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Staying upright on the social treadmill

It used to be you could master your craft whether writing, design, marketing, PR, photography, etc. and be okay. As a business, you could create a great product or service, build a strong customer base and serve them well for years as long as you stayed relatively current. No more. A successful business today will often see many me too players nipping at their heals, waiting for a misstep to overtake them in short order. Your colleagues are racing alongside to keep up with the latest tools.  Customers have so many GOOD options for most areas of their life that they might not miss you if you go out of business. Or even if you don’t, there’s always the lure of the shiny new thing waiting.

It’s not only exhausting to keep up with all of the social platforms, but doing so distracts you from doing what you do best. The endless product launches dulls the senses. Makes it hard to discern what’s relevant from what’s not. The constant pursuit of shiny is futile because you’ll never be able to engage with all of them. And fortunately, nor will your customers.

That’s why you always need to look beyond the hype – even ignore most of it – and question why you need to do anything different. In Rework by Jason Fried he talks about hiring when you feel pain. When it hurts too much to keep going without that you’ve demonstrated the need for that new person. I think the same thing goes for social technologies. It’s still early. Tools and platforms will continue to come and go at an epic pace in the online gold rush.

I took a two-week vacation this month – my first ever – and pretty much hopped off the social treadmill. It was refreshing. I liked not feeling distracted by the latest Tweet, email, and post. I didn’t really miss it. Nor do I think I lost too much in the process by hopping off the treadmill. In fact, I wasn’t sure I wanted to hop back on. The analog life was pretty darn cool. There’s no substitute for spending quality time with people in real life. I’m not sure there ever will be.

It’s made me question more the why, what for and how best to . . . . Time is our most precious resource yet we waste so much of it. We wait to take action. We spend time on email and Twitter and Facebook and now Google+ is rapidly ascending to further fragment our attention (and something I know I need to take note of as a marketer). Yet what do we have to show for it? When there’s an app called Freedom that locks you out of your online world for a period of time, you know we need to look deeper into our usage of online platforms. Are they an excuse to not focus on moving the big rocks? Are we so distracted and parsed that we’ve really lost the ability to think critically and deeply? To do less better?

Steven Pressfield suggests we not read blogs or spend much time online in order to do the work. The question I have is how many successful people do you know that aren’t spending their time online but rather making deals and building things? I’ve noticed many people jump online when they need to launch, build buzz and gain customers only to back off when they’ve reach their goal in order to develop what’s next. I happen to have curated a short list of blogs I read regularly, but am focused when I do – and read far fewer than I used to.

There’s no right speed to run the treadmill. For some it’s crawling along at 1 or 2. For most of us in business, we need to find the speed that’s sustainable. The speed that keeps us connected without keeping us from doing the work we’re here to do. We’re in a very interesting place with a stubborn economy, jobs that are never coming back and technology that makes everyone into a creator, producer and potential influencer.  But I think not everyone needs to be online. And those that have their social treadmills locked into 8, 9, or 10 may be out of control and need to dial it back a bit. It’s that balance thing.

Taking time to unplug from the treadmill for a couple weeks felt like a luxury. And reiterated the value of quality time. My advice to you is to do the same. See if you really miss anything. Then when you hop back on, make it count. Assess what you have to show for your time invested.

I’ve said it before, Twitter has been the most amazing experience for me as I’ve met some incredible people and cherish the connections. These are people I never would. If you’re not building quality relationships, retool and rethink your approach. The only reason to be on the social treadmill is to build relationships. The kind that can spill over into real life and enrich it.

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Start-up reality, money, marketing and confidence

One of the things that fascinates me is how some people succeed in business and others fail. I think there’s much all of us can learn – whether we choose to be employees or scratch an entrepreneurial itch – from others. I think the most important lesson for anyone is that there is very little luck in business. Sure, a few inherit fortunes they transform into successful businesses or are passed down a legacy business, but most who make it face an often unseen tumultuous journey before they reap their rewards. Yet the media often only talk about their success glossing over the start-up battles with a small mention if at all.

This week I was talking online with a couple people about what it takes to succeed. @jacoutofthebox shared this great presentation by Tara Hunt on the realities of a startup, based on her own experiences with Buyosphere which began as Schwopp. I think her raw kick in the rear is the dose of reality anyone contemplating going entrepreneurial needs. The upshot? It ain’t easy. There’s no guarantee. And you’d better toughen up.

So along those lines we talked about how warm fuzzies in business don’t lead to success either. You can’t typically kumbaya yourself to greatness or just be generous and expect people to reward you for it with their loyalty. In fact, reality is, there’s very little loyalty in business – people are fickle and gravitate to where they either get the best deal or the best experience. So if you’re looking for the holy grail of loyalty, you must rock. Consistently. Develop a contagious business with a product or service that once people get hooked, the cost of changing is pretty high. Facebook is a prime example. Once you invest all the energy building a following, uploading and sharing links and photos and prose, how easy is it for you to switch? How easy would it be to move your following somewhere else? Right. It’s not.

So Men with Pens has an article about dispensing with the warm fuzzies and focusing on money. On not being ashamed to market and sell your stuff with gusto. Now before you start running off with a pitch, they don’t mean tossing the pleasantries out the window and selfishly selling at every turn. That clearly isn’t the road to success. No, it’s about delivering a great product people actually want and charging for it without apology. Like what Apple does.

While you’re paying attention to the money, as a marketer it doesn’t hurt to operate your own P & L. That’s how you demonstrate your value and show respect for your teams according to Geoff Livingston. It’s how you learn to respect measurement tactics and turn attention into action. Not bad advice considering how often marketers do not close the loop on measuring their effectiveness or implementing a closed-loop marketing process which tracks leads from first contact through the sales process and in the event of a loss, understands why. In this way you know what’s working, what’s not and have the metrics to know what levers you need to adjust.

I use Airbnb and appreciate the quality of their design – the user experience – and their concept. They’ve worked hard to make it what it is today and it could easily have gone the other direction as this article on their beginning illustrates. What I like is how they bucked conventional wisdom in the tech world that you have to be a total techie to succeed – they came from the design side – and how hard they worked initially talking with their customers and using their service.

It may pay to dispense with the warm fuzzies but as I alluded to above it doesn’t mean being disrespectful. You don’t have to be mean to succeed and Tim Sanders is anything but. He wrote the book, Love is the Killer App after all. But you do need confidence and discipline. This is the key to making it. Without confidence you’ll just crumble at the first rejection. Pandora was rejected over 300 times. Could you weather that? Tim talks about how to break out of a slump and move forward by sharing his real world experiences in his new book Today we are rich, which I plan to read soon. A particularly good read this week.

Highlights from the World Innovation Forum – Part 2

I gleaned much from the World Innovation Forum earlier this month and thought I’d share key takeaways in these past two posts and link back to the speaker profiles to provide more context. What I liked most was how each speaker seamed to build on the one before.

Perhaps one of the most provocative talks was that by Paola Antonelli,  curator at MOMA. Through examples that would scare most corporate executives she presented examples of design on the bleeding edge to show truly innovative thinking and push our notions of how we look at design.  Such examples included a designer who presents each sperm as a different character or engagement rings made from bone scraped from your soul mate. How about a sheet stealer, illustrating how it’s the little annoyances we think about most after a break up, referring to our partner stealing the sheets during the night.

Her key message was that design has an old soul and that it’s really about taking a different attitude towards people; looking at the relationship between people and objects.

“Artists and designers give the world something they didn’t know it was missing.” – Paola Antonelli

Polly Labarre led a panel of five who have successfully managed change in their organizations. Of note, John Seddon mentioned that we conventional management so we can change it. When you manage value, you drive costs out of the system. But when you manage costs, they go up. Focus on the system and forget your people for a moment. And showing the power of simple thinking, the City of Portsmouth, England, unplugged its IT system for scheduling service calls on a Friday and had a new one up on Monday. They created an Access database to manage their call schedules and five years later, it’s still working well. It’s proof that you don’t always need to spend big dollars or implement complex solutions for complex problems. It’s a call to rethink your management processes and look for simple alternatives you might be inclined to dismiss because of their simplicity.

Paddy Miller talked about creating the space where innovation can take place by dealing with the disconnect between management and staff. He advocates stealthstorming where you use the system to innovate: Stealth, on-site not off-site, execute and work with innovation architects. He also suggests we forget the future and look back as their’s much opportunity there. To make the point he uses the examples of adding wheels to suitcases which took from 1950 when air travel really took off to 1987 when two wheels and a handle were introduced on a suitcase. To get there more quickly, we should frame the problem rather than finding the solution. When we do that, the solution presents itself.

