Archive for September 18, 2008

Posted: September 18, 2008
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Creating an Ideas Organisation

I have an absolutely unshakable belief in the “ideas organisation”, which is why I get so pissed off by organisations that only want to perpetuate a winning formula.  They just don’t get it, do they?  The facts are indesputable, a winning formula is only winning when its new and original, once its old-hat or plagarised the value dissappears FAST and that’s getting to mean a realy short shelf life for most businesses.  As I have said many times before – “Your organisation is only as good as your NEXT big idea”.  Move on!

Of course, when your organisation is structured and geared to perpetuating the routine, its not easy to climb out of the rut.  This is noticeable at every level of an offending organisation.  In my Brand Discovery workshops I always start with an exercise designed to help delegates break the mold.  A quick and simple demonstration of how it feels to think normally.  Yes, normally, because normal thinking is what drives creativity.  The problem that we have is that we mistakenly belive that the way we think every day is normal.  Well, wake up and smell the coffee, you aren’t normal, you are conditioned!

Jennifer Goddard reports on BNET this week on Mr Mindmapping, Tony Buzan’s conference that she attended in Singapore, where he spoke of an experiment in Utah that pitted under-fives against graduates in a creativity test.  I think it is a rather old and well-known piece of research that he refers to, where the under-fives won 95% to 10%, thus proving, or so it would seem, that we start creative and have it beaten (read educated) out of us.  In one of my favourite presentations on TED, Ken Robinson promotes just this thought.

So with all this stuff working against you, how are you going to create your ideas organisation?  The way I see it, its not about workshops and brainstorming, useful though they may be once you are an ideas organisation.  Sadly, I usually find these things are more “last chance saloon” than “brave new world” and tend to find their way onto the agenda about the time an organisation realises it doesn’t have a hope. 

Great buinesses have idea generation in their DNA, or rather “idea liberation”, because the ideas are always there, hiding away in the corners of the minds of your employees, the task is to set them free.  How do you do this?  Well firstly you have to give them, value.  

We all have ideas, all the time.  Small ones, big ones, funny ones, evil ones, even profitable ones.  The reason that they don’t ever see the light of day is because we are embarassed to express them!  Why embarrassed?  Well, I guess that’s one of the mysteries of social conditioning, but basically most ideas are pants and we just can’t live with that.  We’re so insecure that we can’t bear the thought of people knowing that we had a stupid idea.  How how stupid an idea is that?

We have to learn the value of mistakes.  I’m sure Michaeangelo didn’t just turn up and knock off the Sistine chapel first attempt.  He must have had a warm up, a trial run, scrapped a few attempts even,  Shit, nobody’s that good!  So get real.  And the reality is that there are loads of crap ideas, but every now and then there is a really great one and it isn’t always obvious at first encounter which is which, so you have to give them all an airing.

So, if you want to be an Ideas Organisation, and, frankly, these days no organisation can afford not to be, the first step is to value ideas,  Sounds obvious, but take a look around you, it doesn’t happen.  We still value only the good ones and snigger at the people who come up with the runts.   We forget that, good or bad, all ideas are worth something because without the hopeless ones you won’t ever discover the great ones.  How do you gt to this, well, hey, I get paid for this, so If you want the “how”, hire me!

Once you have achived this though, step two involves creating the conduit through which the ideas are funnelled into the system.  What system?  The one you create in step three that’s what system.  Too fast for you?  OK, here’s it is again,

  • Step one – value ideas.  Convince yourself that ideas are always good and some are great.
  • Step two – build a communications conduit.  Two-way so that you can persuade your stakeholders that you value ideas, then they will too and as a result they’ll bring them to you.
  • Step three – develop a way of presenting the ideas.  Its important to help people express their ideas in the nearest to business terms they can get, and anyway, its a good business discipline training exercise for them.
  • Step four – Create a test process.  All you need do here is decide how these ideas are going to be explored, the stages that you will go though to minimise risk (Yes, of course there’s risk, the smart guys minimise it though)
  • Step five – establish criteria for judgement. You need to be able to tell as early as possible in your exploration whether an idea will fly, so you need a set of criteria.  You might choose generic ones that support only your Brand Model, or you might design a different set for each idea or every stage in theexploration process.  
  • Step six – Implement.  Its amazing how many great ideas get put on hold, until the time is right.  The time is NOW!  And, if you are facing difficult times such as we all are now, the time was yesterday, so you’ll have to move fast to catch up!  Every time there is recession in any part of the world the guys who push ahead with idea development end up being the winners.  Check the facts.

