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Archive for the ‘denial’ Category

unlearn

Yesterday, we talked a little bit about the value of talent vs. the value of experience, and we established, thanks to Shunryu Suzuki, that “in the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind, there are few”. Today, let’s look at experience a little bit – particularly the concept of experts. Here’s a little something from David Armano:

If the “expert” label gets thrown my way, I don’t give it much thought. It’s just a label that helps people wrap their heads around something abstract to make it more concrete. Sometimes we need to categorize in order to make sense of things.

The thing is, I’ll never see myself as an expert.

You might think that’s humbling. I only wish I were that humble. I’ll never see myself as an expert, because once you’ve convinced yourself that you are one—that’s the moment your ability to see the world differently begins to decline. Expert eyes know what to look for. They can also be the eyes that miss the most obvious insights which lead to the most elegant of solutions.

Read Dave’s entire post here, and watch this killer presentation.

My kids aren’t experts at anything, yet the complete absence of bullshit inside their brains allows them to see things more clearly than industry execs with 30 years of experience, and spell out the obvious better than any contributing analyst on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News combined. Go figure. The wisdom of children, which we have a tendency to patronize a little too much these days, is often as surprisingly spot-on as their honesty is refreshing. This leads me to believe that perhaps the least valuable thing anyone can be is an expert. At anything.

Here’s more from David:

I believe that when you know too much—it takes away from your creativity and your ability to see things from different perspectives. I’ve been thinking about this quite it bit. I’ve been having mixed feelings regarding the specialized degrees that are being marketed to us, promising to turn us into design thinkers, creative strategists etc. Steve Jobs, the original design thinker was a college drop out. What does this tell us?

I’m happy to see the business world take creative problem solving seriously and I’m certainly not against higher education or any of the new programs. But I’m also wary of what happens when we perceive ourselves as experts who have been trained in the black art of [insert profession here].

The most brilliant ideas I’ve seen in the market, as well as some of the most inspired designs and solutions I have been fortunate to be a part of, didn’t come from a roundtable of experts with a century of combined specialized experience. They came from the most junior people on the team. They came from every day users. They came more from inspired play than nose-to-the-grindstone work. It’s almost a cliche these days, yet it is still the exception rather than the rule.

Don’t believe me? Okay, think about this: Ten years ago, the expert was Nescafe, not Starbucks. Look around. How valuable is expertise these days? The business world is changing so fast, anyone who takes the time to become an expert at anything is bound to be outpaced inside of 6 months. Unless you’re an expert in sub-Saharan survival or antique typewriter repair, you’re pretty much done for.

Ask me how many PR “experts” with decades of practical experience I know who have absolutely no clue how to use social media (or why this doesn’t bode well for their “expert” status).

How many very well paid “experts” thought they had it all figured out on Wall Street and Detroit just twelve short months ago?

Who are the experts now?

Why in the world would anyone want to be caught dead anywhere near that kind of label?

So… Again, the argument of experience vs. talent yesterday. Worth talking about with your friends and colleagues next time you’re out having drinks… or coffee… or croissants.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

– Steve Jobs

Next time an HR manager tells you that you didn’t get the job because you don’t have enough experience I guess they would have preferred more “expertise”), do me a favor: Try not to laugh.

Have a great Thursday, everyone. 🙂

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“So I was wondering, what is that exact point where a company stops caring? Stops paying attention to their customers? Stops with the phenomenal customer service? Is it when they reach a certain sales figure? A certain number of employees?”


These were some of the pertinent questions posed by Brains On Fire’s resident firestarter Spike Jones some time ago.

This is too big a topic to try to cover in only one post, but the least I can do is to try and get the discussion started. Here is a short list of what you might call purple cow killers. These business diseases can strike a perfectly cool little company with quasi-infinite potential, and turn it into a bumbling corporate flunkie faster than you can say “I.P.O.”:

1) Routine

People lose their passion for things they love when those things become routine. Think about it. Your first day at a new job. Your first drive in a new car. The first time you see a good movie. A first kiss. Everything is exciting at first… but then you eventually get jaded. The excitement wanes. You lose some of your passion. Details become someone else’s problem. So do your products. So do your customers. Deny it all you want, it’s true… and it’s inevitable unless you do something about it.

The trick is to keep the fire burning by keeping things fresh. If routine is a passion-killer, then build a corporate ecosystem that actively fights routine. Easier said than done? Nope. Quite the contrary. (But that’s a topic for another day.)

2) Bureaucracy

The bigger you get, the more you start to rely on procedures. The more you start to say things like “no” and “can’t” and “we’ll have to charge you extra for that”. The harder it becomes for the people at the top of your organization to stay in direct contact with their customers. That’s bad. It shouldn’t take thirty minutes for a customer to get a return authorization. It shouldn’t take seven transfers to get a product manager on the phone. Nobody should ever get the runaround. Ever.

