This post is part of an ongoing series of primers (e.g., short posts, long articles, etc.) behind my Big Things F@$t™ methodology: a practical guide for aspiring leaders looking to deliver Incremental Value @ $peed™.
I enjoy a good water analogy.
From James Clear, “When rain falls, it flows downhill. If desired, you can collect the rain in a bucket and carry it uphill, but the natural tendency of water is to flow toward the lowest point. Most situations in life have a tendency—a direction in which things want to flow. You can choose to go against the flow (just as you can choose to carry water uphill), but your results tend to be better when you find a way to work with the gradient of the situation. Position yourself to benefit from the external forces at hand and you will get more from the same unit of effort. Energy is conserved and results are multiplied."
Reminds me of my favorite water analogy, “water is always appropriately engaged with its environment no matter the environment. Water never over or under reacts to anything. Simultaneously fluid and powerful.”
I posit that these water analogies elegantly illustrate equanimity in the face of change. Especially the last one: water never over or under reacts to anything…it just flows, working its way through and/or around resistance as applicable. That mindset is critical if, like me, you have chosen to be, or are naturally drawn to be, an agent of change.
It is well documented that all change will experience some form of resistance; the greater the change, the greater the resistance. This is especially true in large corporate enterprises; be it in the form of corporate inertia, innovation theater, or good ‘ole bureaucracy: change yields resistance.
Over time, change agents if not careful will get weary of this constant resistance. The way to manage through the mental and physical toil that change management professionals -- or any agents of change -- face is to better manage the inertia. Or as James puts it, “work with the gradient of the situation”...to maximize the return on effort and your energy. I agree.
As someone who has a natural inclination to challenge orthodoxy, to experiment, and to drive change, I’ve drowned many times going upstream, or “fighting” inertia directly so to speak: I have expended energy disproportionately to the desired outcome.
Over time I have learned that a more effective management of inertia necessitates three elements:
The unifying theme across the three elements, however, is a commitment to change course as the situation dictates; this commitment requires nuance, practice, and the disciplined application (and re-application) of critical thinking tools.
In sum, water displays Stoic-like equanimity in the face of resistance, and works with the gradient of the situation to conserve energy and make progress. Are you (do you want to be) a change agent? Be like water.
This article builds on my recent post about speed and the pace of change; this article also serves as a primer for my Big Things F@$t™ methodology: a practical guide for aspiring leaders looking to deliver Incremental Value @ $peed™.
Whenever I talk about Big Things F@$t™, invariably people misinterpret that speed is the default. That speed alone will generate the results and the desired outcomes faster. Not so. As Wyatt Earp has said, “Fast is fine but accuracy is everything. In a gunfight, you need to take your time but in a hurry.” (hat tip: Marcus Dimbleby)
My take: Fast is fine but incremental value is everything. In a VUCA world, you need to take your time but in a hurry.
The Incremental Value @ $peed™ Flywheel
The three complementary activities that serve at the heart of value creation at speed are: Strategic Planning & Analysis, Agile, and Change Management. But what do those terms mean? For my application and in my experience, I am defining them as such:
Easy to draw, hard to execute → obstacles and watch outs
One the watch outs in applying my methodology is that it is not linear. It requires critical thinking, deliberate bias busting, and a clear understanding of the strengths and limitations of using any one practice as the silver bullet. I.e., there is no one magical play that will win the day. Every play counts, every play matters and the continuous refreshing of the winning plays in either direction -- offensive or defensive -- is critical. A deliberate attitude toward adaptability will usually win the day and you have to spend time in each of the three circles, making connections and adjustments as needed.
Another stumbling block to consistently executing my construct is prioritization. As I noted in a previous post, “it is priority, not priorities”. While every play matters and every play counts toward your plan, you don’t execute every single play in your playbook simultaneously! Successfully delivery requires focus and prioritization. The objective is to create incremental value in response to constantly shifting externalities (i.e., external pressures such as competition, input costs, human capital, etc., in short a VUCA world), and that requires choices. I’ll expound more on the psychological impact of reprioritization in a separate post.
And finally, successful delivery of Incremental Value @ $peed™ is less about the tools and more about the disciplined use of them that matters. For me and my teams, I have introduced, been certified in, and use Red Team Thinking, Scrum Inc. / Scrum Alliance, and ProSci’s tools for Strategic Planning, Agile, and Change Management respectively, but not exclusively or in isolation of each other. Red Team Thinking's principles and tools, as one example, can and should be applied throughout the flywheel as a way to pressure test Agile and Change Management applications such that they are constantly in service to incremental value creation.
Behavior change is tough → start small, but start
Invariably, all methodologies requiring people to change their behaviors and/or habits are flawed, and have their passionate critics. Said differently, all methodologies are biased and can be misused. I often find that we prefer to get into arguments about what is the right tool and what is the silver bullet. I believe that these arguments are a waste of energy. Pick one, run it as designed, unlearn/relearn, and then adjust and adapt as the environment dictates; minimize analysis paralysis and sub-optimization from the onset.
I have found success, i.e., delivered Big Things Fast, by leveraging this construct, and constantly refining it over time by steadily learning new tools, incorporating new methodologies, and, most importantly, experimenting. Give it a try and let me know how it goes!
Next: The “Develop” waypoint of Big Things F@$t™; I’ll share how human capital impacts productivity and why stretch goals are a myth.
"Try to imagine a life without timekeeping. You probably can’t. You know the month, the year, the day of the week. There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car. You have a schedule, a calendar, a time for dinner or a movie. Yet all around you, timekeeping is ignored. Birds are not late. A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays. [Humans] alone measure time. [Humans] alone chime the hour. And, because of this, [humans] alone suffer a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out." (edited, source: James Clear)
Said simply, "Time is undefeated." (Rocky Balboa)
Upon reflecting on a little over a year of driving transformational change across a multitude of teams--tackling diverse growth challenges--around the world, a few insights consistently cut through:
"Change is inevitable, growth is optional." (John Maxwell). The unlearning process is considerably more difficult than we imagine and yet is the single largest contributor to unlocking new behaviors and habits, which will inevitably lead to new (perhaps even better) outcomes.
“Unfinished projects can’t compound.” (James Clear) We will unconsciously--and stubbornly--fill time with activities unrelated to the problem or opportunity at hand. This usually leads to unfinished projects that drag on with no end in sight; or worse, the tracking of said project becomes the job in and of itself. We then lose sight of why we started this work in the first place. To resolve, firm and aggressive time boxing is the key.
It's priority, not priorities. We unwittingly believe that by focusing on one thing we are ignoring, or somehow insulting?, the other things. As a result, we sub-optimize our time and output despite the multitude of research that shows the benefit of mono-tasking.
Diagnose slowly so that you can execute efficiently. I have a tremendous bias for action and will get visibility frustrated when I observe teams getting bogged down in irrelevant details and/or bureaucracy. That said, I have learned the critical importance of precisely and deliberately diagnosing the problem while concurrently helping teams through the psychology of change. This is as much art as it is science as the default of most teams is analysis paralysis. I’ve found that breaking down the problem as small as possible (but not too small--focus on span of control and the ability to make impact within the agreed time box) provides teams the “scaffolding” (that will lead them to their desired outcome) and the autonomy to execute quickly. Red Team Thinking’s application of the Cynefin Framework is a useful tool.
Growth requires skeptics and idealists. Anton Ego said it best, “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and [themselves] to our judgment. ... But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new.” Change by its very nature introduces resistance; for some, this resistance is driven by a deep loss of control and/or a deep loss of identity, especially when the change program directly impacts their role. You need idealists and optimists--with their boundless energy--to help pull the team up the adoption curve while concurrently leveraging the superpowers of the skeptics to co-create a transformative fact-based solution. I have found, however, that there is a fine line between being productively critical versus unyieldingly, time-consumingly negative; thus, be mindful of cynics and dogmatic sycophants--they have already made up their mind and end up being time and energy vampires.
