Archives for posts with tag: Creativity

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Images: Courtesy of Music Philosophy (Mico, you rock!)

Strategic Planning was born around 100 years ago when the first cars went into mass production: The lack of product was vast and the economic landscape easy to oversee, making it easy for companies to adjust to changes immediately. Markets were slow and people believed humans can achieve anything, supported by Strategic Planning. This mechanical view of the economy and an enterprise left the role of Strategic Planning almost untouched and its importance has even grown over time.

Problem is: The world enterprises operate in has dramatically changed. In a world of saturated markets, educated people playing their consumer role rather unwillingly, globalization, terror attacks, ash clouds, etc. Strategic Planning becomes a farcical endeavor. Maneuvering an enterprise has become an illusion. But we continue to plan.

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Strategic Planning is a waste of time

Successful companies are highly flexible and adaptable in an ever-changing world and market. That’s the opposite of a plan: focusing on getting something done in a certain amount of time.

Let’s just have a look at the US government: Every year they plan on paying down the debt – and every year they face  new surprises: high unemployment rate, a Supreme Court decision, an oil spill. Immediately, all the Strategic Planning is out the door and projections have to be adjusted. Planning is not forward-looking, Planning is static and reactive.

Same is true for enterprises: The performance of a company is more often than  not influenced by factors out of their influence sphere: price of commodities change, currencies fluctuate or a banal law changes somewhere in the world and affects the performance of the enterprise – once again, projections have nothing to do with reality. This results in permanent frustration. And, companies develop the tendency to find someone to blame: Purchasing, Sales, Product.

Anyone who still hopes to control the future with numbers has no clue how markets work nowadays, doesn’t know how you can get optimal performance out of all stakeholders or just lives in a perfect world, fueled by selfish wishes and hopes.

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Executives don’t like change

The idea that executives don’t maneuver the enterprise through the stormy seas (Actually, it’s the other way around.) doesn’t fit in their MBA-fueled pipedreams of being the sole savior of this struggling ship. A myth born in the Industrial Age. In addition, executives believe they need Strategic Planning to control their employees. At its core, most managers believe their employees are lazy bums that can’t be trusted. (Honestly, without me they just wouldn’t do anything all day.) For that reason, employees need to get clear goals and constant observation.

Peter Drucker’s Management by Objectives (MBO) gave executives more fodder for their bizarre prejudice that people without objectives have no clue what to do. People wouldn’t work efficiently without planning goals. This resulted in an enterprise world gone crazy: Increase revenue by 13%, reduce costs by 12%, service has to increase their number by 10% for the next 5 years. Totally absurd. We call it: Management.

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Shift power from executives to all stakeholders

This absurdity we call management has to be replaced with a new paradigm:

  • Focus on relative goals
  • Empower your employees by trusting them 100% and allow them to react individually to demands of stakeholders
  • Focus on culture

Don’t stick to numeric goals: Would you want a NASCAR driver to win a race or plan for him to drive the race in 2 hours and 32 minutes? Foster a culture where it’s about winning not making numbers.

If a department/division/branch has problems, don’t let the executives take over. Stakeholders have to find their own way out of the mess and don’t need the savior from headquarter. This might leave the executives with less opportunities to congratulate themselves but will increase team morale dramatically. The role of leadership has to be be redefined: It’s not about controlling people. That breeds resentments. And crushes spirits.

It’s about inspiring people. Engaging them. Executives need to lead, not control.

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Redefine enterprise success

Executives have to throw away their outdated Org charts, their hierarchy thinking and the focus on their selfish goals. The new enterprise places stakeholders on the pedestal, makes humans not plans their focus. Once you place your trust in all your stakeholders and empower them, goals like shareholder value, executive salaries and bonuses will fall into place.

Enterprises need less goals, not more. Goals are overrated. Real success metrics are an organic byproduct of a real corporate identity. It shouldn’t be about corporate goals determined by a few, it should be about corporate identity lived each and every day by all stakeholders. Focusing on corporate culture will help enterprises to develop a congruent group of like-minded people. Forget the performance review. Lean on peer pressure as the guiding force.

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Strategic Planning vs Being Prepared

Strategic Planning means: Derived out of an executive vision of the future and assessment of the present, the company develops a plan that everybody has to follow blindly. Enterprises based on this belief try to manage the future.

Being Prepared means: We’re trying to be ready for any eventualities, we prepare, we’re staying intellectually fit, always question everything – never separate acting from thinking. Being prepared is an attitude. This attitude will allow companies to be successful in the future. Strategic Planning dooms them.

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Strategy has its roots in the military. Even the military doesn’t need mindless warriors anymore

The idea of Strategic Planning was based on the thought construct that there are two kinds of people: The thinkers, the directors, the controllers. And the mindless workers that do their task and don’t ask questions. Strategy is a tool to keep the doers from thinking and under tight control.

Since the markets control enterprises more efficiently than managers, what’s the value of managers hiding behind strategy decks anymore? Instead, every stakeholder has to think, adjust and do. What company still can afford to employ non-thinking people, happily entrenched in operations? That’s what automization is for.

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Perpetual Test Mode

Enterprises need to ask themselves constantly “How could I do this better?” even when everything works out fine right now. Once enterprises believe they’ve found the perfect model, they will switch into the mode “Why change anything?” And die.

Enterprises need to follow two paths:

  • Implement perpetual, incremental improvements. Why not improving a dozen of little things? Can you improve your website daily outside of the yearly refresh? Can you change the way customer service interacts with people? Are your key employees fully invested on Social Media Channels, always ready to reply? How can you move your company from good service to utter delight?
  • Think big: Some problems can’t be solved with incremental changes. They need significant innovations. How can you leap ahead of your competitors by rethinking how a problem can be solved?

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How to begin the transformation process

This is an unusual paradigm for enterprises. Everything they learned in business schools and on wooden conference tables is useless. Even more: counter-productive.

It behooves every employee to internalize this new world view. And start to develop multiple pilot projects or beta programs. A good first step would be to eliminate the yearly performance reviews and axe yearly planning.

Let’s face it: the world was not meant to be perfect and nobody can control it. We’re supposed to muddle along and work our way through challenges and problems. Once enterprises accept this fact, they have a chance to succeed in the future. Most importantly: As long as managers don’t trust all stakeholder, as long as they don’t believe people will work without control and incentives, just because they want to, as long as managers don’t change their thinking, enterprises will remain the places of outdated hierarchy, intellectual imprisonment and planned economy.

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During the dot-com bust, I interviewed for a position with a digital consulting firm. The job description sounded like a good match, the company had a good reputation and strong growth: I was excited. After speaking to the CEO for 5 minutes, I knew his company wouldn’t be my future home. Why? Because I had no idea what he was talking about. Every other word was a buzzword, he must have made up words on the fly and the sentences were so long and convoluted, I felt he was filibustering the interview.

One reason brands have problems connecting with people is their use of language. A few examples:

Dachis Group: “Social Business Design helps companies reinvent themselves into dynamic, socially calibrated organizations that gain constant value from their ecosystem of connections.”

Dell: “Increase workforce flexibility while storing data or secure servers – enabling highly centralized control over your distributed environment and aligning clients with their organizational needs.”

Ford: “Covert aerodynamic design and critical technology such as the class-exclusive PowerShift six-speed automatic and 1.6L Ti-VCT Duratec® I4 engine with twin-independent variable cam timing make it a responsive and fuel-responsible driving experience.”

I chose those 3 companies because they’re often heralded as the pioneers of Social Media and Social Business. Did you have any clue what they were talking about? I had some idea but became bored a few words in.

We have developed a lexicon of contrived gobbledygook meant to confuse people not to enlighten them. How can you claim to be social when your outward language is anti-social?

Just go to digital conferences and half the words abused have no real definition (Engagement), 1 million definitions (brand) or their meaning changes day by day (Success Metrics). We tend to use imprecise words to cloud our confusion and hide the fact our thoughts are not that well-thought-out. A refined thought doesn’t need to come in a convoluted package. Or, as Winston Churchill said: “Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.”

Amidst the corporate gibberish, brands have a unique opportunity to stand out from the masses by speaking plainly yet intelligently about the matter at hand. Not only only will you be seen as having a stronger grasp of the issues, but people will form stronger connections with companies.

In a complex world, any effort to simplify will be appreciated.

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When we started this venture we call BatesHook, I was reflecting on my work life and experience, trying to implement best practices into my own company, hoping to avoid the dreaded pitfalls. And I was trying to find the common thread why I loved working for this company and dreaded working for this one. Why 8 hours at one agency killed my spirit, while 16 hours here made me feel alive. It all came down to one thing: Values. One brand stood for something, the other place shared only one tangible value: shareholder return.

There’s nothing wrong with making money but if that’s the only reason for an organization to be around, you can see it permeating the entire organization, up to the C-Suite where the sound of cash registers drones out any sense of decency and humanity. Layoffs just equal cost savings not human misery. All sorts of shortcuts equal improvement of the short-term bottom line, just to conveniently ignore the long-term costs.

After the multitude of bubbles have burst, shareholder value and making money for the sake of money doesn’t feel that good anymore. And consumers are craving institutions that care and give back. This and the age of product parity lead to an avalanche of brands that suddenly care, that support businesses in making positive change, try to rebrand themselves as green or just transform communities around the world (right after they almost destroyed the whole financial system).

Most of this comes across as advertising, not as a commitment. Because it’s not rooted in real values, we are starting to deal with caring parity: Suddenly everybody cares for the wrong reason. Consumers want us to care, let’s care. Brands purely jumping on the caring bandwagon are missing out on a huge opportunity: Stand for something. Have values. And express yourself as an organization based on these values.

What gets you more excited? The horsepower of the new Accord or the power of dreams outside of Honda’s corporate walls?  What are you talking about more? That Dove has no soap scum or that physical beauty is only skin deep? What’s more interesting? The newest feature on a Dell Computer or their commitment to eliminate the digital divide? (Just an idea, Dell.)

Standing for something that’s rooted in corporate values eliminates the need to spout off undifferentiated messages, bland and politically correct brand communiques and mind-numbing feature lists. Sure, standing for something is not easy. It might offend some. Actually, it better offend some. Not everybody will like it. But real leaders don’t care. Brand leaders. Human leaders.

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where stands at tome of challenge and controversy.” –Dr. Martin Luther King Kr.

The values of your brand determines the value of your brand.

So, what’s your brand standing for?

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Image and T-Shirt by Origin68

Orson Welles’s first film was Citizen Kane. It’s still considered one of the most famous and highly-rated films, partly because he deployed innovative cinematic and narrative techniques. In an interview in 1969 with Huw Wheldon, Welles explained where he got the confidence to make this new kind of film:

Welles: Ignorance, ignorance, sheer ignorance – you know there’s no confidence to equal it. It’s only when you know something about a profession, I think, that you’re timid or careful.

Wheldon: How did this ignorance show itself?

Welles: I though you do anything with a camera, you know, that the eye could do and the imagination could do and if you come up from the bottom in the film business you’re taught all the things that the cameraman doesn’t want to attempt for fear he will be criticized for having failed. And in this case I had a cameraman who didn’t care if he was criticized if he failed and I didn’t know there were things you couldn’t do, so anything I could think up in my dreams I attempted to photograph.

Wheldon: You got away with enormous technical advance, didn’t you?

Welles: Simply by not knowing that they were impossible, or theoretically impossible.

Embracing ignorance allowed Welles to challenge the boundaries of existing knowledge and develop innovative techniques still utilized in today’s film-making.

While organizations are racing to embrace Knowledge Management and deploy systems to benefit from it, enterprises that engage in creative and innovative activity need to consider ignorance as a virtue. Accumulating and managing knowledge can become a dangerous trap when it just reinforces biases and don’t drive organizations into new ways of thinking and approaching challenges.

Knowledge Management has to find the perfect balance between deploying existential information, eliminating knowledge that has run its course and embracing ignorance in the pursuit of creativity and innovation.

There’s a reason why companies are looking for fresh blood all the time: They need to get new ideas and new assumptions into the system in order to continue to be a living organisms. Too often, new ideas and new brains are being streamlined quickly to ensure the system doesn’t break and everybody can continue on their merry way.

Enterprises need to develop systems embracing ignorance as a corporate virtue and integrating Ignorance Management into their Knowledge Management system. Human knowledge is limited, human ignorance has no boundaries. Strategic Ignorance Management will transform your business and turn your workforce from order-taking drones to creative contributors.