It’s been a week now since Steve Yegge of Google fired the shot heard ’round the tech industry. In case you missed it, Steve wrote a thoughtful, yet highly charged rant intended to begin an internal conversation about Google’s failures in learning how to build platforms (as opposed to products).
In the post, he eviscerates his former employer, Amazon, and in particular CEO Jeff Bezos (who he refers to as the Dread Pirate Bezos), but doesn’t pull any punches with his current employer either. It is an extremely passionate, well-written piece which, my guess is, will change the conversation internally at Google in a positive way.
But there was one problem:
When posting it to Google+ (which he was admittedly new to), Steve accidentally made his rant public, where the whole world could see it.
And over the past week, pretty much everyone has.
This prominent re-post (Steve took his original piece down, which I’ll get to in a second) has generated, as of this writing, 487 comments and over 11,000 +1s on Google+.
The comments are spectacular and largely supportive. Some have referred to this as Steve Yegge’s Jerry McGuire moment.
But my post isn’t about Steve. He’s received plenty of attention in the past week, poor guy.
It’s about the Google PR team that, in a time of crisis, made the tough decision to stay true to the spirit of openness that Google Senior VP of People Operations Laszlo Bock described in his recent piece in Think Quarterly. From Laszlo’s piece:
“And if you think about it, if you’re an organization that says ‘our people are our greatest asset,’ you must default to open. It’s the only way to demonstrate to your employees that you believe they are trustworthy adults and have good judgment. And giving them more context about what is happening (and how, and why) will enable them to do their jobs more effectively and contribute in ways a top-down manager couldn’t anticipate.”
So if “default to open” is the overall philosophy at Google, how does it play out in practice? As it turns out, Steve Yegge’s rant provides a pretty good data point.
In a Google+ message explaining his decision to take down the original post, Steve described the reaction of the Google PR team this way:
“I’ve taken the post down at my own discretion. It was kind of a tough call, since obviously there will be copies. And everyone who commented was nice and supportive.
I contacted our internal PR folks and asked what to do, and they were also nice and supportive. But they didn’t want me to think that they were even hinting at censoring me — they went out of their way to help me understand that we’re an opinionated company, and not one of the kinds of companies that censors their employees.”
This is not, in my experience, the kind of support that most PR folks would have given Steve in this situation:) And because of it, this episode, however traumatic, serves as one piece of proof showing that Google’s “default to open” approach is not just aspirational bullshit.
I’m sure there are plenty of places where people could argue that Google is not being open enough, or could stand to be more open than they are today.
But in this particular case, in a moment of crisis—where many weaker leaders would have given in to the frightened urge to attempt a cover up—Google stood by its core beliefs and defaulted to open.
While openness is sometimes ugly and painful (as it certainly is in this case), it often allows great opportunities to emerge that would otherwise never see the light of day.
I suspect that when the waters recede, this authentic, beautiful, and raw piece of communication might be the starting point toward something better, not just within Google, but in the tech industry as a whole.
And for supporting openness, even in its most painful form, Google PR team, I salute you.
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.
One of my favorite regular blog subjects is how to use community-based strategies to build brands. In fact, I’m putting the finishing touches on a new book entitled The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World which will be out this August and covers exactly that topic.
How does a community-based brand strategy work? Simple.
Rather than staying behind the curtain and developing a brand strategy inside your organization for your brand community, you step out from behind the curtain and develop the strategy with your brand community.
Many traditional executives will have a hard time with this approach. First, it means the organization will need to publicly admit it does not have all the answers already. Some folks (especially executives, in my experience) just have a hard time admitting they don’t know everything.
Second, it means ceding some control over the direction of your brand to people in the communities that care about it. The truth is that you probably already have lost absolute control of your brand because of the impact of Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other user-controlled media. Some folks just aren’t ready to accept that fact yet.
If you are considering opening up your brand strategy to help from people outside the organization, how do you sell the approach to hesitant executives? Why is this new model not just good philosophy, but also good business?
Here are the five key benefits of a community-based brand strategy:
Over the past few months, I’ve started moonlighting as a contributor on the Management Innovation Exchange (MIX), which we’ve featured regularly on opensource.com. My posts on the MIX focus on how to enable communities of passion in and around organizations.
A few months ago, the MIX announced a new contest, the Human Capital M-Prize, which is looking for the best ideas on how to unleash passion in our organizations.
Since this particular challenge is right in my stomping ground on the MIX, and because many people who regularly read and contribute to opensource.com probably know better how to enable communities of passion than almost anyone else in the world, I thought I should highlight the contest in the hopes that some of you might enter.
Details? From the MIX website:
The MIX and HCI are looking for the boldest thinking, most powerfully-developed vision, and the most cleverly-designed experiments for unleashing passion in our organizations. What is your bold new idea or radical solution to the lack of engagement and passion in our workforce? What game-changing story or hack can transform employees everywhere into more engaged, motivated and productive contributors?
If you have a story or hack you think might fit, go here to learn more or enter the contest.
The deadline for entries is January 20th—only about two weeks away.
The grand prize winner will get a chance to present their story or hack to a global audience at the HCI Human Capital Summit in Atlanta in March, and there are other interesting prizes as well. So if this sounds compelling to you, get on over to the MIX and submit your entry.
Make our community of passion at opensource.com proud and let’s show these future-of-management-types that we open source folks know a thing or two about building community.
Over the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many different organizations attempting to build successful communities inside and outside the open source world.
Many of them quickly fall into something I call the tool trap.
Meaning, they immediately jump into a conversation about what tool or technology they will use to support the community:
“Where are we going to put the wiki?”
“Should we build the website using Drupal?”
“What should we call the mailing list?”
“We should starting playing around with [new technology X].”
This is no huge surprise. Great community-building tools are now available to us that never existed before and it is very hard to resist the urge to start nerding out on new technology.
And tools are important. But tools alone do not create community.
People create community.
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
My first blog post went up today on the Management Innovation Exchange (MIX).
The MIX is the brainchild of Gary Hamel, author of one of my favorite management books of the last 10 years, The Future of Management, and the guy who the Wall Street Journal ranked as the most influential business thinker in the world.
The thesis of the MIX is that management itself has been a fantastic innovation— the “technology of human accomplishment” to use Hamel’s words. Yet for all management has done to improve the world we live in, it is technology invented over 100 years ago, and old skool management practices are becoming increasingly outdated in the modern world (Gary Hamel explains this all better than I do, watch his short introduction to the MIX below).
The MIX is an open, collaborative effort to reinvent management built around 25 management “moonshots” (see the full list here). In addition to Hamel, there are some amazing folks contributing to the site, including famous visionaries like Terri Kelly of W.L. Gore & Associates and John Mackey of Whole Foods.
But perhaps the most exciting part of the site for me has been to see that it is built as a meritocracy of ideas, where anyone can add a story, a hack, or a barrier. And many do. I’ve seen some amazing ideas as I’ve begun to participate in the MIX over the last few months and can’t wait to point some of them out in my role as a Moonshot Guide.
In particular, I’ll be tackling the moonshot “Enable communities of passion” building on my experiences at Red Hat and here at New Kind as we continue to build a company around the concept of being community catalysts.
So if you have ideas for things you think I should cover, drop me a line, I’d love to hear them.
I’m not usually a germophobe, but the last few months I’ve been walking around opening doors with my elbows and washing my hands constantly. I’ve been freaked out by the constant updates on Facebook about what my friends/friends’ kids have come down with now. So far, my immune system has held up pretty well, but I always worry that H1N1 is only a doorknob away.
These are trying times for corporate immune systems too. The economic meltdown has exposed corporations to all sorts of risks they don’t deal with in the regular course of business. Many corporate immune systems have failed, putting millions of people out of work. It begs the question: how resilient is your company? And how can you make your corporate immune system stronger?
I got to thinking about this corporate immune system concept after reading the new book The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us And What We Can Do About It by Joshua Cooper Ramo. In this fantastic book, Ramo (former foreign editor of Time Magazine, now a foreign policy/strategy consultant at Kissinger Associates) offers his thoughts on what we as a society need to do to adapt to a rapidly changing world.
Ramo talks a lot about the idea of creating a stronger global immune system. Here’s what he means:
“What we need now, both for our world and in each of our lives, is a way of living that resembles nothing so much as a global immune system: always ready, capable of dealing with the unexpected, as dynamic as the world itself. An immune system can’t prevent the existence of a disease, but without one even the slightest of germs have deadly implications.”
Ramo presents this in idea in the context of how we protect ourselves from a scary world– terrorists, rogue nations, nuclear proliferation, and all that, but the concept applies well to the corporate world as well– tough competitors, fickle customers, shrinking budgets– we corporate folks have our own demons.
So how do we shore up the ol’ immune system? Ramo refers to the philosophy of building resilience or “deep security” into the organization. Continue reading