Somebody said we were allowed to think out loud. Pardon the mess.

Friday, April 09, 2004

"Why should I include operations and field people in brand development?"

Got this interesting question earlier in the week.

Short answer: So they don't have to make s**t up.

(Pardon my language, it was a manly-man meeting. We also grunted a lot.)

Seriously, why the effort? Well, you're building (or refining) a brand. One you hope will be a powerful purpose engine if you're being conscientious. What you learned in the course of learning about yourselves can be of great help to others, a lot of others you never get to meet or see. But your employees will. Do we trust that they'll follow a script well? Have we scripted every possible circumstance so whatever comes out of their mouths, whatever solution they offer rings true to all the other messaging and communication and stuff you're throwing money at? Wait. Who believes and trusts someone who parrots back rote, scripted answers? How about when the unexpected happens? When presented with an unusual circumstance, as a representative of the brand what font of knowledge, language and manner do they refer to?

All that money spent on "branding" and what do you get? Deer. In. Headlights. Or a freelance response that may or may not finesse the situation, but probably doesn't reinforce a strategic market position. Unless of course, "shoot from the hip" is your market position.


This is why top-down, outside-in brand initiatives lose their appeal and become bend-over-here-it-comes-again eyerollers. Branding ubiquitously crystallizes the loose understanding employees may have rattling around in their heads about an organization, and shapes it into a compelling portable, personal narrative that applies 9-5 too. Authentic people don't need a script. Again, they don't have to make s**t up.

But, you have to know what you've learned and be able to share the rationale and result for others in order to make brand an adaptable, authentic persuasive tool. If you know who you are and like yourself for those reasons, it's easier for others to get you and like you. Shared purpose is important. Confidence is magnetic and viral. Coherence is vital. But context--relevance, resonance and internalization--well, I can beat Goliath with that.

That's why you include field and operation people in your brand-building.
Yeah, yeah, fine. Why don't you send me a memo on that.

RICE: Dick Clarke had told me, I think in a memorandum -- I remember it as being only a line or two -- that there were Al Qaeda cells in the United States.

Fineman, MSNBC:
Does Rice really know her role?
How national security adviser's testimony hurt Bush

...A self-proclaimed expert at understanding "structural" change in large institutions, Rice wasn't aware — may still not be aware — that the nature of her job had changed by the time she took over as national security adviser in January 2001. Reared in the Cold War era, she saw herself following in the footsteps of Henry Kissinger. "National security" was largely a matter of global state-to-state diplomacy.

In fact, as her predecessor in effect warned her when he was turning over the keys, the model was no longer so much Kissinger as it was, say, Elliott Ness or J. Edgar Hoover...

Asked at the hearing why she hadn't pressed the FBI more closely about what it knew, or didn't know, about domestic terrorist threats, she acted as though the question was an odd one: It wasn't her job. Well, in retrospect, it was and now certainly is.
Worse than a crime, it was a blunder. - Talleyrand

Rauchway, MSNBC:
This reflects more than partisan disagreement: between Kerrey and Rice there's a profound difference of opinion as to what White Houses should do.

Rice believes that the White House should organize the executive bureaucracy so it receives adequate briefings from underlings and can then delegate authority back to appropriate underlings to take action.

Kerrey believes that the White House should recognize that it cannot move bureaucracies around because they're political institutions and the president and his advisors should actively stay on top of things, seeking information where it can be found, and forging connections between bureaucracies isolated by law and habit. Ordinarily you don't get to reorganize the whole shebang, because, you know, the framers designed the Constitution to resist executive re-organization, so the president absolutely must act as a diplomat in his own government. And doing your job means you can't wait for a catastrophe to allow you to thwart that design, but rather to work within it.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

VC Investments in Start-Ups Hit New Lows

From Inc. Magazine's blog, fresh inc:
Only 479 start-ups received VC funding last year, the lowest level since 1994 when only 279 companies received venture capital...

Systems Thinking: Airplanes and other organisms.

Growing up around a career Air Force father who, for a while investigated aircraft crashes, gave us boys around the Fouro-senior household an interesting jump on several concepts. Once we grew bored with the too-cool crash site photos we'd occasionally see, we actually thought enough to ask: How do you figure out what happened?

His usual answer: "We're good guessers."

He was only half kidding. What he'd explain was that it took certain knowledge of what things would and wouldn't do--metals, aerodynamics, people in stressful situations, weather, etc--and then, you begin to ask yourself and your team questions as if you had no clue about those things.

