking” and “T-shaped People”. Both principles are related. Design Thinking encourages Designers to think past aesthetics and design simple solutions for complex problems. T-shaped people have a core competency but branch out into other areas and can do them well (thus forming a T). And of course there is the new kind of collaboration that comes with this—where we combine people with diverse skill sets who often times speak very different languages but need to come together to make their collective and diverse skills work together.

“(…) So where does this all go from here? If you feel like you fit the bill, you’re probably thinking about how marketable you are right now. And remember, we’re not talking about a “jack of all trades” here. “Creativity 2.E” is not about doing everything and learning every application under the sun. It’s about being curious, empathetic, analytical, insightful and expressive all at the same time. It’s about being willing to do anything to get into the heads of your customer/user. It’s about adopting new tools, techniques and artifacts to help make your case for creating the right kinds of communications, interactions and experiences. So what to do if you’re feeling left out?

“Put that energy into developing an acute sense of curiosity and optimism. Become like a child. Participate in the emerging media. Start a blog, update your site or if you don’t have one—set it up. Dive into the digital social communities and be willing to do what your customers do. Try methodology that you might not ordinarily consider. PowerPoint isn’t just for presentations. Flash isn’t just for motion. Move past boxes, arrows, colors, layouts, charts, funnels, and metrics.”

Read the entire post here.

Quick. Do an inventory of all of the people you know (including yourself). How many T-shaped creatives do you know? (And now for the real question: Why aren’t you working with them?)

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Thanks a bunch to Jackie Huba for pointing us to this great list by Deborah Schultz. It’s a top 10 list of phrases she finds herself repeating over and over again:

10. Yes, but why do I care?
9. I’m sorry but your product/company/feature does not make me go “aHA”, “cool”, “I want that”…yet.
8. Yes, it’s hard, but the devil is in the details.
7. Have you asked your customer’s what they want?
6. The last 20% effort is when things get really interesting?
5. No, real evangelism, buzz and community cannot be manufactured out of thin air.
4. Cultivating impassioned customers for sustainable growth actually takes time.
3. Because they are your customers – you are developing products for their use.
2. It’s a relationship, and relationships take work.
1. Why are you so afraid of your customers?


Jackie’s
addition: “Your control over marketing was lost long ago.” (Yes m’am.)

Mine: “What is the one thing that makes people love you and your products?”

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This is by far the most intriguing political ad I’ve seen in a while – and some pretty sweet copywriting kung fu to boot. (Click here to watch it.)

Thanks to the Creative Generalist blog for the heads-up.

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Chances are that you’ve probably seen this. If not, feast your brains. If so, it’s worth glancing at again. I don’t always agree with Seth, but when he’s right, he’s right. This is a brilliant little piece of work.

(Click here or on the image to read his list of things good marketers know.)

Thanks to Nick Rice for digging it out for us.

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Just in case you hadn’t heard about this yet, fellow Corantonaut Francois Gossieaux gives us a scary heads up about the sudden blog access ban in India. (Yep, today, India closed access to Blogger, Typepad, and Geocities in the name of “fight against terrorism.”)

Per Francois:

“It is a slippery slope when democracies close down information sources in the name of blocking content that is “‘anti-national’ and ‘against public interest’.” But apparently that is exactly what happened in India, with the government blocking access to Blogger, Typepad, Geocities and a list of other sites 21 pages long.”

Maybe India should just ban the internet altogether. And cell phones as well. Why not ban mail while they’re at it?

Screw it. Just ban fire. It’s what started this whole mess anyway.

Gautam Gosh, a respected blogger and HR Professional in India is still able to access his WordPress account, but perhaps not for long. Check for updates there. Maybe this nonsense will go away in a few days.

In related news…

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Have you been by Seth Godin’s blog today? If not, check out his bit on “how to live happily with a great designer.

