The age of the micro multinational

“If the late 20th Century was the age of the multinational company, the early 21st will be the age of the micro multinational: small companies that operate globally”

I found this great quote on Neil Perkin’s ‘Only Dead Fish’. It’s a statement from Hal Varian, Google Chief Economist and I can only like what I see here. It supports our own opinion (at Duval Guillaume) that you don’t need to be huge or have offices around the whole world to be able to service clients globally. 

A recent Policy Brief from the Lisbon Council states:

“Traditionally, these small, self-starting, service-driven companies would have been described as small- and medium- sized enterprises, or SMEs, but thanks to the Internet, the emergence of new business platforms and the increased openness of the global economy, these companies can enter markets with a minimum of bureaucracy and overhead. Add to that their unparalleled ability to respond promptly to changing market developments, a collaborative DNA that often translates into superior innovation performance and the lack of the institutional inertia and legacy relationships plaguing larger organizations, and one begins to see the transformative and paradigm-changing potential.”

According the brief the big paradigm shifts that are taking place making all this happen are:

  • Most jobs are created by young companies and start-ups
  • Today technology makes it possible for small companies to gain the reach and traction of big companies at very low cost
  • New platforms and online business services are making it easier for small companies to focus on areas where they add value
  • Internationalization – the key to success for almost all contemporary businesses, large and small – is easier to achieve via the Internet
  • Today’s workforce has changing priorities
  • Experienced and highly skilled individuals are setting out in record numbers to work for themselves

Yet another reason why the future looks bright.

Truth is people don’t actually like creativity

There was an interesting article in Slate a few weeks ago about the bias against creativity, about the fact that most people say they like creativity but that the truth is we really don’t. And since I work in a creative agency often presenting creative ideas to clients the theory based on a 2011 study used in this article makes a whole lot of sense to me.

“We think of creative people in a heroic manner, and we celebrate them, but the thing we celebrate is the after-effect,” says Barry Staw, a researcher at the University of California–Berkeley business school who specializes in creativity. Staw says most people are risk-averse. He refers to them as satisfiers. “As much as we celebrate independence in Western cultures, there is an awful lot of pressure to conform,” he says. Satisfiers avoid stirring things up, even if it means forsaking the truth or rejecting a good idea.  Even people who say they are looking for creativity react negatively to creative ideas, as demonstrated in a 2011 study from the University of Pennsylvania. Uncertainty is an inherent part of new ideas, and it’s also something that most people would do almost anything to avoid. People’s partiality toward certainty biases them against creative ideas and can interfere with their ability to even recognize creative ideas .

Clients will come to us for creative tasks since that’s what we’re most known for. You can literally witness though how the creative ideas that were presented and liked by the clients will be softened once they start to move through the chain of command. That is if you allow that to happen, we’re quite protective on the essence of an idea to make sure that while we’re very open to tweak it we will make sure that that essential core idea is never lost.

Most people agree that what distinguishes those who become famously creative is their resilience. While creativity at times is very rewarding, it is not about happiness. Staw says a successful creative person is someone “who can survive conformity pressures and be impervious to social pressure.”

And of course I realize like anyone else that some creative ideas are just not good or are creative but not an answer to the question or briefing at hand. This is purely about ideas that are recognized as good and creative and how they are being judged during the decision process. This is about how people often reject creative ideas even when espousing creativity as a desired goal (as the research so eloquently puts it).

In terms of decision style, most people also fall short of the creative ideal. they are satisficers rather than searcher for the optimal or most desirable solution. They follow a number of energy-saving heuristics that generally lead to a set of systematic biases or inaccuracies in processing information. And, unless they are held accountable for their decision-making strategies, they tend to find the easy way out – either by not engaging in very careful thinking or by modeling their choices on the preferences of those who will be evaluating them.

Especially that last sentence is a problem I think. Not only in judging creativity by the way. When people make decision upon what they think someone else will probably think of it instead of what they think themselves sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. There’s a clear link with management style there as well. How much do you empower your own people? It seems that to enable creativity you need to do that.

Instead of issuing directives and policy statements and hoping that they will be obeyed, innovative firms must encourage disobedience. In fact, those in power should go so far as to encourage active opposition. Innovative organizations are those that harbor multiple perspectives and objectives, not simply a variety of views.

Last but not least, it’s also why creativity takes courage – dixit Henri Matisse. Definitely an interesting read, be sure to check the full article.

