The National Football League’s (NFL) petty 2012 lockout dispute with the NFL referees union has officially ended. Not a moment too soon: The “real” referees will return to officiate all Week 4 games – just in time for the early Thursday Night game – rescuing the rest of the football season from further tarnish, embarrassment and harm at the hands of incompetent replacement referees.
Source: Bleacher Report
Before the 2012 season began, players and analysts warned NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that the poorly qualified fill-in referees would lose control of football games. They did. The rightful outcome of games would be altered by poor calls and non-calls. Oh, were they ever. And repeated failure to call serious personal fouls would put players at needless heightened risk of serious injury. Sadly, and most unacceptably, that happened as well.
I thought, what other organization, #1 in its field, has ever made such a major non-forced mistake, causing highly visible, self-inflicted harm? My answer rewinds back to my freshman year, Intro to Business, first case study: Schlitz Beer in the 1970s. Once the #1 beer in America, as equally an iconic brand as Budweiser, Schlitz proceeded to lose nearly all of its value by that decade’s end, thanks to inexplicable, self-induced sabotage of its own product.
The NFL’s decision to install replacement referees was a “Schlitz Mistake.”
I really liked this tweet by Sandy Kemsley 😄 As Sandy noted, someone clearly intended to comment on the need to monitor employee sentiment – and yet, the more I thought about it, the more I realized companies should monitor employee “sediment” too.
Somehow the above reference to sediment triggered a memory (from ‘sediment’ to ‘dirt’ … ‘soil’ … ‘plants’) of an article I read about “potted plant syndrome” in the workplace:
There was a boss who complained that everyone around him was a “potted plant.” He couldn’t understand why his managers wouldn’t take charge of an idea or come up with solutions. In his management meetings, if a manager suggested how to handle a problem or come up with solution, he would tell them how they could do it better or differently. Or, he would argue that they were wrong.
He didn’t realize he was killing commitment and innovation.
The boss was a one-person idea prevention department. His staff was tired of standing out with an idea only to get it shot down, so they stopped offering them. The oblivious boss had sown a staff of “potted plants.”
And now a quick true story of employee ‘sediment’…
A business professional (we’ll call him “Rick”) met with a company leader to discuss how he wanted a certain SaaS tool to work. Rick listened and asked questions, teasing out from the leader the specific desired outcomes and results he was looking for. In the course of the conversation, the leader drew his thoughts and answers to the questions on a whiteboard.
The next day, Rick presented the plan describing how the actual production implementation would work, delivering the end results the leader had described. Rick’s plan included a time-saving idea involving a simple update to certain existing data that would provide the desired end results much more quickly with fewer workflow steps. Even better, Rick also noted a flaw in one of the leader’s primary assumptions as to how the solution should work; however, Rick’s proposed data update would resolve that issue as well.
Instead of being pleased, the “leader” was angry! “I told you exactly what I wanted!” he sputtered. “What is this?!”
And only then did Rick realize the unfortunate reality that the “leader” never wanted Rick to propose an innovative solution; no, the “leader” wanted Rick to merely replicate his desires, wishes and assumptions, exactly as instructed on his whiteboard… flawed assumptions be damned. Just… wow.
Did this “leader” want fries with that?
Keeping his snarky fries remark to himself, Rick simply obliged and completed the project to the “leader’s” precise (and faulty) specifications. Sure enough, the system processes the “leader” had mandated proved to be so needlessly complicated, the end users rarely followed them.
Not long afterwards, Rick, not terribly interested in becoming a “potted plant,” chose to move on… to much greener pastures.
If a company doesn’t want “potted plants” for employees, they should stop burying their ideas.
Some years back I read a great Ad Age article, Four Talent Categories You Need to Win in a Connected World, by Chris Kuenne. Recognizing that many marketing organizations still cling to “old school” marketing and PR, Chris Kuenne provided a timely description of the must-have talents, skills and attitudes found in today’s leading marketing organizations that actively contribute to business growth and success.