Finally, as cliche as it sounds, above all, mindsets & attitudes matter. I've been consistently amazed at the creativity, energy, humor, humility, and camaraderie of the individuals and teams I've had the privilege of working with--a testament to their commitment to delivering incremental value at speed. Proving that yes, change is hard, growth is even harder, but it is not impossible.
The clock is ticking...
Google “the future of advertising” and you’ll likely get a plethora of articles on the death of the AOR (or why the AOR model will never die), ad-blocking, cord cutting, the rise of crowdsourcing content, ego killed the advertising star/creative director, or how traditional agencies have reconciled (on paper at least) with crowdsourced content providers and other programmatic / content-at-scale platforms - among other things. Private conversations with ex-agency types who have jumped the fence and come over to the client/brand side (and current agency friends in confidence) have all told me a similar story: the brand advertising model is changing (fast) and not all big box agencies (or clients) are ready/willing to embrace the change...to their own demise.
As I wrote in my last post, from the client/brand perspective, external macro & micro factors are applying unrelenting pressure on P&Ls, forcing brands to heavily scrutinize advertising budgets while concurrently increasing share of voice, content, and reach across a multitude of platforms in real time (i.e. mobile, always on, immediate, targeted). This brand-advertising disruption often puts clients and advertisers at odds. And like all disruptions, the us versus them relationship has to go through the familiar phases of denial, denigration, distinction, and then finally partnership. Some forward-thinking agencies embrace the disruptions and are making adjustments, partnering with crowdsourcing platforms and more “agile” (probably the most over-used word in 2015) vendors to develop creative, content, and commercialization tactics at scale. From the client/brand side we similarly have to challenge ourselves to embrace higher degrees of risk and uncertainty; challenge ourselves to build flexible frameworks where experimentation is institutionalized, measured, and financially supported in the quarterly marketing & business planning process.
Institutionalization not Bureaucratization
If you believe that execution is the only strategy/innovation consumers see then I proffer that only through iterative experimentation can you illuminate consumers' desires in real time. But how does a CPG brand institutionalize media/advertising experimentation in an industry that does not explicitly place a value on experimentation? A symbiotic industry where upfronts, risk avoidance and predictable quarterly earnings growth are paramount? A measured approach toward systematic experimentation, I believe, is the key. We measure innovation with metrics like Return on Investment and Return on Innovation; is there now a need for Return on Experimentation (RoEX)?
There’s plenty of case studies on how higher levels of empowerment lead to higher levels of employee engagement. I’m suggesting that a measure like RoEX can similarly lead to higher levels of engagement while also providing a repeatable, measurable rubric for downsizing risk into quick-turn snackable experiments. No need to eat the brand-disruption-risk-elephant in one bite.
“Inspiration without allocation is meaningless” - B. Bonin Bough
The good news is that some large scale traditional companies are investing in start up Labs, Incubators, Innovation Centers, and Foundries within their company walls with the goal of experimenting outside their internal processes to unlock value and deliver breakthrough “digital” or “shopper” innovation. There’s even a whole crop of players that specialize in developing brand accelerator programs within traditional CPG companies; promote intrapreneurism if you will.
The challenge then is how do these internal accelerator / incubators not fall prey to the same old corporate bureaucratization that led to their development in the first place? How does the work of the internal accelerator link back to the day-to-day grind of selling cases? Said differently, how can experimentation be institutionalized on a daily basis versus being the sole proprietorship of these accelerators / incubators? As a recovered corporate financial analyst, I can tell you that unless it’s built into the annual / quarterly business planning cycle, experimentation doesn’t get noticed or prioritized.
Net, whether through an internal incubator or through quarterly marketing planning (ideally both), regular, snackable (read “fast”), and funded experiments are the key; RoEX can be the measure of success.
Next: The changing nature of a CPG brand.
Last month, I had the honor of being named to Brand Innovators 40 under 40 (Midwest) alongside some fantastic digital "thought" and "do" leaders. As part of our selection, we were asked "to look ahead and identify top trends – things that will influence the market and impact the quest to connect to the ever-elusive consumer." I highly recommend taking a look at all the Brand Innovators' proposed trends as I found the insights illuminating in that they are at once unique yet thematically similar, even across the years that Brand Innovators has been tracking. For this particular post, however, I’ll be speaking only about my submission.
My Brand Innovators 40 under 40 trends:
I’m arguing that it will, it has to. The business/economic world is replete with examples of seemingly non-disruptable, deeply entrenched, and embattled with high fixed cost industries that were, of course, disrupted (music, print, phone, cable, taxi cabs readily come to mind); so why not the agency-advertiser model?
Consumer attention spans are fleeting (and getting flightier); advertisements are being ignored; CPG brand budgets - even the “big dogs” that big agencies typically anchor their contracts to - are tighter and being scrutinized for every penny (nevermind every dollar); retailers are prioritizing store brands and mimicking traditional brands’ go-to-market strategies; mobile, mobile, mobile…this is what is happening now. So while I’m not arguing for the outright dismantling of the traditional AOR model (yet), we need an evolution now (or an accelerated timeline at the very least) to meet the demands of a changed landscape for brand managers. I, for one, don’t want my brand(s) to fade away into the world of obsolescence.
Next: How to accelerate the timeline.
“I really want to be an advocate for individuality and encourage people to be sensitive to their own needs and to stand up for their own truth, even if someone else is telling them what they should do or how it should feel - to own their own experience above all others.” Sadie Nardini
Today’s Lens: How will a brand determine its marketing mix as consumer segmentation races to a consumer-of-one?
Enough has been written about how the advent of the internet and social media has enabled consumers to interact with brands on-demand and in real time - where every consumer matters (or at the very least has the tools to behave as if they do). This rise of the “consumer-of-one”, as I’m proposing here, presents brand managers with several questions (not exhaustive): Which of the multitude of touchpoints (media vehicles or platforms) best capture eye-share? For which product/brand does “it” work best? For whom and when does “it” work best? And ultimately, will the resulting engagement translate to sales at the register (physical or online)?
Despite the evolution of consumer behavior traditional CPGs, large-scale advertisers, and brand managers therein are struggling to gain traction generally due to two big obstacles: 1) How to segment the consumer-of-one and 2) how to efficiently structure media buys that engage the consumer-of-one?
Consumer segmentation has become even more critical, and infinitely more difficult, than before. Even as I write about it, the word “segmentation” may not work anymore. More aptly named “consumer individualization”: where each consumer is a segment of one, where every consumer is demanding a unique experience, and where every consumer has the potential to engage and disrupt the brand's originally intended message. And that is the challenge for brand managers and brand marketing professionals today: how do you “do marketing” at the individual level?
The short answer is that you can’t. It’s simply not cost effective to develop content or marketing campaigns for every single purchasing household in America; it’s even more frightening (or exhilarating) to think about the global consumer-of-one. The answer I believe is dispersed brand marketing: where content marketing matters more (yes, I’m jumping on the bandwagon), where user generated and crowdsourced content matter more, where brands generate the stimulus and then get out of the way.
Granted, the concept of dispersed brand marketing basically puts me out of a job, but since consumers are making up their own mind (or not) about brands anyway, why not "give" the brands to them? Let consumers use whatever platform they prefer to blast out the brand's promise, message, or character (aka brand communication strategy).
Unfortunately, before a brand is able to release control, own less, and influence more, big box brands often then run into an advertising system that is also grappling with the consumer-of-one digitized consumption model.
Cannonballs, Bullets, Rocks, and Darts
Today’s advertising system faces a problem of inertia where it “has erected an ecosystem with ingrained systems, relationships and methodologies that are ill-equipped to fighting the challenges of the digital era.” Traditional CPGs and large-scale advertisers especially struggle with how to invest in platforms and micro-targeted vehicles, versus the efficiency gained by large-scale bulk media buys recommended by their agencies of record.
For example, at an industry expo/conference I attended a while ago, the concept of “bullets then cannonballs” was posited. Marc Pritchard, P&G’s Global Brand Building Officer, instructed all of the marketing professionals and brand managers in the theater to “shoot multiple bullets (small marketing campaigns) to see if we get any hits, then when we do, blast them with cannonballs (big marketing campaigns, scaled across multiple brands)”. At the time, it made sense: test often, scale the winners. After reflection however, and given the rapid and constantly evolving consumer-of-one, I don’t think we need ever go to the cannonball phase for several reasons:
Net, brands don’t need cannonballs; to continue the analogy, instead brands need a steady stream of bullets, rocks, and virus-tipped darts. Furthermore, brands should consider giving the bullets, rocks, and darts to the consumers themselves. Big brands (and their big agencies) should carve out marketing dollars to experiment more with small campaigns co-created with and on platforms that the consumers dictate. Brands can explode the advocacy moment of truth by ensuring consumers are able to engage with (and possibly co-create) every piece of content the brand publishes (beyond adding a “like us” or “tweet this” or “buy it now” button). The empowered consumer-of-one will thank you for it figuratively (i.e. brand advocacy, amplification) and literally (i.e. sales).
Other thought nuggets:
[This piece was inspired by & co-written with my BBF (big brain friend) Keith Knapp - @kknapp.]
Picture waves, currents, and boats. Some waves/currents are big and some boats are big; commensurately, some waves/currents are small and some boats are also small. The big boats navigate the small waves & minor currents relatively easy – and stay the course – while the smaller boats may feel the water as choppy and are forced to make changes in direction more often. When the water isn't too choppy, and the undercurrents are minimal or known, the larger boats can usually get from Point A to Point B more efficiently, while the smaller boats may have to expend more energy as they travel with the changing currents. Conversely, as major undercurrents begin to change the larger boats have a more difficult time tracking those changes until those changes are physically impacting their ability to sail smoothly; whereas the smaller boats, which by design are closer to the undercurrents, can feel or “sense” the major changes in direction sooner and can make adjustments sooner. Therefore, travel from Point A to Point B in the most efficient manner is highly dependent on the size of the vessel and the environment in which it operates.
Now the big question: Is the big ship considered innovative when it starts to use a new tool that allows it to track the changes in the undercurrents sooner? Consider this before answering:
The bottom line is that we feel that the term innovation is being overused; whether it is during strategy sessions or within goal documents, the fact is that innovation, real innovation is very, very hard. Organizations should instead be shifting the thinking away from lofty innovation goals and spend more energy toward delivering incremental, achievable - a.k.a. evolutionary - changes in their business models. To be clear we’re not advocating that organizations should stop pursuing BHAGs; we’re saying that huge, game-changing ideas should be pursued but not at the expense of quickly adopting market-driven evolutions.
While our proposal may seem like semantics - given that sometimes the “best” innovation is often described in terms of being linear and iterative - changing the dialogue from “go innovate” to “go evolve”, while subtle, can represent a very powerful mindshift.
1. “Think like Zuck” by E.Walter
Other thought nuggets:
There’s plenty of buzz around Google’s latest marketing framework called ZMOT and I’m hooked. Like others (here and here), I have been contemplating ZMOT and how it integrates into the existing FMOT & SMOT marketing concepts. As such, I’d like to build on the discussion and introduce a new element: AMOT.
Who’s got the MOT?
Circa 2005, A.G. Lafley coined the terms First Moment of Truth (win consumers at the shelf) and Second Moment of Truth (delighting the consumer at home when the product exceeds her expectation). This “stimulus -> FMOT -> SMOT” marketing process has guided the thoughts of many marketers over the years and has served as an excellent construct on how to engage and sell to consumers.
Fast forward to today and Google has introduced the concept of Zero Moment of Truth, codifying that consumers are engaging with brands or products digitally before they ever step into the store or see the shelf. “They learn from search results, user reviews, four-star ratings, text ads, image ads, news headlines, videos and even good old-fashioned official brand websites.”
