Play-Doh and goals

play-doh.pngSo this is how it usually goes. You’re two years old and you get your first can of Play-Doh. After the obligatory creation of a rolled out Play-Doh snake and a flattened pancake, you are off to something more adventurous.

Sooner or later you muster enough courage to taste a small sampling of your Play-Doh. Even to the most refined two-year-old palette, it doesn’t taste half bad – in fact, it might have even sustained you through the “new vegetable exploration” stage your parents subjected you to.

But eventually you were left with only one more right of passage that all kids with a can Play-Doh must pass through successfully. It is the combining of all Pay-Doh colors into one swirly ball of mashed-up goodness. Unfortunately, this seems to be the final resting state of all Play-Doh everywhere in the world – an intermixed, mashed-up hardened clump of remains from a once malleable, creative substance.

You know come to think of it, mixing up your Play-Doh colors is a lot like mixing up long-term needs and short-term wants. For example, most companies seek long-term relationships with customers. But in the heat of the playroom boardroom, they intermix this long-term vision with their short-term want to make investors happy by hitting their quarterly forcasts and so they begin to abuse their customer’s trust by nickel and diming, going back on promises or watering down the customer experience. Once you lose focus on the long-term and chase after shortsighted pleasures, game over. The idea is to keep your long-term needs and short-term wants as separate as possible. Once they are intermixed, just like Play-Doh, you will dry out, crack into pieces and be placed on the shelf where you are soon forgotten (a very lonely outcome).

Happy Thursday!


Help! My company is replacing me with a doorstop!

I recently spoke with a president of an organization that when asked what his role at the company was, responded in all seriousness “too keep the doors open.” In other words, to keep organization afloat.

This unfortunately is very sad. No mention of “providing a clear and compelling direction for my staff” or “removing roadblocks for passionate service”. Nope. Just to keep the doors open. And guess what employees do when you have a “visionary leader” of this magnitude? They run.

Imagine going to a doctor to talk about laser vision correction surgery. Naturally you are nervous so you ask the doctor what are the risks? What can I expect from my vision after the surgery? And maybe most importantly, will I get dry eye to the point that I won’t be able cry when Brian Piccolo dies while watching Brian’s Song?

And imagine that after your barrage of questions all that the doctor manages to eek out is, “Don’t worry. My number one goal here is to make sure you don’t die.” Huh? That’s grand and all, but what you really wanted to know was if you would ever see well enough to play golf without contacts. I can just picture you now kindly thanking the doctor for her time, gathering your belongings and high-tailing it out of there!

When you see your job as simply maintaining the smallest allowable breath that will sustain life, you really miss a great opportunity to exhale a deep breath of passion and inspiration within the walls of your own company.

Happy Tuesday!

Seinfeld on Marketing: Bonehead mass audiences

In this episode of Seinfeld on Marketing, we find the gang talking about George’s desperate attempt to zing a co-worker with just the right comeback after a rude comment was aimed at George during a staff meeting (George’s comeback is “Oh yea? Well, the jerk store called and they’re running out of you!” – in case you were playing along at home). Even though the co-worker has switched jobs, George still cannot let it go:

JERRY: You’re flying to Akron, just to zing a guy?

GEORGE: Don’t you understand? It’s not about him. To have a line as perfect as ‘jerk store’ and to never use it. I…I couldn’t live with myself.

ELAINE: See, there are no jerk stores. It…It’s just a little confusing is all.

GEORGE: It’s smart. It’s a smart line, and a smart crowd will appreciate it. And I’m not gonna dumb it down for some bonehead mass audience!

Sing it sister! Let’s give George a big hand – he finally got one right! The best way to communicate to your fans (whether they be your customers, church members or donors) is to focus on your “smart crowd” and not “dumb it down” for the masses. And we all know that in this over-communicated rock we call earth, you cannot reach everyone nor can you truly be remarkable and not offend some people along the way. Yeah, you might as well face it now – you are going to offend some people. Not in a Don Imus sort of way, but in a “you are not part of the club sort of way.”

Harley Davidson is not out to communicate to those not interested in dressing up and heading out on a weekend pilgramage. Starbucks is not trying to reach those just after some cheap brown liquid (or are they?). The Mini Cooper is not aiming to talk about its hip, small car with my grandmother’s canasta group.

Snack on these recent tasty nuggets from the Marking Guru, Seth Godin:

  1. “The more people you reach the more likely it is that you’re reaching the wrong people. (Who vs. how many).”
  2. ”The thing is, when you dumb stuff down, you know what you get? Dumb customers.”
  3. “The first thing I’d ask myself before launching a product, a service, or a candidate is, ‘who are we leaving out?’”

Super Terrific Happy Friday everyone!

This post is part of a weekly series, Seinfeld on Marketing.

William Duggan on Strategic Intuition

strategic-intuition.pngWe have a special post for today. I had the pleasure of interviewing William Duggan about his new book, Strategic Intuition: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement.

William Duggan, an associate professor of Management at Columbia Business School, is an expert on what he calls “strategic intuition.” Recently, his class on this subject was rated the highest by the students of Columbia of any of the 218 classes offered. Below is my e-mail interview with Mr. Duggan:

  1. Why did you write Strategic Intuition?
    I wrote Strategic Intuition because I stumbled upon the idea and immediately thought it was interesting and important. In strategy, we have lots of techniques for analyzing your industry, your competitors, your own position, customer trends and the like — but none of those methods tells you how to conclude what strategy to adopt. And we have lots of techniques for planning, where you lay out the activities and milestones to accomplish your goal — but none of these methods tells you how to set a goal in the first place. There’s a missing link between strategic analysis and strategic planning: how do you get your strategic idea? That’s the question that strategic intuition answers. I haven’t seen any other answer, and I’ve done a thorough search.
  2. In a nutshell, what is strategic intuition?
    Strategic intuition is the selective projection of past elements into the future in a new combination as a course of action that fits your previous goals or sparks new ones, with the personal commitment to follow through and work out the details along the way. It happens as a flash of insight when your mind is relaxed and connects the dots.
  3. How does it work?
    Modern neuroscience has overturned the idea of two sides of the brain — creativity on one side, analysis on the other — in favor of “intelligent memory”, where the brain constantly searches for a useful synthesis of a subset of elements from the huge volume it takes in and stores. As it turns out, the first great work of strategy scholarship dates from 1832 — On War by Carl von Clausewitz — and puts the same idea at the center of strategic success. Von Clausewitz gives four steps: 1) examples from history, where you take in elements of what others have done before you to succeed; 2) presence of mind, where you enter the strategic situation with no expectations of what the goal, problem, solution, or strategy should be; 3) “coup d’oeil”, which means “glance” in French, where selective elements from examples from history come together in your mind as a flash of insight; and 4) resolution, which is the determination to carry through the idea you’ve just seen in your mind.
  4. What are the differences between strategic intuition and intuition discussed in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink?
    Blink is about “expert” intuition, which is fast and works in familiar situations, the way a tennis pro knows where the ball will go from the arc and speed of an opponent’s racket. “Strategic” intuition is slow and works in new situations — that flash of insight you had last night might solve a problem that’s been at the back of your mind for a month. And in many cases expert intuition is the enemy of strategic intuition: if you enter a new situation, your expert intuition might recognize one piece of it and jump to a conclusion in an instant. Instead, you need time to let your strategic intuition search widely for all the different pieces that make up the new situation. In the military, there’s a famous case of “Slow Joe Dowdy,” the first commanding officer to be relieved of his post during battle since World War II. In the invasion of Iraq, the US troops used their expert intuition to advance quickly on the enemy army. Joe Dowdy’s troops took heavy fire from the rooftops going through Kut. He stopped on the other side and sat on a playground swing just thinking. His superior officer flew in and fired him for going too slow. As we now know, Joe Dowdy’s strategic intuition was slowly working away — he was the first US officer to realize, however dimly, that it was a guerilla war, not a conventional one.
  5. Can you give us some examples of strategic intuition found in the business world?
    In a series of flashes of insight, the Google guys put together four previous elements that they did not invent to make their great innovation: data mining algorithms, Altavista’s full-text web search, reverse link ranking as in academic citations, and Overture’s ad searches that display as lists rather than banners or pop-ups. Even better, their discovery changed their goal: they started out as Stanford graduate students working on e-commerce data mining and put together the four elements for that, but then others at Stanford started using their research tool as a search engine and said it was fantastic. So the Google guys switched to search. This is all in David Vise’s book, The Google Story.
  6. So are brainstorming session useless?
    If by brainstorming you mean “thinking aloud with other people,” then brainstorming is vital. But if you mean brainstorming as “scheduled sessions where we pick a topic and together throw out creative ideas”, then brainstorming is useless. In workshops over the past few years I’ve asked thousands of people, “When do you get your best ideas?” and not a single person ever said “In organized brainstorming sessions.” It’s usually “in the shower,” or “at night”, or “when talking to someone about something other than what I’m working on.”
  7. How can marketers benefit from strategic intuition?
    First of all, marketers are strategists just like anyone else. They must figure out a course of action toward a worthwhile goal. Strategic intuition is the way to do that. In the book there’s a specific tool I discovered at GE that lets you do that as a team – not as a brainstorming session, but over days and even weeks if need be. Second, marketers need to remember that “stealing” elements from the past tell you more about what to do than focus groups or other forms of marketing research. I think marketers are used to taking elements from elsewhere to some degree, but they might need to be reminded how widely you need to look. That is, don’t just steal from other marketers, which is “stealing inside the box”, so to speak. To “steal outside the box”, look outside marketing. One classic example is Henry Ford: he got the idea for the moving assembly line from Oldsmobile’s first stationary assembly line, plus the moving overhead line from the slaughterhouses in the Chicago stockyards. See how widely old Henry opened his mind to look for elements to combine? We all need to do the same.
  8. How can we find out more about strategic intuition?
    You mean, after you read the book? In New York City I’ll be doing a two-day workshop March 20-21 through Columbia Executive Education. You can go back to my earlier research reports, Napoleon’s Glance and The Art of What Works. Or go to the sources: On War by Von Clausewitz, Intelligent Memory by Barry Gordon and Lisa Berger, or How Breakthroughs Happen by Andrew Hargadon. Strategic Intuition cites other references that you can follow up too.
  9. Bonus question: What is your favorite Seinfeld episode?
    The Pony Remark, but only for that bit because one secret of the show’s success — that Larry David is now re-using in Curb Your Enthusiasm — is that there are 3 or 4 bits per episode and they all don’t have to work for you to remember the episode fondly. (I didn’t remember what else happened in that episode, so I just looked it up: Kramer bets Jerry he’ll redo his apartment as a multi-level, and then backs out.)

For more information, check out William Duggan’s new book and his web site to read the first chapter for free!

Happy Thursday!

It’s the snacks that are making you fat

Well it’s been about 3 weeks since many Americans have once again added “lose weight” as one of their New Year’s resolutions. So those that have joined the ranks, how’s it going?

That bad, huh? Maybe I can help. What have you been trying?

Oh, good. Those three healthy meals a day will go a long way to improve your overall health.

How’s the exercise plan coming?

Great. 1 hour on the treadmill does seem about right for you. And if dressing up in your 70’s garb and dancing on the treadmill like those guys on YouTube helps you get through it, more power to you.

How are the hunger pains?

I guess it can’t hurt if you try and breathe through them. But even if they are 9 minutes apart, the maternity ward still won’t take your calls.

Are you eating healthy snacks in between meals?

No…I’m pretty sure that you still have to count that Ding Dong even if it is followed up by a banana protein shake “chaser”.

‘Oops!’ is right, Mister. I think we may have discovered your problem…it’s the snacks that are making you fat!

Many times we start off the New Year eating three great meals a day and exercising but sometimes the snacks go unchecked (oops).

Often times it’s the same way in business…

Having an envisioned CFO? – Check. Getting the funding to move ahead with your plans for ‘08? – Check. Having a confusing, jargon filled invoice? – Oops!

An excellent business location with a modern design to make one drool? – Check. A neon logo to light up the night sky in all its glory? – Check. The garbage outside your building? – Oops!

