Tag Archives: NPR

The Growing Pains Of Vision

Last week, NPR ran a piece on the challenges that JC Penney is facing while they shift the way they do business under (relatively) new CEO, Ron Johnson. While listening, it brought to mind some of the factors we often deal with when working with clients, management, and teams to institute new programs, processes and functions. Regardless of vision or how great we believe that change will be in the name of growth or optimization, those growing pains cannot be overlooked in either the planning or the execution.

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Regardless of how strong your vision is, the ability to convey that vision to all participants is paramount. In some cases, it even requires that solutions for bypassing participant buy-in should they can not see what the company is trying to do. But, you’ve got to make sure the vision is realistic – and without taking a moment to consider any move from most sides is a recipe for disaster.

In the case of JC Penney, we don’t know how things will play out in the end.  But, the NPR report highlights how the regular JC Penney customers were less than thrilled.  The environment that was created for those consumers was one that they connected with emotionally – to the point you would think they’ve lost a loved one when talking about how it used to be. Though sales were down 30% in Q4 ’12 from ’11, could that be tied to disgruntled regulars?  Or, is it tied to the pains of shifting from one client type to another? By reading the comments below the NPR report, you can see there are enough counter examples pointing to the change being positive for JC Penney.

Recent work with one of my clients has brought the same challenge to light.  How do you bring vision, instill new processes and get buy-in from the people who are key to turning those changes into company success.  Interestingly, the most important people to get buy-in from are not the C-Levels (though they do give the approval on the spend) – it is the people who will be carrying out these new processes. A broken record comes to mind when thinking about how much communication is required to convey what you are intending to do.

Sometimes the illustration of the new versus the old can offend those who are fine with the way that might not be truly effective – so you can’t just rely on illustrating the benefits in light of the situation they are now in. The element of democracy that is prevalent in the workforce these days requires something akin to a PR campaign just to put those new processes in place. Again, you can have the strongest vision and product in place, but if there’s no buy-in, you’ve wasted time and resources. Even with the installation of automated processes, if there’s a human that needs to interact with that process, you need to negotiate and guide them through those growing pains.

Hopefully, JC Penney and Johnson’s team will be given the leeway to work this transition through. Far too many changes are abandoned at the first glimmer of failure. But as with any challenge, there is a sliver of failure, you’ve just got to push through smartly. Because, ultimately, a smart vision and strategic growth always has growing pains as a byproduct. You’ve just got to guide that pain into profit and not breakage.

Steve Martin and the Tao of Twitter

When Twitter first started coming on, it seemed like it was yet another opportunity for people that feel their every action needs to be shared with the world to share every little action with the word.  Thankfully, people are limited to 140 characters so that there is some sort of art to writing the tweets. To be honest, I don’t use Twitter the way I should – and I know it. The thing is, there are many major corporations paying good money to people to run their Twitter accounts who don’t know that they don’t use it the way they should. This morning on NPR’s Morning Edition, Comedian-Actor-Author-Musician-Tweeter Steve Martin presented a microcosm of what’s wrong with corporate tweets and what right about Tweeting.

While on a promotional tour for his newest book  (above) that actually contains his tweets and responses to them from his fans, Martin recounts how he first thought that tweeting was not the thing to do.  Yet, when questioning the promotional struggles he was having by going on a TV show that reach 4 million viewers to reach 400 people who were interested, he figured he could reach even more people who were interested by having a following of 100,000. He joked that he found that it turned out only four people were interested of those 100K.

After collecting 2.4M followers, Martin surmises that “tweeting is really only good for one thing — it’s just good for tweeting … It is rewarding, because it’s just its own reward. It’s sort of like heaven.” But the reality is that Tweeting is great for him as a brand because it enables a consistent connection with his audience.  he does it right by injecting his own way of thinking into every tweet – even if it is really short.  He rarely conjectures or posts a half thought with a link to something outside of Twitter.

Celebrities have taken advantage of Twitter to make some extra money through sponsored tweets, but Steve Martin’s celebrity on Twitter is not about making money in and of itself.  He uses it properly as a brand extension and corporate brand managers should take note.

Without calling out specific companies, there are far too many that feel Twitter is  for announcing press releases of product updates.  In reality, they should look to use Twitter in a more conversational tone.  The best brands don’t automatically provide links out of the system. I know that I am guilty of this every single time, but I don’t consider myself a brand – I’m just trying to publicize my posts on this blog at @JTavss.

But the reality is that Twitter is best used as constant relevant communication in a way that strengthens the connection with the consumer/audience. Steve Martin has it all right- even though he says he doesn’t. In honor of this blog, I will not be sending a tweet to advertise it.  Check out the interview to see if you agree.

Martha Stewart Shines a Beautiful Light on Incarceration

If done right, individuals and corporations can tell stories to make anything seem rosier than perhaps they should.  The key is that the stories remain true to the core of the “brand.”  In the case of Martha Stewart, one can only marvel at how well she does this – especially when she can re-frame a 5 month prison term as an idyllic incarceration instead.  This is not meant to be a slam – no matter what you think of the person – we all need to recognize that Stewart is a master of words and delivery. She (and her team) could provide a master class on the art of story-telling and image “maintenance.”

During Stewart’s promotion cycle for her 75th book, “Martha’s Entertaining: A Year of Celebrations,” I caught Linda Wertheimer’s interview with her yesterday on NPR’s Morning Edition and couldn’t help but laugh appreciatively.  It was a simple and normal interview until it took a little turn for to the sublime.  Wertheimer asked Stewart about a drab Nativity Scene shown in the first chapter of the book about parties at her houses over the course of a year.  The following is pulled directly from the transcript:

STEWART: OK, well, it’s kind of a funny story. When I was incarcerated at Alderson in West Virginia for a five-month term, they had a ceramics class. And in the ceramics class was a storage warehouse room where I found all the molds for an entire large Nativity scene. It took me a long time to find each mold. And because I was raised a Catholic, I know the story. I know that…

WERTHEIMER: You know how many there should be.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STEWART: I know the characters, right. I know the wise men and the camels and all of that. But it’s a big thing. I think there’s about 15 pieces and I was able to purchase enough clay with my monthly stipend. And I forgo – forwent, is that a word, forwent?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

STEWART: I didn’t get a lot of other things that I would’ve liked in that five-month period, because I bought clay instead. And I molded the entire Nativity scene and then I had to figure out how to paint it drab color, ’cause there’s no – there’s – I think there’s six different colors of paint that you could get. But I managed a fashion a drab color and it looks just like Wedgwood.

Frederic Lagrange/Clarkson Potter/Random House

Now how beautifully is that response weaved?  It’s even better to listen to it because her delivery adds to the aura.  Stewart is great at delivering anecdotes in an authentic way that is harder to achieve than you would think.

Achieving “authentic” is truly an art form.  Corporations will sometimes bring out project leads or developers who know everything there is to know about a product – and have immense passion for it.  Unfortunately, that mastery is not easily conveyed in front of a crowd, on radio or on video.  Sometimes its due to language issues, or nerves, or lack of focus/construct.  That lack of focus or construct is one of the biggest barriers to authenticity.  Many who work extensively on something or have a strong knowledge base will go to either of two extremes: believing they can shoot from the hip and then they go off course and confuse people; or, writing everything down (perhaps even practicing) and coming across as robotic.  Just because an employee has been able to present something numerous times in meetings and presentations, the assumption cannot be made that they are able to achieve that successfuly in all mediums.  Either companies should invest in media training for those employees or engage someone who can deliver in all environment to step in where necessary.

The ability to maintain that authentic delivery is key and not something that comes naturally for most.  Fortunately for Stewart, it comes across as if it is natural.  Certainly, she has had years of experience and has been able to hone her craft, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t marvel at her abilities to make anything seem to be idyllic in any circumstance.

The Question of Myopia in Global Business and Financial Issues

The global business and financial issues are requiring deep introspection and, hopefully, ingenuity to help get us collectively to the other side.  As we see with Greece and their ponderance of returning to their native currency from the Euro, the temptation to revert to thinking locally just doesn’t work. On NPR’s All Things Considered the other day, there was an interview with Thomas Friedman about his book with Michael Mandelbaum, That Used to Be Us: How America Fell behind in the World it Invented and How We Can Come Back.  It was striking amidst these global concerns to focus so much on the strength of America – as whether we like it or not, we are all affected by global issues. 

Granted, I have only had the opportunity to hear and read the NPR item above and read The Christian Scientist Monitor’s review – so this is absolutely an oversimplification – but perhaps the strongest part of the interview and the book itself is Friedman and Mandelbaum’s optimism.  When challenged about that optimism at the end of a book that clearly details America’s challenges and mis-steps, Friedman says that:

We end on a long discussion about what makes us optimists. It’s because this country is full of people today who just didn’t get the word. They just didn’t get the word that we’re down and out. They just didn’t get the word that Washington is paralyzed. And they go out and start stuff and invent stuff and fix stuff and make stuff, no matter what’s going on in Washington.

It is key that innovations and development – and the funding for those things –  continue.  Whatever mess we’re in globally, there isn’t a heap of optimism if we can’t move on from the way we’ve been doing things. There certainly are challenges ahead and it requires a little naiveté (or more simply a little selective blindness about those challenges) to forge ahead to make that change.

What at first was off-putting by focusing on one country might not hold fast as the old adage goes that change begins with the individual.  In this case, it is a stretch to think of America as being simply an individual making change – we seen what bone-headed situations the world has gotten into with America thinking it can do that.  But, the caveat is that we have to truly start thinking globally while acting locally from business and financial perspectives.  If big business truly runs the world, its time to be responsible as nothing will sell if people have nothing to buy them with. Robert Siegel brings up the point about technology and the changes therein during his conversation with Friedman.  Because of those advances, the opportunities to grow are there – we just have to not be blind enough to miss them.

 

 

Jobs Steps Down – Strong Hopes For Apple

Just last week, I pondered what could happen when Steve Jobs retires and how that could affect Apple and its constant ability to innovate.  Funny how timing is as Jobs just announced exactly a week after my post that he is stepping down.

