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GenJuice just released its list of Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors, and… through either a) divine intervention, b) a computer glitch, c) a case of mistaken identity or d) a perfectly aimed envelope containing about 300 Pesos, I somehow managed to find myself in 81st place, squeezed between President Obama and American Apparel CEO Dov Charney.

My initial reaction, as you can well imagine:

  1. Wow.
  2. What the hell is going on over at GenJuice? Have those kids lost their minds over there? Did the computer go crazy? What the…

… But as it turns out, the process was completely scientific (as in completely human) and 100% legit. How did GenJuice come up with the list? By asking their audience. So there you go. Don’t blame dimpled chads and glitchy polling booths for this one. From the brains at GenJuice:

Who do you look up to? What movers and shakers take your aspirations to new heights because of everything they achieved? GenJuice spoke with young adults around the world to find out the people they most admire.

Today’s young adults have access to so many research and communication tools and resources thanks to technology, but one thing remains certain: mentorship is an irreplaceable asset for personal and professional growth. This is precisely why GenJuice spoke with young adults and compiled our first Top 100 Most Desirable Mentors. You will find pioneers in policy, technology, entertainment, media, and more.

The result was GenJuice’s list of a 100 most desirable mentors, and through some strange twist of circumstance, my name came up. To get us started, let’s take a quick look at my favorite co-listers in the top 20:

Not a bad start, but it gets better:

… and hotter:

(Update: Congrats to Natalie for now being ‘Academy Award Winner Natalie Portman!’ Well deserved.)

… and now things start to get really interesting:

Unfortunately, the editors of GenJuice stopped posting profile photos outside of the Top 20, but let me list a few more names I plucked out from the back of the plane just now:

21 Chris Anderson (Curator of TED)

23 Steve Jobs (from, you know… Apple)

33 Nelson Mandela (not to be confused with Morgan Freeman, and vis-versa)

40 Mike Shinoda (Linkin Park)

53 Colin Powell (Former Secretary of State)

58 Jack Dorsey (Twitter)

65 Bill Clinton (you know… THE Bill Clinton)

67 Sanjay Gupta (CNN)

80 President Barack Obama

81 Me (owner of Chico the chihuahua)

85 Bono (U2)

94 Brian Solis (who kindly wrote my foreword)

96 Annie Leibovitz (who inspired me to be a photographer)

98 MC Hammer (who inspired me to wear parachute pants)

100 J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter author)

Wait a second… I’m on a list alongside Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela and Bono?!?!? (Not to mention the delicious Academy Award Winner Natalie Portman.)

Best day ever. Thanks, GenJuice!

PS: I think my consulting fees just went up at least $0.03 per day.

Cheers.

… Oh by the way, did I mention I have a book coming out just in time for my spring European tour? You can pre-order it now and everything. I know, crazy:

 

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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 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

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

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

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Via the SwampFox Insights blog:

“The majority of the world’s designers focus all their efforts on developing products and services exclusively for the richest 10% of the world’s customers. Nothing less than a revolution in design is needed to reach the other 90%.”

—Dr. Paul Polak, International Development Enterprises

The man has a point.

Check out this brilliant website.

A lot of people don’t think of “design” as being all that important, because our daily interactions with “design” are limited to gadgets like the iPod or the latest pair of Oakley sunglasses, or maybe a faucet or something. Maybe we think of design when it comes to cars and clothes and furniture. But smart design can also save thousands of lives every day. Yes, something as seemingly superfluous as “design” can change the world. (Starting with the first tool, taking a detour via the wheel, and fast-forwarding to the millions of things we now take for granted, like the plasma TV, the hybrid automobile, the artificial heart, and even the ubiquitous bottle of Coca Cola.

If you aren’t the humanitarian type and couldn’t care less about saving lives, bear in mind that design can also create entirely new markets. (We just talked about getting there before the herd, so your ears should be perking up just about now.)

How can smart design can create new markets? According to this article in the New York Times entitled “Design That Solves Problems for the World’s Poor” (annoying subscription required):

“A billion customers in the world, are waiting for a $2 pair of eyeglasses, a $10 solar lantern and a $100 house.”

For starters.

That’s something to think about. Not in terms of exploitation, but in terms of wealth and opportunity creation. (The development of the easy-to-use, virtually crunch-proof windup $100 laptop – specifically designed to introduce computers and the internet to 3rd world children – is probably among the most ambitious of these types of endeavors, but also a great example of how we can start to create opportunity in regions of the world in which mere survival is still the order of the day.)

While everyone else is trying to appeal to the richest 10%, maybe, just maybe, the real opportunities are elsewhere. Maybe the time to get into these markets is before they even exist. The seeds are being planted now. The herd is starting to gather. Maybe by the time the market exists and the pastures are green and lush, you’ll find yourself in the back again. Maybe you’ll kick yourself in the butt for not having made a move sooner. (History repeats itself.)

What if you could create one of the most lucrative companies of the 21st century AND save tens of thousands of lives at the same time? What if you really could be enormously successful AND help save the world all in one fell swoop? What if you could have your cake and eat it too?

In this economy, perhaps these are questions worth asking yourself – especially if you are a US or Western European manufacturing company looking for a reason to go on.

Don’t even approach the problem from a humanitarian standpoint if you don’t want to. Approach it from a business standpoint. Here’s the problem you need to solve: 90% of the planet’s population wants something that they probably can’t get very easily. All you have to do is figure out what that is, how much they’re willing to pay for it, and how to get it to them. It could be a mode of transportation. It could be a light source. It could be a sanitary product. It could be food. It could be a garment. It could be knowledge. It could be something as simple as a tougher bicycle wheel. It could be anything.

There is no single answer. There are probably thousands upon thousands. And that’s exciting.

Whatever it is, it could also have applications right here, where the richest 10% of the world population lives and eats and shops 24/7/365.

It might even be a better option than trying to become the next Google.

Food for thought.

So… what are you working on right now?

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Seattle, by Olivier Blanchard - 2008

Check out these great bits of advice from Dave Lorenzo’s Career Intensity blog:

“Deciding: ‘Familiarize yourself with common decision-making errors—such as going along with a group choice to maintain cohesion. Watch for tendencies within yourself to commit such errors.’

Leaders make bold decisions. They see them through, and if they aren’t working out, they make new decisions. The worst thing you can do for your career is make no choices or let your choices be made for you. Taking a passive approach to your goals is unlikely to result in success. Even if you make a bad decision, it’s better to mess up and learn from it than to remain stagnant. Failures are great opportunities to learn more about yourself and the world. Move ahead by choosing wisely and boldly.”

(If you’re asking yourself… yeah, cool career advice, but… what does this have to do with branding, hold on. I’m getting to it.)

“It takes someone who believes in herself and her ideas to challenge the status quo. These are the people who shake things up and change them for the better. You don’t have to be contentious to challenge. The best way to suggest changes is not to bash the old ways, but to offer new and positive ideas.

If you are part of a team working on a project that you believe could be going more smoothly, step up and present your ideas. Most likely, everyone will be excited to approach the work from a new angle. And you will begin to earn a reputation for innovation.”

Still not catching on? Okay… Let’s try one more:

“In the famous words of Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge”.

What separates the dazzling winners from everyone else is that they are able to envision a grand future. What turns them into winners is that they are able to leap into that future and do the hard work necessary to make it great.

Particularly for die-hard realists and people who have been trained (by parents, friends, or spouse) to be ‘responsible’ and ‘stable’, indulging in imagination can be difficult. For every idea that’s even mildly revolutionary, a little voice chimes in, ‘Impossible. You can’t do that. That’s stupid. It’ll never work.’ Quiet that voice and spend some time ruminating on your wild, far-out, fanciful ideas. Great leader do things that no one before them has done.”

Still no? Tsssk… Okay. I’ll give you a hint: Substitute “brand” for “career”. Everything that Dave so brilliantly recommends is exactly the kind of advice that you can put to good use in building strong brands – from ‘brand you’ to the next retail darling, iconic consumer good or dazzling web application.

Brands aren’t built in a vacuum. They aren’t built by functionaries. They do not thrive in stagnant bureaucracies. Brands are built by empowered visionaries. Brands are built on enthusiasm, conviction, and courage… Or they are doomed from the start.

You are the heart and soul of the brand you represent and serve. If you want your brand to be a market leader, you must be a leader in your job as well. Your qualities are your brand’s attributes. Your weaknesses are its flaws. Everything you are, everything you do, affects its success and future.

So… don’t ever let anyone turn you into a tool. Challenge everything. Question every assumption. Wage war on routine and bureaucracy. Accept no compromise…

… and read Dave’s blog. It’s a good one.

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Someone sent me this today, and it made me laugh outloud. Funny and clever no matter what your political views.

Also a great little example of the power of a well executed viral campaign. (Even Fox News picked it up!)

Click on the image to see the video.

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Robert Killick on the need for intellectual curiosity and courage in the face of “unknowns” in today’s business leaders:

Risk was once seen as a catalyst for competitiveness, innovation and change in enterprise culture. Now it is seen as a negative barrier to be avoided with all sorts of precautionary measures. ‘Risk consciousness’ is the order of the day, but the preference to always dig up the dark side of humanity betrays a lack of faith in human reason. Curiosity and foolhardiness are often derided as irresponsible and egotistical traits, but the great heroes of the past have taken personal risks that benefit all of us.

Today, research and experimentation that does not have a measurable ‘positive effect’ is seen as irresponsible. Yet it is precisely through experimentation, risk – and, yes, mistakes – that some of the major scientific breakthroughs and technological inventions have come about. Without risky experimentation, and without individuals willing to take those risks in the pursuit of knowledge, we wouldn’t have aeroplanes, penicillin, MRI scans or X-rays.

The ability to handle risk – though technology, human ingenuity, reason and resilience – is a measure of modernity and it can only be achieved through more experimentation, not less. The hard won freedoms to creative expression, communication and to technological innovation should be treasured, and the twenty-first century should be when we take them even further.

Risk-adverse/risk-paralyzed leaders aren’t leaders at all. At best, they are followers promoted or appointed to positions they should have had enough common sense, integrity and professionalism to turn down.

Fact: Leaders “lead.” They take their companies in a specific direction and make sure that course corrections occur as needed along the way. Standing still, ignoring emerging market trends, rewarding business-as-usual strategies, waiting for competitors to make a move before testing the waters, or building protective walls around organizations are not examples of leadership.

No one is advocating making rash decisions of course, but in order for companies to be successful, their leaders must possess certain key personality traits – among them the essential combination of vision, courage and an unbreakable pioneering streak.

Bear this in mine when placing your bets on a company, new boss or potential candidates for an executive-level position.

Have a great week, everyone!

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Great post from Gavin Heaton over at Servant of Chaos this week about the changing face of business management. Gavin mentions an emerging new breed of business leader that might sound a little familiar if you’ve been paying attention to what our little community of Marketing+ bloggers has been talking about these last few years. Check this out:

By far, the most radical transformation will be the one thrust upon us by the generational change that is now under way. With 60 million baby boomers about to be replaced by 60 million Millennials, the workplace will never be the same again. Managing the “knowledge transfer” that needs to take place over the next 5-10 years will be a fundamental responsibility of the Business Designer.

What is a Business Designer, I hear you ask? Per Gavin:

The Business Designer does not sit in a creative studio. Rather, she operates across business units — touching marketing, customer service and new product design. The BD has a finger on the pulse of finance and lives cheek-by-jowl with the legal team. There is the touch of the management consultant in the way that the BD navigates the org chart — but also the fervour of the evangelist. She may be T-shaped. She may be a green egg. But above all, she is an experienced business professional. That’s right — she knows how to get things done.

