Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Creativity Gone Sour: Motrin, Mothers, and Twitter

Over the weekend I was monitoring Twitter friends and was surprised to discover a bit of a dust up with regard to the Motrin brand. Motrin, it appears, had put up an ad suggesting that mothers who wear those slings to carry their babies are slaves to fashion, and that it hurts their backs. Depending on how you interpret the ad it can also be perceived as calling mothers “tired and crazy”. It also subtly suggests that the sling is not really as much of a bonding experience as it’s purported to be. One would guess the original intention of the ad would be to suggest that Motrin is the answer to all the neck, back, and shoulder pain a mom would would get from using a sling. It was also intended to be a “viral video”. It was! And it was Not Good! A virtual firestorm of negative reaction went aflame on the web.

Motrin, to put it mildly, has really stepped in it (McNeil Consumer Healthcare owns the Motrin brand, McNeil is a division of Johnson & Johnson). Rumor has it that Amy Gates (aka “@crunchygoddess on Twitter) learned about it on Facebook, who told Jessica Gottleib (aka JessicaGottlieb) who took it to Twitter and tweeted — to a huge community of mothers, bloggers, and knucklehead social observers like myself. Then Katja Presnal (aka @KatjaPresnal) created a response video for YouTube. 20 hours later the Motrin brand website is offline…

From a creativity and innovation perspective there are two points about this event I’d like to make.

1. Creativity isn’t useful or innovative unless it solves a problem. Creativity in a vacuum by some ad executive — who think they know the market — can be worse than useless, it can be damaging. We’ve all seen some visually interesting ads and at the end of it said, that was cool — what brand was it? The Motrin ad goes a step further, it’s creative thinking that actually harms a brand. One of the rules of structured creative problem solving is that you really understand the problem. Clearly, those who developed this ad don’t understand the role of slings, and the emotional connection mothers have to them. Now, it may be that slings do indeed cause some pain. Good research might have uncovered this insight. However, that insight alone, even if true, is not quite enough. In good creative problem solving you would not only understand the basic problem, you’d make sure that whatever you create as a solution works for the problem owner, the target in marketing terms. Mom’s clearly were offended by the ad’s tone, assumptions, and suggestions. Motrin aimed for empathy and simply missed the target. With web technologies, like Twitter and other tools, lack of funding is no excuse for not market testing. It’s incredibly easy to show a spot to a panel via the web. Why they didn’t do this is a mystery (or if they did how they missed the negative response). Traditional focus groups would have worked for this testing — if properly designed. I don’t agree with Peter Shankman, a social media guru, on this (his post on this event is otherwise brilliant IMHO). A series of focus groups might have “iterated” the spot and found language that was truly empathetic (or not, the concept may have been unsalvagable). What Peter and I can agree on is web tools like Twitter would have quickly given creators much needed consumer feedback on their ad concept. There is something to be said for the wisdom of crowds in the social media universe.

2. Social Media are Power Tools for creative and innovative self expression. Social Media is coming of age in a fast and furious way. They are powerful and can work for you, or against you. Yes, this might seem obvious, but I believe there is a vast universe of people who are missing the social media boat. I’m personally a Greggey-come-lately to social media. I’ve been on Facebook, Plaxo, and Linked-In for sometime but for the most part have found them to be a waste of time. Don the Idea Guy got me involved with Twitter and I thought, at first, it was completely silly — who would care to know “what I’m doing right now”? Why “micro blog” when you can macro blog or email? I didn’t get it, but am beginning to see the light. The lightning speed at which an organized response to the Motrin ad was put together was amazing, and it can be directly attributed to Twitter. An alert was messaged “tweeted” out and before one could blink there was a video on YouTube with all the outraged responses (nicely done and oh-so-timely by Katja Presnal). Last night it was still possible to see the original ad on the Motrin site, today I can only find it on YouTube. In fact the Motrin brand web page itself has been taken down, I suspect, for re-tooling in light of this marketing fiasco. From ad release to brand web site shutdown — less than 20 hours. Lesson here: be careful with power tools!

It will be interesting to see how Motrin responds to this. How they respond will be make or break for the brand. For more on this story see Fast Company’s take.

