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Archive for the ‘innovation’ Category

“Making it work” : Lessons from the real world of “do or die.”

Sometimes, even the best laid plans just go awry.

Call them cliche, but those sayings about finding the silver lining and making lemonade when life hands you lemons, they aren’t just hot air.

When I was in the French Fusiliers Marins, the unspoken motto, the underlying mission imperative was always “make it work.”

The intelligence is wrong? It doesn’t matter. Make it work.

The insertion routes are compromised? It doesn’t matter. Make it work.

You got dropped 15 miles off target? It doesn’t matter. Make it work.

Nobody ever had to say it. Nobody ever had to bark the order. From day one of training, it was pounded into us:

Make it work.

Make it happen.

Find a way.

(If you don’t, people will die.)

The first officer I served under, 1st Lieutenant Rannou, had a saying: “There are no problems. Only solutions.”

He was right.

Sometimes, everything just clicks and works perfectly the first time. You don’t have to do a thing. You might as well be on autopilot: From start to finish, your project, your law suit, your surgery, your product launch, your hostage rescue mission, your ad campaign, your theater production, it all goes well. The planets are aligned. The cosmos is on your side. Everything goes so smoothly that you wonder if you aren’t dreaming.

Most of the time though, things don’t go your way. The unexpected happens. Gremlins. Ghosts in the machine. Flies in the soup. Whatever. The cosmos has a way of throwing obstacles your way at the most inopportune times.

That’s just a given.

A butterfly beats its wings in Buenos Aires, and a week later, your stamp machines in Taiwan are down for a month.

A health crisis in East Africa forces the cargo ship carrying the first shipment of your brand new product to spend three extra weeks at sea.

Your new boss is an self-serving imbecile.

Or in the case of teammate Jay Hewitt (photo above), you lay your bike down going 30mph at mile 51 of a Half-Ironman distance triathlon.

What do you do?

No… really. What do you do?

Murphy’s law isn’t an anecdote. It’s an engine of predictability. Use it.

Let me take a quick break from the full list of mishaps and just say that – in case you hadn’t guessed – skin + gritty pavement + speed don’t feel great.

Imagine getting thrown out of a car moving at 30mph, wearing nothing but your underwear.

Not fun.

Now imagine brushing yourself off, getting back on your bike, finishing the ride as fast as you can, switching out the cartridge in your insulin pump, and then completing a very fast half marathon.

Why? Because no matter what happens, there’s still a finish line to cross. A reputation to preserve. A project to complete. A movie to finish shooting. A new product to launch. An essential part to manufacture.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a military officer, a product manager, a movie director, a chef, a fashion designer, a newspaper editor or a CMO. This is something you can be absolutely certain of: Though sometimes, everything will click and flow smoothly as if by divine intervention, most of the time, obstacle after obstacle will get between you and your goal.

Call it Murphy’s Law. Call it whatever you want. It’s just life.

And in real life, shit happens. No matter what you do, something almost always goes wrong.

The more complicated or ambitious your endeavor, the more likely it is that obstacles will find a way to get between you and that golden finish line. Expect that. Plan for it. Train for it.

Heck, embrace it.

You might as well.

Still, I notice that most people freak out when their plan goes awry. They panic. They lose their cool. They suddenly find themselves feeling… lost. They make everything come to a grinding halt while they regroup.

Why?

Poor planning. Lack of training. They didn’t take the time to plan for failure. They didn’t think to come up with contingency plans.

Most of the time though, it just comes down to one simple thing: Lack of experience.

So for those of you who don’t quite know how to manage cool, crazy, ambitious projects, here’s a little bit of advice:

The Ten Basic Rules of Project Management

Rule #1: Never expect things to work right the first time. (If they do, great.  Just don’t expect them to.)

Rule #2: Expect everything to take at least twice as long as you know they should.

Rule #3: Expect the unexpected.

Rule #4: When everything is going well, worry. (You probably missed something.)

Rule #5: Find out what doesn’t work before your customers do. (That’s what prototypes are for.)

Rule #6: You learn more from how and why a product fails than how and why it works the way you expect it to. (So push your prototypes to failure as often and in as many different ways as possible.)

Rule #7: “Design By Committee” never works.

Rule #8: Trust your instincts.

Rule #9: Listen to the people who will use your product. Their opinion matters more than anyone else’s.

Rule #10: Have fun.

Why experience matters: A simple list.

Back to Jay: Jay has crashed in races before. Jay knows how broken bones feel. Jay knows that even with no skin on his shoulder, he can keep racing. He’s been there. He’s done that. He has already faced and concquered pretty-much every obstacle in the book when it comes to endurance racing. As a result, when problems happen, his resolution time is almost instantaneous. He doesn’t have to spend thirty minutes wondering if he’s badly hurt or just in pain. He doesn’t have to seek professional advice. He doesn’t have to weigh the pros and cons of anything. Knowing where he stands allows him to make the right decision in the blink of an eye: Keep going.

