Michael Baer's Stratecution Stories

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

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Letter To a Graduate – Some rules to live by

My son recently graduated from high school. This was extremely difficult for me to process – our first child, a person we’d brought into the world and cared for, was now moving on to independence from us.  Living on his own, making his own decisions, becoming his own person. In trying to work out what this meant (to me), I put some of my thoughts down on paper on making this transition (and special thanks to Mike Figliuolo and a post he wrote about a similar letter his dad had given him more than 20 years ago) – and sent my son these ideas and beliefs on what it takes to be a good man and a good person. I’m hoping he finds them applicable and helpful over time (his first response was a bit of a grunt and a “yeah, great”) –  I think they’re fairly universal as themes for adults, leaders, etc, too. This is what I sent to him.


Hey Buddy!

Congratulations – you’re a High School graduate! I couldn’t be any prouder of you. It’s been wonderful to watch you grow –you continue to develop into an amazingly wonderful person and a great guy. The great work/success you’ve had, the way you talk, the way you interact with people – it’s impressive. As you make this giant transition from young-adulthood into being an independent adult, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts with you on being a good man and a good person. Many of these thoughts and ideas you’ve heard me “Rain Man” rant to you before, so you’ve probably learned how to tune them out or say “here he goes again”.  But it’s beginning to be time for you to start thinking about who and what you want to be (metaphorically speaking) – so I’d be interested in your thinking about these ideas, digesting them, and, over time, adding your own thoughts and ideas to them. Or feel free to tell me you think I’m crazy, you disagree, or want to discuss – god knows, I don’t have all the answers. Just don’t ignore me…!

Always be busy. You can easily recite the two things I hate the most – lying and laziness – as I’ve said this to you all your life. And it’s easy to understand why I say this. Being busy stimulates your mind and body. It generates energy and productivity. It makes you feel good, physically and emotionally. It opens you up to new things and creates new possibilities. And it gives you new ideas and makes connections. So force yourself to always stay busy.

School has been hard and has required significant work and attention – and life will continue to to get harder with college and real-life. Of course, downtime, rest and tuning out is important, Mr. X-Box. But, after some “chill time”, fill your time with stuff, both productive and frivolous. Interests, friends, creative pursuits. You’ll find yourself more energized. And you never know where these things will lead.

Don’t be afraid of what you’re not good at.  Casey, you excel at many things. And it’s natural (and wise) to focus on and leverage those strengths. They are, and will continue to be, an advantage for you. But you (as most people do) also tend to shy away from the things that don’t come easy to you. Fight those tendencies. Don’t write off all activities that “aren’t you”. It’s so much better to muscle through the initial discomforts, awkwardness or unease. You will find that life expands. You ultimately may not love these new activities, ideas or things – but you’ll understand them better. And they will no longer be an excuse for avoidance or failure.

Laugh at your mistakes; but learn from them. You’re going to make mistakes. That’s what life is about. You’ve made some already (we don’t need to get into them here…). And I’m here to tell you that you’ll make many more. Don’t bemoan them, don’t avoid them, and don’t start living life in fear of making more of them. But the key is to learn from them. Ask yourself how you could have avoided them; what can you do differently next time? That way you can always say that mistakes and failures are the necessary steps towards greater success.

“Respect the game”. Remember the first year when you played “Night League” basketball, and you told me you and your friends put the ball in your jerseys and ran around on the court during the game? You thought it was funny – but I was disappointed. I told you that you had to “respect the game”. There are rules, referees, and other teams involved. The other team had come out to play basketball, and you were disrespecting them, too. There are times when silliness and randomness are fine – but again, only when the game calls for it or allows for it. Recognize that whatever you are doing, there are other people, other contexts, other agendas involved. So always be respectful of them.

Similarly, whatever you’re playing, you should always bring your “A” game. Give your best effort, try your hardest, be your best you. Never say afterwards that you could have done more. Failure is fine – except when it’s due to lack of effort.