Bureaucracies slow things down and build walls between employees and between you and your customers. As you grow, take the time to develop systems that overcome this problem. Again, this isn’t hard, but you can’t let these things fall to chance. You have to be just as proactive in building your company’s structure as you are in building its markets.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that a company isn’t a building or a logo or a set of rules. A company is always, first and foremost, a group of people united to pursue a common interest. And while you may not think of it that way, this applies to your employees as well as your customers. As a business leader, one of your jobs is to make sure these people are all connected. If your organization disconnects them from one another, you are majorly shooting yourself in the foot.

3) Comfort

If you’ve only worked on the agency side of the business, chances are that you’ve never heard these dreaded words: “We’ve been doing things this way for ____ years, and we’ve been successful at it, so there’s no reason to change.”

(Nails on a chalkboard.)

Yeah, well, in the wise words of Jack Spade, “Never believe anything you’ve done is successful.” The minute you do, you’re dead. End of story. In business, getting comfortable = getting lazy.

Reality check: Markets change. Technologies and tastes change. People grow old and younger ones take their place. Renewal = relevance. Even old-school luxury houses like Bentley and Cartier have adapted to new markets. (If you don’t believe me, watch MTV sometime.)

If you don’t constantly question what you could do better or where you might go next, you’re done. Period.

4) Nepotism

It’s natural to want to surround yourself with people you know and trust. It’s another thing altogether to promote buddies and family members to positions they are neither qualified for, nor passionate about.

Furthermore, while surrounding yourself with people who won’t ever challenge you might be a nice ego boost, it is certainly no way to keep your company moving in any kind of direction.

If all your key managers are passionate about are their 401K plans and their annual retreats to Tahiti, then it’s no surprise that your company has lost its focus.

5) Fear

“Show me a guy who’s afraid to look bad, and I’ll show you a guy you can beat every time.” (Lou Brock)

Yep.

The older you get, the less chances you are likely to take with your career. The larger your company is, the less likely you are to risk screwing something up.

Too much to lose, you see.

So you stop taking chances. You start worrying about what your “competitors” are doing. Instead of leading them, you let them lead you. Next thing you know, you’ve exported all of your production power to China, your quality takes a dive, your customer service is anything but, every bit of talent you ever managed to hire has walked out on you, and you find yourself on the losing end of a price war. Other than just plain dishonesty, that’s how great companies fail.

Well, bollocks. Playing it “safe” is the fastest way to screw yourself over. (And your customers.)

If you don’t have the huevos to stretch the boundaries now and again, to be an innovator, a pioneer, and to sometimes be okay with making some people really hate your latest product, then you need to find another occupation. Being a leader isn’t about staying put. It’s about… well, leading.

6) Denial

Most companies who don’t get it think that they do get it. That’s the tragedy. Once your distribution channels are well-developed, once you have thousands of active accounts, once you’ve been a market leader for twenty, thirty, forty years, the sheer momentum of your growth can carry you into another decade or two. As long as your growth closely matches whatever opportune economic indicator you are following, things might look pretty decent.

You might be under the delusion that you have it all figured out.

So what if you haven’t actually spoken to a customer in twenty years? So what if you don’t even bother to use your own products anymore? So what if you’ve chased away companies that could have become your partners in a number of cool ventures, and they went to your competitors instead? So what if your best people are quitting, one after the other? So what if you have absolutely no idea what people are saying about your products, about your customer service, about your company, about your leadership?

No news is good news, right?

Right?

*sigh*

How do we end up in sad little places like this? Really. You’d think that by now, we’d ALL know better. Tsk.

Before I get back to work, I’ll leave you with another Jack Spade favorite:

“The bigger you get, the smaller you should act.”

Every C.E.O. on the planet should be required to recite that line a hundred times every morning before they even get to their desk. (Let me propose a UN resolution. Do I hear a yay?)

To leave comments (and read previous, related posts) hit the brandbuilder’s main page.

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This, from AdPulp‘s David Burn:

“Scott Donaton, Publisher of Advertising Age, wanted sparks to fly from the panel he moderated in Cannes last week. Instead, he could barely muster enough smoke to smudge an industry wallowing in denial.

‘Here’s what we learned at the high-powered Cannes Debate panel on agency reinvention, which I moderated during last week’s International Advertising Festival: next to nothing.

‘Here’s what that means: The ad business has a bigger problem than it realizes. Because its leaders refuse to share real learnings and best practices, or to discuss the frustrations they face in reinventing their legacy businesses, there’s little chance of harnessing their collective wisdom to benefit the industry. Which means each player within it has to keep trying to figure it out on their own. That’s a shame.’

I can’t help but smile at this scenario. We work in an industry dedicated to passing off utter bullshit as something wholesome and worthy of the customer’s time. Then we go to fancy gatherings in France to celebrate our best bullshit from the preceeding year. Meanwhile the emperor stands alone and naked. Personlly, I’m glad. The brave and the few will move forward from this low point and create better work. As it should be. As for the rest, who really cares?”
Pow. Which raises a pretty serious question I find myself asking on a quasi-daily basis: How do you change a culture (within a company or an entire industry) that a) doesn’t want to change, or b) knows it should change but isn’t willing to actually do what it takes to make it happen?
I am reminded of the old saying: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”
*sigh*

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