Category Archives: Corporate Culture

Lead with a Story


Starting the New Year off right, to me means honouring my roots.  The Power of Story.  Paul Smith has written an excellent guide to why the art of story is the most probably the most important leadership skill.  As Director of Consumer & Communications Research at Proctor and Gamble, Paul got a lot of practice. Storytelling and the power of story has finally come of age in the business world.  Most successful companies now use storytelling as a leadership tool. Some examples:

At Nike, all senior executives are designated “corporate storytellers.” 3M banned bullet points years ago and replaced them with a process of writing “strategic narratives.” Procter & Gamble hired Hollywood directors to teach its executives storytelling techniques. Scenario planning (or storytelling in multiple forms) is now a highly effective form of strategy.  And if you are in my faovurite transmedia space, well … I don’t have to tell you about the power and profitability of narrative.  The rest of North America is slowly catching on to what successful global organizations have been using for years.

Business schools are beginning to add storytelling to coursework. I use story and build storytelling into every course I teach – strategy, competitive intelligence, consumer behaviour, marketing – all benefit from the use of the best communication tool ever invented.  Start your New Year off by joining a movement that is both instructive and fun. If you want your organization to prosper in 2013, why not increase your competitive advantage?  Sometimes, the old ways are the best.

Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives That Captivate, Convince, and Inspire

The Boiling Frog Dilemma


Calling all Canadians (and even if you are not, the message is worthwhile reading). Todd Hirsch and Robert Roach have produced what should be the Canadian primer on innovation.  They call for a structural change in Canadian DNA. “Canada needs to change at a fundamental level that ripples out into every nook and cranny of the economy. The goal is not only an economic revolution but a social one as well. Canadians need to break old habits, think differently and see the world in new ways.”  YUMMY!  For me, this message is like preaching to the choir and maybe for you as well.  But, if you are looking for a way to push innovation into our C-suites, buy your boss a copy of this book (after you read it of course). The message is clear. We have everything we need to be a world-class economy, but have to stop underachieving.  Business as usual means no business at all.  A great little read with a powerful message. And one that bears repeating …. over and over and over and …  you get the idea!  Get it online at chapters as an ebook or purchase from Todd and Robert directly.

Culturematic


I have been following the work of Grant McCracken for a while and have yet to be disappointed.    McCracken is an anthropologist that studies culture in organizations and has taught at MIT, Harvard and is a visiting scholar at the University of Cambridge. Following his previous work Chief Culture Officer in 2011, his latest book on Culture is just as informative and more importantly, for summer reading, entertaining. Culturematic is about making an ingenuity engine that drives performance – something sorely needed in this economy. For emerging producers of culture, this book serves as a digital guide to the territory. For traditional producers of culture – hopefully the book will act as a source of inspiration. How to manage innovation from the C-suite? This book provides some welcome guidelines for creating a culture of innovation.  If you want to get ahead of your competition, the most secret sauce of competitive advantage is your culture. McCracken shows you both why and how. He blogs extensively at culture by.com on the intersection points between anthropology and economics.  Worth checking out.

Culturematic: How Reality TV, John Cheever, a Pie Lab, Julia Child, Fantasy Football . . . Will Help You Create and Execute Breakthrough Ideas

Winning the Story Wars


Jonah Sachs has written a great book on the proper use of story and the five deadly sins of marketing (vanity, authority, insincerity, puffery and gimmickry).  Tapping into the power of myth, Sachs speaks to empowerment marketing and what that shift would entail. The most important takeaway for me from this new offering was the importance, again, of the value system that guides individual and corporate behaviour. In short, SHOW DON’T TELL.  Any brand who has maintained its value over time has relied on clearly expressed and lived values.  Brand communication becomes sharing your values with your customers and can be expressed in the following values “bucket”:

1. Values built into the founding story

2. Values expressed by products and services

3. Values held by leadership

4. Values you believe will most deeply resonate with your audience

To Sachs, these are the building blocks of the stories you tell about yourself and your organization.  If possible, the values should align over all the categories. Hard to do, yes! Living by values is never an easy choice. But it is the most sustainable and profitable course. So your intent for your organization? If sustainability and profitability matter, then you might want to add this offering to your reference shelf. The book can be purchased now for pre-release – Winning the Story Wars will be available in July.  You can also check out the video.

Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell (and Live) the Best Stories Will Rule the Future

The Global Achievement Gap


Tony Wagner has written a thought-provoking book on the state of education – something that concerns any parent and employer.  How do we shift from an industrial model to one that produces the creativity and innovation our current economy requires? This is a major shift that is required by all academic institutions in order to compete in today’s global marketplace. The primary focus is on ‘one student at a time accountability’ as opposed to ‘test-score accountability’. Maximizing the potential of each and every student. Wagner emphasizes that learning and citizenship in the twenty-first century demands that each student knows how to think – to reason, analyze, weigh evidence and problem solve and to communicate effectively. “These are no longer skills that only the elites in a society must master; they are essential survival skills for all of us.”

A direct attack on ‘teaching to the tests’, Wagner pushes for a new attitude in education. A welcome breath of fresh air in academe. If you care about teaching or how your children are taught, this book is required reading.

The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need–and What We Can Do About It

Gamestorming


Many of the tools of the trade in innovation consulting are passed from one facilitator to another – something like our version of a secret handshake. Seldom written down, they are passed using the ancient/modern oral tradition of storytelling. “We met with X company and did Y activity and boy, did it work!” In Gamestorming – A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers and Changemakers, you get full membership in the secret club. Gray, Brown and Macanufo have compiled a great selection of exercises that will energize the brain of any participant and warm the heart and hards of every facilitator who has been tasked with producing ‘innovation.’ Magic!

Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers

Digital Innovation Playbook


If you are looking for an interesting book to start off 2012, the Digital Innovation Playbook might be for you.  Author and Innovator Nicholas Webb has provided his unique perspective on the use of digital and social media to drive customer value.  Rules of successful innovation management have changed drastically. Topical questions such as:

o  How does the digital universe is driving the most innovative organizations?

o  How do you increase breakthrough in incremental innovation?

o  How do you digitize open innovation?

o and for all you number crunchers out there, How do you build sales while reducing costs?

will be explored and answered.  Do you need a digital culture? Yes, most certainly.  Corporate culture is the foundation on which you build your organization and your ability to innovate.  Webb speaks to the need for active listening – a novel concept to many organizations who pay lip service to ‘customer feedback’ but do not actually listen to what their customers want.  Digital technologies can provide a listening platform that will drive profitability and develop an authentic relationship with your customer. Why pay attention? As Peter Drucker so wisely stated “there will be two kinds of managers – those who think in terms of a world economy and those who are unemployed.”  Webb gives insights into reaching and listening to that world economy.  You choose which manager you wish to be.

Best wishes for 2012!

The Digital Innovation Playbook: Creating a Transformative Customer Experience

Great by Choice


10 years after the success of ‘Good to Great‘, author Jim Collins returns with some interesting findings.  Top contenders are findings such as the ability to scale innovation and to blend creativity and discipline.  I have long argued that creativity is not ‘flakey’ but the most disciplined that you will ever be  (Collins = hedgehog).  That creative discipline delivers on performance goals and is consistent with values-in-action. The ability to marry relentless discipline with focused creativity is more important now that ever before. What also hasn’t changed is the leadership mandate of serving a cause bigger than personal ego.  The rest is new findings, not a rehash of old results.  Emphasis is on long-term strategy – a 20 mile march.  Hopefully we have learned by now that a focus on short-term results leads to trouble if not extinction.  I love the concept of ‘zoom-out then zoom-in’ – holding both a mega and micro view builds on what we know of complexity theory that is driving business results, SMaC (specific, methodical and consistent) and the genius of the ‘and’.  A worthwhile read.

Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck–Why Some Thrive Despite Them All

Cultural Strategy


Douglas Holt brought us the classic “How Brands Become Icons” and he and partner Douglas Cameron have given us another soon to be classic, Cultural Strategy. We are offered some great tidbits such as : how do you find the next market opportunity or how to design a product to meet the new market?  Finally utilizing the power of corporate culture and how you harness it, Holt and Cameron emphasize that innovation is as much about culture as it is about product or market development.  Do you have a culture capable of not only withstanding ‘being different’ but supporting that difference to drive economic growth?  If you are wondering what you need to succeed, this book is for you.

Cultural Strategy: Using Innovative Ideologies to Build Breakthrough Brands

Steve Jobs


Every so often I purchase a book as soon as it hits the bookstores. Every so often, I sit and read a book cover to cover. This book is worth that level of commitment. Walter Isaacson has written a masterful account of the life of Steve Jobs.

This book was a revelation as to the unwavering determination of Jobs in delivering on his vision.  Isaacson doesn’t pull his punches as to how difficult Jobs could be professionally or personally. Jobs was determined from the outset to connect creativity with technology and managed to revolutionize six industries: personal computers, animation, music, phones, tablet computing and digital publishing. Rebel, genius, sometimes a jerk – Jobs epitomized the force needed to sustainably drive ideas to action.  If you haven’t seen his  Stanford graduation address, it’s a great place to start before opening the book.

In Job’s own words:

“I hate it when people call themselves ‘entrepreneurs’ when what they are trying to do is launch a startup and then sell or go public, so they can cash in and move on. They’re unwilling to do the work it takes to build a real company, which is the hardest work in business. That’s how you really make a contribution and add to the legacy of those who went before. You build a company that will still stand for something a generation or two from now.”

For all that follow or are curious of the ‘cult of apple’, this is a great read.  For all those who choose to stand on the shoulders of giants, who are determined to innovate, to “think different”, this book provides both instruction and inspiration. A joy to add to my book collection. A loss of a great mind. My hope is that his dream lives on.

Order the book: Steve Jobs