Stay hungry for learning. You are an amazing learner. Lately, I’ve been so impressed at how you retain and play back information about the brain and the body that you’ve learned in Anatomy and Psychology. Now, try to take that awesomeness beyond the information that is part of your structured learning into your unstructured life. Read about stuff, follow things, be interested. Know about your government and your world. Form opinions about things – but be willing to change them as you learn more. Avoiding things because you “hate them” (as in “I hate politics”) is no way to be – ignorance isn’t acceptable because of disinterest. Knowing about things gives you power – to converse, to have opinions, and make intellectual connections between things. And it’s a lot more legitimate to say, “I’ll tune out this stuff,” when you know about the topic.

Give a sh*t about things. One of the great things about you is that you are grounded, even-keeled and easy going. Your laid back approach lets you address the things you need to in a matter-of-fact, in-control way. This is a very good trait for when life gets harder and more stressful.

At the same time, this laid-back approach can seem blasé. As if you don’t care a lot. I think it’s important to show you give a damn, that you’re committed, all-in. And this goes for things beyond the big work stuff. As mentioned above, give a shit about the world, your interests, and other people. This makes life much more interesting and involving.

Don’t be a dick. You’re one of the most empathetic and compassionate people I’ve ever met. You understand others’ emotions. You’re the first to console those in need. You point out when you think other people are being jerks. So this maxim shouldn’t be difficult for you. Apply it to your behavior all the time – in school/work situations and in social ones, as well. Don’t make jokes at others’ expenses, don’t take advantage of other people, don’t pile on when someone’s down. Always be a stand-up guy, always make sure you are being fair, never cheat or bend the rules. Don’t hog credit, don’t be the first to blame, don’t succeed by bringing others down. I think the maxim “don’t be a dick” says it well.

Look presentable. But have style. You care about how you look. You’ve begun to develop a personal style, which is great. Keep it up – because, like it or not, how you look is important. That doesn’t mean always look a certain way – setting, context, etc. play a role in what looking good looks like. But know that how you look says something about you, and also about how you feel about whom you are with. So always make sure your appearance says, “I care”. It can also say, “I’m confident”, “I am interesting”, and “I am unique”. But never be mute.

Don’t hesitate to be in the minority. We both have agreed we don’t like people who are too “Indie”, as you call it – who need to be different all the time, just for the sake of being different.  They choose black just because someone else is choosing white. However, I still believe strongly in the Twain quote, “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect”. That means you should be purposeful in your decisions and strong in your convictions. Don’t simply follow the masses and don’t blindly follow trends. If something is considered “conventional wisdom”, it might not be either. So make sure you think about things and make your own decision. And always have the strength of character and purpose to go against the tide.

Slow and steady…? This may be the most boring advice of all – but slow and steady is a solid approach to success. You will enter into college, and into life, with a huge amount of enthusiasm and passion. You will be impatient for success and expecting speedy movement forward. But know that things can take time. And much of life is beyond your control – all you can control is how you deal with things. So keep plugging away, taking advantage of opportunities as they present themselves, and good things will happen.

You’re the man. I love you so much. Can’t wait to see you living your life.


Mashup! – Leveraging the power of combinational creativity

“Creativity is the power to connect the seemingly unconnected” – William Plomer

Creativity is hard to define, and even harder to make happen. The act of generating something new that has never existed before is tricky. Is it alchemy? Magic? Lightning striking?

According to Edward de Bono, “creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.” Often, it’s a new approach to something old. This type of creativity – called “combinational creativity” – can be powerful, arresting, and surprising. Combinational creativity refers to combining existing or known information in some new and novel way. For example, Gutenberg (Johannes, not Steve) took a wine press and a die/punch and made the printing press.

So, basically, we’re talking about “mashups”. Think about it – what makes mashups so interesting is the surprise that happens when two things you already know are combined to create an entirely new, and even better, entity. One of the first great mash-ups, Dangermouse’s 2004 bootleg album “The Grey Album”, was new music comprised solely of samples from The Beatles’ “White Album” and Jay-Z’s “The Black Album”. It was both shocking, and revelatory.

Well, you can leverage the power of combinational creativity and the mashup, too. Here are three ways.

1. Actively pursue knowledge spillovers”.
Attributed to urban theorist Jane Jacobs, “knowledge spillovers” are when ideas are exchanged from one person, company, industry to another, via unintentional contact and communication. Jonah Lehrer talked in his New Yorker article about the incredible creative spillovers among the variety of tenants of Building 20 at MIT that led to many seminal research and development projects in the 1950’s through the 1990’s, from the emergence of the field of linguistics to the creation of the worlds’ first video game.

How can you foster these knowledge spillovers?

  • Leave your office. As I’ve written before (per Tom Peters), “managing by wandering around” has tons of benefits, one of which is all the random conversation and sharing that happens as you meet people along the way.
  • Bring fresh, new thinkers (“zero-gravity thinkers”) into your teams and meetings to add new perspectives and take advantage of their divergent experiences.
  • Bring in experts from other departments, companies, even fields to talk about their experiences. Leverage meetings with vendors, sales people, and field teams to gain from their “spillover”.
  • Live a little. You can gain from spillover from things you do, see, read, and experience outside of your day job.

2. Practice “Random Links.
Purposefully following random links will lead you to discover associations that you probably never would have explored intentionally (this is a tool we sometimes use at Starcom).

  • Develop links. Choose random objects, photos, ideas or people, and find connections between them and your objective or problem. This can help you define your problem, or develop your solution in a very new way that doesn’t rely on the tired old Category lingo.
  • What would Steve Jobs do? Consider how a successful leader might solve your problem. Think about the problem through Steve Jobs’ or Richard Branson’s eyes, for example.
  • “The Space Beside”. Another tool we sometimes use, “The Space Beside” examines parallel brands or categories for learning that can be applied to your brand. Look beyond your category for inspiration here. E.g, how would Target, or Facebook approach it?

3. Steal with pride.
As I referenced last post (courtesy of Bill Taylor and his HBR blog), the best source of new ideas for your field can be proven, old ideas from unrelated fields.  Don’t think that leveraging these ideas are “stealing” – remember that the simple act of making the lateral leap to your category and your specific problem can be a highly creative, revolutionary act.

What are your favorite mashups? How do you spur creativity on your teams?

Day One – How treating everyday like your first day can be a good thing

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end” Seneca

“The secret to a rich life is to have more beginnings than endings” David Weinbaum

We’ve all started new jobs, been transferred to new departments, moved on to new teams. The mixture of feelings can go from overwhelmed, to exhilarated, to everything in between. But, above all else, is that “new job feeling.” Everything feels new, a little weird, and a bit difficult to understand. We all know that feeling doesn’t last. However, there are a lot of benefits from learning from it – and trying to hold on to some of your early behaviors for the long haul.

Take time to Learn and Understand
From the first, it can feel like you’re drinking from the proverbial firehose. There’s so much to read, know, and learn. There are benefits, processes, office layouts. New bosses, management structures, politics. There’s business info, industry news, new Clients. It makes sense for you to read, distill, and seek understanding, before you begin to jump to conclusions. Before you start to act and react.

This can be instructive for day one and day one-thousand.  Once we’ve been in a job for a while, we begin to “know” a lot. We develop assumptions that can help us quickly understand and assess situations. But these assumptions also may cause us to react overly quickly to situations without fully understanding them first. Or to treat them as analogous to past situations, instead of fully understanding the contextual differences. So, the way you act on day one can be helpful – don’t react. First, seek understanding.

Give people the benefit of the doubt
When you start a new job, you don’t know anyone. You have no preconceptions or assumptions about people. Everyone is someone who can help you. Everyone knows more than you do. So you can learn from everyone.

Now think about the way you approach people when you’ve been in your job for a long time. There a people you avoid, people you groan when you have to deal with, people you cut off in mid-sentence because you don’t expect them to add value. Think about how it might be if, instead, you treated people as you did on day one – that you can get help and value from everyone. This might be a game-changer. Give it a shot.

Pass and Play defense
I’ve long said that the way to behave at the beginning of a new job is to pass and play defense, first. What do I mean by that? Well, first of all, don’t look to score points. You’re not expected to – nor should you want to, yet. Start with the fundamentals. Listen, be respectful, be smart, ask a lot of questions. And defer to the current starting team.

But also think about what passing and playing defense does. It makes everyone else better. It’s not about you or your statistics. It’s about helping everyone else win. That should be your goal on day one. And day one-thousand.