Here are some of my favorite parts:

“If you want average (mediocre) work, ask for it. Be really clear up front that you want something beyond reproach, that’s in the middle of the road, that will cause no controversy and will echo your competition. It’ll save everyone a lot of time. On the other hand, if you want great work, you’ll need to embrace some simple facts:

“It’s going to offend someone. If it doesn’t offend them, then it will make them nervous. The Vietnam Vets memorial offended a lot of people. The design of Google made plenty of people nervous. Great work from a design team means new work, refreshing and remarkable and bit scary.

“(…) You don’t know a lot about accounting so you don’t backseat drive your accountant. You hired a great designer, please don’t backseat drive here, either.

“(…) Don’t get stressed about your logo. Get very stressed about user interface and product design. And your packaging.”

Amen.

Along the same lines (and if you have time, read Kathy Sierra’s latest piece on design. (Again, here is one of my favorite tidbits:)

“When I travel outside the US (a lot, lately), I keep finding a culture of design. A culture of aesthetics and style that seems natural in that country, but rarer (and often forced) in the US. Here in the US, we have Designers, Artists, Architects, etc…. and then the rest of us.. But in the places I’ve been visiting, those lines are often blurred. Outside the US, the appreciation for–and ability to create–beauty is not just something “left to the professionals.” This design sensitivity/sensibility doesn’t touch everything, but it seems far more pervasive than it does here. And I say this having spent most of my adult life in southern California, where you can’t swing a cat without hitting a design school grad. It’s not our US designers that have gone missing… it’s a culture of design we seem to lack.”

Yep.

A culture (corporate or otherwise) of “just good enough” isn’t much of a culture at all.

Think about it.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about leadership, lately. Particularly, what makes a great leader vs. a lousy one. I’ve known a lot of lousy ones. I can count the great ones on the fingers of one hand. That’s really sad… and a little bit scary.

Back when I was fresh out of college, I enjoyed a brief but unforgetable tour of duty with the French Navy Marines. For the better part of a year, I had eight NCO’s working under me, each with a leadership style of their own. One was a tyrant. Another was a big brother. The rest found themselves somewhere in between. Most of these guys had 10-15 years of experience under their belts. I had three months. Let’s just say that when it comes to leadership training, I could have done a lot worse.

The tyrant didn’t last long with me. He and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on much. He had grown bitter about his career and enjoyed the power he held over his men a little too much. Morale on his team was low. His men weren’t engaged. They all wanted to transfer out to other units. Ironically, he was the one who got transfered after a few months. He was replaced by his second-in-command who ended up making a fantastic squad leader. Before long, requests for transfers ceased altogether, and everything got back on track.

I learned quickly that leadership isn’t about being the boss. It’s about giving your people the tools, the space, the authority, and the support they need to do their jobs. If you have the right people in place and give them all of these things, there is nothing they can’t or won’t accomplish or risk for you. Nothing.

I’ve met my share of lousy and good leaders since then, and I can tell you that the difference between a good leader and a bad one is huge. A bad leader can sink a billion-dollar company with a captive market faster than I can lose my shirt in a crooked poker game. A great one can make a small company with no capital the talk of its industry, and turn a small idea into a cultural phenomenon.

Let me tell you this: Leadership has nothing to do with diplomas or resumes. Our country clubs and executive suites are filled with serial CEO’s who couldn’t lead themselves out of a bunker, much less turn the companies they work for into the successes they were hired to conjure up. Leadership is a gift. A talent. You’re either a great leader or you aren’t. Sometimes, you don’t really know who the leaders are in a crowd until the fit hits the shan, and someone has to step up to save the day. Leaders aren’t always who you would expect.

Being a great leader is as much about character as it is about skill, experience and knowledge. It’s a complicated package. It’s a rare one. Finding one in the crowd can be as difficult as finding gold deep inside dark, damp mountains.

But they’re there, if you know what to look for.

