March 27, 2014
FESPA World Summit 2014
Chances and Challenges of Change
Note: This is the script for a speech at the FESPA World Summit 2014 in Munich. It was directed at top executives of the print industry – but due to the nature of the subject, it will be interesting for other audiences as well.
For 20 years, I have been working for international advertising agencies like Ogilvy, Leo Burnett, and McCann. About half of those 20 years, I was working in management positions.
During these years, I have seen lots of things change. When I started, there was no internet. We were sitting in front of monochrome monitors, working with MS-DOS, and none of the art directors had a Mac. They didn’t have any kind of computer.
Like I said – really lots of changes. But what I have never actually witnessed in any of these companies was something that could rightfully be called a change initiative, or a change project. Not even in the most extreme cases.
We bought other companies – no change management. We lost big clients and plenty of people – no change management. Even when we successfully turned around pretty big agency offices, it wasn’t actually treated like a proper change project.
It made me think. Why is that? And I have come to the conclusion that there aren’t really many people around that truly understand change, and how to deal with it. It’s such a basic word, such a common thing, and we don’t need a definition of it, we all know what it is. But do we really?
What Is Change?
It’s not that easy. Yes, we know, if something is one way one day, and different another day, something has changed. And we can all say smart things about it, like change being the only constant in life, and things like that.
Most of these expressions reflect how we look at change quite well. A change is gonna come. Change is something that is inevitable. An outside force, something we can’t control, almost like the weather.
And it’s true. It’s a force of nature, in a way. But that’s not all, of course. Because we know – we all can change the world. Or at least part of it. There is that feeling of self-efficacy. As much as we all are forced to live with change – we’re also very much capable of changing just about anything we want to change.
Inside and outside
So there are two kinds of change. The change that comes and the change we bring about. We learned a lot of smart things in business school, but one of the smartest was this: If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is in sight.
Both forms of change are related to each other, of course – but not necessarily in a way that we need to react to the change coming from the outside with the change we bring about on the inside. We need to be quicker than that – and actually change on the inside before the change that comes from the outside actually affects us. So if we manage change well, both kinds of change are good.
And if it’s not good?
Now – we sometimes find ourselves in situations where change seems to be something really bad. Like for example when a new technology is giving us a hard time, maybe even threatening to put us out of business completely. Like for example the digital revolution.
But if we look at the subject closely and honestly, we will have to admit a few things. First of all: This didn’t happen overnight. As quickly as the world may be changing – the idea that the digital revolution might be changing the game for a lot of industries has always been pretty obvious.
Secondly: The digital revolution has opened up millions of business opportunities, and it still does, for everyone, including advertising, including printing – absolutely everyone can benefit from it.
So how come the changes of the digital era have turned into a problem for some people? We’ve heard it a moment ago. Because in those cases the rate of change on the inside must have been slower than that on the outside.
What do we do?
The question, obviously, is – well, how do we change? Sticking with the subject of the digital revolution, and looking at positive examples it is quickly obvious that some people have already taken advantage of it.
You will find examples in every single industry. Automotive: The first car manufacturers are teaming up with Google and Apple to get an advantage over competitors. Advertising: Some agencies have started to change their organizations as much as 15 years ago – and deliver a seamlessly integrated product today. And yes, of course, there are people in the printing business who are taking advantage of the new possibilities that have come up over the last decade or so.
What you really need: Honesty
There are two things you can’t do without if you want to manage change. Number 1: Honesty. Primarily regarding yourself and your company. It’s really hard. You’re proud of what you are doing, proud of what you have achieved, and we all know how it is – you like to see things in a positive light. We all do.
You can’t change anything if you are not able to analyze your current position honestly and objectively. Sometimes it’s very easy. On my last assignment, we had almost no senior management left, the agency had no digital strategy whatsoever, and no visible digital product, it had a structure that didn’t represent the size of the organization and didn’t give it a chance to answer the needs of the market. Sounds like a nightmare? Not if you have been sent in to change things.
It’s a lot more tricky if the need for change isn’t as dramatically obvious. It’s up to you to be honest to yourself, and to ask yourself: Do you have the right people? Do we have the right structure? Are we investing in the right technologies? Am I still the right guy to run this company? Are we still producing the right products? Are we selling our product the right way? Don’t paint it black, but don’t fool yourself either.
