Michael Baer's Stratecution Stories

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

Tag Archives: innovation

Alexander Hamilton: A Would-Be, Modern-Day, Marketing Genius*

It’s our nation’s 240th birthday on Monday, so it’s time for a shout-out to our Founding Fathers. And there’s no founding father currently hotter or hipper than Alexander Hamilton. However, despite what many current Hamiltonian bandwagon-jumpers may think, he was neither a singer nor a dancer. But, as a thinker, doer and creator, Hamilton was in many ways a master marketer. Here are seven marketing tips from this brilliant man and Tony award winner:

1. Challenge the norm: Hamilton was a classic challenger. First is the fact he came from nothing in an era of limited upward mobility — bastard child, abandoned by his father, living on a poor Caribbean island without education — and ended up at the highest reaches of government and power. And then there was his very vocal opposition to the British rule, an unpopular position to take.

2. Be an innovator and experimenter: The “maker” culture and the idea of being “always in beta” may seem like new ideas, but Hamilton was a constant ideator who came up with and initiated the 1.0 of many great concepts. These included the U.S. Constitution, our national finance system (completely his idea, which he fought tooth and nail for), our U.S. Coast Guard and the New-York Evening Post.

3. Execute off of a defined vision and a core idea: Hamilton had a core belief that the United States needed a strong central government in order to deliver on the promise and opportunity of the young nation. He built his actions around that to demonstrate and advocate his point of view. Nearly every action, argument and proposal supported this and brought it to life. This is exactly what a good brand should do.

4. Create content to demonstrate your ideas: There’s no hotter current trend in marketing than content marketing. But Hamilton was all over this as early as 1774, with his anonymously published (“un-branded,” that is) essay supporting the colonial cause against the loyalists. In 1787, he initiated and wrote an overwhelming majority of the Federalist Papers — 85 articles and essays that supported a strong central government and defended the development and ratification of the U.S. Constitution. This content was so influential and effective, it not only swayed opinion of its time, it remains one of the foremost expositions on the Constitution. Wouldn’t any brand salivate for that kind of engagement? In addition, Hamilton was an early progenitor of the idea of creating “owned media” for the distribution of ideas, and he began his own “content hub,” the New-York Evening Post.

5. Solve your consumer’s problems: Hamilton didn’t just deliver pie-in-the-sky ideas or points of view, he recognized that, to get buy-in and engagement, he needed to wrap his thinking around the needs of his readers and “prospects.” For example, his creation of a naval police force in 1790 (universally recognized as the birth of the Coast Guard) was an action in response to the needs of shippers and ship employees.

6. Create a “tribe”: The idea that your brand should either create or tap into a tribe is a modern one. But Hamilton proposed a similar idea at the advent of our country. He recognized that for the United States and its government to succeed, Americans had to view themselves as national citizens, not just citizens of their home states. This idea slowly took hold – and soon U.S. tribalism became a reality along with the growth of the U.S. power.

7. Create mashups: Most people think mashups started in 2004 when DJ Danger Mouse combined Jay Z’s “The Black Album” with the Beatle’s “The White Album” into his seminal bootleg “The Grey Album.” But as a voracious reader and researcher, Hamilton created positions that were mashups of everything from Adam Smith and Montesquieu to Hume and Hobbes. His ideas leveraged “combinational creativity,” just as yours should.

In 1776, the stakes were much higher, yet innovation and creativity persevered. Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Fathers courageously forged the path we’re on today. They worked together, demonstrating the impossible is possible when you share a vision and believe in something strongly enough.

As Hamilton once said, “Real firmness is good for anything; strut is good for nothing.” This advice is as welcome today as during his time. So let’s all dispense with posture and superficiality and get on with the hard work of marketing and innovation. It’s what he’d want us to do.

Originally published in MediaPost’s Marketing Daily, July 1, 2016

Thinking INSIDE The Box – The key to innovation isn’t blue skies and creative freedom

Creativity has never been more important in business than it is today. The demand for innovation and new ideas is constant. With the Industrial Economy giving way to what some pundits are calling the “Creative Economy”, companies, and the employees within them, need to change in order to survive and prosper. They need to think outside the box, right? Not so fast.

When someone says to “think outside the box”, what are they saying? They’re saying forget the rules. Ignore the past. Don’t be constrained by the realities of your situation. Think blue sky, no restraints, no bad ideas. Creative freedom.

This is, frankly, ridiculous. And a gigantic waste of time. Because blue skies, creative freedom and “outside the box” thinking is overrated. You need to think inside the box – recognizing the rules, the realities, the details and the constraints that define your situation and what success is – in order to deliver innovation and useful creativity. And, generally, the more constraints, the better.

You have to define the box. You can’t think inside or outside the box without clearly defining the box. What are the details, the realities, the prerequisites? What’s worked in the past, what hasn’t? What do you need to achieve? As Bob Sutton points out, the first step in creating anything new is knowing as much as possible about the old stuff. And don’t look at constraints or realities as bad things. Look at them as the traction for your creativity.

And the fact is that, generally, the old stuff worked for good reason – so the box is there for a reason. So, again in the words of Sutton, “straying from proven ways is rarely a creative act…; rather, it is a sign of poor training, lack of attention, incompetence, or stupidity.” After all, as Darwinism would predict, most new ideas don’t work – and most old ones (the ones that are still around, at least) tend to be successful. So stray outside the box at your peril.

Creativity demands the constraints of the box. It may seem like a paradox, but you can’t do any constructive “out of the box” thinking without a darn good box. In fact, that out of the box thinking is really inside the box – the box that, as mentioned, defines the problem and the realities and details of your needs. I’ve heard the quote “give me the freedom of a tightly defined brief” – that until you have a very tightly defined problem, you can’t effectively ideate solutions (and I’ve written on the need to define your problem first). Want an example? Try coming up with a short story right now. It’s not easy, right? Now, try coming up with a story about a policeman and a thief, who are brothers, separated at birth, who meet again later in life. Much easier this time, isn’t it? Details and constraints help.

And any creative person will tell you that too much freedom is not helpful. Take John Pierce, seminal innovator from Bell Labs. When he was first brought in, he was given free rein to pursue anything. To him, it was like being cast adrift without a compass. “Too much freedom is horrible”, he said (from Leading Blog).

Nearly all breakthrough innovations evolve from existing ideas – i.e inside the box. It’s exceptionally rare that innovation and new ideas come from a lightning bolt flash of new, out of the blue thinking. Instead, they generally come from either incremental improvement upon existing ideas, or as a combination of known elements in a new way. Creativity tends to be iterative – building off of ideas and concepts that are most assuredly already inside the box. As brilliant as innovators and creative thinkers may be, they’re only “standing on the shoulders of giants”, as Isaac Newton said, describing this iterative and additive nature of knowledge.

Old or existing ideas arent intrinsically dumb, outdated, and in need of being thought outside of. Just because certain boxes are old doesn’t make them worthless. Being creative requires a deep understanding, and respect for, the old ways. As I mentioned before, in order to create something new you have to know a lot about the old.

And creativity is largely about seeing old things in new ways – or combining existing things into something new. This requires knowledge of and respect for existing ideas. The key is to find a way to create a view of the box that is different from the way you currently think.

Creativity needs to be useful. No matter how creative an idea is, if it needs to be useful. As Thomas Edison said, “the value of an idea lies in using it.” To be useful, it needs to be relevant to and be additive to what is already known. Creativity without usefulness is, well, useless.

So, what do you think? Should we start championing the idea of “thinking inside the box with our teams?

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