The BD will perform the important role of “change manager” or perhaps “transformation manager” — for the domino-like changes that will occur in every facet of a business will change the nature of the enterprise. What has been rough and ready in the consumer space will become refined and repeatable in the business world for the BD will select and orchestrate the practices, tools and approaches that correspond with a company’s business strategy. Of course, this will breed a whole new round of innovation in the technology space — we have already begun to see this with Yammer, the business version of Twitter.

And there will be a corresponding transformation in the process of business, and the goals and approaches of groups charged with managing brand touch points. This goes without saying.

What’s the difference between a Business Designer and a traditional business manager? The way I look at it, the difference lies in a handful of subtle yet crucial traits exhibited by this new biz whiz breed:

1. The T-shaped trait: These folks combine a strong mix of Marketing Management and Experience Design, and understand the importance of storytelling, Brand Strategy, and Experience Design. They are gifted strategists with extremely well developed creative, communications and context-building skills. They are intellectually curious, deeply entrepreneurial problem solvers.

2. The Green Egg trait: Process improvement, an eye to new markets and a passion for Innovation are their biggest professional drivers. These folks are agents of change. These are the people who will take your company to the next level in its evolution (if you let them).

3. The “good enough” aversion trait: These folks are way too passionate to tolerate a “good enough” mentality. Their job is about much more than turning a crank and picking up a paycheck. They’re change agents – not for the sake of change, but for the sake of driving to necessary leaps in a business’ evolution.

4. They ideation trait: These folks bubble over with ideas. They sketch a lot. They prototype. They like to test out their ideas. They seek out peers who can help them bring their ideas to life. They tend to be gadget and accessories freaks, even if they only own a few. They are designers at heart, if not technically in practice.

5. The connected trait: These folks have connected with their time. They understand the underlying strategic shifts going on right now that will change the landscape that your company operates in. They are good at connecting the dots: By being plugged-in to the world today in ways that most are not, they can clearly see what the business landscape will look like in two, five and ten years. This gives them the ability to be the architects of your company’s future. You may frown at their interest in social media tools like Twitter, Seesmic, Yammer and Facebook, but these are the tools of their trade: This is how they connect with their peers, with information, and with the shifting tides that will drive the market changes that will either sink or remake your business in the next decade.

Here’s more on that from Gavin:

We are also reaching a certain maturity in the way that marketers work with social media. There are now case studies on the effectiveness of social media, there are tools that help us measure and react to conversations and there are an increasing number of corporate roles for “community managers” or even “directors of social media”.

In this environment, the focus is no longer on learning the tools, but on refining the way that we interact with them. It is about bringing social media into our businesses, integrating it with our other marketing efforts and focusing efforts in a way that deliver business results.

Read the whole post here.

I am glad you brought up the notion of this new type of business leader, Gavin. I’ve been trying to put my finger on this for a few years now. Still not quite there yet… But for those of us living at the intersection of Business Management, User & Community Engagement, Marketing Communications, Product Design, Innovation, and the evolution of Social Media tools, starting to put a name to the thing is way overdue. With most business leaders spending at least 85% of their time turning the crank and making sure their businesses run properly, who is in charge of actually driving the business to its next evolution? Department managers? Sales? The COO? The CMO? 15% or less of a business leader’s day potentially devoted to improving – not just running – their business. Scary. In a rapidly changing world/economy/market, it pays to have at least one person (better yet, a whole team of them) a) focusing on what’s next, and b) getting the business ready for it.

Does the opportunity for such folks exist as a layer between the CEO and the other C-suite execs (CMO, COO, CFO, Manufacturing, Design Engineering, Sales, etc.)  Is the role better suited to function as a team-based cluster of upper-mid-level Business Directors? Perhaps a Brand Czar who provides direction to all departments but answers directly to the CMO? Is there a better name for the role? Can this type of individual force an overhaul of the traditional corporate org chart?

Big tip of the hat for getting that discussion started, my friend.