What need even more: Creativity
Crucial point number 2: Creativity. I really don’t know any industry that hasn’t been under intense pressure over the last two decades. Rounds and rounds of cost cutting, endless restructuring processes, and plenty of efficiency initiatives have been run. It is very exhausting. Today, we are working more and harder than ever, and we have become incredibly efficient.
Did that ease the pressure? Did that help us be more relaxed regarding our competitors? Of course not. It’s like the race between the rabbit and the hedgehog. Can’t be won. And for a lot of companies this has led to a situation where motivation is low and sinking, workload high and rising – with negative effects on corporate culture.
My answer, clearly, is to start getting creative about solving business challenges. You don’t want to run the efficiency race, the cost cutting race, the price slashing race – it’s a killer. To a certain extent you will probably have to, but you need to do more. Get creative. Open your mind. Creativity isn’t just something that goes into your products, it should be something that is part of every aspect of your business.
You can find inspiration everywhere – new ways of doing things, of looking at things, of managing things. Simply because everyone is basically facing the same challenges you are. One of the most interesting definitions of creativity, or of an idea, is “making connections between or among concepts that the thinker previously saw as separate and unrelated.”
So look, learn, and apply. Other industries are doing things differently – and often in ways that can help you at least take a critical look at how things are done in your company.
Example #1: Think about structure
Look at how the most creative companies in the world are structured, how they are organized. You will see that they look at structure in a very different way, and I bet there is something in there that can help improve how you work. Most companies that struggle with change have very rigid and hierarchical structures. There is a good chance that less formal structures could help, and that project based teams can solve problems better than fixed teams.
Example #2: Think about workflow
Take a really good look at how projects are managed in your company – and how other industries handle it. It’s really hard to get people to learn and apply a new way of organizing workflows, and it needs training, but it can make a huge difference. Look at Agile Project Management as an alternative. Yes, it’s a method that is applied in design agencies and in software development, but it is clearly not limited to it. People who work with Agile almost always say that they achieve better results in a more structured way and with much better use of the time that is available.
Example #3: Think about innovation
Almost every company is convinced that they are innovators, but the least of them are. Again, be honest about it. Understand that it takes more than just the will to innovate. You can’t just tell your employees to start inventing things. Innovation needs to be understood, and people need to know methods of innovation. Yes, do create an innovation spirit, but support it with innovation knowledge. Choose your most creative minds, teach them, create a skunkworks.
Example #4: Think about workspace
Even in industries that are centered around creativity, the workspace rarely is designed to inspire and to interact. Most of the time, even the meeting zones are terribly uninspiring, and they usually can’t be accessed for group work. You don’t even have to look at Google or Facebook to understand how companies enable creativity, new ideas, group dynamics. At Bloomberg for example, there are dozens of social zones where people meet, have a free snack, enjoy a free soda or juice, and talk about projects. It’s not a small investment, but it clearly pays off for them. Interaction creates opportunities.
Example #5: Think about technology
Even if you are working in a high tech industry like large format printing, it pays to try and find new ways of looking at it. Sure, it pays to invest in machines and systems that are designed to save time, money, resources, that are designed to give you the chance to produce something that others can’t deliver. But it doesn’t help so much if everybody else buys them too. Develop your own opinion and path regarding technology. Sometimes even looking back helps. If everybody is going digital, it might pay off to look the other way. Try to find a good letter press printer in Germany, for example. Difficult.
Example #6: Think about finance
Yes, finance and creativity. Not creative accounting, no – but it might pay off to look at finance critically and analyze if the way you are handling finance is actually helping your business – or if it is creating obstacles. Apple for example – it is fair to say that one of the reasons why they are creating better products than other companies is because they just have one bottom line, and not a dozen. No silos. No conflicting interests. If your company consists of several corporate entities, chances are that this is keeping you from getting better results.
Example #7: Human resources
Actually most of the six previous points automatically lead to changes in and around human resources. Which obviously is only possible if HR is a valuable part of your organization – and in a lot of companies it simply isn’t. A lot of companies rely on employees suggesting newhires – leading to organizations that are made up of homogenous circles of friends. This may result in a good atmosphere to work in, but usually not in a work force that is able to tackle a wide variety of challenges. Nothing is as dangerous as homogeneity in your work force. Your business is complex, no matter what your business may be – and you need a good variety of talents and characters to handle it.
And strategy? My advice would be to not get too complicated about it. Stick to the simple equation of defining where you are now, defining where you want to be in two, three years, and defining what it takes to get there. But do it thoroughly, with a good deal of research, analysis, and honesty.
And be sure to understand change management. If you don’t know John Kotter’s eight step change process yet, make sure you and your most important managers do. There are a million things you can do wrong in change projects, and most of your competitors will. It’s a big opportunity.
March 17, 2014
In a world loaded with too much information and characterized by remarkable changes in technology, communication, and, mainly, mindset, some things (must) remain constant so that we can realize what has been altered. Nature shows us a great example of that: it is known that in spring, everything flourishes. However, despite this undeniable truth, flowers always grow differently.
Even though the speed at which the world is currently changing and digitalization have created the digital-ego phenomenon, fragmented communication, and commodified knowledge, there are also trends showing that frugality, radical collaboration, and emerging generosity are already increasing empathy levels among people and businesses.
Speaking of permanence and change, the British Royal Family is a great example of a brand that has learned to balance tradition and modernity over time. In her 2013 annual speech, Queen Elizabeth stated, “everybody needs to get the balance right between action and reflection,” in a message that highlighted the importance of introspection, pause, and meditation to connect more deeply with our challenges, with our selves, and with others.
By researching business transformation and doing a self-change experiment last year, I realized how obsolete the rat race model has become to my life and career. Thus, I started to reflect on the opposite pole of having an eventful and demanding life. Things started to move—or to stay still—when I gave away my corporate BlackBerry and spent several months traveling without a phone, exercising, as a result, the art of presence. During this process, it became clear that changing one’s relationship with time is the most important thing that should be done for the other changes to occur.
For instance, the speed of information and the amount of pressure that corporations are facing also lead CEOs—who should be focused on shaping a vision for the future—to this rat race. During my research, I interviewed a very powerful leader who told me that, most of the time, he feels like he is being squeezed in the middle of an hourglass, responding to the demands of investors, employees, and stakeholders alike. Considering that this statement may reflect a broader reality, there is one question left to be answered: who will then, in a productivity-obsessed age, handle the future as it emerges?
As John Cleese once said, it is easier to do trivial things that are urgent than it is to do important things that are not urgent, like thinking. A longer moment of pause and reflection should be valued as the greatest opportunity of finding quality of attention and intention, and mainly accessing one’s sources of knowing and sensing. In other words, to look inside or to contemplate should be regarded as real lucidity, what is needed to lead one’s life and business creatively.
So, after acknowledging that life is not a race and that we are not rats, why are we still obsessed about being forever doers instead of having a more reflective attitude?
Let’s not forget: waking up is an act of courage.
Just think—very slowly—about it.Patricia Cotton Marketing executive & Co-founder Upside Down Experience
February 16, 2014
People talk. More than ever. We have reached an era in which people redistribute other people’s thinking and build their reputation on it. Flow-heaters are called influencers now. They are running around saying super smart things like “Make is the new think” – and make nothing. It’s like talk is the new make.
Not that there is a way to underestimate the value of inspiration. But I keep wondering how much of that inspiration is actually turned into action. So when I decided to write something like a call for action, the title of a Frank Zappa album came to mind. “Shut Up And Play Your Guitar”. Zappa was always very creative when it came to album titles, and you can almost see where this one came from – auditions with guitar players who would just talk about their approach to the instrument rather than showing what they can do with it.
In advertising – and I am sure this will apply to almost any other industry – we are even worse. We sometimes don’t even bring our guitar. We just sit there, all agitated and willing, and throw around a whole lot of “we should”. Like in “we should invite inspiring people to come to our agency and learn from them.” Or in “we should think about structure, reduce rigidity, form teams based solely on project requirements.”
Sure – change is a lot harder than people think. Simply deciding to change something and expecting different results automatically is a great way to make sure that no one will ever attempt to change anything after that. Resistance to change, and the tendency of even the good-willed people to fall back into old patterns are forces that are extremely hard to overcome.
Whiteboards and foosball
As well the inability to apply. We tear off all those posters from a big wall in the agency, put up a board, and tell everyone that they will fill it with great ideas, projects, inventions. What happens? Nothing. A few juniors will put up print ad ideas, and a few seniors will look at them with scepticism. The board turns into a new place to play the same old game.
We create playgrounds, put up playstations, x-boxes, foosball tables, funky sofas and other loungy furniture. And then we’re waiting for the miraculous burst of creativity that is going to result from all of this. In the end, some of the work time is turned into game time, and as a consequence some of the free time is turned into work time. No. Increased amounts of time spent ego-shooting your way through Siberia do not pave the way to Cannes.
