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5 Ways To Bust A Stovepipe Fast


You've been in those meetings. I know you have.

Someone new to the organization - usually young and untutored in the subtle art of diplomacy - asks, in an I-don't-get-it-it-this-is-so-stupid kind of way, "how you do (function X) around here."

There is a brief awkward silence as the seasoned professionals, usually older, look at each other in a we're-broken-but-we-can-still-laugh-about-it kind of way. And someone takes a stab at explaining.

This is the moment when a stovepipe comes into full view. It is leaking. Because the normal course of business, in which everyone has learned to live with and walk around it, is revealed as inefficient.

Washington, where I work, is famous for its stovepipes. The way we cope with them is called a "workaround." Instead of the line pointing from A to B, it points from A to C and then back to B, and we all learn the system, and usually it's fine.

Until it's not.

Private industry has the stovepipes too. Large corporations, small family firms, they're everywhere. You can tell by the funny titles people get, and give themselves. They don't mean anything on the outside, but on the inside they delineate turf. "Don't mess with me...this is my line in the sand."

When I was growing up we had our stovepipes at home. My mom owned the kitchen and the living room. Dad got the dining room and den. He also got the basement, till it got too messy. Then my mom stepped in. 

Religions are stovepiped. I remember when you were just Jewish. Now I can't keep up with all the denominations.

The paradox of the stovepipe is that it makes no sense, and yet the group perpetuates it rather than do the thing that would be sensible. What you have to realize, as others have been pointed out, is that every group dysfunction actually serves a hidden function. 

An analogy is addiction: Why does a person repeatedly overindulge? For a lot of reasons, one of them being that the pain caused by the drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, or you-name-it is worse than the pain of the emotions they can't deal with.

One might think that it takes being in charge to break through a stovepipe and restore normalcy. But in my experience, that's not always true. More often than not, the leader walks in the door, sees the trouble, tries to fix it, realizes they can't, and backs down. Unless they push hard. And then they become a "change agent," likely to last for a short time before the culture refuses their energy any further and expels them.

Fortunately there are some things that actually do work when it comes to breaking through a stovepipe. Happily for me (because I sometimes worry that my sociology degree is useless), they all boil down to some bedrock sociological principles, as follows:

Rule #1: Obedience to authority. If people in positions of power insist on integration and holistic thinking, then the group will say "of course!" and follow.

Rule #2: Groupthink. This is the tendency to change your individual opinion based on the collective opinion of the group. Cults rely on groupthink - this is obviously bad. But stovepipes are bad. So organizations can leverage the power of groupthink to create intolerance for such things cropping up.

Rule #3: Peer pressure. This is a little different from groupthink in that members of the group actually overtly tell one another, loudly and subtly, to conform. It works.

Rule #4: Shunning. In Judaism, there is a punishment called "karais," which means that your soul is cut off from the rest of the nation. This is extraordinarily painful. When the group wants to honor the positive norm of collaboration, a good way to reinforce it is to shun people who refuse to cooperate.

Rule #5: Unity against an enemy: Groups are notoriously fractious unless there is a perceived collective threat to group survival. Disasters are one. Enemy attack is another. Famine is a third. (Think about how we turn to military leaders instinctively in times of crisis.) If stove-piping is framed as a danger to the survival of the organization, this motivates the culture to adapt and change in order to survive.

Of course, the special "energizing factor" that moves this all forward is technology. It's the overly valued third factor in the well-known formula, "people, process, technology," but it should not be ignored.

When you have a united group of people (note: this is a group dynamics thing, not just a psychology thing), organized along the lines of process rationality, and equipped with the "force multiplier" that technology brings, you have entered the zone of excellence. This means that stovepipes can't grow, because the culture will quickly squash them.

No stovepipes: This is good business - good government - good organization of any kind - and ultimately, good for the brand.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!


Image source here - as Apple's 1984 commercial shows, note what can happen if unity goes too far.