You can put a man on the moon

One of the more interesting seminars at the Cannes Lions in June earlier this year was that one of Astro Teller who leads the Google X initiative. You know where the idea for Google Glass or Google’s self driving cars is coming from:

Here is the surprising truth. It’s often easier to make something 10 times better than it is to make it 10 percent better. Because when you’re working to make things 10 percent better, you inevitably focus on the existing tools and assumptions, and on building on top of an existing solution that many people have already spent a lot of time thinking about. Such incremental progress is driven by extra effort, extra money, and extra resources. It’s tempting to feel improving things this way means we’re being good soldiers, with the grit and perseverance to continue where others may have failed — but most of the time we find ourselves stuck in the same old slog. But when you aim for a 10x gain, you lean instead on bravery and creativity — the kind that, literally and metaphorically, can put a man on the moon.

I like that. It’s almost like a scientific explanation of why you have to dream big.

Image credit Pandiyan V

Big data, big promise

Big data is the whole grail of marketing. And yet not many is actually making lots of progress. There’s a good good on that captures well what the state of big data is if you ask me:

“Big Data is like teenage sex. Everybody talks about it. Few do it and they do it in the dark”

As always also here there are the exceptions that prove the rule. Companies like Starbucks or Taco Bells have showcased that they are actually using data to the extreme to help improve their business activities and communications. But in general only little data is being used, it’s something we encounter only occasionally during the marketing activities and also as a consumer I don’t see much return on the fact that people seem to know quite a bit about me.

And I wonder if that isn’t going to become a problem sometime soon. As a tech savvy consumer I know that companies have data on my consumption behaviour, I am very aware whenever I need to give someone personal data and I know that a lot of my online behaviour is public for everyone to see. Because I know, I also expect something in return. There’s a very one on one relationship between filling in a form before being able to proceed to a next stage and in that case you can immediately judge whether handing over that bit of data was worth the return. But that counts also on general consumption, on the data that companies can gather by tracking your behaviour. I know they do and also there, even if less one on one, I expect a return.

I’m ok with my data being used, I want my data being used or even more, I demand my data being used. I think consumers will get ever more aware of the fact that their data is being collected and as a result become more demanding on how they are treated. No more useless questions, seemingly random suggestions, repetitive data collection, … And that makes in my opinion the need for companies to start really using their ‘big data’ even more important. Not just because they indeed can improve their business and communications if they use it right, but because they have to as consumers will start demanding that. So big data is great, but it’s also a big promise!

So if you’re a business owner or a marketing specialist I think you really need to start figuring out which data you currently gather and how you can connect that to make consumers lives better. All in all I believe there are 3 kinds of data we have to think of that are key to improving your marketing & sales efforts:

  • Form fill: data that you’ve asked consumers to fill in, can be at various types of touchpoints, all data people hand over to you to get something in return
  • Usage: usage/consumption data from both sales as marketing activities, everything you collect through the customer journey
  • Public domain: everything people share in public online & offline that relates direct or indirect to your business

So think about it. The companies that are using it are outperforming you and taking a lead and your customers will move to those companies because they are living up to the data promise making the gap even better.

Image credit Avnet.

Presentation madness

Powerpoint, Keynote, … it doesn’t really matter much which piece of software you use to make a presentation. Trust me, there’s only little the software can do for you to make your presentation better, let alone good.

I get my fair share of practice making presentations since I make a few per week, but I also get to see a lot of presentations at events, with clients, suppliers, etc. The list below is an overview of my rules of thumb for creating good presentations.

The audience

First things first. Who are you talking to? It’s probably what bothers me most at conferences, all too often you see a presentation that is not at all tailored for the event. It’s more about what the presenter wants to say versus what the audience came down to hear.

But this doesn’t only count for conferences of course. Also when you’re presenting to your team, your boss or client(s), whatever the situation may be, the audience is key for what and how you will present. What is it that the listener wants to see? What do they expect? What is the context of this presentation? Trying to understand that is like a third of the success of your presentation.

The purpose

What is the reason for the presentation? What’s the goal? What was the briefing or what are you trying to get out of this? New business, an extra headcount, an extra effort from the team, understanding for a difficult decision, buy-in on a company vision, … How many times do you listen to or read a presentation and wonder: what’s the point? The presentation looked nice and all but don’t ask me what it was about.

