What Brands Can Learn from my Daughter’s School Report
My daughter got her school report today. In general she has done very well – all As and Bs – but almost every teacher noted that she is too quiet in class, and needs to contribute more.
She is shy, but far from stupid, as her grades attest. Whereas I tend towards the opposite end of the scale – ‘try thinking before you open your mouth’ was a frequent comment on my reports.
I had a chat with her about tying to speak up, and tried to articulate why it matters, when her grades are so great anyway. I think it’s because you have to get used to being wrong, to be able to drive a good discussion forward.
It’s not about which individual gets the right answer – but what you’re trying to achieve. In most instances, getting all the wrong answers on the table is the first step in the right direction.
A personal confession
So here it goes. I’ll but my hand up: I have made some real clangers in my time. Projects that really knocked my confidence, and took months to get over. But I did, and in time they’ve become part of my fabric, my metal, my experience. I’m not looking forward to the next one, but I’m sure it will come. Anyone who is trying to bring about change has to accept that. Sometimes ideas don’t work but most do and some really can deliver genuine groundbreaking results.
We all know that a good brainstorm is one without critical comments, where every possibility is tabled and considered. And we also know that some of the best ideas can come from the least likely places: that it’s not necessarily ‘the cleverest person’ that solves problem, it’s the flash of inspiration, or the unexpected thought.
Brand and design agencies though, in my personal experience, really struggle to admit that they get things wrong. I guess it’s because our currency is in ideas and thinking – but we know from experience that it can take a hundred duff ideas to get to the good one. Creativity is all about experimentation, trial and error, driven by a determination to make things better.
Corporations, however, seem to be paralysed by the fear of being wrong. That’s why ‘corporate’ has become a byword for ‘boring’ and ‘safe’. And, in a world full of constant analysis and observation, it’s becoming a big issue. More openness and transparency is needed for natural communication to happen and experimentation to take place.
Lessons from the masters: Nike and adidas
This is not true of all corporates of coarse, some are amazingly nimble. Look at Nike for instance: their creativity and exuberance in retail is just breathtaking at times.
A few years ago, I worked on a project with the adidas innovation team. The whole thing was based on the idea that ‘companies don’t innovate, people do’. It’s such a good observation, but it requires people to be brave with their thinking and, most importantly, share it – something adidas are great at encouraging.
Its all about being brave enough to stand up and suggest an idea, even if it seems too radical, or unusual, or too big a break with tradition. In fact, you can see a similarly bold approach in the German FA. They decided to try a different tack 12 years ago, and there’s a direct lineage from that leap of faith, to this week’s World Cup victory.
As for Apple, remember that they once fired Steve Jobs. Of course, that seems like a crazy move now, and maybe it was – but the important thing was that they weren’t afraid to change their minds and rehire him. Probably their best idea of all time.
So what does it mean for us?
The nature of today’s world means that a lot of companies, and their brand guardians, will need to try radical new things. Some of these things will go wrong. But I think, if your intention is good, and your actions well meant – and not necessarily just meant to make more money – people will appreciate it.
Corporations should play the long game, not just look for quick wins. And while they may get some negative press, eventually the rub is positive, because people want brands that stand for something, brands that try to make things better, more entertaining, more efficient, more useful, more personal, just better!
Corporations need to throw out the rulebook, be brave. Start by really living your mission – and if that mission is meaningless, then start by changing it to something you can act on… something you can really live.
After all: failure makes the news, but success makes history.
As for me, I’m practicing what I preach. Writing this post has not been easy. I’m sure someone will pick holes in it. But I know my aim is true, so I’m willing to take the risk.
What about you?
Do you have any examples of brands that have been brave recently? I think that would be a good discussion to have.