Monday, July 25, 2011

Kitty Hawk Theory Of Development

Many organizations fail at affecting meaningful change because of their desire to do too much at once. They argue that since they are making one change, why not fix all the ills of the past. Trying to make too many changes at once is a guarantee to collapse the key efforts. This is also another reason for someone opposed to new ideas to kill a change or development effort.

The idea is very simple—when Wilber and Orville were trying to create powered flight, they weren’t trying to get 300 people to Chicago and provide a warm meal in flight. Their effort was simply powered flight.

Keep focused on your objectives and not what will make everyone happy. With anything new, start with simple goals and a vision that can be attained. Visualize what you are trying to accomplish, see it clearly in your mind’s eye and move towards it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Simple New Thinking Culture Thought Starters

1. Shift From Reactionary New Thinking To Proactive Continual New Thinking & Improvement

2. Culture Of Change Acceptance: Change Looked At As Key To Sustainable Success

3. The Right Brains, Vision and Spirit: Do Not Attack The Past, Instead Focus On The Future

4. Share Information, Insights, Thoughts: The More You Give The More People Will Start To Think Differently & Accept

Friday, July 1, 2011

July 4, 3022

Amazing Moment: Washington Resigning His Commission

July 4th means different things to different people. For me it is the thought that where ever our troops are, where ever our ships sail, when ever our planes fly high the spirit of America lives strong. I also believe that where we live and work, in the communities we go to school, to worship, to shop this spirit flies high as well. Even the simple act of buying a gallon of milk at my local grocery makes me proud of our country. 

America is not about something long forgotten or some dusty unread book. It is today as it was on July 4th 1776 an ideal, a belief that is alive today it our hearts. This belief in the red, white and blue of these United States as a way of life worth defending even giving the greatest sacrifice a human can give on the alter of freedom, their lives, is something truly amazing. In the history of the world, what happen on July 4th had never been seen. A group of individuals stood up and determined for themselves and for the generations to come that no matter the sacrifice, no matter the loss we would be a free country, a land where anyone could live as they wanted and be what they were meant to be. While this dream is still taking shape to this day, and had its challenges over the many years from that first 4th of July to this one today – the fact is the belief, the intent, the drive has never diminished. We are not done growing and improving this nation yet (many miles to go to full fill the vision of freedom) but that is what makes it great!

For me July 4th is a moment to stop and realize that what all our generations before us, as immigrants, as farmers, as builders, as soldiers, as families have given so much so my children and their children can be just that free to be kids and live to the unseen potential of who they are. While many, on this 4th of July may worry about all that is swirling around us in the economy, the weather, the ability to live life as they hoped I see the glory of the American spirit, creativity and possibility. We of today do not know the pains of the past wars and strife that were fought on our own countries soil beyond the revolution, from the war of 1812, the Civil War and other fights to gain territory or secure what was ours as a nation. As well as the many wars on foreign soil. As a nation we came through these difficult times and grew stronger. We have had many economic challenging times as a nation in the past 200+ years. Again through our creativity, our sheer will to bring into existence new technologies, new thinking, new businesses, new ways of living our dream as American's we have continued to be one nation.

On July 4th I see in the distance, both close and far, future July 4th's of this great nation. Where our best days are ahead of us. Our greatest thinkers are not yet born or immigrated here yet. Where new technologies, new thinking, new dynamics haven't even been put pen to paper. Rejoice to be here, now in our countries history. The greatest days are just ahead, I can see them right around the bend.  So on this July 4, 2011 take that moment to say thanks to all that have served this nation. Think of all those who had an idea and made it real. All those that work day in and day out and are the fiber of our local communities and give them thanks. We must give a special thanks to all those who go to sleep every night in harms way, so that we as a nation we will not perish from this earth. Thank you to our troops and military the world over.

When was the last time you read these? I dare you to read the Declaration of Independence and not get teary eyed… I always do.

Have a safe, fun and wonderful 4th of July!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Strategic Idea Development

New idea development is not about working hard at creating random, pop up, wow ideas that do not fit within the corporate culture. At the same time it cannot be expected that organizations will naturally bubble up and give life to new products or ideas. 

It is this balance between sparked creativity and defined discipline that builds the right spirit at a company allowing new things to come forward and succeed.

The more upfront leg work, planning and defining that is done the better the chances that new ideas and development will be embraced and accepted, vs. looked at as a pain point. 

Again, this upfront work requires time with the leadership of a company to be aligned with the vision, direction and goals otherwise each “new” effort is more about a roll of the dice on how it will be seen or supported/not supported.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

What Is Needed For A New Thinking Culture?

Once your thinking becomes focused on creating a change-accepting environment, you can start to walk a new path — one that is less about preserving the past and more about controlling the future. 

Self determination and control of your destiny are grounded in change and a new thinking way of business.

In order to create a change accepting culture:

• Companies need champions of change (change agents)
• They need to support these champions
• Change acceptance MUST start at the top
• Change must be all about relationships, awareness & expectation building
• There must be a predetermined & agreed upon processes for new thinking
• Companies must shift from reactionary to proactive and continual new thinking & improvement
• A culture of change acceptance must be considered a key element of sustainable success
• Utilize the corporate “right brains” for vision and spirit
• Focus on the future without attacking the past
• Share information, insights and thoughts — the more you give, the more people will start to think differently & accept your ideas
• Remember the strategic value of it all — not the nuts & bolts of it all
• Most importantly — focus on strategic thinking

Once change-accepting environments begin to take shape, new ideas and new ways will come into view.

