The Other Reason I Quote Seth G

Of course, the other reason that I quote Seth, put his name in the title of the post and so on, is to ATTRACT more and more trackback SPAM.

Can there be a better reason?

Well, the only other reason would be to get some blood boiling and receive a GREAT comment from the mysterious Adam C. Keep the rage alive Adam!


Why Innovation is Hard

I was reading some of the posts over at Mike Sansone’s CoverStations blog (thanks to Clay Parker Jones for the link) and got carried away with some of the ideas there.

Then I ended up over at Logic + Emotion reading a quote of the day — and got caught by this quote from Guy Kawasaki:

“it’s one thing to write about, or read about, a successful company after-the-fact and analyze how it achieved success. It’s another to build that successful company from scratch. Everyone knows that the innovator’s dilemma is to find a tipping point in order to cross the chasm. The question is not “why?” but “how?”.

It is a great quote because it encapsulates many of the issues that marketers and business innovators struggle with — if only we had hind sight! Of course, innovation is HARD work … and the reason WHY is the HOW that Guy Kawasaki is talking about.

Innovation is hard because it comes down to making ideas happen. The ideas themselves are cheap … but the ability to implement them, to take a concept, sell it (to supporters), fund it, build it, get people excited about it and then take it to market … all without putting a foot wrong! Well THAT is hard work. There are many decisions to be made, many competing agendas to connect and limited attention. But in a startup situation, the challenge is all the more acute.

So I began to think about the HOW of a startup.

There are plenty of opportunities for startups to maintain their innovation and cockiness early on. But as they become successful, as they start to generate income rather than buzz, and as they begin to formalise some of the fluid processes that made them successful, there are many “solidifying” temptations to resist. The venture capitalists may want a steady hand on the tiller … the other investors may want more governance … and the banks may want a more conservative financial controller.

But of course, internally, there has also been a lot going on … lessons have been learned, teams have become fixed and their speed has increased. The rough and ready are now silky smooth. They can take two steps at a time rather than one. And this is where innovation starts to decay.

Johnny Moore has a great post here explaining some of this type of thinking. Johnny is revisiting a book by Ellen Langer called Mindful Learning. He quotes from the book:

When people overlearn a task so that they can perform it by rote, the individual steps that make up the skill come together into larger and larger units. As a consequence, the smaller components of the activity are essentially lost, yet it is by adjusting and varying these pieces that we can improve our performance.

I had never really considered innovation in this way before! But then it started to make sense … the slow connection of ideas, the sequencing of small acts into a unified whole … an organisation geared towards the generation of ideas and their implementation. It was starting to resemble some of the work I was doing at IBM many years ago — focusing on some of the key, small, innovative programs, processes and approaches that yielded significant commercial or competitive advantage and sharing them with the rest of the company.

It is easy to think that innovation is BIG … but for every big idea, my guess is that there are thousands of smaller innovations that have been meticulously put in place. Innovation is hard because we are always looking for a big idea … when really we just need a small one to kick us along.


Is Cool the New Management Consulting

I had never considered this before. Those clever folks over at Fast Company have highlighted the use of agencies to provide insight in the same way that management consultants used to be called in to restructure a corporation’s business model.

Of course, this is not a new phenomenon … and there are some out-standing examples of marketers and strategists who can bring together business, marketing and strategic planning skills. Another form of convergence — just one that is more about people than about technology. (Reminds me of David Armano’s T-shaped creatives again).

But does that mean we will end up with agencies becoming the new McKinseys? Or will McKinseys reassert themselves in this space by hiring trend analysts and creative directors? Interesting!

Thanks to Josh Carlton.


Loving the Hypertext at MarketingProfs

Some days the hypertext does a great job. Other days, it doesn’t matter how many times you click you end up no where of interest. But today is a good day.

I am sure that most of you know how great MarketingProfs can be, so I won’t bore you. But today I was surprised to see my buddy Mike Wagner at the top of the page. Nice article about brands that people hate (and love too).

And as I looked around, something caught my eye. An article by Alain Thys which looks at the Ten Truths of Branded Storytelling. Cool … I am always up for such an article. I like his first “truth” … the need to uncover your USP — unique story proposition (I love an acronym that surprises me). There is also more than a little truth to guiding people to the USP and then watching the wheels kick into motion … there is also some danger in such an approach.