Experience builds confidence. Experience breeds forethought and insight. Experience takes doubt, uncertainty, and fear out of the equation. Jay knows that if he crashes, he can probably still finish the race. He knows how to fix a flat. He knows how to repair a broken chain. He knows a dozen ways to fix problems on his bike or with his body, and the ones he doesn’t know how to fix, he can probably improvise if need be.

There are no problems. Only solutions.

Simple enough.

More often than not, projects that appear to have gone smoothly from the outside didn’t go smoothly at all. Every day brought a new hurdle. Hundreds of fires had to be put out. Thousands of split-second decisions had to be made. Course adjustments. Quick fixes. A folder-full of improvised solutions. Personel changes. Vendor replacements. Timeline adjustments. Budget attrition. Whatever. The list never stops growing.

That’s how it really works.

Perfect illustration: Below is Jay at the finish. From the right side, he looks fine. His injuries are out of sight. He looks like a guy who just breezed through a Half Ironman the way most of us breeze through a Taco bell drivethrough.

To an outsider, a bystander, he had a flawless, fun race.

To someone with inside knowledge, he finished despite a horrible bike accident that could have cost him a whole lot more than another medal.

He crashed. He got up. He quickly assessed the situation. He got back on his bike. He finished the race. He added the experience to his knowledge bank.

He made it happen.

If that doesn’t perfectly illustrate the way a project is driven forward, I don’t know what does.


Project manager. Triathlete. Adventure Racer. Creative Director. Platoon Leader. Customer Service Rep. Design Engineer. Toolmaker. Sous-Chef. Football Coach. It’s all the same.

Project/Program Managers are wired differently. Hire and promote with that in mind.

Great project managers aren’t just natural multi-taskers. They’re also natural strategic masterminds. Improvisation kings (and queens). Crisis jugglers. Fearless creative acrobats. Their job (their nature) is to constantly find and implement solutions to problems, foreseen and not. Their job is to embrace hurdles and obstacles, because each one brings them one step closer to their goal. They thrive on making things happen. The more untraveled the road, the better. The more complex the gameboard, the better.

It takes a special kind of person to be able to a) do that kind of work well, and b) love every minute of it.

It isn’t for everybody.

Excuses and blame don’t exist in our little world. Neither does bullshit. At the end of the day, there’s only what you did and what you didn’t do.

Sometimes, even the best laid plans just go awry.

For most people, that’s not a good thing…

…and for some of us, that’s when the real fun begins. (And we do like our fun.)

Have a great weekend, everyone. 🙂

(Hat tip to Tamsen McMahon/@tamadear at Sametz Blackstone for pointing out that this should be a manifesto and not a primer)

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You’re always in beta. Always. If you think you aren’t, you’re already falling behind and bleeding relevance.

What does being in Beta mean? It means being in perpetual test mode. It means constantly asking “how could I do this better,” even when this worked just fine. How can I listen better? How could I improve customer service? How can I make my billing process smoother? How could we improve the UI/UX of our websites? How can I engage my user community even better? How could this brochure have been better?

I know what you’re thinking: Poor kid. He’s terminally obsessive-compulsive. 😀 (Actually, I’m just compulsive, not obsessive, but that’s a topic for another day.)

The point is this: The moment you start thinking that you have found the perfect model, the second you start adopting a “let’s not change anything” mentality, you’re screwed. The “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” saying I hear a lot in the South is may have been pretty good advice a hundred years ago, but it isn’t anymore. Not if you want your company to stay competitive. Not if you want to see your company grow. Not if you want to see chronic improvement in everything you do.

Check out today’s video if you haven’t already. And if it doesn’t launch for you, go watch it here. (Thanks, Viddler!)

Interestingly, the “you’re always in Beta” mindset that I am talking about today seriously reminds me of the mindset athletes and coaches get into when it comes to improving performance. Say you’re currently a 24:00 5K runner, and you want to relive your college glory days by running an 18:00 5K a year from now. How do you do it? Simple: By stressing your system one little bit at a time. By challenging your comfort zone with every run. Going from 24:00 to 23:55, then 23:50, then 23:45 for the same distance, and so on. Turning up the heat and the intensity for a few weeks, then giving your body a chance to adapt. To plateau. And then starting over with a new cycle of stress and adaptation followed by a rest period. During that time, you are constantly testing your boundaries, monitoring success and failure, learning what works and what doesn’t. (And yes, measuring your progress to know what works and what doesn’t.) Pretty basic stuff.

The alternative would be to keep running the same 5K route every day at the exact same speed, in the exact same way. What would happen? Well, you would become pretty good at running a 5K  in 24:00. Comfortable? Sure. But whatever happened to improvement? See where I am going with this?

