best practices

Finding your core…

This morning my husband contacted me from a different time zone. He’s working as part of the leadership of a growing company, and they are trying to articulate their core values to support their rapid growth. They are very smart people, and want these values to be strong and meaningful. My husband asked me if there was a short article that describes what core values should be.

I obliged him thusly:

A company’s core values should

1. Embody a sense of purpose and aspiration
2. Establish the key values that will guide decision-making – especially hard ones.
3. Highlight what is distinct about the personality or approach of the organization – a powerful statement of “who we are”. Are you funny? Offbeat? Fearless?
4. Be expressed and espoused equally both internally to rally the team, and externally to make an impression in the market
6. Apply to all employees equally.
5. Be authentically lived – leadership should constantly be looking to embrace – and show the team how they embrace – those values. They should also bring them up and remind the team of them as decisions are being made, and encourage the team to do the same.

This is not a trivial exercise. Not to be quickly typed out over a weekend.
Who do you want to be? What do you want the journey to look like? What would like like people to admire about you? What would you want your team to admire about each other? These questions require consideration. Lots of listening and honesty. The kind of listening and honesty that’s rare in business.

I further suggested that the best way to get there was via conversation rather than editing documents of any particular kind.

I look forward to seeing where they land on this issue. They are a remarkable team doing remarkable things, and I hope they find their way to articulating values that reflect that. I wish the same for you, of course.

2014 – the year business gets serious about the intangible

bubblesPhoto Attribution

In 2014 Business will embrace the intangible.

The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is OK as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can’t be easily measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can’t be measured easily really isn’t important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can’t be easily measured really doesn’t exist. This is suicide.

–       Robert McNamara as attributed by Thomas Handy in The Empty Raincoat

In the 20th century business success sprang from the combination kind of property rights (intellectual or physical), process and efficiencies of scale.

But in the 21st century we are rapidly accumulating data that suggests that the new competitive advantages are both much simpler and more complex. (Not that value chains, and differentiation don’t still matter, but scale is now definitely a matter of debate.). The new, primary source of competitive advantage is customer satisfaction and innovation. Studies suggest that the most effective way to ensure customer satisfaction is to have employees who give a darn and are empowered to act.

There’s another 20th century reality as well. Complexity. Complexity is (a lot of things, some of them very precise, but for the purposes of this discussion…) the state of being which is either intrinsically impossible to understand by traditional rationalist methods, or where the cost or time involved in such analysis makes it impractical for the time being.

It is these two big truths – the shift in competitive advantage, and the paradigm-shifting complexity that now defines our world, that are the real motivators behind the shift in business toward new humanistic models.


There are a few unacknowledged side effects of the shift, but perhaps the weirdest is the fact that business is now highly dependent on intangibles. We must accept things we do not understand, act in environments where cause and effect are nearly impossible to discern, and deal with the paradox of needing to think holistically and intuitively while existing in a constant state of data saturation.

So – what kind of intangibles, and what do we do about it?

My prediction is that in 2014, you’ll see these words at the center of important conversations, along with research and experimentation that leads to deeper, more actionable understanding of each. (Send in the philosophers for some of this).

  1. Intention

In 2013 I wrote about the importance of intention, how it colors our perspective and nuances every decision and every act. Moreover, intention is a uniquely human (or at least organic) capability to both set and discern. This is why authenticity rapidly became so important. Authenticity is a very specific intention and people are viscerally capable of detecting it, like we can symmetry.

  1. Narrative

How do we understand wickedly complex situations? Through narrative. People are exceptionally good at inferring patterns and meaning. Narrative can frame a wicked problem in a way that we can share it, discuss it, make inferences, and create a vision of the future. The trick of course is that narrative takes some intangible skills to build, and is not absolute. There is no one narrative, there can be many. But the way a certain narrative frames the problem (is light a wave or a particle, is data a privacy or a property issue?) can profoundly affect what we are able and willing to do with those ideas.

  1. Culture

The overused and very poorly understood emergent behavior of a human community.  It matters. You know why? Because customer satisfaction and innovation depend heavily on it. And yet we are incapable of talking about it intelligently – yet. A recent HBR blog suggests a not terribly unique but inarguably correct list of things many good cultures have, but makes no suggestion as to how we achieve those things. There are some theories. I have some myself, but we’re going to start to get serious on this issue. We have to.

