Earlier this week, Fast Company posted an article by Jens Martin Skibsted and Rasmus Bech Hansen (thanks to Gunnar Hellekson for sending it my way) that may be of interest to folks seeing success with their open source and open innovation efforts.
The article is entitled “User-Led Innovation Can’t Create Breakthroughs; Just Ask Apple and IKEA” and here’s how it starts:
Companies should lead their users, not the other way around.
The user is king. It’s a phrase that’s repeated over and over again as a mantra: Companies must become user-centric. But there’s a problem: It doesn’t work. Here’s the truth: Great brands lead users, not the other way around.
Jens and Rasmus aren’t the first to preach this sermon, Henry Ford (apocryphally, at least) had a go at it about 100 years ago. And Steve Jobs has famously used Henry Ford’s “faster horse” quote to describe Apple’s philosophy about market research for years.
To make their case, Jens and Rasmus use Apple and IKEA as case studies of brands that have done very well by not listening to their users, and in the article they document conversations with insiders at each company.
A few years back, a good friend recommended I pick up a copy of Designing Brand Identity: an essential guide for the whole branding team by Alina Wheeler. Now in its 3rd edition, it’s a beautiful book, well designed and easy to read or to use as a reference. I recently caught up with Alina, who is finishing up work on a new book entitled Brand Atlas: Branding Intelligence Made Visible with designer Joel Katz. I asked her some questions about where branding and the open source way might be beginning to intersect.
CHRIS: I have heard that you often begin the continuum of branding with the 17,000 year old cave paintings in Lascaux, France. Now that’s historic branding! What are one or two key concepts in designing branding identity that have stayed constant and endured from a world of cave paintings to a world of Twitter, Facebook, and open source?
ALINA: Since the beginning of time, the need to communicate emerges from a universal set of questions: Who am I? Who needs to know? How will they find out? Why should they care? Whether you are on Facebook or in Shanghai or Charlotte, these questions are the same.
Mankind has always used symbols and stories to express individuality, pride, loyalty, and ownership. Individuals, communities and organizations express their uniqueness through their identity. Brand is identity. Competition for recognition is as ancient as the heraldic banners on a medieval battlefield. The battle for physical territory has evolved into competition for share of mind. The competition is fierce.
The power of symbols remains elusive and mysterious–a simple form can trigger recall and arouse emotion–whether it is emblazoned on a flag or embedded in an email. There is significant research about the purpose of the images in the caves of Lascaux. For me they are a reflection of what we are all thinking about now: communication, community, culture, meaning, survival, and navigation.
CHRIS: Now the opposite question: as we begin 2011, are there core branding principles you think have shifted significantly since you wrote the first edition of the book in 2003?
ALINA: The tools have changed. The fundamentals have not. Whether you are the CEO of a global consumer brand or a social entrepreneur, I believe that there is a universal set of principles that are fundamental to increasing awareness, attracting prospects/opportunities, transcending the clutter, and building customer loyalty.
The brand conversation has changed. We all know that now. The challenges have increased exponentially. The tools have become so provocative that they reduce our attention to the fundamentals: being customer centric, staying aligned with your vision and values, and staying differentiated in a world that is overwhelming in sameness and clutter.
The pressure to constantly update and innovate has polarized the world of brand builders. For some, it is an exhilarating time and for others a treadmill where you are running faster to stay in place. There are those who embrace marketplace dynamics and ignore brand fundamentals, and those who are stuck in their legacy infrastructures and business models refusing to embrace change and speed. Success requires embracing both.
CHRIS: Here on the opensource.com business channel, we often talk about how core open source principles like community, collaboration, meritocracy, and rapid prototyping can help businesses of any type–not just those building software. I love the detailed case studies you did in Designing Brand Identity. In your studies of leading brands, have you seen examples of these principles being applied in the branding world?
