Innovation has become management’s chief imperative. Everybody wants to be the next Apple, Google or Netflix, nobody wants to be the next Kokak, Blockbuster or US Steel.
Go to any conference these days and some whip-smart technogeek will declare that you must, “innovate or die,” and then dazzle you a wide array of case studies to illustrate the point. You’ll feel inspired, then scared and then have a few beers and go about your business.
What’s missing is a clear set of principles for action. What good is Steve Job’s unfailing design sense when I struggle to get my outfits to match? How can Google’s technological supremacy be relevant to me when I can’t even figure out my TV remote? In other words, we need to take innovation down from the presentation screen and into working life.
Insight used to be considered a personal quality and one that was essential to be a successful marketer. While other corporate functions, such as finance and logistics, were driven by cold, rational calculation, marketers were supposed to thrive at the human side of business.
Nowadays, when we refer to insight, we often mean the work product of algorithms, analysts and maybe a mathematician or two. As Forbes previously reported, by 2017, CMO’s will outspend CIO’s on information technology.
However, for all of the wondrous possibilities of big data, there are still some things that it will never do. Computers, after all, are not people, much less consumers. While they can help execute plans, they cannot form our intent. Ironically, as marketing becomes more automated, true competitive advantage is even more inextricably tied to the human spirit.
Nassim Taleb, doesn’t think much about the technology crowd. In his new book Antifragile, he suggest that we’re suffering from a condition he calls “neomania, the love of the modern for it’s own sake.”
After all, he argues, we continue to wear shoes, eat with silverware, drink wine, beer and coffee and do many other things that have been around for thousands of years. He also notes that, while old technology has been tested by time, new technology is prone to failure.
It’s hard to argue with Taleb, a man of impressive erudition and impeccable logic and after seeing enough technology cycles come and go, it’s easy to be skeptical of the latest “killer app.” Still, skepticism is one thing, overt denial of the obvious is something else. The world has, in fact, profoundly changed and we need to change how we operate in it.
After struggling for years, print publishers seem to think that they have found a workable digital model with subscriptions. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Hearst has signed up over 800,000 digital subscribers, Conde Nast, 500,000 subscribers.
Thanks to the popularity of tablets, they are often charging more for digital than they did for print subscriptions. What they are losing in advertising sales, they often make up in distribution revenues.
Unfortunately, this does them little good. While traditional publishers have chosen to focus on signing up subscribers, digital media is booming, creating transformative business models and new media lifestyles. By staying in the same place, they are falling behind. To survive, they will need to abandon their old model and become true digital businesses.
Marie Curie, the only person to win Nobel prizes in two separate sciences, once said this about the importance of dreamers:
“Humanity certainly needs practical men, who get the most out of their work, and, without forgetting the general good, safeguard their own interests. But humanity also needs dreamers, for whom the disinterested development of an enterprise is so captivating that it becomes impossible for them to devote their care to their own material profit.”
In our ROI-driven, accountability-dominated business environment, we’ve come to revere the former, practically minded executives, at the expense of the latter, dreamier type. Many think like Tim Kastelle, who argues on his site that you always need to know where you’re going if you are ever to get anywhere, but I think history shows that’s not really true.
Peter Drucker once said that “management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” My father had a more practical view, he used to tell me that “a leader is one who has followers.” (If you think about it for a second, it’s wiser than it first appears).
It seems that almost everybody has their own view of what a leader is and how to go about being a good one, but there doesn’t seem to be an obvious formula. Steve Jobs and Mahatma Gandhi were both unquestionably great leaders, but couldn’t have been more different.
The truth is, there is no one path to leadership. The personalities of great leaders are as diverse as people can possibly have. Their one commonality is that they are distinct individuals, unmistakable for anyone but themselves. And therein lies their secret, they forge their own path, even when they themselves might not know where they are going.
Strategy guru Michael Porter likes to say that strategy is about making choices and indeed it is. Good strategy is as much about what you don’t do as it is what you do.
So it is not surprising that his former colleague, Roger Martin, along with A. G. Lafley, former CEO of Proctor and Gamble, focus on two of the most important choices in their new book Playing to Win: Where to play and how to win?
The book is notable in that it not only presents a coherent strategic framework, but also walks through how it was successfully applied to business problems at P&G. What it lacks, however, is a clear basis for making decisions about where to play and how to win for other businesses, especially ones that aren’t multinational conglomerates.
In recent weeks we’ve seen an outbreak of hacker incursions. From government agencies like the US Dept. of Defense and Federal Reserve Bank, to media companies like Facebook, Twitter and The New York Times to the Bush family and now even Apple, the intrusions have been sophisticated and widespread.
If major institutions, with a wealth of resources and expertise at their disposal, are still vulnerable, what chance do the rest of us have?
In fact, the data do paint a grim picture. A recent study found that 90% of companies were breached at least once in the past 12 months. However, while the situation is difficult, it is not hopeless. Like any other form of attack, the first step towards protection and prevention begins with understanding the threat. Here’s an overview:
Computers have been around for awhile. For a long time though, nobody could say if they were doing us any good or not. As economist Robert Solow put itin 1987, “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.”
MIT researcher called Erik Brynjolfsson called this the Productivity Paradox and had some ideas about why it persisted, such as time lags for the benefits to take hold and the difficulty of measurement, but the truth was that no one really if IT investment was profitable or not.
How times change. Now the worry is not whether investment in technology is productive or not, but whether we are. Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee now have a new book out spelling out in detail how machines are displacing the work of humans. This is not idle speculation or science fiction, it’s very real, very scary and happening as we speak.
The marketing world, in large part, can be split into two camps. Traditionalists, most notably Bob Hoffman at The Ad Contrarian believe that nothing has really changed except the tools. After all, while there has been a revolution in technology, basic human nature remains the same.
Digital advocates, on the other hand, are sure that the realm of communication has changed so completely that the old rules have lost relevance. They believe that the traditionalists are just fooling themselves, grasping at any straw in order to avoid changing their old, tired ways.
Having spent time in both camps, I have sympathy for both points of view. I’m equally frustrated with those who try to fit new media into old models and those who think that every shiny object represents a new paradigm. Nevertheless, it’s clear that something fundamental has changed and it starts with one of marketing’s most basic assumptions.