Upward Spiral From A Tragic Summer


Is it just my world or has this been the kind of horrible summer you usually read about in a book? From where I’m sitting it’s been ten weeks of natural disaster and human disaster—earthquake, hurricane, crime, illness, and sadly, untimely death.

“The air is thick with tragedy.”

The economy is taking its toll as well. I see it in my social media networks, when the Gen Yers start talking. It used to be all peppy, like, “What should I wear to the meeting?” Now the conversations are headlined, “I just can’t stand it anymore.”

What is a person to do with all of this? How to swallow the pain and just keep going?

I had the most terrible (non-) vision the other night. I was going to sleep, and I was thinking about the future. All I could see was blackness.

No, I wasn't depressed. Or psychic. It was...that I knew I did not know. I could not tell myself to have faith. Because faith implies belief in something that may or may not happen. I did not have the will to imagine I could be optimistic.

The magician Penn Jillette was on Piers Morgan a few weeks ago. Arguing about atheism. Piers said, I thought rather arrogantly, that he was confident of dying and going to a Divine place. (Which is sort of funny, if you think that there is Divine justice or karma – because Piers has hurt a lot of people’s feelings.)

I am a strong believer in G-d but I had to agree with Penn when he said something to the effect of, “It’s not about atheism, but about knowing that you just don’t know. It’s about living with that.”

I wish I could be immune to not knowing. I wish I could be strong enough in my faith that tragedy doesn’t get to me. Because I could believe that something happy awaits.

I am not. I cannot. I don’t.

All the more reason – I believe with all my heart – to make the most of every moment, now.

One of the tragedies this summer involves a young person our family knew remotely. I can’t believe it…I am so sad. I Nothing a person can say matters anymore. She is gone.

What are we to do with the feelings a tragedy evokes? It is easy – too easy – to get depressed ourselves, and let the sadness wash us away.

Maybe there is something else we can do: Use the pain to prevent the same thing from happening in the future. Do anything, do a small thing, but do something to help.

"Light a candle in the darkness."

Be a living candle.

I am one of those people who believe this entire world is just an illusion. That the physical manifestation is actually a battle of the spirit. That G-d created evil so that we could overcome it. Do what is right according to our conscience. Break through and unify with the greater Oneness that we can feel, but never prove.

I am saddened, upset, tearful, heartbroken. But this will make me more hardheaded, more determined. I am going to use it to make what little bit of difference I can - because you never know what is next.

Basically my pen is my sword and I believe our greatest weapon is knowledge. My contribution is to write, to share information, to teach. I have also joined Howard Schultz's citizen activist movement, Upward Spiral (join 9/6 remote event, free, here). Even though it's definitely a part of building the Starbucks brand - that's cool with me. I can live with it.

Choose your cause. Break it into digestible parts. Move forward with just one, this weekend.

Happy Labor Day everyone, and good luck!


Image source here.

Morgan Spurlock is better at branding than his sponsors.


So this is the conversation at home about "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold."

"I am going to relax tonight. Nobody bother me. I rented a movie."

"Why are you getting a movie during a weeknight?"

"I need to relax."

"Well what did you get?"

"The branding movie - the one we read about in Fast Company. 'The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.'"

"More marketing? That's relaxing?"

I go out of the room to watch my marketing movie. As soon as I put it on I am in complete heaven. This is an awesome show about product placement - a combination of marketing, branding and sociology. I cannot believe that anyone actually did this. I am laughing, and learning and - haha! Relaxed.

Very honestly - I don't see this as a movie with mass appeal at all. Most people wouldn't find it entertaining. So if I were a sponsor, I'd consider it charity to contribute, not really a commercial benefit. Just look at my family. They absolutely did not want to watch...heck no.

That said, if you have any interest in marketing whatsoever, or if you teach it, watching this movie is essential to understanding branding nowadays. Not in the way that you might think - not for the purpose of learning about product placement - but to learn about what gives a brand oomph, and credibility, and how most companies totally shoot themselves in the foot in these areas.