As you can imagine, crash sites were pretty messy locales. The key, he'd say in a zen-like manner, was to put things together as they seemed to want to go, not as they were designed to go. (Quizzical looks ensue.) To ease our pain, he'd call an aircraft "a complex system." (Well "Duuh.") But then he'd point out that systems, as we understand and are usually taught them, are designed to regulate things into a bland, predictable paste--or something like that. "That kind of thinking is a trap', he told us. The more "safely" designed that airplanes were becoming--this was in the late 60s, early 70s--the more they were failing unexplainably. Responsibilty for safety and the interpreting "feel" that pilots used to guage the relative stability of their craft at any given time was being taken away from them.

Although he was an engineer, he spoke of aircraft as being organic things. (Pilots will get this. Motorcyclists and others, too.) But, he explained, man-made systems inherently remove the organic craft and attention that many complex tasks require, and replace them with rules. And rules too often promote a false sense of order and mastery. As airspeeds were increasing, pilots were becoming complacent to the point of distraction. And failures, because of this lack of holistic, seat of the pants connection to their craft--their complex system--now meant two things: Number 1, Pilots became complacent and unable to react quickly enough to number 2: A failure that had progressed too far in sequence, from a little thing to a big thing, too rapidly to recover from. Calm to blind confusion in a nanosecond. "Safer planes", but more fatalities from more previously recoverable failures.

Okay, but how do you figure it out after the fact, or better still, prevent it from happening? More zen: Embrace the idea that small things can have big effects. And that everything has a pattern. And. that rust never sleeps. Altough we weren't Jewish, he had a favored phrase from the Talmud: "The invisible is more existent than all the visible things." That was his way of telling us "don't look to the rules, look for the patterns." If you can't see them, you're looking too closely, and if you can't find them, you'll never make a "good guesser."

Today, my brother flies a Bombardier and does his best to see the invisible. I look for small things at ground level.

From Delta Perfomance Systems
System Dynamics

How often have we heard it said that today’s problems are the result of yesterday’s solutions? In Systems Thinking terminology this scenario would be classified as a Shifting the Burden structure. Shifting the burden structures are very common in our lives, usually taking the form of obvious symptoms crying out for immediate attention - which, more often than not, makes the problem disappear only to appear again later, somewhere else in the system! Shifting the burden is just one of a number of systems archetypes which forms the basis for Systems Thinking which is, in essence, a different perspective to problem solving.

System Behaviour

The essence of systems thinking is that structure influences behaviour or, put another way, when placed in the same system, different people tend to produce similar results. The reason for this is that there are a number of ‘rules’ which seem to be true of all complex systems . . .

• Many of today’s problems are the result of yesterday’s ‘solutions’; Solutions which merely shift the problem from one part of the system to another often go unnoticed because the people who fixed the first problem are usually, particularly in complex systems, different from those who inherit the new one.

• Systems resist change; In systems terminology this is called ‘compensating feedback’ and is typical of many government interventions, such as food assistance to developing countries, where the initial increase in food availability is compensated for by reduced deaths, increased population and, eventualy, more malnutrition.

• Faster is slower; All natural systems, such as ecosystems, have intrinsically optimal rates of growth. This rate is always less than the fastest possible rate. When growth accelerates the system seeks to compensate by slowing down.

• Cause and effect are not closely related in space and time; This is one of the fundamental differences between the reality of complex systems and our own ways of thinking.

• Small changes can produce big results; The main incentive for systems thinking is to find where these small changes should take place . . .
For much, much more on complex systems and putting the bits together, Bellinger's Musings -

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Passion? Passion!? Been. Done. 100% Cotton.

You know, it occurred to me, what with no actual eye candy to accompany all this jibber-jabber about Branding that some might be wondering what an actual ad by the typing monkey known as fouro would look like. Or - gasp - if he even made ads.

So, let us observe these High Holy days. And also, note the absolute cultural disconnect of the media ("Hey, where'd all these Religious people come from?!") as Mr. Gibson's epic film approaches the $500 million mark, by resurrecting (ahem) .... a teeny little thumbnail that you have to click to make bigger but even that won't truly represent it because it's a huge darn poster and, well, it's the Big Guy after all:

Richmond Symphony, 2000 - 28"x20"

For you process afficionados out there, it's a field of sheet music for Bach's Passion devilishly (sorry) fiddled with so as to appear like a failed press run. We were quite pleased when we heard that people stole liberated these in droves from city business windows and that they also became framed premiums for Symphony donors. The TV spots were nice too.

Yea, verily. Blessed are the Poster Stealers Liberators, for they shall suffer for their art. But not too much... Perhaps no dessert.

[thanks to Jon for the 8th Commandment nudge]

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Pahk the cah and weet, Spahtacus

Take the quiz: "Which American City Are You?"

You are under-world power and old-world tradition.
You get the job done and it's better if nobody asks how.

[link via gaza by way of ensight]
" haven't seen enough movies. All of life's riddles are answered in the movies."

Of course, that's a line from perhaps the only great scene in Lawrence Kasdan's overwrought, but watchable Grand Canyon. The character delivering the line is "Davis", a Hollywood Slash-film producer, played by Steve Martin. He's just explained to his friend Mack (Kevin Kline) that Mack is looking for too much complexity in things. The real order of the world is under your nose, he says. Naturally, that Davis, playing a purposefully shallow character in a sometimes implausible film, uses a truly great cariacature movie, Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels as his example of life being a circular journey towards simplicity and authenticity only ices the irony cake.

That scene with Martin and Kline jibes with an email discussion about archetype and it's immersive, intuitive qualities with a regular reader. Here's a snippet:
...storytelling and archetypal characters, whether individuals or symbolic [imagery] are the only real ways we learn anything and *keep* it. And people want to learn, insatiably. They just hate to be "taught". Stories derive their depth and power from concision and simplicity while colluding with the hearers own mental library. We check out characters listeners already have and give them previously unknown depth. What makes them so powerful as communicators when we do this is they are the listeners' own "people", therefore they are trustworthy.
The above examples remind that it took me a while to learn that character within a brand--its compelling, impelling force--requires the heavy participation and cooperation of a perceiver's mind. And that the goal is unfiltered authenticity. And that the reward for achieving this is suspension of disbelief. Another word for this is trust. Two more, special favorites of brand managers, are loyalty and share.

Given the sway of suits, and the sea of management, it was often a self-directed struggle without a sanctioned lexicon. As shrimpling creatives, we railed against linear thinking, but of course, "that's what creatives do." We talked about "character" and plausibility and keeping the asymmetry that proved humanity. Then, when we figured we'd pushed our luck far enough, we acceeded, made the logo as big as the client's foot, and went and had a beer.

Well, the lexicon, the Pattern Language, has been with us forever. These guys teach about putting it on celluloid:

Dramatica Storybook: Chap 8
Rules for Building Characters?

The question now becomes, "Is there a definitive set of rules that govern how characteristics may or may not be combined without violating the analogy of the Story Mind?" Let's find out.

A Character Cannot Serve Two Masters

The first thing we notice when examining the Motivation Characters is that there is never an instance where a Character contains both characteristics in a Dynamic Pair. This makes common sense: "One cannot serve two masters." Essentially, how can you be AGAINST something at the same time you are FOR it? So, our first rule of combining characteristics is: Characters should never represent more than one characteristic in a Dynamic Pair....
Dramatica Storybook: Chap 9
What's the Purpose?

When authors describe their characters, they are often asked to state a characters' motivations. A common reply might be, "The character Jane wants to be president." Often that is accepted as a valid motivation. In fact, becoming president is Jane's Purpose, not her motivation. Her motivation may be that she felt no control over her life as a child. Or she might be motivated by a love of the natural world, hoping to instigate a national conservation plan. She might be motivated by a desire for an equal rights amendment.

Just knowing what her purpose is does not tell us anything about what Jane is driven by but only what she is driven toward. Any of the stated motivations would be sufficient to explain Jane's purpose of becoming president. Conversely, if Jane's motivation were the first example - a lack of control over her life as a child - several different purposes might satisfy that motivation. She might become a school teacher, a drill sergeant, or a religious leader. Clearly, motivations do not specifically dictate purposes, nor are purposes indicative of any particular motivations....
Storytelling. Branding. Same thing in my view. The point is to suggest believable, ultimately Happy Trails, not to mandate cloying, unnatural happy endings.

Heroes for hire

The brand debate picks up steam. Business Evolutionist posted a newer iteration of his brand definition, after getting a few tweaks in comments:
A brand has to form a "whole" around a set of meanings and/or attributes. This "whole" provides an interface that a consumer can use to emotionally associate that "whole" with their life - their needs/desires.

Any definition of Brand that doesn't include (and focus on) the consumer as part of the definition, I think, is wrong.

What do you think?
Ahh, you should never ask me that question. Here's my response over at his blog:
"What do you think?"

I think you're right, it must include the consumer.

I do notice that a lot that I'm reading all maintains a bent of advocating for the company, while speaking sweetly of the consumer. There is STILL a noticable absence of unity when it comes to the thoughts I see about what constitutes a brand. To follow an archetypal theme, I see thoughtful people (Heroes, Seekers) trying to run interference between consumers (Innocents, Orphans) and amoral, unfeeling companies (Rulers, Warriors). [amoral, not immoral.]