What makes the lousy ones lousy? Here’s a list:

They don’t know how to listen.
They don’t love what they do for a living.
They don’t care about the people who work for them.
They don’t understand the difference between leadership and management.
They think that leadership is best exercised by barking orders.
They love power a little too much.
They inherited their position from Daddy.
They aren’t having any fun anymore.
They refuse to delegate.
They are terrified of making mistakes.
They really, really like the prestige of their position.

What makes the great ones great?

You naturally want to work for them.
They love what they do.
Their vision is both original and unshakable.
To them, failure is just a point on the learning curve, and nothing to be afraid of.
They’re most inspiring one-on-one, over a beer.
They are loyal to their team.
They are naturally curious.
They know when to listen, when to speak, and when to act.

Here’s more on what makes great leaders… well, great (via servant of chaos, by way of Johnnie Moore, originally posted by Lisa Haneberg):

“A leader is most effective when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, his troops will feel they did it themselves.”

- Lao Tzu

And this, from Lisa herself:

“Invisible leadership feels more like doing the best things without yielding power. Invisible leaders influence the system and people by being a partner.

“How do you select, hire, measure, and retain invisible leaders? Now that’s the rub. Well, if they love what they do (and they’d have to) retention is probably not the issue. Finding invisible leaders will take more work and a whole new mindset toward hiring criteria. The behavioral interview, so popular today, might not work to find the best invisible leader.

“Personally, for my next corporate gig, I want a fair wage for what my role is expected to contribute and then NO financial incentives. Hold me accountable – absolutely. Fire me in a heart beat if I do not perform. If I am doing my job as a leader, you will know it – not because I get accolades at meetings or make big and flashy wins. You will know it because the workplace is engaged, on fire, and performing better than you could have imagined.

That last part, the section in bold letters, it pretty much says it all. I’ve seen that magic happen before. I’ve seen it in the Navy. I’ve seen it on the soccer field. I’ve seen it in the corporate world. I’m not sure that a leader should necessarily be invisible, but I’ll settle for one that knows how to empower her people and is wise enough to get out of their way once they start working their magic.

Leaders take their people and their companies where they always wished to go, but would have never dared to on their own.

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Pop quiz: You’re a toilet paper manufacturer, and your sales have been kind of static now for a few months. Your next campaign is going to focus on:

a) Comfort
b) Value
c) Reliability / Trust
d) Product Innovation
e) Sex Appeal / Luxury
f) other

Well, Charmin picked f) other, and decided to have some fun with their brand – and their audience. The result is pretty clever.

Charmin also created a blog that allows visitors to post, comment and vote on – yes, you guessed it – euphemisms for good old number two.

Too bad this campaign was aimed solely at the humor-friendly UK and will probably never make it to the US. (Oh wait… it just did.)

Seriously, though. Considering what toilet paper is for, it isn’t always easy to engage your customers… or get them to talk about you. Do people really talk to each other about how great their toilet paper is? Is there any WOM factor in the toilet paper world? If you are willing to take a few chances, the answer is obviously yes.

I like this ad because it has so many implied toilet-usage references that you have to watch it more than once to get them all. While the ad foesn’t say much about the attributes of Charmin TP, it definitely begs to be watched again and again, which is one of the traits of any great TV ad.

No, if you don’t mind, I have to go… drop the kids off at the pool.

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Desperate Measures

Yesterday, someone uttered these words (with glee) to me over the phone: “We’ve found someone who agreed to design (our entire campaign) pro-bono.”

*sigh*

If the organization were a not-for-profit, I would be the first to nod and clap. We’ve done a ton of pro bono work for non-profits and cool startups with very little capital, and we kind of enjoy it. Call it good karma. (Also call it freedom: When you aren’t really being paid, your own artisitic license carries a lot more weight, often resulting in bolder and more effective designs.)

But this is not a NFPO. This is an event management company with a HUGE contract to produce and market a HUGE event with an illustrious history, right here in Greenville. I can’t, for the life of me, understand why any company in their right mind and with the weight of such a prestigious national event squarely on their shoulders would find it exciting to work with someone desperate enough to work for free. Wasn’t this kind of thing in their budget? I’m quite certain that it was.