Writing a personal note to your top customers thanking them for being such great customers? – Check. Giving a generous bonus to Management for their long hours and hard work? – Check. Even acknowledging Sandra on the front lines for going the extra mile with a customer? – Oops!

Sometimes it’s the little things in life and business that make us fat (if there is such a thing as ‘little things’.)

Happy Wednesday.

Your time to shine


Here is your assignment (if you choose to accept it). Drew McLellan and Gavin Heaton have once again teamed up to write another book and at this very moment are gathering authors (and aspiring authors) who would like to help write it.

You remember Age of Conversion? Yeah, it’s like that but hopefully even better. For more details click here.

Even if you do not want to be an author in the book, you can always help choose the topic by voting here.

This post will self destruct in 5 seconds.

5…4…3…2…(on second thought, I guess I’d better kept this post around for others to join in as well)

Happy Tuesday.

Seinfeld on Marketing: Low talking piracy

And we’re back. In this episode of Seinfeld, Kramer is dating a “low talker” (someone who talks extremly low, to the point where you can’t hear what they are saying at all). While out to dinner, Leslie, the low talker, gets Jerry to unknowingly agree to wear a ridiculous shirt on TV that she designed. In this scene, Jerry and Kramer are now talking about this dinner exchange (the episode quote below is longer than normal, but I wanted to keep it in all its glory):

KRAMER: You’re not going to believe what is happening with Leslie. You know, ever since you agreed to wear the puffy shirt on the Today show, she’s been getting all these orders from boutiques and department stores.

JERRY: Uh-huh. (Finally realizes what Kramer said, he looks up) Since I said what?

KRAMER: Agreed to wear the puffy shirt. (Starts unzipping the suit cover)

JERRY: What are you talking about?

KRAMER: When you said that you’d agree to wear the puffy shirt on the Today show. (Takes the ridiculous puffy shirt out of the cover)

JERRY: (Goes up to it) This?


JERRY: I agreed to wear this?!

KRAMER: Yeah, yeah.

JERRY: But, when did I do that?

KRAMER: When we went to dinner the other night.

JERRY: What are you, crazy?!

KRAMER: What were you talking about when I went to the bathroom?

JERRY: I don’t know! I couldn’t understand a word she was saying! I was just nodding!

KRAMER: There you go.

JERRY: Where I go? You mean she was asking me to wear this ridiculous shirt on national TV, and I said ‘Yes’?!

KRAMER: Yes, yes! You said it!

JERRY: But, I – I didn’t know what she was talking about. I couldn’t hear her!

KRAMER: (Takes it off the hook, and starts walking toward Jerry with it. He backs defensively backs away from it) Well, she asked you.

JERRY: I – I can’t wear this puffy shirt on TV! I mean, look at it! It looks ridiculous!

KRAMER: Well, you gotta wear it now! All those stores are stocking it based on the condition that you’re gonna wear this on the TV show! The factory in New Jersey is already making them!

JERRY: They’re making these?!

KRAMER: Yes, yes. This pirate trend that she’s come up with, Jerry, – this is gonna be the new look for the 90’s. You’re gonna be the first pirate!

JERRY: (Like a little kid) But, I don’t want to be a pirate!

The difference with today’s business world and the above quote is that instead of customers siding with Jerry and not wanting to a pirate, many business are taking up swords and donning an eye patch and in the process making huge profits by being the low talking pirates themselves. But instead of being like a pirate of old who boards your ship in broad daylight and takes all that you have, many business are sneaking in the night and taking small amounts away from you and everyone else with a $1.00 convenience fee here and a $2 ATM fee there. Low talking pirate companies have also used confusing cell phone bills and tried to slide in fees in the fine print to make an extra buck.

It seems that low talking is big business. In fact, recently it has been estimated that Americans pay anywhere from $750 to $946 a year on low talking tactics and gimmicks. Many businesses (including banks) are making bank.

The take away: If what you are after is repeat business, don’t practice low talking piracy. Trust, openness and over-delivering will optimize your customer’s experience and not leave them feeling pillaged or plundered.

Happy Friday!

This post is part of a weekly series, Seinfeld on Marketing.