To support his key point that “the old set of skills and conventional deployment will not work,” Chris Kuenne offered up a sports analogy:
In [American] football… each player goes one-on-one against his opponent, helping the team advance the ball in a linear fashion down the field. Marketing over the past 50 years reflected this linear approach, in which a brand’s marketing plan specified a highly planned, seldom altered, set of initiatives… Today marketing is closer to rugby. All players handle multiple roles, using many different skills…
I agree with Chris Kuenne’s historical and current assessment of the marketing function; however, today’s game of (American) football is actually brimming with innovative tactics. I see a lot of parallels between the practices of today’s modern winning pro football teams and winning marketing organizations:
Transformation through Innovation. Both football and marketing have benefited dramatically from innovation. The “linear, seldom-altered” football game Chris Kuenne referred sounds more like how football was played over a century ago, when the most successful teams, notably the Army Cadets of the U.S. Military Academy, had a predictable but powerful smash-mouth running game.
And so it went, until Notre Dame, in 1913, unveiled an innovation that would transform the game: The forward pass, which was recently legalized but remained widely ignored. Quarterback Gus Dorais and future football legend tight end Knute Rockne led Notre Dame’s surprise passing attack that surprised and confused the Army Cadets defense. The Fighting Irish cruised to a 35-13 upset win.
At roughly the same time as Notre Dame’s game-changing use of the forward pass, John Wanamaker, the pioneer of the department store, made his famous remark, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Similar frustrations by marketers have continued right up to present day!
Thankfully, marketing innovations today are replacing decades of linear, seldom-altered, interruption marketing with a still-evolving paradigm of content marketing, permission marketing and marketing automation technologies. The marketing function is undergoing its own game-changing, “forward pass” of innovation and transformation.
Improvisation. In the football game of an earlier era, the coach’s called play was the play, no matter how obviously ready the defense was ready for it. Today’s football calls for champion quarterbacks to decipher disguised defenses in real-time and possibly “call an audible” – a quickly-improvised new play. Teammates must also recognize the need to improvise a play as well: wide receivers must know when to “cut their route” and expect a very quick pass in response to an anticipated rush on the quarterback. The defense must be ready to change its coverages at a moment’s notice as well.
The old school coach’s “command and control” of a football game has given way to much more flexible play-by-play in response to real-time game situations. In similar fashion, members of winning marketing organizations are afforded the autonomy, and have the skills, to make real-time corrections during a marketing campaign or other activities, and do so collaboratively with others on the team.
An obsession for analytics. Today’s most effective professional teams – not just “Moneyball” baseball – but pro football, basketball and hockey as well – are utilizing data analytics in ways and depths unimaginable even a decade ago. Sports analytics can help predict future success on game day and optimize success off the field (e.g., demand-driven ticket prices, non-game day events and functions). Celtics co-owner and venture capitalist Steve Pagliuca called Boston “a new Florence” for sports analytics.
A similar analytic renaissance within marketing is now in full swing. I encourage you to visit Scott Brinker’s Chief Marketing Technologist and start with one of Scott’s all-time favorite posts, Rise of the Marketing Technologist. The active use of analytics is a force multiplier for effective marketing as it is for successful sport teams.
Leaders with outstanding leadership skills. Chris Kuenne provided advice to CMOs equally applicable to football coaches when he wrote that leaders “must encourage collaboration across radically different temperaments, skills and backgrounds.” That’s an accurate description of football and marketing teams alike.
Just as important are the coach’s/CMO’s own qualifications: how many, how much of “hard skills” – the vital talents, skills and attitudes identified by Chris Kuenne – does the leader in question really possess? Has the coach/CMO demonstrated his or her “soft skills” – a proven ability to “attract, inspire and retain the best talent”?
Authentic leaders and champion coaches attract and inspire highly talented professionals. Poor business leaders and poor coaches alienate and repel talented people. In the rare instances NFL coaches are fired during the season, it’s indicative of some very, very bad leadership issues. That said…Urban Meyer. Just…wow.