For more very short snippets of creativity and innovation news and views, follow me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/greggfraley

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Reality Check, Simply Not Bull Shitake

I’ve been reading, or I should say digesting, Guy Kawasaki’s new book, Reality Check, the Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition. I’d suggest a deep red wine while reading, something to complement a meaty book, perhaps a Cotes du Rhone. It’s a book destined to become a classic vintage, a book about being an entrepreneur, written by an entrepreneur, for entrepreneurs. Its content is the nitty-gritty detail of what it takes to make a start up happen and work. It’s practical, it’s concise, it covers a lot of bases, and yeah, it’s irreverent. I think irreverent is true, but more accurately, the advice it gives is often not the classic BS (“Bull Shitake,” Guy’s term) you might hear at a business school. It’s not just irreverent, I’d say unconventional and out-of-the-box in a real life and helpful way. If you are even thinking of starting up a company, this isn’t just required reading — it’s required eating. Reality Check communicates a passion for the art of the start up; it’s compelling. As I said, you really need to digest this book not read it, so, get out the steak knives, Reality Check is medium rare, with a generous sauce of uncommon insight.

Reality Check is a guide for start up innovation. It’s targeting the nascent Steve Jobs or Guy Kawasaki’s out there more than a corporate brand manager, or Chief Innovation Officer. Another recent book on innovation, The Innovators Guide to Growth (IGTG) looks at innovation through a more corporate and academic lens. Reality Check is through the lens of the experienced serial entrepreneur. That said, Reality Check is exactly what a corporate brand manager needs to begin eating in order to acquire the stomach of a bona fide entrepreneur. If you are a corporate innovator, this is a helpful book to learn how to grow the intestinal fortitude to beat your competition to the innovative punch.

Getting into the meat of this book, let me just say that it’s darn comprehensive. It takes you through sections on planning, fund raising, innovating, marketing, selling, communicating, competing, hiring, firing, and even “beguiling”. Each chapter breaks a topic down quickly and pragmatically, no bull shitake. It does so with a nice dash of acerbic real-life humor, and with concrete real-world examples. What’s nice is if you don’t want to read all 461 pages, you can pick it up and read the great advice it gives for say, press releases (“DIY PR”). I was particularly enamored with the chapter on writing business plans (The Art of Executive Summary). It confirms what I always felt – investors only read the executive summary, and it doesn’t need to be 80 pages long; that summary though – it had better be kick ass. It ends with a visionary section that at times brought tears to my eyes. I’m heartened that he does a bit of “entrepreneur as idealist” philosophy throughout; it elevates this book from a “how to” to a “how to be.” Reality Check goes some distance towards eliminating the myth that the essential motivation of an entrepreneur is greed.

I’ve been part of three start ups in my checkered career, and I’ll tell you this, I wish like hell I’d had this book before I made my bones on those three ventures. I did alright, I’ve lived to write this review, but one of my most heart rending failures might have been prevented if I’d had this practical, pragmatic, insightful book in hand. Entrepreneurs and business leaders, you’d be well served to have this book for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Bon appetite – and that’s no bull shitake.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Creative Life of Studs Terkel, Three Things

I can’t let the moment go by without saying something about the recent death of Studs Terkel. Studs was 96 years young when he died October 31, 2008. I have one degree of separation from Studs — I have Chicago friends who actually know him. I’ve heard him speak, only a few years ago when he was “only” 91. His lunch keynote at the QRCA conference was as lively and relevant as any speaker you could wish for. If you are unaware of this man, read his bio here. I have a few comments to make about him related to creativity and innovation. Briefly, Studs was an award winning writer, broadcaster, actor, and a civil rights/civil liberties activist. He interviewed the likes of Muhammad Ali, Janis Joplin, and Martin Luther King.

What can we learn about creativity from Studs?

Be who you are: Studs was about as liberal as you can get and he made no bones about it. He was self-expressed on the radio and in writing and he did it his way. He did this in spite of being blacklisted during the McCarthy era — but he refused to be shut down. Don’t suppress the essence of who you are even if it’s very different, even if you are punished for it, it’s where your personal creativity lives. It also might be a great way to live a very long and interesting life!

Quantity matters: Studs would not be famous if he hadn’t done so much. His life is a record of creative persistence and productivity. Thousands of interviews, quite a few books, thousands of radio and TV broadcasts. If you look at any one thing he’s not that exceptional. If you look at his whole creative life you can’t help but be impressed. His most important work happened after he was 70 years old. Lesson: whatever your creative product is, produce a lot of it.

History provides perspective: One of the things about Studs that was impressive was that he simply knew things — a lot of things. His knowledge of historical events was no doubt enhanced by all the people in the news he interviewed and his own involvement. I heard him speak of the short memory of American’s who wanted to get rid of government programs. He gently reminded some young people that their parents and grandparents were rescued by programs like the WPA and the CCC during the great depression. If you want to be more creative, whatever it is you do, know the history because it informs the context of the present. Studs said this: “I’ve always felt, in all my books, that there’s a deep decency in the American people and a native intelligence—providing they have the facts, providing they have the information.” Amen brother. If you haven’t read any books by Studs, pick up Hard Times.

Keep your chin up: Studs was an optimist, always. Even after breaking his hip a few months ago he could joke about it, he said, “I was walking downstairs carrying a drink in one hand and a book in the other. Don’t try that after ninety.” He wrote books in order to bring hope into people’s hearts, and he did. He often ended his radio show by saying “take it easy, but take it.” Advice worth taking, thanks for all you did Studs.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Revisiting the Creativity & Innovation of The Beatles

I just returned from spending a couple days in Liverpool, the city of The Beatles. I stayed at the new Hard Days Night Hotel, sleeping below a huge air-brushed portrait of George Harrison. I’ll write more about the hotel, it was, to use a 60’s phrase, a trip. In the meantime, I have a lot of things to say about The Beatles, and their relationship to creativity and innovation. I spent an afternoon at The Beatles Story museum at Albert Dock, which had a great audio tour and memorabilia.

The anecdote that struck me was one told by their producer, George Martin. He recounted hearing the first tape of The Beatles and thinking it was awful. Brian Epstein, their manager, was insistent and George finally said, well, come down to London and let me evaluate them in person. He booked an hour of studio time but had low expectations. They arrived, were pleasant, polite, funny, and played with a lot of verve and energy. After they left Martin remarked to himself how charming and nice the boys had been, how much fun they had playing, and their “wit”. He noticed that after they were gone that he felt “diminished” by their absence. He noted to himself that if he felt this way, what might young people feel? That was the feeling he went with when he signed The Beatles. He remarked that he didn’t know at the time that The Beatles had been turned down by every record label in London, and if he had known, he wouldn’t have signed them.

There are several things about this anecdote that strike me for those seeking to innovate.

1.) Notice how you feel. Martin was self-aware enough to notice that he felt “diminished” by their absence. That was his clue to understanding how they affected their audiences. It takes real thoughtfulness to notice a subtle feeling like “diminished” doesn’t it? How many of us slow down often enough to notice what we are feeling about people and things? He was also impressed by their wit — their sense of fun was part of the reason he thought they had promise. Intuition

2.) New and different almost always seems wrong at first. The Beatles had a new take on pop and at first nobody, that is the experts, got it (one famous comment about The Beatles “guitar groups are on the way out”). They were ruled out by nearly all the experts. Martin was open enough to simply give them a chance and consider what was good about them. Positive evaluation allows for more possibility. Most disruptive innovations lack sophistication in some dimensions; they haven’t been all polished up and featured out. The raw chords of American R&B hadn’t been filtered and refined, it didn’t sound like “good” music to those used to something else.

3.) Persistence matters. Brian Epstein kept making his presentation, he believed in what he had and stayed after it. Most of us would have quit after the first two or three rejections.

4. Consumers know best. The fan base in Liverpool at the Cavern Club and the Casbah knew The Beatles were great two years before the experts did. They were ready for something new, ready for something fun, ready for something to lift their Liverpudlian blues. It’s old news really but it’s a lesson we often forget, consumers know best. If you want to innovate, see what people are doing, particularly those with noting to lose. Notice what those people enjoy, and you’ll find the best clues to market acceptance of virtually any product.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Fox “News” Getting Creative to Support John McCain

Sarah Palin took pains recently to point out, once again, that Barack Obama has a passing acquaintance with 60’s radical William Ayers. Apparently she does read the newspaper after all – she’s quoting the recent New York Times article. Actually, she says he “palling around with terrorists.” Fox “News”, in an effort to whip up something new and interesting to try to turn around the current polling trends, is paying non-stop homage to the attack. I’ve been watching Fox for about three hours and they are repeatedly bringing up the video of Sarah, posing questions to their audience, running the ticker under the screen, and bringing in experts from both sides (to be “fair and balanced”) to comment. It’s absolutely non-stop.

What’s not “fair and balanced” is covering this as if it were news. I thought news was, well, like something new. I have to give Fox credit for creativity. By making this the big news of the hour/day/next week, they reframe the election as a referendum on Barak Obama’s character (and neighbors!). It’s a very creative move — if the challenge at hand is too daunting, change the challenge.

