Michael Baer's Stratecution Stories

"Strategy is overrated. We have a strategic plan. It's called doing things". – Herb Kelleher

Monthly Archives: September 2013

Ideas are a-dime-a-dozen. What are you going to DO with yours?

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As seen on TV, er, in TalentZoo, check out my newest article (also in its entirety below), on ideas – and what needs to happen AFTER you have a good one.  Without the hard work of distilling, developing, iterating, and “stratecuting” it, your idea doesn’t stand a chance of success. Would love to hear your examples, comments and rants below. And please share!

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I think most people would agree that ideas make the world go around. Ideas can move mountains, ideas are the lifeblood of business, and they’re worth their weight in gold. But what if I told you that ideas are over-rated. That we spend too much time rhapsodizing over them, perfecting them, and paying homage to them? Because, while ideas can be sexy and exciting and even amazing, they’re really a-dime-a-dozen. Who hasn’t had a good idea? And how often has that brilliant idea led to great success?

Ideas are really just a starting point – they’re part of the means to the end, but most definitely not an end in themselves. The key is what you do after having one. How you distill it, communicate it, develop and iterate it, and then get-it-done.  Here are some keys to successful ideas:

Don’t have just one

Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one you have. Emile Chartier

People get attached to their ideas and stick to them like white on rice. They hold on tight and don’t let go. They refuse to question them, they defend them all costs, they resist input. They suffer from confirmation bias.  However, it’s critical that you be open to feedback, to evolution and iteration, and to conflict. Question your assumptions. Welcome tough questions. Invite opposing views. Not every idea is a home run, and not every one is great right out of the gate. But if you’ve only got one, you won’t allow yourself to think that way.

Ideas need to be shared

“You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.” Lee Iacocca

A good idea needs to be communicated – so simplification and conviction are key. Distill it down to its essence, make sure you can convey it, and demonstrate your passion.

And dispense with all the confidentiality, privacy, keeping others out. Ideas need transparency and input. Share early and often.

Ideas need followers

“A mediocre idea that generates enthusiasm will go further than a great idea that inspires no one.” Mary Kay Ash

I don’t care how unique or novel your idea is, if it doesn’t gather momentum and get people excited, it’s likely not going to work. It needs to spark something in others for it to be helpful. It needs to create acolytes, advocates, believers and dreamers.

Ideas require hard work

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration” Thomas A. Edison

Having an idea is just the beginning of your work – what happens next is much more important. That is, the “stratecution” – the strategic and creative activation and execution of the idea. Without it, an idea is simply a theory or hypothesis. So an idea needs to begin to work through the who, what, how, when of the idea. The what-it-might-look-like, how it might begin, where it might be going.  What does success look like, how will we measure our performance, what results are we looking for? This process requires both dreamers and doers – those to figure out what the idea could be, and those who can make it a reality.

It’s been said that a great idea that is poorly executed fails, but a mediocre idea well executed succeeds at some level. This is true. For years, this was the hallmark of Proctor & Gamble‘s marketing. Average ideas, blasted out across every channel, connecting from top to bottom of the funnel, and driving across everything the brand did. Nothing anyone ever went “aha!” or “wow!” over; but always successfully making the cash register ring.  A brilliant idea has, no doubt, a multiplier effect on great execution – but it does not nor cannot substitute for it.

The most important part – Get ‘er done

“Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them.” Alfred North Whitehead

The final key to ideas is making them happen, with speed and iteration. Stop perfecting them and get them started. The devil is indeed in the details, so start developing them – and be open to adapting as you learn. You’re always better off starting and learning in the real world than waiting and trying to perfect what, in essence, is a hypothesis.

Ideas aren’t magic. Ideas aren’t silver bullets. And ideas can’t be walk-off homers. They’re a starting point for the real, hard work that it takes to be successful. So, what do you think of my idea?

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Get outside your bubble – and stop the echo-chamber thinking

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“Lesson number 2: Don’t get high on your own supply” Elvira Hancock

Today’s business world is in need of “groundbreaking ideas”, innovation, creative breakthrough, and disruption. But so many companies can’t get out of their own way. Instead, like Tony Montana, they’re getting high on their own supply. They live firmly inside their own bubble, they believe all their own b.s.,  and they never even question themselves. And while it’s hard to break this habit, we’ve got to try.

Smash your echo-chamber
Whether we realize it or not, we all create our own bubbles. We seek ideas and outlets that align with our pre-existing opinions. We naturally tend towards friends with common backgrounds and personalities. And the modern web further reinforce our own echo-chamber – and is making it smaller and smaller. Sites and search engines recommend content that matches your behavior and history; data on our browsing leads to more content like we’ve already viewed; we follow those with similar POV’s; and our friends and loved ones curate the web for us – all of this discouraging diversity.

But there is tons of evidence that diversity of thought is hugely beneficial to problem solving, creativity and decision-making. So we need to step outside our bubbles to get external perspectives, new ideas and opposing viewpoints.

  • Go out into the real-world. Go on “field-trips” with your teams, go see your brand and consumer in action, in real life contexts. And, while using “big data” is hugely helpful – the “little data” of real life examples and anecdotes can set your imaginations, and creativity, on fire.
  • Study your competition, open-mindedly. It’s easy to take a flat, uni-dimensional approach while looking at your competition and their actions. It’s all stupid, baseless and misguided, right? Well, not so much. Open your mind to what they’re doing – they may be approaching the same situation you are, but with different, and perhaps fewer, in-going assumptions and biases.
  • Get outside your category for case-studies and examples. Oftentimes an example of a brand, team, person working in a completely different category and context can provide infinitely more inspiration than one that is facing the exact same issues you are. Take a cue from David Bowie, who “spreads the net so wide … (to) create something so new with what they find“.

Challenge your company’s thinking
While nearly all people and all companies say they want new thinking and new ideas, they rarely actually do. It’s uncomfortable and difficult to achieve. In fact, it’s been proven again and again that people generally tend to stick with the familiar and comfortable – from music to strategies to ideas. And companies are trained to follow the leader, avoid conflict, and go with the flow. To break out, you have to challenge yourself and your thinking.

  • Say “we might be wrong” regularly. Those simple words will cause you to re-look at your assumptions, reflect on your ideas, question your strategies. Critiquing your ideas can only make your thinking better. As Margaret Heffernan describes in her wonderful TED talk, “create conflict around theories” as a way to build them – seek to disprove as much as to support existing thinking.
  • Take the opportunity to challenge the status quo. Diplomatically ask questions that no one seems to want to ask or that make folks uncomfortable – an indicator of echo-chamber thinking. Ask “why?” a lot – and, even more importantly, “why not?” and “what if?
  • Leverage outsiders or fresh thinkers.  Generally, those who have not been “drinking the Kool-aid” for years and years can provide a real fresh perspective – if an organization is open to listening. Hire diversely, create “Red Teams” to help find holes in a core team’s thinking, etc.

Eat some broccoli
As I mentioned, the world of media can become a self-curated echo-chamber, in which you read and watch and share the ideas you already have. In a way, you choose to read the “candy” all the time, but not the vegetables that might be good for you but less obviously pleasurable. At least, that’s the way Siva Vaidhyanathan describes it. He says that we need to eat some content broccoli, too.  A little less cat videos and HuffPo. A bit more Scientific American and opposing viewpoints.

What do you think? Is there echo-chamber behavior going on at your company? How have you helped to challenge it?

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