What’s the point that your are trying to make? I think it’s important that you define the key take-aways well in advance. They don’t have to be crystalized (there’s room for that later in the process) but you need to have a good idea of what it is you want people to remember after the presentation. What it is you want to send them home with.

What is basically the end of the presentation is something you need to define at the start of making it. It’s where you need to build up to and it’s your first check on whether the presentation is in line with purpose you’re making it.

If you want me to do something, you better make that clear so I know what it is that you are looking for.

What do you need to get there?

So you know what your audience came down to see and you defined what it is that you want them to home with. Next step is to think of all the elements you need to have as key ingredients for your presentation.

Think of it as tearing out magazine photo’s before you can start making a collage. You have an idea of the end result and gather photo’s that you think will help you build a story to get there. With presentations it’s the same. Think of all the things that could be helpful to make your point. Quotes, articles, schemes, graphics, ideas, … and lay them all in front of you so you can see which ones you think you could use most.

Turning it into a story

Start with setting the scene. All too often I see a presentation that jumps right into a topic and only by the 3rd slide you figure out what the presenter is actually talking about.

“Bad storytelling is beginning, muddle, end.” (Philip Larkin – poet)

This is probably the most important part of your presentation. You know where you want to land with this, but how do you build up to that point? How do you make it so that within the timeframe that you got, you bring your story/presentation in the most powerful way? Will you start with laying down the problem? Or with the conclusion? There are many ways in building a great story and it’s up to you to figure that one out, but make sure you spend enough time on it. Make sure that you cut out all that is not necessary to make your story come to life.

Using post-it notes to lay out a grid of ideas in front of you and order them is a common trick but a really good one, and one that I also use when building more complex presentations.

Design

I love a nicely designed presentation just as much as everyone else. I don’t think it’s key to a good presentation though, it sort of adds an extra quality to it. Too many people seem to think design is amongst the first things to get right – that’s really not how it’s supposed to be. Some of the best presentations I’ve seen at conferences were of the worst design you can imagine… including Comic Sans.

Make sure the fonts are correct, the typo is the same throughout the presentation, the photo’s are aligned, … these are all easy to do and make the presentation from not looking sloppy. A great design doesn’t make it a better story, so make sure this is not where your main focus is. Or let me say it like this – a presentation full of quotes on a photographic background per slide is not a good presentation, just saying.

Check it

It’s ready so give it a swing. Go over it, maybe with a colleague or someone close to the topic, and see what you (and they) think about it. Did they see the point you were trying to make? Was it clear how you tried to build up to that? Did you feel comfortable with the story? Isn’t there anything missing or isn’t there too much you’re trying to say? The stage is a terrible place to figure out whether you made a good presentation or not, so make sure you got that checked before.

Another check that you need to perform is timing. I hate it when people don’t respect their timing, it’s a simple thing but a form of respect that you don’t abuse the slot that you were given for your presentation. Often people give presentations that aren’t specifically tailored to an audience nor a certain time slot and you can tell from the very first minute that that is the case. Don’t do it. If you want your story to come over right, you need to manage it within the time that you got. It’s different for everyone but I mostly count around 1.5 to 2 minutes per slide, which gives 15 to 20 slides max for a 30 minutes presentation (without title or exit slide)

Bonus check

Sometimes the organizer asks the audience to give feedback on the conference and when they do make sure you get the feedback on your presentation. You might learn something from it. And in case it’s a public event, check out Twitter after your talk as well. And don’t just look for kind words, but for what people tweeted about the presentation, see if are the key elements of the presentation, see if it are those things you wanted people to remember (and share).

Good luck.

Social Media Forum: Social Currency

Yesterday I did a talk at the Social Media Forum 2011 in Brussels. It’s a topic that I’m interested in since 2006 or so, the time Hugh MacLeod started talking about “social objects”. You’ll find out why when you keep on reading.

I started the presentation with a quote from Mark Twain I had found only a day earlier:

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born, and the day you find out why” (Mark Twain)

The reason for that was mainly that as usual in social media related conferences (or actually on many of the stuff that is written about it online as well) is around tactics, hardly ever about the reason why. One of the other speakers asked a question about whether you need to be active on social media or building your own web presence, I think he used the reference ‘fish where the fish are’ to reference social media. To stay in that analogy that is like saying you should either ‘fish where the fish are’ versus ‘making sure your fridge is at the best possible temperature’. In that idea the tactics we’re all focusing in so much is just the same as thinking about tricks to get the fish to hop in the fridge themselves… that’s a silly idea isn’t it?