ALINA: I am eager to learn about new brands that are co-created with the customer or end-user. I believe that open source is the most meaningful and relevant methodology that will help us prepare for a new world: i.e. build communities that matter, collaborate more effectively toward outcomes that matter, and innovate because for survival, that matters.
Although open source is a fairly new idea to most brand managers that I know, it embodies the branding process ideal from an organizational development perspective. The biggest challenge on revitalizing an existing brand is frequently busting through the silos. How do we get IT to work with customer support and marketing to work together on behalf of the customer? How do we get different departments with radically different agendas to be part of the campfire around the brand? It is so powerful when there is a cross-departmental, cross-disciplinary collaboration to build the brand, and to deliver on the brand promise.
B Corporations are a new class of certification and classification for companies that want to collectively redefine success and to leverage the influence of their businesses to solve social and environmental problems. B Corps connect their executive teams with peers from mission-aligned companies.
The Charleston Parks Conservancy has a unique network of community volunteers called the Park Angels, who literally help care for Charleston’s 120 + parks. They have become the public face of the organization. The long-term benefits are for the entire city: building community and improving the quality of life, health and economic strength. Park Angel’s brand is visible on numerous platforms that connect people to people, people to the parks and to the bigger ideal of making a difference. This movement has instilled a sense of ownership and pride.
I believe that IDEO uses open source methodology in their product development work, although I don’t think they call it open source. They are renowned for letting customers/users be part of the product development process and routinely use rapid prototyping. Certainly their culture of creativity and innovation is a meritocracy. The Ripple Effect is a project done in partnership with the Acumen Fund and the Gates Foundation. IDEO collaborated with 22 organizations in India to develop new methods for safe transportation and storage of drinking water in India’s villages.
CHRIS: I can tell design means more to you than just a pretty logo. What is the strategic role of design in building brands today?
ALINA: Lou Danziger said it best, “Design is intelligence made visible.” The best design is a result of strategic imagination, an ability to understand and align business goals with creative strategy and expression. While brands are about emotional connection, brand identity is any tangible expression of the brand. We can see it, hear it, watch it move. Designers play an essential role in building brands and creating unique and memorable experiences. Designers work to fuel recognition across platforms, amplify differentiation, and make big ideas accessible and understandable.
The best designers have an ability to imagine what others can’t see and to show what it looks like and what it feels like. Design is often overlooked in brand strategy meetings where rapid prototyping could benefit and accelerate the decision making process. Having designers shoulder to shoulder with researchers examining user experiences could jumpstart new solutions.
CHRIS: One trend we discuss regularly here on opensource.com is the trend toward organizations giving up some control over the direction of their brands to the communities around them. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is this a positive thing? Dangerous? Maybe both?
ALINA: Brands exist because there are customers. Although that might sound like a blinding flash of the obvious, it’s important to remember that ultimately the customer always decides whether a brand will flourish or die.
Just like in any conversation worth having, there is a time to talk and a time to listen. Listening to the aspirations, desires, needs, and challenges of your core stakeholders is the most critical brand building competency.
I do believe that control is critical to brand success whether you are a start-up venture, a non-profit or a consumer brand. Having values that don’t waiver. Being certain about why your organization exists. Being consistent about who you are and what you stand for. Taking the time to engage your entire organization in the vision and values. Creating places where conversations can happen. Building trust. Anticipating and fulfilling needs. Being transparent. Making certain that the brand experience is coherent and relevant. These maxims are intentional. As more brands in the future are co-created with end-users, perhaps this notion of control will evolve to a more collaborative model.
The third edition of Designing Brand Identity is available on Amazon now. Alina Wheeler’s new book Brand Atlas: Branding Intelligence Made Visible will be available in April, 2011 and is available for pre-sale now on Amazon.
[This post originally appeared on opensource.com]
Maybe some day we’ll look back on the role of the manager in our organizations and laugh.
Such a quaint trend. Kind of like having The Clapper in every room of your house, or wearing multiple Swatch watches, or working out to Richard Simmons videos. Each seemed really helpful at the time, but looking back, we kind of wonder what the heck we were thinking.
OK, I’m exaggerating. After all, the manager/employee trend has been going strong for 100 years or more. But are we seeing enormous changes in the role of managers on the horizon? Signs point to yes.
In some of the most forward-thinking businesses and in many projects being run the open source way, the traditional manager/employee relationship, which looks something like the image above, is being replaced with something much less formal and much more flexible.
I think the new model looks more like this:
[read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
When I hear people talk about how awesome their organizational culture is, I often find myself wondering what sort of “great” culture it is.
For me, great cultures fall into two categories: entitlement and mission-driven. Those “best places to work” lists don’t usually make a distinction, but I do. Here is the difference:
The surest sign of an entitlement culture? When someone tells you why they like their work, they give you an example of a benefit not related to the work itself. Some examples:
I get on-site daycare.
I get free snacks and drinks.
We have great health benefits.
We have a flexible work-from-home policy.
From what I’ve observed, entitlement-driven cultures resonate most with people who have a deeply held desire for safety, security, and quality of life.
It’s no secret that I believe organizations with a strong shared purpose, mission, or vision beyond the bottom line have a huge advantage over those that don’t. I was able to witness the power of a mission-driven culture first hand at Red Hat, and I see these cultures all of the time in the both the open source and design worlds.
Ask someone why they like working in a mission-driven organization, and they are likely to say things like these:
I believe in what we are doing.
I love coming to work every day.
I leave work each day with a sense of accomplishment.
I am changing the world.
My personal experience has been that mission-driven cultures resonate most with people who have a deeply held desire to find meaning in their work above all else.
Can companies have both cultures at once, and be both entitlement-driven and mission-driven? Absolutely!
And a culture where people believe in what they do and enjoy safety, security, and quality of life is the best kind, right? Let me be controversial:
I don’t think that is true.
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
I recently finished the new book Digital Strategies for Powerful Corporate Communications, by Paul Argenti and Courtney Barnes. I must admit, I’m allergic to many Web 2.0 books. This book does have some of that social media handbook feel, but I was excited about it because co-author Paul Argenti, a professor of communications at Dartmouth, is someone whose ideas about communications have really influenced my thinking over the past few years.
Paul was one of the masterminds behind The Authentic Enterprise, a whitepaper that may be one of the most compelling looks into the future of the communications field I have ever seen. I’ve written about it previously here, here, and here.
The following paragraph highlights the point of view from which this book approaches digital communications strategy:
“The business of managing relationships– and therefore, business itself– has changed dramatically in the last decade. Stakeholder empowerment, as it’s come to be known, has shifted the corporate hierarchy of influence from the hands of elite business executives to those of their once-passive audiences, including employees, consumers, media, and investors.”
This paragraph does a nice job illustrating what we might define as the democratization of corporate communications.
Democratization of Corporate Communications:
Any person communicating about any company at any time.
A company’s own communications professionals can no longer expect to be the only communicators of the brand message. Employees are communicators. Customers are communicators. Even former employees and former customers can now communicate on behalf of brands. Scary stuff or exciting stuff, depending on who you are.
One of the things I really liked about this book is that it has an entire chapter highlighting a favorite subject of mine: the need for closer ties between the human resources and communications function. Why? Simple:
In a world where everyone is a communications person, everyone needs to be on brand.
If you’ve ever watched a road bike race like the Tour de France, you know the peloton is the big group of riders that cluster together during the race to reduce drag. It’s a great example of collaboration in action. But let’s face it: the people in the middle of the peloton may go faster than they would otherwise, but they don’t win the race.
When it comes to creating and innovating, most companies (and employees) are in the peloton. They are doing enough to survive, but they are stuck in the pack. And if they stay in the pack too long, they lose.
Escaping the peloton is tough. Often, you see a cyclist break away, sprint for a while, only to get sucked back into the main group over time as the pressures of making a go independently prove too much.