Okay, now let’s complicate things a little bit:

As a triathlete, training and competing in what essentially amounts to three sports (swimming, cycling and running) adds some pretty substantial layers of complexity. Not only do I have to figure out how to train for three specific sports, but I have to figure out how to combine and integrate all three in a way that doesn’t lead to injury or burnout. I also have to fit all three in my already busy schedule. Then I have to consider how to time my training cycles to coincide with specific races. In addition, I have to incorporate changes in nutrition and hydration based on my workouts, my training mode, outside temperatures, etc. And if I get into my head that I am going to train for a marathon, half Ironman or full-on mac-daddy Ironman, all of these variables take on a level of complexity I can’t even begin to explain in one blog post. How much Gatorade should I drink per hour in 94 degree temperatures at 80% of my maximum heart rate? How many energy gels can I absorb per hour without getting sick to my stomach? What cadence should I adopt to sustain an average speed of 21mph for 112 miles? Only one way to find out: Test it.

And I haven’t even talked about gear. Will the improved aerodynamics gained from dropping my aerobars down 2 millimeters shave 20 seconds off my 40K time? Maybe… but as a result, will my upper body’s new angle offset my hip angle enough to reduce my power output or stress my hip flexors enough that I will start cramping up 5 miles into the run? How will I find out? There’s only one way: Getting out there and testing that theory. It’s clipboard and stopwatch time for the next six weeks.

Should I go with a disc wheel or a deep dish rim for my next race? How will I know which works better for me on a moderately hilly course in 15mph crosswinds? Only one way: I have to go test each wheel configuration on a variety of courses in completely different wind conditions. Then I’ll know what works best in specific course conditions.

Rear-mounted bottle-cages or frame-mounted? Aero helmet or regular helmet? Motion control shoes or racing flats? Test test test test test. You get the picture.

Call it an occupational benefit or a pre-existing condition, but being a triathlete kind of trains you to be in a perpetual Beta mindset. And it isn’t a stretch to jump from the world of competitive endurance sports to the world of business performance. Different application, but same principles and same basic methodology: Ask, test, observe, validate, learn, repeat.

But before you do all this – the testing, the experimentation, the analysis and learning and adaptation – you have to make a choice. You have to pick a camp. You have to decide whether you are satisfied with your business performance as it is today (“good enough” is good enough for you and your customers), or hungry for improvement.

There’s no right or wrong answer here. It doesn’t matter what camp you decide to align yourself with: The one happy with the way things are or the one looking to kick ass a little more each day. What matters is that your decision work for you. But let’s be clear about the impact that your choice will have on your business: Sticking with a “let’s not change anything” mindset will not earn you more customers, increase customer loyalty or generate more sales. Where you are today is exactly where you will be tomorrow. If you’re lucky. Eventually, perhaps not next week or next month or next year, but eventually, this mindset will seal your doom. A Beta mindset, however, will help you uncover ways to innovate, earn more customers, cut costs, increase customer and employee loyalty, improve product design and performance… You name it: Whatever the opportunity to improve, do do things better and smarter, may be, you will systematically uncover it in the same way that Apple, Nike, BMW, Cervelo, HBO, Michael Phelps, IDEO, Lance Armstrong, Comcast and Zappos have.

If you want your company to be best in class, to own a market or an industry, to be the trendsetter, the example to follow, the leader in a category, you must adopt a perpetual Beta mindset. You have to constantly stress your systems and processes. You have to turn every action into a test an look at every activity as an opportunity to experiment.You have to measure, analyze, learn, adapt and repeat the cycle over and over and over again.

Question everything.

Work harder than the next guy to build the best XYZ the world has ever seen, and then find ways to make it even better.

Perfection is a process, not a milestone.

Embrace a state of perpetual Beta.


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bos11bos10

Thanks to the awesome folks at Radian6 for inviting me to tag along Wednesday for their “Rock Stars of Social CRM” event held in Boston, Mass – which coincided perfectly with the #e2conf. Watching how Radian6 now integrates seamlessly with SalesForce.com, effectively merging Social Media monitoring and CRM, was kind of a strategic “wow” moment for a Marketing and Social Media geek like me. (Actually, I think my exact words were “Holy $#%&!!!! You can do that?!?!?”)

Having been on the client side of the Marketing and Business Development world for years, this stuff to me is the Holy Grail of apps.

Literally, people: Mind. Blowing. (Not only the fact that you can plug one of the best CRM platforms on the market and Radian6 into each other now, but also how smoothly and seamlessly it all works for the user/manager. Chris Newton is a genius, pure and simple. I’ve been saying it for months now: 1. If you aren’t already using R6 and 2. if you aren’t driving this thing like Speed Racer behind the wheel of a Mach 5, you are seriously missing the boat when it comes to properly managing your Social Media program(s).  – By the way, I am not being paid to say this. I am not affiliated with Radian6 in any way. Just stating the obvious about the tool’s impressive, ever evolving capabilities and the super smooth U.I., for starters.)