Now you’re “cooking on gas”.  You are an ideas organisation!  You’re not?  Didn’t like it then eh?  Oh well, it was just an idea!

Posted: September 11, 2008
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The truth about baseball.

OK, so now its official!  America’s biggest brand community, the sport that is synonymous with US family life is English!

Yes, baseball was invented in England.  Well, according to the newly discovered diaries of Englishman William Bray who records a major baseball game being played in the Surrey town of Guildford way back in 1755!  That’s more than twenty years before the American declaration of independence!  There’s no doubt about it, like mountain biking, hamburgers, apple pie and a whole lot more, baseball is just another hand-me-down that Americans have plagiarised!  The evidence is now on show at the Surrey History Centre.

Oh, and, one more thing.  It was a womens’ game, but then again we Brits always knew that, didn’t we?

Posted: September 5, 2008
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There’s a right way and there’s a wrong way …

I’ve just spent two weeks looking into a company whose brand has massive awareness.  Great, you might think, but no, because while everyone has heard of this business, it seems to me that they have massive negative equity.  Like Walmart?  No, way worse than that.  This business seems to be universally hated!

I say “seems to be” because I can’t say for sure – they have no research.  A basic omission you may think, but they didn’t seem to agree and don’t want to pay for any.  I did the usual on-line checking, but this was hampered by a massive web farm they had set up to control negative comment and social networking (a sure indication of a business that had their priorities up their arse!).  It seemed to support my intuition, but I didn’t come up with enough hard facts.

Staggeringly, this business is big, number one in their sector with fourteen years of YonY growth.  How did they do it?  Actually, it isn’t that big a mystery.  They succeeded on a rising market, with no competition, where all they had to do was turn up and set out their stall, then count the money – and they milked it!  Inexperienced and sometimes just plain stupid management had made just about every mistake in the book, screwing customers, suppliers and partners alike.  However – and I love it when this happens! – they seem to have reached the end of their road.  Economic conditions, social change, emerging competition and saturated markets have conspired to hack their share value to bits and turn their business into a Shadow of its former self – send for the consultant!

After that imagine how refreshing it was to come across not one, but two businesses that had got it all right.  Sadly, they are not my clients, but in an interview with Time Magazine’s The Curious Capitalist John Mackey, CEO and co-founder of Whole Food Markets and Kip Tindell, CEO and co-founder of Container Store, gave me the kind of lift that’s only possible when all your firmly held beliefs are affirmed in a single action.

These guys tick all the boxes in my Full Effect Marketing philosophy and Brand Discovery programme.  In this lengthy interview they explain how important it has proven to them as entrepreneurs to have defined the parameters of their brands up front.  They didn’t tackle this in a particularly formal way but, as is the case with so many great entrepreneurs they each instinctively created what I call a “Brand Model”, without which their businesses, and anybody else’s, would not be scalable.

Once you have this the rest is possible, if not always simple.  I still have a struggle sometimes driving my clients through the process of internal marketing – sharing the model, its reasoning and constraints with employees at every level and getting them behind the cause, but as John and Kip knew, empowering your employees is the vital key to growth.  The client, whose tale I opened this post with, complained at our first meeting that he was forced to micromanage because his people weren’t up to the job.  I argued that things aren’t always what they seem and that I usually find that the “people” aren’t always the problem that they seem.  “But what if they are the problem?” he asked.  “I guess you have to have a clear out” I replied.

Of course you have to have great people to have a great business, and John and Kip both underline how important it is to recruit the best, but how great they are is very much dependent on how well you manage them and again, instinctively John and Kip knew this.

A great business is built around a great brand.  Every brand is a community that all your stakeholders play a part in creating.  Again, after my experience with the client I feel the need to clarify – stakeholders are investors, suppliers, partners, employees as well as customers.   You have to ask yourself “Are these people, who I want to do business with going to want to be a part of my community?” and when you get a “yes” you then set about making them feel as welcome, engaged and comfortable as you can.

These two talk about the importance of engaging your employees and your suppliers, how vital it is to share information with your community and confirm that though there will undoubtedly be leaks as a result the advantages vastly outweigh the disadvantages.  They talk about the innovation and risk – both requisites of business growth, best quality and satisfying and delighting.  I could have filled this post with clips from the interview, but go there and read for yourself.