Worth of Mouth = Advocate = AMOT
As Google illustrates above, consumers’ experiences (SMOT) and more importantly their ability to quickly share their experiences become the next person’s ZMOT; the cycle perpetuates and constantly influences purchase decisions – permanently changing the landscape for brands. I, however, propose that consumers can advocate at any point in the consumer engagement timeline; we all have the potential to advocate anytime, anywhere. McKinsey calls it “building touch-points”; Google calls it Word of MOT. I call it Anytime Advocacy or the Advocacy Moment of Truth.
Because consumers can be in AMOT 24/7, brands also have to think about their ZMOT perception, their FMOT & SMOT presence, their available digital tools, and overall message 24/7. I.e. advocacy doesn’t happen just after SMOT.
As Google states: brands can no longer control the message. I agree, brands are always "on air". At any given point during the timeline, consumers can choose when, how, where, and to what level they choose to engage in, co-create, influence and – ideally – advocate for and amplify a brand’s message. The question brands are now trying to figure out is how much to and when to listen, how to engage back, and ultimately, how to measure returns on those efforts.
Seems A.G. was equally prescient when he constantly argued, “the consumer is boss.” Now that the consumers can say whatever they want, when they want, about any brand in just about any forum...that sentiment rings truer today than ever before.
With the advent of all the car technology: self parking, snooze driving, etc. I think what car manufacturers should focus on next is driving metrics. Generate a daily report (resets to “new driving period” after 5-6 hrs of non-activity) that shows how often I changed lanes or turned without a turn signal, how many times I downshifted, calculate my average in-city mileage speed, etc. Give me a report card on my driving so I can improve my personal driving performance and my car’s performance. Also, if I so choose, I could send my report to the insurance companies on a monthly basis (or quarterly basis) to actually “prove” I’m a safe driver and pay less. [Side note: I wonder, how do the insurance companies calculate safe driver discounts? Just because you're not directly involved in an accident doesn't prove you're a safe driver or that you didn't cause any accidents. Also, I’m not sure why metrics like “home owner” qualify drivers for discounts; there has to be a correlation between reckless home buyers (think recent housing bubble history) and reckless drivers right?]
Anyway, the other reason I suggest this is simply because I was intensely pissed yesterday because I counted no less than five different drivers yesterday that made turns without their turn signal. So yes, my necessity is the mother of this invention.
(Update: it appears Progressive launched just a device!)
[This is the first of a several part series on my relationship and my approach to ideas.]
Part 1: What is your relationship to your ideas?
A fun exercise: you have 10 arrows, 1 target, you're 100 m away and there is an Olympian archer standing next to you. Your goal is to get as many arrows as close to the bulls-eye as possible. You have 5 minutes.
What will you do? How much time will you spend with the archer perfecting your approach, your angle, your release, etc? Remember you only have 10 arrows and 5 minutes.
Let’s replace arrows with ideas. Is it better to cycle through many ideas quickly in the hopes that many will cluster around the bulls-eye? Or is it better to take as much time as allowable and nail one solid idea down? My default approach to idea generation depends on my relationship with my idea, whether I’m in-like or in-love.
I find that if I’m in-love with an idea I’m much less attuned to objectively accepting any critique. If, however, I’m merely in-like with the idea, I find that a) I’m much more apt to accept all sorts of feedback (be it positive or negative), revisions, etc; and b) I’m much better positioned to create corollary or flanker ideas from the original. I postulate that if I’m in-love with my idea, I may be over-committed (after all, isn’t love blind?) and not able to listen to differences of opinion, whereas in-like, not so much. The downside to my approach is to be mindful of idea-indifference, where I simply don’t care one way or the other. If that’s the case, I toss that idea aside altogether.
Part 2: Time Constraints
So, what else?
During my brief stint as an adjunct professor many years ago, I recall that half of my students had dreams of one day starting their own business. One of my favorite parts of the teaching night was when I presented a random idea and asked the students to put on the brainstorm lens - "what else could you do with this...". Most of the time we would end up in the realm of the zany. Sometimes, however, we would actually land on something achievable and plant the seed. This is an homage to ideas - zany or otherwise.