“We all have big changes in our lives that are more or less a second chance.”
— Harrison Ford

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Our Business Structure Is Still Circa 1900’s

While technology has forever changed the way business people work, power structures, decision making and direction setting in most businesses hasn’t changed dramatically in the past 100 years.

Many utilize the “duck & cover” style of management, focused on the path of least resistance or change. Most do not come to work every day asking, “So how do I eliminate my power, my job, and my livelihood?”

New thinking will challenge all status quo power structures — and create a feeling like the world is destabilizing. New thinking requires more brain effort than maintaining the status quo.

If you undertake the creation of a change-accepting environment or develop something new, be aware that the “corporate white blood cells” will come to life and do everything in their power to destroy the effort.

Make sure you are up to the challenge!

“I’m a company of one. I have no team, no power; I share people with other projects. I can’t tell people what to do — but I can convince them by appealing to their agenda” – Primal Leadership, p52

Friday, June 10, 2011

New Thinking Dies Because People Fear Change

People want a manageable work life with consistent expectations. They want to maintain what they have; they operate in a “day-to-day survival” mode.

This kind of thinking begins with a WIIFM (“What’s in it for me?”) attitude. Employees do not always have the company’s best interests at heart and instead they approach any kind of change with a WIIFM attitude.

The more difficult the change and the wider its impact, the greater the motivation needs to be — both to the organization and to its individuals. Building incentives, dealing with fear and the threat of loss, and identifying opportunities for advancement are just some of the issues that need to be addressed. The key to success is communicating that change is a good thing.

What Made You Great In the Past Will Not Make You Great In The Future

Many businesses emphasize preserving the past, when in reality, past-thinking is a killer. How many times have you heard, but that’s not how we do it? Challenging the status quo can often crush the life out of new thinking.

If you walk into a company whose lobby is loaded with pictures of past presidents and dead guys, or they spend more time explaining history than vision, you are walking the halls of a beast that is craving a return to the past, and who feels the present is more challenging and less fun. I'm not saying change for change sake, instead a realization that nothing remains the same. 

New thinking companies have a forward view, fueled by past success. When their people look at better ways to do things or want to dissect something to see if it could be done better, these companies respond with, “Great!” instead of “Why?”

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Steps to Building a Change-Accepting Environment

When Is New Thinking Called Upon?

In most businesses, the majority of new ideas and solutions evolve from reactions to specific situations, in a domino effect. New thinking is not a built-in, defined part of the company culture, or a key element of the business structure — like accounting or HR — but rather, it is pulled out when needed. New thinking is seen as a cure to a problem, instead of systemic and integrated into the culture of a company. New thinking is typically sought for:

• New Products or Services, New Markets, New Sales
• Old Product, Services or Market Revitalization
• Product or Market Issues/Problems
• New Management and/or Management Changes
• Partnering/Joint Ventures/Mergers
• Competitive Situations
• Performance Issues
• New Technologies
• Personal Health or Crises
• Career Changes or Stall-outs
• Government Actions

What Hinders New Thinking?

If a company’s culture is conflict averse, or even worse, hostile to outsiders, new thinking can be greatly impacted. Things that often negatively impact new thinking include:

• Past Success
• Current Success
• Looking Backward
• Emotions
• Poor Understanding
• Lack of Communications
• Culture of the Organization
• Strong Personalities
• Pack Mentality / Cliques
• Leadership (Lack Of Or Too Strong)
• Group Think
• Not Broke Why Fix It
• Power Struggle Issues
• Too Much Internal Competition

Anyone attempting to develop a business culture that accepts new thinking, new ideas and new people must be honest with themselves and the leadership of their organization. Change acceptance is grounded in candor and openness. Nothing kills change acceptance faster than defensiveness or fear of honest dialogue.

Moreover, change should be attempted when and where it is appropriate and strategic. Too much too soon, or wholesale change, can cause problems. It overloads the organization and 
creates a sense of lack of control. There is a thing called “change fatigue” and it starts the moment change is underway.

Start with something and gain a small win, then move on to the next. In time the wins will add up and the business leadership will think, “Hey, this is just a part of how we operate.” This is why it is so important to start with a planned, endorsed and proactive change.

“People resist it on every level in all sorts of ways, and leaders can be the most resistant of all.” — John Kotter, Harvard Business School

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Steps to Building a Change-Accepting Environment

Where Most People Live

While the world is a big place and we are becoming more and more interconnected with each passing day, the average person’s worldview revolves around a 50-mile radius of their home, and their mindset is one of putting milk on the table and spending time relaxing with family and friends. We don’t think about every global pressure and the market shifts taking place 24/7. This lulls us into thinking that tomorrow will be the same as today; just get up and go at the day like every other day. In some ways we end up “change fatigued,” looking not to embrace it, but to avoid and barricade ourselves against change.

