Archive for

Want people to embrace the open source way? Don’t talk, do.


The June issue of Harvard Business Review features an interesting article by Roger Martin (one of the leading management minds of our time and author of the just published book Fixing The Game). The article tells the story of how Scott Cook, founder and current Chairman of Intuit, kicked off an effort to reinvent Intuit as a design-driven company.

I’ll leave it to Roger and HBR to share the story of how this initiative played out (hint: a very good case study of how to embed design thinking in the corporate world), but one particular lesson stood out for me that I’d like to highlight here.

When Cook kicked off the initiative, he did so by hosting two-day offsite event for the company’s top 300 managers. As part of this event, Cook gave a five-hour (wow!) PowerPoint presentation, during which he “laid out the wonders of design and how it could entice Intuit’s customers.”

As you might expect, the PowerPoint marathon didn’t go so well. From the article:

“But although the main event fell flat, the one that followed did not. Cook had met a young consulting associate professor at Stanford named Alex Kazaks, whom he’d invited to present for an hour at the offsite. Like Cook, Kazaks began with a PowerPoint presentation, but he ended his after 10 minutes and used the rest of the time for a participatory exercise: The managers worked through a design challenge, creating prototypes, getting feedback, iterating, and refining.

The group was mesmerized…”

This story illustrates something I saw over and over during my time at Red Hat and in many of the projects I’ve worked on since:

No matter how eager you are to get people to embrace the open source way fully—running projects in an open, collaborative, meritocratic way—you’ll have more success convincing people to try doing things the open source way when you stop showing slides and instead get them to experience the benefits in action.

The best way to learn about collaboration is to collaborate.

The best way to learn how to operate openly is to participate in a project run openly.

And the best way to see the power of meritocracy is to participate in a project where the ideas actually do come from everywhere.

So before you spend two weeks preparing a detailed PowerPoint (or OpenOffice) presentation to convince your management team to embrace the open source way, stop and think.

Is there a way you could show the benefits of the open source way in action? Could you run a hands on-project the open source way and invite those you are attempting to sway to participate?

In my experience, people will nod their heads at a presentation espousing philosophy. But you won’t really have their minds until they’ve experienced the open source way in action, and you won’t have their hearts until they’ve thoroughly enjoyed the journey as well.

[This post originally appeared on opensource.com]

Why does brand positioning matter and what must change?


I believe almost all great brands are built on a foundation of great positioning.

I feel so strongly about positioning that one of the core elements of this blog is a series of brand positioning tips I learned over the years as an eager student of classic brand positioning.

Sometimes great positioning is led by a branding genius such as Scott Bedbury (who helped grow the Nike and Starbucks brands); sometimes a great leader and communicator with a very clear vision (like Steve Jobs at Apple) drives it into the organization; sometimes people stumble on great positioning by pure luck; and more and more often, organizations are developing positioning by collaborating with the communities of people in and around the organization who care most passionately about the brand.

This last way is the ad-free brand way of developing brand positioning.

Why does great positioning matter? In my view, there are four key reasons brands should care about positioning.

1. Great positioning helps people understand the brand

The best brand positioning is always simple and clear. The greatest product or organization in the world won’t be successful if people can’t or don’t bother to comprehend why they should care about it. Your story must be able to break through the clutter.

2. Great positioning helps people value the brand

Getting people to understand the brand is the first step, but no less important is ensuring they value the brand. The best brands stand for things people care about or desire.

3. Great positioning helps people identify with the brand

Once people understand and value the brand, they must also understand how they fit in and how they can engage with the brand. They need to see some of themselves in it.

4. Great brand positioning helps people take ownership over the brand

It may sound like a brand’s worst nightmare to lose control and have the brand community take over. But the most self-actualized brands of the twenty-first century allow the communities of people surrounding them to take some ownership of and responsibility for the brand. Essentially, the brand owners become in command and out of control of the brand.

In 1981, when Jack Trout and Al Ries wrote Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind (the book that really defined the discipline of brand positioning) traditional advertising was still a dominant force. In fact, as you glance through their book, you’ll notice that most of the examples they use to illustrate positioning concepts are classic advertisements or advertising campaigns like the Avis “We’re #2, so we try harder” or the 7-Up “Uncola” campaign.

In the book, Trout and Ries define positioning as follows:

“…positioning is not what you do to a product. Positioning is what you do to the mind of the prospect. That is, you position the product in the mind of the prospect.”

The Trout and Ries definition is a perfect way to achieve the first three of the four benefits above; it helps people understand, value, and identify with the brand.

Where the Trout and Ries model of positioning is all about what you do to the mind of the prospect, ad-free brands are less interested in creating meaning for a brand in people’s minds and more interested in creating meaning for a brand with the help of people’s minds.

By giving the communities of people who care about a brand some ownership over its future direction, we begin to build relationships based on trust, respect, and a mutual exchange of value.

Where 21st century brands will really shine is by mimicking the open, collaborative, meritocratic model of the open source software movement (and the Internet itself) in their positioning work. In my view, without beginning to engage the communities of people who care about a brand as co-owners, classic brand positioning by itself will continue to be less and less effective as traditional advertising and PR continue to be less and less effective.

The secret? Marrying those classic brand positioning principles to a 21st century way of collaborating with the communities of people who care about a brand. By doing both together, we’ll be able to build stronger, more resilient brands than ever before.

This is the second in a series of posts drawn from The Ad-Free Brand, which is available now.

Mitsubishi’s gift to the community of people affected by the Japan earthquake


When corporations engage with communities, many make the mistake of focusing first on what the community can do for them. I encourage companies not to start with the benefit they get from the community (buy my stuff! design my products! give me feedback!), but instead with the benefits they give to the community.

What can corporations bring to the table that helps communities? Some examples:

•    Funding: Companies can invest real money in projects that help the community achieve its goals.
•    Gifts: Many communities are in need of assets that individuals can’t buy on their own. Are there assets the company already owns or could buy then give to the community as a gift?
•    Time: The company probably has knowledgeable people who might have a lot to offer and could spend on-the-clock time helping on projects that further community goals.
•    Connections: Who do people in the organization know and how might these relationships be of value to others in the community?
•    Brand power: Could the company use the power of its brand to shine the light on important community efforts, drawing more attention and help to the cause?

This weekend, a story in The New York Times highlighted one example of a company that brought great value to a community in need with a well-timed gift.

After the March earthquake in Japan, many affected areas had electricity restored relatively quickly. Gasoline, however, still proved hard to come by.

So Mitsubishi president Osamu Masuko donated almost 100 of his company’s i-MiEV electric cars to help ensure people and supplies could keep moving in the affected areas.

This gift, which cost Mitsubishi relatively little, has provided a huge benefit for the affected communities. One story from the article:

“There was almost no gas at the time, so I was extremely thankful when I heard about the offer,” said Tetsuo Ishii, a division chief in the environmental department in Sendai, which also got four Nissan Leaf electric cars. “If we hadn’t received the cars, it would have been very difficult to do what we needed to.”
Mr. Ishii and other officials in Sendai assigned the cars strategically. Two were used to bring food and supplies to the 23 remaining refugee centers in the city, while two others served doctors. Education officials have been using another two vehicles to inspect schools for structural damage. Others helped deliver supplies to kindergartens around the city or were loaned to volunteer groups.

Most corporations would view a gift like this as simple corporate philanthropy. But I believe giving back to communities is much more than a “do good” strategy. I believe it can be good business as well.
Mitsubishi’s story is a case in point. Not only has Mitsubishi garnered goodwill from citizens appreciative of the gift, they have created a wonderful, emotionally-resonant proof point of the practicality and reliability of electric vehicles at a time when many are still questioning how effective they will actually be.

The people at Mitsubishi will not only be able to sleep at night knowing they provided a valuable gift to a community in need, but they will also have a powerful story that can be used for years down the road illustrating the effectiveness and practicality of the electric vehicle.

The community benefits. The company creates value for its shareholders at the same time. In my view, gifts like this where everyone wins are the best gifts of all.

[This article originally appeared on opensource.com]

Dark Matter Matters has a snazzy new look. ‘Bout time.


Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent some time toiling away in wordpress.com hell, updating the static content and look of this blog for the first time since I launched it at the beginning of 2009.

I’ve added some new sections, including one for my forthcoming book, The Ad-Free Brand (Did I mention I wrote a book? Oh yeah, like 1000 times. Sorry about that). Right now I’ve put a draft of the introduction up there, and I’d love any comments or suggestions– still time left to edit before the book comes out!

I also added pages featuring the key communities I’m working with right now, opensource.com and the Management Innovation Exchange. Other than that, it’s a spiffy new template, a few new graphics here and there and, hopefully, some more original articles featuring content from the book over the coming months.

I still have some additional changes I’d like to make, adding TypeKit fonts, customizing the stylesheet a bit, you know, blog nerd stuff. But I’m decently pleased with where it is right now, so I thought I’d point it out.

Thanks for taking a look!

The astrophysics of building a brand from the inside out


It has been a while since I wrote an original post on this blog, so I thought over the next few months I’d try to make up for lost time by previewing some of the concepts from my new book The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World, due out in August. If you like what you see, let me know. If not, well, I still have some time to make edits, so let me know that as well. But be gentle.

One of the key concepts in the book is that ad-free brands are brands built from the inside out. But what exactly does this mean?

Imagine for a second that a brand is a powerful star at the center of a solar system, maybe one like our Sun. For me, brand positioning is an attempt to describe the gravitational pull at the very center of that star.

Great brand positioning creates gravity that pulls people closer to the heart of the brand. As people move closer, the brand releases energy, in much the same way a star sends out heat and light.

So when beginning to roll out new brand positioning, one way to think of your work is as an attempt to mimic thermonuclear fusion within a star. No small feat, huh?

We want to pull people closer to the center of the brand using the brand positioning as a gravitational force. Then, just like with atoms in a star, once the core group of people at the center of the brand is sufficiently dense, a reaction occurs, resulting in a continuous stream of brand energy released over time. The denser you can make the core near the center of the brand, the more energy is released.


If you aren’t the least bit interested in astrophysics, or that explanation above did not resonate with you, let me try another, simpler one:

At some point, if enough people begin to deeply understand and live the brand in their daily work, magic happens.

American showman and circus entrepreneur P.T. Barnum was no astrophysicist, but he understood the power of this magic moment. His explanation: “Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.”

Aligning a core, closely aligned group of people around the brand positioning is the only way to set off this particular reaction. And there is no better place to start rolling out your positioning than with those people who already work for your organization and have a vested interest in its success.

Building a brand from the inside out means building the brand by creating energy with the community of the people closest to the brand—those who work for the organization—and using the gravitation force this group creates to pull even more people close to the center of the brand.

Hey, I Wrote a Book!

The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World

Available now in print and electronic versions.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: