Tag Archives: management

Who’re You Bullshitting with “Creativity”?

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In my few years in the creative business, I have learned two lessons more than others:

  1. There are two types of ‘creative’ people in the world: those by designation and those by nature
  2. ‘Creativity’ is the most bastardised word in the business

Both of which bring us to the fated reality of the business in general, that we have a creative product that is more a product than it is creative.

At its core, the problem is that we have come to define creativity as ‘original, out of the box ideas’. Ideas that are interesting to us, and ideas we would not have thought of non-creatively.

But the truth is that creativity; is the ability to create something that does not exist before.

We leave that by the wayside and pursue the use of creativity for mere cosmetic improvement of preexisting solutions. Which are perhaps then filtered through several layers of verification: with sieves large and small, and what we are finally; most often than not – left with, is a substance that has neither content nor personality.

But it does check all the boxes.

The use of creativity for cosmetic and superficial improvements rests in a fundamental fear and incapacity for the unknown, the better and the truly new.

In truth, it is the difference between envisioning a faster horse, or an automobile.

But it is reduced to an excuse for having something that looks new, but is fundamentally the same.

It is an excuse for having nothing extraordinary. But just good enough.

It is your excuse for putting a funny, insightful video in your presentation but never changing the way you work.

It is your excuse for having beautiful slides. That lack in real content.

It is your excuse for having a website that invites the visitor, and speaks of lofty visions with beautiful words but is a facade to an organisation that counts only its bank roll in the end of the month.

True creativity is its own ends.

But it has been reduced to the means of being barely interesting. Almost relevant. Spineless. Or worse yet: just pretty.

Image credit: banksy

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Faith

I have often wondered; in my travels, how humans have had the capacity to build such larger than life monuments as the Taj Mahal, the Sagrada Familia, the Great Pyramids of Egypt, the Sistine Chapel.

I’ve also been amazed at how religion was the muse for so many creations of great art and architecture: and therein, lay my answer.

Humans have the capacity to create something larger than life: something that goes beyond their own lifetime – as they are driven by a faith in something larger than their selves.

I choose the word faith, not religion.

Faith is multifold. It could be a faith in God (religion) A faith in love. Faith in progress. Or simply faith in the act of, and desire for creation. The desire to create something magnificent because why not?

But the answer is the same: faith.

And it perhaps isn’t without reason that the word faith is often suffixed with the adjective ‘blind’. For it rests; not in something we see, but in something we choose to believe in despite the lack of any signs of it’s presence.

This; I fear, is what we miss today.

For we would rather be driven by insignificant things that are apparent. Than significant things; that though invisible to the naked eye, we can create everyday.

Targeting, Astrology and Racism

There are so many things that guides a single person’s behaviour.

Her religious inclinations.

Her neurological make up.

How little, or much she values money.

Her state of hunger at the moment in time.

Her upbringing.

Her unresolved fears.

Her philosophical values.

Her relationship with her father. Or mother.

Her personal experiences and learnings.

Her health.

Her economic well-being or lack thereof when she was a child.

Her sun sign. (?)

Her politcal opinions.

Her view of the environment.

Her conclusions on what is worthy of pursuit in life.

How little, or much she values her own time.

And mathematically, we know that the more the people, the less likely we are to know how they would behave. Because if each of these inclinations directs one person one way, it is likely that they will direct five different people in five different ways.

And you really, really think, bucketing her in a large, not-clearly defined group labeled merely on the bracket of years during which she was born will determine how she behaves?

Insights from the insightful Dara Ó Briain, if you prefer it:

See Your Own Blindness, First

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I have seen many managers distance themselves from consumers by drawing a line between their own perceived rationality, and the irrationality of consumers.

However, we must recognise that we are fundamentally irrational beings, and as managers and business people too, we have our own irrationalities that we are not aware of. And that these irrationalities affect our view of the customers of our businesses, and of our own biases – which in turn affects the management decisions we make.

It then becomes of paramount importance that anyone in a role that has to do with customers or driving business growth through understanding and influencing customers (be it marketing, sales, advertising, business development, customer acquisition and so on) first recognise that they are a consumer too.

For the more we distance ourselves from those who are influenced by our decisions and actions, the less effective we can be in influencing them.

On reading ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman, I found this excerpt which I believe makes this point in the same vein. In the context of the experiment on inattentional blindness (watch before you read on, if you don’t know it already), it says:

“The authors note that the most remarkable observation of their study is that people find its results very surprising. Indeed, the viewers who fail to see the gorilla are initially sure that it was not there – they cannot imagine missing such a striking event. The gorilla study illustrates two important facts about our minds: we can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our own blindness.”

As managers, we are “blind to our own blindness”, too. We are people after all.

The Importance Of Experimentation

 

I was just leafing through the book ‘Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended on It’ by Chris Voss, and an excerpt from this book has an interesting learning for us all:

‘For more than three decades, Harvard had been the world epicenter of negotiating theory and practice. All I knew about the techniques we used at the FBI was that they worked. In the twenty years I spent at the Bureau we’d designed a system that had successfully resolved almost every kidnapping we applied it to. But we didn’t have grand theories.

Our techniques were the products of experiential learning; they were developed by agents in the field, negotiating through crisis and sharing stories of what succeeded and what failed. It was an iterative process, not an intellectual one, as we refined the tools we used day after day. And it was urgent. Our tools had to work, because if they didn’t someone died’

Needless to say, theoretical discussions come from a fear of getting actions wrong and having to face consequences – an irrationality that is a fundamentally human desire of minimising risk.

And while it is easy to highlight the importance of action and experimentation over theoretical discussions, I’d rather share with you my little system of how to get to it!

  1. Do, don’t discuss: Experiment. Instead of discussing what could work, just run with one of the plans.
  2. Take notes: Note down what you did, the results and your inferences.
  3. Find out what works: Best practices are more relevant and practical than theoretical discussions. Keep them handy.
  4. Change what’s working: This bit is hard when we usually have a ‘Don’t fix what’s not broken’ mentality. I think its easy to settle in a routine that is working. But there might be a better one, who knows? You might as well look for it.
  5. Repeat

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Before that, Step 0: Get rid of fear

Happy experimenting!

 

Demystifying Strategy

In all my interactions with mangers, consultants and a whole lot of other folk in the field of business, I find a common problem: We love using big words. It appears as though each specialisation has made a gentleman’s club of sorts, to which you can gain entry only by using the right language. The problem with this is that it alienates what we do from each other, and doesn’t really help direct business collectively: simply because we don’t speak the same language. As service providers, it often makes it hard for clients to understand the value of what we do, particularly startups and non-profits who aren’t accustomed to corporate language.

One of the most loaded words I have heard repeatedly; and often needlessly, used is: “strategy” or “strategic”If we really break down “strategy” it is simply the shortest line between where we are and where we want to go. “Tactics”as we like to differentiate in jargon is what we should do to get there. 

A mentor of mine taught me well when he said: “There are only two kinds of strategy in the world: audit and directional” I’m going to use this idea to bring to light what “strategy” really is, which I hope unburdens the word:

1. Audit: Facts. Analysis. Information. Data. “What’s the situation?”, “What’s good, and bad?”, “Who’s strong, who’s weak?” The stuff we learn in B-School: SWOT, PESTLE, Porter’s Five Forces and all the other models: these are simply audit. These only tell you where you are today, and give you an indication of where you should be going. This is not difficult to do, and don’t really help any organisation figure out how to get anywhere. This is never enough, and therefore it is not strategic. The key to doing this right is to be relevant to decision making.

2. Directional: Insights. Recommendations. Decisions. Plans. “We need to gain new competencies if we want to achieve this end. Do we develop them, or acquire them?”, “We need a new product in our portfolio, priced at a point that makes our star product more appealing”, “We need to do something interesting, or risk being forgotten”. These give an indication of where we should be headed, and by nature give clarity to steps on what we should do.

One last thing. My mentor always followed his line with: “Don’t give me an audit. I want direction”.

Where Is The Brand Value?

Throughout my MBA I always had one question in Finance and Accounting related classes: “Where is the brand value?” As someone who believes in the value of brand building, I was also asked the same question by my peers: “Where is the brand value? And if you can’t show it, why should we spend money on it?” Sadly, my rudimentary knowledge of Finance and Accounting did not come to the rescue. Today; I am glad to say, I have an answer:

The brand value is in there. Everywhere. And this fascinating answer comes from none other than Aswath Damodaran.

To help elaborate on (and to possibly help my peers in the branding business justify themselves) where exactly the brand value is reflected in the income statement, I’ve made my own simple version of an income statement.  These include some notes of where the value of a powerful brand is reflected in your (or, our clients’) income statement:
Where Is The Brand Value?

My plea to those in the business of brand building: Understand this, as it helps us help our clients. My plea to those in management: Understand this, as it helps you make more informed decisions.

So, having understood this, I have one question for all non-believers: Now, is brand building an expense, or an investment?