As a parting mythical observation, that's Sisyphean Heroism at best. Not a lot of ROI in that one for those doing the boulder pushing.

Since we're in no danger of offending here--it's an academic discussion, right?--I sense that John Moore is pleased with his "Remarkable" construct. Naturally, I like what I think about brand too. There are a few nice thoughts in the idea of remarkable, but ii GOES nowhere.

I prefer to think in terms of "motion toward?", not a pretty cocoon. To me, that's what his heart, soul, essence statement says--a nice place, but no ambition other than "Wholeness." That's fine if you're approaching the seventh level or nearing nirvana--heaven awaits, your work is almost done--but who among us can claim that? Or wants to? We're all still growing and travelling, 5 rungs down the ladder. I think brand needs mucho latent energy to be attractive. It must be a subconscious ally one goes to for Confidence, Support, Affirmation or Truth.

Big words those. Brands are far more spiritual than Feature>Advantage>Benefit, and they are far more about the consumers than they are the product. Brands are enablers to bigger and better things, not ends in themselves. If they meet that requirement, they then matter. And how will a company know this? The same way we know we matter:

We succced, we are called upon for help, we are admired, and yes, we are envied sometimes.

But you don't become--motion, remember?--any of these things without claiming them beforehand as ideals and getting off your ass.

In business, that's called growth. It has rewards. In our personal character-driven lives, we call that "Courage". It has rewards too.
Put simply, Brands are Heroes for hire, whether as Ophelias or Han Solos. They help us fake it till we make it ourselves. But beware: We as individuals are allowed to pretend to be that which we aren't already. Heroes, Teachers, Brands aren't. They don't need to be perfect, they just need to be accurate, certain--consistent--in their framing of their particular Ideal of Perfection. This simplicity and lack of fudging or wiggle-room is the key to Authenticity.

[update: Sunday 4-11-04. Well, well. It seems Price Watehouse has a new campaign breaking today--see post above if you haven't already. Topic of the campaign and initiative? A C-Level use of the C-word. Hey, if you're interested, I/we come a lot cheaper than Price Waterhouse (GRIN).]

Monday, April 05, 2004

How an individual settles into a new opinion

Here at Fouroboros Worldwide, we have special reverence for several ancient guys and girls. Lots in fact. One in particular has probably had the biggest impact on how we view things and structure our approaches to creativity, design, strategy and work. In short, how we approach and effect change. We view the former--solving problems and building communities with ideas translated into print, electrons, mangled office furniture, or architecture--as the easy part. But finding agreement on "What's the goal?" and "What matters here?", hey, now that's the real creativity. It involves so many subjectives and agendas that if taken lightly or hubristically, well, a different line of work, maybe the bomb squad, quickly begins to take on a certain romantic appeal.

Without further ado, our resident Oracle of the Realities of Change:

William James, 1842-1910

From "Pluralism, pragmatism, and instrumental truth." [scroll to bottom. Executive version (below) found here]
How an individual settles into a new opinion

The process is always the same.

The individual has a stock of old opinions already.

The individual meets a new experience that puts some of these old opinions to a strain.

* Somebody contradicts them.
* In a reflective moment, the individual discovers that they contradict each other.
* The individual hears of facts with which they are incompatible.
* Desires arise in the individual which the old opinions fail to satisfy.

The result is inward trouble, to which the individual's mind till then had been a stranger.

The individual seeks to escape from this inward trouble by modifying the old opinions.

* The individual saves as many of the old opinions as is possible (for in this matter we are all extreme conservatives).
* Old opinions resist change very variously.
* The individual tries to change this and then that.

Finally, some new opinion comes up which the individual can graft upon the ancient stock of old opinions with a minimum of disturbance to the others.

* The new opinion mediates between the stock and the new experience.
* The new opinion runs the stock and the new experience into one another most felicitously and expediently.

The new opinion is then adapted as the true one.

* The new opinion preserves the older stock of truths with a minimum of modification, stretching them just enough to make them admit the novelty, but conceiving that in ways as familiar as the case leaves possible.
* An outreé explanation, violating all our preconceptions, would never pass for a true account of a novelty.

The most violent revolutions in an individual's beliefs leave most of his old order standing.

New truth is always a go-between, a smoother-over of transitions.

The point I now urge you to observe particularly is the part played by the older truths . . . their influence is absolutely controlling. Loyalty to them is the first principle; for by far the most usual way of handling phenomena so novel that they would make for a serious rearrangement of our preconceptions is to ignore them altogether, or to abuse those who bear witness for them.
Phew. Now get out there and paradigm-shift, Trooper.

Change, dammit!

If you want to innovate, excell, or initiate change, you're going to get a fight. Often, this comes from the people who have much to gain from the change. We've found the most successful ladder over this is to align with peoples innate moral benchmarks, their intrinsic value system. This stuff runs deep. Very. People don't change because of factual circumstance--they adapt, then revert when the coast is clear. They don't change for long because of emotional urges -- emotions ebb and flow. People change in sustainable, meaningful, personal ways for symbolic reasons. You can fight them and lose, or you can go deeper and find these symbols, and win. Or help them help themselves, often in spite of themselves. Which is the same as winning. An example (not a client) used in a recent presentation:

Watch this first , if you can manage the download [2]

Why is this spot so effective? Not because it shows cute kids, or a mom who cares, or repeats what we already know: Smoking's bad for you and your kids.

Its power lay in the subtle way it hones in not on your mortality or that of your kids but, before you and beyond them. You know you're going to die eventually, but your kids will carry forward the legacy for you. You know once you're gone and they grow old, they will die too. That's not the point. That lone child, looking out to sea doesn't symbolize far horizons and boundless opportunities, it doesn't even represent the boy-child. It symbolizes loneliness, yes. But even more, it ellicits a sense of unfinished business deep in our R-complex. That boy IS the mother, even when she's gone of natural causes. He is she, by proxy, as are his kids and their kids. If she cannot insure his preparation for the continuation of her genes, her journey, she fails to be or to matter. If she dies young, he dies young. She will have "ended" prematurely because SHE broke the chain. She failed her primal, ancestral obligation, as much as she will have failed her kids. She didn't matter.

I really like this spot.

Next time: Flipping death The Finger. How to press Legacy and Hope into service when you've just learned you have cancer and the only person you can count on is YOU.
Doing or Being? Branding or Becoming? The debate begins...

Seems there's a budding meta-debate on "what makes a brand?" on some of the blogs I enjoy reading. Kewl.

I've seen John Moore post that "Branding is about being remarkable". Can't disagree with that. But it seems rather passive, rather static. "Branding" is used as a verb in his example, yet it describes a state of being rather than becoming. That may seem like splitting hairs to some, but to me, the most elemental and engaging brands have a "what's next?" aura about them.

Think about the country and the era which birthed the term. Branding evolves from the need to identify a roaming piece of property amongst countless others in the middle of a boundless frontier. It was a way to make sense of things in an obviously dynamic and uncontrollable landscape.

Sound like your life? It does mine.

If that unknown opportunity was a point of pride and a magnetic attraction for people, branding was a way to symbolize and keep order of what you had without resorting to something that was all but impossible and somewhat antithetical to the time and the ambition: a fence.

In this way, I'd view a brand as girding your way for a journey into open range, new horizons, a future. It's a becoming, which begins, of course, from "being". It doesn't mean packing everything including the kitchen sink and grandma's sewing machine, either. Adventures usually demand that we travel light, and bring only the necessities. In this case, for a brand, those necessities would include a sense of what you can do, what you want to do, and where you're going with it all. And who's welcome to come.

That's how Shackleton mythically approached and wrote what is possibly the most powerful ad--one representation of a brand--of all time:

"A brand is?"

Jon, at Business Evolutionist points us towards A penny for... where they are asking:
"What is your definition of a Brand? 25 words or less."
Okay, here's a stab:
Ideals --> Bonds --> Communities. Another word for community is Brand.

[9 words, 2 arrows.]

A brand's job is mobilizing affinity, and assuming leadership of that community--sometimes benignly, sometimes forcefully, but always in service of the shared ideals of the group--company and consumer.

[30 more words.]

In this way, the most effective brands do have an almost visionary quality about them. They mirror back to consumers and employees and even competitors an imagined ideal future they often can't enunciate themselves. They guide. They imprint. And that's gold.

[41 more words.]

80 words and 2 arrows. One hopes the first 9 give me permission to offer the next thirty. And then, those 39 have opened the gate to 41 more. If I do the rest right, I may have just found a new friend. Another relationship based on shared ideals—a brand—may have begun.

Now, I have to grow both of us.
Hey, it's me typing here. No way I could have stopped at 25. Go give them your answer, could be a very cool discussion.

[update: Moveable Type squirrelliness? Seems the comments counter is not operational and a script message comes up when you hit "post", but it does work.]

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