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Where in the world is Crayonville?

Posted by Olivier Blanchard

Corante contributors Shel Holtz and Neville Hobson are launching their joint venture with Joseph Jaffe and CC Chapman today. The company, christened "Crayon" promises to be a fantastic experiment in Marketing's evolution. (These guys are all brilliant, visionary, and very good at what they do.)

In Neville's own words:

"We’re not an agency nor a consulting practice as is traditionally defined. What we are is whatever you want or need us to be.

I like to think of us as a true mash-up that combines the best in traditional and new thinking about marketing, advertising and PR.

We’re a solution provider. We’re an extension of your team. Consider us a new breed of partner – one that keeps everyone honest and on the right path. Our client is not the consumer: our client is the truth.

Our methodology pivots around conversation and transformation above communication. Our value proposition is designed to activate passions, enthusiasm, organic dialogue and no-strings-attached referrals and recommendations."

Pretty cool. For Neville's complete post, go here.

To check out what Crayon is all about, click here:



Enter The Corporate Conning Tower

Posted by Olivier Blanchard

Brilliant post by fellow Corante contributor Grant McCracken this week. Just brilliant. In Innovation for The Innovator, Grant spells out the fundamental shift (and struggle for survival) faced by corporations today:

"The corporation once had a "perfect world" scenario: create an extraordinary product in a blue ocean (i.e., new) category and defend a fountain of profit with good strategy and smart tactics.

In the perfect world, change came in increments. Some competitors would enter the category with some variation on the theme. Others would look for "nook and cranny" weaknesses. The corporation would secure it's position with incremental responses...and profit poured forth.

The world changed."

Per Grant:

"Now, the corporation is subject to blind side hits. Now the problem is not incremental challenges, but fundamental shifts. For Time Warner, this was the rise of an advertising based revenue model. For The Coca-Cola Company, it was the rise of the non-corbonated soft drink. For Microsoft, it was the rise first of the internet and then server-based software. For Detroit, it was Japan. (The irony: while American corporations are being encouraged to set out in search of "blue oceans," the real challenge are the great masses of water that come looking for them.)"

And here's the rub:

"These changes require fundamental shifts in corporate assumption and practice. And this is hard. Corporations rise to greatness because they are good at, say, CSDs (carbonated soft drinks). The advent of Snapple and Gatorade forces them to take on the new, but often this feels like a betrayal of the very things that make the corporation exceptional. "Sure," goes the complaint, "we can make fruit juice, but what we exist to make CSDs!"

It is, finally, a cultural problem. CSD assumptions supply not just the "what" and the "why" of the corporation, but it's deepest, most powerful, and least visible assumptions, the "unknown knowns," we might call them (with apologies to Donald Rumsfeld).

The problem at corporations like Time Warner, the Coca-Cola Company, Microsoft and "Detroit," is not intellectual laziness, a failure of the imagination, or, God knows, a failure of will. The problem is that non-incremental change forces the corporation off its game, out of its competence, and away from its deepest understandings of the world. Adaptation is possible, but a voice of warning sounds in the head of the senior manager: that way lies the destruction of the extraordinary intellectual, strategic, and cultural capitals that make us who we are. That way lies chaos."

Fear? Say it isn't so! For young companies, fear of the unknown and an aversion to risk seemeasy to overcome, but an aversion to change is pretty much a survival mechanism for our larger, much older incumbent competitors and friends. That aversion to change, that conservative need to stick by core competencies, proven methodologies and core product lines are part of their corporate DNA. You can't fault them for holding on to what they know. For holding to to their core. To the very foundations of their brands.

Yet, in order to survive... no, to strive in this new and ever changing business landscape, a few changes need to be made, and Grant offers a few keen suggestions:

"There are lots of ways to rethink the corporation so that it can address the problem of non-incremental change. (...) The corporation is learning new tricks. The new corporation is being invented fitfully, gradually, and painfully. But it's coming.

Innovator's innovation 1

What I would like to see, for deeply self interested reasons, is the creation of an observation platform from which we can keep an eye out for the next new things. In keeping with our Tsunami references, let's call it a wheelhouse, a conning tower, or a ship's bridge.

The trick would be to find 5 or 6 really smart, well educated, well informed, well connected, deeply curious, utterly practical people. These qualifications create a tiny Venn intersection, but, hey, we only need 5 or 6 people.

Innovator's innovation 2

Once potential changes are identified, it is time to see what difference their difference will make. How will the corporation as it is presently constituted in these particular waters? This will help us to find, extract and replace the "unknown knowns" in the corporate culture.

Innovator's innovation 3

Ok, now we need to build a series of simulated corporations, fit them out, run them in a tub somewhere, and refit as necessary. (Will someone please scuttle the naval metaphor, please!) We can't wait till the future is here to start the work of adaptation. We want to have done the conceptual work for eventualities well before they eventuate."

This sounds dangerously like... another "think tank" but because of its focus on practical applications, it might actually have some merit. Only there are just too many industries and different kinds of companies making different kinds of products for a small team of brilliant Rennaissance men to cover anywhere near enough ground.

Perhaps another way to help transform the corporation into an adaptive, evolution-savvy entity is instead to rethink the way business management is taught and practiced around the world. The very structure of corporations may also need a healthy revision.

The key here is to incorporate into corporate cultures the very notion that change is not only inevitable, it is also the natural vehicle by which corporations evolve. (And yes, I am talking about evolution here, and not just growth. There is a difference.) Corporations, through their leadership and processes, should be energized by change instead of being paralyzed by it. The way to accomplish this is to make change easy to assimilate. In other words, corporations should learn to become more agile. More nimble. More flexible.

Grant's idea of creating corporate conning towers is excellent. Why not form an advisory group composed of trend-savvy multi-dimensional executives (or consumers) to help point the way and make course adjustments? Make these people completely independent from Senior management. Don't even pull them from the corporation's ranks. Set them up with offsite offices. Pay them as consultants instead of employees. Keep them completely outside of the sphere of influence exerted by the corporation's board and leadership. Make them accountable, sure, but protect their independence and insulate them from any unwanted political/financial influence.

More importantly - and for this to work - corporations must fill their ranks and executive suites with intellectually curious, practical, open-minded, men and women. Leaders instead of just managers. This requires a fundamental shift in corporate culture and HR practices. It also requires a fundamental shift in the way that Business management is taught in Universities and business schools. And lastly, it requires a certain measure of courage (and faith in our own abilities) on everyone's part. There are no failsafes. Proven methodologies only prove that they have worked in the past. The past is nice, but the present and future are a little more uncertain. Facing them both with the knowledge that fifty years of success are not enough to ensure the same success for another fifty, or twenty,or five takes huevos. It takes the wisdom and confidence to be able to readily admit that as a CEO, you have absolutely no idea if what you're doing now is the best way to address your company's goals.

Sure, everything might look good. The numbers and research might be supporting your hunch... but you really don't know. Plan A: Your Germans had better be better than their Germans. Plan B: You had better be at the helm of the kind of corporation that can make quick course adjustments when it turns out that their Germans were better than yours after all. (Plan C: Make sure you're hiring the right kinds of Germans... and that they have a great reason to stay.)

Safety in the world of business is an illusion. At best, it's a crutch. It's 4% growth. It's always being second or third to market. It's being a player but never a leader.

Wait... did I say "at best?" Darn.

I guess it depends how you choose to look at it.

Times, they're a-changing. The corporation that will adapt and evolve to the new market and business landscape will survive and grow. The corporation that doesn't evolve will simply wither away and die.

Welcome to the new jungle. Welcome to the real world. Welcome to the world of endless business and innovation possibilities.

Now... about that corporate conning tower team...

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