Winning marketing organizations, much like the best football teams, are typically led by savvy, authentic leaders who encourage innovative thinking, seek out new analytic insights, understand key challenges and needs, and translate that understanding into new, engaging customer experiences that build new business. They are the ones setting new rules for marketing success.
In a recent thought-provoking TDWI article, David Champagne informed readers of The Rise of Data Science: a discipline of emulating the scientific method when analyzing data, in a conscious and laudable effort to ensure objectivity and avoid poor analytical practices.
As I had just recently blogged on the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy, a type of flawed analytical logic business intelligence users might fall into, David Champagne’s article caught my attention.
From David Champagne’s article:
Back in the “good old days,” data was the stuff generated by scientific experiments. Remember the scientific method? First you ask a question, then you construct a hypothesis, and you design an experiment. You run your experiment, collect and analyze the data, and draw conclusions. Finally, you communicate your results and let other people throw rocks at them.
Nowadays, thanks largely to all of the newer tools and techniques available for handling ever-larger sets of data, we often start with the data, build models around the data, run the models, and see what happens. This is less like science and more like panning for gold…Perhaps the term “data scientist” reflects a desire to see data analysis return to its scientific roots…
Barry Devlin, in his business-focused commentary on David Champagne’s article, noted the worlds of science and business have rather different goals and visions, which I interpreted as data science might offer limited benefit to business managers. But perhaps the best practices of data scientists have a lot more in common with those of business managers after all, in light of some commentary I came across on effective business decision-making. That commentary gave high praise to the manager who utilizes the scientific method in the decision-making process. The author was not a technologist, but rather: Peter Drucker, the father of modern business management.
Revisiting Peter Drucker’s writings on effective decision-making process will show surprising similarities to the best practices of data science, and yield beneficial insights for business managers seeking to make more effective, data-informed decisions.
This insight came from Mark Suster’s colleague Ameet Shah, a co-worker at Andersen Consulting in the late 90’s. Andersen Consulting was the largest independent consulting firm at the time, but amid scores of existing competitors and newly-funded Internet consulting startups…
…the market seemed crowded and our leadership position that had been built over many years seemed to not matter any more…[But] Ameet said to me, “Ah, I’ve seen this many times before. See, Mark, in a booming market you can never tell the winners from the losers. In a booming market buyers aren’t very discerning and companies that have weaknesses can mask them…Andersen Consulting always gains market share in down markets. That’s where the companies who are [only] good at marketing tend to crumble…Don’t worry, we’ll be fine, just wait for the next downturn.” That had never occurred to me. In other words, in a strong market, even turkeys can fly. (emphasis added)
A company that works to “gain market share in down markets” and seizes “the next downturn” as an opportunity is most certainly the opposite of a “flying turkey” business. I’d call it a “crow” business, referencing the amazing adaptability and intelligence of crows, as I have blogged previously.
Quick follow up: The photo taken by David Meerman Scott during his great Jan. 6 BPMA presentation (see next post) reminded me of a “Where’s Waldo?” picture, so congratulations to Dan McCarthy and Howie Lyhte who took me up on my challenge to find me in that photo. Since they both dropped me an email quite quickly (with my correct location), I declared them both winners.
For those of you playing at home, I am a couple of rows in front of the post holding my book with a thumbs-up.
The good old “800 pound gorilla” metaphor came up in recent conversation, reminding me of a clever article I read a few years ago on the subject of animal metaphors, which are all too common in business-speak.
This company or that company is the “800 pound gorilla.” Another company might say it “strives to be an eagle in its industry.” And infamous ex-Sunbeam CEO “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap, who fired scores of workers with raw impunity, was partial to the mighty lion, adorning his office with a huge lion image, in honor of its predatory, eat-or-be-eaten carnivorousness.
I say, forget all of those animal metaphors. Instead, companies should strive to be the crow of their industry.