The Ayers connection is an old chesnut. Sean Hannity has been playing it up (read sensationalizing) for months, maybe even over a year. Even Hannity with his radio and TV bully pulpits hasn’t really been able to make this guilt-by-association charge stick. Interested readers should read the Times article and learn that while Ayers and Obama have crossed paths, serving on charity boards together, they are not close (if you live in Hyde Park Chicago it’s hard not to cross paths with Ayers, he’s very involved). Nor does Obama support or believe in anything even close to the old radical Weather Underground philosophy. Obama has always chosen a different path – a community organizer is the opposite of a Weatherman radical; one tried to destroy the other creates. Obama’s record as a public servant is a long one. If character is really an issue let’s look at how he chose to not take a big paying downtown job to help people.

If we’re concerned with who a person pals around with, what about McCain and Charlie Keating? For those who don’t recall McCain was very involved in supporting and protecting the man who precipitated the late 80’s Savings and Loan crisis. 21,000 people lost their life savings when Lincoln Savings failed. He took some big contributions from Keating; they were “pals” in a way Ayers and Obama aren’t even close to being. I can’t think of a better example of bad judgment. Uh oh, I went swimming once at Keating’s house in Cincinnati! I guess that makes me a pal of a felon!

It’s a desperate move on the part of the McCain campaign to try to make Ayers and character an issue. Fox is doing their creative best to help, whipping froth constantly. John McCain doesn’t need Swift Boaters, he’s got Fox! And people still say that the media has a liberal bias…have they watched Fox? Or listened to almost any AM radio channel? Between Hannity and Rush Limbaugh we have two constant streams of right wing bias that go beyond Fox.

What I’m fascinated with is just how unceasingly Fox is flogging this non-story. It’s the most shocking example of real life wag-the-dog-spin I’ve ever seen.

I hope the American people are smart enough to know when they are being played like a raging bull. This red cape that Fox is flashing is a creative, but I hope transparent, attempt to turn around McCain’s flagging campaign.

How anyone could possibly think that there is anything fair and balanced about Fox is beyond me. This isn’t really news either is it? Anyone who gets news from several sources knows this. Still, since it’s the top rated news channel in the USA it’s highly influential, so it bears saying again: While Fox is highly creative, even entertaining, it’s not serious news, and it is not even close to fair and balanced. They are consistently bending the facts and reframing its coverage to benefit John McCain.

America, please do pay attention to the man behind the curtain, and don’t be too dazzled by the glittering rubies of all the Fox creative spin. Read the papers, read some books, look at all the facts, and make a fair and balanced choice this election.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Innovator’s Guide to Growth…a new bible for Innovation Managers

This post is part of the Post2Post Virtual Book Tour, my Innovise Guy pardner Doug Stevenson is also reviewing the book on The Innovise Guys Blog (the post-tour tour). He’s posting Wednesday, October 1.

I do a bit of reading. I try to have one business book and one fictional book going at all times. This last month my pair has been The Innovator’s Guide to Growth and Salmon Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. It has proved to be a month of intense learning about innovation – and India! The Innovator’s Guide to Growth, which I am reviewing here, I predict, will become as important a book in the business world as Rushdie’s Booker Prize winning novel is in fiction. Quite simply, IG2G is the new bible for innovation managers and leaders.

Business leaders: do not pass go, do not collect 200 stock options, go immediately to Amazon and buy this book. I haven’t read such an eye opener since picking up Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm in the early 90’s.

Business books are often a slog to read. Even those with good content can be sleeping pill substitutes. IG2G is quite dense with information about how to “do” innovation – particularly disruptive innovation. However, it’s no sleeping aid, you are compelled to keep reading because it’s just so damn insightful, fresh, and filled with important advice on all aspects of the innovation puzzle.

I’ve been saying for some time that innovation is a holistic organizational activity; it’s not one thing it’s many intertwined factors. There is no silver bullet! Many business books address some aspect of it, call them silver-bullet-centric; virtually none are holistic in nature. IG2G is the exception, it’s womb-to-tomb about innovation management and process. It sorts out the complexity and removes the mystery for innovation leaders. It’s truly a guide – they didn’t use that word in the title just for the alliteration! Leaders take note: what they say in IG2G – the first chapter – “there is no silver bullet for companies interested in enhancing their organization’s ability to innovate.” IG2G is what managers really need, a full-process tool kit.

Speaking of titles, the subtitle of IG2G is “…putting disruptive innovation to work”. This is key because one of the great things about this book is how it clears up the concept of disruptive innovation. It presents a valuable and persuasive case as to why disruptive innovation is so essential for growth. Growth is the point of innovation after all isn’t it? In watching many organizations continue to extend product lines incrementally it’s clear that they are avoiding the risk of bigger, new-market type innovation. Innovation leaders often fall prey to what I call the Pete Rose trap, that is, settling for singles instead of swinging for the fences (note to international readers: forgive the baseball analogy, it means “not taking enough risk”). Falling for the Pete Rose trap means that organizations fail in the long run. IG2G gives leaders the tools they need to justify, plan, create, and execute a balanced innovation strategy that includes the all-important disruptive element. This book could save your company.

I love that the book is peppered with real world examples. For instance, it tells the story of Best Buy’s development of the Geek Squad service. It’s a great example of disruptive growth through acquisition and development. J&J, P&G, Dow Corning, and Intel are just a few of the many success stories cited to flesh out the books guidance. The team of author’s are Scott Anthony, Mark Johnson, Joseph Sinfield, and Elizabeth Altman. The men on the author team are all part of Innosight a premiere innovation consultancy that uses the concepts articulated in IG2G. Innosight owes a lot of its brilliance to Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, one of the founders, who has done much of the deep research that backs up this book. Indeed, he wrote the foreword to IG2G. Altman is a Motorola strategy executive and adds real world experience in innovation to this guidebook.

This is clearly a book written by experts who know all aspects of innovation. I was paying particularly close attention to what the author’s said about “how” to do the creation part of innovation. Ideation is something I specialize in so I was hoping to catch them out on something! Instead, I read advice on ideation that I’ve been preaching (to mostly deaf ears) for years. I keep saying that ideation takes time, that it can’t all be done in one big brainstorming session. It made me feel good to read that they suggest that a team take “several weeks developing and exploring opportunities.” Amen brothers! They further suggest that if you do an ideation session you should combine fresh groups of people. Good suggestion. I would go one better and suggest you bring in folks from outside the organization and I’ll bet they would agree.

They are also quite insightful when it comes to on-going innovation idea programs. They believe that reinforcement is critical. This is so right, I’ve seen this time and again, where organizations ask for ideas, get thousands, then ignore them.

The only downside to IG2G is simply that it is, like Midnight’s Children, not a glazed doughnut to consume. It’s as dense as a bourbon laced holiday fruit cake – plan on reading it slowly, studying it really, for the next quarter. Perhaps with a nice port…

Monday, September 22, 2008

USA Financial Crisis: The Danger of Unbridled Innovation

A simple point I want to make today, in light of all that went down last week: Innovation can be dangerous. We saw it when Enron collapsed – creativity without regard for legality. This time it’s much worse.

Back when the financial markets were deregulated a lot of folks, on both sides of the aisle, thought that it was a good thing. They thought it was innovation, and, it was. For years, it appeared to be a genius move, as new financial products were created, more competition was introduced, and folks got mortgages they wouldn’t have in earlier days. The people who architected and pushed for deregulation had a real vision of the upside, and indeed it came to pass.

The bad news is not enough lawmakers looked at the downside to deregulation. And, folks, it was there to be seen, many people saw it, it was ignored. The deregulation laws that got passed were simply not properly evaluated. And further blame should be put on those who, with more data, didn’t re-evaluate and make adjustments.

It’s textbook: When you implement a new innovation, before it goes online, you need to judge/critique the idea based on criteria. One criteria that wasn’t looked at properly was risk. More precisely, nobody knew the risk, or how to calculate the risk.

If this were a Vegas sportsbook, they wouldn’t make odds, they wouldn’t take the bet.

The unintended (but I would say predictable) consequences hit the fan when factors beyond our control de-stabilized the system, and now the taxpayers of the USA are bailing out the banking industry. What happened to capitalism? I always thought like, if you failed, you were SOL (“Situation Out of Luck”). I guess that’s only true for guys like me! I’m an entrepreneur and I’ve been part of several ventures that have fallen flat on their face, and no rich Uncle named Sam bailed me out. It was months and years of eating an apple for breakfast, bologna for dinner, and bartending or taxi driving all night to pay the rent.

If you got one of those easy mortgages and don’t have the income to manage them, I feel for you, but personally, I don’t want to pay it for you. And I don’t want to bail out the banks who loaned it to you either. Looks like I’m going to do both! I’m SOL! We’re SOL! We’re SOL because our leaders didn’t generate criteria and take a hard look at the downside to regulation.

So, enough with the rant, and back to the main point: Innovations of any kind need to be critically evaluated before being put into action. Everyone considering a new innovation of any kind, hey, here’s my suggestion: Do an Evaluation Matrix. Develop some precise and measurable criteria and evaluate your idea. If you don’t know what an evaluation matrix is, well, buy Jack’s Notebook and find out!