Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Wrapping Up 2014

It seems that we are at the end of the year. I can't quite calculate how it turned out for me. I am, however, glad to start anew. Happy New Year!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Load-Bearing Walls

If you are a fan of the DIY home renovation shows on TV, you learn a lot about the challenges of taking an existing structure and trying to make something modern, new, and different of it. It's a very unique design challenge, much different than modifying a logo, remaking a song, or even reconstructing a classical theatrical piece. In the world of home design, poor, or misguided, modifications can be disastrous. One of the common problems - constraints, especially on many of these DIY TV shows, is the concept of load-bearing walls. It's amazing to me how an entire house is held together by a handful of walls that allow all other things to take place in a home. The same fundamentals can be applied to other constructions, even the structure of an organization.

In my pondering and meditations, mostly centered on analyzing the organizations I work with daily, I realized how all organizations are held up by a handful of people. These staffers serve the same purpose as load-bearing walls, in that they are necessary for the entire structure to function properly. I am sure you can think of many situations where the most unassuming person at your company left, or was forced out, and things fell apart. Often, the situation became costly, requiring the organization to hire three or four people, just to replace that on "unnecessary" person - unbeknownst at the time as load-bearing wall.

I can't cover all the details of this concept, but I will briefly share a few thoughts on the characteristics of load-bearing walls in home construction and load-bearing walls in organizational structures.

  1. The majority of the structure's energy is connected to them.
  2. They are rigid by design, given all other things depend on their stability.
  3. They often appear unnecessary or unattractive in comparison to cosmetic features.
  4. They allow other, more appealing, structures become flexible, and in turn appear to have the most functionality.
  5. The consist of less than 10% of the total items present to constitute the structure.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Sticking with The Plan

I have been out of pocket for a few weeks, battling a serious sinus issue. But, I am back now, and ready to continue moving forward. This year has been very challenging. I completed my degree in May, so the first half of the year was dedicated to that effort. After licking my wounds for a few months, I am now ready to get back going, but it has been hard to establish clarity and priority for my goals.

Organizations often find moments in time when goal ambiguity or identity crisis is present in their situation. Some feel compelled to do something drastic about it, and make major mistakes. Others become frozen - complacent -  and eventually fall behind the competition. And the few that get through these moments, they take the time to perfect what they are doing, in order to be prepared for the next opportunity that will guide their plan.

The title of this post is Sticking with The Plan. There was a scene in The Devil Wears Prada where the boss of the main character replied "just do your job". Yes, being attentive to improving what exists, in spite of goal ambiguity, is always your job, and always part of your plan.

Mizuno is a brand that is close to my heart. They, in my opinion, have the best golf clubs ever, and I have enjoyed the quality of their golf products over the years. A while back, I decided to try out their running shoe products to help me find a good gear mix for my training. Many people have spoken highly about the running shoes, and some regarded them as one of the top five, in the ranks of New Balance, Brooks, and Asics. After a few pair, I migrated to Brooks, and now I have found the Asics brand to be the best for my running preferences.

Yesterday, I received an e-advertisement for Mizuno's top running shoe, nearly half off the regular price. It made me wonder if this was a good deal or if this was a fire sale. Ironically, my daughter convinced the family to stop by an athletic store, and I ran across this shoe line. It's their top line shoe. No one in the place recommended the shoe, in spite of the good price; their's being half off as well. To put it in simple terms, Mizuno apparently took a big risk on developing some new technology on the cushion part of the shoe. The concept failed miserably, and as the sales rep put it, this was an unfortunate game changer for the brand. Given the diversification of the Mizuno brand - golf, volleyball, etc. - their misfortune may not impact the company's survival. But, it sure has damaged their chance at being a premier running shoe. If one of the other brands known for great running products had tried this, it would have been catastrophic.

What's my point? If you find yourself among the elites, goal ambiguity and identity crisis are natural phenomena to be experienced. Your plan is to be the best, and now you are one of the best. You are close, but not there, and it can make you feel anxious to make something big happen. But, you have done something big. At this level, the differences are slight. The best among this group is based on refinement of existing processes. Anything new and different may risk everything. Just look at the risks Tiger Woods has taken to redesign his swing umpteen times, and he now struggles to complete a round of golf. The problem is not that you have failed to establish clear goals and plans. Rather, the problem centers on your perspective. It's different up there.

If you have found your organization to be in a good state of survival and prosperity, I mean one of the best in the industry, take the time to transform best to something even better. Just make sure you know what better is. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Federal Debt: All You Need to Know in Three Minutes

This is an interesting summary on the national debt. I would love to hear your take on it. It makes sense, but is there a silver bullet to relieve the pressure.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Durability of Your Brand

There is no perfect position to avoid opposition to your brand. Inevitably, your brand - your promise - will find some situation where favor has disappeared. Some experience this at the beginning, with an apathetic or hostile audience - the most difficult. Some see it after a successful launch of acceptance - the most dangerous. And others see it much later in the life of their brand - the most destructive. So, the question stands, how do you handle it? More specific, how should you handle it?

Well the answer to the first question is clear, the best you possibly can. The how, well that's a different story. The goal of any moment of adversity is to first survive, and then, if possible, come out on the other end even better than you entered. In order to do this, your brand must have embedded within the core fabric of the promise, a framework for change, and the capacity to take the opportunity to fully understand the nature of adversity to recalibrate your mission to the people you plan to serve.

Always remember, position and purpose are not necessarily synonymous. Your purpose should never change, with respect to your brand. Your position, is always relative to the environment you intend to be relevant. The question you need to ask, is are you in the right environment, and are you relevant in that environment. The opposition to your brand is simply an opportunity to clearly ask that question.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The Brand that Facilitates Brand-Building

It doesn't take long to hang around creative minds to hear almost everyone in the room talk about how much they love their Moleskine. Sure, you could use virtually any notebook, sketchbook, or blank sheet of paper to write down your thoughts and organize your ideas. But, there is something special about a Moleskine, something official about the use of it. I recently finished another Moleskine - my third - which I started in 2011 to do some work on my dissertation, along with other projects.

It has been an awesome three-year journey with this journal. I prefer blank pages to give me room and space to arrange things. There are planning notes for my 2012 trip to Ireland, my interview preparation notes for my current position, and obviously pages upon pages of notes for the dissertation I completed this spring. The point of my blog is not about my notes, nor the content within this wonderful journey. This blog post is about the longstanding necessity for creative minds to make use of this one brand of journal, and the history of great creations inspired and documented on the pages of Moleskines around the world. The company has dedicated a page to the use of this tool to assist great minds in our society. It is a brand that has become famous facilitating the building of brands. It is also a testimony that you don't have to be the brand on the front stage to be a great brand, you just have to build a brand that means the world to your customers. The rest will take care of itself.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

My Visit to Las Vegas

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to visit with a good friend. It had been more than twenty years since I had last seen him, and it was a much-needed visit for many reasons. One, he was, and is, a really good friend that gives me good advice. Two, visiting with him reminded me of the good personal traits I have learned from him - having a sense of style (still working on this one), keeping things in perspective, and always being able to laugh at any situation. Finally, I had the honor of visiting a brand he is associated with that is functioning successfully in the Vegas area - Insert Coin(s).

It's a concept that should make sense, but was totally new to me. It's a video lounge, capturing all walks of life - gamers, club heads, hip-hopers, and the curious ones. It has been a long time since I highlighted brands, and I think I need to return to doing this to analyze brands and introduce new ideas to the world. For this one, it's personal, because I have the best wishes that this business thrives and prospers, for my friend. But on an objective note, I think it is a good concept, nicely situated in an area that will allow for a good stream of potential customers.

For those in the club and bar business, never stop innovating, and never forget that people always need a reason to get out. I am sure many of the patrons of Insert Coin(s) grab their keys, which are sitting on a video game console, and head to the venue to play video games and socialize. Yes, we are social animals, and Insert Coin(s) is a prime example of how to build brands - social brands - from the brick-and-mortar perspective.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Behind the Brand.....Behind the Curtain

This is just a random reflection on the state of advertising and marketing today. While I have been impressed with the transformation the industry has made to become more quantitatively focused, I have failed to see any evidence of correlating spending with revenue outcomes. I think it is more aligned with the functions of a given business, but I don't know if it can claim any causal power to improving the outcome of an organization, as it once did in the past. In a way, better data has pulled the curtain back on the previous false claims of many regarding the measurable benefits of advertising.

I think of all the "experts" in the industry and how their value in the marketplace was all driven by their confidence in what they produced for a client. That's was about it - confidence, or arrogance if you may. And I ponder if the confidence was worth it in the long run. Sure, they have the experience and the financial benefits of good selling of ones' self, but how has that distorted their sense of value? How can confidence help them in a world that doesn't value confidence more than it values sound data and information?

We live in a different era than the days of OZ where verification was too complicated and costly to examine each time your ran across someone making a claim of being a difference maker, in similar fashion to how we came to conclusions in the sciences centuries ago. The experts have quickly become artist, and certain genre of artist at that.

The best way to not allow your audience to get behind the brand - behind the curtain - is to not hide behind it. Just saying.

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Train Ride from Memphis to Milwaukee

I had the pleasure of driving to Memphis to catch an overnight train from there to Milwaukee, connecting through Chicago. As you are well aware, there's not much to see on the train in the middle of the night, but there is certainly a great deal to experience.

The train heading north actually originates in New Orleans, flowing up the Mississippi River from the severely hot to the unbearable cold. The ride helped me appreciate the journey most took during the extreme times of racial oppression in the south, to head north to something a little better. What many found were new opportunities and a new chance. The racism was still there in a different form, but the venture upward to the midwest brought about a new environment of an area better equipped to tolerate, sometimes appreciate, diversity. Germans, Italians, Catholics, Jews, all assembled to find prosperity and freedom.

There are remnants of that past, some evident in blighted buildings of the industrial boom's past, others in the form of abject poverty for those who never quite found a good base to build that bright future. Nonetheless, it's a place I can truly appreciate, especially from the fact that I was born in the area. I spent some time during the train ride and my time in the area wondering what would have become of my life if all I knew was the mid-west. And strangely, I didn't find it to be a bad thing. I saw in Chicago, and even Milwaukee, a life of never-ending opportunities. A place to be an artist, an engineer, a banker, an academic, or just a local with strong ties to the area and the pleasures of sports and culture. I saw a world much different than the south where I have spent most of my time.

The ride back was much more scenic, as the sunlight didn't fade for a few hours of the ride. I guess I could summarize all the little towns and quaint areas as a testament to how we design our environments to be what we choose them to be. In the areas from Milwaukee to the middle part of Illinois, I saw a framework of accommodation, not just in the faces and hues leaving and boarding the train, but in the architecture and infrastructure that seemed to be more, well, public in nature. As I headed beyond that point, southward, the environment seemed more personal, more specific. Better put, less inclusive and inviting. And to say it plainly, I want to be included and I want to be invited.

You can make your brand whatever you want it to be. You can pay millions for agencies and consultants to reinforce what you think the world wants to hear about you. But upon first sight, your presentation to the public will clearly state you true promise. I sometimes wonder if we should return to the days of being ignorantly honest. I know we should strive to have the world function in a better manner, but how long can we hold up to the resistance from inclusion? I sit here writing this blog thinking about all the time I may have waisted investing in a region for what it could potentially become. And I wonder if the tradeoff was the simple pleasure of walking off a train to some small town that accepted and appreciated me, and left potential for those who feared change. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Necessity of Failure: What Fuels and Informs Success

So, I have started using my Evernote platform to do all the diary stuff, in order to spare everyone the random personal thoughts that have nothing to do with branding, strategy, or marketing. It has helped me to properly use all the digital outlets necessary to express myself in different sorts of ways. As for this blog, I will keep it dedicated to business-related topics. My other blog will continue to focus on research, public policy, and strategy in public affairs. And my twitter account, well, that will always be a scattershot of thoughts, expressions, and ideas.

The most recent body of work I have found interesting is the interview with Michael Bloomberg and Lloyd Blankfein. They both have some interesting backgrounds, including humble beginnings and tenacious appetites for doing and achieving more. The one piece I found interesting, among all the good discussion points, was the notion of early or immediate success for some professionals. Both of these moguls seemed to be in total agreement that failure was necessary to learn, grow, and develop into a well-qualified professional and leader. It makes me think of the goal for most of us, if not all of us, when we graduate from college. The plan is to land a place in a growing company, with a good environment, with opportunities for advancement, with great pay, and a promising future for us. In many cases, some land directly on that spot upon graduation. For me, experiencing three different graduations, I have seemed to miss the spot every time.

The first time was the completion of my undergraduate degree in graphic design. I had dreams and plans for some high-end design or advertising shop, where I could spread my wings and become some world-renowned creative mind. Instead, my path led me to a pre-press shop at a local printer in Nashville, for $8.00 per hour. A position I am very grateful for. My other positions in this arena were not much better. I mean I missed all the marks of the goals for success - environment, pay, advancement, etc. I gave up on graphic design and ventured into business administration. During the time of my graduation, the world was experiencing the worst downturn economy since the great depression. Having interviewed and landed a position with a prominent insurance brokerage firm, I thought I had finally made some progress by entering an arena with good pay and a promising future. No need for details, this opportunity dried up like all other jobs during this time. So, I embarked on the quest for a Ph.D. in public administration. While my graduation is only a month old, I am feeling the volume of the same old song rising, as no offers have come my way, and few positions seem to have a need for my skills. It appears I am a three-time failure.

But according to Michael Bloomberg, these failures are necessary, and are common to most successful people in the industry. I am sure you are thinking, "this guy is really reaching for anything, maybe he is either unlucky or not good", and I would say you have a really good point. But while I have not had the outlandish demand for my skills in the marketplace, I have significantly advanced in my career to uniquely leverage my creative, business, and research skills. What also gives me hope is another recent Bloomberg Sarah Lewis interview, this time with Charlie Rose. Sarah's words invigorated me to remember the creative process from my undergraduate days, and the necessity of failed attempts and the value those artifacts have to success and advancement. I even recall Einstein doing the same sort of methodology (unplanned) to develop the theory of relativity. So, here is what I learned from my most recent, but interrelated failure of not being accepted in the marketplace, at least not right now.

  1. Sometimes you are equipped to build the organization you wish to be employed by
  2. Your leadership style depends on the people you choose to lead, and your choice in the right people to lead should be directly correlated to the people who readily accept you as a leader (work with what's in front of you)
  3. When they don't buy from you, you have more R&D time to get it right, use the time wisely
  4. The longer you stay off the radar, the greater the impact you will have when you finally get on the stage (momentum is real)
  5. Anyone who's giving you a chance, is giving you a chance (demonstrate it whenever demonstration is possible)
Those are just a few things to note. For me, I need to rethink what my new assets can help me create, in terms of a new business, a new product, or a new service in the marketplace. The challenge is on me now to develop the right mix of skills to try again to be successful. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Getting It Back

So yesterday's post was pretty random - just now thinking about it. I don't think I have anything that would be more coherent today, more randomness. The important thing is my recovery, post-dissertation, to begin writing and expressing again.

I have a few goals and readjustments to attack in the next few months. One, I need to rethink my leadership roles for certain boards. I am looking for quality engagement, and must resign from a few. As for my career, I need to get ready to begin working with my career coach to begin reframing my credentials and expertise. Also, I need to get ready to serve as the Club President for Toastmasters. I am excited, and want to make sure I can make a meaningful contribution.

As for the brand, always be sure to rethink you quality proposition to the environment. In this, I am referring to the satisfaction of the customers about what you are delivering. Often they will not discuss displeasure in enough time to make any adjustments. You must find the productive space to make this happen.

Two good reads about quality and the power of the customer.

Exit, Loyalty, and Voice
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Monday, May 26, 2014

Role Ambiguity of the Organization, and the Complexity in Explaining Brands

There are so many brands I have discussed over the years, many with a good explanation of why a certain brand is important to discuss. I have ventured off into the world of public administration, and the concept of brands takes on a different perspective. Institutionalism and cultural norms are the proper translation for the brand in the public context. 

I am reading a good series of papers on Public Goods, and it brings up a very interesting point, or theme, throughout the book. The distinction from public and private goods are explained by the state or nature of two primary factors - rivalry and exclusivity. In other words, public goods are considered non-rivalrous and non-exclusive. Translation, the consumption of the good does not diminish others ability to consume the good, and the good is readily available to all applicable parties. In oversimplified terms, clean air can be considered a public good. A more tangible item with costs would be public parks. However, the authors bring up a very important point about the gray area for all goods and services, where the base nature may contain public and private characteristics. 

When we look at organizations, especially the larger corporations intermingled with government responsibilities such as telecom, we see the complex situation to resolve whether companies like AT&T can be considered public or private. And often, there is a unusual interrelated dynamic between the public and private sphere that play an important part of private institutions, which further  complicates the understanding of the brand. Would Wal-Mart truly have the low-cost brand image without leveraging local, state, and federal governments for healthcare services? 

All this rambling to point out the issue of clearly understanding what lies behind the promise of a brand. The guarantee often has a public element to it, which means we as citizens lift up the brand through our tax dollars and our agreement to support certain public goods and services. I believe this issue has become more distinct in this time period because the dichotomy has been emphasized from the private sphere - calling for smaller government and for this smaller government to leave businesses alone. For these businesses that call for clear separations while consuming large amounts of public services and products, how should we interpret their brand?

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Minimizing the Stress of Goal-Setting Through Continual Preparation and Conditioning

I had the opportunity to run in my fourth Country Music Half-Marathon. It was not planned, but I did it nonetheless. Shout-out to the East Nasty Running Club. I am very grateful to be a part of a wonderful running group. The Wednesday runs served as my training.

Some asked me this year if I had plans to run, and my answer was always, "if so, it will definitely be a last minute decision", not knowing how true this statement would become. So, what is to be learned from this latest life experiences? I am glad you asked the question. For the frame on this topic, I ask that you think about setting goals, engaging in the event, and pursuing the accomplishment. We all do it, and often push off things/goals to relieve the stress we have in our lives, due to existing goals and responsibilities. I learned some important things yesterday about this:
  1. If it's a lifestyle, you are always prepared.
  2. If you can achieve it without the stress of preparing too much, then why stress over it?
  3. If you plan to be a significant figure in your world, whatever your world may be, you must always be prepared to take on big goals.
  4. If you have an interest in doing something, but are waiting on someone/something to press you to do it, you might as well go ahead and do it.
  5. Sore legs heal much faster than the regret of not doing something.
I hope this helps. I learned so much from this experience.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Relief of Not Fitting In

You have to ask yourself if fitting in is worth it. Most find the reality of fitting in to be the end goal, and well worth it. But for those trying to accomplish something, fitting in can be a hinderance to progress. Don't get me wrong, it can often be uncomfortable when you don't fit in. But for me, it is even more uncomfortable to not make progress in life, or your career.

This weekend, I was given the update that I don't quite fit in. It hurts when you think about the time I have invested. But, it's a relief in other respects.

On to the next thing.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Teavana & Starbucks

Just got word that Teavana will be sold in Starbucks. No comment. Oh, other than I told you so!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Free Markets, Choice, and Market Failures

For those interested in economics, I thought this statement was a good perspective - counter - on free markets.

"Assume that a number of people are engaged in a productive  activity--say, listening to a lecture. By some fluke, a hundred-dollar bill falls at the feet of each person present. Each individual has a choice: to stop paying attention and grab the bill at once, or to wait until the end of the lecture and then pick up the money. Although the latter option is more efficient (since it does not entail the disturbance of productive activity), it is not a Nash equilibrium. Given that everyone else is waiting, it pays each individual to bend down to gather up not only his hundred-dollar bill, but also that of his neighbor. But there is no real social gain from picking up the bill a few minutes earlier, and there is a real social cost. Many financial innovations that involve faster recording of transactions do little more than allow some individuals to pick up hundred-dollar bills faster, "forcing" others to follow suit (for a formal model see Stiglitz and Weiss 1990). Better financial markets may contribute to economic efficiency, but the extent to which they do so requires careful scrutiny. Improvements in secondary markets do not necessarily enhance the ability of the economy either to mobilize savings or to allocate capital."

Stiglitz, J. E. (1993). The role of the state in financial markets (No. 21). Institute of Economics, Academia Sinica.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Your Stone. Your Sculpture. Your Choice.

There is something to be said about the wilderness, about being alone in a personal struggle. There is a point where you want to quit and go back to the world of comfort. Then there is the space where you can't go back, but question if you have made a monumental mistake in the journey. Finally, there is the beautiful space - nirvana for me in many respects; the reason why I head back in the woods every time. It's the point when you have no choice but to keep moving, in spite if everything going against you. It's the space where you square up with your character and realize the cost of achievement. Where every accomplishment in the past doesn't matter, and there are few fans cheering you on. It's where real strength is built, where your stone-of-character is refined some more to build your life's composition. 

Trust me, it is easy to avoid these moments and experiences, as long as you are okay with looking at your stone as merely that, a stone on the side of the road benefiting no one, inspiring folly, and producing the things that hinder our society from being a beautiful world for everyone. Well, Martin places it in a better light:

"The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict."

The only way you will lose is quitting - giving up.
The finish line is not determined by you.

For those who wish to craft and sculpt a useful piece of stone, the wind won't erode it into something beautiful, and the water can wash away the rough edges. No, the composition is totally up to you, and the tools you acquire along the way are reflective of your desire to tell your story your way - presenting a composition useful to many, inspiring all of us to be and do better, and producing something to goes beyond your time here on earth.

I am blessed to have chipped away a major piece of stone lately. I may not finish the composition, but the inferences are there, or at least I can start to see them.

Take care of your stone (spirit), build your composition, and share it with others.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Turning the Corner

I am at an all-time low with my post frequency. Every time I take a look at my browser menu tab and see "My Blog", I feel guilty about neglecting the site, but I can't seem to find the time, energy, and mindset to get back in the groove. In all honesty, my plate is extremely full, and my inability to blog more frequently is a reflection of this busy schedule.

Long story made short, I believe I am turning the corner, and I am beginning to feel good about my chances to return to some good blogging. That's all I have for today.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

An Update on Progress and Purpose

It's hard to imagine we are getting close to wrapping up the first month of the year. Things got busy pretty quick. In the great words of the Brooks in Shawshank Redemption, "it seems like everyone got in a big damn hurry". How true Brooks, how true. Whatever the case, we are moving forward in this time and space to place our mark on 2014. As with every year, the canvas is blank, and waiting on our input on what the composition will be.

I have begun to make a little progress on my dissertation. The BPM project at work is steadily charging ahead. Spiritually, I have take a more focused approach to my prayer and meditation discipline. Physically, I am trying to maintain some schedule of exercise, until I can free up some time to make a more meaningful commitment. All of this to say, I now pray to offer thanks for the space I have been allowed to work within, with the hope of doing great things in the context and circumstances granted to me in this life's walk.

A man, who takes life seriously, is torn with many things - none of the options are clear, much less comparable. One leap too soon, and you blow it all away. One hesitation, and you inherit regret. And all along, our experiences from growing up change our perception of what we believed to be real or not real, good or not so good. Yes, we are torn with making sense of something that gives us the freedom of seeing it any way we choose.

2013 was an extremely rough year for me. I found out the delicate nature of confidence. How the lone ranger concept is a bad idea. But most of all, I found out how conviction, and standing for something, is the only way a man can make sense of his life, regardless of the outcome. Years ago, I titled this blog All About the Brand, with the intentions of discussing matters around marketing. The title of this blog has evolved into a different context, broader than marketing and advertising. The brand refers to my thoughts, my actions, my meditations. Many in the field of marketing believe the brand is all about the promise. Whether known or unknown, we all provide a promise to those around us of what we will do or not do. I must spend a little time to think about what I have promised, and what I want to promise, and what I should promise in this life's journey.

I tweeted a thought in 2013 that was birthed out of my frustrations and disappointments. "A brand becomes real after it has publicly rejected the convenience of breaking the promise." I will leave you to mediate on that, as I have for some time.