M. S.. Krishnan from the University of Michigan  then talked about the two most important words in the English language: “What if”. What if we _______________? There’s a new approach to wealth creation and that’s through focusing on one consumer at a time while leveraging global resources. This is made possible by our connectivity, digitization of information, the cloud and social networks. Where we used to have undifferentiated customers we have moved to personalized co-creation.  Success today requires strong analytics to understand the individual consumer and their behaviors. It’s a world where new ideas, agility, humility and speed trump complacency and legacy thinking. It’s the legacy thinking that gets us in trouble and causes a company’s demise. Look at Blockbuster vs. Netflix. One has gone from $3Billion to $15 million while there other has gone from $300 Million to $12 Billion by thinking differently.

Larry Huston detailed how he fostered innovation at Procter and Gamble. A place you’d think is less than agile. To successfully implement innovative ideas you need to start with a mandate, develop a vision of where to play and how to win, focus on your capabilities and acquire those you don’t have then put strong governance into place to manage the process. Realizing they couldn’t use only internal resources to innovate nor reach all the potential partners they could, P&G put briefs in the marketplace to attract them – looking outside the company for innovation.

These briefs stated their objectives and possible approaches – and in all of their efforts, looked at product categories for possible adjacencies that captured the entire customer experience: Mind, Soul, Task and Body.

I’ve written about Dan Pink’s work before and he reiterated the principles for motivation: You don’t engage by being managed or controlled. Self direction is key for engagement. Management is key for compliance. Mastery and purpose are the essential building blocks – more than money. You remove the issue of money by paying enough to take it off the table as an issue. Make sure you carve out time for non-commissioned work and celebrate progress. He had fun ridiculing the annual performance review as relatively useless.

Jeanne Meister wrapped up the second day by talking about the workplace in 2020 – that it’s about social connections, games and mobile. She predicts that everyone will have a reputation score based on social capital and expertise going forward. Something that we should seriously think about when Tweeting and posting our lives around the net. I think this ties in nicely with Daniel Solove’s book – The future of reputation – and reminds us that Google has a VERY LONG memory.

Each speaker added to the tool box for driving creativity and innovation at work. It’s not easy, but I believe that if you’re willing to look at the systems in place in your company – and understand how they work and how to foster change – you can make it happen. Just because you work at a large company, doesn’t mean you can’t innovate just as small companies are not always the most innovative. It’s about the people, culture, and focus invested.

Making innovation happen: Highlights from the World Innovation Forum

I‘ve attended many conferences over the years and each year seek out one that will expand my thinking – deliver an experience I cannot get simply by reading material online. Last week I attended the World Innovation Forum in New York City. Drawing over 900 attendees from 33 countries the focus centered on how to create, drive and manage disruptive innovation and design thinking. Over two days leaders at the forefront of innovation provided a suite of insights for us to take back and implement in our respective companies.

My young daughter asked me “why do you need to go to New York to learn?” There’s something to be said for physically traveling to an event, investing the time to focus by setting aside day to day tasks. Despite the technology available to us, online webinars don’t provide nearly the same immersive experience. It’s too easy to multi-task, missing the crux of the presenters’ message. It’s a mindset you’re in when you give your undivided attention to the speaker on stage. And yes, if you make the effort to go, that’s exactly what you should do.

There’s also the risk that a conference may not deliver on its promise. And the risk for the attendee is that you go, are entertained and inspired but then go back to the office with business as usual. One presenter called it the Monday morning problem. What a waste. It’s incumbent on each of us to consciously act on our new knowledge.

That said, here’s the first part of my key takeaways from two packed days:

Clayton Christensen kicked off the event showing us how to create disruptive innovation and what happens to many companies without them realizing it. Key here is how managers consistently do what’s right for the business by increasing bottom line results by outsourcing but then find themselves without much of a company left.

He used the example of Dell and AsusTek in which Asus started supplying them with circuit boards, then mother boards, then assembling the entire computer, moving on to taking over their distribution, and ultimately product design each time saving Dell 20% on their bottom line. Problem was Dell was left with just their brand and Asus had increased their competency to the point they didn’t need Dell and could simply sell direct to companies like BestBuy.

Same thing happened in the steel industry with micromills making rebar which big steel was happy to get out of and eventually moved up to premium sheet steel which ultimately bankrupted the legacy players like Bethlehem Steel.

And you see this in the car business with Toyota and the Japanese makers pushing aside the U.S. big three and now the Koreans and Chinese are nipping at the Japanese.