The letter follows:

“To the Apple Board of Directors and the Apple Community:

I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.

I hereby resign as CEO of Apple. I would like to serve, if the Board sees fit, as Chairman of the Board, director and Apple employee.

As far as my successor goes, I strongly recommend that we execute our succession plan and name Tim Cook as CEO of Apple.

I believe Apple’s brightest and most innovative days are ahead of it. And I look forward to watching and contributing to its success in a new role.

I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.

Steve”

The stock market has reacted quickly and we can only hope that all it is doing is providing the opportunity for some to get some Apple stock at a slightly reduced price.  The reality is that we will now see how intrinsically Innovation and user-friendly experiences are part of Apple’s DNA. It seems like they had a succession plan in place, but only time will tell if they actually follow through on that.

Jobs is certainly one of a kind and it would be challenging for anyone to be able to lead in the same manner as he did.  Guy Kawasaki – one of the earliest pieces of the Apple team and previously its Chief Evangelist – characterized Jobs this morning on NPR as the most demanding boss he ever had.  He also called out the fact that he is one of the strongest presenter of products – ever.  That element is made somewhat easier when the product is so good, but we’ve seen a vast amount of people with great products and no ability to convey that to an audience and whip them into a frenzy like Jobs.  Jobs was able to do that in spades – from the Macintosh, to the iPod to the iPhone to the iPad.  Yes, there were misses – like the Newton – but Jobs was able to keep them moving forward, even when battling debilitating illnesses.

I don’t have any stock in Apple.  I am not just an Apple guy as I personally work on both PCs and Macs. I have multiple iPods and an iPad, but my mobile phone is an Android.  The truth is that all of technology – and perhaps media consumption – is better off with an Apple that is running on all cylinders.  Their success in innovative products and practices sets a bar that has allowed others to strive for and draft off of.

There is so much chatter online, and in traditional media about this.  He is not leaving the company – only stepping down as CEO. The buzz is testament to the fact that no other CEO stepping down in recent history has brought up as much concern for the future of a company or industry – as no other person has done so much the particular way Jobs has. While people focus on the thought that Apple is DOA without Jobs at the helm, it benefits us all to hope that plans were set in place for the company to continue to grow successfully.

After all, the sign of a good business is not just producing a solid product, but clearly communicating its benefits and setting up the company’s structure so that the business can continue productively long after the founders are gone.

Space Appétit

INSKEEP: Astronauts are still consuming Tang in space.

KELLY: Sadly, we cannot say the same thing for space ice cream.

Dr. KLOERIS: The ice cream does not fly. That’s strictly done for the visitor centers and the museums. It flew one time during the Apollo program.

What?!?!  Are you kidding me?!?!  Astronaut Ice Cream does not really work in Space?

Why did I eat that crap then?

The exchange above – not my response, but the ones by Steve Inskeep, Mary Louise Kelly and Dr. Vickie Kloeris during a segment about space food on NPR’s Morning Edition yesterday morning – brought a shock to my system.  To me, it stands above the fact that there is no Santa Claus (I had a feeling), that an elephant could not safely stand on a Volvo, or that the kid from the Life commercial died from mixing soda and pop-rocks.

What a wonderful marketing ploy carried out through the years to prey on the imaginations of young minds.  if only I weren’t so devastated by the revelation that it wasn’t true.  I guess it’s better than suffering through disgusting-looking, freeze-dried cheesecake.

Bon appétit!

The Narrative Provides the Truly Tasty Bits

Heard a cool piece on NPR this morning about a seemingly fantastic epicurian experience in Washington D.C.  The chef set off to create a dining event that would be remembered in vivid detail by all who dined.

The chef, Bryan Brown of Sensorium, was sure he had the chops to make the food savory and memorable, but he needed to consult with someone to add the finishing touches relating to the brain and what actually helps people remember.  That someone was Ed Cook, a memory champion and founder of the site, Memrise.  Ed suggested three steps for Bryan to make his meal truly memorable: Make it Vivid; Ensure that each course is Distinct; and, what I found most to be most important – Extend a Narrative throughought the meal.

Bryan and his team addressed the first two and disregarded the third, narrative thread, as being cliche.

From the description that can be read or listened to on the NPR Morning Edition site, the event sounded quite spectacular.  There were actors and dancers, a circus-like host, imaginitive set pieces and presentations for the food, music, savory foods – and Pop-Rocks.  Diners left the 12-course meal full and certainly entertained, but when asked the order, what they ate and other details, the memory was just not as clear as Bryan and Ed would have liked.

The key ingredient that was left out was the Narrative, and had that been included, the memories would have been much stronger.

We see it all the time in advertising, movies, television, experiences and even product development where there’s a high-impact piece or a collection of them but no solid narrative to be found.  Because of this, the individual events might be remembered, but the whole is not. Cirque du Soleil is known for wrapping their mystifying circus feats in stories – whether clear or convoluted – for this very reason.  People can still recount the order of events from shows seen years prior due to the show’s narrative and theme.

As such, presenting a product or experience as one or a series of eye-catching features with no narrative string through them is counter-productive to instilling memory, recall and affinity within your audience.