Stay wide-eyed
Like I said, the beginning of a new job can be overwhelming. There’s so much new, so much unknown, you can get a little goggle-eyed. This feels like a handicap that you can’t wait to unload. However, there’s something about this overwhelmed feeling that isn’t bad – it prevents jaded-ness. You can’t be blasé, bored or ho-hum. And that can be a good thing. So often, once we’ve done a job for a while, we can let ourselves get complacent and matter-of-fact. So I think staying wide-eyed actually might be a good thing.

Can you treat your long-term job as if you just started over? I doubt it. But try to keep some of this in mind as you go through your day-to-day-to-day. It might keep it fresh, keep you productive, and keep your relationships strong. Let me know what you think. (Full disclosure: I started a new job yesterday)

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?

The Importance of Doing Nothing

Stratecution is all about a bias for action and a drive towards doing things (just peek at the sub-head of my blog and note Herb Kelleher’s quote about “doing things”). There’s a demand to try things, beta-test, learn as you go. Make more stuff, and gain from your mistakes. And there’s a reaction against over-thinking, over-perfecting, and waiting and debating. However, sometimes the best action you can take is doing nothing.

That’s right, I said doing nothing. Because actively doing nothing is, every now and then, the best thing you can do.

There are three ways doing nothing is important.

The world, our lives and our jobs have become 24/7. Technology has created more and more ways to communicate and connect, more data, and more information; but also more interruption, more distraction, more attention-deficit. Between “breaking news”, status updates, text messages and work email, we never stop. But the more reactive we have become to the moment, the less time we spend on thinking about the larger context.  An article in Sunday’s New York Times, called “The Joy of Quiet,” discussed this topic. We all need to find time to unplug.

What’s worse, it appears our brains are beginning to adapt to this always-on, non-linear, sound bite driven, click-crazy reality. A college freshman said, about YouTube, “you can get a whole story in six minutes. A book takes so long. I prefer the immediate gratification.”  Our brains are being rewarded for jumping around, reacting to interruptions and not staying on task. The worry is that the next generation will actually be wired differently, due to the constant screen time and distractions.

I find that my best thinking comes when I’m off-the-grid for a bit. Most of my blog ideas come when I’m walking the dog, taking a shower, working out. I get brainstorms in the middle of the night. And this behavior has been proven – a series of tests showed that spending time in a quiet rural setting increased attentiveness, memory and cognition.

Unplugging is something that’s hard to do at work. Most of us have a need for constant communication and real-time responsiveness. However, nearly all emails can wait an hour or so to respond to. And if there’s a true emergency, someone will find you. So if you need some time to think, reflect, or develop a big idea, consider disconnecting email and text messaging for a while. Your thinking will improve.

Take work breaks.
Even during productive work, it’s important to “do nothing” for a bit. As I mentioned in my previous post, stopping work and taking a break helps to keep you fresh and operating at 100% of your capacity. Conversely, it’s been proven that employees who work non-stop tend to be inefficient and hit the “diminishing returns” syndrome. It’s almost a rule that the folks who work the latest in every office aren’t the hardest workers, they’re the least efficient. Taking breaks to refresh helps avoid the burnout that leads to inefficiency.

In addition, a break will help you return to work with a fresher perspective. Like the “cold light of day” in the saying, your post-break, mental freshness will lead to good questions, builds or connections that help improve the project you’re working on.

Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing.
As a leader, you have to deal with people – and a lot of input, updates, and responses. A great leader has passions and biases, so it’s natural for him or her to feel the desire to react passionately.  But knee-jerk and reactive is never good. A leader should never rush to judgment or get too angry or impulsive. A good leader knows the importance of self-regulation – of controlling his or her emotions and impulses in order to gain clarity and understanding. Per Stephen Covey, the best course is “to seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

This means that doing nothing, other than asking questions and passively seeking to understand, is more important than doing something. There will be time to act afterwards, once you’ve had time to understand and think.

So there you have it – three times and reasons that doing nothing trumps doing something. What are your examples and thoughts?

A Ping-Pong Lesson

I spent a big part of the last two days assembling a ping-pong table we bought for Christmas. This is why I missed my regular Friday morning blog post timing. But now, having completed building the table, I recognized there was a real analogy between building it and to nearly all big projects we work on. I felt there was a lesson in there that was worth re-telling.

Upon dragging the 100+ pound box into the house, I opened it up and found at least 500 unconnected pieces that needed to be put together. The 40-page instruction booklet had hundreds of steps. It required some tools I did not have and some skills I was not adept at. Yikes. Talk about being overwhelmed – I honestly didn’t know if I would be able to do it. And my family didn’t think so, either. But they generally laugh at my do-it-yourself capabilities, anyway.

We’ve all faced projects that seemed overwhelming and nearly impossible at the outset. That had what seemed like millions of steps, lots of layers, and processes and skills we’ve never tried. So how do you get it done?

Start small. Initially, I focused on just getting through the first few steps.  I knew the overall process would take hours, so I started by committing a smaller amount of time to make some initial progress. This took me through the first few pages of the instructions, and allowed me to get a few sections done and start to gain a little confidence.

Build momentum. After a break, I came back and built off my initial success. I powered through a couple more sections of the instructions, duplicated it for the second side of the table, and began to really see it coming together.  This is a point in any project where you get very excited by possibilities and grow your ambitions to achieve greatness.

Savor successes. It’s important to acknowledge and celebrate your accomplishments as you gather them. When I’d put together half of the table, it was possible to see what the finished product would look like. This gave me confidence I would be successful. And it also gave me something to show my less than supportive family as evidence of my capabilities. It was rewarding.

Take breaks. After having some success, it’s important to take a break. Breaks do a couple things. One, they help make sure you don’t get worn out and begin to function at less than 100% of your capacity.  And two, a break can help you think freshly about your project, your ideas and your goals. This allows you to return to work even more productively and successfully.

Push through. There were lots of distractions as I put the table together. And there were tons of things I would rather have been doing. But I didn’t allow myself to get distracted – I focused, especially towards the end, on finishing. This is true of any project.

And now, I’ve got a new ping-pong table to show for it. Happy holidays! And happy new year, y’all!

Let’s Hear It For Scrappiness

Everywhere you look you hear about the great “race for talent”. How the future will be won by who wins the “talent war”. Expertise, brilliance, dream candidates, the best and the brightest have all been written about.

Well it’s time to sing the praises of a greatly undervalued trait – scrappiness. Scrappiness is as responsible for success as any other characteristic. And yet no HR guru, no leadership maven or management expert seems to notice it, identify it, or search for these folks. Those who are gritty, persistent, resourceful. It’s an un-sung breed.

One thing scrappy has is desire. There’s nothing laid-back or “phoning it in” in scrappy. Scrappy wants to set the world on fire.

And there’s some magical kick-ass-ness that makes the scrappy truly heroes.

1) Scrappy gets sh*t done. The scrappy team makes things happen. It doesn’t wait for all the resources, all the debate, all the bureaucracy, all the knowledge. They simply achieve.  The scrappy team rolls up their sleeves and steps into any gap in team expertise or knowledge and fills it.

And on the scrappy team, everyone is a do-er. No one sits and waits for someone to tell them what to do. They’ve already got a 10-point list of next steps before anyone even speaks. At my last agency, my relatively small Porsche team produced more output than the rest of the agency combined. Everyone at the agency assumed we had dozens of account and creative people. Nope.

2) Scrappy punches above its weight. When you’ve got scrappy players, you can accomplish a lot more, with less. Two or three scrappy folks can go into a conference room and come out an hour or so later with a plan that would have taken a committee a month to develop.

And when you come in contact with the scrappy, it’s hard to know what level these folks are. They operate at the “whatever it takes” level, not the AE, AS, or AD level, for example.

3) Scrappy is fast. The world is moving so fast. But the old way of working – big teams, lots of levels and hierarchy, etc. – doesn’t facilitate fast solutions. But scrappy adapts to the need for fast.

And scrappy is tuned in, in real-time. Staying up to date, reading analytics, prepared with solutions, day-in and day-out. But that doesn’t mean that scrappy is working 24/7. Scrappy knows how to be efficient – and can go and be scrappy in their outside lives, as well.

4) Scrappy is self-reliant. Every day there’s another newly minted “expert” created to do some emergent, specialized task. Social media experts, earned media specialists, “listening czars”. But scrappy people don’t wait around until one of these experts is brought in to do something. They learn it and do it themselves. The scrappy team, together, becomes their own type of expert.

