What Is Strategy?
Undercurrent’s very own Mike Arauz has written an intriguing post today discussing the importance of defining and understanding strategy. Our particular craft suffers from dilution as so many different types of industries and disciplines claim “strategy” as their domain. In the process, this buzzword has become watered down. It’s high time for a deeper discussion of what it means.
Doesn’t strategy drive you crazy?
I recently found myself at a group dinner that included several great minds on the subject of digital culture. Among them, I had a chance to catch up with Ben Palmer, a buddy of mine that is the mad scientist behind The Barbarian Group. Amidst our usual pleasantries, he asked me a pretty pointed question that went something like this (paraphrasing):
"You guys just do pure strategy, so it must drive you crazy that you think about stuff up in the clouds all day and then nothing gets done? Or if it does get done, it’s executed poorly?"
It’s a damn good question, and certainly not one that we’re foreign to hearing. But upon reflection I thought it deserved a more careful answer than what I was able to spit out at a dinner party, so here goes…
First off, I think there are people who are very hands-on, and people who are very minds-on. Hands-on people need to create, it’s not enough for them to imagine. Minds-on people need to explore/learn and are happy to go off to wonderland purely for the joy of using their noggin. The world needs both (think Einstein vs. Doc Brown), and sometimes, you’ll meet someone that can wear both hats. Those people are way fun and I count Ben among them.
But that got me thinking… Undercurrent is clearly a minds-on culture of consulting, and much of what we do, even when it is concrete (such as a digital measurement model, or a recommendation around a departmental re-org) is still pretty theoretical, unless (and even when) it’s actually set into motion. In that way our clients often have to change internally to put these things into practice.
And that’s the fundamental reason that I believe our people are not frustrated beyond belief to work in and around digital strategy all day, every day. Because while many interactive agencies (and agencies in general) are in business to make STUFF for their clients, I think we are in business to make CHANGE at our clients.
It’s really hard to spot it, especially if you’ve only been consulting with a brand for a few months, but the relentless presentation of sound strategy, good ideas that focus on every aspect of their business, and a digital worldview that offers them a chance to look at the world differently, can change a brand and its brand team forever.
So hey, if they don’t build our idea of the moment, that’s okay. I’m just hoping they buy our point of view for the decade ahead. You know?
Want Content? “Pick One”
A meeting with the super smart Avner Ronen of Boxee yesterday, combined with reading coverage of the Pirate Bay trial and the 30 Rock “McFlurrygate” has got me thinking on overdrive about the future of video content.
In a conversation last night with my buddy Aaron, we came up with a simple rule called “Pick One.” While certainly not groundbreaking, it’s an easy way to think about the future of entertainment.
I’ve seen a lot of folks living inside the insular tech world develop the attitude that they deserve their content free of:
- time/focus consuming advertising
- product placement
This led to the “pick one” theory. For a sustainable content production model, the consumer has to pick one of those. I hate to play the old media asshole here, but an episode of Lost isn’t going to get made with none of the above.
So, I know I’m 1/2 month late in riffing here, but I did want to call out, I think it may well be the case that for web content the consumer only has to pick one, but for insanely expensive $5MM/episode HD tv content, they might have to pick two. You like 24? How about putting up with advertising AND that obnoxious Cisco ringtone…
The bottom line is just realigning our expectations post Napster, which believe it or not, never fully happened. There’s no magic “amazing content box.” UGC is not going to create scripted television. So, we have to face facts: making content has a real cost. Somebody, somewhere has got to pay, whether it’s McFlurry, you, or the quality of the content.
Just finished “Warren Buffet and the Interpretation of Financial Statements.” While it might sound like a dry read, it was actually quite fascinating. For starters, the level of discussion in the book is fairly plebian, which is a good thing for me as I never got an MBA or a sound education in investment strategy. What the book does cover quite well though, is the way Warren Buffett looks at a company’s financials, and what indicators might suggest a durable competitive advantage. At its core, it seems his investment philosophy is about common sense, patience, and the search for a company that will be competitive for decades rather than years. He’s looking at stocks as equity bonds with a certain rate of return (earnings per share). As you move through the book and note where he pays special attention (or doesn’t) you certainly get a sense for how effective this strategy can be, given an insatiable desire to review financial statements and the composure to exercise unbelievable restraint amidst market fluctuations.
I read the book as a way to evaluate my own company’s financials – to ensure that we have, or can create, the indicators of long-term viability. On the whole, it seems we’re very much on the right track, with one exception being that we’re in a people-driven consulting business, something Warren avoids. For me, the read was encouraging. And, as much as entrepreneurs and investors might gripe about service businesses, where your competitive advantage goes up and down in the elevators everyday, I wouldn’t have it any other way. No other type of business has more heart, more culture, and more subtlety. When your people are your business, it forces your business practices to be more human, and that’s an advantage that doesn’t show up on the balance sheet.
On the similarities between Benjamin Button and Forrest Gump
I’ll admit that it was with great excitement that I entered the theater to see Benjamin Button last night. However, over the course of the film I began to suspect that someone somewhere was hoping this could be Forrest Gump – the sequel. I later learned that the same screenwriter wrote both films! And so, the pieces began to fit. As an exercise I decided I would write down all the similarities I could find in the story/characters of both films. I invite you to read through the below and then share any that I may have missed (I will incorporate into later versions of this post).
- Both Benjamin and Forrest have some deficiency that society rejects.
- Both Benjamin and Forrest have strong mother figures, and both are Southern
- Both mothers offer nebulous wisdom about the uncertainty of the future (“You never know what you’re going to get” and “You never know what’s coming for you”)
- Both Benjamin and Forrest have an unrequited love affair with a childhood female friend who is too much of a free spirit to be loved, until life teaches them a hard lesson, and they finally settle down, and end up geting pregnant by Benjamin or Forrest respectively.
- Both Benjamin and Forrest go on adventures that lead them far from home, including seeing a war firsthand.
- Both end up on a boat for work (tug or shrimp).
- Both have a vitriolic male friend in their lives who drinks too much and curses god (Captain Dan and Captain Mike).
- Both end up not having to worry about money (Benjamin through inheritance and Forrest through Apple stock).
- Both are worried that their baby will share their deficiency (and neither does).
- Both stories use a flying object as a metaphor (a hummingbird and a feather).
More to come, hopefully from you fine readers!
Imitation vs. Innovation
Been thinking of a new (to me) way of categorizing inventions lately. Basically, does the invention seek to recreate a natural phenomena in an unnatural place/condition, or is it a truly novel idea? Imitation examples: A/C = cold air, Light bulb = sunlight, Plane = bird/flight, Computer = brain, DVR = memory, Perfume = flower frangrance. Innovation examples: car. Others? You tell me. Just something I’m kicking around.