You’ve probably felt this way at work. You come up with an amazing idea, one that will change the company forever. But little by little, people—even the well-meaning ones—chip away at its soul, until the idea goes from being amazing to, well, average. You end up being sucked back into the peloton.
After this happens one too many times, you may feel like you want to stop collaborating and try to make things happen on your own. Don’t do it. Even Lance Armstrong could rarely break away from the peloton without his teammates’ help.
Instead, here are three tips to help you escape the creativity peloton without giving up on collaboration.
[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]
In the discussions around some of my previous articles, I’ve noticed a trend: we seem to be focusing on cultural changes that need to be made for the open source way to be effective in contexts beyond technology. One cultural context I think could really use some help is politics.
I read an interesting post last week by Morton Hansen (author of Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results) entitled Obama’s Five Collaboration Mistakes. In the comments below the post, some folks interpreted his words as an attack on the Obama administration. Me? I’d probably interpret Hansen’s words more broadly. Perhaps something like:
Politicians are pretty darned bad at collaborating a lot of the time.
I think many folks would agree with this statement no matter where they sit politically. No matter where they live around the world.
In fact, the word “political” has become almost synonymous with anti-collaborative behavior in many contexts. Certainly in the business world.
But there is a lot a stake here. The economic downturn has hurt our businesses badly. And this has affected many of us in even more personal ways. Jobs. Homes. Security.
We need innovation in the political world to help solve the problems of the business world. Which means we are going to need better collaboration across political boundaries, both inside and between our countries.
Could we open source folks help?
[Read the rest of this article on opensource.com]
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
Over the past few weeks, Gary Hamel has written two posts on his Wall Street Journal blog about his next book (the posts are here and here). The catch? He’s decided that he isn’t going to write another book. So instead, he published the CliffsNotes version of what he’d write if he was going to write a book, and started what he refers to as an “open source project” about the ideas, inviting people to add their thoughts and comments.
I thought I’d share some of my favorite bits that fit in really well with a Dark Matter Matters world view.
On what it means to be an adaptable company:
An adaptable company is one that captures more than its fair share of new opportunities… An enterprise that is constantly exploring new horizons is likely to have a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining talent. When a once successful company runs aground and starts to list, its most talented employees usually don’t stick around to bail water, they jump ship. A dynamic company will have employees who are more engaged, more excited to show up to work every day, and thus more productive… Adaptability didn’t rate very highly as a design criteria when those early pioneers set out to invent Management 1.0 a hundred years ago. But it’s essential now…
On the problems with big organizations:
Big things aren’t nimble. That’s why there aren’t any 200-pound gymnasts or jumbo-sized fighter jets… In a company comprised of a few, large organizational units, there tends to be a lack of intellectual diversity—since people within the same unit tend to think alike. Within any single organizational unit, a dominant set of business assumptions is likely to emerge over time. One way of counteracting the homogenizing effects of this groupthink is to break big units into little ones. Big units also tend to have more management layers—which makes it more difficult to get new ideas through the approval gauntlet. In addition, elephantine organizations tend to erode personal accountability.
Picture this: You are sitting in a meeting, and someone from another department is beating you up because you won’t go along their vision. They’ve never asked your for your opinion, they didn’t involve you in their process, and now you are sitting there getting railed because you are not sure what they are pushing is the right thing to do.
And then it comes. You get accused of not being collaborative.
You were just a victim of clobberation.
Clobberation [klob-uh-reh-shun] (n)
The art of beating someone into submission under the guise of collaboration.
I first heard this term from my friend Todd Barr a few years ago, and it’s stuck with me ever since.
Especially for us open source folks, who think of true collaboration as something almost holy, getting clobberated is really, really painful. And the hard part? It is sometimes difficult to articulate how someone clobberated you, but you almost always know it when you feel it. You feel anxious, cheated, even guilty.
So what’s an honest collaborator to do?