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Great piece in Psychology Today about the creative personality (hat tip to Hugh MacLeod). I you work with highly creative people – or are one yourself, – then you owe it to yourself to read this. It’ll explain a lot.  😉

Clarification: Creative, is not artistic :

Most of us assume that artists–musicians, writers, poets, painters–are [creative], whereas scientists, politicians, and businesspeople are realists. This may be true in terms of day-to-day routine activities. But when a person begins to work creatively, all bets are off.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s intro:

I have devoted 30 years of research to how creative people live and work, to make more understandable the mysterious process by which they come up with new ideas and new things. Creative individuals are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals. If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it’s complexity. They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an “individual,” each of them is a “multitude.”

One of ten specific examples Mihaly covers is the question of intelligence and creativity:

Creative people tend to be smart yet naive at the same time. How smart they actually are is open to question. It is probably true that what psychologists call the “g factor,” meaning a core of general intelligence, is high among people who make important creative contributions.

The earliest longitudinal study of superior mental abilities, initiated at Stanford University by the psychologist Lewis Terman in 1921, shows rather conclusively that children with very high IQs do well in life, but after a certain point IQ does not seem to be correlated any longer with superior performance in real life. Later studies suggest that the cutoff point is around 120; it might be difficult to do creative work with a lower IQ, but an IQ beyond 120 does not necessarily imply higher creativity

Another way of expressing this dialectic is the contrasting poles of wisdom and childishness. As Howard Gardner remarked in his study of the major creative geniuses of this century, a certain immaturity, both emotional and mental, can go hand in hand with deepest insights. Mozart comes immediately to mind.

Furthermore, people who bring about an acceptable novelty in a domain seem able to use well two opposite ways of thinking: the convergent and the divergent. Convergent thinking is measured by IQ tests, and it involves solving well-defined, rational problems that have one correct answer. Divergent thinking leads to no agreed-upon solution. It involves fluency, or the ability to generate a great quantity of ideas; flexibility, or the ability to switch from one perspective to another; and originality in picking unusual associations of ideas. These are the dimensions of thinking that most creativity tests measure and that most workshops try to enhance. (…)

[Yet] divergent thinking is not much use without the ability to tell a good idea from a bad one, and this selectivity involves convergent thinking.

Other points of note:

Despite the carefree air that many creative people affect, most of them work late into the night and persist when less driven individuals would not.

Creative people have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest. They work long hours, with great concentration, while projecting an aura of freshness and enthusiasm. They control their energy; it’s not ruled by the calendar, the dock, an external schedule. When necessary, they can focus it like a laser beam; when not, creative types immediately recharge their batteries. They consider the rhythm of activity followed by idleness or reflection very important for the success of their work. This is not a bio-rhythm inherited with their genes; it was learned by trial and error as a strategy for achieving their goals.

Creative people combine playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility. There is no question that a playfully light attitude is typical of creative individuals. But this playfulness doesn’t go very far without its antithesis, a quality of doggedness, endurance, perseverance.

Creative people trend to be both extroverted and introverted [while the rest] are usually one or the other. In current psychological research, extroversion and introversion are considered the most stable personality traits that differentiate people from each other and that can be reliably measured. Creative individuals, on the other hand, seem to exhibit both traits simultaneously.

Creative people’s openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment. Most would agree with Rabinow’s words: “Inventors have a low threshold of pain. Things bother them.” A badly designed machine causes pain to an inventive engineer, just as the creative writer is hurt when reading bad prose.

Being alone at the forefront of a discipline also leaves you exposed and vulnerable. Eminence invites criticism and often vicious attacks. When an artist has invested years in making a sculpture, or a scientist in developing a theory, it is devastating if nobody cares.

Deep interest and involvement in obscure subjects often goes unrewarded, or even brings on ridicule. Divergent thinking is often perceived as deviant by the majority, and so the creative person may feel isolated and misunderstood.

Perhaps the most important quality, the one that is most consistently present in all creative individuals, is the ability to enjoy the process of creation for its own sake. Without this trait, poets would give up striving for perfection and would write commercial jingles, economists would work for banks where they would earn at least twice as much as they do at universities, and physicists would stop doing basic research and join industrial laboratories where the conditions are better and the expectations more predictable.

Go here to read the whole thing.

