Archive for July, 2017


Monday, July 10th, 2017

Simpsons-Homer-DOHLast summer Mats Alvesson and Andre Spicer published a book called “The stupidity paradox”.

At a time when let’s face it many of us thought that we were having a summer of stupidity.

Spicer and Alvesson’s book is not however about politics, elections or Brexit.  It is instead about organisational stupidity at work.

They argue that many organisations build in deliberate and functional stupidity into their ways of working in order to control the people that work for them.  Consciously or not, by limiting the decisions that their often very bright executives can make, senior managers keep control of what’s going on, even if that means limiting innovation and ideas for growth. 

They mandate targets for executives to reach without considering the consequences that those targets might have on the overall organisation and don’t allow them to be questioned.

For example, if a business sets a team a task of reducing the cost per site visit to the lowest possible level it will undoubtedly have a consequence in terms of longer term outcomes such as conversion to buy or delivering more people who are warm to the brand.  

Delivering against the first metric is easier to measure however, and easier also to achieve.  It is also sometimes stupid as a single focus.

If it is your kpi however then you are unlikely to be rewarded for arguing against it.  The authors say that “functional stupidity is an organised attempt to stop people from thinking seriously about what they do at work”.

It doesn’t exist at my place of work.  I’m sure it doesn’t exist at yours.  But I bet you know some places where it is all too evident.

One of the characteristics of those places is poor leadership.  Poor leaders surround themselves with likeminded people, people who reassure them and do as they are told.  However impossible the deadline or the demand they leap into the fray and wear themselves out in the process.  However stupid the request, they will respond positively and not dream of saying to their boss “no, you’re wrong”.  They will be highly rewarded for doing this, and in its way, its quite nice work, just doing as you are told.

Alvesson and Spice write, where functional stupidity reigns: “the thing to do is to create the right impression… someone in the thrall of functional stupidity is great at doing things that look good.”

As Suzy Bashford wrote for Campaign, good leadership is crucial to retain talent.  So the consequences of this kind of stupid leadership is in the end inevitable.  The business will suffer from a lack of fresh ideas, and everyone’s energy will be spent on creating the illusion of invulnerability around the leader.  If a leader comes across as a sole hero there’s a danger that there is not enough of a great team around them.  Our jobs these days are too complex for even the smartest solo performer.  And the need to have an ear to the ground and to embrace the shop floor as well as to pick up intelligence from the real world is a job for more than any one man alone.

Really smart leaders build a smart team.  A team that will challenge them and the status quo, will break things and reinvent before an outside challenger does it anyway.  A team that trusts each other and can be both brave and humble in trying the new and acknowledging that no-one has all the answers. 

The future of strategy is synthesis

Thursday, July 6th, 2017

chuck berryCannes week saw the unveiling of the latest WARC survey on the future of strategy.

Of course strategy itself doesn’t change in function. Richard Rumelt usefully defines it as discovering the crucial factors and designing a way to deal with them.

Does 2017 change how you do that? If it hasn’t yet it should do. We’re moving fast from planning assumptions to planning conclusions. The arrival of real time data describing patterns of actual behaviour to replace claimed behaviour and intent means we can stop saying “I think” and instead say “I know”. That data is going to come from plenty of different sources. This is especially relevant for some categories. For example the many markets where house moving and interest in house moving predicts purchase (utilities, furniture purchase, insurance etc). Learning to source home searches data and properly interpret it is different from having a bit of a deep dive into TGI. Strategists need to synthesise different data and its interpretation.

This is very exciting. Synthesis is very exciting.

Many experts believe that all true breakthroughs come from synthesis. For instance Rocket scientists and doctors. There’s been significant advances in healthcare because of the developments of NASA scientists: voice controlled wheelchairs; laser angioplasty; MRI. Sir John Bell, Regius Professor of medicine at Oxford University thinks that the only time there’s real innovation in any discipline it’s at the interface of one expertise with another. He says “multi-disciplinary clusters are a huge cauldron for innovation “.

It’s not just in science that this is true. Detective fiction is huge for book sales, on TV and drove a step change in the popularity of Podcasts. Who invented the genre in literature? The earliest use of forensic detection came about because the first proper detective writer Edgar Allan Poe learnt evidence based deduction methods when he wrote an obscure book about molluscs. It’s an obscure fact but Oliver Tearle believes in The Secret Library that “The Chonchologist’s First Book” which was hugely popular it it’s day, and which Poe adapted from the original to pay his bills when his own writing wasn’t selling, was a “brilliant synthesis of various influences to form something original and new”.

The biggest innovations in popular music can be tracked to the same sources.  Rock and roll came about as a synthesis of country music and R&B (previously, very separate genres – effectively poor white people’s music and poor black people’s music), the inter-racial hybrid hastened by the increasing broadcasting range of local radio stations so that different styles of music reached new audiences

In planning strategy the same rules apply. We’re discovering new data sources to create efficiencies – in some categories spend can be halved (at least) to reach more precisely the true short term market. In long-term brand communications strategy better analysis of new data sources is giving us new routes to market and new insights into buying patterns and motivations. In a way there’s nothing new in this. Steve Gladdis, joint CSO at MediaCom,  revolutionised Rennie’s media strategy, over a decade ago when, as planner on the account, he analysed TNS Food Panel data to reach consumers just when they’d eaten i.e. At “the point of suffering “. The work was fairly time consuming and analogue. This year fast and in real time we’re able to reach people personally and at scale. with the right message at the right time by using their specific geolocation and their fast food ordering behaviour.

Gladdis in his original work synthesised two data sources ie TV viewing and food consumption. From this came a breakthrough that drove effective roi by double digits.

Read about Steve’s story here:

We can expect more breakthroughs as we synthesise more data sources and more disciplines. The future of strategy lies in effective synthesis.