Archive for September 5th, 2007

Flashback to Tom Asacker’s Ten Truths. For the full thing, go here. For my favorite parts, however…

“People today are incredulous of marketing, institutions and the media. The only way to suspend disbelief, cut through skepticism and create trust is to act as a real human being and get to the truth. As the sages say: “Words that come from the heart can enter the heart.”

“What the business world needs now is a return to the idea of amateur spirit. Now, it’s probably not the amateur spirit as you may think of it. The definition of amateur has evolved for the worse over the past few hundred years, coming to represent a dabbler or incompetent. The original spirit of amateur was a positive, noble tag to apply to someone (the Latin root for amateur is “amator,” lover). An amateur pursuit was one you did for love, with a spirit of passion and authenticity. And it certainly didn’t imply a lack of skill. Thomas Jefferson was an amateur writer and philosopher when he drafted the Declaration of Independence.

“Organizations – actually the people in them – must recapture this amateur spirit. Not because it is morally right, but because it’s the only way to succeed in a world stunned by scandals and greed-is-good ideology. Ask yourself these simple questions: Do you want customers and employees to come to you first – and stay with you? Do you want them to recommend you to their friends and associates? Then you have to get them to do what? Trust you. And how do you go about doing that in a post-Enron economy? Certainly not by saying, “Trust me.” That kind of talk immediately causes people to put up their defenses. Instead, you must get them to believe! Success today all boils down to belief. “Who should I believe? Who can I believe?” These are the critical questions. You must be believed to have any chance of success.”

“Within the first few seconds of meeting you or being exposed to your communications, your audience will form an impression that is easily reinforced and unlikely to change. They’ll observe your mannerisms, voice, choice of words, etc. and judge whether you are worth listening to. To cut through their innate disbelief – and very short attention span -simply push past your comfort level and be authentic! Amazingly, that’s all there is to it. Simply take off your mask – your title, your expertise, your bureaucratic language and technical jargon – and connect with them with honest, simple, and engaging language. Be on the level. Be moved to candor. Tell them what you believe and what you think. Speak the unspoken.

“Listen to your innocent, inner voice. Be childlike. Speak in a language that is natural, open, and honest. Get rid of all of the hype and toss in a dash of self-deprecating humor. State what you feel in a candid and caring, yet unapologetic way. And never – never – hide anything. People will then believe that you are being straight with them (warts and all), and as a result, you’ll be worthy of their trust.”

“Daniel Boorstin wrote: “The amateur is not afraid to do something for the first time.” And that’s the measure of great artists, great lovers, and great entrepreneurs (not to mention children). To say, “I don’t know.” To ask the hard question that is on your mind (in a soft way). To take risks. To be bold. To state what you are feeling, openly. To admit your weaknesses. To adopt this amateur spirit takes courage and demonstrates your love for – and connects you on an emotional level with – your audience. They’ll believe you. It will demonstrate your trust in them, and your desire to eliminate their fears and their concerns. And it will inspire them and engender trust because it rings true.”

And this:

“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. And it doesn’t take a genius to tell the difference between someone who listens in order to get something, and someone who listens because she cares.”

Pow. Wiz. Bang. Etc.

Have a great Thursday, everyone.

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Don’t worry, this isn’t another post about cycling, so just bear with me for a paragraph or two.

I was riding my bike over Paris Mountain today, when a motorist came up behind me. There were two of us on the road, so we got into single-file to let the guy pass us, but I could tell that he was a bit nervous about passing two cyclists on the now steep and curvy road. Fair enough. Ever the considerate one, I decided to take one of us out of the passing equation, and took advantage of a fast curve to pass my riding buddy and speed on ahead. What followed was a very fun and fairly fast solo descent. As I expected, the car followed. Before every turn, I glanced over my shoulder to see if the driver was able to keep up, and for a minute or two, I spotted him coming out of the previous turn just as I was going into the next one. After a few very fast turns, I completely lost sight of him and focused on keeping the rubber on the road.

I reached the bottom of the mountain and pulled over to wait for my slower, more cautious friend. Less than a minute later, the car appeared, and I watched it slow down about fifty feet from where I was. The driver rolled down his window and started to lean out. My first thought was here we go: This guy is going to yell at me for riding like a maniac, or getting in his way, or wearing too much lycra or whatever.

But he didn’t.

He gave me a very enthusiastic thumbs-up – the kind that shakes up and down – and with a very wide grin, yelled “Wow! That was cool!” … and drove off.

Maybe he was just excited that for once, a cyclist made a point not to get in his way. Maybe he had never seen a cyclist carve his way down a mountain road the way skiers shred their way down snow-covered slopes or surfers carve they way across big waves. Maybe chasing me down the mountain a little faster than he should have was just fun. Or maybe he just enjoyed being in the moment for a few minutes.

Maybe it was a little of everything.

As a cyclist, it was nice to not be a nuisance to a motorist, for once. As a human being, however, the exchange reached down a little deeper. It touched on something that I think connects us all.

I guess there’s something viscerally appealing about going a little too fast. About breaking new ground. About bending the rules. About committing to an insanely steep slope or a really big wave, or monster air. There is something innately liberating and energizing about not playing it safe. About facing your fears. About coming out the other side of the experience with a huge grin on your face and your heart beating in your ears. You find yourself taking slow, powerfully confident breaths. You may still be moving, but your soul is quiet and still. Your mind washes as clear and deep as a Spanish summer sky.

Chasing this kind of moment isn’t for everybody. That’s why most people you know aren’t surfing big waves, or getting dropped off by helicopter on mountaintops, or tackling class V rapids in tiny little 28lb boats.

That’s also why most people you work with aren’t developing the next killer computer ap, or devising the next brilliant business model, or designing the next “it”product.

Some of us are wired differently.

Many people in the business world today – and especially on the marketing and creative end of things – like to talk about “re-writing the rules” and “breaking new ground” and “being rebels.”

Unfortunately, most if it is just that: talk.

In the end, most of us end up toning down our designs. Our ideas. Our business plans.

Why? Probably fear, mostly.

Fear that we might offend. Fear that our work will turn people off. Fear that we’ll lose market share or clients or prestige. Fear that we’ll push the cork just a little too far, a little too soon.

Fear that the client will walk away.

Fear should be the thing that drives you to train harder, fight smarter, race faster. Fear should be our motivation to excel and break new ground. To seek every possible advantage. Fear should make us bold. Fear should push us to the front of the pack, where the cheetahs or coyotes or wolves can’t get to us.

Fear should not paralyze us. Ever. Ever. Ever.

Playing it safe is not an option. It isn’t what we got into this business for. It isn’t why clients and customers came to us in the first place. Playing it safe isn’t what made Elvis the King, or Madonna a pop icon, or iPod a huge commercial success. Playing it safe isn’t what crushed Hitler’s war machine in 1944. It isn’t what broke world records. It isn’t what put men on the moon. It isn’t what cured polio. It isn’t what made anyone fall in love with you.

Whenever I see boring products on a shelf or boring advertising in a magazine, or boring copy, or a boring political platform, I can’t help but roll my eyes and ask why. Seriously. Why? Why bother? Why did someone waste time on this? Why did anyone spend money on this? Why would anyone think that being indistinguishable from anyone else (or just being… unremarkable, period) is even in the realm of good ideas?


Why play it safe? Is it smart to play it safe in love? In war? In politics? In design? In art? In business? In sports? In religion and philosophy? In literature? In our thinking? In our cooking?

Fear is a natural response. Fear is healthy. Fear is what makes us run faster, think better, fight harder, search deeper. Fear should drive innovation. Fear should drive us forward.

Fear should never turn us into cowards.

Everyone loves to talk about being bold and innovative. Everyone wants to puff out their chest and speak of the future as if it were something easily grabbed by the throat and pounded into rightful submission.

Unfortunately, most people (and companies) don’t have the oysters to actually go beyond the yapping phase. (If they did, I wouldn’t be so damn excited every time I run into a company or creative agency that actually puts its money where its mouth is.)

The good news is that I am slowly building a network of awesome, super talented, smart, visionary business people, thinkers, artists and entrepreneurs. They’re out there. I meet or discover new ones almost every day, and that’s pretty damn cool.

The bad news is that even if that very exclusive club grows to be several hundred strong, even several thousand, it will still only be a drop in the proverbial bucket.

The 1% of the 1% of the 1%.

Talk about a minority.

Controversy isn’t the worst thing that could happen to a company. In many ways, it is the very thing a company might need to define itself as a brand. Standing for something. Style. Integrity. Design. User-friendliness. Uncompromising quality. Something.

We owe it to all the kids who graduate from college and find themselves having to work for thankless companies that will waste their talent and rob us of their creativity for years and years and years.

We owe it to ourselves to be the rebels we once hoped we would be. The leaders. The groundbreaking pioneers. The people kids could look up to and get excited about emulating.

I am not saying that you should expect to singlehandedly change the world. (I’m not saying you can’t either.) I’m just saying that you shouldn’t be afraid to try.

And that when you do try, there will be hundreds – no, thousands – of us cheering for you.

And yeah, if the first few attempts don’t work, we’ll be there to help you dust yoursef off until your perseverance pays off. It doesn’t matter if you’re a junior-level media buyer or a product manager or a sales management trainee.

Don’t be a chump. Don’t be a yes man. Don’t get suckered into creating average work or falling in line behind all of the other drones who had your job before you came along.

Playing it safe sucks. It always did.

My best work has always been the result of a decision not to play it safe.

The most memorable moments of my life have come from the exact same place. 😉

Don’t just talk about rewriting the rules. Do it.

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Via OrangeYeti, from AdPulp, here is a little bit of an interview given by Maurice Levy (Publicis Groupe) to Scott Donaton (of Ad Age). If you’ve ever worked for a company that was so set in its ways that it had grown stale, you’ll understand what Levy is talking about:

“I have never stabilized an organization. Crystallizing an organization is freezing the energy. In chemistry, instability is very good because it creates some combinations you don’t expect.”

“Without change, there is fossilization,and that’s the worst thing that can happen.”

“Ideas,are so fragile, so tenuous, that managers must destroy layers that can obscure or damage them. If you have an organization that is too administrative, you are just killing the ideas. As we say in France, when you ask a committee to draw a horse, you get a camel.”

Read the full interview here.

So there you have it: As a business leader, look for flux. Look for tangents. Look for the unexpected. Recruit adventurously. Give your people the freedom and flexibility to contribute in the most personal, passionate of ways. Eliminate silos and procedures when it comes to the sharing of ideas. When it comes to dialogue. When it comes to cooperation. Decentralize “meetings”. Disconstruct the project ideation process. Empower your people to set the stage for extraordinary new products, business improvements, and creative work.

If you can’t trust your people enough to empower them, to literally give them the keys to the place, then you aren’t hiring the right people. Your job as a leader isn’t always to “lead”. Most of the time, because you aren’t there to bark orders or stand over everyone’s shoulder, it is simply to create an environment, an ecosystem, that allows your team, your army, to do the best possible work they can. It is to create a culture that makes them want to be a part of something greater than the sum of their job description. That makes them proud to be, even.

Ideas are fragile.

Without change, organizations die.

These are the two little mantras you should keep chanting every time you pick up the phone, or a magazine, or your TV remote. They should be in the back of your mind every time you shake someone’s hand or invite them to have a seat.

Embrace instability. Welcome change. Engage uncertainty. Welcome the unknown and love it for all of its infinite number of possibilities.

And they truly are infinite.

Chew on that. Have a great Wednesday. 😉

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