It didn’t take me two weeks to realise that what my client wanted was for me to paper over the cracks in his business.  He didn’t want to change it,  I doubt that he would even be flexible enough to do so and I suspect that anything I would do would be too little too late anyway.  I’m not even sure even now that he recognises how serious his situation is.

Unsurprisingly, he isn’t a client any longer.  Which is a pity, because I do love a challenge, I hate to give up on anything and I could see the glimmer of a couple of opportunities, but I doubt I would have been able to persuade him to explore them.  To quote John, or was it Kip, “Life’s short and then you are dead” so I’m off to find my next project.

Posted: September 4, 2008
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What’s in a name?

Continuing my recent “interactive” theme …

I answered a question on The Reis Report (AKA Reis’ Pieces) as I was passing yesterday and it started me thinking (again) about brand names.  Reis and daughter it appears are thinking of changing the name of their blog and were floating a few options.  Frankly, I am always reluctant to throw out a brandname unless it has massively negative equity (and I doubt that their’s does), but that wasn’t quite the point that intrigued me.

Brand names are a really tricky area and demand some expertise and a great deal of resource to get right if you are planning anything but a mom and pop business venture.  One danger area is how your brand translates to other markets and languages.  We all know about the Durex/Sellotape faux par and I recall an airline from the Isle of Man called Manx Airlines.  Those of you who are familiar with this part of the globe will know that “manx” is an ancient language, derived from Irish, that was spoken on the Isle of Man.  It also sounds like “mank” or “manky”, which if you are English you will also know is colloquial for smelly, messy, disgusting even, hence the airline’s problem.  I have also always wondered how Unilever managed to make such a success out of Ciff, a range of kitchen/bathroom cleaners with a name that sounds like a social disease (which is probably why it was originally called Jiff in the UK.  Heaven knows why they made that particular switch)!

Anyway, there must be a legion of products and brands hampered by their name and I thought it would be fun to highlight a few.  So let me know those that you have come across.  Yes its the silly season – so humour me!

Posted: September 2, 2008
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Guerrilla or Gorilla?

Guerrilla or Gorilla? is the title of one of the sections in my Full Effect Marketing seminars.  I have had a great deal of success with Guerrilla marketing, from dressing up actors like pantomime characters and placing them on public transport where they proclaimed the benefits of a product loudly and at length to packed carriages of travellers to scattering red shoes around a city and creating a treasure hunt, but I always love to see other people’s ideas.

This is the folk art of marketing communications and massively undervalued by most organisations.  I never get tired of the ideas that other folks come up with and found this on Speak Marketing and Sales I coudn’t resist sharing it with you.


Posted: September 1, 2008
Comments: 1

The best thing since sliced bread?

Sarah Drew at started me off on this.  Today is the 80th anniversary of the introduction of sliced bread, an invention that changed the way  we live to some degree, although probably not as significantly as some other innovations before or since.

Sarah started a post asking for suggestions of subsequent inventions that have had a significant impact on our lives and came up with her own “top ten”, which were:

  1. The Internet
    It’s come a long way from those 18k modems – remember how slow they were?
  2. The Microwave
    Popcorn in a jiffy!
  3. Email
    I’m thankful I don’t have 300 letters in my letterbox every morning.
  4. Concord
    Three hours to NYC. If only my next trip to our headquarters could be this way!
  5. MP3 Players
    These devices make running bearable.
  6. Penicillin
    Alexandre Flemming is still saving lives.
  7. The Mobile Phone
    No more having to go to the phone box!
  8. The Remote Control
    The ability to sit in one place after work can be a lifesaver.
  9. PG Tips
    Everyone knows I love a morning cuppa. I’ve even introduced it to our US office and have the team drinking it there!
  10. Advanced Search
    Finally, an efficient way for £50K+ earners to find £50K+ positions.

OK Sarah, I’ll allow you the last one in the name of marketing!  I added a few myself:

  1. CD/DVD. 1982 – I’ll never mourn the demise of floppies, but vinyl?  I’m not sure!
  2. Sun tan lotion. 1938 – The antidote to global warming?
  3. Derailleur gears. Original idea 1905, but the first real derailleur was 1937 – Where would we cyclists be without them?
  4. Brillo Pads. Patent 1913 launched 1917. You don’t realise how great these things are until you are in a countrry that doesn’t have them!
  5. Filofax. 1921 – I used one until the PDA emerged and was probably better organised then – which is why I don’t have time to add to this list.

However, I am a firm believer in the idea that you are only as good as your NEXT big idea.  So what’s yours?  Let me know what you think is going to be the next big thing!