The Shelf Life of Zero

28 04 2011

It has come to my attention that everything has a shelf life of zero. Nothing that exists is good enough the minute it exists. The need for innovation is now a constant. For products, countries, and people. I spoke at Harvard on Saturday, about Innovation. I introduced the idea of the shelf life of zero. In the good old days everything had a lovely long shelf life. The store owner on Main Street could make a decent living doing pretty much the same thing for years. The consumer products company (think Polaroid) could invent a technology that would sell for decades. High performing countries could milk their superior infrastructure and capital capacity to dominate economic trade for a long, long time. No longer. The pace of change and the change of pace, has now put everything and everybody in the ugly position of having to stay ahead (or at least even) every day. Ahead of peers, ahead of customers, ahead of friends…it’s exhausting. And I wonder whether we understand as professionals and people how exactly to stay ahead. We understood that going to college was the way to get ahead with the inference that we would then get a job, start a career, and at some point get to relax our pace of learning and development. That once we hit “manager” status we would get to slow down, imbue the youngsters with our wisdom and know-how, and coast home. Ha. Good old days indeed. Today we all have to learn as much or more, more quickly than when we were fresh-faced, wide-eyed collegians. So the questions are many: what should we really learn, what should we unlearn, and what should we avoid learning to ensure that we have any capacity to learn, all to ensure that our shelf life is at least zero. Exhausting indeed.

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The Eyes of the Other

18 04 2011

Spoke recently at Harvard, ostensibly about marketing and brand strategy. Mid-presentation it dawned on me. That all the lessons of life, about everything from how to forge long lasting relationships to how to create a viable new product could be captured in one simple truth: you will accomplish more, faster if you look at the task through the eyes of the other. Sounds simple but our fragile psyches often blur that view and our subconscious desire to be right, to not be wrong, to protect ourselves, to just get our agenda done takes over. We look not through the eyes of our loved one, our child, our partner, our employee, our customer, our prospect, our friend, our enemy, but through our own. And the result is funnily enough what we would expect, not what we want.





Truth This.

18 04 2011

We all aspire to be one. A monopoly. The only game in town. Proprietary this, trade markable that. Product developers and business people all over the world are working their assets off to come up with the next best thing, the thing that is wholly different, that offers tangible distinction that the competition just
can’t replicate. But the truth is that all monopolies die or slowly fade away. The British Empire. Polaroid. GM. Marshall Fields. Standard Oil. Facebook. Harvard University. The United States…

So why do monopolies inevitably die and/or lose their dominant position?

Because they end up believing that they are above the realities of the marketplace and the need to evolve, to wholly innovate and constantly re-invent themselves. Their first to market position convinces them that their brand position and value proposition is permanently secure. They stop listening to the market, they over-extend their offering, they take on initiatives that are motivated more by ego and largess than by practical consideration of what would serve their customers (or citizens) best. They lose focus on what is relevant and what really drives sustainable value. They ignore the competition. A monopolistic position creates a false sense of competency, alarming forms of “strategic laziness” and a reluctance to take on what I call essential risk.

So is monopolistic aspiration the wrong intention? I think not. The way to avoid the downside of the upside is not to eschew the desire to “own the market” but to eschew ego, to be laser focused about what really matters to the people you serve and to look the truth about it all directly in the eye and act on what you see. Clarity. Humility. Practicality. Candor. Bravery. Ardor.

All key to winning the game again and again.





The Irrational Truth

5 08 2010
All major decisions in life are made emotionally.  It's a statement once made by Bob Minihan, Holland-Mark's ECD during the late 90s.
And its true.  Who you marry, who you hire, the job you take, the house you buy – emotion is the central driver of the decision. 
For all of our fixation on the rational, the functional, the tangible, at the end of the day it's feeling that brings people towards our
brands, gets them to stay and prompts them to come back.  Now there's a role for the rational stuff, for the facts, they're just secondary to
the need for visceral engagement.   And if you want proof regarding the power of emotion and the supporting role of proof, two different
but affirming bits of research. 

The first is a University of Michigan study referenced in a recent article by Joe Keohane at the Globe.  The research asserts that when
people are presented with facts that refute their belief about something, the absolute proof actually makes them believe what they believe
more absolutely.  Oh my.  It turns out that we hate to be wrong more than we value the truth.  The emotion of losing is simply anathema and
we will override all logic to avoid the feeling.  Double oh my. The study and Joe suggest that this Maslow-motivated psychology (neurosis?)
also makes us willing to accept bad information, facts we fundamentally know are not true, if they support our beliefs.   Makes you realize
why people don't seem to care about the quality of user generated content as source material and the lack of fact checking behind it
(including this post I suppose…). 

The second study referenced a while back in Scientific American reveals that when people meet other people (or brands) for the first time
they subconsciously assess two things, in this order: warmth and competence.  Feelings first, then facts.   In our brand strategy work we
extend that construct one step: emotion, facts, emotion.  You are attracted by what you feel, you seek facts to confirm those feelings, and
 then you move forward with those feelings as the overriding context for your relationship/association with the brand. 

All of this points to the need/opportunity to position your brand and engage emotionally. Regardless of what you're marketing and who
you're marketing to, the doorway you want to offer into your brand should be emotionally crafted.   Emotion motivates, facts validate. 
Think about it.  Or don't. 





Network Imposition

4 08 2010
Since the inception of the first primitive forms of email, the appearance of the worldwide web, and now the rise of social media, there
has been an inference that the ability to reach more people, more often, any time at no cost is nothing but a wonderful thing.  We've moved to a world where being linked in and linking, friending and being friended, tweeting and re-tweeting,  is viewed as somewhere between a cost of doing business and an essential aspect of a fulfilling life.  But like many new forms of societal exchange it comes at a price.  This new standard is causing people to forget the unwritten rules of friendship and personal association and in doing so create what I call  "network imposition". 

I first experienced network imposition last fall on a crisp November day, my birthday.  From the moment I arose to the time I retired I received a multitude of wall based birthday wishes and direct emails from my 300 facebook friends.   The only problem is that most of these people really aren't my friends.  I have never supped with them.  In some cases I have never met them.  Or if I did meet them it was thirty years ago and I have no idea who they are today.  And they don't know me.  But more importantly if there truly were my friends, wouldn't they call me on my birthday?  Or send me a card? Hell, how about a gift?  Is the sending of a generic "happy birthday" to someone you don't really know because it's easy to do so a genuine and heartfelt act?  To me it seems like an imposition.   Now in this case it's pretty much my fault.  After all, I'm the one that said yes to facebook friendship with these people.  So the clear way to clear up the problem is to remind myself of my definition of a friend and to consistently apply it when people try to friend me or I friend others.    In this post from Google they discuss how even the moniker of "friends" is not a helpful one and the need for all of us to be more mindful of sharing content at a micro-social network level. 

In more recent months I've begun to experience another and perhaps more conflicted network imposition:  the email solicitation from someone I know through business to support a personal charity fund raising effort.  This is a little awkward.  As much as I believe in giving, and giving back, the dynamic at play here puts a bit of undue pressure on the recipient of the ask.  f we don't contribute are we de-valuing the business relationship? If we do contribute how much is enough?  Should our company be making the contribution because it really is, in a indirect way, all about business?  I'm not asking people to stop soliciting me but to remember the unwritten rules of personal engagement and which network I am really in. In fact if I had my druthers we would all step back and realize that there are various types of networks within our networks with different "rules of engagement".  Friends should be treated as friends.  Business relationships are just that.  People you don't really know should not be treated as people you do.  And if there's any doubt about what is right or just, don't hit enter.  Because if you do it will most likely be an imposition.  





What a Difference a Day Makes

7 01 2010

I have long marveled at the capacity of Homo sapiens to use the Gregorian construct of calendar days to act, think and feel differently.  364 days after our date of birth, we have a thing called a birthday.  A day where we believe we are more special than the day before and the day after.  We also believe that the third Thursday of the month of November is the day to give thanks.  And we believe that Fridays are days we can begin to relax and Sundays are days of rest.  Well, at least we used to believe that. And we believe that the new year, as represented by January 1st, represents a whole new world, or at least a whole new capacity to create a new world, which implies that December 31st did not carry the same potential…  Now I know deep in the recesses of my left brain that that is just silly.  A day is a day is a day.  But that's not always true. 

The turning of the page from the dark and stormy 2009 into 2010 has brought with it an almost palpable collective exclaim of "phew" and "hurrah" and sunny declarations that this new year will be a better year.  And that's a good thing.  The capacity of people to move forward is in large part predicated on how they feel.  Give them hope and they will engage.  Give them doubt and they will circle their wagons.   Japan's lost decade being perhaps the best example of the latter.  My worry is that the hope and positivism that is appearing presumes that the good times we left two years ago are somehow magically about to be back.  That all those jobs will return, that the dollar will strengthen, that home sales will return, that all will be just the way it was.  I think not.  I don't believe that world will ever return.  Nor should it.  The new order of things says there are no gimmies, and that value is everything.  The value of the dollar, the value of the home, the value of the worker, the value of the brand.  Many businesses have commoditized or been dis-intermediated, our capacity to out-produce the world has been long lost, and our incestuous consumer credit based economy has pretty much eaten itself and its kin.  Our ability to regain our economic footing is purely predicated on creating more value than others can create.  And while that may seem daunting, as individuals, businesses and country, the first step is to believe we can.  And thank god for January 1st.  What a difference a day makes.

Posted via email from The Power of Simple





Men of Letters

5 01 2010
Bronze statue of Giordano Bruno by Ettore Ferr...
Image via Wikipedia

In the beginning there was religion, philosophy, science and the craft of law. The study by a few to understand the reality and necessary rules of the whole. The capture of that commentary and observation was augmented by the rise of the Fourth Estate — a recognized profession of wordsmiths, ponderers and reporters who carried a responsibility to provide the masses with a generally unbiased view of the current day, its news, its stories, and the topics that define(d) a civilized society. Alongside these professional journalists were “men of letters,” independent sorts, typically well educated and committed to the intellectual task of delving into the truth of life and whether it really needed to be nasty, brutish and short. At the end of the “public intellectual” spectrum was an educated man, one who was valued for his (or her) capacity with words and his informed position on matters of intellectual import. As noted in my favorite public intellectual and not so intellectual dumping ground (Wikipedia) the following: Regardless of the field of expertise, the role of the public intellectual is addressing and responding to the problems of his or her society, as the voice of the people with neither the ability, nor the opportunity, to address said problems in the public fora; hence, they must ‘rise above the partial preoccupation of one’s own profession . . . and engage with the global issues of truth, judgment, and taste of the time.’ The purpose of the public intellectual remains debated, especially his or her place in public discourse, thus acceptance or non-acceptance in contemporary society; to wit, Edward Saïd noted that as almost impossible: [The] . . . real or ‘true’ intellectual is, therefore, always an outsider, living in self-imposed exile, and on the margins of society.’ So let us compare all this to the reality of today. The Fourth Estate has been served with liens of implied irrelevance. Men of letters and the well studied and articulated role of the intellectual man who lives by choice on the outside looking in have been supplanted by random observations of the biased and uninformed that reside by choice at the center. The defining voices of today are supported with limited lexicons and shallow calculations, and are often motivated not by truth but by celebrity and fame. Their all too frequent distribution of weakly thought thoughts garner attention simply for being bold in their declaration and bank on the limited attention span and capacity of their “markets” to absorb, let alone challenge the integrity of their claims. I am one of these voices. And I apologize. Is this all to suggest I don’t believe in blogging? I truly do, but I also believe that we must balance our reliance on the informal guidance of the amateur intellectual (like me) with the elevation and support of the professional commentator, the public intellectual. The demise of the Fourth Estate would in fact be a terrible consequence of blogospheric pressure. I believe that the complex questions of today demand more rigorous study and contemplation than our sphere alone provides. They demand a certified form of intellectual engagement that can explore and communicate about the biggest topics of life without bias or self-serving intent. They demand a Fourth Estate, men of letters and individuals committed to understanding the external and eternal truths, willing to intellectually invest, to check their “facts” and be able to explain the derived understanding in ways that make a difference for those that apply their insights and guidance. So for those of us who blog about things that matter, a challenge is herein posed. Let us take a step back and re-think our motivations, let us balance our desire and readiness to share with a willingness to check our supporting logic and data. And let us proffer words that carry truth about the truth, words that matter and nothing less. Okay?

Posted via email from holland-mark posterous

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