I remember working with a professional services company who actually did understand their USP. It was “collaboration” or “partnership”. But everyone speaks about these things … these words have been devalued by corporations and emptied of meaning. So a couple of the sales managers half jokingly came up with a slogan that was accurate, but smutty — and, to my horror, it stuck. Then slowly, but surely, the phrase started working its way into the company lexicon (isn’t that a great word?). I started hearing it more often. THEN one day I read it in a proposal that I was reviewing.

This was one USP that had gone too far. Everytime I heard it I could feel myself cringe with embarrassment. I could see clients flinch when they heard it. And the more it was talked about, the bolder everyone became about saying what became (for me at least) — UNSPEAKABLE.

What we needed was an intervention. A storytelling intervention. An editor with a big stick.

A USP is a great idea … but just make sure that the story you want told is the one that everyone is telling. Don’t make me slap you.


Why Do I Quote Seth Godin?

This question popped into my mind unexpectedly. Well, not entirely … I was reading one of the responses to David Armano’s decision to open his blog up to selected authors and realised that he had a really good point (Adam says):

I’m sorry. I really like your blog. I find its content useful and meaningful. But all this talk of opening up your ‘personal brand’ is making me reach for the bucket!

It is all well and good to open up your blog to others … but where is the responsibility to your audience? Not only that, why is that each of the 600 blogs that trackback to Seth Godin articles (including mine) basically recycle the same view? Why do I quote Seth Godin? Why do you?
Of course, on one level there is the flow-through traffic. But one of the key reasons is that Seth is an opinion shaper. His insights are his own, they are forceful and they are well articulated. They also reinforce his own story and position.
It is great to have ideas and innovations … but you do need a platform from which to speak. And while blogs allow us to do this on some level … you need an audience first. Otherwise you are just blogging in the wilderness … and brrrrr … it can be cold out here sometimes!

Just Tell Me the Facts

I have known people who have an interest in facts — and they have always amazed me. They are able to wheel off pieces of information at will … the number of internet users in Asia, the number of countries susceptible to bird flu, the number of mobile phone users and so on. This ability has always been a source of wonder for me … how do people do it?

I must admit I have always struggled with facts … studying history filled me with terror as I knew that I could not remember dates, or items (particularly urns) or the dates of events. I used to see this as an area that I had to work on … perhaps I just needed to apply myself — work harder to remember. So I embarked on a series of challenges. My first was to act on stage … and this meant learning lines.

I remember the challenge of learning the lines by rote. I went over my lines time and again. As I was also the writer, I made sure that I had the smallest part — the ringmaster — and it was my role to throw the focus over to my more accomplished colleagues and let them perform to their best. On the day of the performance we rehearsed well. I was confident. But then …

When the lights up all my lines evaporated. I could remember the first line … but then I just talked. I spoke about the ideas behind the script, the themes that we had fleshed out in workshops, and I talked about the audience and what we had hoped they would like or feel or interpret about our performance. And then I remembered by cue and threw to one of my astonished friends dangling from a climbing rope from the ceiling.

I learned from all this that I should not try and learn the facts. I should learn about the ideas. Now, when I present to clients, I present the ideas around the slides, not the facts shown in the bullet points. I am not about facts … and neither should my clients be interested in them — facts we can find aplenty — but a good idea or a rash of good ideas can set the room on fire.

Oh by the way, everyone loved the performance. Even my acting  buddies — though they all agreed as an actor I made a great director.

[OK … facts can help a presentation — and can make you look like you have done your research. Want to know where to get some good ones? Try here (thanks to Terry).]


The Art of Giving Feedback

One of my first jobs out of university was as an editor. I worked in a legal publishing company where the challenge was to update our legislation and commentary volumes more accurately and faster than our competitors. Actually, this was a secondary challenge — the primary challenge was to make our markup and changes quickly but also accurate enough to pass the review of our managing editor … the eagle-eyed Paul F.

Of course, this was at a time when editing was still done mostly on paper. So there was plenty of "cutting and pasting" … with real scissors and real glue. And each time, as I approached Paul’s office (after double and triple checking my work), I would think "this time I have got him". Each time, such was my optimism, I thought that there would be no errors, that Paul would not find anything out of place, and that I could send my manuscript on for typesetting straight away.

Within seconds Paul would have found an error. "What is that?", he would ask. I would stammer some answer not even being able to focus on the question or the growing amount of green pen on my manuscript. "How did this happen?", he would ask. I would begin answering only to be greeted by even more errors. "The page numbers are out of sequence" … blah blah blah.

Did this make me a good editor? No, I don’t believe it did. Did I take Paul’s feedback personally? Only at first. Then I realised that he was exactly the same in any environment … he even spoke to his mother the same way. Eventually I realised that Paul found it difficult to communicate in anything but a hierarchical way. That is why he liked to work. It is where he felt most in control.

As my career progressed, I found that I was increasingly asked to provide other with feedback, with mentoring and with advice. I reviewed their writing, their planning, their concepts and even their performance reports, and soon I found that it is much harder to give feedback than I ever thought possible. Unfortunately it does not seem to get easier with more experience. But today, Seth Godin has a great piece on giving feedback. His focus is on providing analysis, not commentary.

It is all about peformance. Look at what needs to be improved, focus on the big picture (not the typos) and make sure that, if you find something good, let the writer know. Read the whole post here.

By the way, I did become a passably good editor, also thanks to Paul’s persistence. Sometimes criticism is harsh, but there is an art to giving it, and an art to hearing it. Just because it feels personal doesn’t mean it is not true!

Thanks to Adactio for the photo.


Changing the World

EbayimageIt is hard to change the world. When I was younger I thought it could be done through theatre. I thought that some great writing delivered by a fabulous actor (in the perfect spotlight) could make an audience view the world in a different way. To a certain extent, this is possible … but the degree is much less than I dreamed of. (I must have been dreaming of Paris at the time of the Revolution.)

The problem is, is that change is hard. Dreaming is one thing, but the hard reality of life is quite another … and if you DO want to create change, then you need to deal with the dirty part of changing someone’s life. One of the things that I liked about working in the field of organisational change is that IDEAS become REAL. First you imagine something, and then you work to turn that imagined state into something tangible — something that affects people’s lives. Yes, it may be a new company process or a reporting structure … but it has a REAL impact on the way people live and work (hopefully for the better).

Does this make change bad? No. Does it make it worth striving for? Sometimes.

Then occasionally someone comes up with an idea that makes you realise that change can be possible … that an idea (even a BIG, difficult idea) can work. Moreover, the reason that it CAN work is because it is implemented in a small way … that it is focused and nurtured.

This is one idea that I like. Some creatives are getting together and offering up a package of creative services (corporate identity, marketing strategy, web design and implementation etc) for auction on eBay … to the value of about AU$10,000. 100% of the money raised during the auction will be donated to Embrace International, a charity that actually builds foster homes for orphans in China. The person who "wins" the auction gets some good creative and strategic work cheaply, and these poor kids get a home AND a family before winter hits.

Will it change the world? Unfortunately not … but it will change SOMEONE’S world.


Can Thinking Kill Ideas?


Sometimes we have to work hard for an idea, and at other times ideas can just come streaming into our consciousness. But once we have an idea, how do we turn it into something?

When you work for yourself, or you own a small business, the time between idea generation and implementation can be very small. You can think it, then do it. But when you are in a larger organisation there are many reasons that prohibit ideas being tested in your market … and you have probably experienced this before:

  1. Your boss doesn’t like it
  2. There isn’t budget for it
  3. You don’t have the time
  4. It is too big and you can’t get the help you need

There are plenty more.

BUT there is a more important question — have you actually asked anyone about your idea?

You see, it is easy to kill off an idea before it even gets to someone else. Many times WE (the person who plucked the idea from their imagination) actually stop an idea before it gets too big. WE are the ones who talk ourselves out of it … and then never get around to suggesting it to someone else. By talking ourselves out of it, the idea never gets to see the light of day.

Does this make it a bad idea? Of course not. It just means that we don’t have faith in the idea. We don’t have confidence in our ability to gather the resources, harness the team and build the idea into something worth showing others, talking about or selling. REALLY what you have done, is kill off your idea by THINKING!

Well if this sounds like YOU … take a look at this post by Seth Godin.

It is a great post because it refocuses the questions that you ask around idea generation and innovation … not why could it FAIL, but what would happen if it did FAIL? What is the worst case scenario?  (Then, of course, you could ask what if it was a crazy SUCCESS?)

Which ever way it turns out, you are going to create a GREAT story. You are going to LEARN. And next time you will do it better.

Is it still a risk? You bet! But what is the alternative?

Thanks again to Spell with Flickr!