UMBC President Dr. Freeman Hrabowski (photo: Bb World)
In 2010, I was remote director of marketing for iStrategy (now Blackboard Analytics) based in Maryland. The company hosted its first-ever iStrategy User Conference that year, hosted at Loyola University. It was a pleasure to meet so many smart, enthusiastic data warehousing customers I had been collaborating with on case studies and webinars, highlighted by a fantastic keynote presentation by UMBC President Dr. Freeman Hrabowski.
Flying into BWI that September and back home in October on AirTran (a nice airline that I miss, btw). I had happened to read the September and October issues of Go, AirTran’s surprisingly good in-flight magazine. I found it interesting that the business author profiled in each issue so thoroughly and diametrically opposed the other.
George Cloutier, the founder of American Management Services, with a long record of successful business turnarounds to his credit, is the author Profits Aren’t Everything, They’re the Only Thing, profiled in the Go September issue. Meanwhile, the October issue of Go profiles the book ESPN the Company: The Story and Lessons Behind the Most Fanatical Brand in Sports by longtime consultant to ESPN Anthony F. Smith (scroll about halfway down each of these links to read each book and author profile).
How is this for disagreement, not to mention two very different personal brands, as summarized by Go magazine:
George Cloutier: I am Your Work God! You want your employees to do what you say, not what they think.
Anthony F. Smith: Avoid the myth of single-person leadership. “Leadership is really a shared phenomenon…(Each ESPN executive) needed to surround themselves with other effective people who could fill in areas where they were not as skilled.”
I read a great blog entry entitled Critical Thinkers vs. Critics by Mark Logic CEO Dave Kellogg. (Quick aside: Any blog by a CEO/Chairman/Founder that is regularly updated and features plenty of wisdom, wit and insight is evidence that company has a competitive advantage in leadership. Good on you, Dave.)
Dave Kellogg raises the important difference between a “critic,” a person who criticizes everything, generally without proposed solutions” and a “critical thinker,” a person who attacks ideas in the spirit of making them better, and who can hold both sides of an argument in their head at once.”
Point very well taken. I’d additionally define a critical thinker as someone who will also not allow herself/himself or others to fall victim to “paralysis by analysis.” Even more importantly, by virtue of being unafraid of taking a hard, unbiased look at issues and listening to others’ opinions, concerns and doubts, and in fact welcoming such open discussion, a critical thinker is also an optimist by nature.
I like how Dave assesses the level of critical thinking applied in the crafting of successful marketing positioning (emphasis added):
Critics “attack” other people’s ideas but not their own. Critical thinkers “attack” everyone’s ideas, especially their own. For certain disciplines (e.g., marketing positioning) one of my primary tests is not to examine the substance of a proposal, but instead to examine the critical thinking in the process that led to it [for example, reviewing a marketing proposal recommending a new company tag-line]:
How many other tag-lines did you think of?
Why didn’t you pick tag-line 3?
Did you consider tag-lines based on the higher-level notion of satisfaction?
What’s the argument against the tag-line you’re proposing?
What are the direct and indirect competitors tag-lines and their relative strengths and weaknesses?
As David Ogilvy once said: “good writing is slavery” (see page 33 of Ogilvy on Advertising). So is good positioning. And it comes from critical thinking and plenty of it.
I think delving into the multiple meanings of Dave’s word “attack” is important here, too. A critical thinker will indeed “attack” an idea much differently than a critic. There is a world of difference between “attack,” as in how a critical thinker will “earnestly initiate” a rigorous debate of an idea, in such a comment as, “The European sales team will have concerns about the time they will need to devote to the new product. Let’s work out how we can address that concern and ensure they will have time to complete their deals in the pipeline,” versus how a critic might truly “attack,” as in, “beat down,” an idea with a discussion-dampering remark: “Oh, the European sales team always marches to their own drummer. Mark my words, they will ignore the new product. I’ve seen it before.”
How to effectively deal with the “critic” is addressed in author Bruna Martinuzzi’s article on optimism, which she kindly allowed me to republish on this blog. Bruna accurately identifies the behavior of the “critic,” aka “devil’s advocate,” as symptomatic of general pessimism, which can discourage critical thinking: