The dance of creative leadership: 5 principles of facilitating flow (uncut version) 

 

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Illustration by The Partners

 


This article was originally published on Virgin’s Entrepreneur. However, as they were looking for a blog post, it had to be cut in half, with the models, one principle cut out and another central idea removed. I’m bringing it here because I think there is value in the deeper stuff.
Read the other version if you want something more top-line or if that to much, here’s a TL;DR:
Creative leadership can be seen as the facilitation of Flow. To achieve it you have to engage the full organisation and carefully navigate conflicting elements/agendas. 

(If you want to publish it on your platform, let me know.)

Another impossible demand?

The demands from leadership have never been higher. The focus on performance is still there, but across many sectors, the environment is more volatile and disruptive than it has ever been. Vision is no longer enough; a leader should instil his or her team with a sense of purpose. Innovation used to belong at the start of a process, now it’s continuous. And, of course, as we shift away from patriarchal views of leadership as inherently masculine, we add emotional intelligence, empathy, intuition, social awareness and so on…

And now there’s creativity, without which there will be no innovation (which, to an extent is the practical application of creativity). While innovation has many models and processes, creativity, which should generate the ideas that drive innovation, remains more enigmatic. How do you manage something so mysterious and ‘fluffy’? Is there a method to it? Is it simply down to the leader being creative, or is it about them leading the organisation’s creativity, or both?

When discussing old-school leadership vs contemporary leadership practices, some stereotypes are very much alive. That’s a shame, because if, when we’re talking about the new demands on leadership, we simply contrast them with a Machiavellian command and control straw-man, we will not push the new paradigm far enough, and we’ll miss the big picture. Instead, we should take a more integrative view.

Here are five principles that draw on both ancient and new leadership approaches.

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Déjà vu: Why B2B brand portfolios are descending into chaos, again.

 

chess

Illustration by The Partners

 

[Sometimes I get asked to write stuff and feel the marketing strategy equivalent of those famous protest signs that read ‘I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit’…]

Nearly 20 years ago, global M&A sprees combined with massive product innovation required the likes of Unilever and Nestlé to carefully assess their portfolios as well as scrutinise any arguments for the creation of new brands.

In February 2000, Unilever famously embarked on a global programme to reduce its number of brands from 1600 to 400 in five years. Coining the term ‘power brands’, Unilever shifted budgets from smaller, local, regional or niche brands to brands like Dove and Persil. It also leveraged the ice-cream Heartbrand to connect local heritage brands (Walls in the UK, Algida in Italy, Langnese in Germany, for example) and act as a platform for international powerhouses (Magnum, Cornetto, Solero, for example) across more than 40 countries.

Telecoms quickly followed suit and we experienced a shift from a world where even an audience-specific mobile tariff would have its own brand to largely monolithic portfolios across the entire sector. Today, you would struggle to point out a non-endorsed sub-brand for one of the major telecom brands.

FMCG companies may not be monolithic, but all the major players increased the prominence of their corporate brand endorsement over the last decade. Nowadays, most of the revenue of Unilever and P&G is estimated to come from a combined group of about 30 brands.

It’s ironic, then, that many of the consultancies behind those famous portfolio efficiency projects are holding increasingly proliferated brand portfolios that are straining not just marketing budgets and internal resources, but the amount of attention they can command in the market. Continue reading

Are career paths still relevant?

People used to think career paths are to be selected like a holiday from a stack of brochures, now it’s clear we must forge our own

image by: The Partners

 

According to that old-fashioned approach, your career path was something you chose, like selecting a holiday from a stack of brochures. Maybe things were once this straightforward; maybe it’s all a cultural myth. Nonetheless, this type of model hasn’t been applicable for the last couple of decades, and the way careers are shaped now, it’s likely to move even further away from it in the future.

In today’s work environment, and in the foreseeable future, your career path is something you have to forge. There are many reasons behind this change. Let’s start with the digital tools that have become prevalent in the corporate world — word processing, spreadsheets, presentation software and general information management. A new base business literacy has emerged: everyone is expected to master these tools. It’s no longer enough to be able to work with and on multiple platforms: these tools constantly develop and change and employees are expected to adapt quickly to the new software.

The pace of technological change is compounded by the financial volatility we’ve seen over the last two decades. The cycles of boom and bust are becoming shorter and whole industries are experiencing disruption to their business models. Many of us will encounter instances of working for a business that goes under. And even if your company survives, redundancies are common: many will know the feeling of being made redundant by a changing business, despite strong personal performance.

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Steve Barron: the cultural impact of one 80s music video director

This is going to get sentimental…
A few months back I went to a music video showcase I’ve been going to for about a decade BUG (#50!) which had a very special guest. One who is an example of the cultural ripples creativity can send.
It’s a guy I guess most of you have never heard of, and yet he’s touched your life in more ways than you imagine.
Steve Barron is a director who started as a tea boy on sets and by the late 70s was directing videos for bands like The Jam.
He was quite humble in Adam Buxton‘s interview, saying that many of today’s videos would have won ‘video of the year’ from MTV back then because the form (and production values) evolved so much.
Back then, labels didn’t really believe videos made a difference to an artist’s success. Most of them were shot in 16mm.
But then, in 1981, he managed to convince the execs to let him shoot in 32mm and the result was this little triple-inception-meta Truffaut homage.
But wait, it gets SO much better. So much better that I just had to write a whole post… With some help from the BUG programme notes, the interview and wikipedia.

