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Managing clouds and the death of formality in business


I’ve been toying around with a new hypothesis. Here it is:

Formality in business is dying.

Now I am not talking about Blue Jeans Friday and Bring Your Pet to Work Day all of the sudden cropping up everywhere. I’ve seen very formally-run businesses where people showed up in jeans with their dogs or whatever. So much superficial informality.

What I’m talking about is a fundamental shift of business culture and management practices from formal to informal in many innovative companies. What do I mean? Let’s take a step back.

Here are two of the ways Merriam-Webster defines the word formal.

– relating to or involving the outward form, structure, relationships, or arrangement of elements rather than content
– having the appearance without the substance

That first definition of formality stands out for me as a perfect description of almost every formal business practice I have ever encountered. “Relating to or involving the outward form, structure, relationship of arrangement of elements rather than the content” (emphasis mine).

Organizational charts. Job titles. Performance reviews. Operational reviews. Strategic planning projects.

In your experience, do these things usually reflect the man-on-the-street reality of the business? Or are they an attempt to impose structure on things that do their best to defy it?

The irony is that, while most formal business practices are attempts to manage the complexity of business by defining structure, they usually fail miserably to capture the true complexity of business. They focus on the structure rather than the real content—and they usually don’t even get that right.

In my experience, most business practices that attempt to formalize structure are about as successful as attempts to construct buildings out of clouds. By the time we finish the plan, everything has already changed beyond recognition.

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

Brand positioning tip #12: don’t get hung up on the words


When it comes to positioning terminology, I sometimes get questions like “what is the difference between a brand mantra and a brand essence?” or “is a point of difference the same thing as a key differentiator?”

My answer? Don’t get hung up on the words… it’s the concepts that matter.

I have standard terminology I use for brand positioning projects, which you can read more about in my Brand Positioning Tips. I picked up most of these terms from Dr. Kevin Keller, one of the world’s foremost brand positioning experts, and the brand positioning guru we used for a lot of our Red Hat positioning work.

Kevin uses terms like point of parity, point of difference, competitive frame of reference, and brand mantra to describe his positioning process. I like these terms and they have become comfortable for me to use in my positioning work.

But often, I’ll be working with a client who approaches positioning from a slightly different point of view. Perhaps they’ll talk about what I call a brand audit as a brand diagnostic or they’ll refer to the brand mantra as the brand essence.

When working with clients on positioning projects, I operate using the when in Rome principle. I use their words instead of mine. Why? Because they are just words, after all.

What really matters is whether we agree on what the heart and soul of the brand is and what makes it different from other similar brands.

Using Kevin Keller’s terminology to describe your brand positioning won’t automatically make it good brand positioning, and some of the best-positioned brands I have ever seen were probably developed by people who had never heard of a point of parity.

So use whatever words you like as long as you understand the concepts.

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MIX: Gary Hamel’s experiment in reinventing management the open source way


Of all of the people talking or writing about the future of business right now, no one has more street cred than Gary Hamel. I’ve written about him many times before, and his book The Future of Management is one of the most inspiring and meaningful business books of the last 10 years.

Last year at the World Business Forum, when Gary called open source one of the greatest management innovations of the 21st century, there was some serious high-fiving going on amongst us open source business types.

So I’ve been watching closely as Gary and a team of management superstars have launched an open innovation experiment called the Management Innovation Exchange, or MIX. In the video below, Gary explains a little bit about the goals of the MIX.

Here’s how they describe the MIX on the website:

“The Management Innovation eXchange (MIX) is an open innovation project aimed at reinventing management for the 21st century. The premise: while “modern” management is one of humankind’s most important inventions, it is now a mature technology that must be reinvented for a new age.”

From spending some time on the site, it clearly shares a lot of the same foundations as the open source way, even if the MIX folks prefer the term open innovation.

One of the most wonderful bits? The MIX is a meritocracy, where anyone can join, submit management hacks, stories, or barriers, and then collaborate with others to explore the ideas further.

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

Do you aspire to build a brand community or a community brand?


In my day job at New Kind, I spend quite a bit of my time working on brand-related assignments, particularly for organizations interested in community-based approaches to building their brands.

When marrying the art of community building to the art of brand building, it’s hard not to talk about building “brand communities.” It’s a convenient term, and brand experts love to trot out examples like Harley Davidson and Apple as examples of thriving communities built around brands.

The term “brand community” even has its own Wikipedia page (definition: “a community formed on the basis of attachment to a product or marque”). Harvard Business Review writes about brand communities. Guy Kawasaki writes about brand communities.

Yet almost every article I’ve read about building “brand communities” shares a common trait:

They are all written by brand people for brand people.

The result? Articles focusing on what’s in it for the brands (and the companies behind them), not what’s in it for the communities. Learn how to build a brand community so your company will succeed, not so a community will succeed.

Typical corporate thinking.

What if we turned things on their heads for a second and changed the words around? What if, instead of “brand community,” the phrase du jour was “community brand?”

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

The open source way: designed for managing complexity?


This week I finally got a chance to sit down and digest IBM’s latest Global CEO Study, newly published last month and entitled Capitalizing on Complexity. This marks the fourth study IBM has done (they complete them once every two years), and I’ve personally found them to be really useful for getting out of the weeds and looking at the big picture.

This report is based on the results of face-to-face meetings with over 1500 CEOs and other top leaders across 60 countries and 30+ industries. These leaders are asked all sorts of questions about their business challenges and goals, then IBM analyzes the answers and segments the respondents to isolate a group of high-performing organizations they call “standouts.” The standouts are then further analyzed to find out how they are addressing their challenges and goals differently than average organizations.

As a quick summary (but don’t just read my summary, go download the study for free), IBM found a big change this year. In the past three studies, leaders identified their biggest challenge as “coping with change.” This year, they identified a new top challenge: “complexity.”

If you’ve been reading marketing collateral or web copy from your vendors over the past year (someone must read that stuff…) this will come as no surprise to you. How many things have you read that start with something like: “In our increasingly complex world…” or “In the new deeply interconnected business landscape…” If the marketing folks are saying it, it must be true.

But I digress. Here’s IBM’s punch line:

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

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