5) Scrappy is always in beta. The scrappy know it’s important to try things. To get real-world examples out to learn from. To test, trial and experiment. Perfection is the enemy of scrappy. And, as we know, there’s no such thing as perfection, anyway.

In sports, we always hear that the smaller, slower, less physically gifted (and usually white) athlete who performs above expectations is scrappy. That’s how scrappy gets a bad name. As if a person has to be scrappy because their talent level is low. But that’s simply not true. Anyone can be scrappy – Michael Jordan was scrappy, in fact. So go and find your scrappy heroes, and build a new dream team around them.

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?

Generally Speaking, Specificity is Good

“Engagement” is the current darling of our marketing and advertising world. Everything is focused on creating it. The AAAA and the ANA have endorsed it. Agencies build plans around creating it. And an entire new discipline called “Engagement Planning” has developed to wax poetic about it.

Why has this occurred? Well, as Martin Weigel, head of planning at Weiden & Kennedy in Amsterdam says in a great post that throws a Great Lake’s worth of cold water on the thoughtless adoption of the term “engagement”, advertising is, by nature, intoxicated by the new. And, although “engaging” people isn’t new, calling it a goal is. In addition, the rapid adoption of digital communications has given rise to a) consumer control over what they encounter and when they encounter it; b) many opportunities for interactivity with customers; and c) the ability to track, measure and optimize against these efforts. In this context, it’s natural to want to drive a reaction… and to want to define your success by your ability to achieve it.

But what in the world is engagement? Despite the fact that everyone is crowing about it, there’s no real clarity as to what it is – no definition, no real measurement, and no real answer as to how it helps. Asking for a plan for “engagement” is like saying you want a dinner with food.

While naturally there is great benefit that can come with engaging with your consumer, engagement is a weak and insufficient word. It doesn’t mean anything on its own. The types of engagement you ought to drive needs to depend on the category, brand, and situation you are in. That’s why you have to make it specific. So, ask yourself the following questions:

What type of engagement do you specifically want?
As Martin Weigel points out, engagement can be anything from site visits, to reading pages and viewing videos, to bookmarking, liking, +1-ing, subscribing, following, or commenting on content, to recommending, sharing or forwarding a link, to opening e-mails and clicking a link, to completing a lead form or survey, just to name a few options. What behavior or behaviors do you specifically want to elicit? Which actions are most linked with the
business problem you are trying to solve? What experiences will drive consumers further towards purchase or re-purchase?

For example, when developing the Porsche microsite for our Cayenne re-launch a couple years ago, we knew we had one key problem to overcome: people didn’t believe that the Cayenne was equipped with the luxury SUV amenities they demanded from that caliber of car. So we designed our plan in order to prove it to people – and allowed them to “engage” in experiences that brought it to life. They could engage with rich banners that demonstrated the well-appointed cabin and interior, they could click through to a video of the safety features, they  could download specs about the interior room and luggage space.  We knew that discovering this information would generate greater consideration. In fact, we quantified it – we tracked the number of people doing these actions and then searching for a dealer near them, checking inventory, or signing up for a test drive. While we can’t make a case for causality, this activity correlated with the best launch in Porsche’s history.

What real world success measure do you expect this engagement to lead to or be a proxy for?
It’s important to go beyond simply saying we want people engaging in our messaging because it’s a good thing.  Why is it good – in other words, what will it achieve? Many people simply believe that “more engagement = more sales and more loyalty”. That may not necessarily be the case, so spend the time making sure you are clear with how the agreed-upon engagement you develop leads to more commercial success.

For example, in the Porsche example above, we had solid data and understanding that told us what was getting in the way of prospects shopping for the Cayenne. So we developed a plan to “engage” them in a way to un-block that obstacle. And then we measured how much shopping behavior (looking for a dealer, inventory, etc.) our plan elicited. We didn’t just say we wanted more clicks, more time-on-site, more pass-along – we defined what would lead to more sales.

“Engagement”, like any objective, is meaningful and helpful only when it is specific. So take the time, the discipline and rigor to identify why you want it, what you specifically want consumers to engage with, why, and what outcome you want to drive. Without it, you’ll be simply wasting time – your’s and your consumer’s.

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