So even if we bring the guitar, we don’t get far beyond strumming along the old “Smoke On The Water” riff and maybe pumping a fist or two. And we don’t see that while we are calling ourselves creative agencies, we’re often just profit generating machines with a creative zoo attached.
Obviously, there are ways to do it better. Simply by understanding creativity, by respecting it, and by making sure that it has a chance to do its magic. One thing is painfully visible every day: If we don’t let creativity be the heart of our organization, its products will also not be creative.
So what does it take?
Creativity comes from loving something, and love is fragile. Creativity needs the right ecosystem. It needs commitment, trust, openness. And if you really take a look at your own organization and be truly honest about it – you probably don’t find much of that. Yes, we do have these great PowerPoint presentations that proclaim that creativity is at the heart of the organization – but that’s usually where the story ends already.
Actually, most of the time we are unable to truly work on it – especially in multinational organizations. Regional management just about has the right to proclaim and voice demand – but normally not the power to act upon it. Try to tell a local CEO how to hire and fire – he won’t be happy, and usually doesn’t follow suit. And as long as he comes up with the bottom line he is supposed to deliver, he’s pretty safe too.
We keep looking at the amazing story of Apple, we marvel at their creativity, their superior design, their incredible ability to come up with products that the consumers didn’t know they wanted badly. What’s the magic? We’ve read it a thousand times. It’s commitment to creativity, and putting all resources together to work as one team. And we have also read it: At Apple, there is just one bottom line, just one P&L.
Does anyone apply? Not really. Especially not in advertising. Most of our global networks have separate corporate entities for advertising, digital, media, PR, event, etc. We behave like Sony did when they had the huge opportunity to come up with an iTunes kind of product before Apple did. They failed. The reason: Separate divisions with separate P&Ls and separate interests. Does that ring a bell?
And no, we don’t really trust creativity. We trust the numbers. We deliver money, not greatness. And how many people have said it: Let’s come up with great ideas, the money will follow. The only ones that have proclaimed this and are still in business are the ones that never meant it.
Space and joy
Creativity needs the right environment, it needs space. I don’t know how many office buildings I have visited that simply don’t offer any space for people that want to sit together and dig for greatness. It’s mindblowing. And even if there are spaces, they are connected to endless bureaucracy. Come back later, your ideas have to wait.
Without joy, without happiness, without playing around, there is no creativity. If you don’t have space, you can’t play. If you have to fear the consequences of saying something stupid, you can’t talk about ideas. If you don’t have the freedom to explore, to be stupid, to be outrageous, to think the unthinkable, you will always be stuck with the ordinary.
Do they really know?
Another thing we think and claim to have learned from Apple is that it doesn’t help to ask the consumers what they want. It doesn’t help to walk around and do tons of market research, trying to minimize the risk of doing something. It leads directly to mediocrity. And no, it’s not really Steve Jobs that taught us this. Henry Ford was just as smart plenty of decades earlier when he said that if he had asked the people what they wanted, they would have said “faster horses.”
It’s not new. But again, we don’t apply. We don’t trust our instincts, we suppress gut feeling, we kill intuition. We have unlearned to use everything we know, everything we have learned, and connect it with what we feel is right – and then make a decision. We still think that if we do that we are taking a monstrous risk, and instead ask the only people that are guaranteed to NOT have the right answer – and then put our money on that.
Risk aversion is risky
That’s why our organizations are full of people who don’t do anything great, but also don’t really fuck up on anything. Risk averse, defensive, bottom line improving tight people. Creative people can’t manage, they say, they are unreasonable, don’t know anything about business. And then they go back to their computers and add “creative thinking” to their impressive list of abilities on LinkedIn, and boldly twitter stuff like “fail harder”.
And as much as this may sound like something illogical – creativity needs process, and structure. But usually not the kind of structure that is implemented. If we look at the most creative organizations on this planet, we can clearly see that their way of working, their process, their structure, their approach to project responsibility and accountability has nothing to do with the way other organizations are set up, including advertising agencies.
And what can be done?
Obviously, you can’t turn an organization around to incorporate all of these aspects just like that. After all – you also need the right people to do this. It takes years to build a creative organization, or to transform one to be creative.
Actually, it’s really easy to come up with a lot of “But” on every single aspect. There are always reasons why things are difficult, why people think they can’t be done. There are endless numbers of people who will happily block every change initiative that moves an organization towards a more creative culture.
