I recently participated in a Pecha Kucha as part of the Wright Design Series hosted by the Southwest Chapter of AIA Wisconsin. If you are not familiar with Pecha Kucha, it draws its name from the Japanese term for the sound of “chit chat” and is a presentation style with two simple rules: you present 20 images and speak for 20 seconds each. Pecha Kucha keeps presentations concise and moving at a rapid pace. Doing one was great for a couple of reasons. One, it is always fun to be included in a “thing” put on by the creative community. It makes me feel all artsy. The opportunity to pontificate on something one is passionate about — to an interested (read: trapped) audience, no less — is also a real treat.
But it was also hard. How do you talk about yourself without sounding like an arrogant bore? Not to mention the format: twenty seconds is either not enough time or an eternity for a single slide. Getting the rhythm right was tough and took more practice than I thought it would.
The theme of the evening was “What Keeps Me Awake at Night & Gets Me Up in the Morning.” I spoke about waking up early in the morning to run — a potential eye-roller of a topic since even I find people who boast about all their pre-dawn accomplishments very irritating.
Because a Pecha Kucha is a personal vignette, it is not required to have a big takeaway or lesson. But in putting mine together, I did have one nugget that is worth sharing. I call it the Florence Rule of Five, after my former coach Shelly-Lynn Florence Glover. She imparted the following wisdom to me: for every five runs, one will feel spectacular, three will be decent, and one will be so wretched you’ll feel unworthy of even owning running shoes.
This rule held basically true for me regardless of fitness, pregnancy, or age. And knowing this rule has offered me quite a bit of comfort. The wretched days don’t devastate me anymore — they’re just part of the deal. If I head out the door in the morning and it’s not going well, I don’t beat myself up; I slog along and try to enjoy the fact that, hey, pressure’s off! Sometimes I don’t even make it around the block before I head home.
But sometimes…I innovate.
Sometimes, on a sucky day, I’ll sprint or jog back and forth in front of my house. Or quickly run a hill 10 times. Or do something other than I would expect to do on a “normal” running day because, essentially, my normal plan for the run has failed.
We have all read about failure being a part of innovation. And we all probably nod our heads, “oh, yes, we support failure” and “of course you will fail.” But we likely underestimate the very personal difficulty of failure. Imagine how hard it was for Thomas Edison to make 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. Or for Dr. Seuss to have 27 publishers reject his first manuscript.
Failing is hard. Especially since it is only in hindsight that you can appreciate the lessons failure teaches.
For me, I can pretty much plan on failing once every five days. It’s good practice. When big failures come, I tend to kick off my shoes and wallow a bit. And then set the alarm early and get up to try again.
We were meeting yesterday about a potential project and one of my co-workers lamented, “we just never get enough time to design.” This isn’t the first time I have heard this. And it isn’t always a designer who says it.
It made me think about the process of design which, despite all the technology we throw at it, is still the equivalent of connecting brain to pen to paper.
To create requires two things: inspiration and time. Neither can be rushed, despite what the Gantt chart says.
Last week I heard about the Slow Goods movement. As part of the Slow Movement writ large (which includes Slow Food, Slow Fashion and Slow Money, among other things), Slow Goods encourages thoughtful and methodical conceptualization, design and manufacturing of physical objects. The idea is to take the time to do things well, do them responsibly and do them in a way that allows the designer, artisan and end user to derive pleasure from them. Some would call this bliss.
Contrast this with what I heard on NPR’s Morning Edition today, a piece on media consumption and our society’s ‘on demand attitude.’ Now that many of us have multiple screens in our lives—television, computer, smartphone are just the basics— our expectations are high. And so are our frustrations. We want variety, mobility and quality of media content NOW. And as I listened I thought, don’t we all want variety, mobility and quality in everything NOW?
As a whole, the world has become so very impatient. Not to enter the whole Big Bird fray, but I think back to over 40 years ago when Sesame Street was introduced with a parental advisory warning. Critics blamed the show for an increase in ADHD by reinforcing the short attention spans of children. How long were those segments? About five minutes. Some would call that interminable.
How can we as design professionals find a comfortable place between these two extremes?
It is a struggle. And something to chew on…..sloowwwwwly.
Last week I was a guest at the External Advisory Board meeting of the Wisconsin School of Business’ A.C. Nielsen Center for Marketing Research. I attended a panel entitled Brand Managers and Consumer Insights Managers as Partners: Implications for MBA Education.
As a former MBA student AND a recovering Brand Manager, the talk put my own experience into perspective.
I admit I was frustrated as a brand manager. I was also probably a pretty frustrating one. A brand manager is charged with meeting a number. Wall street is counting on it. Your bonus and your boss’s bonus are riding on it. Disregard that little consumer voice over in the corner! What kind of package change is Wal-Mart demanding? I tended toward a long-term view, a strategic vision, for my brands. To be honest, that really isn’t the job description. It wasn’t a good fit for me, to say the least.
After last week’s panel, I better understand why.
First, two of the four panelists were former colleagues of mine from Kraft Foods — now known as Mondelez International. One, Tanya Schooley, Senior Director of Consumer Insights & Strategy, was my mentor and go-to person for my first Kraft brand, Back to Nature. I’ve always appreciated her perspective. And she delivered again last week when she said, “Consumer insights are the headlights of an organization.”