The movie's sponsor is Pom Wonderful. I give Lynda Resnick, credit for having the vision to participate - undoubtedly it generated lots of street credibility for the brand. But unfortunately she misses a huge opportunity to let Spurlock tell the Pom story his way. And so she forces him to focus on the "purity" of the juice. She's in love with the product, literally drinking the Kool-Aid...and ultimately the way he promotes it, with a cheesy graphic comparison of Pom versus competitors, is boring and forgettable. 

On the other hand the shoe brand Merrell seems to give him much more leeway. When Spurlock interviews consumer advocate Ralph Nader, and Nader warns him about the danger of losing his reputation, and then Spurlock turns on Nader to hawk Merrell's arch support or whatever, that is absolutely priceless filmmaking. It is Spurlock at his best - simultaneously falling for the pitch, and self-conscious about the fact that he is pitching. Just like he did in "Supersize Me" - showing us how McDonald's food is at completely disgusting, and completely addictive, at the same time. You don't walk away in love with the product, but it is on your mind and you associate it with a credible filmmaker - and that is the goal of brand-centric product placement.

"The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" is brilliant in a similar way to "Borat." The storyteller worms his way into a world, pretending to be an interested and engaged guest, but he is really making fun of them. The trick for the brands involved in these kinds of projects, or in any product placement, is to have a sense of humor about themselves - to have the ability to not be so in love with the product. To step away and be objective.

There is a funny moment in the movie when Spurlock meets with Ban deodorant. He asks the Ban representatives what their brand is really all about. The group appears to be stunned by this question. They have great packaging and an interesting product that you could really play up. But they don't have any idea what their brand is! One lady says, "It's about superior technology." Spurlock replies, "Yeah but that's not something you really want to put in your armpit." Hysterical! You can't write a script like that.

Perhaps the brand that did best in this movie, to my mind, was Sheetz, the gas station/convenience store brand. When Spurlock meets with their executives, they get it immediately. He flatters them and one of the executives replies to the effect that he knows Spurlock is full of it, "blowing smoke up my ***." But he laughs. It's a joke. Sheetz is part of it. And they love every second of it.

If you have the time, watch "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold." It's completely worth it. 

Have a great day everyone, and good luck!


Image source here

We Sell Things They Don't Need


“When you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail.”


The classic definition of marketing is to represent the hammer. The marketer doesn’t invent the hammer, but s/he finds potential customers for it. Then explains why a hammer is desperately needed. Even if – especially if – it had never occurred to you that hammers could be useful.


The classic definition of branding, of course, is to create the impression – deserved or not - that one particular kind of hammer is superior to all the rest and therefore deserves a price premium.


Both of these paradigms involve thievery, which is why people hate marketers so much.


* While it is theoretically possible that everyone needs a hammer, it is actually true that many people can live just fine without them. Yet it is a rare marketer that will turn a customer away – “Who are we to deny them choice?”


* It is also possible that some brands deserve to charge more. But it is also pretty common for a pretty, shiny, labeled hammer to do just the same thing as an ugly, dull, un-labeled one. And the branding specialist doesn’t tell the client, “You’re stuff just ain’t that special…I can’t represent you.” After all – money is money, right? As long as the product isn’t dangerous or illegal.


It’s sort of the same thing with lawyers…we find it hard to respect a lawyer who defends someone guilty as sin. Except with the law, the system is set up so that “the best argument wins.” So we live with it.


When marketers turn thieving – even surreptitiously thieving, deceptively thieving, under-the-table thieving, not explicitly stealing - the profit they realize is only short-term. Because in the end, the customer can’t trust them. And they know it.


When I was growing up there were people who ran stores in the neighborhood. If you were looking for something and they didn’t sell it they would say, “I’m sorry, I don’t have what you’re looking for. Go to that guy across the street.” If they were really ethical they would say, “You know, you don’t even need that…if you buy (other thing, cheaper) it will work just as well.”


In other words, the job of the marketer, and by extension the salesperson, is to give the customer the solution they want and need. Not to blindly push product. Which is why:


*  “Infomercials,” no matter how successful they are at getting people to buy things, have the ring of a cheap win.


* A visit to the car dealership is literally dreaded.


* It’s tough to deal with real estate agents.


* There are certain boutiques you absolutely avoid.


All of this because you know that someone is pushing, and pushing, and pushing for you to do something that is in THEIR best interest, not your own at all.


The classic salesperson knows you for five seconds, and they will guilt you into spending five thousand dollars, or fifty thousand, or five million. To them you are just a sale – a commission – another day’s work.


How to fix it: Change the definition of the profession itself.


The old paradigm was to sell anything, anywhere, anytime. Trash that.


The new paradigm should be to return marketing to the fold of strong business rather than stove-piping it into the “sell, sell, sell” playpen.


In the real world, business thrives by taking a holistic view of the community in which it is engaged. There are long-term relationships that must be nurtured by exchange relationships of genuine value.  Everyone’s got to win, or the business ultimately is exposed as an exploiter, or a cheater, and dies.


From a business perspective, it is the marketer’s job to nurture long-term relationships with a customer by providing a real solution to their pain point.  If our stuff works, great. If not, we have to point them to someone down the street, or find a way to address their problem with a mashup of our product, someone else’s product, or even tinkering with the customer’s own way of life.


In the olden days, “doing a good job” meant putting your head down and doing what you were told, without asking why. One of my first jobs involved doing mail-merges in WordPerfect. It was very important that I use the small paper clips. I remember spending an entire week removing the large paper clips from a mailing to replace them with the small ones. Who cares?


Now and in the future, it’s simply unacceptable to rely on “that’s what I was told,” or “that’s what I have to sell,” or “that’s not my job,” or “I don’t know anything about that, I’m just selling jeans.” You have to be a cultural anthropologist – get into the customer’s life – and sell them things they actually need, at a fair price. And yes, turn some customers away or direct them elsewhere.


Doing the right thing isn’t just a nice-to-do. Or common sense. It is the only way to make a profit in the future. When the business relationships we have are going to be based on one thing and one thing alone: Do I trust the person sitting at the table in front of me?


Have a good day everyone, and good luck!


Image source here


Brand magic is the tension between infrastructure and creativity


As I get older I realize more and more that creativity without structure is useless. That's what a brand is, in the end...a vital container for creativity. One that gives it form, and shape, and life and vitality. Without the container you have nothing.

I used to be against the container. I used to think that containers were inherently crushing. That's not true.

You can see this dynamic in an office setting of course. You can have lots of creative work to your name, but if you don't keep a portfolio, case studies and metrics then what have you accomplished really? At the moment it was great, but then's all forgotten.

Sometimes I think that the sole purpose of creative awards shows is to get visual and verbal communicators to find all their work and get it organized. The awards stuff is just the icing on the cake. The nicest thing is when you find what you've done and get it all into place.

The container - the infrastructure - is of course the central concept of project management software and processes. Most people think it's about collaboration. Not true. It's about knowledge management - the ability to find, organize and re-use the intellectual property you spent so much time developing before.

I am spending a lot of time on infrastructure nowadays. And while the right side of my brain misses the creativity of marketing strategy, I have to say that I find it really fulfilling to build the container for awhile. Where does the work go, once it's retired? What jobs are coming up? How do we measure success? What are the meaningful metrics, and what is the dreck? Most of all, how do you get people excited about being organized?

Someone once said to me that with branding, you have to explain it and explain it till all of a sudden the customer completely understands. Then you've tipped the dominoes into motion. Now nothing in the company is safe. Because consistency of brand is consistency everywhere.

It's exactly the same thing with building the container. For while there is nothing a creative loves more than to stand on top of the truck like Ariel in "Footloose," at a certain point it sort of gets un-creative to reinvent the same wheel over and over again. When you have a template, a portal, a structure, a process and a system for the 70% of the work that can be automated, it actually frees you up to do the other 30% in new and even more innovative ways. Not to mention freeing up time and money to explore the frontiers of self-expression.