Still, no organization will be able to think, decide, and implement on any of these points without difficulties. The answer to facing these difficulties is simple: Be creative. Finding ways to change things in your company is clearly the very first test of the creative abilities of that organization.
Step by step
Don’t tackle them all at once. Define change projects, read your John P. Kotter, and get going. You can’t turn your six P&Ls into one? Well, that’s just the way it is. The question is – what can you do to minimize the adverse effects this has on the creative powers in your company. Can you find a way to work around them? Look at process, structure, reporting lines, personnel. There is a solution. For sure.
You would love to create more space for your people, but you can’t, because your headquarter would kill you for exceeding the square meters per employee limit? Again – there will be an alternative to renting additional space.
One thing you won’t be able to simply improve with a change project is your corporate culture. You can’t build trust, accountability, passion, and loyalty with change management. But you don’t have to. If you work your way towards an organization that supports creativity, you will alter your corporate culture as a consequence of it. Much of that transformation is a direct result of simply deciding to take that direction.
After years of cutting cost and personnel, and endless projects that increased efficiency, creativity is one of the few areas that will give an organization a chance to compete successfully, and leave the competition behind.
There is no alternative to being a lot more creative in the future – on all levels of your organization. And don’t tell anyone you can’t. Because you can. For sure. So shut up and play your guitar. Play it well.Folker WrageFounder, OwnerWrage/AntwortZurich, Switzerland.follow me on twitter: @FolkerWrage
February 1, 2014
I’m involved in a research study in conjunction with the IPA and the UK and the Berlin School of Creative Leadership exploring the role and importance of personality in the careers of those working in the creative industries.
If you work in a creative agency of some sort, it’d be brilliant if you could take 10 minutes to complete the attached survey, and even more brilliant if you could circulate the link to any agency pals and colleagues, so we can build up as robust a sample possible.
January 7, 2014
What Do Successful People Have In Common? They all have 24 hours a day.
They know how to get the best or the most out of the 24 hours they have each day. They simply learn how to focus and set priorities and are fast enough to envisage a world, which is unrecognized by many others even though it is right in front of them. Others tend not to see the forest from the trees and believe it is easier to think that the glass is rather half empty than half full anyway.
It is interesting how we study almost lifelong but we hardly study how to effectively study. We are being taught about almost anything and everything but hardly ever taken any lectures about how to learn, yet effectiveness plays an important indicator in our later years for getting successful.
It’s common to evaluate success in many different ways and question the measurement of success, but for some reason, we never question the ability to ever becoming successful. It is like success was an ultimate source of fulfillment we are coded to reach. Yet, so many times when believed to be successful, the fulfillment lacked big time. I could not help but wonder about the overall roadmap to success. Do I really need one? Do I really need to care? Or shall I just focus on fulfillment, which will then be followed by success? What if we could change the overall perception and change the definition of success , which currently is: “the achievement of something desired, aimed or attempted. The accomplishment of a purpose”? Many successful role models often share their real success stories to shed some light on their experiences and inspire others. We often learn that their real goal or desire, in the first place, never had anything to do with being ultimately successful. Their aim or desire was not even pre-defined. Success was a by-product of what they passionately did, anyway. This is where I have a so-called Aha moment. So if I don’t focus on success at all and just let my intrinsic motivation, my drive for fulfillment, and my quest to achieve my real goal in life lead the way, then success will certainly follow. This is simply because the measurement of success will be my choice and not the choice of others.
If I go back to my original topic of having 24 hours a day, then how am I supposed to know if I am doing enough that day when success will follow at a later stage? However, was not success supposed to be a lifelong journey anyway or is it another urban myth to calm not so successful people down so they feel happier about themselves not really reaching their ultimate goal. If success is important, how come we do not really find it as a curriculum yet we are being measured by it? Can I have access to success, or can I have access to a checklist of success, or at least a timetable to evaluate whether it is worth spending all the energy on becoming successful or is it to bias? These are rhetorical questions anyway. The point is, I strongly believe, to think about it in many ways which helps to clarify and understand at least the essence of success if not the concept of it. Surely, there are many others contemplating about it and I needed to articulate it out loud, which I successfully just did. So what is your version of success? According to Malcolm Gladwell: “Success is a function of persistence and doggedness and the willingness to work hard for twenty-two minutes to make sense of something that most people would give up on after thirty seconds.”
Just think about it!