She went on to explain that unlike shipment volume or sales data or coupon fulfillment information—the things that Brand Managers attend to—it is the opinions and attitudes of consumers that illuminate what lies ahead. So the Brand Managers, who really hold the power in consumer packaged goods organizations, are, to keep the analogy going, driving without headlights. I’d like to think this is why I disliked the job so much.
Rather than dwell on the misery of my CPG years, Tanya’s talk got me thinking about other parts of the car.
It is pretty clear Brand Management is the driver of the car. And if Brand Managers aren’t relying on the headlights, what are they using? The dashboard! And I would argue that dashboard is akin to Business Strategy.
Let me explain. The information presented allows the driver to see what is going on in many different areas–temperature, MPH, etc. You could argue these discrete bits are Business Analytics. But because a dashboard shows all sorts of different measures at the same time, it allows the driver to assess the interaction –or potential interaction–of various internal activites. Business Strategy. It also allows the drvier to make a judgment as to what the car is capable of. If my engine is revving at 2800 RPM, that means I’ve got about 4000 more to work with before the baby blows up. This is akin to assessing potential upside and risk. Modern dashboards even allow the driver to see what is behind and around the car, an analogy for historical information and external market forces.
There are other similiarities, of course, but the key takeaway for me is that, save for the engine itself, there is nothing more important than pointing the car (brand) in the right direction and navigating the terrain appropriately. This requires both Consumer Insights and Business Strategy. Just think how effective Brand Managers could be if they used BOTH the headlights and the dashboard to drive business on their brands.
So, you may be wondering, what is the engine of the car? Stay tuned to find out….
I sat down recently with two of my Design Concepts’ colleagues, Dave Franchino, president and Stefanie Norvaisas, director of research and design strategy, to discuss, for our OWN clarity, the difference between design strategy and business strategy. We have often wondered if the two were tigers of a different stripe or more akin to a leopard and a lion. I’m not sure that our conversation necessarily answered this question, but it was at least interesting enough that we published the transcript of it as an Industry Forum Exclusive. You can read the whole thing here, but let me give you a nugget or two that I think are important.
For clarity’s sake, it was important for us to delineate the ways in which the two types of strategy are different. But in practice, it is the way in which the two co-exist that is powerful.
Let me give you an example.
If a client hires us to do a ton of research and create concepts for lots of new products, we are helping to move them forward in terms of innovation. But without applying business strategy, we might be moving them backward. Sometimes the delivery of a bunch of fabulous, user-centered ideas can prompt a company to lose its way. It can lose focus and try to do everything or become overwhelmed and act on nothing. Or sometimes, a company will choose a single area of focus and give it the appropriate amount of effort, but it is the absolute wrong thing to do given their business objectives.
With an articulated business strategy, the decision-making process becomes clearer and the priorities (and capabilities) of an organization are better understood. Business strategy enables innovation by acting as a filter for what to do, how to do it, when to do it and, most importantly I think, what not to do.
As my colleague Stefanie said during the interview, “it all works together in an attempt to be smarter.” And in my book, that is what strategy of any stripe is all about.
A recent Fast Company piece, “Culture Eats Strategy for Lunch ” states “culture, like brand, is misunderstood and often discounted as a touchy-feely component of business that belongs to HR.”
I definitely held this opinion 10 years ago as a first-year MBA student. Why was Organizational Behavior a required class right along with Finance, Accounting and Economics? It sounded like baby stuff. As a second-year student, I still shook my head when every single executive I spoke to had the exact same answer to my favorite (ok, brown-noser) question. “Which business school class has been the most useful to you in your career?” Again and again, they said O.B.
A couple of jobs and companies later, I get it. What I learned in my very first O.B class (I ended up taking four of them) is true—culture can’t be manufactured; it’s not a policy that can be changed. It is a living, breathing, basically uncontrollable thing. I could write a long post about culture (and include something I read recently– that the only way a CEO could ensure a change to corporate culture would be to fire everyone—including herself—on the exact same day!), but the point of this post is to address what I think is a shortfall of the aforementioned blog. How exactly does the black sheep of a brother named Culture best it’s smart, serious, successful brother, Strategy? I’ve got two good reasons.
1. Can you get there? Imagine your dream vacation is a month long solo trek in Bhutan. You get in shape, save the money and do all the paperwork to get into the country. Great. But you have a wife, kids, aging parents, your own business and a garden to tend. You have a vision and a plan, but your circumstances just don’t support you achieving it. Culture is what makes a good strategy achievable. It’s looking around. Can you really do what you want to do with your current staff and working environment? A strategic plan is just a piece of paper if it isn’t executable. The vision, the strategies and the company’s capabilities—resources as well as culture—must all align.
2. Connecting the dots. Companies with highly successful cultures are mobilized, energized and can get stuff done. A functional culture is motivated internally because people BELIEVE in what is going on (a strong culture easily weeds out non-believers). This is a competitive advantage. Management doesn’t have to spend time getting alignment on new initiatives—everyone already gets what the company is about and can connect the dots themselves without a heavy hand from management. Same with day-to-day work. There is no confusion about WHY; therefore, employees can focus on the WHAT. This allows managers more time to think big strategic thoughts (because they do less “bossing”). Employees can make better decisions and, one hopes, also have more fun doing it. Another trip analogy: when you don’t have to revisit the map every mile, it makes driving a lot more enjoyable and your car makes much better time.