I also question what self-respecting design firm or creative agency would agree to take on a project of this scope “pro-bono“. (Sure, the exposure might be great, but… if you have to give your work away in order to get the contract, maybe you ought to find a different line of work.) It isn’t like there’s a shortage of work or clients between Atlanta, Columbia and Charlotte. Giving work away to NFPO’s is one thing. Giving it away to outbid everyone just to add a notch to your belt is lame. It’s also a pretty poor business decision.

Shame. Seriously. Shame. Shame on everyone involved.

The old adage of “you get what you pay for” may very well be pretty hot on everyone’s mind in a couple of months, when this pro-bono work surfaces… Although… I’ll be the first to concede that it might end up looking great. (You never know. It could happen.) But it’s pretty damn unlikely.

It’s a shame too, because Greenville has some pretty kick-ass design talent (aside from F360, check out the “buckets of talent” section in this blog’s sidebar). Between Brains On Fire, Penland, Bounce, Tenth Planet and Fuel, surely, someone could have turned this thing into a work of art without charging obscene amounts of money. (Let’s hope no one from this list is the “We’ll work for free” culprit.)

But back to the client’s state of mind. When you’re looking for someone to design banners and flyers for your tenth grade school dance, pro-bono makes sense. When you’re dealing with the kind of project that can make or break the reputation of a city (and your own), I’m not sure that’s the wisest course of action.

But this could be the exception to the rule. We’ll see.

We’ll revisit this little topic in a few months, when this mysterious pro-bono work surfaces. If it turns out to be great, I will be the first to admit it, and yes, I will devote an entire post to eating crow, at least on the design end of things. (I still think that giving work away for free in this type of instance is ridiculous.) If, on the other hand, the design turns out to be as bad as I expect it to be… well… um… I guess I’ll just shake my head at yet another really, really bad and inexcusable decision from “professional” people who really should have known better, and give everyone my best “I told you so” face.

There’s a big difference between being the lowest bidder, and being the lowest common denominator. Greenville really deserves better than these types of backwoods remedial business deals.

Oh the humanity.

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Okay. Case closed.

(The artist.)

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Every week, I seem to run into an enigmatic billboard ad,so two weeks ago, I started taking photos of them. At first, I thought this one might have had something to do with Ernie Mosteller’s Tangelo Ideas (okay, not really, but I thought he’d get a kick out of it), but Brains On Fire’s Spike Jones figured it out for me in this post. Mystery solved.

I still don’t know what this one was for. (Made me think of fellow Greenville blogger Little Lost Robot, though.)

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My homestead is a year older today. It’s only been a republic for… 217 years, but it’s been around for a really, really long time. If you’ve never heard of France, we’re famous for our bread, our cheese, our food, our landmarks, our museums, our beaches, our ski slopes, our signature bike race, tennis tournament and film festival, our accents (myself excluded), our Legion Etrangere, our spectacular military failures, our revolutions, our street riots, our addiction to football (soccer to some of you), our remarkable history, our literature, our poetry, our guillotine, our fashion designers, our painters, our sculptors, our philosophers, our kings and emperors, our snooty attitude, our bathing habits, our impossible language, our fascination with Jerry Lewis (it’s all true), our peculiar taste in shoes, our cultural chauvinism, our croissants, our cafes, our passion for arguing and complaining, our wines, our bidets, our lovemaking (again, all true), our car races, our beachwear (or lack thereof), our cigarettes, and now our penchant for head-butting.

Cheers to liberty, equality and fraternity. (Or in a pinch, great wine and good friends.)

Vive la France.

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I love this campaign. Love it. It could just as easily focus on branding instead of advertising, but in the case of these examples, the lines between the two get blurred… which is kind of the point.

Kudos to Carmichael Lynch for putting this together.




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