Believe it or not I was looking at a tree when I realized all this. I was standing with my back to the car, looking at a magnificent tree stretching up to the sky. Beautiful and strong, its leaves fluttering this way and that. Anchored to the soil, but reaching for the stars. I think great creative infrastructure is something like that. It grounds you so that you have a solid footing, and sets you free to exceed everything you've done before.

Have a great evening everyone, and good luck!


Image source here

Sold! The 2011 MTV Video Music Awards


You know a show is good when the entire family gathers around the TV to watch. And since the point of having TV shows is to sell things, I'm thinking the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards (#VMA) was a huge success - not just for the celebrities who appeared but for three product brands in particular:

1. Kia. Hip commercial, hip music, cool design. All together I would consider a brand I would never have thought of before. Terrific.

2. Taco Bell. That was an appetizing, funny commercial with a strong brand image if ever I’ve seen one. The part where the guy handed out the tacos to the grandmas at the lawn party was hilarious.

3. “The Hunger Games” – great promo, great idea. Sold, sold, sold.

Why did the VMAs work so well?

1. The choreography, the stage, the lightshow, everything was so polished and absolutely amazing. I felt like I was watching a $350-a-ticket concert for free.

2. I loved the variety of stars they put onstage – from Kim Kardashian to Katie Holmes to Tony Bennett.

3. Speaking of Tony Bennett, the Amy Winehouse tribute that started with Russell Brand and ended with an airing of the Bennett-Winehouse duo on Abbey Road in London was amazing. Even if you didn’t know who Amy was, you ended up a fan.

4. I didn’t start out a Katy Perry fan, but was converted for sure by last night. Great hat, great performer. Understands how to connect with the audience.

5. That said, Russell Brand takes it to a higher level. He knows how to talk to you as if he is in the same room, despite being behind a camera. Brilliant.

6. Beyonce – despite the bad song – owned the stage. Great voice, great outfits, great dancing. And when she rubbed her tummy at the end to show she was pregnant, that was fabulous.

7. The song by Adele broke my heart and made me cry. I felt her pain but she handled it like a true performer. Completely in control but open emotionally. The definition of an artist.

8. Lady Gaga cracked me up in the man outfit, when she tried to kiss Britney Spears. Although she took it a little too far. Enjoyed the Britney Spears tribute, too, but Britney herself seemed dazed when she came up on stage – read right off the teleprompter. Sort of sad.

9. Chris Brown did a great job in his number. I felt bad for what happened between him and Rihanna. I thought he was trying to come back from all of that. Flying all over the place – dancing like that - he did.

10. A lot of the artists I didn’t know. But that was fine. I asked my kids…enjoyed learning.

Even the parts that didn’t work so well, worked well because they are engaging:

1. Is it me or are we seeing too much of Selena Gomez?

2. Speaking of Selena Gomez, who is in a relationship with Justin Bieber, for the life of me I don’t understand the Justin Bieber thing at all. Do you know I have never even heard a Justin Bieber song? I liked that he thanked Jesus for his award, but I can’t understand why this person is famous.

3. The Jessie J thing where she sat in the chair all night with her foot in the cast…just looked weird. She sang OK; I understand she’s the one who sings that song “It’s all about the money”; so it’s a tossup whether it was a good idea to have her up there. She seemed to drain a lot of energy from the stage.

4. I reflected that there is a difference between controlling the fact that you are out of control, and just losing it. For example, the band that did the mosh pit thing seemed in control, even though the singer dropped into the crowd. On the other hand Li’l Wayne just went crazy. It was bad how he ended the show.

5. Cursing. A little – maybe. Too much – just not classy at all.

On the subject of pop culture:

A prayer for Will Smith and Jada Pinkett. May G-d bless and protect them and heal them in this difficult time.

Have a good day everyone, and good luck!


Image source here