Category Archives: Dr Rave

Security and insecurity

I thought this line from Annette Clancy‘s recent post was rather brilliant.

The primary challenge to those of us involved in assisting organisations to strategise is the co-creation of a secure enough environment in which to envision a future that is insecure.

I only discovered Anne’s work today, thanks to Chris Corrigan. I feel tremendously excited by the clarity with which she describes her experience. I’d say she is clear about what isn’t clear, and there’s a surprise in many of her posts.

I was fascinated by her experience at a conference where there were groups working in different languages. She was less comfortable in a group that use her own language than in ones she didn’t “understand”.

Today I felt more misunderstood and I think I, in turn misunderstood my colleagues in a group that, on the surface, offered more possibilities of what we had in common than not. As soon as we had negotiated a “sameness” (language of communication) other differences emerged – nuance, intention, conscious and unconscious projections and inferences. I realise that not understanding the language also offers a respite from the words and offers the possibility of playing with meaning, non verbal and symbolic communication. I ask myself – how is the discourse affecting me? Is how I am being affected useful in terms of what is transpiring? The advantage of exploring this in a group relations conference is that is precisely the kind of exploration, reflection and learning we are invited to participate in.

I also found this fascinating:

We’ve spent about 4 hours talking about chairs. Moving them, not moving them, what they “symbolise”, who’s not sitting in one, who is sitting in the middle of the group, who’s sitting on the outside of the group. Were anyone to walk into the middle of these conversations I’m convinced they’d think we’ve all lost the plot. In the absence of an agenda and something “to talk about” a group starts looking for things to talk about to replace the anxiety of the silence. Think of how difficult it is to sit on a three hour train journey with no newspaper, iPod, coffee, book and you get some idea of what I’m talking about . Paranoia about senior management and their intention towards the group starts to rear its ugly head. It didn’t take long for people to feel like we were like lab rats in a cage, being manipulated for some other external reason. The “management” deliberately arranged the chairs to “make” us react in this way is a popular fantasy.

And I can’t resist quoting one more chunk, from her post What does leadership look like?:

All problems in systems are caused by an attempt to control someone else’s actions and behaviours. Attempting to police those situations more often than not results in the suppression of difference and generates the fantasy of collaboration. If we’re brave enough to accept that difference exists and is enriching and is part and parcel of all systems, then the task becomes one of managing and engaging with that difference. If there is room for difference then there can be a realistic and authentic agreement to move forward from that perspective. That, to me, sounds like a more authentic form of consensus than an imposed “rule” that we all have to be the same.

In the box: revenge of the geeks?

Prompted by several friends and finally by some excellent posts from Marc Babej, I’ve read Douglas Rushkoff’s latest, Get Back in the Box. This is one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in a long time. It’s one of the few business books that I’ve read to the end.

If you don’t have time to read the book, Marc’s three posts above give some of the highlights of Rushkoff’s thinking.

The idea that resonates most for me is Rushkoff’s attack on the “business of business”. This is the popular idea that what matters is not expertise in, or passion for, a particular product or service; instead what gets popularised is the notion of genius business leaders who can flit from one industry to another, without much real interest in what industry does. The result: organisations that get distracted with gimmicks instead of putting their energies into creating good products. (This ties in to Jim Collins‘ observation, in Good to Great, that truly great companies did not have superstar leaders imported from afar; they usually had humbler leaders steeped in the business.)

This particular malady is very prevalent in branding and marketing, where gimmicks so often triumph over substance. Ruskoff puts this rather eloquently talking to Marc here:

Most executives today are career managers. Managing is a specialization that is, almost by definition, divorced from the product, and branding is the only thing these folks come in contact with. If you lack the knowledge to measure your success in terms of the quality of your products, then the replication of your image in the media space becomes your standard for success. Managers who are disconnected from their products will necessarily care more about their own careers than the companies they are supposedly leading, too. Hell, theyre going to flip jobs, anyway. Its become a generic position.

Branding also plays into managers notions of fame. Like everyone else, they experience the world through mass media, so they want the world to experience them through mass media. It boils down to a cult of celebrity. And that celebrity – more than competency in a particular industry – leads to big salaries in this upside-down business universe.

This gets to the heart of something that has long troubled me about the notion of being a branding or marketing consultant – it’s all too easy to be another diletante*, purporting to have communication skills that are applicable to all sorts of businesses, whilst not really understanding any business well enough to know what one’s talking about.

What Rushkoff argues will become even more significant as Web 2.0 applications gain ground. It’s why we’re seeing the debates about the future of Venture Capitalism when funding becomes less signficant a challenge for start ups, and passion and enthusiasm and the ability to sustain the idea become more important. It’s also a big part of why big agencies are right to be panicking these days.

(This perspective may also change how we consider the kerfuffle over A listers vs the Long Tail. Those who seem over-distressed about the power of the As are probably putting too much emphasis on the ego and not enough on the expertise; worrying about charisma instead of conversation, with too much focus on the nodes and not enough on the links.)

James and I have been having interesting conversations with organisations that are getting into the idea of blogging and other ways of collaborating with customers. What they are beginning to realise is that to blog well, you really have to be knowledgeable and passionate about your business. This kind of expertise, whether inside business or among key customers, has long been derided as geeky or fanatical – but now it needs to be valued much more highly (see James’ post on Why Hells Angels Know Best). It may be time for the revenge of the geeks.

* There’s a baby I don’t want to throw out with the bathwater here: let’s not confuse the dilettante, defined here, as an amateur who engages in an activity without serious intentions and who pretends to have knowledge (my emphasis) with the bricoleur defined here as a person who creates things from scratch, is creative and resourceful: a person who collects information and things and then puts them together in a way that they were not originally designed to do

JWT rethinks

Nick Wreden has been looking at how ag agency JWT have been reviewing their approach. They have some interesting ideas including “the audience is the new client”. There’s also a new ten point ranking for rating creative ranging from 1 (Damaging) to 10 (World beating).

It’s an interesting effort to ring the changes – and certainly the big agencies have their work cut out.

For me, there’s a characteristic adman’s emphasis on striving for brilliance and making an impact on others. All fine, but what about responding to customers and letting them participate in creating good stuff?

Nick points out that this scale makes no reference to practical results. I think the implied reverence of the revolutionary may discourage work that is ordinary, down-to-earth, useful and effective. Truth isn’t always gobsmackingly exciting.

Gonzo Marketing

Chris Locke aka RageBoy, in his guise at Chief Blogging Officer, is serialising his book Gonzo Marketing. Today is Part One: Participating in the Scene

I’ve recently posted my frustrations with business books. Among the many nuggets in here is Chris’ pisstake in similar vein.

I love that he’s posting his book in blog form. His particular style jumps the species barrier brilliantly and is, for me, near genius material. When most authors ramble, it’s just boring. When Chris rambles it’s an art form, and then you realise he’s not really rambling at all. So he earns his place as the fourth (chronological) entrant to my Dr Rave category. Here’s a tiny snippet, but I urge you to read the whole thing. (Rich…! this includes you)

Oh yeah and by the way, Levi-Strauss says bricolage is analogous to the mythical thinking typical of primitive peoples. Savages. You know, the kind of uncivilized barbarians you get in places like Harvard, Borneo, New Guinea and the World Wide Web.[8] So, taking all the above into account (along with a grain of salt and two aspirins), think of this book as playful bricolage involving serious matters. As sampling. As a hip-hop cover of boring old best practices played backwards and burned into a bad-ass MP3 dance remix download.

(Oh and kudos to Tony Goodson for championing Gonzo Marketing and bricolage to me for many months now)

The answer to how is yes

I’m slowly working through Peter Block’s The Answer to How is Yes. It is one of the very best things I’ve read ever.

Block illuminates the way in which real change is stifled by “how” questions. Here’s how Block puts it:

Despite its rhetoric the culture does not value independent action. The culture wants to ask the family of How? questions: What does it cost? How long does it take? Where else has this worked? And we may have no good answers to these questions. When we say Yes instead we acknowledge that acting on what we choose costs us something, which is what gives it value. If there were no price in saying Yes, to acting in the face of our doubts and meagre methodology, then the choice we make would have no meaning.

Here’s another quote that is right on the money

Also, remember that the question of “How do you do it?” is more often an indirect expression of our doubts than real curiosity. So let the doubts be stated directly and let them be owned by the doubter as an internal struggle in their thinking rather than detached observation of the external world.

And this thought rang loud bells for me:

When we do talk about money, or a budget, is is usually other people’s money we will be spending. If we want to raise the stakes so that the decision is of some consequence, better to make it a personal question.

I have painful memories of a hugely expensive branding campaign run by a guy who prided himself on his budgeting prowess. It was a complete failure, though never has

The wisdom of football crowds

Fascinating article in The Times today, sadly already sequestered behind paid registration about in France. Here’s the SP.

The club is managed by fans via its website. Most fans don’t go to games but watch online. Every one gets a vote and votes are weighted by track record in making effective choices (don’t ask me to explain). There is a club coach but “all he can do is shout at the team and determine substitutions during matches”. Soon, even substitutions will be done by fans watching live webcasts. Fierce debates take place in online forums.

Result? The club went from the fifth division of the Caen district to the second, in back-to-back championship wins. And went undefeated last season.

And how about this for loyalty, all you frequent flier manipulators?

Corinne Teissier, a 26-year old primary school teacher, was amongst the supporters who could take credit for the triumph. She saw all the games on the internet and acquired enough points to join the most influential grade of decision-makers. “I know everything about the players, except those that have joined this season, but I will be watching them very carefully.”

She goes on to a detailed discussion of the club’s prospects.

I love the sound of this. Talk about engaging the passion of fans. And I’ve always felt sceptical of the manger-centric tone of much football analysis, all very much in the heroic leader model of the world. What could other brands and businesses learn from this?

Tangential PS. This great Times article makes me an ardent supporter of… The Guardian, which manages to succeed whilst making vast swathes of its content available free, with none of the hassle of The Times.