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How We Should Prepare Our Kids For The Future

2014 August 31
ipad students

Education has long played an important role in the success of the United States.  From some of the world’s first public schools to the land grant universities which spurred innovation in agriculture, our development as long been tied to how we educate future generations.

So we should be concerned that US students performance on the international PISA tests, which evaluate not just knowledge but cognitive ability, have not been great.  On the most recent one, we ranked 36th, 28th and 24th in the world in math, science and reading, respectively.

This has, of course, created much debate and some, such as Amanda Ripley in her book The Smartest Kids in the World, have offered suggestions for adapting best practices from the rest of the world.  However, we also need to realize that our children will face a much different world than we did and will need to build skills for the future, not the past.

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Publishing Is Dead? Hardly…

2014 August 27
by Greg
Publishers Dying

If you want to produce content, you need to think like a publisher.  After all, content isn’t an extension of marketing, it’s an extension of publishing.  I constantly stress that point to my consulting clients and in articles like this one in Harvard Business Review.

It seems like a simple concept, but many disagree.  “Aren’t publisher’s failing?” they say.  How can I hold up a struggling industry as a model?  If publishing is still viable, why isn’t anybody making any money doing it?

These sentiments are common, but they are not based in fact.  In truth, publishing is flourishing, attracting large investments by established companies and venture capitalists, creating massive new fortunes for entrepreneurs and more choice for consumers.  While it’s true that not everyone is prospers, there has never been a better time for publishers.

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Where Original Ideas Come From

2014 August 24
isaac-newton idea

Revolutions are seldom solo efforts.  Isaac Newton was the greatest scientist of his age and not one known for his false modesty, but even he had to admit, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Thomas Kuhn made a related point in his classic, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  He argued that precedence in science is somewhat arbitrary—a matter of perspective rather than fact—because new discoveries are rarely tied to the work of just one person or team.

Yet, while very few ideas are truly original, there are exceptions.  Sometimes an important new idea seems to have no precursor or precedent, but springs forth whole from a single mind and completely alters our perception of how the world works.  Although these are rare, they have a lot to teach us about how to become more creative ourselves.

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How Wells Fargo Learned To Innovate Around the Customer

2014 August 21
by Greg

Wells Fargo is an unusual bank.  In the first place, it is headquartered in San Francisco, not in a typical financial center like New York.  It is also unusually socially conscious, earning high marks for its environmental record and setting records for financing green projects.

Still, despite its offbeat culture, it has been enormously successful.  With enviable operating margins of over 40% and a $260 billion market cap, it is the world’s most valuable bank.  Since the financial crisis, it has had 16 consecutive quarters of profitability.

To get an idea of how Wells Fargo operates, I spoke to Steve Ellis, who runs its wholesale services group.  Surprisingly, the story he told me had little to do with complex financial derivatives or risky trading strategies, but how it learned to innovate around the customer.  Clearly, his experience applies not only to banks, but to any business.

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How To Transform Your Brand Into A Movement

2014 August 17

Digital technology has changed marketing to such an extent that most brands still struggle to adapt.  What once was a massive land war in which the biggest army had a distinct advantage, has become more like a guerrilla insurgency.  To win now, you have to own the villages.

Pepsi was one of the first major brands to embrace the shift.  In 2010, the company eschewed its traditional Super Bowl TV spots and invested $20 million in Pepsi Refresh, a social platform that awarded grants to good causes.  It’s social KPI metrics soared.

Unfortunately, in business terms, the initiative was a massive failure.  Sales dropped by 5% and Pepsi lost market share.  The truth is that simply adding followers on social media is unlikely to create a community of purpose.  To succeed in the social arena, strategies need to be grounded in social dynamics and network science, not conjecture.  Here’s how:

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The New Digital Battlefields

2014 August 13
Game of Thrones

In the popular TV show, Game of Thrones, the denizens of the North often repeat the mantra, “Winter is coming” to remind themselves and others that they must continually prepare for the challenges ahead.

Managers also have a mantra, “the future is coming.” Some do it to warn of obsolescence, while others do it to promote their new idea.  Much like the “Winter,” the future is always vague, promising unforeseen events that are devilishly hard to prepare for in any concrete way.

In a previous post about managing the skills gap, I argued that the best way to prepare for the future is to identify specific platforms—combinations of technologies and markets—that will enable your enterprise to compete.  To follow-up, I spoke to some of the smartest people in technology about the platforms that will impact business in the years to come.

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Happy 5th Birthday Digital Tonto!

2014 August 10
by Greg
Stock Photo

I started this blog in August 2009, just two weeks before my daughter was born.  While five years is only half a decade, it somehow still seems like an even number and a landmark of some sort.  Five years seems like a good time to reflect.

Like my daughter, Digital Tonto has transformed over the years not only in terms of size and scale, but in kind.  It is now more of a home page for a larger platform which includes Harvard Business Review, Forbes, IX and others, rather than a singular entity.

Over the years I’ve gotten to know many of you, usually only online, but sometimes in person.  As someone who has moved around a lot, Digital Tonto has become very much a second home for me and it’s been your support that has made it a cozy one.  So thank you for that. Like in past years, I’d like to celebrate the occasion with some of my favorite posts.

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How To Stop Failing At Content Marketing

2014 August 6
by Greg

When asked about what makes a great ad, advertising legend Leo Burnett advised, “Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read.”  He wanted his work to cut through, because as he also said, “If you don’t get noticed, you don’t have anything.”

And no one was better at getting noticed than Leo Burnett. He created legendary icons such as Tony The Tiger, the Jolly Green Giant and the Marlboro Man that transformed mediocre brands into dominant market leaders.

Now that digital technology has revolutionized how we distribute information, marketers are trying to apply many of the same principles to content.  Unfortunately, it simply doesn’t work that way.  The truth is that in a content driven world marketers need to start thinking less like advertisers and more like publishers.  Here’s what needs to be done.

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Why Do Businesses Today Need To Be Creative?

2014 August 3

In a famous scene in the 1967 movie The Graduate, a family friend takes aside Dustin Hoffman’s character, Benjamin Braddock, and whispers in a conspiratorial tone “Plastics.  There’s a great future in plastics.”

The line has become immortal because it signifies a common rite of passage: the abandonment of youthful dreams for the practicalities of adult life.  Promising young people have always been expected to bear down, follow the rules and lead pragmatic, productive lives.

Yet, these days, we encourage our youth to “follow their passion” and “find meaning.” Corporate retreats often feature creativity exercises and offbeat activities such as bongo lessons, jazz classes and improvisational theatre.  We take it for granted that business today is an essentially creative activity, but never question why.  What’s changed?

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4 Ways To Beat Disruptive Innovation

2014 July 30

These days, every business needs to innovate.  While many in the past assumed that they could get by running the same old business the same old way, the fact is that 87% of the companies on the Fortune 500 in 1955 no longer exist.

So clearly, today’s firms can’t stand still and must pursue a variety of innovation strategies.  Some invest heavily in R&D, others use advanced technologies to improve existing products and others create open innovation partnerships to solve tough problems.

Yet even if a business diligently pursues these efforts, it’s still vulnerable to disruptive innovations.  These are especially challenging because they require a change in business model and aren’t profitable for incumbents to pursue.  However, while competing with a new disruptive competitor is difficult, it can be done.  Here are 4 ways to approach it.

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