At work, most of us imagine our organizations as a boat on calm waters with only occasional ripples. The visual of a crew, all rowing in sync, is the idea of organizational perfection. We instinctively believe that we exist in a steady state of normal operations, and that change occurs periodically, after which time we return to the status quo.

Today’s reality is nowhere near this thinking. Change is constant — it is never ending — and the status quo is nonexistent. A more accurate visual of business is a white water rapid of organizational, market and product change. The head waters are always in change, driven by globalization, capital constraints and technology. What was will never be again and waiting for this return to normal is not realistic. A better analogy would be a Kayak on a wild river with constantly roiling water.

This new reality provides organizations and individuals clarity about their role with their stakeholders. We need to assess continually how are we doing as a business, as a team, and as individuals within the team. Are we bringing value today, now, this hour, next month, five years from now? Success of the past is not always the best indicator of the success of the future. Instead, the attitude of how to live and operate within a change-filled environment is key. Yes, skills, training and experience can be great helps — but the core thinking, the belief in change as a way of operating, is the most important place to be grounded. You must believe in your heart-of-hearts that change is real; it is present in all we do and that it can be a catalyst for good things.

Monday, June 6, 2011

New Business Thinking

Steps to Building a Change-Accepting Environment

Successful change and new thinking have nothing to do with technology, budget or the best idea. They have everything to do with communications, planning, timing and relationships.

Building a change-accepting environment is not about creativity, it is about strategic relationships and gaining acceptance to open thinking.

“Change is the constant, the signal for rebirth, the egg of the phoenix.” — Christina Baldwin

Change is inevitable and unavoidable — in our homes, our workplaces and our lives. The sooner we accept and embrace change, the sooner we enjoy, benefit and grow from it.

Yet, as humans, we turn away from change. We try to bend the forces of nature and the laws of physics to make change not happen. We try to work around it, or hope it just goes away. Even unplanned and unpleasant change — the things we cannot control, like the loss of a loved one or a job — can provide impetus to grow. It can force us to reflect on our lives and question whether we have defined a path for ourselves, and if we are following that path.

Rather than allowing change to bog us down or define us, we must use it to help us define a path to building change-accepting environments. In business, the practical processes of new business thinking are counter-intuitive. The idea that something new, better and even necessary will be embraced by all within the business is a common misconception of many business leaders. Irregardless of the size of their company, many business leaders naively believe that everyone within their organization is looking out for and embracing new thinking and new opportunities. Unfortunately, the opposite is often true, which leads to the loss of potentially powerful new opportunities — whether a new product, new business development, new market or new business relationship.

Most changes in business can be anticipated; they are forewarned and obvious. Many times the threat or opportunity was well on the way, obvious and clear — to all but the person or organization impacted by it. Whether any of us realize it or not, we can do very little to avoid the continual assaults and bumps of change — but we can change our mindsets, and our feelings about change. We can embrace it, dance with it, and when necessary, wrestle it to the ground — but never hide from it or ignore it.

Successful change and new thinking has nothing to do with technology, budget or the best idea. It has everything to do with communications, planning, timing and relationships.
Building a change-accepting environment is not about creativity, it is about strategic relationships & gaining acceptance to open thinking.

The goal of this discussion is to help the business reader realize that change is everywhere, within ourselves and our world. We all grow old, the seasons come and go; the moment we begin to utilize something we change it. We seldom take notice of these smaller, inch-by inch changes and yet they can be big impacts in our lives. The same is true with the business world. There is a need to realize that even the most successful business, product or team, over time, is impacted by changes, and they need to evolve and begin to accept change everyday. Otherwise life and business will pass them by. 

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” — Nelson Mandela

Sunday, March 27, 2011

"Hey you got creative in my technology!" "Hey you got technology in my creative!"

Advancing technology will continue to impact creative services firms and the people within them. Remember the ad for Reese's Peanut Butter Cups? The point was two separate elements could come together to create something new. Technology has changed many things about the creative services world. First and foremost it is a compression agent. Technology has compressed the services agencies provide and it has compressed the time frames to delivery and the preconceived costs to deliver.

What this means is, that now media buying, creative design, account management, production traffic, client billing, concepting, approvals, results tracking, list management, are all compressing to a tight delivery window to the client - blurring the distinction and silos? Clients are demanding more seamless and integrated services.

This means that creative services firms can no longer "create from a single prospective..." Design and technology are only one
¾th of the mix. How does the design function, can you capture data, track results? Can you target the exact buyer? Strategy and creative are being compressed with the introduction of new technologies. Coming at a client need via one approach levels the agency flat and unresponsive to the bigger picture. The same holds true for the agency that comes at the problem 100% technology based. Success will be in: Team Environment - Creative Technology Solutions - Market Savvy and design that hits the market (not over or under).

The demands of the future will be on dealing with the compassion factor of time and creative demands. The issue is; how to meet the needs of the client base, while keeping the organization functioning at a level that is not killing it. Miracles can happen within a creative environment, but how many and how often before you burn out a person, a team or the creative spark?

The future role of a leader within a creative services firm will be that of interior. One that can take many different demands, many different people and skill sets and bring them together as one focused response and voice to a clients need.

A few years back I had the opportunity to witness two different groups get together and talk about a client’s needs. The first was the current reincarnation of the "creative type" the "big cheese wiz" creative leader. Ponytail, earrings and attitude out the wahzoo. He was introduced as a new age "design God"  with the ability to take creative to new technologies. On the other side of the table was a classic shorthaired, glasses, and paper pad carrying technology leader. Shy with no attitude, he was a published iPhone App and programming guru.

Two totally different worlds coming together. In the first few moments that they began to speak they realized they had some ability to understand each other, when it came to technology - almost like those that took Spanish in High School who go to Mexico can kind of understand the high-level gist of the conversation. But once you get into local dialects and meanings, they are lost.

After ten minutes it was obvious that neither side was going to be able to make the bridge. As the classic technology gearhead keep saying, "I don’t understand where he (the creative guy) is coming from..." Quickly it became obvious that someone needed to act as the translator, the interpreter of the meaning, goals and issues to the two separate groups. These interactions will continue to grow. What one needs to realize is, the equation creative services firms will be operating under is:

Creativity      X      Technology
Freedom                Discipline

While these might seem to be at odds with each other the fact is, once a creative agency has gotten a sense of where its strengths and weaknesses are, it can manage them and correct them with this formula. The next 20 years will be about the challenge of keeping up with technology costs and changes - converting them into profitable client business. It will also be about how to stay creative and connected to the client and the client’s end users.

It will also be important to bring creative team members into direct contact with clients and client IT. Yes, a scary thought to some, but technology and speed require shortening the distance between the client and the creative.

Technology will become an integral part of the creative process beyond design technologies, and grow into CRM and company wide technologies where a client can actually track the specific results from a campaign – hard metrics – not soft feelings.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Who Am I, Who Is My Agency – Am I More Than My Creative Shop?

You Need A Life Beyond The Work
– Remember Poor Vincent!
How do you keep your firm from managing your life? It is important to realize that most agencies come into existence based on a single person's (or a small group’s) vision or ability. This is also true for many nonprofits and start up companies. And it is this vision and passion that makes the agency valuable to the client. What happens though, is the business and the individual become one, with no way to separate the two.

The place to start is by beginning to build a personal life that is separate, and equally or more important. 100 hours a week at work leaves little for family and other interests. You must work at building a "persona shell" that is you outside the firm. Define it, craft it and defend it like you would your most valuable and important client account. In addition it is key to have a team of people that make the agency or business come alive. Grow beyond one to many. Shape the vision as the owner, shape the culture (never leave culture to chance) and build the team – but be more than an army of one.

This simple act of saying "I will have a personal life" is the first step. The next is sticking with the building of a separate life. A few simple questions:

* How many family or personal activities (birthdays, holidays, trips, school awards, dance recitals) have you missed in the past month? Three months? Six months?

* Have you been with a family member, a friend or at a fun activity and the whole time all you can think about is "that burning issues at the firm?"

* When asked to talk about who you are, do you answer first and foremost, your job, your company and your business accomplishment?

If you answer yes to any of these you are a firm freak-azoid. You are addicted to what you do. It is what you are. While this is great for building a successful creative agency - in the end your creation will not be able to grow past you, beyond your abilities. Your life span and energy level will be that of the firm’s. Never more and likely less.

It is also important to surround yourself with key players that are more talented, creative and capable then yourself. A team is more powerful than a stand-alone person. Also it allows individuals within the team to have time off, personal space and a separation of church and state (personal and firm) when necessary.

"If there is anything in the world that can really be called a mans' property, it is surely that which is the result of his mental activity."
- Schopenhauer

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Creating A Process That Allows Business To Flow AND Creativity To Flourish

Business Processes Shouldn’t Make Creative Organizations Feel Like A Grid
Project Management at first blush can be seen as a four-letter word to designers and creative directors, mainly because it represents the necessity of bringing "non-creative" and the darn client into the creative process. 

Project management has a perception of process, paperwork, tracking, budgeting and deadlines - which are perceived as the complete opposite of the creative process.

In a past life I had the opportunity to work for a Fortune 200 company, in the adverting and product communications area. I'll never forget the meeting where my boss told me and the creative design team:  "Be as creative as you like, get wild, push the market and dump the old look!" Everyone in the room sat up and started smiling. As the big cheese walked out of the room he turned and said, "Oh, and it needs to be on green 8 1/2 by 11 paper, fit in a number ten envelope and cost no more than 15 cents a unit..." The whole team just crumbled.

But this was a great learning for me on the front of why project management belongs in a creative process, as much as in the building of a waste water treatment plant. What project management does, is allow the requirements gathering to take place, the "what you want to do and with what result," before the creative team gets going. It sets up a mindset of getting all the facts before the fun starts. What project management can mean, in its simplest terms to a creative organization is fully understanding the requirements and desired outcome a client is looking for - beyond the old "knock their socks off" talk. It allows a creative organization to understand the budget issues, the timings, the level of creativity, how and where it fits in with everything else the client is doing. Then as the project rolls out, Project Management allows the creative team to talk regularly with the client to make sure everything is on track and things haven't changed.  Project management in a creative environment is about clarity of direction and results. It is about meeting deadlines and surpassing the client’s expectations.

Good project management is about communications between different areas. It removes "disconnects" from the creative process. How many times has a creative organization done a super job up front with a client, and missed the boat at the production point? Many times one area, let's say the account management function within a creative organization, has a ton of upfront and ongoing communications with the client. Then the creative directors, the designers, the production artists, the traffic managers, etc. have lessening degrees of communications. And by the point the deliverable is at the printer’s there could be a total disconnection between the client and the desired outcome.

Solid project management within a creative environment allows for not one time or limited communications, but a constant and undiluted communications line between the client and all the touch points in the creative process. Project management in a creative environment is about continual communications. It is less about “freestyle writing” and more like a sonnet. Structure to creativity, a target for the results.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Trust That The Team Will Do The Right Thing

It is a hard thing to be involved but not demand the steps to an end result. Many times a creative manager has the hard task of showing the path – by not forcing the people on their team to not “walk a certain way, think a certain way...” It requires that a clear, defined set of requirements and end result be given to a creative organization – BUT you cannot force a pre-determined end result. I have seen this time and time again. In twenty years of working with and within creative organizations I have seen a brilliant creative individual made the head of a group of creative types. The first mistake is the person thinks that now everyone on their team is now to act, be, think and generate results totally within their style and approach. They want to  lead a group of mini-me’s

I once took over the management of a design and production group. 30 creative souls trapped in design and management purgatory. The work was, OK, but it was dated and dry. So I met one on one with every person on the team. About 10% of the team was “happy just having a job” – and their work was the minimum of output and creativity. The remaining 90% said over and over again, “they didn’t feel trusted, that their ideas never were even discussed let alone taken into account.” In the end I found that everyone from the clerks, the creative directors, the artists, the photographers – everyone BUT the leader felt trapped.

When I sat down with the head of the group to review my findings, my main goal was to get him to trust his people. When the conversations began, he became very defensive. He said, over and over again, that he knew what they needed to do. They should just keep their mouths shut and do exactly as he says.

His proof was the fact that the owner of the business sent him a letter every year saying, “you did another outstanding job.” What he did realize was, the owner wasn’t the customer. The people receiving the out put of the team were the client, and sales were down 60%. After a 5-hour conversation, he realized that he needed to let his people try new things and become part of the process or they would all lose their jobs.

So over the next 16 weeks I talked with him daily, to see how it was going. I walked the floor, sat with the creative team and listened. It took a constant, “remember trust them, let them learn from doing not yelling” – and results began to come to the surface. The designs were fresh, the costs were reduced by 40% via new ideas and approaches and most importantly the people on the team began to buy in to what they were doing. Work became an expression of their creativity. The end result was a change from the past, and instead of a form letter from a the CEO there were increased sales and client love letters, customer service was hearing from the end users “I love the design, it’s easier to use, more of what I like…”

Was the effort greater than just demanding a path?  Yes. Was the result marketably different? Yes and no. Were the people involved more committed? A screaming yes (even the slugs were trying harder). Remember, trust that the creative team will do the best they can – even if it doesn’t look just like you want it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

What Color Is My Denim ?

Finding A Path: So where can a creative manager, a leader of an organization dedicated to creating, find a way to grow beyond the original founders and the chaos associated with creative expression? There are a few tools and guide posts to keep in mind. 

Keeping Your Vision Alive & Building Spirit

This is all about staying in touch with each and every person within an organization. It means walking the floors, sitting in meetings, and telling stories. Yes, telling stories. The best way to show a creative organization “the way to think” is by sharing experiences. Not in an overpowering way, but in a way where the stories fit into the moment, where they give a clear example of the how's and whys of a situation. 

Vision is all about wrapping an organization in a blanket of sincerity and connective-ness. It is less about hammering the heck out of it.  I remember a situation where the CEO of a company wanted a marketing communications organization to act less “wacky” and more like an accounting group. 

He hammered and yelled at the creative management, “stop them from coming into work in denim, stop them from playing football in the halls, stop them from…” He had a vision of the organization that had no room for creative disruption. In the end, he had the opposite result. It just angered the creative spirit of those in the communications organization. They rebelled, big time. My favorite was the presentation that the creative team did on types of denim and the comparison of denim vs. chambray fabric. 

What was needed was an honest and open sharing of the vision and values the CEO was looking for. Even letting the creatives see a weakness or by creating empathy based on the fact that the CEO was getting pushed by the other business units who were screaming at him “it’s not fair, why do they get to do whatever they want???” 

If he had woven a story that the creative organization could relate to, then a compromise could have been reached. Instead, there was 98% turnover in the organization, causing disruption and unbudgeted costs.  In the end, the CEO and management team got what they wanted – but at what cost in time, effort and spirit? Remember, not a hammer but a velvet embrace!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

But Master I Am Not A Painter!

Thought Point: We have all seen the 1969 movie classic “Agony & The Ecstasy” with Charlton Heston and Rex Harrison. In a way it sums up how many creative projects begin. A client commissions a creative organization to take on their vision, their need, and their issue. The sales and management of that creative organization then need to convert those needs into the minds and souls of their creative. 

Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II Della Rovere in 1508, to paint the Twelve Apostles and a few ornaments on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He, who had always insisted he was a sculptor, was thus to learn the art of fresco painting, and practice it on a vault decorated by fifteenth-century artists as a starry sky. 

However, as he began work on the project, Michelangelo conceived grander designs for the decoration of the ceiling. He spent the time between then and the 31st of October 1512 painting more than 300 figures on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. 

In the beginning, Michelangelo fought the direction and even the project. Not until he felt inspired, not until he conceived it as something greater than what the “client” had even asked for could he even imagine doing the work. In the end, he was driven by the spirit to create something that was bigger than the ideas of the original request and it was only then that he could start and ultimately complete the project. 

Here we see the struggle between creative genius and creative results. The client, and/ or manager attempting to jam their vision and ideas down the creative individual’s brain and force a result. Not until the ideas were internalized and where taken as the creative genius’ own, could the work even begin. In the end, the result was something beyond the money paid, the vision of the client. It was a masterpiece that has stood as a testament to the creative ability of individuals. A sculptor made into a painter. A chapel made into a temple of art.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Ying And Yang Of Creative Management - Section One

All humans have an internal struggle between the ideas of good and those of evil, light and darkness. In some terms we could even look at the forces between creativity and business as being forces that tug and fight with each other. Many with a creative Zeitgeist see business as a drab “process” of churning out widgets and all about profit. While “the suits” look at creative types with concern and uncertainty. They see passion, creativity and expression and wonder, “how can we control this?

In the end successful businesses require chaos and order, creativity and profitability, process and open expression to grow, thrive and succeed. This tug of war creates great things, both to the bottom line and to the creative spirit of an individual’s life. The trick is to find the narrow, thin-line to walk as a creative business owner and leader, to allow the balance to take place – yet not create a schizophrenic organization.

"Discoveries are often made by not following instructions, by going off the main road, by trying the untried." - Frank Tyger

In The Beginning: Many creative companies come into existence because of a single person or a close team of players from an existing agency that decide it is time “to establish their own environment to operate in.” Usually this creative individual has a strong client base that they take with them, and in short order they are opening the doors on their own business.

The desire to establish their own business comes from the need to establish an environment where their creativity and business vision can come to life. It is also the drive to see the direct connection between their ideas and the financial success that comes from these ideas, creativity and vision.

It begins with a set of beliefs and experiences tied to either a single person or a small group. Over time, as the business becomes more successful it is necessary to grow the infrastructure, to add people and costs – and then the cycle begins. More clients to feed the cost demands, and in time the vision becomes less about the single vision of creative expression and instead grows into one of managing a full-fledged business. The ideals, vision and passions now need to be translated through layers of people and process. Creative businesses begin to seek the “holy grail” of how to keep the specific creative vision, the true specific values of the founder and/or founders alive? When the organization was 10 people it was easy to look each and every one of them in the eye and say, “I believe in you and what you are doing.” It was a big creative living room of friends working together towards a common vision.

Then growth happens. Can size impede the ability to connect each and every person to a common vision? Is what the creative leaders in an organization saying and believing the same as everyone else? Can the 50 people, 100 people, and a thousand people hold the same focused and connected direction? At the same time, the processes to manage 100 people (the business infrastructure), grows exponentially. No longer can an owner turn to someone and say, “hey could you throw together a rough design of…” without paperwork, concern on the impact on prioritization, etc.
"When you are completely absorbed or caught up in something, you become oblivious to things around you, or to the passage of time.

"It is this absorption in what you are doing that frees your unconscious and releases your creative imagination." - Dr. Rollo May

In many ways as a creative organization grows, the leadership migrates away from the actual workers within their business. The workers become an outward symbol, an ambassador of their vision and ideas to their clients, the industry and the media. Leadership spends less and less time by just“ creating the vision and focusing inward towards the team” instead of keeping the vision new and fresh. The stewardship of the business is turned over more and more to others. The specific functionality of operating a business leads to fragmentation and specialization. Financial teams, analysis teams, account management and sales, creative management, design, production and technology teams, all lead to a tugging of resources, focus and vision.

In the end it is possible for the cohesiveness of a creative organization to begin to erode. And the original vision, the passions of why and how it all began seem to drift away. It is important to stop from time to time and reassess where you are personally, and where your organization is. Do the results of the efforts of your business match what you feel they should be, both financially and spiritually? Is the work going out the door matching what you see as the quality and value you feel it should be?

Managing a creative organization, either as a stand-alone business or as an integrated part of a larger beast/corporation is different than managing any other business. It is about building a vision, a spirit and soul that others want to belong to. It is the act of creating a cause to sign on to, it is the act of managing fire, lighting and egos – getting them aimed at the right moments, actions and generating results for others (the nasty old client). The leadership of a creative organization is about creating an environment that other creative individuals want to be a part of, while allowing the chaos to exist while generating business results.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Thinking About Business Relationships

“I’m upset with you and your company. We need to talk…”

We have all had difficult moments in a client relationship or with a key partner. Things may have gotten a bit off track and we might not have noticed it. Life gets busy, distractions abound (email, iPhones, text, Angry Birds). The next thing you know, you have an upset or, even worse, a disenfranchised individual before you. But all is not lost. Good things can come from bad moments or situations – if you take the time to stop, listen, and do something different.

“A working relationship takes work.” – John Hanley

If you have a situation where a client or a partner is angry or upset, accept it as a challenge to grow the relationship. It’s your chance to shake off the old and say “Let’s try something new.” Go to the person and with an open heart and a listening mind and explore how and where you need to improve and grow. You need to make a change, even if the issue is not 100% your doing - take the first step.

Here are a few tips to growing successful relationships:

1. Schedule face-to-face time with the person. Don’t “do it on the phone” or by email. Relationship growth takes a commitment of time, face-to-face. Go to them. Do it soon and do it on their turf. Relationship issues do not age well.

2. Remember email, blackberry-speak, and cell chatter are not relationship-building tools or paths. A text message of "Sorry :-(" isn't going to cut it. You need to be willing to invest in the relationship.

3. Go with an open mind and do not be defensive. Even if somebody is off base, keep your cool. Hear them out, ask lots of questions, and see if you can grow beyond the moment. Listen not debate.

4. Try and get them to sum up what their greatest frustration or issue is. Have them review the scope or document or whatever it is that is driving the frustration. Get them talking about what will help get the relationship back on track. Again, you need not commit to a solution, but explore what and how to begin to build a path to one. I like to ask the simple question "I hear and understand what you are saying, so what would it take to get this relationship back on track?"

5. Whatever you commit to, follow through with it and be engaged. You only get one shot so make it your best.

6. Take the high road. In the end, even if there is no resolution, simply being present, listening, and showing and saying that you care makes a positive difference.

“Assumptions are the termites of relationships.”
– Henry Winkler

Most business relationship issues are based on poor assumptions, misunderstanding, miscommunications, or just the fact that everyone is too busy. Use a flare up or a frustrating moment to demonstrate to the client or partner that you are willing to invest time and effort in strengthening the relationship. Use it as a way to build a stronger sense of not only who you are as a person is, but also what the relationship is about.

This is not a someone wins, someone loses. This is about being aware of your relationships. The challenge to you is to see even a difficult moment as a way to grow in your role as a trusted advisor and valued partner in a relationship.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Marketing Is Not What Many Think It Is

I have spent the better part of 30 years involved in marketing. Whether products, services, political candidates the fact is all need marketing at some point. The sad thing I have seen over the years is the lack of understanding on what marketing really is (even more so with marketing leaders).

While creativity, the 5 P’s (packaging, price, placement, position, promotion) and other classical thoughts around marketing are at play the real fact is, marketing is a tactical weapon. You need to know first and foremost what you are aiming at, what the end goal/ results are that you want. After that what you are going to do to be ready once the results start to happen. This means understanding the level of impact the results will have and can the organization handle the growth. In addition what is the appropriate level of marketing and effort? Do you need a fly swatter or a tactical nuke?

I have seen so many businesses have major issues in delivery, in the make up of the staff, loss of focus and they turn to marketing and say “make us better, make us succeed!” When a good marketing leader starts to ask the tough questions, to peel back the onion and the ugliness comes bubbling to the forefront. The reaction by the leaders of the business should be we will fix these underlying issues first before we try and grow the business OR the wrong response – hey this has nothing to do with marketing, stay out of operations, or delivery, etc. just do something creative to grow the business.

Many times the underlying issues are never fully addressed and “creative marketing types” push ahead with new campaigns, new marketing spin. In the end the issues are still there and the success is only temporary and next everyone is looking at the “failed marketing efforts” saying – see we don’t need marketing, give these dollars to price discounts or bonuses to the operational people. Remember poop is poop no matter how you package it.

The fact is, a business needs to be healthy, needs to have solid business operations and be able to deliver what they say they are going to deliver. If not there is no marketing in the world is going to make the difference.

So the next time your hear someone start to say that they need marketing to help fix the problem or turn to marketing to figure out both the strategy and the tactics without the key business leaders in the mix – stop and ask yourself – what is wrong with the underlining business? Don’t move forward with any marketing initiatives without the full alignment of the whole leadership team of the business other wise you will only have temporary buy in and success. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Strategy Smattergy

For some reason, the idea of strategy seems to cause two reactions in many business people today. The desire to over think the business processes or to lean towards a tactical list of action items. The fact that strategy is at the core the fuel that drives a business forward – it is also the understanding of what the business is, why it is different than others and sets it apart in the market. 

There are wonderful tools to help better understand your strategy, like SWOT analysis, What if scenario planning, and much much more. These are tools not the end result, like a hammer is not a house.

The definitions available on strategy are:

1. Strategy, a word of military origin, refers to a plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal. In military usage strategy is distinct from tactics, which are concerned with the conduct of an engagement, while strategy is concerned with how different engagements are linked.

2.  Definition of STRATEGY

1 a (1) : the science and art of employing the political, economic, psychological, and military forces of a nation or group of nations to afford the maximum support to adopted policies in peace or war (2) : the science and art of military command exercised to meet the enemy in combat under advantageous conditions
b : a variety of or instance of the use of strategy
2 a : a careful plan or method : a clever stratagem b : the art of devising or employing plans or stratagems toward a goal
3 an adaptation or complex of adaptations (as of behavior, metabolism, or structure) that serves or appears to serve an important function in achieving evolutionary success <foraging strategies of insects>

How I look at strategy is at a few levels:
  • Define a perfect customer and why they are perfect?
  • Where does the cash register ring?
  • How do you make money and lose money?
  • What are you great at?
  • What is the focus and meaning of the business?
  • What is the value to bring to your customers?
  • Where do you want to be in 5, 10, 30 years as a business?
  • Are your resources, development and operations aligned with what you say you are as a business?

What is it going to take to be a success and why?

The step after you start to get a handle on the core thinking of the business, the real hard part starts - making sure you are honest with yourself and the business. Making changes to better align with the vision if what you want the business to be, to become. 

A big part of getting a handle on your strategy is talking and listening. Talking with your team mates, talking with customers (past, present, happy and unhappy ones), talking with the competition, with the market and taking it in and making a plan forward based on this.

In the end, it is the common sense thinking of the business. Do you know where you are headed and do you have the resources and the ability to get to where you want as an organization. Do you have a plan forward and is your team aligned to make it happen.

Strategy comes before marketing, before sales, before operations. It is a map forward.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Branding Schmambing

What Color Are The Business Cards Anyway?

I was asked to explain what brand means to an industry association. So I shared some thinking and background on how to look at the importance of branding within the mix of a business or a nonprofit organization. My background includes a large non-profit organization, where I found that branding was even more important in the growth of the organization.

A few high level thoughts.

  • Brand is not the logo (although the logo is a key brand element), the colors, the ads, or the website.
  • Brand is a promise. It is the outward meaning, understanding and value of the company (or product or service) being associated with that entity.
  • Brand must be aligned with the organization and what it represents.
  • Brand is the split second relationship feeling associated with an organization, its employees and the clients.
  • Brand is the spirit, the feel of an organization.

A powerful brand is 100% aligned with the value, the meaning, the movement forward of an organization/product/service. It is the most honest thinking and conversations you will ever have - if not, the brand promise is hollow.

So many people end up spending way too much time on colors and business card designs when they say brand, but they miss the underlying key thinking and drivers to a truly great brand. In technical environments this urge to jump into tactical stuff too soon is always prevalent. Branding should be the anchor point for the whole organization and the thinking from which other things flow - like design, message, actions within marketing, sales, etc.

Key: Brand allows for alignment of the whole organization. It brings the history and the future vision into the mix. It challenges us to ask, How is what we say we are demonstrated; how is it coming to life? Brand is the experience. It is the proof that what you say you are, you really are. I use a slide when I get to this point of a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger, all pumped up, with guns blazing and the wording "brand means you can say you are this...." But in realty you are this... and it is a picture of the Teletubbies. You know what I mean, we have all experienced it in our lives. A store that has a tagline, "friendliest store in town" and you never see a smiling face. Or an airline that says "on time and best in class awards for...." and they are hardest people to travel with, or the bank that says in their TV spots "you matter to us" and when you call them you never get a live person and it takes forever to push button your way to one.

I can fill up pages of examples like these. The fact is, the more aligned the brand is with the value you bring, and the people in the organization are living to that brand promise, the more successful you will be in growing and reaching more people. The more off you are, the less alignment there is - well the fact is you can actually create negative brand value and drive the business into the ground.

In the early 1980's (yes, I am dating myself now) I had the grand privilege of working for Air Products & Chemicals. Before "brand" was a fledgling thought in the eyes of the business, Air Products already understood how key this was to their future success. Not only did we have very well thought out brand standards (which I helped with), but they said across all 66,000 employees, the brand must be lived. We are about quality, safety, responsiveness and helping our clients improve results. Think about it, Air Products sold air. But how and what did the liquid nitrogen mean to that company, that hospital, that assembly line? Things like making sure the 3,000 tanker trucks and delivery trucks were designed and painted to match - to stand out. That we made sure the trucks were washed once a week (others in the industry never washed their trucks) or hand wiped every cylinder when it was delivered. To systems, we put in the first telephony system for the liquid cryogenics in the world so that the cryo tanks would call the customers and say (based on their desired refill points) "I am half empty do you want me to send a truck or do you want to talk to a live person?" To the training of employees, and to the safety truck rodeos we sponsored. Even the fact that we had research labs targeting the key markets that any client could use at no cost (food freezing, steel, semiconductor etching, etc.) These were all key to the brand meaning what it did/does.

I was hired in 2004 to help evolve the Centennial brand from stealth to the world class recognized industry leader that they really were and are. I started at the brand development side. I questioned everything from the mission statement, the core values, the development of a value statement, etc. There were difficult sessions from the president on down. I even talked with the competition. I wanted to know the perceptions, the beauty, the soft and the hard spots. The process took about six months to bring to a point were we could craft a branding statement and move forward.

We realized that our brand was about people, solutions, and living up to our promises and that we are a different kind of company. So we made sure that we pulled this brand thinking into our themes, our designs, and our approach to all the marketing and sales. Once the brand platform is crafted and believed and understood, the communications and marketing development efforts flow from here. We realized that our key growth efforts were building brand awareness and building a body of knowledge around JOC and Centennial. We also focused on the media and public relations side based on this brand thinking.

Brand is a challenge, because if left untended and cared for it can grow all weedy and diminish over time. People begin to change it, shape it to their view and next thing you know you are no longer aligned and it is hard to be honest with yourself and the organization all the time.