Have a great Friday everyone. 🙂

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From AdPulp’s David Burn:

Want To Put Agencies Out of Business? Make Better Products.

ClickZ had a party on Wednesday night to celebrate 10 years of innovation and excellence in online marketing and advertising.

They invited author and academic Douglas Rushkoff to speak.

Rushkoff exhorted marketers to convince their clients to come up with compelling products. “Teach them how to get back into the business they are in,” he said. “Then you don’t have to make up a story about them.”

I’m attracted to this kind of lofty message. Yet, I can’t help but chuckle. Most agency pros are unable to help their clients grasp the intricacies of marketing communications. Trying to help them reinvent their product or service offerings seems, at least on the surface, an esoteric idea that could only be cooked up in a school.

Not really. While it’s true that most agency pros couldn’t wrap their minds around that concept if a hundred diamond-encrusted Addys were at stake, those of us who have done it know how simple it actually is. Sure, you have to manage a lot of moving parts and you have to live in a lot of different worlds (design, engineering, finance, manufacturing, quality control, marketing, advertising, PR, sales) but it can be done, and done well – at least by certain types of people. Sadly, the business world’s tendency to compartimentalize skills into finite job descriptions (yes, even in ad agency org charts) makes it nigh impossible for anyone with the proper skills to a) market themselves properly, b) capitalize on their talents, and perhaps worst of all c) help their firm and their clients capitalize on those talents.

A firm capable of grasping David’s concept, and putting in place a team of people who know how to do this could make some serious waves over the next few decades – and beyond. Easier said than done? Nope. With a little bit of digging, you could be ready to roll inside of six months at the most.

I tried to explain this to an upper-level honcho at a local creative firm several years ago, and his answer to me was: “We are not – and will never be – in the business of helping our clients develop better products.”

That was probably the most depressing thing I’ve ever heard come out of a creative professional’s mouth – especially since they were in a position to do something really special. But no. The potential I see wasted every day to the lure of the media-buying profit model is astounding. It really is.

You would think that the most creative people in the world would be a bit more imaginative when it comes to monetizing their talents – and maybe a bit more ambitious when it comes to applying their creativity to problems organizations are so desperate to find smart solutions for.

In the end, the product comes first: The message, the creative, the channel and the choice of media don’t mean jack diddles if your product isn’t all that great to begin with.

Paint me blue.

Have a great Friday, everyone.

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From the Brains On Fire blog:

It’s a question we get asked a lot, “Do you have experience working with (fill in the blank)?” Banks or the automotive industry or restaurants or whatever. And I’m not saying it’s a bad question to ask. But I think how creative companies handle the answer is the important part.

As a company, we’ve been around for more than two decades, closing in on three. And in that time, we’ve worked with many, many different companies in many, many different industries and because of that, we have more experience in some industries than others. But I would argue that in some cases, not having any experience in a particular industry can actually be an asset. That’s right, it can be a good thing.

Often you’ll find that after a while, creative companies that specialize in one particular industry stop questioning everything. They think they already have the answers after just a glance. And, even worse, all of their work starts to look the same. I’ve seen this happen with creative companies that specialize in higher education and motor sports, to name a few.

The downside of not having experience is that you have to learn a lot. Nuances. Industry celebs and personalities. The ins-and-outs.

The upside, though, is that you get to approach this new world with a child-like innocence. There are no preconceived notions. No biases. You get to question everything, especially the “because that’s the way we’ve always done it” answers. And as an identity company, we consider this to be a good thing. A great thing, as a matter of fact.

So don’t let the experience question make you stumble. While a lot of people are afraid of it, you can actually use it to your advantage…and then you just have to deliver on it.

I couldn’t agree more.

I have noticed recently that some of the local “marketing” firms (some design websites, others develop collateral like brochures and catalogs… and some do both) have begun to “specialize” in certain areas. Real Estate, for example. It’s actually getting to the point where everything – from layouts to photography to fonts – is indistinguishable from one development to the next, and from one firm to the next, for that matter.

Nothing stands out anymore.

None of the work is all that enticing… which means that the clients aren’t getting their money’s worth.

The work may be pretty in some cases, and the photography may be pretty fly, but it’s all starting to look and feel like copies of copies of copies of copies of copies.

It’s all become very cookie-cutter.

And I can imagine what kinds of conversations are going on between these firms and their clients:

Client: “Hey (firm), can you put something together for (project XYZ)? Just do the same thing you did last time, only… you know. Different. But not too different.”

Great. Change the color scheme, throw in some new photography and architectural art, tweak the bullet points, and voila.

The automotive “experts” are just as bad. Every piece designed for a car dealership looks like the hundreds that came before it. Don’t even get me started on grocery stores, restaurants, and most retailers.

Because they’ve done it hundreds of times before, and for dozens of clients, they become specialists in “real estate marketing” or “grocery store marketing” or whatever. And their stuff sucks. It’s stale. It’s beyond derivative.

And that makes it grossly ineffective.

Still, the reflex for many companies is to continue to call upon these firms to produce yet another bland and forgettable campaign. Why? Because they market themselves as having a lot of experience in a specific industry, the logical conclusion to be drawn is that because of that specific experience, they are the most qualified to get the best results. That is the sort of flawed logic that gets businesses in trouble.

To be fair, I see the death of creativity in my own work when I get sucked into a particular niche for too long: There are only so many triathlon/cycling/running-related clients I can work with before the work I put out all starts to look or feel or sound the same. It isn’t an issue of talent or lack thereof. It’s an issue of inspiration and curiosity and freshness. Just like a financial portfolio, a Marketer’s creative portfolio must be as diversified as possible in order to be remain effective.

As a marketer or a creative, if your job is to help people discover a product or a brand, you have to go through the process of discovery yourself. The excitement of this discovery has to be fresh in your mind. You have to come from a position of relative ignorance in order to be able to ask the right questions. (The questions that someone who lives in that world or industry hasn’t thought to ask in years, if ever.) If you spend too much time hanging out in the same place, your creativity becomes stagnant. You start to run out of ideas. Your work starts looking bland.

Creating great work for clients can’t just be a business process: Fill in the blanks. Select color & font. Plug in images. Print. It shouldn’t feel routine. Ever.

On our end (F360), the last thing we want is to land another gym or personal trainer. We already have several on our client list, and we value the work we do for them way too much to start gravitating towards a specialization in that market. The same goes with sports apparel, business services, and medical offices. (But hey, we’re still relatively innocent and fresh when it comes to banks and restaurants, so feel free to bring it on next month when we open the books again and start taking on new projects and clients!) ;D

The point is that as young and small as we are as a company, we already understand that our value to our clients comes from our ability to approach every project with fresh ideas. Specialization would be the death of us, as it is the death of great creative work for any agency, firm or studio. I’m not sure why so many firms haven’t really figured that out. (Maybe it’s because there seems to be an endless supply of businesses out there that don’t know any better and fall into the “market specialist” trap.)

Know-how and the ability to do do the same thing over and over and over again with a consistent level of performance is great if you’re assembling widgets in a production plant, or if you’re processing insurance claims. It’s also great if you’re a cashier at Wal-Mart or a bean counter on a farm or an auto mechanic or maybe even a cosmetic surgeon. It isn’t so great when your job is to help your client stand out and be noticed. When your job is to help them get curb appeal, or sex appeal, or whatever kind of appeal. Why? Because when the quality and effectiveness of your work depend on your ability to continually re-invent both your visual style and your copywriting style in order to enhance the way that your clients interact with the public, you cannot get sucked into a cycle of derivative repetition.

It doesn’t really matter how many brochures for hotels or hospitals or car dealerships, or home builders you’ve designed. If that is primarily what you do, if that is primarily what you have been doing for the last few years, you’re already on auto-pilot. You are simply serving the same dish over and over again to a different clientelle. It may have been the best dish in the world once, but now that everyone’s had a taste, it’s as good as dead.

And there is absolutely no value in that. None. Zip. Nada.

