Michael Baer's Stratecution Stories

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

Tag Archives: advertising and marketing

Meet the new model. Same as the old model.*

It’s fair to say that the fact that the advertising and marketing world has gone through a complete revolution is a given. Everyone now accepts that old models are through. “Digital disruption”. “Media fragmentation”. “Consumer in control”. “Push marketing is dead”. These are the ways our industry has been speaking of the new normal. Business as usual is kaput.

So if the old model is dead, what is the new model? Well, I think I’ve seen an indication of what the market thinks. Game of War. The digital game (yes, the one with Kate Upton). You may expect that I’d be speaking of a wonderful case study and demonstration of how to leverage the liquidity of media, of the new cross-channel consumer, about access to and leveraging of the reams of data we have on each consumer and their individualized path.

But as the French say, “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”. Because this example is really just the old model, in all its moldy glory. And on steroids.

I discovered this example because I play a solitaire game on my phone. I’m not proud of it – but I find it a relaxing way to kill a few moments in-between (let’s not get into the psychology of it…). The app I use recently had an “update”, where once you’ve downloaded it, you now get ads between new solitaire hands. An unwanted interruption. Irrelevance. Not connected to the game, the user experience, the context or anything about the player. But that’s another story, as well.

About six months ago, one of the interruptive ads I began getting was for the Game of War. And six months later, that I’m still getting these ads. By the hundreds. Yes, lots of different ads, different visuals, different scenarios, different calls to action. But the same game and the same campaign. They also appear in Facebook and in digital and mobile banners. It still boggles my mind.

I wonder what the strategy that spawned this campaign looked like. “Bombard annoy interrupt badger consumers as often as possible and with a frequency unmitigated by any half-reasonable notion”? That’s what it looks like in the real world. And with all the varied, available approaches for leveraging advanced targeting, who could their target be? I’ve never downloaded a video game or displayed any interest to do so before. I guess bored solitaire players represent a large part of their target.

And how could they be leveraging campaign performance data? I’ve never displayed any interest in their ads or in playing the game. I’ve never clicked, watched, or viewed additional content. I’ve never liked, posted or shared anything on social media. In fact, I’ve never even played any online games such as these. But I keep getting Game of War message interruptions every day, dozens of times. I am not kidding when I say that I have seen a Game of War ad at least 1,000 times.

Clearly data, an assumed key component of the new marketing model, plays no role in their campaign. How could it? Data is supposed to help find the right people, optimize the effort over the course of the campaign, deliver more and more relevancy, timeliness and value over time. Move me closer to conversion, across platform, time and action. No, no and no.

But the campaign keeps on going. So, against all odds, it must be working. So the question is – is this the new model? Take the old interruption model, and simply apply it to modern channels, at enormous scale and insane frequency. Rinse and repeat.

Am I wrong? Is this an okay strategy? Is it okay to seek results by any means necessary? Perhaps this is a game of war we are playing.

*This post was originally posted in Troyanos’ Groups “Gamechangers” newsletter 7/25/15.

5 Ways You’re Doing Mobile Wrong*

bad mobilestreetfight mag 2danger toxic There’s no denying we’re deep into the age of Mobility. Mobile phones are universal, and smart phone penetration has neared 70% of all mobile devices. More smart phones have been sold than desktops for years now. Online time on phones passed that of desktop over a year ago. And mobility has spawned tablets, phablets, and, now, “wearables”. It’s a constantly evolving and growing space for consumers and brands. And, finally, marketers have dove into mobile in a big way.

But here’s the thing: mobile marketing requires new ideas, new approaches and new use cases. What worked before with other media types won’t necessarily work on this completely different, more personal platform. So, if you’re like most marketers, you’re likely getting mobile wrong. Here are 5 reasons.

1) You’re treating the mobile screen as just another screen.
Yes, the phone has a screen. And people are viewing lots of the same things that they view on other screens, like email, search and video. But that doesn’t mean your brand can act exactly as it has on the TV or PC screen. Because consumer behavior, and their expectations, are fundamentally different on the mobile screen. The phone is a highly personal and unique device, and not simply an extension of the desktop that you happen to carry with you.

But so many marketers are simply using the approaches, images, and videos they are using in other channels and just applying across all mobile placements. That’s a recipe for failure (or at least weak performance). For best results, you have to design and optimize for the mobile screen and the mobile user experience, taking into account context, environment and user location.

2) You’re impeding people from doing what they want.
Interrupting consumers with advertising in exchange for free content in “lean-back” media became quid pro quo long ago. Plus, irrelevance and annoyance in these media can be easily ignored. But the interruption-based ad model is DOA on mobile. Interrupting someone from accessing the information or activities they want on the phone – e.g., interrupting access to the weather report; stopping someone before they can check the game score; disrupting an entertaining video from playing – is not ignorable. It’s deplorable. Instead, your brand needs to figure out how it can add to those experiences, not simply take advantage of them.

3) You’re selling, not adding value.
I’ve heard the smartphone called a “companion”, because it’s always by your side, constantly helping you. But for some reason, brands don’t feel like they need to follow suit. Marketers seem to view mobile just as a handset to “ping”, and forget there is a person holding it. But Brands do have an opportunity to participate in the “companion” model. When they go beyond simply selling, and provide value beyond their own products and services, they can gain trust and long-term loyalty.

4) You are focused on awareness and acquisition, but not on loyalty.
Marketers see the enormous scale of mobile and think about the top of the funnel. It’s easy now to buy hundreds of millions of aggregated impressions. But where mobile is most effective is in driving deeper engagement, conversions and loyalty of existing leads and customers. The ability to reach those who already have your app, those you have data on, and customers who can take an immediate action on your brand’s site or app allows marketers to grow their relationship with existing customers and to make them feel more personally connected to the brand. Two approaches that successfully do this are push notifications and location-aware/geo-fenced notifications, which have proven to be extremely good at driving leads down the funnel and increase usage, sales and loyalty of existing customers.

5) You’ve gone gaga over in-store beacons, but not about driving consumers to the store.
It’s been said that marketing loves it buzzwords and fads, and iBeacons are among the newest and buzziest. And there’s nothing wrong with that – iBeacon and BLE are great new ways to engage with and gain data on your customers in store. But don’t disregard technology and approaches that help drive your customers into your store in the first place, like geo-fenced notifications. These can be particularly valuable in targeting your customers, even at your competitor’s locations, and giving them reasons to come visit your location.

Mobile usage and mobile marketing have matured and grown over the past few years. For Consumers, it’s basically a mobile-first world, with mobile phone no longer the “third-screen”. So it’s time for marketers to shed the old approach, as well. As more and more money and activity moves into the mobile advertising ecosystem, marketers must move beyond the old status quo TV and digital models and start to think like consumers – mobile-first.

* Originally published in Street Fight e-magazine on April 14, 2015

Don’t Vote For Yourself – A case for kindness

20140120-Napoleon-Dynamite-Heck-Yes-Id-Vote-for-Yoube kind blackboard vote for someone else

Mike Figliuolo and his Thoughtleaders has been one of my favorite bloggers for a long time – he’s practically one of my heroes. Today, he’s featuring a guest post from ME on his blog… and I’m pretty psyched. Please check it out (also in its entirety below) – it’s about the fact that leadership demands kindness. Would love to hear your thoughts, comments and rants below. And please share!


“If everyone were clothed with integrity, if every heart were just, frank, kindly, the other virtues would be well-nigh useless.” – Moliere

In 6th Grade, I ran for class president. President of my class, my home room, mind you, not my entire grade. In any event, the election results were tight. And when they were read out to the class, I found I had lost by one vote. “At least the person I voted for won,” I told my friend and campaign manager, Tommy Markham. “You didn’t vote for yourself?” he asked. He couldn’t believe it. “If you had, you would have won”. The funny thing was, voting for myself hadn’t even occurred to me. The only question I had was which other candidate I would vote for. And, as it happened, I voted for the winner.

What is relevant about this story? On the face of it, probably not much. The idea of not taking actions to help yourself seems at odds with all our learnings and beliefs. But as a leader, the concept of “voting for someone other than yourself” should not be so crazy. And, in fact, good leaders need to see themselves as working for their direct reports, and, in a way, being more invested in their success than their own.

Here are some key ways to apply the “vote for someone else” ethic in your role as leader:

Give Away What You Have

“Man hoards himself when he has nothing to give away.” – Edward Dahlberg 

There’s a concept called “Abundance” that is a critical character trait for successful leadership. Abundance, as you might expect, is having presence, confidence and energy – so much so that you can be confident in giving to others your time, your ideas, and your help. You don’t need to take from others in order to be successful.

Having abundance helps attack one of the core cultural problems of many large corporations – the tacit zero-sum game of success – where employees seem to be pitted against each other for attention and rewards. This naturally has an inhibiting effect on sharing, helping and giving among co-workers. However, when you’re abundant, you know you are always re-filling your own kitty – so you’re comfortable giving to others. You are happy to share your thoughts and ideas. You’re happy to take the time to help others solve their problems. And you’re generous with praise and attention. It will all come back to you – in trust, respect, and ever more abundance.

Don’t Worry About Credit

“It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” – Harry S. Truman

Because leadership so often is intangible, people can feel they need to claim their successes. And the pressures to deliver “big wins” can cause leaders to trump up their achievements at the cost of their teammates. But this type of politicking and power-hoarding breeds fear and insecurity – and doesn’t have to be the case. In the words of Arnold H. Glasow, “A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, and a little less than his share of the credit.” So, praise your team members and lavish credit on them. Everyone will know that you helped steer that ship. Simply let the credit accrue to you due to your team’s successes.

Cheer the Successes of Others

“A person places themselves on the level with the ones they praise.” – Goethe

In these “zero-sum” cultures, individuals tend to feel jealous of peers who achieve success. This negative energy creates competition and in-fighting. But it isn’t really true that others’ successes somehow limit our own opportunities. Confident and abundant leaders know that they will experience their own successes on their own terms. Instead of feeling that mix of envy and Schadenfreude towards your co-workers, practice the Buddhist concept called Mudita – “the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being rather than begrudging it.”  This breeds stronger, more productive relationships, better long-term connections, and general good karma.

Lead with Integrity

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionable integrity. Without it, no real success is possible.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

Sure, everyone knows it’s important to be honest, to understand morality and ethics, and to act accordingly. But it’s easy to say it’s important; it’s another thing entirely to walk-the-talk. As Oprah Winfrey said, “real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.”

Unfortunately, it’s too easy for people to find loopholes or play fast and loose with their ethical code. People at all levels in business become overly focused on themselves, and end up bending with the tide, selfishly chasing their own gain. However, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “the person of integrity lives in a fragile balance” between the all-too-human traits and pressures surrounding them.  Always stay balanced and true to yourself and your code.

Be kind

“Kindness is the language the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain

Today, business is not for the faint of heart. It’s never been more competitive, more urgent, and more pressure-packed. Sales and market-share are fought for, competitors are battled with, and consumers are stolen. It’s an all-out-war. It would seem that kindness and being nice are out of synch with this battle.

But, in the end, it’s people who lead to any company’s success. And people, well, tend to like kindness. They respond positively to being treated well. And a happy team and a happy culture correlate more highly with success than an every-man-for-himself, Machiavellian one. So be nice. Be careful how you speak to someone. Treat folks with respect – and never expect anyone to do anything you wouldn’t do. And appreciate people’s efforts and always say thank you. You’ll be surprised how well kindness can be your competitive advantage. And, as Aesop said, “no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”

Who knows what I’d have done differently if I’d won that election. Would my life have taken a very different course? It’s impossible to know. But the lessons I learned from my vote that day – give to others, don’t worry about who gets credit, cheer the success of others, demonstrate integrity, and be kind – are well worth the lesson.

Smart is Over-Rated

don't get smart with meeinstein tonguekeep calm

A number of years ago, I worked with a client that had a Marketing Director who was very difficult. My team felt that nothing could satisfy him. Meetings were contentious. My people felt victimized and blamed. The work was started and then killed. And we were stuck – we didn’t end up doing anything. I mentioned this to the senior client, the VP of Marketing, and I still remember what his response was – “He (the Marketing Director) is incredibly smart”. As if that excused it all. I remember thinking “smart” is not the be-all-and-end-all. That, in almost every business that has people working together to accomplish things, smart is but one piece of the puzzle. And, perhaps, a small one, at that.

Since nearly every business is a team sport, there are a number of other attributes, traits and behaviors that are more important than smart. Smart is a great starting point – but it needs to be coupled with the following.

Listen more than talk: One negative aspect of smart can be a propensity to want show how much it knows. But listening is just as important – and is as often undervalued. Listening shows you are interested in the other person, it expresses and builds enthusiasm, and it demonstrates respect. And you know what? You may end up learning something your smart self didn’t know.

Happy to be wrong, vs. need to be right: I’ve said this before, but it needs to be said again (and again and again) – it’s more important to be willing to be wrong than to desire to be right. “Smart” people often feel they need to be right – and resist doing, hearing or thinking things they already believe aren’t. But it’s way smarter to be open to new ideas, new thoughts and new possibilities – even if (or especially if) they end up being incorrect. Again, the learning you’ll get from being wrong will make you even smarter.

Clear over clever: Because smart people often want to show they’re smart, they can over-complicate ideas with cleverness. But it’s always more important to be clear, to get the point across, to ensure everyone understands and is aligned – than it is to score points with creative word plays.

Long marches, not bold strokes: At the end of the day, the secret of genius tends to be doggedness rather than god-given intellect. And, similarly, almost everything a leader does will be a process of steps and stages, implementation, and steady progress. Success or failure will be determined by the coordinated management of people and process. So, while smart people may want to issue dictums and proclamations, real leadership manages for the long haul.

Help others to understand, vs. demonstrating knowledge: Smart can sometimes be found pontificating or showing off its knowledge (a speedy string of acronyms and insider terms is a dead give-away). However, if indeed you are a smart person, then your real role when working on teams is to help your teammates understand things better to help them (and the team) achieve goals. Period.

Grit and resilience: Anyone who knows me knows that I place the trait of scrappiness in high regard. Similarly, I believe grittiness is second to godliness. Grit and resilience are the ability to recover from stumbles and bounce back, the ability to persevere through adversity, and the ability to stick around longer (“A hero is one who knows how to hang on one minute longer” Novalis). Unfortunately, grit is not always correlated highly with smart. Because smart often believes it “knows”, so will either chart a safe course that doesn’t challenge much. Or it simply proclaims and then delegates. But, as Seth Godin said, while smart folks may desire accuracy, it’s grit and resilience that are the “best strategy for those realistic enough to admit that they can’t predict the future with more accuracy than others”.

Stories over facts: Facts are important to everyone, but especially to the smart. Data, information, numbers and research are their currency. But while these are critical foundations for business, creating stories around them is even more important. What does the data mean – and, even more importantly, where can it take us? What possibilities does it open up? What other ideas can we come up with? These stories will help a smart person drive success better than the cold, hard facts, any day.

Emotional, instead of rational, intelligence: The overly intellectual can be, well, too intellectual and rational. But to achieve anything, you need to influence and inspire others. So understanding people, and what they need or care about, is critical. That’s why “emotional intelligence” is as important as smart. Because success is as much about people as brains.

“Creative” Is Not Just a Department – Creativity is everyone’s responsibility*

keep calm and be creativecreative department signI%22m not creative

“Everybody has creative potential, and from the moment you can express it, you can start changing the world” Paulo Coelho

When I tell people I work in advertising, they invariably ask, “are you a creative?” I have always struggled to answer this appropriately. On the one hand, no, I am not in the creative department. On the other, I have always felt responsible for the creativity of the thinking and work on the teams and accounts I have led. While I don’t normally come up with the creative ideas for ads, I help my team generate them, I foster them, I direct them, and help build them. I also help sell them in and help realize and activate them. So, yes, I am a creative. And I believe everyone in business needs to be one, too.

Because, contrary to popular belief, everyone is capable of creative thought and new ideas – it’s not just the bailiwick of a select group or type. And creativity can and should blossom everywhere across your company – not just in the “creative” areas. As a leader, you need to find ways to foster it with everyone, especially those who function further away from the typical creative arena. Here’s how.

Stop “ghetto-izing” creativity
“Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right or better” John Updike

As I mentioned, most leaders don’t expect creativity from finance, operations, HR, project management. There’s this belief that “some people are creative, but most are not.” But it’s just not true – some of the most effective and productive creativity can come from those beyond those most directly generating the creative work. You must get everyone to view their jobs as critical to the delivery of great work, no matter what they do. In this way, they’ll always be thinking of ways to enable and facilitate it, in order to make it more and more successful.

For example, research/planning creativity, on Milk, helped them look at what life would be like without milk, vs. simply researching how people consumed the product. This led to a completely new way to showcase it – showing how lacking some of our favorite things (peanut butter, chocolate chip cookies, cake) would be without milk.

You can also be creativity with budgeting. On LEGO, we took a different approach to our client-given budgets – by grouping budgets by targets – enabling a more macro-/top-down approach that drove greater creativity and more big ideas.

Embrace uncertainty
“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties” Erich Fromm

It’s been proven that people and organizations often fear creativity and innovation because they tend to increase uncertainty. But uncertainty is a given – as I’ve written before, most issues are so complex, multi-faceted and dynamic that the dialectic of “right vs. wrong” is inappropriate. Instead, you’ve got to get comfortable with ambiguity – and preach that shades of grey are expected. As Andre Gide said, “One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”

This is one of the reasons I advocate holding interim “tissue sessions” when developing ideas. These sessions give permission to everyone to not have all the answers yet. And to begin with a bunch of hypotheses to build, or kill, along the way.

Provide clarity in objectives and purpose
“Give me the freedom of a tight brief” David Ogilvy

While there’s no avoiding ambiguity, you can help stimulate creativity with a clearly defined brief and with crystal-clear objectives. Define the problem as laser-sharp as you can. Provide the details, structure, realities, constraints, etc. – so folks can think inside the box.

For example, when I ran Porsche a few years ago, we found that 911 sales were off. We believed it was a combination of recession-related factors that made affluent people not want to show off in this atmosphere, as well as “green” sentiment suppressing demand. But rather than briefing against a broad set of issues, we did research that enabled us to hone in the reason – a negative “value” perception due to people not seeing the cars as daily-drivable. This tight brief led to the Effie winning “Everyday Magic campaign.

In addition, clarify your purpose so everyone can rally around it. It’s incredibly motivating when employees believe in their company’s mission and genuinely like what they do. If your teammates and employees have passion, just try to stop them from being creative!

For example, when I worked on Wisk Detergent, we reframed the business we were in, from simply selling products that cleaned clothes, to being a brand that promoted a lifestyle that embraced diving in to life. This purpose turbo-charged creativity across the entire team.

Fight against conformity
“Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way”Edward de Bono

When surfacing new and groundbreaking ideas, your team may end up challenging long-held company beliefs or ways of doing business. So you’ll need to attack insider thinking that restricts creativity – by benchmarking other companies and industries, by bringing in fresh thinkers, and by diplomatically saying, “we might be wrong”. And, you, too, have to be open to ideas that break rules or shatter your in-going preconceptions. This is often a lot harder than it sounds.

This is why it’s very important to instruct everyone involved to react viscerally and naturally to ideas first – thinking like a real person, a consumer, a non-insider. It’s too easy to kill things that feel “off” to your corporate eyes and ears – but make sure your consumer would find it off, as well.

Take responsibility
“Creativity is a highfalutin word for the work I have to do between now and Tuesday” Ray Kroc

Whether you are leading a project, a team or an organization, only you ultimately are responsible for the creative output. Regardless of the fact that you aren’t directly doing the “creative work”, you’ve got to do a tremendous amount of effort to enable it. This requires attitudinal work, interpersonal work and quite a bit of physical work.

First, you’ve got to aspire to produce great work. Give a damn. Have the ambition to set the world on fire, and make that fire contagious. Secondly, you’ve got to develop the types of relationships across your team that generate trust, instill courage, and deliver collaboration. This allows you to help build on ideas as they are developed, question them and iterate on them, unconditionally and without fear.  And finally, you’ve simply got to do the work. Remember that quote about “…99% perspiration”? It’s true. You’ve got to ask questions, make tons of connections and lateral leaps, and help distill initial ideas and re-build them. And get out and read, do, see, act – as Einstein said, “the legs are the wheels of creativity”, so keep ‘em moving.

Reduce fear
“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes” Scott Adams

As a leader, one of your key jobs is to reduce the fear of failure and mistakes. This is the natural enemy of creativity. As a leader, you should be encouraging failure. Let it be known that there won’t be blame or backlash. That failure means movement and learning. That it’s an important step along the way to success. If you’re not failing every now and then, you’re likely not trying, doing anything new or advancing much.

Give time and space
“Lying around doing nothing is an important, nay critical, part of the creative process” Tom Hodgkinson

It’s been said that time pressure creates great creativity. But it simply isn’t true – studies show that people are the least creative when fighting the clock.

In addition, people need time to work through the predictable to get to the unexpected. To make further and more lateral-leaps. To iterate. And, to put the work down, look away for a bit, and let things percolate. So make sure you have enough time for your creativity.

This is another reason an interim, “tissue session” during idea development is helpful. It allows those brainstorming ideas to spend their time thinking them up, not perfecting yet.

If you take these actions, you will no longer look to a “creative department” for all you ideas and creativity. You will seek creative thinking from Finance, Research, Data/analytics, operations. And you’ll find that, lo and behold, your entire, cross-functional team is filled with Don Drapers.

*This article ran previously in the Troyanos Group November Newsletter.

Start Failing Now! Five reasons failure and mistakes are important

“I have not failed, I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

By definition, failure is the opposite of success. And by that measure, it’s a condition that is definitely desirable to avoid. In fact, the term “fail” and “epic fail” have become Internet memes that represent the worst possible situations and outcomes you can imagine. However, as counterintuitive as it may seem, more learning and good can come from failure and mistakes than from successes. And the fear that comes from desperately trying to avoid mistakes will do more to prevent success than anything.

Think about any success in business and life, and you’ll inevitably conjure up lots of failures and mistakes that led to it. From learning to walk – plenty of falling face first preceded that success – to the iPad. In fact, Steve Jobs embraced failure and celebrated it in his famous commencement speech at Stanford. The key is learning from it, making incremental improvements (“failing forward”, as John C. Maxwell calls it), and maintaining your drive and enthusiasm. As Winston Churchill said, “Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

Here are five reasons that failure and mistakes are good.

  1. First of all, you can only fail if you try to do something – which is a plus, to begin with. And, creativity entails doing something not been done before – which is by definition difficult. There are no instruction manuals, no fool-proof plans. Thus, doing creative or innovative work will likely lead to some failures and mistakes. Ipso facto. Never making mistakes is a sure sign you are not trying new things, pushing yourself and your team, being creative.  If you’re not failing, you’re simply not trying hard enough.
  2. To say you failed means you are likely measuring your results in some way, which is also good. Too often “success” is measured by some vague “we did it and it worked” statement. But failure should be measured in detail. Again, this is good – it means you had specific objectives, and put in place analytics in order to see if you achieved them. Thus, you are approaching your efforts like a scientist – testing, experimenting, reading results, and learning. And now, you can assess what went wrong and why.
  3. You had the self-awareness and presence of mind to call it a failure. Too often people will hedge and say a failure was “a qualified success”. Or “things went ok”, or “there may have been some problems…” But this type of hedging avoids the point – we did not achieve the success we set out to. By calling a spade a spade, it means you have faced the fact that you did not deliver, you have forgiven yourself, and are prepared to move on.
    The key is that you don’t brush it under the rug. The only way to get anything out of it is by addressing it head-on.
  4. You forced yourself to look back and determine what went wrong and why.  This means you’ve moved beyond everyone’s first instinct, which is to blame. And it means you’re open to learning, a wonderful thing. This learning might challenge your assumptions, your in-going hypotheses, your beliefs. And it will likely provide some good direction for next time. Learning the what’s and the why’s of failure is the biggest benefit.
  5. You formulate your plans for “next time”. “Next time” might be immediate implementation to address early results. Or it might be the next phase of the assignment/project. Or it might simply be “the next time we do something like this”. In any case, be prepared with your new learning in order to “fail forward” next time.

As you can imagine, failure is a great teacher and mentor. Jeff Stibel, Chairman and CEO of Dun & Bradstreet, says he’ll only hire people who fail. He says, “We don’t just encourage risk taking at our offices: we demand failure. If you’re not failing every now and then, you’re probably not advancing.”  And going even further, Paul Schoemaker suggests that, at times, you should even deliberately try to make mistakes in order to challenge conventional wisdom.

I know I’ve failed a lot and made lots of mistakes. Small, medium and large. But the one thing that I share with Steve Jobs and Winston Churchill (probably the only thing) is that I won’t ever lose enthusiasm for trying. And I also know that trying too hard to avoid making mistakes is the greatest mistake of all.

What mistakes have you made? How have you learned from your failures?

There’s No “I” in T-E-A-M: The Secrets To High-Performing Teams.

As we all know, business, especially the ad business, is a team sport. The best soloist in the world can’t win on his or her own. And the success of the business largely depends on how these teams function and work together, productively and successfully. People can always accomplish more together than as individuals – theoretically, at least.

But we’ve all worked on teams that performed poorly, inefficiently, or dysfunctionally. That felt hobbled, divided, erratic. Where the inter-relationships between team members created obstacles. When teams function like this, the amount of waste and disappointment they create is staggering. On the other hand, we have all likely worked on teams that felt like dream teams – smoothly, seamlessly generating ideas, developing output, making good things happen.

I’ve had a few memorable team experiences through the years like this. I call them “Jerry Maguire” teams, because of the “you complete me” feeling of them. One team member seems to bleed into the next, picking up where the other left off, almost finishing each other’s sentences. The different members can fill in for each other when another isn’t there. And titles are irrelevant or unnecessary. I remember a few new business pitches where the work was presented so collaboratively that the client wasn’t even sure our roles – which one is the copywriter? Are you the account guy? Who is the strategic planner? To me, this is a sign of great success.

So what makes teams function effectively? How can you drive this type of productivity and efficiency? These are the 5 characteristic of “Jerry Maguire” teams:

There are clear goals
It’s a given that a team needs clarity of purpose and measureable objectives. And every member needs to be dialed-in on and accountable to them, making sure all efforts are designed to achieve a successful delivery of them. When members have different views on success, or, worse, competing agendas, the train runs off the rails.

But I’ve found that there are also intangible goals that great teammates share – e.g. the goal of developing great work. The goal of constantly learning and improving. The goal of demanding the best out of yourselves. When these goals are shared, the sky’s the limit.

Equally important is that each team member similarly feels accountable to each other. Success is everyone’s success, and failure is everyone’s failure. It’s hard to measure, and harder still to teach, but individuals need to feel bound to their team and teammates and a part of something bigger than just “work” and themselves. Team members who don’t feel responsible to the others will undermine the commitment of rest of the team.

Size matters
Contrary to popular belief, bigger is not always better. And on teams, it’s usually the opposite that is the case. I once worked as a consultant on a new business pitch for a well-known agency on Madison Avenue. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that there were over 50 people in the briefing. Coordinating all those people throughout the process was impossible – so naturally, the pitch was fragmented, and less than successful.

Where innovation and creativity matter, small teams are the way to go. In fact, many companies are taking an almost “skunk works” approach to teams. Smaller is nimbler, faster and more agile – all critically important when it comes to today’s creativity.

Trust and respect
A necessary prerequisite for successful team functioning is mutual respect. Each team member must respect each other – their capabilities, responsibilities and views. Having mutual respect allows lots of positive things to happen. First, the team will put trust in each other – trust that each person will pull their weight, do the right thing, and their ideas and decisions will be driven by the greater good.

This then will lead all members to expect the best of each other, vs. expecting the worst, which so often can be the case. The power of this can’t be understated – it allows the team to focus on actual work and team goals, and not self-preservation or personal agendas.

“Always on” communications
It’s critical that teams have seamless communications – constantly sharing updates, news, follow-ups, etc. Any hiccup in this basic type of communication will slow down – or even break down – the flow of work. A good team will send communications to teammates as almost second-nature. There’s almost no chance of being out of the loop.

However, there’s another, more important aspect of good communication for these teams. There’s an expectation that partners will speak their minds and express their own viewpoints, freely and openly, without fear of being ridiculed. That being said, after a point is discussed or debated, the team will agree to move in one direction, united.

What are your experiences with teams? Have any other characteristics you can share?

All You Need Is Hate

I normally write about things I love, care about or believe in. Today, I write about things I’m equally passionate about: things I hate. These are people and behaviors that drive me crazy – and kill teamwork, collaboration, productivity and success. And I believe hatred is ok – as long as you are also passionate about what you love and care about. See if you recognize some people in the list below!

I’ve talked about these folks in a prior post.  These are the “we’ve tried that before”, the “it’ll never work”, the “the client won’t buy it” people. The wind-out-of-the-sails people. The ones who never add to ideas, but instead sap energy, enthusiasm and forward progress out of them. Keep these folks off your teams or they will always underperform.

I honestly don’t know how these people do it. They look you in the face and tell you something they know is wrong. Lying comes in lots of flavors – sometimes people lie to avoid taking responsibility for something that went wrong, sometimes to discredit someone else, sometimes it’s to take credit for something they didn’t do. But every flavor is bad.

And the problem with liars is that, once you know they’re capable of lying to your face, you never know if you can believe them again. And in our business, with collaboration a must and teamwork and team communication demanding, working with liars breaks down team trust and effective communication.

There are no doubt times when everyone would prefer to do nothing instead of something, especially something difficult. But let’s face it – that’s not an option in business today. So when you come across people who actually DO choose to do nothing, it’s almost remarkable. You can’t even believe it. Does this person actually think this behavior is acceptable?

And laziness isn’t just doing nothing, it also can be manifest in the way someone does something. For example, just pushing paper, not adding value, not digging deeper into things. Working with those not eager, willing and able to pull their weight is a killer.

Very similar to the above are the “Easy-Way-Out-ers”. These are folks who do the least possible to get by – the “phoning it in” types. They hand you work that demands follow up, they provide information full of holes and without context, they don’t do any homework to add value to their work. And they don’t ask questions – e.g., are these the right objectives, does this fulfill our brief, could this be stronger? They simply pass-along the work, like hands in an assembly line. They want to be done with something fast, no muss, no fuss. But this doesn’t help anyone, least of all them.

Smugness isn’t just an ugly personality trait. It’s a symptom of some of the worst behaviors of leaders. First, it’s a symbol of the opposite of humility. This over-confidence and being overly pleased with oneself turns off partners and direct reports. Who wants to work with that?

Smugness is also a demonstration of the need for taking credit, for trumpeting one’s achievements, for a focus on “me” over “us”. This behavior will never lead to productive, effective teams. And, in the end, will result in failure for the smug one.

People who constantly talk about past efforts and successes
We all know them – in group meetings or brainstorm sessions, they always talk about what they did in the past on X campaign and with Y client in some loosely analogous situation. Of course analogous situations can be helpful springboards for new thinking. But when those analogous situations are used EVERY time, it becomes ridiculous – how could this same prior experience be helpful for every situation? In addition, as I’ve stated in the past, past experience actually can be a hindrance to creativity and innovation. First of all, it can put a mental box around thinking what’s possible, vs. a true exploration of “what if?”. But in addition, the “analogous” experience can be so different from the current that it could lead you astray to some irrelevant thinking.

The Vanilla
These are the people who give a good ice cream flavor a bad name. These people are the passion-less folks who “strike things off the to-do list” and “make things go-away”, instead of passionately doing their best with the ambition of doing great work. And this doesn’t mean always aiming for untouched territory and never-been-done before ideas. It means not taking pride in their work, no matter the context. Believe it or not, you can develop a passionate competitive report, a “flavorful” contact report, a great analytics recap. People need to have ambition and passion in all they do. Period. Or they should try doing something else.

People who don’t use their turn signals
Anyone who knows me even a little knows this is one of my giant pet peeves. But c’mon! There are lots of things that you are “supposed” to do, tasks that are required in order for society to function. Some of them are a pain in the ass – paying your taxes, shoveling the front walk, taking showers. But using your turn signal? This is not difficult. It takes zero effort. In fact, if you think about it, it’s kinda’ fun – one click, a blinking light, and then magically the light goes off by itself when you’ve completed your turn. But I find that more and more people are not using them. I view it as a sign of the downfall of humanity.

Similarly, there are team members and business partners who don’t communicate their intentions, don’t let you know what they plan on doing, don’t hold up their small responsibilities to the group. These seemingly small mis-communications and failures of conveying or living up to intentions can lead to big time sucks and screw-ups.

“Because it’s cool”
Don’t get me wrong, I like “cool” as much as the next guy. But never do anything because it’s cool. It should be cool because it’s right for the objective, it’s smart and creative, and will deliver the right solution to the problem. If ever you do something just to say you’ve done it, you’ll be wasting precious time and resources that you could be using to develop successful work.

So these are some of my hates and pet-peeves. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s a start. What are your hates?

I Love a Good Flip-Flopper

When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I had a friend at my house. My older brother did something nasty to the kid, as he commonly did back then, leaving my friend nearly frozen with rage. He pointed at my brother, apoplectic, shouting, “you, you, you,…”, putting great thought into what to call him that was bad enough to equal my brother’s actions. Finally, he said, “you… DOCTOR!”, summoning up the worst possible name he could think of.

Nowadays, the worst name you can call someone is “Flip-Flopper”. The term isn’t new (apparently Ford called Carter one, and Mike Dukakis called Dick Gephard one), but it seems to have really picked up steam. Mitt Romney is the current politician with a “flip-flop” problem.  John Kerry had an epic flip-flop problem – it probably cost him the election in 2004. But why is it so bad? Being a “flip-flopper” suggests you lack conviction – and making you appear weak, effete, untrustworthy.  Americans have become maniacal about demanding 100% steadfast, unwavering devotion to any idea. It’s a singular American image – standing up for what you believe is right, even against great adversity, like John Wayne, the men at Iwo Jima, Charlie Sheen. Others may go with the flow, take the easy route, bend to opposition. But not those devoted, steadfast few, the non-Flip-floppers.

But the truth is that flip-flopping can be a good thing. It can demonstrate a number of extremely positive attributes and behaviors. Are you willing to flip-flop?

1)      It shows you’re willing to say the magic words “I don’t know”
Like I’ve said before, certainty and surety are fine in a black-and-white world, but what world is black-and-white? If you allow yourself to be uncertain, then you can question freely – yourself, your assumptions and the way you’ve always done things. And you can’t imagine how empowering it is to a team for a leader to allow for the fact that he doesn’t know everything.

2)      You are able to admit you were wrong
I don’t care how smart you are, you can’t always right. It’s important to be open to being wrong, to making mistakes, to changing your mind. In fact, you can learn more from your mistakes and failures than your successes.

3)      It demonstrates thinking
Most issues are complicated and complex. No matter how well you’ve thought through the topic, there’s likely more you don’t know or haven’t seen. So changing your mind could be driven by learning – by hearing additional information, and then deciding differently. There are many who don’t seem to believe it (or at least don’t demonstrate that they’re in favor of it), but thinking is good. If thinking causes one to reach a different conclusion than he reached before, it’s a good thing in my book.

4)      You recognize the importance of context
Context plays an important part of our decision-making. There are times a decision one way may makes sense, and other times it won’t. Romney’s support of a woman’s right to choose while Governor of Massachusetts made sense – his electorate supported it. His flip-flop against it now is due to a change in his context and his following his own, personal beliefs. The same can be true in business – as contexts change, a decision may need to, also.

5)      You believe in empirical evidence (even when it’s contrary to your in-going assumptions and beliefs)
Blind faith may work in religion, but it doesn’t work in politics or business. Belief is fine, as well – but belief is essentially an untested hypothesis. Learning, experience and data should help mold your beliefs – and if it causes a change in your views, then good for you. It’s like turning the steering wheel if you’re driving towards a cliff – if the evidence indicates the direction you are going is wrong, I suggest turning.

6)      You recognize that things change
One thing that will never change is the fact that things always change. And with the accelerating pace of technology, things are changing faster than ever. A decision made today could be affected by tomorrow’s new normal. Remember it’s not weak to address change with new, and changed approaches. In fact, it takes even more strength.

7)      It shows a respect for nimbleness
Due to the increasing pace of change, there’s a demand for greater flexibility and nimbleness. People, organizations, even entire industries are being forced to adapt, evolve and make wholesale changes to address the new realities. Staying steadfast to an out-moded model isn’t showing conviction, it’s showing ignorance.

So from now on, investigate further what’s making a flip-flopper flip-flop. It might be something you respect.

Ballmer vs. Bezos?

Conservatism vs. Progressivism? Protection of what we were and are vs.  Creation a something new? Looking backward vs. Looking ahead? No, I’m not talking about the dramatic polarization of American politics. I’m speaking of a duality of leadership and corporate culture. And there is perhaps no more instructive a comparison than Steve Ballmer vs. Jeff Bezos (thanks to Adam Hartung of Forbes for this helpful comparison).

For more than 10 years, Ballmer has defended what Microsoft has and is, and has consistently promised that Microsoft will remain relevant and its products, dominant. All this in the face of gigantic shifts in computer usage and evolving devices, which confound Microsoft’s PC-based strength. On the other hand, Bezos has consistently focused on the future, on what’s possible, in defining his brand and his business. Amazon has grown into segments and across devices, driven by Mr. Bezos’ focus on the future. It’s brought Amazon, and its investors, significant growth over the past 10 years, the same time period that Ballmer and Microsoft have stagnated.

Let’s define this a bit further and make it more relevant. “Ballmer” type leaders and cultures are inherently conservative – they fight change. The look backwards at what got them where they are today, vs. looking ahead and asking where can they go. They “manage” what’s been given or achieved already, vs. “leading” development of what doesn’t exist yet and making it possible. And a key aspect of these “Ballmer” companies is they rely on their current experience and expertise to dictate what they do. In fact, you often hear the statement, “that’s not how it’s done around here” at these types of companies – which is, according to a post by Jason Heller in MediaPost, the most debilitating phrase and mindset that exists against progress, creativity and innovation.

Several have written recently of the negative aspects of experience as an inhibitor of creativity and innovation, including the book “The Innovation Killer”, by Cynthia Barton Rabe. They posit that experience and expertise, which tend to be viewed positively by nearly everyone, can actually hurt innovation and development of creative ideas.  That what we “know” puts limits on what we can imagine.  Rabe talks about a “paradox of expertise”, where a deep knowledge of what exists makes it harder to see “what if”.

The digital shift in Advertising and Marketing demands more of a progressive, Bezos-like approach, and less of a reliance on what we know and have already experienced. There is so much new every day, so much uncertainty and unknown, so much to learn. And today’s “norm” is tomorrow’s “out-moded” – so one has to be open to new approaches, new answers, and new ways. So how can one be more Bezos-like?

  1. Inspire Audacity
    This is a recommendation from Steve Farber (a former partner of Tom Peters, one of my current Stratecution heroes) on how to become a “radical and profound leader”.  It involves a disregard for normal constraints, thinking and acting “outside the box,” and inspiring people to set big goals and do something really significant.
  2. Know what you don’t know
    Be open about what you don’t know, vs. always relying on what you do. Certainty and surety are fine in a black-and-white world, but advertising never was, and surely isn’t today. If you’re not certain, then you can question freely – yourself, your assumptions and the way you’ve always done things. But don’t confuse not being certain with tentativeness or fear. Once you make a decision, swing for the fences.
  3. Let “process” be a means to an end, not an end in itself
    Process formality and executional excellence are very important. But never let them be more important than the work or ideas themselves – remember, without these, there’s no need to even HAVE a process. Allow yourself some room to bend process in the service of developing great ideas, or, better yet, develop a bendable, more flexible process.
  4. Add some “fresh thinkers” to your development teams
    Most teams are made up of people with expertise and experience with specific Clients and on particular types of programs. So it’s natural for them to develop a view of the limits of what’s possible, as well as a “right way” to do things. So include a team member whose role is to think of all possibilities, not just those that have worked in the past. Rabe calls these folks zero-gravity thinkers”: “innovators who are not weighed down by the expertise of a team, its politics, or ‘the way things have always been done.’
  5. Embrace mistakes
    If you’re forging new ground, then you’re likely going to make a few mis-steps. Encourage it, and allow for it in your schedules. However, be ruthless in your demand for learning from these mistakes – and how to avoid them in the future.

What are some examples of the leaders you work with? What type of leader do you want to be? How do you maintain a progressive viewpoint?

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