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Why Gin is a marketer’s dream

(Short comment written for an article about the rise of craft gin. not sure if it was ever used, so here it is)

Q: how can craft gin brands stand out, and how is branding/packaging helping to differentiate artisanal/craft/small batch products?
Gin is a marketer’s dream. It offers more aspects of brand storytelling than your typical spirits, and the craft angle adds more.
Like  other spirits, you can use history. Many craft gins will look to that as the nexus of their brand. If they don’t wish to take on established brands on heritage, there are many alternatives.  If distilled in a surprising place, provenance could play a part. If that’s too close to heritage, they could explore the botanicals. Gins use a long lists of potential ingredients beyond juniper. Each ingredient, be it lemon peel or coriander seed, presents opportunities for differentiation and story-telling. Monkey 47, uses the sheer number of ingredients to define the brand.
If none of the botanical is interesting enough, the story of traditional small batch methods is often what makes ‘craft’. If there isn’t much in that, there are drinking rituals. Hendrick’s use of the humble cucumber is a  case in point.
Finally, you could  tell the story of the people behind the gin. With the big producers increasingly using the term ‘craft’ to describe their own premium spirits, that personal touch is one thing they can’t take away from the smaller distilleries.
Give it an intriguing name which embodies the essence of the brand. Add a premium carefully designed bottle, label and communications that sing the praises of the product in harmony, and you may just come up the next big name in spirits.

British food brands and the world

(originally written for a piece published last year) 

I was recently asked to comment about the international success of British food brands in the The Times’ The Raconteur. As often is the case with things like that I’ve had a lot more to say than the article allows, so here’s a link to the article and here are my original thoughts, lightly edited. (oh, and BTW ‘Made in Britain’ isn’t a government project).
Q: What is it about ‘brands’ such as Gordon Ramsey, Jamie Oliver, Pret, Costa and co that makes them appealing? What part does Britishness have to play in this success – any at all?
A: While all four Brands are strong examples of British success abroad, they relate to Britishness in different ways. Pret and Costa excel through a business model that meets consumer needs quickly and efficiently. The first providing a healthier, fresher alternative to fast food, the latter riding the increased savvy of coffee drinkers. British business innovation if you will, but they aren’t particularly British in any explicit way, despite Costa’s nods to some nostalgic bakery and biscuits. When it comes to Ramsey and Oliver, however, both are ambassadors of our changing relationship with food, despite not being quintessentially British in the way a brand like Paul smith, for example, is.
First, we should keep in mind that for large parts of the world, British accent and mannerism are enough to make a brand British. As their brand stories develop, Oliver becomes the plucky young cockney while Ramsey combines a gruff disciplinarian perfectionist angle mixed with his colourful language. Beyond style, they have become ambassadors to the changing relationship of Britain with food – Oliver with his commitment to fresh and healthy ingredients; Ramsey with his meticulous attention to ingredients. Both almost a direct opposite of the stereotypical stodgy British grub. The one made with cheap ingredients with no fresh vegetable in sight that foreigners used to think of, and which to be fair, is mostly the result of post world war(s) recession years.

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Definitive products, inevitable brands

Binder label: Food Title: Heinz Baked Beans with Tomato Sauce [back] Date issued: 1870 - 1900 (approximate) Physical description: 1 print : chromolithograph ; 13 x 8 cm. Genre: Advertising cards Subject: Boys; Canned foods Notes: Title from item. Statement of responsibility: Heinz Collection: 19th Century American Trade Cards Location: Boston Public Library, Print Department  Rights: No known restrictions.

(Guest Column in The Drum, 1.3.2013: ‘Ketchup is ketchup, so why does the Heinz brand mean so much?’)

Ketchup is weird, Malcolm Gladwell observed a few years back. It is served alongside mustard, but while mustard is a highly diverse product category, ketchup, as we all know is, well… ketchup.

Yes, it is, essentially, a type of tomato sauce, but it isn’t part of that highly diverse category either. Tomato sauce lives by a completely different set of rules.

So if ketchup isn’t like mustard, and it’s not a type of tomato sauce, what is it then? Ketchup is ketchup. Ketchup is weird. Ketchup is magic.
And Heinz is its magic brand.

Yet Ketchup is not the company’s only magic brand. Heinz dominates the Baked Beans category too. There are few definitive products in our world today, and far fewer still where one brand owns two of them. Maybe Apple has managed to achieve this with the Mac and the iPhone (with two product brand names), but you may struggle to find other examples in the mainstream world (Coke and Diet Coke are variants so don’t count).

Both Heinz Baked Beans and Heinz Tomato Ketchup are operating in ‘categories of one’. Competition isn’t fighting Heinz through differentiation; it is forced down to copycatting. Heinz, with its dominant presence and rich, long heritage is just too strong.

From a design perspective, Heinz marries its definitive products with brand identities that are textbook case studies in the long-term management of iconic brands.

If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. Tend to it. It’s this custodian mentality that keeps these definitive brands alive and well. Continue reading