The Roots from C-Roots

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The Roots from the Roots To be true to the roots; as they give each and every enterprise the inspiration, pride and energy but also form the basics for differentiation, for relevance, for (internal) coherence and for relationships with the world at large.



Why the roots matter What is an organisation besides the obvious – a get-together of people working towards the same objective? So much more, it can be argued. Especially when you are talking about large (commercial) enter­prises where it’s often politics that define the outcome of a day’s work. But was this always the case? What happened to the ideals of the founder?! All those dreams in the making! And how have we veered so far from these dreams in our day-to-day operations? Sometimes it just happened. Sometimes mergers gave new meaning. And sometimes we were simply so preoccupied with what our competitors were getting up to that we forgot all about who we are and why we are here. Add to this the Zeitgeist of this era which calls for a re-valuation of who we are as individuals. The quest for self-fulfillment alters how we look at and act within organisations. And the predominant way of organising via ‘instruct and control’ doesn’t help either. We tend to react with even more rules. Despite knowing all along that the real difference is to be found elsewhere. It lies in the hearts and minds of the individuals defining the organisation. Especially in those instances where product competition is taken over by service concepts and the importance of the individual within the company becomes the discriminating factor in success or failure. That individual contribution can fundamentally sway (for better or worse) the perception of the people working with, buying from or emotionally connected to the organisation. 5


But above all, the roots form an indispensable source of inspiration and energy to steer the future. It is both touchstone and guiding principle for everything the organisation and its people say, do or decides not to do. Delivered in all details of an organisation, it will build the strongest ‘brands’ thinkable because it is based on a mentality and not on a (one-off) product. That’s why in our view any organisation or rather any enterprise functions as a social & cognitive structure, developed and continuously reproduced in ongoing social interaction. The social element: the actors connected to the enterprise and their ideas, perceptions and methods and the cognitive element: models, products, services etc. Therefore each and every enterprise can be regarded as a product of social interaction; creating an identity from what the actors of the enterprise aspire to be and what its environment wishes it to be. Actually, an organisational identity is much more connected to a narrative structure than to an organogram. An extended narrative told and retold by all stakeholders comprising of a main theme (the dream in the making), physical symbols (design, products, office interior and alike), perceptions (including imago and ideas on quality) and a way of doing things (culture). All stemming from the same source: the roots! So we view enterprises from a different perspective compared to the days of old-school corporate identity when identity was regarded as a uniform style of design and outlook, focussed on one-way communication, trying to deliver the desired and devised image. We don’t believe in the ‘brand’-police that instructs on the how, all too often overlooking the what and not to mention the why!


the main steps in identity exploration & development the root identity model page 10

uncovering the roots page 14

roots culture page 20


roots physical attributes page 24

roots proposition page 26

making the roots work for you page 28

rootsdriven identity page 32




physical attributes



The Roots model We believe that the roots of any enterprise are an inexhaustible source of inspiration, leading the strategy and fuelling new concepts for marketing and innovation, but above all steering the social interaction so that its unique story is told coherently and consistently. There are three intertwining elements that join to form and continuously build the identity of any organisation. The physical symbols, the way of doing things and the propositions as ‘raison d’être’. In interactive processes, individual experiences of these three elements are captured, told and re-told until they become the unspoken part of the organisation and as such an essential element of the identity. Culture Physical attributes Proposition

And in this era that identity is truly an interactive process with people from inside and outside of the enterprise. Seamlessly moving between the real world or the virtual world. Any identity is therefore a mutual undertaking by human beings connected to a common ideal. Irrespective of whether they are employed, buy from, deliver to or have an (intellectual) interest in the enterprise.



In this interactive process, what you say is almost as important as how you say it. And both should stem from your (physical) identity, be true and consistent. Organisations that do not internalise the power of their heritage and translate this into an active identity will lack important elements in both their culture and in their innovation and business developments. Especially with the rise of social media, the wealth of ideas, opinions and experiences are becoming an essential part of the (future) success. Much like the Nike-storytellers who went around the offices of Nike hearing and collecting the (local) campfire-stories that define Nike’s identity.

Nike Why? Because Nike has made understanding its heritage an intrinsic part of its corporate culture. Think of this approach as internal branding: The stories that you tell about your past shape your future. Which is why, these days, Nike has a number of senior executives who spend much of their time serving as ‘corporate storytellers’ – explaining the company’s heritage to everyone from vice presidents and sales reps to the hourly workers who run the cash registers at Nike’s stores. “Our stories are not about extraordinary business plans or financial manipulations,” explains Nelson Farris, 57, Nike’s director of corporate education and the company’s chief storyteller. “They’re about people getting things done.” Fast Company January issue 2000!







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Uncovering the roots Trying to find the true DNA of any organisation can only be done by changing the way we approach identity and by moving away from the structured side of the brain to the more intuitive parts. Because when we talk about our ‘identity’, people too often use words that are flavour of the day: ‘open & transparent’, or refer to concepts of the competitor: ‘like IKEA or Coca Cola’. The C-Roots 2-step approach connects structure and intuition and is called the ‘Identitea’. Taken from the concept of a high tea, we create an inspirational session outside the usual (mental) limitations of ‘office’-working sessions. In this Identitea of three to four hours we find an enterprise’s true DNA. (And even the identity of a politician has been turned inside out...) We truly take the discussion outside the comfort zone and use images to take the participants into the more subliminal and creative parts of their brain. In over 85 questions we confront them with carefully selected images and ask them to position these images in an underlying psychological model. A model distinguishing the current-, the ‘unwanted’- and the desired situation (ambition). In this way the discussion feeds three different moodboards which in connection tell a decisive story of who we are, where we come from and where we want to go to.



In the second part of the ‘Idenititea’ we take the moodboard of the ambition. An intricate division in the basic images enables us to divide the chosen images into three different categories of our roots model. Culture Physical attributes Proposition

The results of such a session are woven together in a narrative, often called a manifesto. It describes the ambition and connects the ‘raison d’être’ with the way of doing things and with what the organisation has to or needs to offer. This manifesto is in itself an inspiring call to action and uses the ambition as the long-term goal. It challenges employees to get on board towards this goal and drives the need for change when it is connected to the day-to-day operations.





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Culture A culture is derived from (social) interaction. It creates and confirms a social identity that is fundamental in building relationships between the organisation and its customers, employees or stakeholders. Relationships that go above and beyond the pure transactional side but hold the potential to build an aspiration that people want to be part of or belong to. All too often, culture is only defined as the combination of the written and unspoken rules and mutually agreed symbols to steer how things are done. It is seen as the internal side of the company. It is how people interact within the organisation. It could be how they approach (potential) customers or how they come up with new innovations. This means that we miss out on an important mechanism for connecting with our audiences if we are not able to share this social identity with the outside world. Some people still say that the social identity is often the soft(er) side. Unfortunately, abundant research has shown that this ‘soft’ side is extremely important in terms of the bottom line. Just one percent more employee satisfaction is translated into 2.5 percent more bottom-line profit. A social identity is also crucial when it comes to an organisation’s capability to attract (new) talent. And what more and more companies are finding out the hard way, is that at the end of the day, it’s the people... who can make any business successful.



In an ever increasing number of cases, the social identity also forms the basis of corporate social responsibility (CSR) or sponsoring. CSR activities that are close to the nature of the identity of the organisation act as a two-way enhancer. They strengthen both the mission of the cause as well as the identity of the sponsororganisation. Therefore, steering the social identity of your organisation is one of the biggest (potential) areas of building strong and mutually beneficial ties with the world we live in.

Goods from the Roots Our own CSR-initiative. Doing good by doing what we are good at! A 24h pressure cooker to find, define and put your identity to use in creative ideas. Tackling the obstacles that are in the way of reaching your ambition. Ideas will be visualised so that they are put to immediate use!



physical attributes



Physical attributes It is estimated that we are exposed to more than 4,000 branded messages each and every day. Ranging from the simple impression of a logo right through to intrusive advertising, people have grown accustomed to filtering these commercial impressions. We are quite capable of seeing what we want to see and forgetting all the rest. In bygone days, repetition and consistency had to underlie all communication. Each impression of the brand had to look the same and only the content could change. With the media-savvy audiences of today, this simply doesn’t work anymore. For every organisation it is essential to find the right mix of unity in diversity, and not to restrict itself to the usual forms of communication. The styling of an office or reception area, the choice of office-chair, both is just as important as the lay-out of an ad. One could even argue that it’s more important as it’s directed towards the first and most valuable group of brand ambassadors, the employees! Every opportunity in every area of interaction should be part of the symbolic and physical identity of the organisation. Therefore the leading concept guides this approach, based on design principles instead of design rules. Using these principles it gives maximum flexibility to individual approaches without losing consistency. Brand Spaces are branded worlds that are more than worth a visit. They are places that become urban landmarks or community hubs; they provide us with experiences that stick with us on an emotional level – and we buy products there as souvenirs to preserve this memory. 25