  1. Leadership

Seriously. Leadership of the advanced seeker mentality. Leadership that asks questions, inculcates values and intention, narrates intention, mission, and purpose, that constantly balances confidence and humility. Leadership with the intention of building more leadership. The Charlene Li 2,0 leadership, will begin to emerge from myth and legend and the yeah, but what about Steve shadows, and start to get serious. How do we build it, recognize it, and most importantly install and sustain it.  Other forms of leadership will be failing at a pace that becomes noticeable.


  1. Identity

Yikes. Who am I? What is human? How much of my identity do I own? Do I have identity rights? Are they the same or different from privacy rights? Singularity, transhumanism… these topics leave the world of freaks, sci fi, “Futurists” and other fringe places and become an important part of civic dialog.

These topics, among others, will stop being airy-fairy stuff.  They will be the stuff that business is investing in. Whether we can measure it (now) or not.  This century will depend on the immeasurable, the intangible, the unpredictable. Business will develop a… kind of faith …. In the complex systems and the wondrous things that (can) emerge.

The best is yet to come.

Branding, Art and Limerence

What a brand wants: Limerence

Great parents, teachers, leaders and teammates have some surprising similarities. They get into other people’s heads. David Brooks editorial last year on the new business skills of attunement, sympathy and metis – leading to the condition of “limerence” . This term, in addition to being poetic and highly unusual in a business context, may be, in fact, the common link. And, I submit, that it is limerence at scale that is the true brand aspiration.

Brooks has very particular definitions of these words that are remarkable in their brevity and richness. Let’s review:

Attunement: the ability to enter other minds and learn what they have to offer.
Equipoise: the ability to serenely monitor the movements of one’s own mind and correct for biases and shortcomings.
Metis: the ability to see patterns in the world and derive a gist from complex situations.
Sympathy: the ability to fall into a rhythm with those around you and thrive in groups. (note that Stowe Boyd just recast this word as Tympathy, which I love)

Limerence: This isn’t a talent as much as a motivation. The conscious mind hungers for money and success, but the unconscious mind hungers for those moments of transcendence when the skull line falls away and we are lost in love for another, or the challenge of a task.


Lovely, no? Keep these in mind and think again about what happens when a mother touches their child. The teacher, who reaches into your mind and helps you repaint reality. The leader who does exactly the same. A recent study rigorously demostrated that patterns of communication are the best predictor of team success. Is this another form or manifestation of limerence?

Limerence at Scale

How could a brand achieve this level of intimacy? How could it scale? Well – we do have examples of mass, limerent experiences – we generally call this art. Poetry, rock and roll, humor. The artist gets into our heads (though the reverse isn’t always true) directly through their work. At scale, perhaps we call this a community or a movement, or some thing we identify with.

As a brand, we want to create limerent moments – for our market and by them. How do we aspire toward limerence? (Well we start with meaning and authenticity. That is to say,  focus on something meaningful and communicate with authenticity. That’s a start. I watched “The Blind Side” with my kids the other day, so “Hope for authenticity, try for limerence” if you know what I mean.) When you dig deep and uncover a fundamental truth, when you get as near to art as business can, and when you are talking to the right audience then you might have limerence. Limerent moments can be lighthearted or deeply serious.

The “Imported from Detroit” ad that is now over a year old and which they have tried and failed to extend and expand were limerent. The other superbowl ad of that year that got more attention – the kid trying to channel “the force” into a volkswagon – that was too. 
Which brings me to the real thing that you want your brand to do.

Strive for it, brand manager

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, dear brand manager, is to evoke a truth, an aspiration, a meaning. You may say – oh that’s just for consumer stuff – “real” business isn’t aspirational. Government is anything but. Nay. I say.

Real business is complicated, and getting more so. B2B/G tech companies in particular are selling complicated things into complicated situations for complicated reasons. And enterprise is now dependent on more than a few of these technologies. The complexity, the unknowns, the risks, are paralytic.

And what those customers want – what they REALLY want – is for you to come in and say, don’t worry – I understand. I understand exactly what you’re going through, and I can give you the rich, poetic language that you need to understand it better yourself. I can give you a sense that your stress and confusion is not shameful. Its normal. And I have the solution. You want a limerent moment with them – where they suddenly feel understood, and liberated. They see a solution before them.

Of course it really does help if your products back it up. If, once they finish wiping the lenses of their glasses as they pause to absorb this little bit of truth you’ve handed them in the boardroom, if you don’t have the goods, it’s not going to go well.

It really, really matters
You need to have the meat to back it up. You need a model which describes how to get there, and the proof that your product or service delivers against it. Prove you’ve done it. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a messaging hierarchy. This, ladies and gentleman is what the fullness of brand is. This, is marketing 2.0.

The real beauty of this aspirationally grounded messaging hierarchy, however, is that it is not just for the market, its for the team. Watch what happens when the engineering team begins to absorb it. Watch what happens when sales does. Suddenly your business is not a spreadsheet and a communal time clock. Suddenly it matters.

When you have that story that connects deeply with your market and your team, you have aligned the imaginations of your team. You have a brilliant way to tune your products. They are now thinking along common lines. They now have meaningful criteria to assess what they have and to make the millions of decisions – both large and small that make a product. The he-said, she-said is so much less important.

Many products share the same “value proposition” – the theoretical benefit you’ll realize from using it. But the difference between the theory and the reality is not the list of features, but the whole they create. When you have this deep connection with your audience, you have a clear vision of what your product needs to be (not do, be), you have the ability to transform your offering from a collection of capabilities to a meaningful whole.

When you think about the products or tech you love, you know that they have been built with deep insight and passion. They reflect the attunement, the metis, the sympathy of the makers, they are limerent products. The last thing I bought? A pot. Perhaps one of the first 100 things ever invented. But this pot is the best thing I’ve ever used. this pot made leftovers sublime. This pot changed my experience of making dinner. And no, I’m not kidding. (its a Staub). The team that made that pot did not make that sublime cooking vessel by thinking about the cheapest and fastest way to pour metal into a shape and slap handles on it and get it into the best sales channels. If you are investing in social software (or any software for that matter) are you comparing tick-mark features, or are you looking at who understands your needs best?

Social business is just a step along the way. You don’t want a social business – you want a business that matters.

The best is yet to come.

This is another cross post of a CMSWire article.

Image courtesy of wikimedia

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Five Essential Components of a Social Campaign

I don’t normally do “how to” posts.  But lately I have a problem – people keep asking me to “tweet this” or “promote” something. And in general I’m happy to do that. BUT.

I can’t help if what you want to promote socially is not inherently social to begin with. So what makes something social? Four things. There’s a dizzying array of superlative talent interpreting and expanding each of these items, but you must have all four in some form. Two out of three wont’ work. Each is an opportunity for you to think through what you’re doing and make it important to someone. Anything left out and you’re letting potential relationships slide right past you.

So here it is. The five crucial components to any meaningful social marketing campaign.

1. Something to talk about.
I can’t talk about something that’s essentially a slogan or tag line. Its not conversational. So please – give me something to say. Are you changing the world? DO you have an interesting point of view? Have you don’t something with someone that was notable? Give us a topic of conversation. If you’re unsure about how to create a topic of conversation, the best way to start is to either a) talk about someone else (like a customer) or b) ask a question (what’s important to you?). Imagine yourself in a social situation – would you talk about it? Because that’s what social media is – a social situation.

2. A destination.
If I hear about this out there in the face-tube-twit-blogosphere, and I’m interested, where am I going to go to find out more? You need a destination that aggregates all of the content that you are distributing and tells your whole story in a cohesive, meaningful way. When I get to your destination, my first reaction should be “wow” not “what?” Your destination is probably a website. It should be obvious how this web site relates to the conversation, and how to go further in the discussion. Does your destination tell a clear story?

3. A way to engage.
Your destination must provide a way to engage – to ask a question, share a comment, thought or link, try something, do something. This is often called a “call to action.” But if you have a “call to action” with no action available other than “buy now” or “have someone call me” then you aren’t trying to engage people, you’re just pitching them. Many people aren’t ready to buy on their first visit – and few want a sales person to call them (do you?) so there needs to be another choice for those who are somewhere else along the relationship path.

4. A way to stay engaged – or build an ongoing relationship.
Give me a way or reason to stay in touch, or let me give you a way to get in touch with me. Subscribe to the blog, sign up for updates or a newsletter or a series of events. Let me learn about upcoming events. Give me a way to keep track of you, and to participate in an ongoing fashion. Otherwise I might forget about you. A blog makes this easy – especially with a big SUBSCRIBE HERE button on top.

5. A way to tell others about it. You have to have the Tweet, In Share, Like, and very importantly email buttons on there. Don’t forget. Don’t forget that especially in a B2B setting, your goal isn’t to educate and win over the person in front of you – its to give that person what he or she needs to educate and win over the next person they talk to. Make sure your message is clear and your assets are sharable.

In someways this may be what “pull” boils down to or what “inbound” marketing actually means. Create interest or meaning, create a place for that meaning, a way to express what it means to them, a way to act on that meaning and a way to sustain and share that meaning.

10 Extraordinary things.

[tweetmeme source= “deb_lavoy” only_single=false]

This is a list of links to talks, videos, slides, infographics and blog posts that have raised the bar for marketing, or fundamentally impacted my thinking. These are precious to me, and I hope that something here will move you as it did me.

1. This is the most beautiful, and most important talk I’ve seen on business and marketing this year. Michelle Holiday on Life and Business.

2. Mark Fidelman is very smart and has superb visual design skills. Here he channels his frustration at a bad airline experience, and his social business savvy into a nicely presented and critical bit of research showing that employee satisfaction is a major predictor of customer satisfaction.

3. An economist describes why we can’t build a toaster and why that’s a good thing. New concept: Person Bytes as measure of national capability.

4. One of my more popular blog posts was translated into French! My Enlightenment 2.0 article in French. It was a big deal for me. The original English can be read here.

5. You have seen or read a parade of things that claim to tell you how to be more creative. This is the only one I’ve ever seen that resonated with me as truthful. Creative discipline.

6. In the face of unspeakable misery, an ingenious solution, and an advertisement. Will I start drinking carbonated beverages?

7. Nike gave us a most incredible example of what social media and mobile can do for people – and marketing.

8. David Brooks, The New Humanism. Honestly, I haven’t read enough of Brooks’ work to even take a stand on his politics, though I understand that they may not resonate with my own. Nevertheless, this piece is outstanding for its beauty, insight and sumptuous new vocabulary words.

9. Chrysler completely reset the bar for advertising at the Super Bowl. While everyone else was hocking day-glo colored chips with fart humor, Chrysler elegantly tapped the angst, spirit and aspiration, of one of the hardest hit parts of the American economy . Stunning.

10. Happy Rambles – sends me an email at 8pm each night. So just before bedtime, I have the chance to ask myself, my kids, my dinner guests – what are you grateful for today? Thank you, Happy Rambles, for the habit of gratitude and the pleasure of reviewing our year through this filter.

The Cloud Debate is Over

This is a cross-posting of a CMSWire article.

The discussion of if the “Cloud” is a good idea, or if we are “going to the cloud” has been replaced with how we are going to the cloud and what if anything should stay in house. The fact is that doing otherwise is rapidly becoming unsustainable.

In this second decade of the 21st century, Enterprise software has a challenging agenda:
It must be robust, scalable, and secure. It must be consumer usable, while being customizable. It must be easy to evolve, change and upgrade. It must be easy to integrate its data, services, UI and identity management with legacy, current and future systems. It must, of course, enable the specific processes, transactions, communications and other manipulations that are unique to your organization. It must be cost effective.

None of these requirements is negotiable – but some companies are making surprising tradeoffs, because the payoff is vast. The good news is that the issues that concern most organizations most deeply – security, robustness and records management are rapidly resolving. Of course, consumer cloud applications are not the same thing as enterprise cloud applications – there are different standards for reliability, recoverability, and security. One should not be confused for the other. But the race is on. Enterprise companies are racing to deliver applications that are both usable and cloud-deployed on top their robust backends, and consumer cloud companies are picking at the edge of enterprise.

Why are we making tradeoffs? Many organizations, including the US Government and giants like GM, who are rumored to be going over to Google from IBM, are beginning a move to the cloud. While the cloud has some intrinsic benefits – like universal access, integration, standards, social, and the like, the real reason we value the cloud isn’t so much that the cloud is inherently wonderful, but that the alternative is strangling enterprise. The staggering complexity, expense and time for an IT organization to meet the needs of even a moderately sized organization is becoming unsupportable, and beginning to hold good business back.

The basic value and issues of cloud computing were recently, and perhaps canonically described by Andrew McAfee. But at its core, the reason the cloud debate is extremely simple: SaaS lets you get the best available tools faster, cheaper and with a lot less planning and decisionmaking. Your users will be happier, and your IT focus can focus on 1. that which is unique to your company 2. monitoring and curating technology usage and adoption in the enterprise and 3. Thinking strategically about where to go next.

1: Finding Focus.

You might have the best IT staff in the known universe. And then again you may not. It is immaterial. No matter how hard you work, how rich or how smart you are, Joy’s Law prevails:”No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else”. [or for the more mathematically geeky, I like this formulation: “Most smart people don’t work here… for any definition of here”]. This is to say that the world is filled with smart people, but you can only have a relative few of them on your team. So it is irrational to try to replace aggregate work of these hordes of competents with the few you have on your staff.

The role of IT is to help employees optimize their use of technology to enable them to best meet the needs of their market and customers at the lowest cost. The cloud gives IT the luxury of being able to meet basic needs at the same time as envisioning and shepherding the larger IT picture for the organization, without grinding itself into dust. The IT department can now curate the adoption and use of technology, rather than stand like atlas trying to just keep it aloft.

2: Make what you can’t buy: Maximize your Person-Bytes, or why it took Thomas Thwaite a year to make a toaster (that didn’t work).

This concept overlaps with Joy’s law, but it is subtly different. Not only can you not corner the market on a particular expertise, you need an ever broader swath of expertise to make progress these days. This is precisely articulated by Ricardo Hausmann, an economist who gave one of the most interesting lectures I’ve seen this year. He begins by comparing the relative genius of the Inuit man who can build his own house, acquire his own food and fashion his own snowshoes, with the relative helplessness of “Modern White Guy” who is, by these measures, completely useless. He goes on to describe knowledge in terms of “Person Bytes” which is a rough measure of how much knowledge an individual can master. He uses fascinating measures and statistics to show that those societies which can produce goods that require the most person-bytes, are the most differentiated, and enjoy unimpeded economic growth.
The idea is that there is no single individual that can master all the knowledge it takes to build a computer from scratch. This is why it took Thomas Thwaite a year to make a toaster. [A simpler, similar story is here]
Its not hard to extend that premise to business – the more person-bytes required to deliver the value, the more differentiated and unimpeded the business is. So given that you can only hold so many person bytes within your organization, you are best served to get the maximum benefit of somebody else’s person-bytes for as much as you can, turning your precious PBs toward that which others do not. The point – the “not invented here” syndrome is akin to self-immolation.

The typical enterprise IT team of the last 20 years was an organization that was in control of every aspect of your technology usage, and if you needed something, you could get in line, and you might get a pale imitation of what you wanted a year later. The IT staff were perpetually overloaded, working very long hours, while progress remained shockingly slow. The cloud is the ticket out. IT can use cloud to return to hero status – enabling nothing less than magic at the exact time its needed. The cloud can liberate IT from worrying about the minutia of everything you do and how to do it. They no longer need to be subject matter experts, network mechanics, UI designers and a help desk who are perpetually understaffed, under-budgeted and under-appreciated.The cloud sets them free from spending the majority of their time acting as administrators for what is, in effect, commodity software. They no longer need to reinvent every wheel.

The cloud allows you to allocate the person-bytes within your organization to the things that matter most – those that distinguish your organization and are essential to fulfilling your purpose. The effort to deploy, support, maintain, and upgrade commodity systems is radically reduced, allowing IT to focus on a) unique capabilities b) strategic direction c) business support, meaning that IT can better fulfill its purpose at a very, very significant cost reduction.

3. Thinking Strategically: Be the river, build the river.
It is said that you can never step into the same river twice. A successful business today needs to move at a dizzying pace to deliver the best possible value in the best possible way. It is trying to build and leverage a constant flow of ideas, information, opportunity, innovation to meet the current and future needs of its market.

The newly liberated IT department can look downstream, can look at the current technology portfolio and where it needs to go. Can weed out what’s no longer useful, can evolve what is still useful into modern constructs and find opportunities that the business might be missing. The CIO is a strategist who can and should be several paces ahead of the business – predicting their needs, recognizing their opportunities and informing their choices. The cloud puts nearly infinite capability in the hands of the CIO at a very reasonable price – enabling the perpetually heads-down IT group to do what it has always really wanted to – enable the company to be great.

The best is yet to come.