Tag Archives: change leadership

Unlocking the mysteries of motivation

Many of us are counting down the hours to winter break, and I’m sure many of us will use the downtime to think about our goals for the new year and the vision for our life in 2016. I’m excited to share with you a guest post I wrote for UT’s Human Dimensions of Organizations blog In the Loop. In “Unlocking the mysteries of motivation,” I talk about how the latest UT HDO seminar helped me get unstuck in my creative life.

I hope you enjoy reading it and that you have a wonderful holiday season. Thank you for reading my blog!

Copying is a creativity killer

I had a recent experience, the details of which aren’t necessary to get into for this post despite their high entertainment value.  The experience solidified my viewpoint on the subject of copying, and I wanted to share my thoughts with you, my readers, in a way that would provoke, engage, and encourage some good dialogue.

Real art is based on one’s own experiences, observations, and imagination. We are also influenced by the work of other artists.  And every artist has his or her own ideation or thinking process they use to get to their answer.  Art is therefore very personal and artists become emotionally vested in their work.  In the marketing world, a creative idea or a story can become as personal as a painting one has worked on for weeks or a song one has written in a few hours.  When others copy your art, it kills creativity, of both the artist and the copier.  Because copying is just regurgitating the answer, not understanding the thinking and ideation process that was behind the answer.  The next level of creative thinking isn’t possible when the answer is copied.

When I go to Michael’s studio to learn how to paint, I am not just learning technique. I am learning and copying his best practices:  thinking through sequences (lights and darks first, then hue), practicing routines and habits (wipe the brush constantly!), questioning process (no, that stained glass effect I love doesn’t work on this current painting).  I learn very little if I go to class and sit and copy Michael’s technique and stare at his finished paintings.

The same applies to marketing.  Copying a creative idea, message, or point-of-view is a shortcut.  It eliminates the questioning, the ideation, the development, the internalization, the destruction, the regeneration, the speculation, the experimentation, the testing, the piloting, the demonstration, the teaching, the evangelism, the mistakes, the victories, the learning, the going back to the drawing board and starting the cycle all over again until art emerges.  To not go through this process kills creativity.  The original idea is no longer inspiration, or motivation, or an activator of creativity.  Instead, it becomes a dependency and teaches dependency, not creativity.

Instead, one should copy the process or questions the artist or marketer worked with – not the answer.  Artists are generous with their processes because we know that they can strengthen others’ abilities to discover and create.  Creativity is a process that requires making ideas your own.  If one doesn’t go through the process, one doesn’t experience the euphoria of getting to the answer.

What do you think?

At the intersection of the arts and science

I heard someone say today that engineers and IT people have an “emotional barrier” and that top-level messaging coming out of my team should be more rational.  As a marketing change agent trying to push through a big idea, I sat back, listened, and took notes.  This topic preoccupied me for the rest of the day.

Engineers and IT people (75-80% male) are humans, with the same perennial personal and professional concerns as people in any other line of work:  Am I doing work that matters, that makes a difference?  Am I getting enough done?  Am I going to make it home in time for dinner?  Ask any engineer why they chose their profession, and they will likely say “to make the world a better place.”  Ask an IT friend of mine who was summoned to go onsite to fix an IT issue while we were at dinner recently whether he jumped out of his chair smiling and ran to the office, or whether he stomped off annoyed and frustrated because his evening with friends had been hijacked.

The generalization that the profession is comprised of robots is erroneous and misses the opportunity for high-tech marketers and salespeople to connect to customers in a meaningful way.  Yes, rational messages and proof points must be present in any good messaging framework and downstream deliverables.  But making an emotional connection with customers is of utmost importance.  Technology decisions are made based on both emotional and rational factors.  We do our industry and our profession a disservice when we  fear our technical customers won’t be able to make the emotional connection to our company and its offerings.  Ditto if we believe that they base their purchase decisions only on the rational reasons placed before them.

I would encourage beg my fellow marketing colleagues to push emotive messaging to greater heights.  Focus on your customer outcomes, desires, and wish lists to get at the core of how you will connect.  This is very hard work and there can be a lot of resistance to it!  Don’t let that dissuade you.  Once you figure out how to make the emotional connection, the rational messaging is easier because you have a beacon to which it can align.  You can always dial it back or take baby steps to get it into market; but, frankly, I don’t believe there’s anything to lose with pushing hard to make the connection with customers.

In his book Steve Jobs, author Walter Isaacson writes that one of Jobs’ greatest leadership lessons was to combine the humanities with the sciences.  Isaacson writes, “The creativity that can occur when a feel for both the humanities and the sciences exists…..will be a key to building innovative economies in the 21st century.  It is the essence of applied imagination, and it’s why both the humanities and the sciences are critical for any society that is to have a creative edge in the future.”

Wow.  I love this.  A feel.  Not an “understanding of”.  Not a “degree in”.  Not “mastery of”.  A feel.  As high-tech marketers, we stand at that intersection of art and science.  We have a feel for both. We connect our creativity to the technology to bring it to life for our audiences, to infuse it with meaning for them.  Embrace this ability.

As coincidence (there are none) would have it, I came home to a letter from my daughter’s school district.  She was accepted into the talented and gifted program for both science and language arts next year.  I am ecstatic at the opportunity now before her to stand and learn at the intersection of both the arts and the sciences.  To have a feel for both.

So tell me, how do you stand at the intersection of the arts and science?

Creativity as competitive advantage – Part 2

Your Comfort Zone

This post is Part 2 of an exploration on creativity in the workplace, inspired after reading Josh Linkner’s terrific book Disciplined Dreaming. I encourage my readers to pick up or download this book. As I did in the previous post on this topic, for now I am skipping the first four steps in Linkner’s process for inciting creativity at work to focus on the last step – bringing your ideas to life – as I am fully living that stage of the process right now. I will backtrack at some point and share some thoughts on the ideation phases, but I wanted to share what I’ve learned so far because great ideas are worthless if you can’t get others to believe in them and enlist their full support to put them into action.

Linkner offers some great strategies to select ideas and prototype and demo them, but he doesn’t touch on the internal selling and adoption of the idea once you’ve done those things. In my last post, I discussed the strategic role an agency can play in bringing the idea to life, whether through a demo, a video, a simulated conversation with a customer, or a manifesto. But how do you then take that, evangelize it, sell it, and ultimately get it adopted by others – willingly – within the organization? How does your idea become reality in a way that continues to nurture an environment of creative thinking? To drive results that create the competitive advantage? To continually question and challenge the status quo?

I’ve been through this process so many times that a good friend and mentor of mine, Donna Fox, and I decided to map it out one day over coffee a year ago:

Conduct demonstration projects. Some people call these pilots. I prefer the term ‘demonstration’ because pilots have a go/no-go feel to them depending on their success and require a lot of resources. Demonstration projects are meant to show that change is not only possible, but it is good, in very small pockets with minimal resources and disruption. Armed with your creative idea brought to life, choose 2-3 projects where you could put the idea into action. In other words, build a coalition of the willing and get an executive sponsor for the idea. For example, if you are responsible for sales enablement and have come up with a creative tool that all of sales should have immediately, pick a small subset of the sales team to demonstrate the new tool and ensure that not only your management, but also their sales director, is on board. If you are re-positioning a product or solution and you have brought the idea to life in a customer presentation, lock arms with a few trusted salespeople to test out the deck in real life with real customers. Caution!  Don’t choose demonstration projects that are expensive or so visible that a failure would have stark consequences.  Choose the projects carefully!

Demonstration projects enable you to build momentum and excitement by enrolling others firsthand in the idea. You start to see where the resistance is and you can build action plans to address it and even convert derailers into supporters. You demonstrate that change can happen without it being a burden on the enrollee. You learn to understand others’ motivations, fears, and agendas. And you solicit opinions and feedback that make your idea even better. Measuring and reporting the results of demonstration projects is critical, and I recommend having a third-party conduct the measurement so that you do not have to personally create credibility for the results.

Scale The Wall. It is common during or after a demonstration project to come up against what I call “The Wall.” The Wall is a sudden slow-down in progress or a build-up of resistance that prevents the idea from moving forward. Failing to scale The Wall is dangerous. I believe it is one of the main reasons creativity in the workplace suffers and ideas come to a full stop. The Wall must be scaled because (a) so many people are bought in and believers of the idea at this stage through their participation in the demonstration projects that a slow-down or “all-stop” can compromise the idea altogether, (b) the person leading the idea can become demoralized or lose personal credibility. To scale The Wall, it is necessary for the leaders of the idea and their management chain to be in agreement on timelines, communication paths, and access to people, information, and resources (time, money, attention). Scenario planning is a must – take the time to think through potential areas of compromise and continue to evangelize your idea. Don’t give up!  Instead,

  • Schedule regular meetings with enrollees and support them through the demonstration projects.
  • Do not de-commit demonstration project resources and support.
  • Openly discuss the emotions surrounding the idea to understand others’ motivations and agendas.
  • Build an internal support team that can help you re-frame reversals or setbacks and gain perspective to move forward.

Consolidate wins. As you scale The Wall, you’ll begin to consolidate the wins from the demonstration projects. Again, it is important to have assistance in measuring the results so that your credibility isn’t questioned. You should also incorporate the appropriate learnings from the demonstration projects. Your idea can get watered down or altered from all the feedback during consolidation, so it is important to be very clear on what you will and will not compromise on during this stage. At this point, a detailed execution plan should be built that includes budget, timelines, dependencies, risks, resources, etc. Move forward with creativity, passion, thoughtfulness, and boldness.

Scale and integrate. Don’t declare victory too early. Keep building on the idea and continue to set goals that drive the momentum with others. Ensure continued executive sponsorship of the idea and talk about success and progress every chance you get. Publicly recognize all the people you enrolled who helped you get your idea implemented, and foster an environment where everyone believes that their idea, no matter how big or small, makes a difference.

I agree with Linkner that harnessing creativity is key to competitive advantage. I hope this post helps motivate you to harness yours in the workplace and drive your ideas so that your creativity can make a difference.  What do you think?

Creativity as competitive advantage – Part 1

I just finished devouring Josh Linkner’s Disciplined Dreaming.  In it, Linkner asserts, in my opinion correctly, that we live in an era in which business cycles are measured in months, not years, and that the only way to sustain long-term innovation and growth is through creativity – at all levels of an organization.  Said another way:  creativity represents the only sustainable competitive advantage.  Seth Godin‘s endorsement of the book sums it up nicely: “The creativity gap is real and it’s getting worse. Linkner challenges you to become a disruptive force for change.”  As a marketer who has spent the last 20 years constantly challenging the status quo with creative ideas and encountering resistance to those ideas, Linkner felt like a kindred spirit, and his words were music to my ears.  Said another way:  “I’m not crazy!”

For me, this book was validation of the approach I have taken every day I go to work, where developing creativity – mine and others’ – is my primary role.  Because few or no processes have really existed for nurturing creativity in the workplace, I’ve often taken on the role of creativity cheerleader somewhat in isolation, encouraging it, rewarding it, and pushing others to push the boundaries, often doing so without authority or the backing of a “process”.  This can be difficult and painful, so I loved the way Linkner put a stake in the ground with a five-step guide to “disciplined dreaming”, or what I have called “creativity combined with intellectual rigor”.

His process, which many of us actively follow without realizing it, includes:  defining the problem, preparing for the process that will reveal a solution, discovering different paths to get to the solution, and “ignition,” a fantastic chapter on innovative ideation methodologies that I’m now adding to my solid repertoire of techniques.  I mentioned in a previous post that I wanted to publish some upcoming posts on idea generation, and I will get around to that and to putting forth my thoughts on the change management challenges it entails.  But today and in Part 2 next time, I want to leap-frog and focus on the fifth and last step in Linkner’s process:  ‘The Launch’ – bringing your ideas to life.

I am a strong believer in prototyping ideas and conducting demonstration projects to test and launch ideas.  Over many projects in the high-tech industry, where I’ve been outnumbered by left-brainers, I’ve learned that it is much easier and faster to get buy-in to new ideas if you can show how they come to life.  Walls that were put up come down and aha! moments happen through the use of videos, slides, a mocked-up website or ad, a customer testimonial, or a simulated customer conversation. Linkner explores these and other ways to bring your ideas to life.

But, he does not explore the relationship that can accelerate the process and optimize this critical phase – the relationship with a creative agency.  I’d like to share my thoughts on this with you.

The use of a creative agency for execution of a campaign or specific program is common.  It is not as common to use an agency in the earlier ideation or selling phases of an idea.  One of my mantras as a marketer has always been, “I don’t outsource strategy.”  Defining the customer, developing a zealous understanding of the customer, ensuring that the marketing goals align to the business goals, and creating unique, compelling strategic points of view that ladder to the brand are all requirements of the job that marketers must own and drive.  Having said that, a partnership with a creative agency in the ideation and selling phases can be a progressive, positive force that yields competitive advantage, especially when you’re trying to solve a very tough problem.  I’ve used creative agencies in the past for these strategic phases for three reasons:

  1. They make a living being creative.  Where sometimes  bureaucracy, ambiguity, resistance, and fear can inhibit creativity in the corporate environment, the whole raison d’être of a creative agency is to be creative.  There is no history of stifling creative expression; in fact, it’s just the opposite.  Their very jobs are on the line.  To have that level of highly-trained and experienced professionals on your project can mean the difference between good and great and can inspire creativity in the client.
  2. They are objective.  They provide an unbiased second opinion.  I believe this is priceless.  As marketers, we drink the proverbial Kool-Aid all too often.  A creative agency can steer us back to the customer, can ask hard questions without having a vested interest in the answers, and can see things we just don’t see because we’ve overlooked it, turned a blind eye to it, or pretended we didn’t see it.  This is why agencies don’t advertise themselves – they have no objectivity.  Doing the “house ad” is the worst assignment possible.
  3. They are flexible and have your back.  They don’t get upset about sudden shifts in strategic direction.  They will work tirelessly through the night to get you something the next day.  They will give you as many iterations as you want.  All with a smile.

How does this lead to competitive advantage?  The obvious reasons are:

  • Speed:  Collaborating with an agency can accelerate ideation and speed time to an answer and to execution.
  • Scalability:  The agency can become an extension of your team, enabling multiple, simultaneous demonstration projects, the ability to reach more people internally, and real-time feedback to further inform decisions.
  • Quality:  The client/agency collaboration can make your good ideas great.  

The more nuanced reason is the central theme found throughout Linkner’s book:  creativity cannot be copied or replicated. 

What do you think?  Have you used a creative agency to help you through strategic ideation and selling of your ideas?  What was your experience?