physical attributes



Proposition Many organisations see an ever-increasing competition in the very nature of their products. There are too many products that are merely look-alikes, testing the strength of the customer loyalty. All over we see companies moving from a product-oriented approach to a customer-centric approach. At the same time lean thinking and alternative workplace strategies are being introduced. With one certainty – it will take some time to clean up the ‘mess’:-) Simply because customers are not rational thinkers. And when we know what they are thinking we know what they were thinking. We’re just looking in our rear-view mirror too often to decide what to do in the future. With a leading concept in mind, we know where we want to go. How we get there is something to be created together with our customers. Co-creation is crucial. Integrating in each other’s world, essential. And from the leading concept we can define what the true value is of what we can bring to the equation. Often something quite different from our day-to-day operations.



physical attributes


leading concept


Making the roots work for you The narrative structure derived from the Identitea forms the basis. But we want the roots to work for everybody, in every situation. Irrespective of whether we develop new processes, innovative new products, hire new people or introduce lean thinking. Everything we do and how we do it should stem from one and the same basic concept: the leading concept. the leading concept

Therefore, we dig deeper into our creative sources and come up with a leading concept. A contemplation, a promise or an ideal which forms the essence of the roots and which everybody is able to remember, to use and to connect with. Just like a string of DNA, it distinguishes one enterprise from the another, but it is also what connects to all new endeavours (and people) to ensure consistency. A true leading concept is both a touchstone and source of inspiration. A touchstone as in the leading principles of an enterprise to decide what fits and what doesn’t fit without having to put everything in rules, regulations or instructions. A source of inspiration to be able to continuously deliver new energy and steer innovation in products and services. It is also used to help define intricate matters like social responsibility, sponsoring or even the design of the enterprise’s physical premises, such as offices, retail outlets and the like. 29


A leading concept is the elusive focal point. And as such it requires the social and cognitive structure, both in words and images to convey its bigger meaning. A leading concept should touch the hearts, souls and intellect of all people connected to the enterprise. It is both a confirmation of and spotlight on the history as well as the direction and challenge for the future. It connects the business strategy and the culture. Human interaction and physical delivery. A true leading concept connects the extremes to deliver a consistent story throughout. Sometimes the leading concept is also the pay-off or strapline. More often however, its an operational function behind the scenes where it steers the three domains where the enterprise interacts with it’s context; culture, physical identity and propositions. We’ll delve a little more deeply into these three aspects.

Often formulated from the leading concept are the core values (or principles as we prefer to call them) that steer the day-today actions of the enterprise. In this way, the contribution of each and every individual is valued on its true merits.


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innovation brand architecture communication

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recruitment office cooperations


Roots-driven identity Identity is not something you impose on an organisation. It is much more than just the physical part that needs to be considered. In recent years, C-Roots has developed an extensive portfolio of examples of how the roots of any organisation can be discovered and put to use as the driving force behind the organisation as it pursues its ambition. Increasingly, this is part of an interactive process between the inside and outside of the organisational boundaries. But in all cases the people are the ones at the end of the day who can make the difference between failure and success. Therefore the identity of your organisation should be foremost in every employee’s mind, whatever the level or function. Roots-driven identity is therefore different than the old paradigm of corporate identity. Our approach connects all forces, the apparent opposites and steers every detail of the organisation from one source and towards one perspective. The organisation becomes an aspirational space to connect with, work for and cooperate with. In other words, it’s in the roots, stupid!



reflections Social identity and the strengths of language Communication leads to convergence whereas identity (should) lead to divergence. These are the opposites which are connected via the language used. The more we invest in a distinctive language to underline our social identity, the more distinctive we become. Yet, the question is whether this doesn’t lead to a self-imposed isolation as our audiences neither share this language nor see it as an aspirational message that they want to be part of. Nowadays, we see a lot of wording repeated by all kinds of organisations. Almost like trends in fashion, we see/read trends in terminology. Agile, customer centric, transparent, lean, service oriented are all over-used words to convey a really distinctive meaning.

INTERPOLIS Some years ago, insurance company Interpolis introduced the leading concept of ‘glashelder’. A novelty in a world where small print ruled. By making it leading in everything they did, it gained a momentum which was much larger than sheer communication expenditure could buy.



