Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Tag Archives: Culture

The Modern Workforce

Work From Home - Image Credit, OboLinx.com

No doubt, the “modern workforce” is changing. We’re seeing a rapid evolution of what it means to “work.” Yes, there are still some salaried industries that rely on coming in by 9, leaving by 5 and taking your negotiated 1-hour lunch break. However, that approach is becoming the exception, not the rule.

Some 10 years back, when I was living in Omaha, Nebraska and working in digital marketing for ConAgra Foods, a senior exec educated me on “office space.” He explained, in a perfect world, the organization would have no office space. Physical space is an incredibly expensive liability on the books. With physical space comes rent, insurance, maintenance, overhead, taxes and a host of other line items. As he explained, if the company cooks fully eliminate its physical space cost, it could reinvest into compensation, R&D and other areas.

Fast forward a few more year’s and I’m at The Campbell Soup Company. Our CIO was light years ahead in thinking. Not only did the concept of world with zero real estate make sense, he argued companies should go a step further and embrace a full being your own device model. BYOD is often used for cell phone. You bring your phone, you pay for the service and the company lets you access your corporate email on the device. He wanted to embrace a concept where the organization would provide the “software”, but the employee brings the hardware. If you want to use a Mac, cool. ChromeBook? Fine. What happens in this model? Well, the cost of the device shifts to to the employee, as does maintenance, repairs, etc. The company wipes a great deal of liability off its books.

As we step into 2018, we’re not just ready for these two concepts to collide, we’re already seeing the value of it. This sponsored advertorial in Inc lays out a lot of the benefits of organizations that embrace a work from home model. At UnitedHealth Group, we’re routinely a top employer for remote and work from home staff. More than 40% of employees across UHG and its companies are remote. We’re at the forefront of this evolution and have been for some time.

Work from home, for a number of reasons, will become the default, instead of the rarity. Now, as Uncle Ben told Peter Parker, with great power comes great responsibility. Marissa Mayer famously found out, quite easily, that remote workers, were, well, not working.

When you’re remote, you need to be even more present than when physically in the office. You can’t be “that person” on a conference call, clearly tuned out. A work from home model can quickly go sideways. For example, regardless of the reality, the optics of a situation where someone “works from home” on Friday and Monday, are never good. There will be a portion of the employee population that assumes they’re simply taking a 4-day vacation, every week.

Then, you have a situation, I’ve unfortunately seen too often. Combine a loose work from home policy with employees who basically take 2-week vacations every other month, by “working from home” at their vacation destination, and you have a powder keg. Rarely is this successful. We may be embracing the future, but old habits die hard.

I’ve also seen the very best in remote workers. At Walgreens I had employee who lived more than 4 time zones away, but was not only one of the most engaged employees, was also one of the best performers.

The challenge with the new modern workforce environment is that each person is still unique. I could never thrive in a fully work from home model. I enjoy the face to face human interaction. I also think I’m more effective presenting and collaborating in person. However, other team members function better in isolation and seek it.

Having a high functioning team is, to me, more important than having a single high performing team member. No person is above the team. If a single person’s work-style preference negatively impacts the sum of the team, their preference is rarely worth it. Opportunities should be given to make work style preferences, well, work. However, there’s a difference between providing meaningful opportunity to succeed and being asleep at the wheel. Candidly, some employees are not cut out to succeed I’m working from home.

Treat Your Organizational Culture And Education Like Products

Of late I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of culture and educational initiatives. If you were to ask most leaders to describe their culture, you’d probably get a document that has a series of bullets, some key words or a few sentences. There’s nothing inherently wrong with documenting something as important as your organization’s culture. Documenting something makes it more “real.” But, simply documenting your culture, can often lead to a set it and forget it mindset. Culture, changes over time. It evolves. You could argue, it’s a living entity that has to be nurtured.

Google, “product development life cycle” – then choose images. You’ll see a number of similar looking graphics that depict how to go from need to launch and then eventually refinement. For illustrative purposes, I’m choosing this one from Concept Design.

Product Development Life Cycle

The most critical part of this workflow, is the dotted line section on the left. There’s a continual focus on refinement. Products are never perfect, out of the gate. There are bugs. There are things you had to compromise on, to hit the launch date. There are elements you couldn’t include, because the technology wasn’t mature enough. There are pieces you eliminated because your audience wasn’t ready for it. The point is, a product, is never done. There’s always an investment in time, people and dollars, to keep improving it and evolving it to reflect the current marketplace. That’s exactly what needs to happen with organizational culture. If not, your culture may reflect who you were, the day you created it, but be at odds with the company you have today.

Pivoting to organizational education initiatives, I think a product development mindset could benefit the effectiveness of these programs, as well. Here’s what happens in a typical organization.

  1. You have a bunch of unstructured lunch and learns
  2. Your external partners come in 1 – 3 times a year to share an outside in perspective
  3. You might a day or 2 dedicated to innovation
  4. You’ll send people to conferences. They’ll share recaps in a smaller meeting or in a mass email.
  5. Which leads to the worst offense, the myriad of internal email newsletters from different people across the company. Why do I call this the worst offense? Often the newsletters contradict each other, which leads to head scratching. I’ve seen this up close. There was a time when I would send out an internal newsletter, called, “Friday Five.” You had to opt in to receive it. It was a way to distill the most important and interesting 5 articles out on the web. The intent was to create focus. But, when you realize, that while you’re attempting to create focus, you’re still up against 10s, if not 100s of other internal newsletters, you realize, you’re more a part of the problem, than the solution.

But, what would happen if you took a product development mindset to education? Well, if you did, at a minimum, 3 things would happen.

  1. You’d have a product manager/owner responsible for understanding internal need, evaluating the marketplace options for education, developing a road map that ties into a strategy and then ultimately delivering against that roadmap.
  2. There would be a budget, objectives and an expected return. By having a budget and an expected return, you’d have a model for determining what educational initiatives fit and which ones don’t. Does it make sense to send 5 people Cannes? Maybe. Maybe, not. Should we leverage our advertising agency to present some outside in perspective on new breakthrough creative formats? Maybe that’s a great use of their time. Maybe, it’s a poor investment. The point is, now you’d have criteria to help you evaluate those situations.
  3. Constant an ongoing refinement would be part of the plan. Your education “plan” would be expected to keep pace with the changing demands of the business and of the employees.

In essence, you’d bring structure, rigor and accountability to something that’s usually scattershot and difficult to measure.

Culture and continual education are more than important; they’re critical for long-term success. Consider applying a product development mindset and I have a feeling you’ll be surprised with the results.

Do Awards Matter?

Cannes Lions

A great friend and colleague asked me:

From a “client” perspective would it be safe to say you give zero f**ks about awards that agencies win? I’m getting tired of people asking me to submit for awards and would rather do something more creative with the $10,000 we’re going to spend on applications. Either a charitable donation, or some kind of bounty that brand managers would care about and think is interesting.

It’s a great question. My perspective on this topic has definitely changed, over the years. But, I think it’s a question, just about every agency asks/considers at some point, especially when you consider the costs for award entries. Those costs become important, when you consider, they’re part of the overhead for an agency and that means, ultimately a client ends up paying for them in the hourly rate. More on that topic here.

Getting back to the question at hand, here’s my perspective on the value of awards.

  1. Ultimately the awards an agency, who isn’t my partner, wins, have 0 bearing on me. I suspect, this is the case with more “clients” who are satisfied with their existing partners. Now, keep in mind, satisfied, doesn’t mean you’re thrilled with your partner, it simply means they’re good enough that the juice isn’t worth the squeeze to entertain switching.
  2. Now, if you’re my agency and I’m your client, I of course want you to win awards, but I care more about awards that are won for initiatives done on my business, than for another client. I’m glad when my partners (agency or otherwise) win an award. I want them to be successful. Why do I care? Because, they’re both a motivator for my partner and a sometimes powerful reminder, that we’re doing some amazing things together. However, no award compensates for poor business objective performance, unless it’s so transformational that you can convince yourself it’s meaningful beyond pure dollars and cents. For many, I’m sure the Oreo Super Bowl tweet is a great example.

Awards, at the core, are like a Michelin rating for a restaurant. When you make a reservation, you don’t intentionally, go out to pick a Michelin rated restaurant. Well, unless you’re a special kind of person. Those people aside, you pick a restaurant on a wide set of criteria: location, price, cuisine type and of course availability. But, should all those things lead to a place that was Michelin rated, 3 things happen:

  1. You instantly feel validated. After all, your choice is brilliant, if the Michelin people rated it. Who can question that seal of approval.
  2. The people you bring to the dinner, can’t hate it. “Wait, you mean, you completely disliked the place with 3, yes 3, Michelin stars? Are you crazy?” Now, that said, they don’t have to love it, but they can’t hate it. In agency terms, rarely does an executive get fired for picking the AdAge agency of the year or the agency who won 6 lions for X, Y and Z campaign. Granted,  they may not get promoted for it, but they don’t get fired either. When I worked with a commercial banking client, back in my old agency days, the client remarked, “our problem is, no one gets fired for hiring Bank of America.”
  3. You invoke some amount of jealousy, which feels good, from people who know you went to that restaurant. Here’s the key…that jealousy is only generated from people who actually know what a Michelin rating means. Net-net, some awards matter and some don’t. For example, just about everyone knows what a Lion is. Not everyone knows what a Shorty Award is.

That said, here’s the 2 reasons, I do think awards can matter for an agency:

  1. When I was at Fallon, David Lubars would say something to the effect of, “awards help make sure, we get an unfair share of creative talent, from a small pool.” His point being, creative people want to do award winning work. If you’re the place getting all the awards, you get the people, you might not normally get. I can tell you, when we did EDS Cat Herders, Buddy Lee and BMW Films, you got people to move to Minneapolis, who wouldn’t normally have considered it as a place to live and work. Be it creative, strategy, tech or some other function, people want to work with the best. Awards are one yardstick.
  2. In a startup capacity, as validation and a door opener. When XYZ company launches, companies don’t just take their call, in the same way they would if a well established and known company, called. This hurdle is no different than the one that exists in buying a new car/tv/dishwasher/etc. from a company you’ve heard nothing about. But, all of a sudden, if your company is the most awarded or earned the highest/best award, you’ve got a heck of a door opener. SaaS companies have been relying on Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for, what seems like forever, for this very reason. That validation, puts them on the map and makes getting someone to take your call, a hell of a lot easier.

I can tell you that I don’t have an objective, for # of awards to win, but I can also tell you, we want to win them, just as badly as the next company. That said, if you had a choice between spending $100K in award submissions or investing that $100K into your employees, choose the investment option. Your employees will thank you.

Reflecting On Campbell

“To be the most digitally fit consumer packaged goods organization, in the world.” That was the lofty vision I set for The Campbell Soup Co., when I first joined. Nearly 2 years later, the organization has leaned in, for the most part, into that vision. I’m proud of where the organization sits today. The progress was dramatic and it was something you could feel. It went well beyond the surface. When leaving Campbell, I had a mix of pride, satisfaction and excitement. Being the 1st digital leader for such a historic and iconic organization was exciting. I think the organization and I were both initially unsure how this partnership would work. I was certainly unlike their normal hire. And I was skeptical how much they really wanted to change. But, 2 years later, it’s clear the partnership was mutually fruitful. I’m certainly a better, wiser digital leader today, than I was before I joined. And, it’s fair to say, the organization is in a much better position to succeed in digital, than it was before I joined. Pride I often remark to people that the work I was apart of at Campbell, was some of the best work I’ve ever been part of. There are 3 initiatives that come to mind and fill me with pride:

  1. Changing Our Digital Investment: In year 1,  digital media investment was increased by more than 40%. The headlines talked a lot about that number. It’s a big increase. It was increased even more in year 2. But, spending more, wasn’t the goal. Spending right, was. I’m proud of how those dollars were being spent. They were much more in tune with how consumers were spending their time across devices, screens, platforms, etc. The change in spend also lead to new partners and ways of thinking about the role of media. It certainly also helps that the ROI on many of the digital initiatives provided a real tangible positive return.
  2. Hack The Kitchen: This was the first major initiative that publicly demonstrated how far the org had come. From going beyond the traditional agency partners for ideas to enabling others to mashup intellectual property, Hack The Kitchen broke every traditional rule that existed, internally. The output was pretty damn good too. Sometimes initiatives are a success because of the cultural, process and mindset changes that occur. This was one of those initiatives.
  3. Launching The Consumer Learning and Interaction Center: Do you need a social media command center? I don’t know. I think launching one, just to have one, is a bad idea. But, I believe that launching one because you want to demonstrate to an organization the importance of social, real time decision making and that you can’t always do what you’ve always done, is a great idea. CLIC started out as a theoretical idea, the kind that starts on a white board and with people saying “it’ll never happen.” But, the people in that first meeting refused to let this idea die. I let others drive this initiative and I was so proud of their perseverance, drive and desire to bring upon something that would change the organization for the better.

Satisfaction In the Fall of 2013 we shared our progress with the Board of Directors and the Major Share Owners. One board member remarked that they never thought we’d get to where we were…ever, but to see it in only 2 years was nothing short of exceptional. At the end of the day, Campbell, like all public companies, answers to investors. A good board of directors, helps you deliver on shareholder return, while ensuring the company is well positioned for future long-term growth. To have the board validate our model and decisions, be impressed by the measured ROI of our digital investment and endorse our roadmap satisfied the burning question in my mind: are the choices I’m making, the right ones? Excitement My 2 years at Campbell were an amazing learning experience. As a marketer, leader, mentor, evangelist, business driver, etc., I’ve grown leaps and bounds. Building something from scratch is fun. It’s also incredibly draining. Every decision weighs on you. There’s no playbook to learn from, no original blueprint to assess and no trail to follow. The excitement that comes from blazing a path, creating a direction and building a capability is matched by the stress of wanting to be a perfectionist and do the organization, no harm. Heavy is the crown, and every day is something new. That’s where the excitement comes from! Building on that, I’m also excited about what’s next. The shelf life of a change agent is complicated. But, the ride, is exhilarating. Having helped build organizations, more than a few times, there’s 3 things I’ve definitely learned:

  1. The right talent is important, but perhaps not as important as the right cultural fit. You need a great team. Not a team of Super Stars, but a great team. When you hear stories about championship teams, you often hear about how great their chemistry was. Whether you’re building a Super Bowl team or a world class digital organization, chemistry matters. Individuals who are blessed with raw skills and technical prowess, but lack the cultural fit, aren’t worth the stress they cause.
  2. You need to know what you’ll comprise on. Some things are non-negotiable. Everything can’t be non-negotiable, but trust me, there are many times where compromise made in the sake of being a “team player”, simply sets you, your team and the organization back.
  3. Communication must be clear, simple and tailored to the communication medium. Seems like a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how complicated communication creates an inefficient organization.

I’m thankful Campbell believed in me and brought me on to be their first global digital marketing and social media leader. I have no doubt the world class team at Campbell, will build on the strong foundation we created and continue their progress toward being the most digitally fit consumer packaged good organization in the world.

The Beta Fallacy

Beta. As an industry, we seem to love that word. It conjures up ideas of excitement. Things that are in beta aren’t fully baked. They’re rough around the edges. They have cracks. Beta means, it’s not perfect. When technology and software companies would offer a beta preview of their latest creation, geeks like me, would get giddy. Getting access to something beta wasn’t something everyone received. We were part of an exclusive club by getting to experience something in beta. We were all a little cooler…in our own minds.


Somewhere along the way, as social platforms and behaviors grew, we created this belief that if something is in beta, people and companies were some how courageous for sharing it with you and the world. Our comfort with letting you look at, play with and experience something in beta is supposed to mean we’re heroic.

I’ll raise my hand and call myself out. Guilty. Yep, I’m guilty of perpetuating that concept. After all, to live your life in beta is to acknowledge we are, in fact, not perfect. Fail fast, right? Launch something, “throw it out there” and let’s “listen” to feedback in “real time” is better than testing something behind closed doors, right? Have we become a voyeur society? Perhaps. At least, that excuse, would help explain our love affair with beta.

Betas has some how grown from a purely technical term to define the current evolution of a product to the word that gives license to be mediocre. Calling something beta has now become the way to absolve ourselves for creating things aren’t very good. I mean, how can you call something bad, if it’s in beta? If it’s in beta, we’re still refining it and frankly you should just be thankful for the privilege of seeing this half baked idea, product, experience before it’s out of beta.

This has been going on for quite some time now. So what’s got me blogging about it, you ask? We’ll get there. Let’s start with a few quotes:

Being the first to do something new and complex is usually hard and expensive. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s not the future.

For now, brands have to start somewhere.

Nobody tries. Nobody fails. Nobody wins.

And trying will only make it better.

If the marketing “community” is successful at tearing itself down in the pursuit of building up the profiles of individuals too fickle to be bothered, then we all lose.

At the heart of it, these are nearly all excuses for why something isn’t good. Because, it’s in the “early days”…because we all need to “start somewhere”…because if you don’t try, you’ll never “win.” At this point, let’s just quote the entire line of Successories, starting with “You can’t steal 2nd base and keep your foot on 1st.”

Frederick Wilcox Quote

The quotes were taken from two different people writing about the state of Real Time Marketing. The idea of course is we should recognize that all Real Time Marketing is in “beta” and therefore:

  1. You can’t judge or critique it
  2. You should accept and excuse mediocrity, in the name of progress

When did it come to this? Really? I’m sorry, but when I think about my role at the Campbell Soup Co., I know I have a real responsibility to do no harm to a beloved, cherished, admired and respected brand. It’s a responsibility I take seriously.

Delivering mediocrity under the guise of “beta”, won’t advance our thinking or our execution. Accepting mediocrity doesn’t create future leaders. Embracing mediocrity doesn’t make us better. Is everything we do, perfect? No. But, do we accept it something that’s not perfect, shrug our shoulders and say, “well, it’s in beta.” No. That’s just not our culture. We have higher expectations for ourselves.

I think Google really nails the use of the label, “beta” Beta, for Google, doesn’t not mean a buggy, unusable, mediocre product. Those types of products and ideas are housed under their “Labs” group. Beta for Google means significant changes may be made to the product. Gmail spent 5 years in beta and Google News spent 4 years in beta. They were not mediocre. Google didn’t say, “hey, we’re trying here, please overlook how bad this is right now…because technology will change, making it better…and if we aren’t trying and failing, then we aren’t focusing on the future.” They have a higher standard to bear for their consumers.

The marketing and advertising industry is in a significant state of flux. As we all look to make sense of the ever changing landscape, we’re trying to navigate, don’t be mediocre. Don’t offer excuses. Don’t become a “me too” in search of catching lightening in a bottle. Be better than that. Be much better than that.

We should never trade the promise of a short term gain at the expense of long term pain. I learned that in 1998, from Kevin Flatt, when I was working at Fallon. Brands are built over years. They’re built by having purposeful positioning, insights driven strategy and roadmaps that ensure they’re able to remain culturally relevant. These principles haven’t changed, just because we now have social media, big data and a sharing economy.

Think before you tweet. Don’t be a gimmick. Know your brand, it’s heritage and where it’s going.

Oh, also, please don’t judge this blog post. It’s in beta.

Talent And Culture

Turnover is a killer. As the Wall Street Journal stated:

High employee turnover hurts a company’s bottom line. Experts estimate it costs upwards of twice an employee’s salary to find and train a replacement. And churn can damage morale among remaining employees.

Think about the last time you switched jobs or the last time your friend switched. If you traced the reasons for leaving, all the way back to the source, you’ll see culture as a key driver. Consequently, if during your interview process you aren’t asking what the company’s culture is like and talking to people who currently work at the company to hear from them about the culture; you’re making a mistake.

I’ve worked in places that had a great culture (eg Fallon) and worked at places that had a horrible culture (eg Fallon after the Publicis acquisition). A great culture gets you out of bed on a rainy day when you feel less than 100%. A poor culture has you looking for reasons to avoid going into the office.

More than a year ago, I stumbled across this great deck from Netflix on their culture. As the first slide states in black and white: Freedom and Responsibility are the key pillars and they need to work in harmony. It sounds incredibly simple; doesn’t it? But, if creating a great culture was simple and if creating a culture that attracted great talent were easy, the job turn over rate would be nil.

The deck is fun. It’s inspiring. But, it’s also smart and it’s on point with where the market is today and is going. I think some of the best thinking is contained within slides 95 thru 108. Those slides focus on how they are marrying culture with compensation…and you can see how their approach is attracting top talent.


View more presentations from Reed Hastings

I think Netflix is on to something. The market will always dictate the value of a person. Getting into a constant cycle of counter offers because you reward employees X times a year at specific intervals, is taxing, time consuming and has a negative impact on culture.

I’m seeing more and more companies…usually heritage brands…investing in cultural transformation. They have to if they want to compete against the startups, Google’s, Facebook’s and RedBull’s of the world. To give you an example of what your company is competing with when it comes to culture, check out Valve’s (one of the leading video game developers) employee manual. How can you not be inspired when you see a section titled “Risks” that leads with this paragraph:

What if I screw up?
Nobody has ever been fired at Valve for making a mistake. It wouldn’t make sense for us to operate that way. Providing the freedom to fail is an important trait of the company—we couldn’t expect so much of individuals if we also penalized people for errors. Even expensive mistakes, or ones which result in a very public failure, are genuinely looked at as opportunities to learn. We can always repair the mistake or make up for it.

Wait a second…a culture that doesn’t force you to have 100% of the data…that doesn’t just reward modest 3% growth based on risk averse decision making? Um, sign me up, is what most people would say.

Money is nice. Titles make you feel important. Both can attract talent. But, what ultimately retains great talent is a culture that rewards that great talent. But, rewarding goes beyond dollars and cents. It’s recognition. It’s autonomy. It’s promoting them when they deserve to be promoted, not making them wait til the annual review cycle. It’s letting them work from wherever they want to, because they always over deliver. It’s all of those and so much more.

Culture is one of those things that you can’t really describe, but you can feel it when it’s there and you know when it’s missing. It was there at Fallon…when I started at Fallon, you could feel it. It was more than the decor, the nonexistent dress code, the beers in the conferences rooms at 3, the open door policy (yes, I once walked into Pat Fallon’s office, had a beer and talked shop), true commitment to innovation and an elimination of bureaucracy. It was all of that and more.

When I’m evaluating a potential opportunity, I always start with evaluating that company’s culture. It’s the most important element. Unfortunately, few have it. But, you need get it quickly, because savvy and desirable talent won’t wait for you to evolve…they’ll move on.

September 11th – Nearly 10 Years Later

On the morning of September 11, 2011 I boarded a Southwest flight from Midway airport with my great friend and colleague Reed Roussel. We were both headed to Ft. Knox Kentucky for a full day worth of meetings with our United States Army client. When we landed in Kentucky, the first plane had already met its fate by flying directly into the twin towers.

We were oblivious to everything that had transpired as we hopped into our Enterprise rental car and started the 45 minute trek to Ft. Knox. During the ride over, little did we know, plane #2 had also crashed. This was 2001 and cell phones weren’t exactly in high use. The behavior of having it practically glued to your hand just didn’t exist. I did notice a call from my wife and Reed noticed a call from his mom, but we ignored them both. They were well aware of the tragedy and were trying to reach us to make sure we were both OK.

When we arrived at the post, there was something off. The vibe was all wrong. An hour into our visit (55 minutes of which were spent waiting for the client) we finally learned from our client that 2 planes had flown into the twin towers and it was to our advantage that we leave the post immediately. Why? Because, in about 10 minutes the post would be on lock down and all non-military personnel would be placed “under suspicion.” To be honest, we were still confused about the situation, but we had no desire to be locked up on the post.

Reed and I hopped in the car, called the airline, learned all flights were canceled, then called Enterprise and explained we would not be returning the car to the airport. Instead, we would be driving to Chicago and returning it there. We started the journey from Ft. Knox to Chicago. The roads were strangely empty. Keep in mind, at this point, while the rest of the country was transfixed to the television coverage, we hadn’t seen anything. With no smartphones, our only real option was the radio. The irony, was, the only radio station that was coming through was the one carrying Howard Stern. For the next 2 hours we listened to Howard Stern. He was our connection to the outside world and was the one who brought us up to speed on what had happened. It wasn’t till we stopped for lunch, that we saw our first visual. We were awe struck. Stunned. It’s hard to put into words the emotions running thorough me. I’m a born and raised New Yorker; this hit hard.

10 years ago, I learned about 9/11 via the radio. I learned about operation Desert Storm via television. When Sadam Hussein was captured, I learned about it via the web. Last night, I learned about death of Osama Bin Laden via text message first, then Twitter. The text message I received instructed me to check out Twitter, not turn on the TV. After reading the news, I found a TV and saw the president’s speech. As I watched his delivery, I couldn’t help but think about how we’ve evolved as a society…how our sharing has changed…how our means for connection have evolved. We operate in a real time and always on demand society. I think this was the first real moment where that wasn’t just rhetoric, for me, but a truly shared experience.

The PowerPoint Conundrum

If you’ve been working professionally for at least 1 year, I’m sure the phrase, “death by PowerPoint” is etched into your brain.  PowerPoint and how we use has become a joke.  A colleague of mine often jokes that with PowerPoint, it’s the one time that there’s too much time spent on foreplay.  I chuckle, but she’s right.  Stop me if you’ve heard this before; but here’s how the typical PowerPoint presentation is structured:

  1. What we’re going to talk about (aka the agenda)
  2. Why we’re (the people in the room) here
  3. The challenge
  4. The research done on the challenge
  5. The hypothesis/point of view/recommendation
  6. The budget
  7. The timing/schedule
  8. The obligatory discussion slide

Are you cowering in the corner, under the harsh light of this reality?  Me too, and I was the one who just wrote it.  Even Microsoft, the architects behind PowerPoint are fed up with this approach.  CEO, Steve Ballmer was recently quoted by the New York Times with the following insight about Microsoft’s decision to move away from death by PowerPoint:

The mode of Microsoft meetings used to be: You come with something we haven’t seen in a slide deck or presentation,” he said. “You deliver the presentation. You probably take what I will call ‘the long and winding road.’ You take the listener through your path of discovery and exploration, and you arrive at a conclusion.

I decided that’s not what I want to do anymore. I don’t think it’s efficient. So most meetings nowadays, you send me the materials and I read them in advance. And I can come in and say: ‘I’ve got the following four questions. Please don’t present the deck.’ That lets us go, whether they’ve organized it that way or not, to their recommendation. And if I have questions about the long and winding road and the data and the supporting evidence, I can ask them. But it gives us greater focus.

In theory, that sounds perfect. Doesn’t it? But, it rarely happens, in my experience, for a few reasons:

  1. Lack of Accountability: We sent you the deck ahead of time, with the notes, but you still didn’t read it ahead of time.  Even I’m guilty of this one.
  2. Lack of Trust: Similar to Gladwell’s points in Blink, it’s tough to believe the conclusion, without the foreplay.  All the upfront slides help sell the conclusion.
  3. Reliance On Linear Story Telling: We’ve been taught from a young age that stories are told in a linear fashion, with a beginning, a middle and an end.  Telling stories in a non-linear fashion does not appeal to the lowest common denominator.
  4. The Need To Make The Presenter Dance: And my personal favorite…if you’ve called the meeting to present your “deck,” then I owe it to the room to make you dance, sweat and present.

I’ve seen this behavior daily, especially in the agency-client RFP scenario.  The number of times we’ve been asked to present “credentials” in the final presentation, even though by now (usually round 3) you should know who we are, what we stand for and why you should trust what we say, is just immeasurable.  But, that’s the dance we dance.

It’s not PowerPoint that’s the problem.  PowerPoint, Keynote and the rest are simply tools.  And, great tools in the hands of poor craftsmen are disasters waiting to happen.

So how do we break this cycle?  How do we change this PowerPoint culture?  The short answer is, we won’t anytime soon.  So long as corporate cultures punish risk takers, applaud playing it safe and treat “innovation” as a buzzword instead of a mindset, we’ll be stuck in the PowerPoint Conundrum.

In my own organization, I’ve tried to break free of the PowerPoint Conundrum.  Ironically, I find the people above me on the organizational chart most open to change.  It’s not the top of the pyramid that struggles with change; in fact, they’re often the ones demanding the change.  It’s the rest of the pyramid that has the problem…or rather perpetuates the problem, because they believe the organization isn’t ready for change and it’s better to play it safe.

But, I ask you if MadMen, a series set in the 1960s can understand there’s a better way to tell a story, tell me why we can’t figure it out 50 years later?


Mad Men: The Carousel from ray3c on Vimeo.

It’s a shame, really.

Can You Pay People To Change?

Can you pay people to change?  Can you purchase compliance?  Is social success predicated on company culture?  Do people really want to be social?  Are the social “gurus” (laughable) right in how the lofty and esoterica language they use to describe social?  All of these questions and more are up for grabs with Google’s decision to tie employee bonuses to the succes of failure of their forays into the social space.

Last week, Larry Page, Google’s CEO sent out a company wide memo that outlined the importance of social, the role employees must play in driving social success and how their compensation will be tied to Google’s growth in social.  If you will, Google is trying to buy employee participation, adoption, interest and promotion of social.

Ballsy, for sure.  It certainly sends a signal that Google has flopped thus far in social and doesn’t want it to happen again.  I’m not exaggerating when I say failure.  Take for example the following: Knoll wasn’t a hit.  Orkut fell on deaf ears.  Jaiku was just bad.  Wave was a failure.  Blogger is nice, but is no WordPress.  Buzz didn’t take off.

Over and over Google has flopped in the social space for one reason or another.  Will this brave approach by Larry Page be the lightening rod that unifies the organization or will it cause irreparable harm because people will be faking their participation?

Time will tell.  But, one thing is for sure, this is the ultimate social experiment.

25 Random Things About Me

I’ve resisted this insane concept and craze for a long time. But, when you consider how big it’s gotten, I felt compelled to participate. For those of you not in the know about 25 Random Things About Me phenomenon, you can read up on it here, here, here, or here.  In short, 25 Random Things About Me is a chain letter program. Person A lists 25 random facts/things about them. They then tag people in the list.  The people tagged are then supposed to repeat the process…they create a list, they tag people, etc.

Someone tagged me on Facebook and I refused to participate.  Like I said, I’ve put it off for a long time, but now I’m going to participate, albeit in my own way.  I’m not going to put the list on Facebook, thus circumventing the process of the phenomena 🙂  I’m calling it a personal victory!  Without further adieu here are 25 Random Things About Me:

  1. I clean while I cook because I hate a mess.
  2. I’m long waisted; even though I’m 5’9″ my inseam is 30″.
  3. I work in a paperless office.  Seriously, no paper, ever.
  4. Nike is the only sneaker brand I’ll buy.
  5. I’ve been using the same AOL instant messenger handle since AOL 1.0.
  6. On an average day, I sleep for 5 hours.
  7. My first car was a 1987 Toyota MR-2; I still scan Ebay every once in a while for a used one so I can buy and restore it.
  8. If given the choice between being blind or deaf, I’d take deaf.
  9. I have a ridiculously large collection of offensive T-shirts.
  10. When I was in high school I could dunk a basketball.  Really.
  11. The day when Madden Football is releases every year is a holiday for me.  I take it off and spend the entire day setting up rosters and drafting a team.
  12. I’m a vodka snob. If offered Sky, Smirnoff, Absolut, etc. I’ll decline.
  13. I’m not a fan of voicemail. I loath it’s existence.  If given the choice between emailing someone or talking to someone, I’d take the digital communication.
  14. I don’t drink coffee, only hot chocolate.
  15. I can read books ridiculously fast. 400 page books get knocked out in about 2.5 hours.
  16. I think there’s a big difference between truth and honesty.
  17. I hold grudges for years; probably too long.
  18. I’m not a fan of following the heard.  For example, I avoided watching Lord of The Rings for nearly 6 months.  I watched it in a nearly empty theater and loved every minute of it.
  19. I’m a huge Beatles fan.  To me they aren’t just a band, they’re an iconic BRAND.  From shirts, to hats, to CDs I’ve got a massive collection.
  20. I love change. I’ve owned 3 houses and lived in 3 states in the last 6 years; and I’ll be on to state number 4 shortly.
  21. I find great meaning on movies and music.  There’s a tremendous amount that can be gleaned, quoted, and shared from films and songs.
  22. Strange, but my shoe size when I was 13 was 13, but now it’s 10.5.  Crazy. Are shoes just being made bigger these days?
  23. My dream job is working behind a bar in Costa Rica…granted it’s a bar that I’d be owning.
  24. I love speed, one day I will drive on the Autobahn.
  25. I just became an organ donor.  Never was before.  However, for some reason, I decided to do it when I got my Minnesota driver’s license.

Well there ya go, that’s 25 Random Things About Me.