Enough about fish already. When I think about Social Currency, I can only think of it as the most interesting thing possible in social. What do other have to say about it though? That’s what you can see on the first few slides. A lot of explanation etc, and I can only think NOPE (thank you Chuck Testa). Why do I think it’s more than that? There are 2 cases I used to prove my point.

First one: The Blue Monster. You can read about that on my blog as I’ve written about it several times before, it is that what I believe made Hugh start to talk about ‘social objects’. Explaining what it meant for him. He called it the hard currency of the internet:

“The interesting thing about the Social Object is the not the object itself, but the conversations that happen around them. The Blue Monster is a good example of this. It’s not the cartoon that’s interesting, it’s the conversations that happen around it that’s interesting.”

It was the Blue Monster that gave me, Steve and many other Microsoft colleagues a way into the tech community to talk about Microsoft and how we (as employees) were convinced something was changing on the inside. Only because people didn’t understand why we used the cartoon ourselves. The question to explain that created that window of opportunity.

A more recent example, the second one I used in my talk was the “Bikers” viral we made for Carlsberg 2-3 months ago. I haven’t talked about that video on my blog before, yet there’s a chance you have seen it – as did about 13 million people since launch. You have to see it first before I can further explain:


Apart from thinking it’s funny, what was the first idea on your mind? There’s a good chance it  was something in the lines of ‘would I have done that?’. Carlsberg launched their new baseline recently: That calls for a Carlsberg. And with that also a new proposition. It’s about a ‘reward for a daily act of courage’. And this was our (first) answer to that. Notice that you didn’t just talk about it, you probably discussed about it. It’s almost a social experiment.

That’s what Social Currency is about, a way to create value. That’s also why I think it’s a better word than object. And, it’s not just about talk value, but about discussion value. Make stuff worth discussing. If you keen on doing this, you build Social Capital. And that’s fundamentally much more interesting than learning about a few (ever changing) tactics first.

Hope you like that, feel free to comment. You can find the (small) presentation up on Slideshare:

Creativity World Forum 2011: Making ideas happen

The Creativity World Forum 2011 had to live up against high expectations. When the event was organized for the first time in 2008 (in Antwerp) Flanders DC showed all other conference & congress organizers in Belgium what the new benchmark would be. I really enjoyed the 2008 edition and thus was really looking forward to the event. This years program was a good start. With people like Jimmy Wales, Keith Sawyer, Malcolm Gladwell, Scott Belsky, Oliver Stone, … it’s clear that the €300 investment for a packed 2 days would be money well spent.

I think that this years event had an even clearer focus on creativity than the one 3 years ago. With in my opinion 2 big topics related to that: the first one being about ‘how to be creative’ and the second one (maybe biggest one) about ‘making ideas happen’. Often speakers would refer to the fact that coming up with ideas isn’t that difficult but choosing between ideas and making them happen is.

The first day started with failure. Jimmy Wales said “don’t tie your ego to a particular business” referring to the fact that he himself had failed several times before starting with Wikipedia. It’s also the main reason why he likes Silicon Valley so much, in his eyes it has the culture that supports failure – in Silicon Valley one who fails is still better than one that never tried. Peter Hinssen in his talk made similar references to failure, definitely a popular topic. Peter focused even more on speed however, that’s where his famous ‘good enough is great’ reference is coming from. In the context of speed and the examples he gave that makes sense to me, in all other context I find it rubbish (as you could read right here).

“If you freeze an idea too quickly, you fall in love with it. If you refine it too quickly, you become attached to it and it becomes very hard to keep exploring, to keep looking for better. The crudeness of the early models in particular is very deliberate.” (Jim Glymph of Gehry Partners)

It was Alexander Osterwalder – known for his book on Business Model Generation – that used this quote during his talk. I liked the idea of putting even more effort into prototyping, which he sees as having a conversation with an idea. I like that. Another element that helps being better at creativity is collaboration. That’s the main topic Keith Sawyer talked about, debunking again the myth of the Eureka moment from the lone genius. Creativity is a group effort, ideally a cross-group type collaboration effort. See also my presentation on Agile Planning where I talked about this as well. Last speaker of the first day Malcolm Gladwell. In a sense he talked about the opposite of Jimmy & Peter earlier that day. Why is it that we tend to reward creativity/innovation so much on being the first to do something? History has proven that it almost never is the first to come up with an idea to be the one to market it. In his opinion the innovation strikes hardest when the tweakers come in. Really interesting but although being the first is definitely not enough, this talk almost sounded like a plea to be the third in all that you do… I don’t think that’s supposed to be the truth. I did remind me of a quote Tom Kelley from IDEO used during the first Creativity World Forum:

“The real act of discovery consists not in finding new lands but in seeing with new eyes” (Marcel Proust)

Presentations linked to a book always tend to be hyper structured. I like that. Scott Belsky’s presentation was one of those clear and structured talks. Probably no coincidence that he sees structure as a key element in making ideas happen, next to collaboration and leadership. Interesting thought on that last topic by the way – silence the visionary. Anyway, I’m a fan, make sure you check out the man’s work. Good start of the day as well, later on there was Jamie Anderson who kinda confirmed what we had heard before and then Garr Reynolds came to talk about Presentation Zen. Good presentation as to be expected, but maybe just a bit too many quotes and also it was great to see him stick to the timing, but still weird for a presentation guru to have to skip like so many slides to make that happen.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind there are few.” (Shunryu Suzuki)

Probably the quote I liked most from all the ones Garr used in his talk. It is indeed of great importance to try and “unlearn what you have learned” as Yoda would say, to be really creative. How can you look at things in a really new way when your expertise makes it so that you automatically scope out what in your mind is not possible? You can’t.

Last but not least, final speaker of the 2 days, was Oliver Stone. He did a panel conversation with some Belgian movie director who’s name I’d happily forget, and I think we all just listened. Just think about all the movies this man has created, you can only respect that. One of the things he said that resonated most with me, something that I’ve been thinking about actively since then was the following question: “what’s the narrative of your life”? Something we should all ask ourselves from time to time. On being creative, Stone urged us all to think about the time we create for ourselves to be creative, because we’re not making enough time for it in general mostly because of the loads of distractions we have these days.

Key take aways from these 2 days:

How to be creative:

  • Create time – there’s no flash of insight, eureka moment but it’s more like an emergence of time. So create that time needed.
  • Prototype – have that conversation with an idea
  • Collaborate – get people together, cross-group preferably and share ideas liberally

Making ideas happen:

  • Choose between ideas – it’s more important to realize a few ideas, than to have created many
  • Organize yourself – creativity x organization = impact (dixit Scott Belsky)
  • Progress begets progress – show progress, surround yourself with it as it’s important to keep going that you see the results during the process
  • Share ownership of ideas

Make change happen:

  • The flip, the shift, … – it doesn’t really matter what you call it, when change really happens, it happens big time. This means that is impossible to stick with the things you know if you want real change to happen.

Thanks again Flanders DC and everyone involved for making this event happen. See you again in 3 years.

Stratégies Gagnantes: Agile Planning

About a week ago I did a presentation at an event in Charleroi called “Stratégies Gagnantes” (which means as much as ‘Winning Strategies’) together with other speakers such as Michael Cawly (COO Ryanair), Nathalie Klein (Director Consumer Insights Coca-Cola), …I was asked to present about what I thought would contribute most towards winning strategies from a marketing point of view. This based on my experience in digital and specifically as Head of Digital at Duval Guillaume Modem, the agency I work for in Antwerp.

The topic I chose to talk about was ‘agile’, more specifically ‘agile planning’. We all know by now the world is changing, and it’s changing fast. So I didn’t want to go in to much about that, but instead focus on how we need to rethink the way we plan to cope with a situation that is always ‘in motion’. It was an easy choice to make since I’ve been fascinated about agile and about how we should use this thinking (that originates from the agile software development) into our business, into the way we think about planning for the future. Neil Perkin has written quite a few good posts about ‘agile thinking’ as key for anybody who wants to be more future proof. I’ve used some of his thoughts in this presentation.

In the presentation bring forward 4 ideas that need to be considered when thinking about introducing agile planning to your organisation:

  1. Ideas from anywhere: get out of the organization silos – idea generation happens best when people across all business lines get together
  2. Plan for the unknown: imagine what would be possible instead of solely relying on what you can deduct from past experience
  3. Measure to improve: instead of measure to report – make sure you get the learnings when you can still adapt
  4. Budget for change: make sure there’s time and money to make the change happen

Let me know what you think.