The crux is that as a company enters a space and competes, prices fall and they’re forced to move up the ladder to more profitable areas of the business, repeating the cycle.

Rational thinking simply isn’t all that rational.

Outsourcing powered by pursuit of profit often sets in motion disruptive business model liquidation resulting in ultimate failure of the business.

Technology progress that commoditizes expertise plays a key role in disrupting businesses. Need intuitive trial and error problem solving which can often be expensive.

Tony Hsieh delivers happiness

We’ve all heard of Zappos and their quirky culture that lead to their success. Many think they cannot apply these principles in their businesses but it really comes down to mindset. That’s the message Tony Hsieh left us with.

We need to think about what customers expect, actually experience and the stories they tell their friends. To create a culture of happiness you need core values you can commit to. Vision and culture inspire purpose and passion in your employees.

Happiness is really about four things:

  • perceived control
  • perceived progress
  • connectedness
  • vision/meaning.

Within this there are three levels: Pleasure – the fleeting ‘high’ we have to work harder and harder to achieve; engagement – when time flies and the ultimate happiness, meaning, which is sustainable over the long term.

If you pursue your vision and have a purpose, the profits will follow. Much more so than single-minded focus on profit.

Think about how you can apply these principles in your company. Who doesn’t want to be happier? And imagine the productivity and lower turnover you’ll achieve by pursuing this path. Requires that you pull up from the spreadsheet and focus on your people. They’re not inventory or mere resources, but key assets that will differentiate you in the market.

The power of design thinking

Roger Martin then talked about how to create a culture of design thinking. Again, like disruptive innovation, this helps you create a sustainable competitive advantage. The key challenge is balancing analytical thinking with intuitive thinking. Both have their merits but it’s only when you intersect the two that new ideas emerge.

Analytical thinking strives for 100% reliability – a consistent outcome. Intuitive, 100% validity – the outcome you want. In the first, you need to prove your ideas and approach which requires use of existing knowledge. New knowledge requires you to suppress analysis and focus on what might be. And this is the big disconnect.

You can never prove a new idea! And Roger suggests the two most dangerous words in the English language are ‘prove it’. Yet how often have we been tasked with this? What you need to do is design what should be, launch and fill in with data over time to validate your idea. You can simply never do it in advance.  You do this with abductive reasoning – a logical leap of the mind.

Right you say. Not in my company!

He left us with a framework for both designers and managers:

For designers:

  • Look at design hostility as a design challenge
  • Empathize with design unfriendly  elements
  • Speak the language of reliability
  • Use analogies and stories
  • Bite off as little a piece as possible to generate proof.

For Managers:

  • Take inattention to reliability as a management challenge
  • Empathize with ‘reliability’ in unfriendly elements
  • Speak the language of validity
  • Share data and reasoning. Not conclusions
  • Bite off as big a piece as possible to give innovation a chance.

Design thinking is serious business and requires collaboration across a company to be effective. The ideas from these three speakers alone offer significant fuel to inspire most any company to change. But only if internalized and tailored to fit. These are not cookie cutter concepts. You have to go deep to make meaningful change. But powerful they are.

Content chiefs, entrepreneurs, logos, social, and inspiration from Intel

You may have noticed I haven’t been posting The Friday 5 every Friday. It’s partly because I don’t always have five links I REALLY want to share with you so it’s now the always occasional Friday 5. Do let me know what you think!

Content is a critical part of many marketing programs now – and it’s not going away anytime soon. Particularly in the B2B space, content places a big role in establishing you as a thought leader, providing credibility and a sense of who you are as a company. In the spirit of ‘show, don’t tell’ you don’t want to advertise that you’re a thought leader. You want people to come to that conclusion themselves. So thinking like a journalist and a media outlet is important. Courtesy of Ann Handley at MarketingProfs, here are 11 traits you should look for in hiring your Chief Content Officer.

Inc magazine has curated 10 videos for Entrepreneurs. From Seth Godin’s Why ideas win to Steve Jobs 2005 commencement address at Stanford there’s a lot of inspiration to kickstart your weekend and set the tone for the next week. While billed for Enterpreneurs, I believe strongly that any manager within a company can benefit from such thinking. In fact, I think it would greatly improve the productivity and innovation of many businesses if they did. It’s never a bad thing to open and stretch your mind. Also included is Daniel Pink on motivation which I’ve written about before.

Bruce Mao has certainly established his place in the design world. His manifesto is still so relevant today and this logo shows what’s possible when you re-imagine its use. And shows the power of context. This logo for OCAD University in Toronto becomes a gallery for student work. Certainly designing for an art school is a heady affair, but this is one of the most elegant solutions I’ve seen. Think about this the next time you embark on a brand refresh and look for ways you can infuse what you do into your identity. Makes for a powerful connection in a sea of sameness.

Four social strategies outlined by Geoff Livingston applied to Facebook. This is for those unsure about how a tool like Facebook can work for their business. A snapshot of what I think we can expect in his new book The Fifth Estate, he shows you examples of four strategies in action: participation, serving with content, top down influence and empowering your community. What I like and respect about Geoff is his sound thinking on social media based on what’s going to work versus what’s cool or popular. He’s one of the few who provides the actionable substance you need to make social work.

It’s probably no secret that I like photos and my iPhone has turned into my daily photo journal. So perhaps I was naturally drawn to this film on fashion photo blogger, The Sartorialist. But what I really want to highlight is how Intel is using a visual medium to engage with their audience. Rather than talking about them, they are celebrating great art and inspiring you to do the same. What they get in return is an emotional connection with their brand and show how their products can help you create and share your visual life. They don’t stop with just this one video but have others to inspire on their site.

Intel is doing some pretty cool stuff these days and shows how you can push the technical data aside and inspire instead. And the technical is always there to provide proof and validation for the rational side of your mind.


Two sides of fear

Fear is both a marketers best friend and worst enemy. When marketers employee fear, they often get people to buy. You don’t have to look far – insurance companies, car dealers and just about any drug company out there trades on your fears. While the Rapture may have come and gone without incident last week concrete bunkers are selling well in anticipation of the end of the Mayan Calendar – and hence the world in 2012.

Fear mongering does nothing to move society forward. No matter what decade you’re in, you’ll find someone trading on your fears. Fears that are largely manufactured. Fears that you face by relinquishing the power you have to create your own life. As a marketer, you can make a lot of money on fear. At least until you’re found out. And then there’s selling the promise of a better life. A sexier, fitter, healthier, richer you if you just buy this product.

Of course, you as a consumer could take control, say hogwash, and pursue your own path. You don’t exactly need half of what everyone thinks you need. You can buck the trends. Ahh, but that’s scary. We’re all urged to conform and thought a little nutty if we don’t. There’s a lot of pressure placed on conforming. It makes for a more orderly society. And in most cases it works nicely.

But as a marketer, conformity isn’t working so well. And this is where fear is your worst enemy. When you’re afraid to step out and try the untested. To get emotional when your product is theoretically perfectly rational (and YOU have the data to prove it), you face a lot of pressure not to. There’s a lot of fear in the unknown. What if you fail? Will your brand take a hit? Will you be fired? What if you offend someone? Your brand is certainly not Howard Stern so you can’t possibly go down that path, right?

Again, fear rules the day. Few marketers have established the trust and credibility needed to take chances. I talked about this last week but it bears repeating. They have to deliver the numbers. They need the data to prove their concepts and programs are going to work. Before they launch. So they just add water. More and more water until that shiny, daring concept looks like all the others that’ve come before. And that’s a shame because since we’ve all seen it. We ignore it. You ignore it too. Think about the iPhone. If Apple had listened and tested and focused grouped the device to make sure it had ALL the features everyone wanted, think it would be so successful? Think it would open up a whole new market for apps, mobility and connections? Or would it be dumbed down and featured up to offer something for everyone? And thus fail?

There are things you can test. And things you just have to put out there. People are emotional. People are irrational no matter how much data and rationalizing you throw at them. So fear not.

It’s easy to tell a fellow marketer to go for it. To take the chance. Afterall it’s their skin in the game, not yours. Much harder for you to be the one to hold the accountability card. I’m thinking though that it’s scarier not to take the chance. It’s scarier not to forge a new path because eventually someone else will and then you’ll be left in the dust. Playing catch up or worse. You need to go for it. When you feel fear – or those around you feel it – you know you’re on to something and that’s a good thing. So how do you go for it? Find the opening. Carve out areas where you can show results by taking chances. Find a niche and push. Then push some more. And if your company’s down, maybe betting the farm is your only hope. Your only way out of the abyss.

So embrace fear. Just don’t always rely on it to peddle your wares.