Okay, so anyway, there’s a lot I didn’t film while in Boston (as much as I love to play with cameras, there’s something a little unsettling about shoving a camera in people’s faces every time you have a conversation with them), but what I did film ended up here. So no, you won’t get to see my very first handshake with Chris Brogan, my first hug with Amber Naslund and Anne Handley, my first laugh with David Armano or any of the really fascinating conversations I had with two dozen super interesting tweeps who also happened to be wicked smart. (Yes, I was in Boston. I mentioned that, right?) But you will see me aimlessly walking through airports, talking to my toothpaste, laughing at snoring travelers, getting lost in parking garages and even goofing off with some of my favorite bloggers on the planet. That should be worth something, right? Today’s is not exactly a business video, but hey, behind the scenes stuff can be pretty cool too. (If it doesn’t work or launch properly, go watch it here.)

I need to start going to more of these conferences. The face-to-face interractions are just phenomenal. How often do you get a chance to have breakfast with Comcast’s Frank Eliason, lunch with Chris Newton and Chris Ramsey, coffee with David Armano and drinks with so many others whose ideas, insights, questions and experiences send your brain into a hundred new directions? Seriously priceless.

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Firemen

The topic came up in conversation yesterday: What grouping of skills and experience should a company look for in a Social Media manager or director? I have to confess that my answer sounded more like a list than anything: Marketing communications, PR, community management, blogging, account planning, business development, reputation management, brand management, brand insights and market research, web savvy, etc. And while I was going through my little skill mapping exercise, I suddenly remembered that we had touched on this topic about a year ago – not in terms of social media, but more along the lines of new marketing. Let’s run through it again:

You probably remember Tim (IDEO) Brown’s Strategy By Design article in Fast Company back in June of 2005. (You know, the one that mentioned T-Shaped people.) The article shed some light of the fact that innovative companies – or rather, companies who have shown an ability to innovate regularly – tend to favor hiring T-shaped people and fostering the types of cultures that work best for them, over hiring and managing employees the way our grandfathers did, which essentially consists of assigning specific linear jobs to people who were trained to perform the specific functions of these jobs – no more, no less. (The good old nose to the grindstone mentality.)

It went a little like this:

“We look for people who are so inquisitive about the world that they’re willing to try to do what you do. We call them “T-shaped people.” They have a principal skill that describes the vertical leg of the T — they’re mechanical engineers or industrial designers. But they are so empathetic that they can branch out into other skills, such as anthropology, and do them as well. They are able to explore insights from many different perspectives and recognize patterns of behavior that point to a universal human need. That’s what you’re after at this point — patterns that yield ideas.”


Good stuff. Since IDEO pretty much pioneered the innovation by design business model, Tim knows what he’s talking about. And having suffered the rigidity and lack of flexibility of forethought commonly found in many corporate environments, I have been a BIG fan of the T-Shaped thinking concept ever since I first read about it. It has been my experience that when putting a project team together, opting for one composed of people with diverse backgrounds yields much better results than one composed of specialists in a specific field. Especially if the project involves solving a problem or improving a design or process.

But last year, Dave Armano, from the Logic & Emotion blog, gave us this, which proposed an exciting next step in T-shaped thinking evolution:

“Lately I’ve been wondering—is there another way to look at this? What if we took a more basic human truth. Most of us have some kind of passion in a specific area. For some—it’s a hobby or interest. For others, it’s directly related to their work. I fall into the latter category. If you were to ask me what my “passion is”—I would probably say that at the core, it’s creative problem solving. This is pretty broad and incorporates a lot of disciplines that can relate to it. But that’s the point. What if we start with our passions regardless of discipline, and look at the skills which radiate out from it the same way we think about how rays from the sun radiate warmth?”


Excellent point. The radial pattern is definitely an improvement on the theme of the T-shaped individual. We’re adding new dimensions here and painting a more realistic, accurate picture of the breadth and depth of talent required in today’s much more complex workplace.

Assuming of course, that the said workplace a) recognizes the value of this type of individual, b) is able to foster an environment which takes full advantage of this potential pool of talent and innovation, and c) incites these types of people to want to keep working there.

Sadly, this still seems to be the rub in far too many offices across the US… Which is where smart marketing firms, think tanks, ad agencies and professional services firms can gain a definite edge over just about everyone else.

Here’s more from Dave:

“The majority of those reaching out to embrace this trend have their roots in the UI industry rather than industrial design. While traditional product and graphic design practitioners enter the field with a foundation based on design history, emphasis on form, method and process, those in the UI field come from myriad backgrounds such as software engineering, marketing, and brand strategy. Without a common heritage and education, these designers are more comfortable working with disparate client groups and in interdisciplinary teams.”

Food for thought.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

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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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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”. Deconstruct 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 Friday. 😉

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Why people and businesses choose to settle for average, I’ll never understand. Average products, average websites, average copy, average photography, average entertainment, average flavor, average executives… The list is long. The point is, if you look around, you’ll notice that average is the fat middle bulge in the bell curve. Average is the norm. Both the volume and frequency of “average” dwarf the precious few “remarkable” who work every day to raise the bar and set new standards of excellence for us all.

Think about your favorite companies to do business with. Your favorite restaurants. Your favorite movies. Your favorite products. Your favorite hairdresser or fashion designer or coffee shop. Think about how they stand out from their competitors.

Fact: Your favorite (insert product or service here) does whatever it does better than its competitors. stands out in some unique way: Better taste. Better experience. Better value. Better fit. Better… something. At some point, someone decided to do something different. Someone decided to commit to branching off and doing something unique, and that decision resulted in a notable improvement

You don’t build anything worthwhile by copying other people. Yeah, sure, it may seem like the safe thing to do, but it isn’t.

Bleh.

Welcome to the fabulous world of the “also in”.

Welcome to the wonderful world of the “why bother”.

Okay, sure, not every product needs to be extraordinary. Not every product needs to be unique. I guess you could set out to publish a magazine that’s a lot like Newsweek or Men’s Health or Fast Company… only more “average”. You could set out to produce a movie that’s a lot like Titanic or Sling Blade or Gladiator, but… you know… more “average”. You could set out to copy Subway or Jersey Mike’s or Quizno’s and make a subway sandwich, but… just a little bit more bland. A little bit less special. A little bit cheaper too, while you’re at it. I guess that would be swell.

To make up for the blandness, you could always pay an ad agency to try and pick up the slack for you and miraculously come up with a brilliant viral campaign that may or may not have people flocking to your stores.

Yep, you could do that.

I guess you could wake up one morning and decide that your work, the fruit of your labors, could be just… um… average. No more, no less. As long as your business makes money, who cares, right?

Forget the great American novel. Forget the Chrystler Building. Forget the iPod. Forget the Canon EOS 1D. Release your movies straight to video and your books directly to the bargain house. Tell your kids to shoot for a C+. It’s okay. Average is good enough.

Instead of designing your own products, find cheaper ones already being manufactured by someone else and pass them off as your own. Hope that no one will notice. As long as the profits are good, why not? Yep, I guess you could convince yourself that it’s okay to go that route.

It isn’t like you need to actually think about where your company is going. It isn’t like you need to give any thought to the relationship you have with your customers. What role you play in their world. Instead, you can just watch what your competitors are doing, and copy their every move. You can keep cutting corners. You can keep telling yourself that’s the safe thing to do. The smart thing to do.

You can keep telling yourself that if you make your products cheaper, you will sell more of them. After all, that’s how your competitors are stealing your customers, isn’t it?

Or is it better design?

Or is it because their stores have red walls?

I forget.

Why be relevant, after all? Why be relevant when you can just play it safe and follow the leaders?

Hmmm.

Is that what we learned to do in business school? Is that what we learned about in History class? In English comp.? Is that the lesson we’ve learned from watching millions of hours of sports on TV? Succeed by waiting to see what someone else will do to see if it’s safe to try it too?

Really?

Is that what a a CEO or a CMO is paid to do?

You don’t have to answer that.

Not if you don’t want to.

Instead, think fast and tell me how many skyscrapers there are in New York City.

(For the sake of expediency, let’s just say that there are LOTS.)

How many of those skyscrapers can you actually name?

Only a handfull?

Why is that?

Of the thousands of companies you’ll encounter in your lifetime, how many will you actually remember as being worthy of mention? Of having been a pleasure to deal with? A few dozen at most?

Why is that?

Of the tens of thousands of people you will meet in your lifetime, how many will you end up being truly impressed by? How many will you come to count as friends?

Again, why is that?

What does that tell you about average?

What does that tell you about the value of average?

Consider a few names: Starbucks. Target. BMW. Apple. Pixar. Ben & Jerry. Kenneth Cole. Nike.

What is it about these brands that makes them so special?

Is it their ability to crunch numbers? Nope.

is it their ability to copy the guys who came before them? (Um… who would that be?)

Are their products the best in the world? Again, no.

Reality check: Most of your local coffee bars make much better coffee than Starbucks. Target’s clothes are no better than old Navy’s. BMW arguably isn’t Porsche. Apple is nowhere near Microsoft’s sales. Pixar doesn’t always hit the mark. Haagen-Dazs makes the best Rum Raisin ice cream and Mayfield is pretty awesome too. DKNY, Express Men and Banana Republic give Kenneth Cole a run for his money. Most serious runners wear Mizuno, Asics or new Balance on their feet, not Nike.

So what is it?

Is it their ability to stand out? Sure, but that’s only a symptom of their success.

What’s key is their ability to a) create something special that their customers won’t be able to find anywhere else, and b) do it over and over again.

That’s the promise of these brands.

When you buy me, I promise that…

You will look hip.

You will sleep better.

You will save time.

You will smell fantastic.

Your cold symptoms will vanish.

You won’t have to worry about quality.

Without a promise, a brand isn’t a brand. It’s just a mark.

There is no such thing as an “also in” brand.

Okay, now that you’ve read it, say it.

Really. Say it outloud:

“There is no such thing as an also in brand.”

Very good.

When you’re an “also in,” what is your promise? What is your purpose?

“We’re kind of like Subway.”

“We’re kind of like Power Bar.”

“We’re kind of like CNN.”

Think about it.

I don’t care if you’re a mechanic or a graphic designer, a chain of dry-cleaners or a rental car service. If you aren’t there for a reason (other than just making money), you’re doomed. It may not be today or tomorrow or next week, but someone with a purpose will come along to eat you up. A real brand. A real business.

It’s just a matter of time.

If you’re going to be a mechanic, be the best damn mechanic in your zip code. Or the most honest. Or the friendliest.

If you’re going to design logos and layouts for clients, be the edgiest in your field. Or the fastest. Or the most pleasant to work with.

If you’re going to open up a dry-cleaning business, either offer the best quality pressing or the fastest turnaround. Make drop-offs and pickups velvet-smooth. Make your customers want to come back and recommend you to their friends.

I could talk to you about the role that pride plays in building a brand, but I’ll save that for another day.

The point is that being an “also in” company doesn’t cut it. Not if you want to grow. Not if you want your company to go anywhere.

Not if you want to survive, especially in this economy.

Copying other companies isn’t a strategy, it’s a death sentence.

Word to the wise: Don’t be a follower. There’s no safety in being second.

Welcome to a whole new week. 😉

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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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Found on Francois Gossieaux’ Emergence Marketing blog today:

Most breakthrough innovations happen at the edges or at the intersections of various disciplines.

Yep. At least half of that statement goes hand in hand with the cross-pollination I have talked about in previous posts and presentations. Cross-pollination usually happens when two worker bees with completely different backgrounds and experiences meet, learn from each other, and start applying the new insights they have learned from each other to improve the way they work. Cross pollination doesn’t just introduce new ideas and methodologies into otherwise rigid systems, they transform them. In this transformation is the catalyst of any organization’s evolution.

Take this simple process as an example:

Same methodology + same methodology + same methodology + same methodology = same methodology.

This type of closed model creates no opportunity for innovation. Companies who get stuck in this type of monotheistic mentality remain the same year after year. The world around them changes, evolves, moves on, but they trudge along. Their occasional innovation play involves acquiring smaller companies with once innovative products, but their timing usually misses the mark. Symptoms: Eroding market share, eroding margins, difficulty in recruiting and retaining top talent, and growth by acquisitions rather than market penetration. Nothing wrong with that model, but it just isn’t the best way to go about building a truly solid brand in any industry.

The alternative process looks more like this:

Same methodology + new methodology + infusion of cross-cultural/interdisciplinary insights = transformation + evolution.

Bring a design engineer from the automotive industry and ask him to work with a mobile phone designer and watch what happens to mobile phone designs within six months. Also watch what happens to dashboard designs when the automotive designer goes back to his car factory.

Pair a brand planner from the fashion world and a marketing honcho from the IT world (yes, they do exist) and watch how their cross-pollination of ideas and insights transforms the way they approach their work.

Cross-pollination gets companies and individuals out of their routines. It expands their horizons. It opens new doors, new possibilities, new directions for companies willing to embrace proactive change – the kind of change that yields results, not only on Wall Street, but also in the hearts and minds of the people who will either embrace their brands’ fresh new energy, or eventually reject their inability to remain relevant in an increasingly commoditized and fickle world.

I have heard it said that going through the same motions over and over again and expecting a different result every time (or every quarter, as it were) is the definition of madness. Fair enough. The question that begs asking then is: How is this different from companies with repetitive strategy syndrome expecting improvements in market share, revenue growth, brand relevance and customer loyalty?

Most breakthrough innovations happen at the edges or at the intersections of various disciplines.

Fact: People outside of your industry have the solution to the problem you can’t figure out how to fix.

Fact: You have the solution to the problem that someone in a completely different industry is struggling with.

Fact: Without cross-pollination of some sort, neither problem is likely to be solved anytime soon, especially not by you.

Without cross-pollination of ideas, innovation takes longer, or doesn’t happen at all. Innovation isn’t about inventing the wheel out of divine inspiration; innovation is about finding the principle of the wheel outside of your normal environment, and applying the insight gained from this somewhat random experience to addressing the problem at hand.

Neither cross-pollination of ideas nor innovation ever happen in a vacuum. Companies which actively foster cultures of innovation will always see tremendous growth. Companies which instead favor cultures of assimilation will continue to churn and puff and trudge along until their bloated carcasses are pushed out of the way by yesterday’s “little guys.” It’s just the way of the world. Evolution is inevitable. Evolution doesn’t care how relevant you were yesterday. Evolution happens because some entities adapt to change while others prefer to exist in a state of denial, thinking that what has worked for the last ten, twenty or thirty years will continue to work ten years down the road.

Jack Spade once said “Never believe anything you have done is successful.” Solid advice if you ask me.

Inject some cultural diversity into your workforce: Recruit creatively, across various disciplines and industries. Internally, create multi-discipline work groups to work on special projects or design concepts. Revamp your customer service. Question the effectiveness of your packaging or messaging or web design. Engage with your customers. Embrace and foster their communities. Create better means of listening to what they needs are, and find renewed purpose in delivering on their requests. Leverage diversity in every layer of your organization to do this. Whatever needs to be changed, change, especially if that change is difficult. Rip complacency and old habits to shreds, and upgrade every aspect of whatever methodology or system you have pounded into a stalled routine over the course of the last five to ten years.

“Change the world or go home” starts with you and your organization.

😉

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Being a big fan of sketching, visual mapping and drawing diagrams of every idea, process and problem I run into, this post by Guy Kawasaki made me a very happy camper. (I really need to get out more.)

First things first: Go to Guy’s blog and read his post on the subject.

Second: Go read Guy’s interview with Dan Roam, author of T.he Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures

Here’s a taste of the interview:

Question: What problems are you really talking about solving with pictures?

Answer: All of them: business strategy challenges, project management issues, resource allocation problems–even personal problems–can all be clarified, if not outright solved, through the use of pictures. And the pictures we’re talking about are simple ones. If you can draw a circle, a square, an arrow, and a smiley face, you can draw any of the problem-solving pictures I talk about.

Question: What is an example of how a business problem was solved with a sketch?

Answer: The most famous business napkin is the route map of Southwest Airlines. When businessman Rollin King and lawyer Herb Kelleher sat down in 1967 in the St. Anthony’s Club in San Antonio, their intent was to drink to the successful closing of King’s previous airline. Instead, King picked up a pen and–drawing a triangle on a bar napkin as he spoke–said, “Wait a minute. What would happen if we created an airline that only connected Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio?” The world’s most profitable airline was born.

My personal favorite is still a work in progress. I’ve spent time with the senior executives of Peet’s Coffee and Teas helping map out the company’s growth and business operating strategies. In number of coffee retail stores, Peets is second after Starbucks, but it is still orders of magnitude behind: one hundred and sixty stores to Starbuck’s fifteen thousand. Clearly there is the opportunity for Peets to grow, but Peets has long been known as the “best” coffee available. So the question remains, “How do you grow without giving in on quality?”

We’re created a simple back of the napkin sketch that outlines Peet’s approach to maintaining quality while growing, and it has been circulated around the company so that everybody gets it and sees exactly where they fit into the “quality chain.”

Read the full thing here.

Simplicity works. A picture (or sketch) is worth a thousand words. Why bore your audience with numbers and bullet points when you can tell the entire story in one simple slide – or by sketching something on the back of a napkin? I thought I was weird for doing this, but now that I feel all vindicated by Guy and Dan, I am going to have to turn this quirky little habit of mine into standard operating procedure.

Next time someone asks you if you want them to draw you a picture, puff out your chest and proudly declare “yes!”

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Just got back from Microsoft’s WPC in Houston, and I have one word to share with you (and one you might not normally associate with Microsoft): Inspiring.

Go ahead and buy into the whole Mac vs. PC propaganda if you must, but when you get to rub elbows with thousands of the world’s smartest, most engaged, most sophisticated IT professionals – some of whom are quite literally working to change the world using Microsoft based tools – and see how incredible the Microsoft partner community actually is, it completely changes the level of the Mac vs. PC conversation.

And I mean completely.

Not to mention the depth and breadth of products being developed, released, upgraded and optimized at lightning speed. Baffling.

No, I am not drinking any funny koolaid. If you are a long time reader of this blog, you know I’m not the type.

And just in case you were wondering, when I looked across the ocean of PC folks from around the world who were in Houston for the event this week, I didn’t see anyone who looked one bit like the PC guy in the Apple commercials. Not even close. As a matter of fact, most looked a hell of a lot trendier than the ads’ little coffee-shop dwelling Apple dude.

Nothing against Mac people (I dig Mac’s approach to design and completely understand the appeal) but in the real world, being a PC means you can actually change the world, not just entertain it – which is why I made the switch almost a decade ago.

And hate mail from Mac users can start flowing… now.  ;D

More posts about my experiences in Houston coming soon.

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Incredible presentation/video/analysis. (Hat tip to Alceste’s blog.)

Infographics heaven.

If the embedded thing didn’t work (I’m posting this from my office and that can cause some compatibility issues, the link is: http://youtube.com/watch?v=lBvaHZIrt0o )

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So instead, I will just post this haiku:

GM US sales dropped 18% in june.

Toyota US sales dropped 21% in June.

More imagination is needed.

Source: CNN

With every car and truck and van in the US looking essentially the same and absolutely no effort whatsoever by major car manufacturers to create sexy, well-designed, fuel-efficient, compact cars to give the overpriced mini Cooper and gender-limited VW Bug a run for their money, we are left with a sea of cars no one wants.

Problem #1: Wallet share is tight. Buying a new car in the current economy is already a tough proposition.

Problem #2: Buying a car is an investment. Resale values of vehicles with weak mileage efficiency are dropping fast. Investing in a car today with gas prices looking the way they do (+ market insecurity) means consumers aren’t likely to fork out big bucks for a new car anytime soon.

Problem #3: Our “bigger is better” supersize-me attitude needs to change. The days of the macho-by-horsepower association are coming to a close. Deal with it.

Problem #4: Auto manufacturers are not reacting quickly enough to the oil crisis. (As if it wasn’t always coming. Didn’t anyone have a Plan-B? Really?)

Problem #5: Most cars don’t have a purpose or an identity. Nissan’s X-Terra’s success 8 years ago was due to the fact that it had a very clear place in the pantheon of vehicles. Same with the H2, the Mini Cooper, and the VW bug. Today’s contenders are Toyota’s FJ Cruiser and to some extent the H3, but that’s about it. Every other SUV is just another copy of a copy of a copy. Ford’s Mustang GT fills the muscle car void fairly well, but we aren’t exactly talking middle of the bell curve here. Crossovers are a nice concept, but I have a tough time getting excited by any new design – they’re all the same. Ergo: I’m bored just trying to think of an interesting or unique car i am jonesing for under $30K.

There is a clear absence of imagination in the auto industry, at least in the US. derivative designs create an “also-in” design culture that offers no clear value to anyone. Sure, I can get excited about Aston Martin or Bugati’s latest supercars, but when I look at cars I can actually afford – the middle of the bell curve – what am I left with? Where is the sexy, smart, well designed sub-$20K car with great gas mileage and suite of electronic interfaces I have been asking for? Where are my power outlets for laptops and media player recharges? (Real outlets, not cigarette lighter outlets.) Where is my built-in hands-free system for my phone? Where is my media player plug-in?

I’m not saying that we should all adopt the euro supercompact-car concept (although if you live in the city, don’t have any kids, and absolutely need a car, perhaps you should consider one), but there is a healthy compromise that can be met. Why is it that we aren’t seeing it yet? Every compact car on the market that isn’t a mini or a bug is manufactured on the cheap and designed on the quick. This needs to change.

Cars should always be cool. They should always be more than just a set of wheels to go to work or to the store. I’m not sure when the industry shifted to a zero personality model, but auto makers need to turn this around. Cars with personalities sell. Period. They sell because they stand for something. They help their owners express who they are. Identity development needs to become part of every new car design – not just at the brand level (a BMW is a BMW /a Mercedes is a Mercedes) but at the level of the individual model. Scion has adopted the concept 100%, but its designs look like someone got a hold of ten-year-old early concept drafts from 2-3 automakers and actually turned them into production cars without making any changes. (Right idea: Unique models for unique uses, but horrible execution: Not a whole lot of curb appeal, and heinously derivative designs.)

Is it really THAT hard to get this right?

Here’s what the next big auto hit looks like:

1. It has so much personality, it could be a Mac. (Sorry, I’m supposed to be the PC guy, but we all know where “cool” lives these days.)

2. It looks GREAT. Not just good, but GREAT. People want to rent it from hertz and budget and Avis. Your friends want to drive it when you show it off at your next together. People on the street stare at it when you drive by.

3. The interior is a mix between the cockpit of a 1930’s rallye speedster and the cabin of a brand spanking new custom Leer jet.

4. Real power outlets. Media player interfaces. Hands free wireless interface. Just do it.

5. MPG superstar status. Make it part of the car’s identity. Not an afterthought, but at the very core of the car’s purpose.

6. $12K-$18K is the sweet spot. It’s a compact.

7. But make it look, feel and perform like a $30K+ car.

8. Invent something smarter than a cool cup holder. Like a built-in passive cabin ventilation system for really hot summer days. Or a slot for a portable hard drive inside the dashboard. Or a fully insulated trunk compartment for laptops, cameras and other electronics. Or accessible + concealable storage compartments for passengers. Or a new seat adjustment interface. Or yeah… a better cup holder.

Europeans have been designing very cool, high performance compact cars for decades. Look to Renault, Citroen, Opel and Peugeot, for starters. Even mercedes sells compact cars in Europe now.

Think, guys. Dream a little. Invent something that brings value to the market. More importantly, make your brand, your designs and your every conversation with us, the people who should be dreaming about driving your cars, stand for something. Give us something to desire and crave and get excited about.

A 20% drop in sales might be great for your car lease units, but that isn’t where you want to be. Wake up and do something.

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