The Up-movement Finding the essential words for your organisation and using them as memes to continuously tell your story, creates a strong fan base and sometimes even a permanent place in the social vocabulary.

Upfrnt A new architecture cooperative driven by the simple fact that we can’t continue to live our lives the way we currently do. We need to change our modus operandi. Neutral is, in this respect, simply not enough anymore. Recycling and cradleto-cradle are all ideas to be used, but we need to do more. Up the ante because our generation and those before us have taken too much of nature’s resources and created a burden which the planet can’t take any longer. In creating and driving this change, architecture is an important inspirator and facilitator. It can deliver the context and direction for new technology to be developed, as well as ensure that the building itself and the way it is constructed leaves a positive footprint. We see it as our role to adapt an active role as agents of change and drive the ‘fore-front’ of these developments. Upfrnt, as the only way is up!



Tipping point As we move forward in 2013, the signs are becoming even clearer that as a society we are in the throes of a major transformation. Old systems have simply stopped functioning and new ideas are gradually beginning to take shape. A new system is evolving in which our methods of thinking, organising and steering are going to change fundamentally. Linear thinking will make way for cyclic thinking, we will transition from vertical organisations to horizontal and above all from top down to bottom up. Whilst developing this new system, chaos and struggle will be omni­ present. Old systems will not easily relinquish their powers whereas new systems will need to gain momentum. Therefore it is expected that we will face financial crisis until 2020, followed by an ecological crisis. As a consequence, the crisis will remain for many years to come and we better get used to it and see the potential upside in change! Instead of blaming the crisis for all bad things that are happening. Bronswerk One of the world’s leading companies in building and maintaining industrial heat transfer processes. As this accounts for approx. 50% of the world’s energy consumption, potential savings are crucial. By developing an entire new cooling fan, estimations are that a reduction of 1/6 of the global energy consumption is possible. Instead of selling the fan, Bronswerk only wants to cooperate with customers who are willing to discuss a re-design of the entire cooling system of their product. In this way, both companies get the most out of the cooperation. The true value of Bronswerk is not their current activities, but their design know-how in heat transfer and their ambition to significantly reduce the world’s energy consumption. 39








Identity and the social web As the heart of our high-tech, highly sociable globe is beating to a new rhythm (tweets per minute, likes & comments), there is no getting away from social media. Just one message can spark a tsunami of interest in your company. Sometimes putting a very serious dent in your brand and (stock-)value, but equally capable of delivering an enormous fan-base. So instead of trying to define rules of how to keep social media outside the organisation, smart organisations recognise the immense potential encapsulated. These frontrunners have experienced the value of feedback to move forward. They want to know what customers think and say about them and the competition, they want to engage in a true dialogue. A dialogue which is a constant interaction moving organically from one element to another. Based on relevance for either side and to be proven over time to build that trusted relationship. And recent studies have revealed that consumers who engaged actively in social media dialogue are bigger ambassadors for the organisation and spend over 5% more. C-STREAM Social media. It’s hard to imagine life without them. Shaping our existence and defining our identity. They are changing the old paradigms, as control is making way for listening, creating, anticipating, interacting and influencing. That endless stream of opinions, ideas and exchanges has enormous potential. We can make it work for you and translate them into social media know-how! C-Stream captures the content that truly matters and streams specific social content (with impact) to those places or departments where it matters most. That’s what social media value creation is all about. 41


About c-roots “When you are looking for opportunities dig at the roots instead of just hacking at the leaves.� Create new products, communicate with your audiences, find the right people, motivate and inspire, take social responsibility, but above all, be unique in everything you do, based on who you are. The roots of any organisation provide both the touchstone as the inspiration to develop corporate strategies and valuable concepts for marketing, communication, culture and innovation. In our holistic view the corporate identity should provide guidance for any organisation in every aspect of its being. It is therefore much more than design. It is also the social identity (internal culture, social responsibility) as well as the transactional identity (proposition, service, consultancy). In the combination lies the unicity which rises above the individual elements and gives the ability to truly touch the hearts and minds in every interaction. Both internally and externally. Creating ambassadors for your ambition. C-Roots is an Amsterdam based agency whose work adheres to these principles in a wide variety of assignments, for an even wider array of customers, both profit and nonprofit.


identity | strategy | creativity Š Amsterdam march 2013

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