And shame on your clients for not knowing any better.

When it comes to businesses whose job it is to develop effective creative, what you want them to specialize in isn’t your industry or business. What you want them to specialize in is asking the right questions. Having the ability to immerse themselves into your world. Quickly understanding what your strengths and weaknesses are. Translating what makes you unique and relevant into ideas and campaigns that will actually generate business for you. And doing so with panache and skill, and razor-sharp precision.

Trust me when I tell you that the last thing you need is a brochure or catalog or website that is almost indistinguishable from your competitors’.

That should be a no-brainer, but not everyone gets it.

I guess maybe the reason why this post may have turned into a rant is that seeing bad print ads, boring catalogs and poorly designed websites makes me sad. No… it makes me angry. Well… both. And here’s why:

I just went into a fantastic restaurant last week and finally discovered how great it was. I mean… I LOVE it. The food, the service, the setting – the price even – are all great. But it took me two years to finally try it out it because its print ads and website SUCK. I knew where it was. I had an understanding of what it did. I drove by it several times per week. But its marketing actually made me put off going there.

Let me say this again: Its marketing (print ads) were so bad, that they actually turned me off from the place.

That’s pretty bad.

The lesson: Average websites, business cards, catalogs, brochures, event posters, press releases, packaging, print ads, radio ads and TV ads can and do actually hurt businesses. Bad ones can even kill businesses before they ever have a chance to get off the ground.

There are several business like this in my zipcode: Great little businesses. Remarkable in many ways. In spite of the great WOM they generate, their lousy ads put people off. Which makes me wonder – You can sue a doctor, a plumber or a lawyer for negligence, but you can’t sue a Marketer for hurting their clients by creating crappy ads and boring websites? Tsssk.

Marketing, PR, Advertising and Branding professionals who produce boring cookie-cutter work and proclaim themselves “nitch” marketers or “specialty” marketers very often end up hurting their clients. And silly hypothetical lawsuits aside, that is something worth getting angry about. Very angry.

So the point of this post is this: Next time you’re in the market for a new website, a new brochure, a new print ad or a new marketing campaign, think twice before hiring the guy who has done the exact same type of work for at least a dozen clients in your industry. Yeah, he may have “experience” with your market, but experience working with your competitors is completely irrelevant in this line of work. Chances are that he won’t contribute anything remarkable to your brand, and that isn’t good.

Some of the most brilliant and effective marketing-related work I have seen in my short career has come from project teams with broad market experience rather than deep experience in a specific field. We aren’t talking about Sales management here. This is a completely different kind of animal – one fed by a cross-pollination of ideas and market cultures, combined with an eagerness to discover and assimilate every aspect of the client and his/her universe.

Cross-pollination of styles and ideas and cultures. Fresh points of view. Excitement. Those are the things you should be looking for in a Marketing firm. Great work doesn’t come from having spent twenty years doing the exact same thing over and over again. It comes from having spent twenty years producing great, original, groundbreaking, exciting work across a BROAD range of industries and markets.

It comes from not having allowed yourself to get pigeon-holed into a single industry.

I once worked for a company whose engineers and sales people had been trying to solve a problem for close to thirty years. These were smart people. No one in their industry had as much experience as they did. Not collectively or individually. They were their industry’s heart and soul. Yet, they could not solve this problem… and they had all but given up on ever solving it.

Then they hired a marketing guy with zero engineering skills, and almost no experience with their industry. One day, he tackled their problem by asking a simple question: “Hey, why don’t we try doing XYZ?”

Lo and behold, XYZ worked.

Thirty years and all of the experience in the world: Zero.

New guy with a fresh outlook: Score.

Remarkable, groundbreaking and enormously successful campaigns usually come from new guys with fresh outlooks – not the old guys who’ve been sitting at the same desk, talking to the same people, and parking their car in the same spot for thirty years.

I won’t go as far as to say that industry-specific experience is overrated, but… well… in some cases – like selecting a marketing firm – yeah,it kind of is.

Have a great Monday, everyone. 😉

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