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Marketing Handbook



Wisdom from Bestselling Marketing Books



Table of Contents Your Marketing Handbook gives you access to powerful marketing know-how from some of our bestselling books on the topic, and some of the biggest names in the business. In this volume you'll find chapters from:

What’s the Future of Business? Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences By: Brian Solis ISBN: 978-1-118-45653-8 | March 2013

A Beautiful Constraint How To Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages, and Why It’s Everyone’s Business By: Adam Morgan & Mark Barden ISBN: 978-1-118-89901-4 | January 2015

UnMarketing Stop Marketing. Start Engaging, Revised and Updated By: Scott Stratten & Alison Kramer ISBN: 978-1-118-17628-3 | February 2012

Copy, Copy, Copy How to do smarter marketing by using other people’s ideas By: Mark Earls & John V. Willshire ISBN: 978-1-118-96496-5 | April 2015

Enjoy reading!

What's the Future of Business?: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences This edition first published 2013 © 2013 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. A Beautiful Constraint: How To Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages, and Why It's Everyone's Business This edition first published 2015 © 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. UnMarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging, Revised and Updated This edition first published 2012 © 2012 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Copy, Copy, Copy: How to do smarter marketing by using other people’s ideas This edition first published 2015 © 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Registered office: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, The Atrium, Southern Gate, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 8SQ, UK Editorial offices: 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ, UK The Atrium, Southern Gate, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 8SQ, UK 111 River Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030-5774, USA For details of our global editorial offices, for customer services and for information about how to apply for permission to reuse the copyright material in this book please see our website at The right of the author to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, except as permitted by the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, without the prior permission of the publisher. Designations used by companies to distinguish their products are often claimed as trademarks. All brand names and product names used in this book are trade names, service marks, trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners. The SCVD mark is a licensed trademark of the University of Texas (UT); UT Medical Branch Galveston, Sealy Center for Vaccine Development and is reproduced under license. UT reserve all rights in such trademark. The publisher is not associated with any product or vendor mentioned in this book. It is sold on the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering professional services. If professional advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional should be sought. The contents of this work are intended to further general scientific research, understanding, and discussion only and are not intended and should not be relied upon as recommending or promoting a specific method, diagnosis, or treatment by health science practitioners for any particular patient. The publisher and the author make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this work and specifically disclaim all warranties, including without limitation any implied warranties of fitness for a particular purpose. In view of ongoing research, equipment modifications, changes in governmental regulations, and the constant flow of information relating to the use of medicines, equipment, and devices, the reader is urged to review and evaluate the information provided in the package insert or instructions for each medicine, equipment, or device for, among other things, any changes in the instructions or indication of usage and for added warnings and precautions. Readers should consult with a specialist where appropriate. The fact that an organization or website is referred to in this work as a citation and/or a potential source of further information does not mean that the author or the publisher endorses the information the organization or website may provide or recommendations it may make. Further, readers should be aware that Internet Websites listed in this work may have changed or disappeared between when this work was written and when it is read. No warranty may be created or extended by any promotional statements for this work. Neither the publisher nor the author shall be liable for any damages arising herefrom.




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We l ive in wher a t i m e peop brand e le an s are are b d pe ople rand s.

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With every day that passes, Generation Y, also known as the Millennials, become far more important to the economy than we can realize. Generation Y is considered to be those individuals born in the early 1980s to 2000s. They’re important because a gap exists between how Gen Y communicates and connects and how businesses, educators, and governments approach them, and it’s widening. In this era of Digital Darwinism, a time when society and technology are evolving faster than many organizations can adapt, we must realize that customer landscapes are not only changing, they’re evolving beyond our grasp today.

Without understanding what matters to customers and why, without learning their behavior or decision-making cycles, and without empathy, we cannot create a meaningful and engaging customer experience. And, because this emerging class of connected consumers is so critical to the future of economics, this is a time when decision makers should stop looking at people through a lens of demographics and instead start designing experiences and outcomes based on interests and behavior. We cannot create experiences based on where they are to us nor can we expect them to use them.


Do leaders realize that although they act like they’re talking to customers they already know, they are in fact talking to strangers?


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So, how well do you know Gen Y? Let’s find out . . . Here are some interesting data points that will help turn these would-be strangers into potential partners and customers:1

Gen Y will form 75 percent of the work force by 2025 and are actively shaping corporate culture and expectations.2 Only 11 percent define having a lot of money as a definition of success.

Only 7 percent of Gen Y works for a Fortune 500 company as start-ups dominate the work force for this demographic. Gen Y’ers expect larger organizations to hear their voice and recognize their contributions . . . increasing the need for an “intrapreneurial” culture.

• •

Millennials watch TV with two or more electronic devices.3

• • • •

They are three times as likely to follow a brand over a family member in social networks.

Gen Y’ers are more connected on Facebook than average users, managing a social graph of 696 Facebook friends versus the 140 maintained by everyday people.

Twenty-nine percent find love through Facebook while 33 percent are dumped via TXT or Wall posts (SRS)—abbreviation for seriously.

Millennials trust strangers over friends and family. They lean on user-generated experiences (UGE) for purchase decisions. Sixty-six percent will look up a store if they see a friend check in. Seventy-three percent have earned and used virtual currency.


Gen Y’ers believe that other consumers care more about their opinions than companies do—that’s why they share their opinions online.


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We often think about social media or mobile devices as the conduits to successful customer engagement. After all, that’s where attention is focused.

So why wouldn’t a presence on any one of the most important social networks or mobile platforms clinch our future relevance in business? The answer lies in how we view their worth in the customer ecosystem. We assume to extremes: These networks will either make us or they are completely irrelevant. The problem, though, is in our perspective. You are a small business owner. You are an executive or a manager within a smallto-medium sized business. You are an executive with a global enterprise. You are an entrepreneur. You have a responsibility to not only your business, but your employees, vendors, and also your customers equally. To see them through one lens is, well, too clouded. But to see people for who they are and what defines them, that’s where the future of business and relevance begins. How is this different from the consumers whom you’ve known over the years? For starters, they’re connected. Yes, they’re on Facebook and Twitter. But, it’s more than that. Smart phones, tablets, ultraportable laptops, and whatever’s next . . . technology is becoming an extension of humanity. But it’s not the case for everyone and that’s part of the challenge. Having multiple consumer behaviors to cater to forces organizations to think differently about this group of connected consumers than the traditional consumers they’ve gotten to know over the years. However, we have to look beyond Millennials or the younger Generation Z that follows them.


It takes more than technology to reach Generation Y. It takes understanding and empathy. That’s why these times are so significant: A growing number of your customers influence and are influenced in ways unfamiliar to us. How they communicate and connect, how they learn, discover, and share, how they make decisions, and how they take action are different from the generations before them.


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I refer to this new group of connected consumers as Generation C.4 It covers Gen Y, Generation Z, as well as anyone else among Generation X, Boomers, and Matures who’s crossed over to the digital lifestyle. This new consumer category that our businesses must serve is something altogether bigger than any demographic. This is the dawn of Generation C,5 where “C” represents a connected society based on interests and behavior. Gen C is not an age group—it is a way of life. Gen C’ers are not bound by age; they’re not defined by income, ethnicity, or education, either. These consumers do not surf the web like other customers. They live and breathe in social networks and use mobile devices as their windows to the world. They don’t learn or make decisions like their traditional counterparts. Gen C lives the digital lifestyle and unites demographics around interests and behavior. Gen C’ers are different from any segment you’ve addressed in the past. What you think they want and what they truly value are worlds apart. Whether we get it or not, they’re always on and to reach them takes an altogether different approach. And, when you compare the size of the market for traditional consumers versus Generation C over the next few years, one of the two segments is growing while the other is shrinking.


If markets are shifting, think about how strategies are affected for a moment. Over time, but increasingly on a daily basis, greater emphasis will be placed on connected consumerism and the technology and channels they embrace over traditional marketing programs. As a result, new skill sets will be, and already are, required to engage Gen C. As a result, budgets are moving from traditional to new digital initiatives. So, which side of the dollar or investment do you want to be on? The side where budgets are dwindling or the side where demand and resulting budgets are growing?


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For some, Gen C is a small but not insignificant share over your current opportunity. For others, Gen C’ers are a dominant source of influence and revenue. What’s consistent is that they’re growing as a market segment. And, they rely on the shared experiences of like-minded strangers to guide their actions.


To Gen C, experience is everything. What they feel about your products and services now and over time is shared through these connected networks. They know that other Gen C’ers rely on their shared experiences to find resolution. If you’re not proactively designing the experience they have or defining the journey that they will embark on, you cannot influence the experience that’s shared about your brand.


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As you align your business objectives and strategies over the next year, start with the experience that you want your connected customer, and all customers for that matter, to embrace. Walk in their shoes.


Learn how they connect and communicate.


Discover how they discover.


Uncover their preferences and expectations, and more importantly, what they value.


Design marketing, service, engagement, and product strategies that add value.


Lead the journey today and tomorrow.




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The chance that Gen C will find you through traditional channels grows fainter every day. But that’s not as ominous as it sounds. Opportunity is abundant. The only thing that separates you from connected customers is your view of them, their awareness, and the channels that they rely on for engagement and fulfillment. The rest is opportunity and the relentless pursuit of engaging, creating remarkable experiences, and delivering value. Now is the time to recognize how your customer landscape is shifting and to what extent traditional and connected consumers discover and make decisions differently.


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In re al life , the prac tical most advic leade e r s i pawn s not for t s o l i k princ e paw treat e s n s, no l i k but a e p r r i l n l pers person ces, ons. s like —Jam

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acGr egor



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Have you attended a concert where it seemed that everyone in the audience was holding up a phone to snap pictures or shoot videos? Or perhaps you noticed people looking down at their mobile devices, rather than focusing on the show. What’s the point, right? After all, going to an event is about being in the moment. It’s about enjoying the experience to the fullest. Those individuals may seem distracted, but they are very much a part of the occasion. Multitasking is a way of life for them. But this isn’t just a love affair with smart phones and tablets. These “always on” audiences are sharing real-world experiences as they happen with their friends on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Socialcam. And their friends respond in real time, participating in the experience. These Gen C’ers are defining a new landscape for engagement. They’re becoming increasingly networked with everyday individuals amassing hundreds or even thousands of friends and followers in every network. What they say matters more than ever before as word of mouth evolves from one-to-one to one-to-many conversations. Shared experiences are a formidable currency in this network economy where an audience with an audience of its own continues to grow in influence. And, it’s this influence that is changing how consumers and organizations connect.


We are witnessing a “C” change (C for customer) in the balance of power between consumers and businesses: it’s transforming the face of engagement and redefining the parameters of how businesses market and serve their consumers.


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Have you ever noticed that it’s mainly social media experts who address their problems with companies on Twitter? Why? It’s because they figured out that by leaning on the reach and volume of their networks, they can get attention and make a difference. They also jump ahead of traditional service queues by making the infraction public. Businesses that respond do so to first limit the extent of negative sentiment, and some engage to truly change and improve perception.1 You’ve probably seen, or contributed to, tweets, blog posts, Facebook updates, or YouTube videos that share negative experiences about people, products, or companies. While some question the value of engaging customers in social networks, the simple truth is that social media didn’t unlock the ability to share experiences. Word of mouth has always been around, whether good or bad. Customers have taken to social networks so they can have a say in how other consumers view an organization. Additionally, customers are learning to take to these channels to voice their frustrations or to force companies to listen, respond to, and resolve problems directly.


At the center of this evolving customer landscape are shared experiences. People share everything. And whether we believe it or not, the activity around these shared experiences influences the impressions and behaviors of other consumers in social networks. To what effect can be debated.2 Sites like Klout, Kred, and PeerIndex now measure social media activity and translate it into an “influence score.” Unless users specifically opt out, they are already indexed and ranked by these scores, which for better or for worse introduce a social consumer hierarchy. These measures of digital influence are quite literally becoming a new standard for consumer marketing and service. And connected consumers know it.


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In each of these experiences, these tweets went seemingly unaddressed by the ofďŹ cial United Airlines Twitter presence @United—at least there was no public evidence to the contrary. These tweets were selected at random, but the potential reach of the three accounts combined at the time of the tweets exceeded 276,000 followers.


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United Airlines missed an opportunity to connect with Ryan Sarver, who alone had over 275,000 followers at the time. The person he was corresponding with, @BT, who also tweeted a negative experience with United, had more than 420,000 followers at the time. In the social consumer hierarchy, these two very connected customers are certainly worthy of engagement. Combined, these two individuals eclipsed @United’s followers on Twitter by almost six times.


Alternatively, other airlines like Virgin America, JetBlue, and Southwest, as well as other businesses spanning almost every industry, use social networks as a way to engage dissatisďŹ ed customers. Doing so acknowledges that the voice of the customer is important and also often converts negative situations into positive outcomes. Customers often follow up complaints with praise.


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Many businesses also take a very important next step, which is to acknowledge happy customers. This form of positive reinforcement serves as a form of “unmarketing” where consumers feel appreciated and are encouraged to share all that they love about the business, product, and overall experience.

Individuals with the largest, most loyal, or actively engaged networks form a powerful consumer landscape. What they share contributes to a collective brand or service experience that without engagement is left for the connected audiences to define.


The connected consumer can become a formidable foe or ally for any organization. As such, the proactive investment in positive experiences now represents a modern and potentially influential form of consumer marketing and service. But to engage in the new realm of digital influence will take more than tweets or participating in social media conversations. Connected audiences demand that marketers and executives alike rethink the entire customer experience pre-, during, and posttransaction.


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For all that disruptive technology is doing to change business for the better, it’s not yet enough. Ask executives what their priority business goals are for the next year and I’m sure you’ll see some element of customer-focus. The challenge that exists for any organization trying to get closer to customers lies in its customer-centricity.3 Sure, products and services count for almost everything. And yes, we’re learning about the importance of being proactive. But if a customer has a question, wishes to provide feedback, or needs help, this often results in buyers’ remorse or resentment. In an effort to improve customer service and manage costs, companies began investing in automated solutions to improve the efficiency of customer engagement: sophisticated voice recognition systems to alleviate the hardship of pushing buttons to direct calls; improved call transferring that lessens the frequency of getting dropped; web forms, click-to-talk applets, and email ensure that the first round of automated replies you receive look more human than ever before. And, internal metrics are designed to incentivize representatives to reduce the amount of time it takes to get issues resolved. This eliminates the need to build comfort, confidence, and trust in each call. No, I’m not serious about this improving service. But this is the reality that a majority of human beings experience to pursue satisfaction or resolution.


Whereas the last mile of service is where a representative delivers a service to customers, the first mile is where experiences begin. The first mile of customer engagement is the postcommerce or posttransaction strategy that creates an ongoing experience to keep customers happy now and over time. Doing so sparks positive word of mouth and in turn influences decisions in the dynamic customer journey that defines the new era of connected consumerism.


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But, if getting closer to customers is a key objective, why do many businesses neglect the first mile of customer experiences? When you look at how social media is utilized inside most organizations, you find that there’s a broken link between social media marketing and customer service. In fact, the majority of time, money, and resources are invested in marketing—not in supporting customers through engagement on social networks. If a customer shares an experience or asks a question online, the ability for marketing to address it is certainly there. The trouble is that most of the time, the person or team managing social networks cannot effectively provide resolution or satisfaction. And there isn’t an internal process or technology platform that connects customers using social networks to customer service. This leads to a phenomenon that I call the Broken Link of Customer Engagement or the Social Arc Effect.4 If consumers have the power to act as either an extended sales force or as detractors, a change in priority is necessary. Just because a company does not have a dedicated customer service person on social networks doesn’t mean that customers understand the difference. To consumers, a Facebook page or a Twitter handle is the brand. Customers do not see silos; they see one company. It’s up to the social media team to connect the dots instead of people tasked with managing social aspects of the business in a silo existing on its own. THE NEW CUSTOMER HIERARCHY

Customer-centricity starts with recognizing that customer experiences are owned by the customer. As much as businesses attempt to integrate great experiences into product features and design, the ultimate experience unfolds at the point of engagement. In social media, because most activity is run out of the marketing department, when customers express discontent, praise, or simply require direction in the social networks of any brand, their outreach is initially received by the community manager or the representative agency/consultant.


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Depending on internal processes or the rules of engagement, chances are that customer sentiment and real-time needs will be overlooked, and as such, become the victim of a siloed enterprise.5 In reality, marketing doesn’t talk to customer service, or any other function for that matter, and customer service, without design, isn’t aggressive in stafďŹ ng up dedicated engagement across the social web. A study conducted by Satmetrix in mid-2012 revealed that less than half of the companies it surveyed tracked and followed up on customer feedback in social media. An astonishing 28 percent do not track or respond, leaving customers to question their value to the businesses that they support. That lack of acknowledgment or engagement leaves the door wide open to competitive courtship.


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Acquisition of customers through social networks is only part of the story. The brilliance of social networks is the opportunity to transform negative experiences into positive outcomes. Conversations inspire opportunities for product refinement or innovation to create remarkable experiences from the onset. In 2007, I wrote a piece on how social media presented an opportunity to turn customer service into the “new” marketing, because retention is the new acquisition. For companies experimenting with social media, it’s time to break it out of the traditional call center and create a proactive group of expert agents. While social media is yet another channel for agents to engage customers such as chat, email, and phones, the reality is that it requires a different philosophy to effectively manage relationships and agent performance. Time to resolution, cost per engagement, NPS, wait time . . . these are metrics of an aging era. Advocacy, referrals, positive endorsements, reviews, loyalty, these are the metrics that can be directly linked to social customer service among many other tangible outcomes, including return on investment (ROI).

The Arc Effect is a visual representation of what is and what could be. Completing the arc should be a priority for businesses striving to be more customer-centric. To truly improve relationships and unlock advocacy requires that social media strategists work with customer


The first mile of customer satisfaction, keeping you and me happy, must begin with reflection and introspection. To become customer-centric requires a change in how we value customers and the role they play in the decision-making cycles of those who make choices based on the shared experiences of others. The first mile is then paved through listening, governance, and engagement.


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strategists to create an integrated series of processes and defined roles and responsibilities. Doing so delivers a holistic experience that turns customers into stakeholders and stakeholders into protagonists of aspirational experiences. This is where your efforts should begin.

Answer this question: What is the experience you want customers to have? In the end, no amount of responses can fix a broken product or service. Businesses must now proactively invest in the experiences they want customers to have and use new technology to measure the alignment of intended experiences versus shared experiences. In the future, the new customer hierarchy will either work for you or against you. And if customers are going to talk about you, then give them something to talk about. Experiences are now the new “relationship.”


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ASK PROPELLING QUESTIONS How to frame the constraint to force breakthrough


1. Why is it key to frame questions in the right way to find new paths and transform our constraint?



2. How does framing these questions differ if you are responding to a constraint or imposing one on yourself?

3. Why must we be proactive in generating these kinds of questions?

PART ONE: Uncomfortable Questions Larry Page, Google’s co-founder and CEO, has little patience for the kind of

incremental thinking he sees from most large corporations; it is, he believes, guaranteed to become obsolete over time. And he feels that the obsession with competition as the sole driver of innovation—with media coverage he compares to that of a sporting event—is also off the mark: “It’s hard,” he says, “to find actual examples of really amazing things that happened solely due to competition.”1 Page has a different measure of success. He’s not interested in simply being “better than,” but in being “really amazing.” And with that as the goal, he sees his role as to look up from the daily contest and ask bigger questions, what he calls 10x questions: those requiring answers that have ten times the impact of previous solutions. Now Google is the second largest company in the world, with a market cap approaching $400 billion and annual revenues in excess of $50 billion,2 so one might ask what they are doing in a book about constraints at all. But despite their obvious lack of financial restrictions, what’s helpful for us to understand is the effect the scale of Page’s ambition is having on the way his project teams behave. In a semi-secret facility a half a mile away from the Googleplex in Mountain View, California, Page’s partner, Sergey Brin, oversees the Google X projects, which look to answer these 10x questions, many of which must seem almost impossible at first. The first of these, for instance, is the famous driverless car, whose ambition is openly shared on Google’s blog: “Our goal is to help prevent traffic accidents, free up people’s time and reduce carbon emissions by fundamentally changing car use.” The more curious can find the key rationale for this ambition in Larry Page’s own Google+ post: of the accidents that killed 370,000 people on America’s roads in 2009, 93 percent were due to human error.3 Google’s 10x question here is not the incremental question of “How can we reduce car accidents?” but, in effect: “How can we prevent all traffic accidents that result from human error?” The question clearly defines the size of the ambition while pointing to the constraint in which the answer lies: to remove the driver from the equation. And this question has both legitimacy and authority. It has authority, in the sense that the

CHAPTER THREE: Ask Propelling Questions


question is being asked by one of the founders and the solution being led by the other, and it has legitimacy, in that 344,100 people were killed on American roads due to driver error in 2009. This concept of legitimacy and authority will be important to us later in the chapter.4 Google’s semi-autonomous vehicles are making progress so fast that commentators believe they will be ready before lawmakers have had a chance to fully understand and legislate around the consequences. How Page will deal with that constraint will be interesting to see. The effect of being asked to do the impossible Questions that are apparently impossible to answer are not always reserved for worldchanging technology; they are powerfully framed and used by any company with a strong sense of purpose and a desire to create significant breakthrough. IKEA, for example, is on the side of what it calls “the many”—the vast majority of the people in the world who love their homes, but don’t have a lot of money to spend on them. So reducing the price of good design is a key part of how they progress. And to make this kind of progress with the speed and impact they need, they will ask a team to find an answer to a question that, at first, appears impossible to answer. Michael Hay, whose fifteen years at IKEA included roles as Creative Director and Strategic Planner for global communication, as well as range development, describes what it is like to be on the receiving end of a question like this: for example, the brief to produce a well-designed, durable table that could be made and sold profitably for five euros. Just think about it for a moment. How would you begin to design a table that could be made and sold, at a profit, for five euros? A solid, durable table that is going to cost just twice the price of the latte that might at some point adorn it? Where on earth would one even begin? The nature of this kind of question, Hay observes, means that it is impossible to answer by using an approach you have used before; it forces you off the path you have become dependent on. You can’t answer it by looking at competitors, simply because there are no competitors who are making tables for five euros and might never be any. You recognize that you can’t answer this on your own, or even within your specialist



team—you’re going to have to work in a much more multidisciplinary way, talking to other people in the organization who will help you look hard at potential opportunities within supply chain and materials, for example. And as you explore entirely new kinds of materials, there may not even be the expertise and knowledge within the company itself. The question may push you further outward, to talk to universities about new research that might help contribute part of the answer. It is the constraint at the heart of the question— the unreasonably low price point that has never even been approached before—that ensures the IKEA team will need to abandon all of its habitual thinking about design and manufacture. The degree of invention required to meet this brief will be significant, rather than incremental. In this particular case, their journey led them to door manufacturers. Their solution to the impossible question was to cut a door in two and make it into a five-euro table; a type of solution and business partner that they would never have considered if the question had asked for mere incremental improvement. And the result was a table that opened up a dramatically new price point for them, while better meeting the needs of the consumers that they champion. The nature of a propelling question In Chapter Two, we saw that a key difference between being victim to a constraint and transforming it is the relationship between the constraint and the ambition attached to it—they are intrinsically linked. We saw that people in the victim stage tended to reduce the ambition to fit the constraint, while those in the transformer stage tended to leave the ambition

A propelling question is one that has both a bold ambition and a significant constraint linked together. high, and use the tension between the ambition and the constraint to drive the search for solutions. We can see this relationship between high ambition and significant constraint in many of the cases we are exploring here, and making their relationship an integral part of the framing question is a key part of driving the successful solution development that follows. How we frame the question is critical to making a constraint beautiful, because it forces us to think and behave in a different way. We call these kinds of questions propelling questions. A propelling question is one that has both a bold ambition and a significant constraint linked together. It is called a propelling question because the presence of those two different elements together in the same question does not allow it to be answered in the way we have answered previous questions; it propels us off the path on which we have become dependent. Scott Keogh, the CEO of Audi of America, tells the story of how Audi developed the R10 TDI car for the famous 24-hour Le Mans race in 2006. The obvious question for a team working to develop a new race car would have been “How can we build a faster car?” But Audi is a company that has at its heart being progressive, and so instead of asking his team the obvious question, the Chief Engineer asked

CHAPTER THREE: Ask Propelling Questions


The Audi R10 TDI

a more progressive one: “How could we win Le Mans if our car could go no faster than anyone else’s?” A bold ambition with a significant constraint, plus a propelling question, took them to put diesel technology into their race cars for the first time. For the answer was fuel efficiency: they could win Le Mans with a car that wasn’t faster than any of the other cars, if it took fewer pit stops. And they were right: the R10 TDI placed first at Le Mans for the next three years.5 We can see propelling questions of this kind, coupling bold ambitions with significant constraints, used at different levels in companies and enterprises. When it is the frame for the overarching corporate mission, for example, such as Unilever’s promise to double its growth while reducing its environmental footprint, it forces the entire organization to rethink every path and assumption—from how to source tomatoes, to the role of packaging, to how to engage consumers in behaving more



sustainably. But it can also be used more specifically and tactically, as in the case of the fast-growing designer furniture retailer, who asked, “How can we exhibit at the world’s most prestigious furniture exhibition in Milan without paying for an exhibition hall?” (We will see how they answered this on page 106). And at some level, it is the defining question for every CMO of every challenger brand: How do we build a stronger relationship with our target market than the market leader, without a communications budget? It is the tension in that question that forces a challenger brand team to rethink the role and potential nature of packaging (cleaning brand method’s breakthrough use of structural design), or how to introduce more character and distinctiveness into their offer (rideshare brand Lyft’s cars sport pink mustaches), or leverage its community (Airbnb’s photographers), or create entirely new kinds of user value (Warby Parker sending you five different frames so you can ask your friends what they think). Let’s explore how a propelling question works at an individual level, and the changes it can drive in an individual’s approach to answering a question that the organization as a whole must answer. Growing a better quality crop with less water Frikkie Lubbe is an agriculturalist for South African Breweries (SAB) in the Northern Cape region of South Africa, part of a team given a considerable degree of autonomy in how they approach the company’s key challenges and ambitions. In 2010, he needed to respond to two different ambitions for SAB that, taken together, made up a propelling question. As a brewer, the company wanted to produce better beer—so he needed to find a way of getting a superior quality yield from his barley, the key ingredient in beer. And at the same time, as a responsible corporate citizen of South Africa, SAB wanted to find ways to significantly reduce water consumption in producing beer. Water was a precious resource for farmers, and barley for beer, a non-essential crop that demanded 155 liters of water for each liter of beer produced. So the propelling question Lubbe faced was “How can we increase barley yield and quality while reducing water consumption by ten percent?” He was, he

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admits, initially unsure this was possible—the constraint of even only a 10-percent reduction in this context seemed “very challenging.”6 To start to answer that propelling question, Lubbe knew he’d need new insights from new sources. He did something he had never done before: visiting a meeting of his local barley farmers, he asked if any of them had been forced to irrigate less in recent years, but had still produced a strong barley crop. Some put their hands up: yes, they told him, in 2009 they’d had problems with getting spare parts for their irrigation equipment and hadn’t been able to irrigate properly, yet had still produced a crop with good heads and yields, although it hadn’t grown as high. Putting a new kind of question to an existing data source had given Lubbe an initial clue. He took this emerging idea to a new source of information outside the company— recent academic research into barley growth, which found that there were three stages to it: an initial stage when the head developed, a second stage when the stalk grew but the head was dormant, and a third stage when the head grew again. Putting these two together gave him the breakthrough insight: if they stressed the barley at the second stage of growth by significantly reducing the amount of water they gave it, Lubbe reasoned, the barley wouldn’t grow as high, but the quality of the heads would be just as good. And because the stalks didn’t grow as high, there would be less incidence of a barley problem called lodging, where the stalks become too tall and fall over, spoiling the heads. If this new irrigation approach worked, they would be able to reduce the amount of water used while increasing the quality and yield of the crop. Lubbe’s conversations with the farmers had also revealed why they weren’t thinking in this way already: these were mainly wheat farmers applying the same irrigation practices for both crops, even though barley didn’t require the same amount of water across all three stages of its life. They were blindly applying the approach for wheat to barley, a path dependence revealed only by the demands of the propelling question. Lubbe now needed real evidence that his theory would work in practice; the final challenge was to find farmers prepared to try this new method. The difficulty here was that these were independent farmers, for whom farming was their only income, and SAB couldn’t give them any kind of guarantee if the crop failed; the stakes seemed high. So Lubbe identified those for whom the lodging problem had been greatest as having the most emotional incentive to participate, and persuaded them to limit their risk by trying this new method on just 20 percent of their crop. Nine farmers signed



up, and Lubbe and two colleagues committed to visiting them every week throughout the growing season. The results over the following year surprised even the most optimistic. The new approach reduced water consumption by up to 48 percent, easily beating the initial target of 10 percent, while at the same time improving the yield and quality of the barley by reducing lodging. And there was an additional benefit to the farmer: a saving of $40 per hectare in electricity costs because of the reduced irrigation needs—a saving that went straight to his bottom line. SAB is now implementing the new approach across all of South Africa. While this is a story about barley irrigation, it is also about a determined individual responding to a propelling question. First, he accepts the question as a legitimate and important one to work on, even though he finds it very challenging. Then, in beginning to work on it, he breaks his own path dependence: he works with an existing data source, but asks a different kind of question. He goes on to look outside his organization for new thinking that might offer further insight. Once he has his initial potential solution, he recognizes that to turn this theory into something more substantive, he will have to work with his regular partners in a new way. He creates a trial to give credibility to his answer, in a way that limits risks to the people it is most likely to impact. He overcommits his time and attention to that trial, running alongside his usual job. In doing so, he creates the hard data that convinces the rest of the organization—as well as the independent partners that they need—that they have found a significantly better solution for both sides. And one that more than answers the propelling question he originally accepted. What makes propelling questions powerful? If we want to make constraints beautiful, then it matters how we ask the questions that contain them. All of these questions harness the constraint to the ambition, ensuring that the constraint drives the solution: t How do we win the race with a car that is no faster than anyone else’s? t How do we build a well-designed, durable table for five euros? t How do we establish a stronger relationship with this buyer than the market

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leader, without a communications budget? t How do we grow more and better quality barley using less water? Both sides of the propelling question are critical. The specificity and scale of the ambition needs to set a clear but high bar, a target we know represents our highest hope (100 percent college readiness without

remediation for LPS) or something we haven’t been able to achieve before (giving every child in the world the quality of education of the wealthiest child in Manhattan, in the case of One Laptop Per Child). The ambition defines the impact we wish to make. And the constraint denies us something that would make the question easy to answer (budget,

The Value of Paradoxical Frames Researchers conducted four experiments to evaluate the role of paradox in prompting creativity. One experiment asked people to assess a toy after reading the supposed comments of judges in a toy design contest; some groups were shown comments describing the toy as low-cost, some as creative, and some as both. The latter case had supposedly surprised the judges, who thought low-cost and creativity to be at odds (i.e. somewhat paradoxical). Those primed with the idea of a paradox then proceeded to score the toy higher on a creativity test than the others. Another experiment first created a sense of internal conflict in some respondents (an internal paradox); these subsequently scored higher on a creativity test. A third experiment asked people to assess different, contradictory information and then try to integrate it all—they too became more creative in subsequent testing. And the fourth experiment integrated all of the above elements into one.

The researchers observed that paradoxical frames had a number of beneficial effects: r

r r r r

They create a sense of conflict and discomfort, and this tension can be a valuable trigger to getting people to think in new ways, as well as engaging in deeper scrutiny. They reduce the likelihood that people will fall back into habitual lines of thought. They force participants to re-interrogate the relationships between key elements. They prompt “and” thinking rather than “either/or” thinking. They increase the level of integrative complexity—the ability to be open to ambiguity and contradictions. Previously this was thought to be stable (i.e. you either were high or low on this by nature); recent research, however, shows that this can in fact be influenced by circumstances. Source: Miron-Spektor, Gino, and Argote7



distribution, know-how, a price point, user engagement), and that denial seems, ultimately, to make it more creatively fertile. Irritating, even confounding, in the beginning, but in the end, fertile. Propelling questions are, then, not merely difficult questions to answer, like “How do we double volume in three years?” or “How do we reduce cost by twenty percent?” And propelling questions are not merely stimulating, like “Who is the customer of the future?” or “What new technologies are reshaping our industry today?” Propelling questions contain a directional tension—this constraint is what you must use as a key parameter to meet this stretching ambition. This tension is more than a piece of inspiring rhetoric; research suggests it actually affects the way we cognitively process a question. The breakout box shows the results of a 2010 study into the effects of priming people with seemingly contradictory problem statements.7 This kind of challenge, it found, made people productively uncomfortable, preventing them from falling back on habitual lines of thinking, forcing participants to re-interrogate relationships between constituent elements of the problem, and prompting “and” thinking, rather than “either/or” thinking. The discomfort of propelling questions makes us think differently. While they might at first leave us perplexed, they change the starting point of the journey, make us re-examine what we thought we knew, set a new course, and ultimately open us up to new possibilities. And this, as Dan Wieden might put it, is their gift: they break path dependence and propel us toward new solutions.

The discomfort of propelling questions makes us think differently; they break path dependence and propel us toward new solutions. While challenging, the tension they capture can also be compelling. One of the top ten highlighted books of all time on Kindle, for instance, is essentially a propelling question. Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich is in its very concept linking a bold ambition (joining the rich) paired with a specific and significant constraint (working four hours a week). And Ferriss’ answers to that question—extensively outsourcing to virtual personal assistants, migrating to automated sources of revenue, for example—make us challenge some of the upstream assumptions about the foundations of our businesses and personal lives, assumptions that we no longer really see or question. Which is why we highlight them so assiduously on our Kindle. Starting to use propelling questions: the different families of constraint and ambition In starting to work with this way of framing the challenge around our constraint, we will all need to define what our own propelling question is. While there might be some obvious ones that a number

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of us share—large companies needing to increase their innovation impact while also significantly reducing costs and time, for example8—for most of us they will be explicitly individual. One element of this question might already be thrust on us; we may be responding to outside pressures as the constraint to our own ambition—we might have to achieve our ambition in a much more accelerated time frame, for instance. And one element might be the desired impact of our purpose or mission, if we have one. But for those of us with more room to ask ourselves the most powerful question, it will be useful to break down both constraints and ambitions into different families. There are several different ways to explore which propelling question could work for us best. We saw in the introduction that we can broadly group constraints into those of foundation, resource, time, and method. Constraints of Foundation

A constraint around something typically regarded as an essential foundation for success in this area—lack of a physical restaurant for restaurateurs in the food-cart movement, for example, or lack of brick-and-mortar retail space for a product that supposedly needs trying or experiencing. Constraints of Resource

A limitation on an essential resource for creating success and driving growth off those foundations—typically the resources of budget, people, and knowledge or expertise. Think of Sailor Jerry rum, for example, launching successfully against Captain Morgan rum without an advertising budget. Constraints of Time

The composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein remarked that “to achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.” Constraints of time are ones that we experience throughout our day, every day—and also live large in some of the most ambitious projects in the world around us. Think of regulatory requirements to hit emission targets by a certain date, for example. Or Sky City in Changsha in China, which, at twice the height of the Empire State Building, will be the tallest skyscraper in the world, with 202 floors that the construction company has



set itself the goal of erecting in just 90 days. (Their solution to this extremely tight time parameter is to pre-fabricate the floors elsewhere and then assemble them on-site.) Constraints of Method

A constraint which requires the solution to be delivered in a certain way, such as Audi’s R10 having to win without being able to go faster, or IKEA having to deliver a table at a certain price point. On the other side of our question, we can also see ambitions falling into different groups: Ambitions of Growth

These, of course, lie at the heart of any company, and can be framed in terms of revenue or profit, numbers of customers or subscribers, or different kinds of category growth. But they can be more imaginatively framed. Think of the famous ambition of Robert Woodruff as the 33-year-old President of Coca-Cola in 1923—that Coca-Cola should always be “within an arm’s reach of desire,” a growth ambition that then drove both dispense innovation in the United States and the company’s first push into global expansion. Ambitions of Impact

These are usually ambitions coming out of the purpose or mission of the company: the impact on the world that it wants to have. Unilever’s Domestos, for instance, has a Social Mission program with a target to help build a “clean, safe toilet for all.”9 But the desired impact can also be on the category (Warby Parker’s desire to radically transform the eyewear industry), or people’s relationship with it. Ambitions of Quality

These are ambitions defining a certain quality of the company or brand we want to be. Think of Chipotle’s mission to be “food with integrity,” a fast-food company of size, certainly, but one that sources meat from naturally raised, antibiotic-free animals.10

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Figure 3: Types of propelling questions

Ambitions of Superiority

These are ambitions around superior service or innovation, or superior servicing of a customer’s needs. Xbox in Europe, for example, has a stated ambition of being “the best gaming console for fans … that plays the best games and has the best entertainment.” In what it seems to regard as a zero-sum game against a resurgent PlayStation, it feels relative superiority will drive success.11 Ambitions of Experience

Finally, the ambition can be about the consistent delivery of a certain kind of experience. This kind of ambition is much more customer-centric than some of the others here. Tony Hsieh, for example, describes the ambition of Zappos as “to deliver happiness in a box.” This encapsulates not simply the contents of the box (important though those are), but the quality of customer service at the heart of what Zappos feels makes it different.12 While we are not proposing that these are the only families of constraints and ambitions, they can stimulate us to develop different types of propelling questions with greater precision. Sometimes our constraints might be fixed (SAB’s water limits, for example), and we could experiment with different ambitions in relation to that fixed constraint to develop the most promising propelling question. This will typically be the situation if we are responding to a constraint. If, on the other hand, we are interested in imposing a constraint on ourselves, to stimulate new ways of seeing and thinking about possibilities, then it is more likely that our starting point will be a fixed ambition (Audi’s “win the race”), and we can experiment with different forms of constraints set alongside that ambition. It may be valuable for us to try a few, to help us find where the opportunity might lie. Specificity, Authority, Legitimacy It is essential that the constraint be framed to be as specific as possible. A constraint without specificity, IBM’s Trevor Davis noted, is very hard to work with—“we have a constraint around time,” for example, offers no beneficial stimulus to creativity and possibility. “We have to be on sale within sixty days” or “We have to be able to free the











CHAPTER THREE: Ask Propelling Questions


captive within three minutes,”13 on the other hand, have a focusing specificity that is an offer to unlock new ways to think about the solution. And as we noted above, for the propelling question to work well, to be taken seriously enough to lead a team to find a way to answer it, and rethink existing approaches in doing so, it will need to have legitimacy and authority. It will need to be legitimate in the sense that people will recognize the rationale for the nature of the chosen ambition and constraint—that, far from being arbitrary, they accurately reflect the nature of the business and the context in which it operates or is about to operate. And it will need to have authority: it will need to be asked by someone who has to be given an answer, whether outside (a key customer, for instance) or inside the organization. The rest of this chapter will explore how, if we don’t ask propelling questions of ourselves, we may find other people asking them of us, and what the consequences might be. For those who are already comfortable with an understanding of how to frame the question around a constraint, and wish to move on, the next chapter will explore how to begin to answer these kinds of difficult questions, and how to maintain momentum in answering those constraint-driven challenges if we lack experience in this kind of problem solving.

Part 2: The Rise of Unreasonableness Who else might ask propelling questions of us, and what happens when they do? Twenty-five years ago, Charles Handy wrote the highly influential The Age of Unreason, in which he described forces which were already shaping the world, but about to become much more important. First, discontinuous change—major shifts brought on by developments in IT, biotech, and economics. Second, smaller changes in the way we work that would affect the way we live—his “shamrock organization” foreshadowed subcontracting, flexible work hours, and telecommuting trends, as well as the idea of having customers do some of the work of the business (common now, but a radical prescience in 1989). And third, “upside-down thinking,” in which he invited us to



challenge many of our deeply held views about how the world worked and to look at everything in a new way. 14 Quoting George Bernard Shaw’s celebrated maxim (“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world, while the unreasonable man persists in adapting the world to himself … therefore all progress belongs to the unreasonable man”), Handy called for unreasonableness in the modern organization, in order to seize the opportunities presented by change. Yet just four years later, in The Age of Paradox, the same Handy was lamenting the chaos that all the unreasonableness seemed to have unleashed: “too many have been unsettled by the changes. … Life is a struggle for many and a puzzle for most,” he said, “so many things seem to contain their own contradictions.”16 And now here we are, a quarter of a century later, with greater change swirling around us than even Handy could have imagined, with new and different sources of unreasonableness spurring still more change almost every day. For the purposes of the rest of this chapter, we are going to focus on a very particular kind of unreasonableness as it relates to constraints: external forces imposing constraint-related demands on us, whether regulator, buyer, customer, or competitor. The box on the next page sets out the different sources of unreasonable demands. At the heart of each of them, in some way, is the imposition of a specific limitation on how we have to grow—a constraint that we have to observe if we want to flourish. Uber’s children and the death of the trade-off We don’t just expect Wi-Fi on planes now, we demand it. We demand high-speed Internet that never drops, as we hurtle through the sky at 400mph, 30,000 feet up. And the odds are we moan about having to pay for it.18 After all, Wi-Fi at Starbucks is free. And email. So is Skype. Oh, and we’d like a better quality of Cabernet, please, flight attendant; this one tastes like Listerine. As a new generation of companies teaches us that the old trade-offs we used to consider reasonable no longer apply, they simultaneously train us to want more. My own private driver for the cost of a taxi? Thank you, Uber. Use my credit card to buy carrots directly from the farmer? Bless you, Square. Eggs delivered directly to my house the day after they are laid via a web service? Yes please, Rakuten. A new generation of consumers sees no reason why two seemingly irreconcilable demands shouldn’t be put together. These are Uber’s children. And this is the death of the trade-off.

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The Four Sources of Unreasonableness The Unreasonable Regulator

The Unreasonable Customer

In a world of increasingly scarce resources, rising commodity prices, and environmental degradation, regulators are imposing, or threatening to impose, “unreasonable” demands in many areas, such as water use and engine efficiency. U.S. Congress, for instance, imposed Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards following the Arab Oil Embargo of 1975: in 2012, an ambitious goal of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 was set, giving the industry twelve years to invent their way to meeting that goal. Ford and Toyota are now working together to develop hybrid powertrains for light-duty trucks and SUVs; many experts predict more of this kind of collaboration as industry competitors are forced to make new kinds of alliances in order to hit the regulatory targets.17

Retailers pass on their own business pressures to suppliers—more impactful promotions, more successful innovation, keener price points, fewer SKUs—and they also pass on their business ambitions: when Walmart changed its approach to sustainability following Hurricane Katrina, for instance, it demanded that its suppliers deliver to the standard of that new ambition as well. These higher bars are matched with fiercer terms—an unreasonable combination, but the reality of the power the retailers hold.

The Unreasonable Consumer Consumers no longer tolerate trade-offs they once accepted. Why can’t I rent a car for an hour (City Car Share), or buy fast food that’s healthy and ethical (Chipotle), or afford to enjoy high fashion on a basic wage (Zara, H&M, and Rent The Runway)? And they take these new, unreasonable expectations into every other category (see “Death of the Trade-Off”).



The Unreasonable Challenger Three years ago, did the giant hotel brands imagine that they would be competing with me and you and our spare rooms for the custom of this new generation of travelers? And yet Airbnb, the fastest growing hospitality brand in the world today, rented more rooms last year than the Hilton brand.18 That’s a vastly different competitive offering to which the hotels must respond—and unreasonable to expect a legacy business to be able to respond so quickly to this new kind of challenger. But respond it must, and fast—just as Mercedes must respond to Tesla, Tesco to Aldi, and every cab company in the world to Uber.

In financial services, for instance, we might once have accepted an interest-bearing checking account, from a free online bank with online customer service 24/7, as a reasonable trade-off for having no actual retail branches. There was demand for a great online bank (ING, First Direct) and demand for a full-service bank with branches (Wells Fargo, NatWest), but with an understanding of the trade-offs on fees and rates. Not anymore. Today’s banking customers want it free, accessible from anywhere in the world, anytime, with real people in case anything goes wrong, and a branch to drop in on when in town. But they don’t want banks to get big. They don’t like big. The modern consumer is, in fact, the incarnation of Shaw and Handy’s unreasonable man and woman, forcing businesses to get beyond “either/or” and work out how to give them the “and.” The unreasonable consumer is, in effect, asking us propelling questions. And the answers they are getting are starting to change the face of the categories in which they appear. Just look at the United States alone: t Fast food: I need a fast, cheap meal but I’d like it to be better quality and healthier. Chipotle’s commitment to simple, hearty Mexican food with a side of sustainability has lead to double-digit growth three years in a row. t Cleaning: I want cleaning products that clean, but I expect them to be green too. method makes gorgeous green products that “clean like a mother” and is now in its twelfth successful year. t Mobile carriers: I want the best phones and the best network, but without being tied into a contract. T-Mobile now gives a smartphone without any contract, and it will pay off the early-termination fees charged by those who won’t. Small wonder that it is currently acquiring customers faster than ATT.19 t Cars: I want a car that drives like a rocket and looks like a dream while being completely electric. Tesla’s plug-in Model S is beautiful and fast, gets the equivalent of 89 mpg and was recently voted the safest car ever tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The point is that if we don’t ask propelling questions of ourselves, someone is going to ask them of us, someone with authority and legitimacy. It may be our largest or most influential customer, or our noisiest challenger, but if we don’t anticipate this, by the time we hear them we will already be behind the curve. This is the corollary of the new

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generation of inventiveness: if we are not leading in being that inventive, then we risk becoming an important part of the past, rather than a shaper of the future. So this chapter has taken us on a journey. We started by exploring the value of how we framed the question around a constraint, to open up the beautiful possibilities it might contain. And now we are looking back and reviewing our competitive context, and the transformative power of propelling questions in our category as a whole— perhaps finding ourselves on the receiving end of a sharply competitive answer from an unreasonable challenger. One who asks a question that combines two different elements—a particular type of ambition with a certain kind of constraint—and is unreasonable, given everything we know about the category, to ask. And that, once answered, changes consumer expectations about the category, to our disadvantage. But let’s finish by flipping it: what are the benefits of offense as well as defense here? What if we impose that constraint on ourselves—ask and answer the propelling question first? Is there any hard data on the benefits of being the unreasonable challenger? The rewards for the unreasonable challenger John Gerzema runs WPP’s Brand Asset Valuator, a databank of an annual global survey of 50,000 brands in over 200 categories, amongst 800,000 people. Gerzema himself is a New York Times bestselling author whose work includes studies of the effects that lifestyle ambitions and budget constraints have on changing consumer habits. In the concept of Cinderellanomics, for example, he describes strategies of those who desire a luxury lifestyle but cannot afford to maintain it; their solution is to have it on a temporary basis, to rent luxury goods for a while and then give them back.20 Unreasonable, perhaps, but smart if there’s someone prepared to enable it for them (Rent The Runway, for instance). The database Gerzema manages is the largest analysis of the changes in people’s relationships with brands and categories over time; it can now identify and analyze key brand and consumer trends for over twenty years. BAV assesses brand energy as a combination of relevant differentiation and a sense of momentum. Working with professors Robert Jacobson at the University of Washington and Natalie Mizik at Columbia, they found a strong correlation between brand energy and market valuation, and believe consumers short brands in much the same way that investors short stocks—



If we don’t ask propelling questions of ourselves, someone is going to ask them of us, and by that time we will be behind the curve. brands that are losing energy get mentally sold to make way for brands with more energy. 21 So where does unreasonableness fit into this? Categories tend to have poles of qualities which brands focus on delivering (high-performance, economical, rugged, and stylish in automotive, for instance). There is a range of these poles in any category, and the relationships between these different poles often contain trade-offs: people have historically accepted that they shouldn’t expect a brand in that category to be able to offer them both high performance and be economical, for instance—it is reasonable to expect there to be a trade-off as a buyer that one makes between one and the other. But we wanted to know if there was any evidence in the data that an unreasonable challenger— which we define here as a brand with an offer that unreasonably resolved what the category had previously seen as reasonable trade-offs, such as Chipotle and Tesla—would see an increase in brand energy, and hence their long-term value. And, indeed, what the effect on the rest of their category would be if they did.

To make things simple, we looked with BAV, using their data, at some of the more obvious poles in each category. In cars, we took the green versus performance poles and looked at Tesla versus other luxury auto brands. In fast food, we looked at value versus quality and healthy, and used Chipotle against Taco Bell. And in household cleaning, we looked at socially conscious versus efficient (a proxy for performance in cleaning) and looked at method against other leading cleaning brands. The analysis is reproduced in the appendix. In short, what it found was that while there were inevitably variations in the magnitude of the effects by category, a consistent picture emerged: t The poles we looked for are quite easy to see in the data, and have been stubborn over time; there has been until now a clear tradeoff, with few brands seen as being able to deliver against both. t Those who are now seen to be delivering against both of these two trade-off poles, resolving the trade-off, have a stronger brand energy score than those who don’t. t These unreasonable challengers who resolve trade-offs are gaining energy. Those in the same category that aren’t are now losing energy, possibly depositioned by this new dynamic. John Gerzema notes the significant shift this represents in the way buyers are thinking about categories, and their brand choices within them:

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According to our data, there have always been clear and discernible patterns in the ways consumers think about product categories. Historically, these patterns were driven by perceived trade-offs. In other words, brands would carve out a space around a few attributes that naturally clustered together into a territory, and that’s how brands in categories thought about differentiation—as coming from “natural” clusters. However, the data now shows that brands able to unite attributes that have previously been perceived as disparate are showing considerably more momentum and energy than the ones that are stuck in their old one-dimensional territory. These brands are the ones that people want to do business with because they’re offering something new, and reinventing what is considered reasonable—or even what is considered possible.22 The future, it seems, belongs to the unreasonable challenger, who imposes on themselves the constraint of having to satisfy two apparently contradictory poles at the same time, and finds a way to do so. These are the brands that are gaining energy. And those brands that are slow to ask themselves this particular kind of propelling question are also the ones finding themselves starting to lose brand energy.23 So what do we do about this? Set up an unreasonable innovation stream within our innovation pipeline? Perhaps. But Yves Behar, the designer behind Jawbone and OLPC whom we met in Chapter One, goes further. Behar feels that this is the new normal—or at least, that we need to think of it as such: I think the consumer today wants it all, and it’s our job to deliver it to them … to deliver the better experience that’s green and less expensive, all at the same time. There’s no reason why it can’t be done, outside of the fact that somebody somewhere in a corporation is saying it can’t be done. But the kind of era we’re moving in is an era of much deeper and truer creativity, creativity that’s all-encompassing in solving a problem, commercial or not, rather than compartmentalized solutions.24 In other words, we must all be prepared to answer to Uber’s children.




t There are many kinds of questioning techniques: the five whys, and “what if …” being perhaps two of the best known. This chapter argues that a new kind of powerful and relevant kind of question for the times we live in is a propelling question. t Propelling questions bind a bold ambition to a significant constraint. The solution has to make use of the constraint, denying us what would make the answer easier, ensuring that we address real challenges and not indulge in blue-sky fantasies. t Propelling questions force us off our well-worn paths, help us break path dependence, and spur us to entirely new kinds of solutions. t A propelling question is most powerful when it has specificity, legitimacy, and authority. t We can use different families of ambition and constraint to help define the most potent propelling question for our situation. t Some of the most successful people and businesses achieve that success by routinely posing these kinds of impossible questions for themselves and their teams (IKEA, Google, Nike). It’s a part of their make-up to propel themselves forward by setting ambitions that they don’t know how they’ll achieve. t We all need to be more proactive in asking and answering propelling questions of ourselves, before someone else asks them of us—whether a regulator, a competitor or even our consumer.




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16 Seven Deadly Social Media Sins

SOCIAL MEDIA IS so new that most people are making it up as they go,40 but most people seem to make the same mistakes—or, dare I say, sins. We look at the biggest players online for business— Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn—but the same concepts can be applied to any social media site.

Greed Greed is quite a popular sin. Twitter is a self-centered tool. It’s about us. But it’s 100 times better if used as a conversational tool versus a dictation. I see people using Twitter as a glorified RSS feed for their blog or an ad-puker. So absent of personality, I wonder why they even try. Yes, they are in business, but if they believe that business is built on relationships, they need to make building them their business. 40

Nothing proves this more than the increase of social media experts from 5,000 in May 2009 to almost 16,000 listed on Twitter in December 2009. As of Fall 2011, they’ve all moved on to being QR code experts. (source:





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This sin holds a special place for the people who only retweet compliments about themselves. I was talking to a colleague of mine, and she was asking how I have built such a large amount of followers. I mentioned that I get retweeted a lot and I retweet others. Her reply was “I retweet others all the time!” When I checked out her page, the only time she ever retweeted anyone was if it was a compliment about her or a #FollowFriday41 mention with her in it. You may as well tweet while looking in a mirror telling yourself you’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like you. Facebook is in a world of its own. People do everything from posting on someone’s wall with a seven-line signature, to massinviting people to every event (even if the event is local and the person is not even in the same country), to tagging people in articles that they are not even mentioned in just to get them to read it. There is a special vein in my forehead that you can clearly see when these things occur. Someone didn’t become your friend on Facebook to give you business or to allow you to use his or her wall as a billboard. Even the term friend means a relationship, and you are not building one when you invite me to your Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) event in San Diego and I live in Toronto. Instead, use Facebook to engage and to comment on people’s posts and status updates and to share links with them that they may like, not ones you have written to promote yourself but ones you have found that may help them. LinkedIn falls under the same issues that Facebook does. The group’s function has so much great potential because the site is fully business-oriented, yet the majority of the groups and posts that I have seen during my research were either outright spam or drive-by articles. Drive-by articles are those that are posted in multiple groups and sites, which are mostly a thinly veiled pitch 41

#FollowFriday is a tradition on Twitter where you suggest people to others to follow.




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for the author’s services. Some gurus also teach this method, but you will notice that the original authors are never around when someone has a follow-up question. I hope that the LinkedIn discussion groups become just that, groups that have great discussion.

Gluttony Get followers fast!!!! Most people on Twitter have seen tweets like this or thought of using a site that helps kick-start things for you. Seems innocent, right? Let’s just have a look-see at this logic. Imagine a guy just followed you. Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy that a new person is along for the Twitter journey with you, makes up for your lack of popularity in high school, and the day is getting better. Then you go to his profile and you see a bunch of tweets that say: I have found a way to get thousands of followers fast and automated!! Go to this site! How does that make you feel now? Still warm and fuzzy? Still getting tingles? Didn’t think so. When you tweet out “follower system” tweets, it says one thing: You’re in it for the numbers. I’ll bet the 3 cents I still have after my latest trip to Vegas that one of the next tweets will be about an “amazing business.” Everything you tweet is an extension of your biz and your brand. If you want to scream about “getting thousands of followers,” be my guest, but what’s the funniest part about the above tweet? The actual guy has 149 followers. Seriously. On Facebook, gluttony takes a different turn for me. While actually writing this book, a service provider that I am “friends” with sent me an invite to a Facebook event called Freedom from the Fat Trap!!! Really? One of two things happened here. She either sent the invitation, which wasn’t even for her own event, to her




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entire friend list, or she specifically chose to invite me to the event. I am going to go ahead and guess that it is the former and that I also do not have to tell you how badly somebody could take this. It is about as bad as inviting somebody to an event called You’re Ugly and Here Is How You Can Look a Little Less Ugly. Remember that everything you do impacts your business image, including inviting people to fat camp.

Sloth Twitter is a conversation. It’s truly what I love about it. But imagine having a conversation in person with someone where that person takes an hour to reply to you, face-to-face. How awkward would that be: “Hey, how’s business?” and they blankly stare off for an hour, then reply “Good, thanks!” That’s how it feels if someone takes a week to reply to a tweet. I once had someone who took 79 days to reply to a question that I asked her on Twitter. Seventy-nine days! If it takes you longer to reply than it would to walk over a handwritten reply to my home, you’re doing it wrong. I know, not everyone is a tweetaholic like me, and not everyone can devote a good chunk of their day to Twitter. So if you have a limited amount of resources or time, let’s say five hours a week, it’s better to spend 45 minutes a day for the entire week than five hours once a week. Consistency breeds familiarity, which creates relationships. Here we can combine Facebook and LinkedIn; if you are not going to be responsive on either site, then you probably shouldn’t have a presence. There is a difference between being present and having a presence. You need to be active and responsive to people’s requests, whether that is accepting people as contacts on LinkedIn or as friends on Facebook. I was guilty of this last year on LinkedIn when I recently went back to ramp things up and realized I had connection requests from eight months ago. How do you think it made those people feel?




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Envy Ya, I’m kind of a big deal on Twitter in my own mind, which at the end of the day means nothing to the majority of the world, but every day I get DMs42 asking me to change my picture to add a “cause” or tweet about this or that. I’m all for causes, I’m a big charity guy, but mostly I’m a fan of choice, meaning it’s your choice to support anything you want, but every once in a while people try to get others, through guilt, to change their avatar. When everyone changed their Twitter profile pictures to a shade of green to support some cause, I got asked daily why I hadn’t changed mine yet. My answer to them? “It’s none of your damn business why.” My lack of participation in your cause does not infer lack of support, just like changing my avatar does not make me a better person by default. Same goes for people who think you should be obligated to follow them back if they follow you. Things on Twitter, just like most things in life, are choices. We should follow people based on interest, not out of courtesy. The same goes for causes and groups on Facebook. You will see a popular cause of the month go around with plenty of invitations that you will usually ignore. Recently I had the pleasure of choosing to not join a cause just to be reinvited back multiple times by the same person. I admire their dedication but despise their persistence that has turned into annoyance. One of LinkedIn’s greatest functions is the endorsement, where people can give testimonials about your skills at a particular job. The system allows you to request endorsements from anyone in your contact list. This is okay if they actually worked with you or were customers; however, I frequently am requested to give endorsements for people who I barely know anything about; or


DM is a Direct Message, which is a private message on Twitter that you can only send to someone who is following you.




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they write in the request “if you endorse me then I will endorse you,” which negates the very point of the system.

Wrath One of the worst things about social media is the reactionary nature of it. Especially on Twitter, most of us don’t think before tweeting, and for the most part it’s okay because most tweets are harmless, boring, and innocent by nature. But once in a while we react or lash out beyond our better judgment. It takes a thousand tweets to build a reputation and one to change it all. Twitter feels intimate sometimes, like you’re on an episode of Friends, having a conversation with a few people, except there are thousands lurking around. It’s like having a harem of stalkers, without the creepiness.43 Being the object of someone’s wrath is also common. For a full explanation on how to deal with trolls, check out the section about them later in the book. But in a nutshell: Don’t feed them. They aren’t owed a reply, your time, or your emotions. You’re better than that. Wrath can be even worse when it is cloaked in the disguise of being helpful. This is usually done by the spelling freaks or grammar police. I admit that I do not always proofread what I tweet—I barely proofread a blog post and then usually only after I have posted it. Posting on my public comments and implying that I am a moron because I spelled something wrong isn’t in anybody’s best interest. It makes me feel stupid and it makes you look bad. I was taught back in my human resource days that there was one rule: Praise in public and reprimand in private. So I would say praise in public and assist in private. If I asked for help or feedback in a public forum, then fire away, but if the spell-check is unsolicited, drop 43

Okay, maybe a little creepiness.




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me a note privately. It is actually appreciated and makes you look even better. But beware of those who ask for feedback in public as well—they are usually looking for praise.

Lust Social media sites are filled with humans. And when you throw a bunch of humans into an environment, a few things are sure to be present: 20 percent of people will have bad breath, 30 percent will wonder how their hair looks, 60 percent like peanut butter and cheese sandwiches but are scared to say something (or maybe I’m the only one), and 100 percent will have hormones.44 It happens. We can pretend they don’t exist, but they’re always there. It’s one of the reasons to have a flattering picture as part of your social media profile; it catches the eye. The problem is when people turn creepy or obnoxious (and by people I mean guys). I’m truly blessed to know many incredible women on Twitter who are not only brilliant in business but attractive as well. The stories they tell me about direct messages or replies they get from some men make me shake my head. Seriously, folks, I’m not sure what book told you the line “Your lips look tasty” works, but it makes me picture Silence of the Lambs, and not for the cool stuff. Every tweet, every DM, represents your company, and more specifically you as a person. It is even worse on Facebook, where the laidback attitude can make you look even worse. People post pictures of their vacations on the beach only to have some guy make a comment that totally ruins the entire thing. And I repeat that you are always marketing your business—every comment, every post, is an extension of your brand. 44

By the way, I know that this doesn’t equal 100 percent, so feel free to shoot me an e-mail to correct me.




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Pride You know what? Screw it. I have no problem with your being proud of something. I mean true pride. Something you accomplished, your kids, whatever. Scream it from the top of the mountains, good for you. Just do it in moderation. Don’t just talk about yourself, spread pride of others, too. Retweet, comment, and share their accomplishments. One sin out of seven ain’t so bad.




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17 How Twitter Changed My Business

I’M NO STRANGER to social media or online social networking.45 was one of the first business-oriented sites in the social networking universe, and I had built a nice network there both virtually and locally. Fast-forward to April 2008 when I signed up at I had heard about it from a few people and decided to throw my hat into the ring, but it didn’t do much for me. I tweeted, read about how a few others were eating lunch or talking about their latest blog post, but nothing rocked my world. I used it casually until the end of that year. Then something changed. I decided to give Twitter one last try. I had gotten up to around 2,000 followers and decided to give it my all for one month, to see if it really was a viable networking tool. So on January 1st, I took my own 30-day Twitter challenge. I would eat, breathe, and almost sleep on Twitter.46 I added TwitterBerry to 45

Back in the old days online, we used to call it “talking.” We call that “Tweeting horizontally.” I took a survey and the majority of mobile users check Twitter before going to bed and right when they wake up, while still in bed.






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my BlackBerry, because it allowed me to access it on the go and tweet my heart out. At the end of the 30 days I was up to 10,000 followers and was hooked. I had made better and stronger relationships in that time span on Twitter than all the other social networking sites combined. I had built a loyal following, booked speaking engagements, and gained consulting clients, without ever pitching a thing. At the time of writing the revised edition of this book, I have more than 100,000 followers, a best-selling book, and a massive network of incredible, smart, and funny business colleagues I never would have found otherwise. How did I get here? In those first 30 days, five things worked really well for me: 1. Tweet constantly: A single tweet has a short shelf-life—to create momentum you have to keep active. I wanted such a presence on Twitter that if I didn’t tweet for a day or two, people would notice (and they did). It has to become a habit. Don’t let the shortness of a tweet fool you into thinking it doesn’t take any time to become known. You have to be present. I tweeted almost 7,000 times during those 30 days in January. Excessive? You bet. I don’t recommend you try it. I was waiting for the A&E Intervention team to bust down my door to send me to rehab. But I got into the habit of being present on Twitter and got people into the habit of reading what I wrote. I had someone come up to me at an event and ask me how many times I tweet a day. When I replied a few hundred, she gasped and said, “Well, that’s just too much! I would never follow you!” I wasn’t exactly soul-crushed. It wasn’t as if I was sending 200 text messages directly to my followers every day. Twitter is a current chat. You don’t have to catch up; you don’t have to read everything from everybody. You pop on, look around, and jump in. The same woman was wondering what kind of life I could have if I tweeted that much. A tweet




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is shorter than a text message. I asked her how long it took her to send a text. She mentioned 10 to 20 seconds, which is longer than it takes me to send a tweet. It takes me roughly five to eight seconds to send a tweet. Even if it took me 10 seconds, I’ve now spent just more than a half hour sending those 200 tweets. Gasp! What a life I must live. There is no right amount to tweet. No one can tweet too much or too little because it’s your account. You can’t try to cater to certain followers because they don’t like your frequency. When you have something to say, tweet it. When you see something of interest, reply to it. People will come and go, just keep pushing forward and focus on those who are with you. 2. Tweet quality: Every day I thought about what I could tweet that would be helpful to others. At first I tweeted a lot about business, and then I moved to specific Twitter tips because people were asking me what the best way was to do things. Replying to requests for help also connects you with people quickly. It gets you on their radar. Even now with tens of thousands of followers, I recognize the ones who jump in when I ask for help with something. Those are the people I can’t wait to meet, and I don’t have a problem with helping when they ask. It’s part of that social currency. Give before you expect to get. 3. Tweet retweetable content: This goes along with tweeting quality. Not only did I try to think up tips daily, but I wrote them in less than 120 characters. Twitter allows up to 140 characters, but if someone wants to retweet it (RT) to show their followers, it adds to the original (i.e., they have to add “RT@UnMarketing” to the start of the tweet). The last thing I wanted people to have to do was to edit my tweet so it would fit. Why make people work to spread the word about you? Getting retweeted was the number-one thing that brought me new followers. Because they read the retweet from someone




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they follow, it’s like a mini-recommendation of me to them. I suggest writing three to five tips a day that are retweetable.47 4. Be authentic: It is just a fancy way of saying “be yourself.” Twitter has a unique presence where people are connecting on a higher level than just a virtual business card. Give your opinion. Talk about your interests. Although entrepreneurs live their business 24 hours a day, it does not mean that they have to always talk business. I have met more fascinating business owners on Twitter talking about music or movies than about any business topic. When you can connect with others on nonbusiness topics, it removes the impending threat of trying to sell to me. You actually want to get to know me? I’ll join in with that! 5. Use a face picture: It is amazing when I log onto Twitter and up pops a tweet from someone I recognize. It’s as if they just entered the room. I actually smile. When I see a tweet pop up with a logo as their picture, I don’t get that feeling. It reminds me that this person has a business and is trying to sell me something. And unless you plan on walking around the networking event with your logo on your head, I won’t recognize you when we meet in person. There is nothing better at an event than seeing someone you recognize, yet haven’t met, and are already having that connection. Also, make sure to use a good picture. It should not be an afterthought. You don’t have to spend a truckload of money on a professional shoot, but the faded Polaroid from 1986 of you and your dog isn’t going to cut it.48 Twitter is like online dating for business. It’s awkward when you use a picture from 20 years 47

This also inspired me to write a song. You can hear it at I really should have inserted a “best of ” CD with every book purchase but feared that people would pop it into their car stereo and scar their children for life. 48 Also, avoid the “hand under the chin” pose. It’s just awkward. Are you listening real estate agents?




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ago that looks nothing like you now. I used to use a picture that was about eight years old, mainly because it was from a photo shoot and made me look like a GQ model49 with a serious model pose50 and no smile at all. This wasn’t me, but I thought it made me look good. I soon changed to a candid shot from a photographer friend51 with me smiling, mid-conversation. That’s exactly how I look, and there is no “Whoa, that’s not what I expected” when I show up at an event. A word about automation: You may be tempted to use automation to keep a presence on Twitter when you’re not around, but I advise against it. Twitter is a conversation; people think it’s you talking. If you use a third-party program to automatically tweet for you when you’re not around, it’s like sending a mannequin to a networking event in your place with a Post-it note attached. It’s not authentic; it says that you want people to listen to you but not vice versa. A colleague of mine tweeted about his upcoming workshop, and a few people replied with questions about it but got no answer. Why? I knew for a fact that he was on a cruise for a week without access. How do you think he looked after that? It sends the wrong message to your followers, and it’s not worth it. For further proof, there are multiple examples of conferences that have a screen up with live tweets from people using the conference #hashtag where the speaker is on stage, and a tweet comes up from them. While they are speaking. And not on Twitter.52 People give a lot of reasons why they feel automation is okay. They will tell you that automation allows you to reach people in different time zones, allows you to make Twitter scalable, and you get to build relationships when you aren’t around. Please do not 49

Minus the good looks, body, and money. Picture the “Blue Steel” pose from Zoolander. 51 52 Bonus points if the speaker talks about “authenticity” or being “true.” 50




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listen to them! Automating tweets means that you want people to listen to you, but you are unwilling to listen to them. There is no such thing as automated engagement. There is no such thing as programmed authenticity. You must realize that this is not a good idea. It is not the first tweet that builds the relationship. It is the conversation that comes afterward. It is a different story if your account is a feed of events/news and that is what people follow you for. The problem is when people think you are tweeting to them and you are not really there. There are also sites that will notify you when someone unfollows you and the tweet you sent that did it. I shudder thinking about it. Why would you want that? Do you like emotional pain? Do you really want to know every time someone leaves you? People have justified it by saying it can help you see why people leave so you can tweak how you tweet. Ugh. Why would you change for people who’ve left when the people who stay are there because of how you are? People unfollow for different reasons. Don’t care about them. And the daddy of all automation: the auto-follow. Like any tool that becomes successful for businesses, there will always be people looking for shortcuts. Because human nature dictates that everything is a numbers game, people want to build up a massive following on Twitter. But who actually wants to spend the time it takes to build real relationships? In comes automation! These systems will follow 500 or so people a day for you with the prediction that the majority of them will follow you back. Then the system drops either the people who didn’t follow back or everyone all together, making it look like you have a lot of followers but only follow a few yourself. I don’t even know where to begin with how wrong this is, especially in a forum like Twitter where authenticity is everything. It’s not about how many followers you have but your engagement with them. Don’t look to build quantity, build quality. I started at zero followers and have grown it out of engagement, one person at a time.




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18 Tassimo

JUSTIFYING SOCIAL MEDIA is easy to do for marketing consultants like me. My clients are usually ready and willing to embrace the power of engaging with their community. This isn’t the case when it comes to large corporations that are so used to the old style of marketing that it sometimes almost takes a miracle to help them see the new way of doing things. Kraft Canada was a different story when Duri Al-Ajrami, the director of social marketing for Ogilvy Canada, approached them. He knew that the power of social media would work incredibly well in getting the word out about the new Tassimo single-cup hot beverage brewing system that Kraft was about to launch in Canada. The easy way to do things would have been to simply do what any company has always done and invest millions in a TV ad campaign and hope that within all the noise somebody would hear you. It always baffles me to see companies fight for better ways to air commercials when consumers are thinking about better ways to avoid commercials. Duri persisted with the client and was willing to prove that it would work. Ogilvy and Kraft monitored the conversation about 69




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coffee in general, their special brand, and their competitors. Their goal was to exponentially grow the conversation about this new machine without clouding the airways with unwanted commercials. Due to budget constraints, they were unable to use mass TV advertising and instead purchased 1,000 machines to give away to influential people in social media in Canada. I was one of those people. The way that I was approached is a lesson in itself on how to approach bloggers or influential social media people. After using some tools through Radian6, a company that identified who the key people were, Duri sent individual, personalized e-mails to each person. I get many e-mails from people who want me to review their books—scratch that, promote their books—and I never get more than a form letter. Duri was different. His e-mail was personal to me because we both live in the same town, and he mentioned a few things I was talking about online, which showed me he actually did some research. He was upfront with me in the e-mail, letting me know he was getting in touch with certain influencers in social media and was wondering if I would like one of the new Tassimo coffee systems for free. In return, if I wanted to, I could review it honestly or tweet about it, and although most companies wouldn’t like it, he requested that I be as honest as I could. Not one to pass up free stuff, because if I don’t like it then it would make a great regift, I said sure, send it over. We also continued the conversation over e-mail and made plans at a later date to have lunch and discuss marketing in general because we both had a passion for social media. A week or so later, I received not only the machine but also nine different boxes of “T DISCS” that contained different types of coffee, tea, and hot chocolate so I could try them all out. You have to understand something here: I may be the laziest man in the history of all time. I don’t like making pots of coffee mostly because of the effort and how it goes stale really quickly. When I




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looked at this machine and how it promised to make great coffee quickly one cup at a time, I knew I had found my new best friend. Sure enough, this thing rocked the Casbah. It actually ended up reducing the amount of time I went out to pick up coffee because it was so good and quick. So, of course, I started tweeting about it, as did many others. The following week I received another e-mail from Duri. It wasn’t an e-mail requesting that I review the machine, as you might think. You know the old “Okay, we gave you something, now give us something” type of e-mail; he was actually writing to ask me to pick 10 other people who I thought would appreciate receiving a machine as well. Now I am Santa Claus! He made it clear in the e-mail that the people I recommended were not going to be just suggestions—the 10 people I named would all get a machine themselves. The only request was that they also have a social media presence.53 So, as you can probably guess, the people I selected were ecstatic and were really anticipating receiving their machines. The strategy was brilliant on many different levels, but the key to it working was having a great product to talk about. The machine is unique and buzz-worthy; I don’t think this method would work as well with toilet paper.54 The buzz about the machine was not only incredible, it was measurable. Right before the campaign started, in October 2009, Tassimo was being talked about only 0.04 percent of the time in conversations around coffeemakers and coffee social habits in Canada. By December 2009, Tassimo had reached 12.6 percent of conversations, being mentioned almost 5,000 times online versus around 50 times 53

So, now you know, Mom, this is why you didn’t get one. I told you that you should be on Twitter. 54 Unless it had some kind of auto-wipe feature. If you represent a company that has come up with this idea, please get in touch with me. I would like to try it, along with 10 influential friends.




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before the campaign. Their two competitors, which stayed with classic old-school marketing, had numbers that remained flat in the conversation, no increase or decrease, both having less than 1 percent the entire time. Overall sales have been higher than expected for the machine and the coffee discs. I am sure that if you actually look closely, I account for half of them. J My kitchen is filled with boxes of T DISCS, although my son is tired of daddy asking if he wants to try a new latte flavor that just came out, but he won’t pass up another hot chocolate. The biggest knock on social media is not being able to get measurable results, but as you can see, you not only can get real results, you can generate real conversations.


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HOW TO COPY WELL Good, bad, tight, loose, close or far away

9/03/2015  5:43 PM

A race to the top The British-Iranian architect Zaha Hadid is undoubtedly one of the cultural rock stars of the modern world. Her

More recently however, Hadid has found herself entangled in a surreal race to finish the construction of one of her buildings before a copy of that building is completed, in the same country.

elegant and striking buildings, with their characteristically simple flowing organic forms, regularly win awards and

Copying originals

media plaudits in equal measure.

Like many star architects of her generation, Hadid has been

Having a ‘Hadid’ is great box office, whether or not your

lured to China by the scale and the bravery of the developments

development is commercial, civic or some version of the two. So when London’s Serpentine Gallery sought to extend the 19th-Century neoclassical Magazine Building overlooking the Serpentine Lake in the heart of Hyde Park, Hadid’s very

being put together during the largest property boom of living memory. Nowhere is her status more apparent than in China: she has a dozen or so projects in various stages of construction across the People’s Republic, including the incredibly beautiful

21st-Century curtain of smooth tensile materials which

Guangzhou Opera House (completed in 2010).

seem to embrace and engulf the boxy Regency solidity,

But the striking design she has created for the billionaire

proved – at least after the fact – a natural choice for this very ‘look-at-me’ development. Of all the buildings that were put up to populate the 2012 Olympic village in East London, none was as memorable or as striking as Hadid’s Aquatic Centre with its wave-like form echoing the activity inside.

property developer Zhang Xin in the Galaxy SOHO development in the heart of Beijing – five continuously flowing volumes which enclose a traditional Chinese courtyard – is being simultaneously copied in Chongquing (a new city out on the edge of the Tibetan plain) ‘even as we build one of Zaha’s projects’.


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2  HOW TO COPY WELL While there are differences – in scale and shape – between

(borrowed again from the Ancients) that we now think of as

the two buildings, they are clearly two versions of the

essentially Parisian. This in turn influenced in various ways

same blueprint – two peas from the same pod. One is

those who sought to reshape and modernize other world

clearly a copy – not an ‘homage’, a ‘response’ or a ‘tribute

cities – Rome, Vienna, Stockholm, Madrid and Barcelona.

to’ the other. Why would somebody do this so blatantly, particularly of the work of such a high profile architect?

“  ”

Why would you copy a building? 

Copying the style of buildings you admire is nothing new. Throughout history, architects have done so (more on how in Chapter 4). From the classicists who sought inspiration (aka source materials) in Ancient Greek and Roman temples – why should The Bank of England look like a Roman Palace? To those seeking a feeling for the exotic – the residence built for the erstwhile Prince Regent in 18th Century Brighton looks like a theatre set for a show about the White Rajahs (which is what it is essentially). Ditto the fantastical palace of dreams built at NeuSchwanstein in Bavaria for the unfortunate King Ludwig II, including the installation of twinkling lights above the royal bed, to

But replicating whole buildings or whole towns in detail with even any pretence at adaptation? Well, in China at least this is far from unheard of. In the northern city of Tianjin, a 15th-Century fishing village has been obliterated by a replica of the Manhattan skyline, with its own reproduction Rockefeller Centre and fake Hudson River. In Zhengzhou, a copy of Corbusier’s Ronchamp chapel was erected in the1990s (until protests from France and Corbusier’s Foundation got it pulled down). Copies of European landmarks such London’s Tower Bridge and Paris’ Tour Eiffel are to be found in Suzhou and Tianducheng respectively. More recently, a copy of the entire alpine town of Halstatt – itself a UNESCO world heritage site and major tourist destination – sprouted up in Guangdong province, much to the consternation of the Austrian original and its Federal Government. No such worries or howls of pain from Londoners however: Thames Town replete with mock Tudor stylings and gothic spires first appeared in Sionjiang

suggest a (dramatic) hero’s sleep beneath the stars.

district some 30 miles from Shanghai back in 2006.

In the 19th Century Baron Haussmann reshaped the centre

Bad copying?

of historic Paris, laying out the broad boulevards, squares and tall, elegant buildings in the French classical style

For many years, Asian countries have been particularly keen to copy Western products and manufacturing techniques


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copy, copy, copy and technology, in order to learn how to do them better.

as good, if not better than the originals on which they are

Think of how the Japanese and the Koreans have gone

based. For example, some 10-20% of the world’s smartphones

from being the producers of cheap copies of European

are believed to be Shanzai – no name devices with the same

and American electronics to dominating many of those

touch-screen, mp3, game and video playing capabilities. They

industries. Today, however, the Chinese have a particular

can often have some additional features, too, like a double- or

expertise in this practice and have coined a special word

triple-Sim-card slot (the reliability of mobile networks in many

to describe it ‘Shanzai’ (from ‘bandit fortress’ – somewhere

Chinese cities is legendary, so who wouldn’t want an extra

beyond the reach of the law – and Shenzen where many of

option or two?). All at a fraction of the cost of the original.

the sweatshops cranking this stuff out were originally based). So how do you tell them apart? Well probably the best clue for a native English speaker lies in the brand names – ‘Naik’ (Nike) sneakers or ‘Dolce and Banana’ (D&G) shirts and luggage. That said, I’m not sure I’d feel that confident eating at Mek Dek or Buckstars.


Some 10-20% of the world’s smartphones are Shanzai. 

Shanzai Apple?

Shanzai products continue to pour out of Chinese factories to

And no brand is immune. When blogger BirdAbroad28 spotted

serve the tastes and budgets of the 1.3 billion new consumers

a fake Apple store in the city of Kunming in the south-western

(especially the 60% of the population who live in the newer

corner of the People’s Republic, the Apple corporation was far

and more remote cities and rural locations).

from pleased, but absolutely not surprised.

It would be wrong to consider these Shanzai products as

Again, the quality differences weren’t the clue to the

inferior per se, as you might be tempted to do: many are just

fakery – the interiors, the décor, the products and the


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2  HOW TO COPY WELL merchandising all conformed to the brand’s standard

calculate payments. The products themselves seem to be

practices in other cities and the staff seemed convinced that

genuine – insiders suggest that they may be by-products

they worked for the kosher organization. The difference

of the Apple contract manufacturing businesses in China

was to be seen in tiny details or one tiny detail in particular:

(surplus stock or deliberate production overruns).

BirdAbroad noted that the signage referred to the store as ‘Apple Store’ which is a term that the corporation never uses in retail signs.


Single white copying Seen from an innovator’s point of view, Shanzai primarily

The giveaway details included using PCs to calculate payments. 

represents the bad and not the good side of copying: it seeks to exploit the intellectual and financial effort involved in making something new and better (cue the IP lawyers). This is where many of our ideas about the deceitfulness and unfairness of the copycat are rooted.

As it happens, subsequent investigations revealed there were actually five (!) fake Apple stores in the one city,

Single White Copying (see the Introduction) is no good

with varying degrees of fidelity to the Jobs/Ives’ design

to the innovator because it doesn’t create novelty – it just

template. Two were quickly closed by the authorities

repeats the same thing endlessly. And as in the movie of the

because they didn’t seem to have business licences, but

same name, it can just feel a little bit spooky.

the others remained open despite strong opposition from the corporation (although they have been told by local authorities to stop using the Apple logo). Fake Apple stores continue to flourish in a number of


Single White Copying is no good for innovation. 

One well-known (and really unhelpful) example of this

Chinese cities – for example, in Lincang some seven hours

kind of copying is the widespread management consultancy

to the north of Kunming there are several fake stores which

practice of benchmarking. This tool was first introduced in

only give themselves away by small details – staff t-shirts

the 1980s to the Xerox Corporation and is widely credited

with iron-on logos and tills which (ahem…) use PCs to

for successfully reinventing that organization after a rapid


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copy, copy, copy and massive drop in US market share (from 100% to 14%) in the aftermath of the tricky purchase of Western Union and a hostile anti-trust ruling. Benchmarking was originally intended as a way to enable a company to compare how it allocates its resources with how its competitors do so (in order to ensure that it wasn’t wasting money paying over the odds for some ingredient or component). However, in practice, benchmarking quickly became an excuse to bring all supply chain costs on par with competitors. For example, McKinsey29 have described how when the different companies in the German Telco industry all adopted this kind of practice (matching each others’ manufacturing costs and practices through something called ‘value-chain analysis’) they effectively destroyed value in that market in a matter of months. For both consumers (as a result of increadingly homogenised offers) and business (in terms of the resulting reduced profitability from greater price-point competition and lack of differentiation). Used in this way, tight copying can be a disaster.

IN-BETWEENIES How can this be? One of the best ways to explore similar – sometimes abstract – phenomena is through games using human participants. A few years ago, two academic experts on crowd behaviour, Professor Jens Krause (a zoologist who first came to my attention with his experiments on shoaling behaviour in sticklebacks using a ‘robofish’ mechanical interloper) and Professor Dirk Helbing (whose work on human crowd behaviour and self-organizing systems leads the field) collaborated for a programme rooted in game play for German TV which demonstrated how various crowd phenomena emerge. Our game is much simpler and demonstrates what happens at scale in a population when a crowd copy each other too closely. I call it ‘In-betweenies’.


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First, I gather a crowd of 15-20 (more is fine, but less can make the game run very fast – too fast to observe what’s going on). Second, I ask them to walk around randomly but to avoid bumping into each other. This serves to spread them evenly through the room. Third, I ask them to stop and – without saying or doing anything to indicate their choice – to choose a friend (F) and an enemy (E).

Fourth, I ask all the individuals to move again but – just as you might expect in real life – their job now becomes keeping between their friend (F) and their enemy (E). At all costs. Very quickly, this is what happens:

Everyone ends up in the same space in one big ball. It’s not hard to see why: the tightness of the relationship we have enforced between individual agents means that they all end up clumped. In marketing terms, read ‘undifferentiated’. 27

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copy, copy, copy

We try even harder But don’t be mistaken: increasingly it’s clear that Shanzai can offer the platform for innovation. Take, for example, a Shanzai business like eHi. While Hertz and Avis have struggled to embed their US-based car-hire business model into mainland China (in pursuit of the sniff of billions of dollars pouring into the Chinese automotive market), eHi copied and then innovated. To an aspiring Chinese executive sitting in the gridlocked traffic in China’s great cities (and on the vehicle clogged highways out to the blossoming suburbs which now surround them I suspect), self-drive car hire can seem less than appealing: real status is now signalled by having someone take the strain of driving you around.

before it is finished – despite the obvious frustrations around the race to complete her SOHO Galaxy building before its Shanzai version topped out – on the basis that the copy might come up with better or different technological solutions to the construction, then ‘that would be interesting’.


What better way to beat the copycats than copying back? 

Smart Western companies are also wising up to this

potential for Shanzai to point up innovations: Nokia, Apple and Microsoft all engage anthropologists to report back on Shanzai innovations in their developing markets. After all – what better way to beat the copycats but to use them to suggest innovations that you can then copy?

eHi offer both chauffeur-driven and self-drive options (and

Invention and innovation

the chauffeur-driven option is increasingly popular, now

This style of copying is itself far more common than you’d

accounting for more than 50% of eHi’s revenue). Only eHi

imagine. Indeed, in the academic disciplines of anthropology

were alert to the need to adapt the US model for Chinese

and archaeology (which have the advantage of a longer-

consumers; Avis and Hertz have been too concerned with

term perspective on how technologies and designs spread

optimizing their existing model to listen to and observe

and evolve over time), invention (the creation of a radically

their new customers.

new thing) is seen as something entirely different from innovation (the slow process of evolution of a class of thing

So copying can make things better. It’s in this spirit that

through repeated copying and variation): the latter being far

Zaha Hadid seems to welcome the copying of her work even

more common and pervasive than the former.


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2  HOW TO COPY WELL Most of us lean too heavily on the former (indeed, we tend

McDonald’s who copied their ideas, systems and philosophy.

to use the word ‘innovation’ when we mean ‘invention’, don’t

Back in the 1960s, marketing guru Theodore Levitt

we?). Who wouldn’t want to be responsible for making a

acknowledged this, pointing out that the best-selling ‘glamour

new thing rather just a version of somebody else’s new thing?

mag’ of the era, Playboy, was a rip-off of earlier titles.

The great economist Shumpeter famously distinguished

And – whatever the IP lawyers say – few of Apple

between having an idea and getting it adopted: ‘Innovation is the market introduction of a technical or organisational novelty, not just its invention’.30 He was very clear on the superior value of ‘innovation’ in this sense: what matters is not having a new idea (those are ten a penny) but taking an idea to market; making it happen is where the juice is. Theodore Levitt concurred: ‘Ideas are useless unless used’. George RR Martin (yes, the Game of Thrones man again) agrees: ‘Ideas are cheap. I have more ideas now than I could ever write up. To my mind, it’s the execution that is all-important.’31


Innovation is more important than invention. 

Originality doesn’t pay

Corporation’s so-called ‘innovations’ (mp3 players, iconbased interfaces, touch-screens, tablets, etc.) were real ‘inventions’. Indeed, since the initial failure of the Newton, one of the most important rules of operation that Apple learned was not to be first to any market. The facts bear this out: creators don’t benefit that much from their work – typically getting less that 7% of the market value over its lifetime. As The Economist put it recently, it’s learning from other businesses, rather than hard-core innovation, that really separates the sheep from the goats. Anthropologists and archaeologists generally look over the longer term and across different populations. Indeed these disciplines tend to see the invention of a genuinely new thing – whether deliberate or by accident (as in Elvis’ rockabilly sound) – as a really very rare phenomenon in human populations. So rare that it’s far

Indeed, most studies suggest that genuine originality rarely

better to think of ‘innovation’ as not-inventing something

pays as much as copying. No-one remembers the original

but as some form of copying. Which is what we do most

fast-food chain (White Castle) but everybody knows

of the time anyway.


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copy, copy, copy

Keep calm A highly visible example of this kind of iterative

changes emerged as the idea seeped into different areas of popular culture.

‘innovation’ is the ‘Keep Calm’ meme that has spread and

Variations include pop band McFly’s ‘Keep Calm and Play

seeped in recent years into every corner of British culture

Louder’ tour, Matt Jones’32 ‘Get Excited and Make Things’

(yes, mugs, aprons and politics).

(with cross spanners in place of the crown) and ‘Keep Calm

In 1939, as the British Government waited for the inevitable mass bombing campaigns on British cities following the

and Hate Microsoft’ (or ‘Apple’ depending on which tech community you belong to).

anticipated outbreak of war, the Ministry of Information

Even local politics adopted the phrase: in 2012/13, the Save

prepared a series of inspirational propaganda posters and

Lewisham Hospital Campaign made widespread use of a

pamphlets to manage the morale of the population at large.

poster featuring the line ‘Don’t Keep Calm Get Angry and

The first two posters in the series ‘Freedom Is In Peril.

Save Lewisham A&E’.

Defend It With All Your Might’ and ‘Your Courage, Your

Dr Hiroshi Hitake’s mug in Season 1 of TV show Helix

Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory’ were

brandishes the original line, while my own favourite adaptation

printed and deployed but the 250,000 copies of ‘Keep Calm

is topical for English cricket fans everywhere: ‘Keep Calm and

and Carry On’ were only given scant public exposure and

Bat On’, something we need more and more of, it must be said.

disappeared from view rapidly after that. The full story is told in a lovely documentary by StudioCanoe, Until 2000 that is, when Stuart and Mary Manley of Barter

called Keep Calm And Carry On33 but if you just want to make

Books in Alnwick, Northumberland found an original in a

your own, the ‘Keep Calm-o-Matic’ website will help you do so.

consignment of used books they had bought at auction. They framed the print and put it behind the till in their shop and

Now many of these variations are pretty poor – as is often

soon – following repeated customer requests – they started

the case with this kind of error-strewn copying – but some

printing copies, featuring the Tudor crown and the classic sans

(including those suggested above) are novel and interesting

typeface. The phrase started to appear on posters, on cards,

things in their own right. And it turns out it’s the error

on mugs and on t-shirts and as it started to spread so subtle

that matters.


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Source: Images sourced from


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copy, copy, copy

Making deliberate copying errors Pop-artist Andy Warhol is probably best known for his prints of iconic individuals (from Marilyn Monroe to Mao Tze Tung), often heavily re-coloured and printed many times (a wall of ten Maos being one of my favourites). So iconic have these prints become that you can now have your family photographs reprinted in this style by your local print shop. Many discussions of the meaning and significance of Warhol’s art concentrate on what his repeated reproduction of found images (most of his prints are based on existing photographs) suggests about originality in the age of mass reproduction. However, what has always attracted me is how he makes new from old, how each and every print is different even if the same colours are used in the same format. An ever-so-slightly off-kilter impression of ink on paper could be seen as an error, but in most cases it adds to the uniqueness of the print itself. Each episode of printing creates novelty: the error in reproduction is where the juice lies. Accidental innovation you might call it. Fortunately, most human copying is looser than the semimechanical reproduction that lies behind even Warhol’s print-making.

Chinese whispers Human copying is often more like a game of physical Chinese whispers (or ‘broken telephone’ game, for US


c02.indd 32

readers). My colleagues and I often play this game with clients and audiences at our seminars and workshops. On the page opposite you can see how this plays out. We line participants up, all facing in the same direction and staring at the back of the head of the person in front of them. This game, we explain, is all about copying what you see. But wait until you are tapped on the shoulder, then and only then turn round. A show and tell in a line, if you like…

Making error If you continue the game along a line of, say, a dozen players, the initial gesture(s) are always transformed to a significant degree, albeit little-by-little, sometimes slow, sometimes more rapidly. Insignificant copying error by insignificant copying error. I often ask participants and observer to describe what they’re seeing: all too readily, the idea of ‘error’ emerges in a negative sense – as if the goal was to replicate the behaviour along the line. As in, ‘so-and-so got it ‘wrong’ or ‘they didn’t copy right’. I find the default value-judgement here striking: error is bad. Well of course it is if you think copying is of the Single White (‘tight’) Female kind rather than the innovator’s friend, looser copying. The former seeks to replicate, the latter to create error and variation. The former keeps things the same, the latter creates novelty to something pre-existing via making error. Just like Elvis and the boys created their sound by mucking about in Chapter 2. Make more error – it’s good for you and your innovation.


Make more error – it’s good for you and your innovation. 

9/03/2015  5:43 PM


Step 1  First, we ask the individual at the back of the line to tap the person directly in front of them on the shoulder. The latter turns round and watches the simple gesture made by the initiatior (I normally suggest 3 simple hand or body

Step 2  Now it’s the turn of the second player to tap the person in front of them on the shoulder and repeat the show (or what they thought is the show).

movements but for this example, we’ve simplified).

Step 4  By this time, it’s quite clear to the audience and those   Now

Step 3

the third player gets to tap the person in front

players who have already had their turn that the gesture(s)

of them and show them what they’ve just seen from second

going along the line is changing and evolving. An exaggerated

player (the one behind). Players one and two watch.

movement or a left-right switch or change in order.


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copy, copy, copy

Error and excellence

Illustrations reproduced with permission of Jonathan Tremlett

One bright spring morning, more than 30 years ago, I found

form, from the highly naturalistic to twisted, cubist. Each

myself clambering up the steps to the Matisse museum at

item a deliberate variation of the last.

Cimiez, high above the Provençal City of Nice. With the smell of pines, wild rosemary and mimosa in the air all around,

High-end milliner Justin Smith – the man behind Angelina

I stepped inside the rather grand villa which sits perched

Jolie’s striking twin horned headwear in the Disney movie

above the Mediterranean, admiring the searing colours of the

Malificient – stitches hats by hand: he uses old fashioned cast-

paintings and the great cut-out pictures of the artist’s latter

iron pressing machinery and wooden lasts (moulds). While

years – the sharpness and brutal cleanliness of the contrasts.

each hat of a certain batch is based on the same last, each is

Above all, the bright, bright blues.

inevitably different from both stitching AND pressing. His new ‘black’ collection features 50 different styles but each will vary

But when I think back now, what I remember most of all is

over time in the material he uses, rather than the style.

the line of bronze busts of his beloved wife Jeannette. Interestingly, he can also claim to be the author of that specific This line of sculptures of the same woman in the same pose

hat style which is now commonplace in hipster land – hats with

(but cast over six or seven years from 1910 onwards) shows

cat ears sewn into them have been copied and recopied by all

the progression of an artist’s ability to represent the human

and sundry and evolved into bear, dog and even fox ears.


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Copy: ‘koperien’, ‘nachmachen’ or ‘abkufern’ The art of translation is dogged by these kinds of errors and associated questions: a great translation is far more than information converted from one language to another, as a machine might imagine it.


predecessor – each rendering a fresh translation, a fresh retelling of the same story. Weaving in and out of English, authors such as Zadie Smith and Jeffrey Eugenides, Laurent Binet and Javier Marías, David Mitchell and Colm Tóibín show how novelty is created through the telling and retelling of the same story. This is what happens in the real world with stories, rumours and even ‘objective fact’ –

A great translation is far more than information converted from one language to another. 

Hemingway is great in both English and German but different in each. Wieland’s 1765 translation of Hamlet from English to German is a different thing to the original English language text, but valued as highly by many generations of German readers. Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s award-winning translation of the

novelty arises through copying. Another angle of how copying can create new work through variation is illustrated by former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion’s recent award-winning work, Chapter House. Here, Motion creates a kind of poetic collage of WWI experiences, using not only the work of the recognized ‘war poets’ (Sassoon, Brooke etc.) but also the letters and correspondence of ordinary infantrymen. The result is an entirely new poetic evocation of the experience of war, and at the same time, one rooted in copying.

Anglo-Saxon Beowolf into modern English is more than a transcription from the ancient to the modern – it is an inspired work in its own right, with variation creating something both


different and at the same time closer to the original.

Sometimes, you have to use specific techniques to create variation from pre-existing materials. David Bowie’s best

Similarly, in the extraordinary chain-translation experiment

song-writing is based on just this. From Diamond Dogs

that is Multiples: 12 Stories in 18 Languages by 61 authors,

onwards – the first album in which he used the ‘cut-up’

each contributor subtly changing the story told by their

(and re-assemblage) technique pioneered by the cult


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9/03/2015  5:43 PM

copy, copy, copy author William Burroughs and his collaborator Brion

house”.’ Which roughly translates as the good master

Gysin. In essence this involves taking a linear text and

ensures that the copying in his house is ‘loose’ as

cutting it up into words and phrases then reassembling

well as ‘tight’.

to make new sense. If Bowie had based both the Ziggy Stardust character and his world partly at least on a variation engine that made the most of the 15 years after

Copying loosely can be dangerous

he killed Ziggy off – Bowie’s creative peak. Cut-ups are a

That said, the ability of copying to create error is not

very good loose-copying tool for lyricists.

always a good thing. You may remember one particularly

Burroughs’ 1971 Wild Boys novel, then cut-ups provided

high-profile example which caused the Challenger Space 34

Early in his masterpiece on the world of craft and work,

Shuttle disaster: the Shuttle itself had been manufactured

sociologist and philosopher Richard Sennett explores the

and transported to the launch site in two parts. This

history of medieval guilds. He demonstrates that while the way

unusual construction method meant that NASA’s engineers

they organized themselves tended to create abiding notions of

had to understand and calibrate the risk of launch failure

quality and craftsmanship (through tight copying of a small

under different weather conditions, especially the kind of

number of practitioners in a particular location under strict

cold snap that the launch date enjoyed. In particular, the

supervision of the guild’s leaders), the fact that craftsmen were

‘o-rings’ that connected the two parts of the reassembled

also encouraged to travel created the opportunity for looser

launch rocket together were prone to freezing and

copying – for novelty to emerge and spread.

thereby failure.

Sennett cites the great Arab proto-sociologist Ibn Khaldun, who travelled in Spanish Andalusia studying ‘the wares of local Christian guilds, as well as the work of itinerant goldsmiths. The goldsmiths seem to him like Berbers, made strong by travel and mobility. Sedentary


The ability of copying to create error is not always a good thing. 

guilds, by contrast, appeared … inert and “corrupt”. The

So while the engineers and scientists knew that launching

good master, in his words, “presides over a travelling

under these conditions was likely to be risky, their very


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2  HOW TO COPY WELL objective knowledge was modulated as it went up and

the successful transmission of information through the back

down (and up and down and up and down and up again)

up network and the adoption of specific responses is what’s

through the organization until – some days after the

wanted; the last thing the emergency planners need is nodes

original launch date had passed – when the information

in their information ‘going rogue’ and making up their own

had been degraded again and again through copying and

mind about what to do, what to record, what to pass on to

recopying, the OK was given to proceed. The consequence

the network.

was that the Shuttle exploded on take-off, killing all crew members instantly.


A great deal of time and energy goes in to training those

Unless you train your human links, they will inevitably create variation. 

We tend nowadays to think that the only good kind of

involved in keeping us safe from these kinds of foreseeable threats to not think – to do merely what they have been trained to do. In other words, to act more like a simple switch in a circuit than the kind of hero Hollywood might want: if this happens, do A; if this other thing happens, do B. Don’t think, don’t try to be clever, just respond precisely in the way we need you to.

network is an open one: one in which all the nodes are able to make their own decisions and take or add as they please.

According to the professionals in the field I’ve spoken to,

But the example above shows the dangers of not accounting

it’s remarkably hard to get people to be the dumb nodes

for this ‘natural’ feature of many social networks.

in a network that will minimize the error in information transmitted around it; to keep copying-induced noise out

In the field of Emergency Response Planning, this is also

of the system and the signal bright and clear. Unless you

the case. Imagine that the country is faced with some

train your human links to do so (and get them practicing

overwhelming phenomenon (an incident at a nuclear

regularly) they will inevitably introduce variation and error

installation, a terrorist attack or an epidemic of e.g. SARS),



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copy, copy, copy

Copying and evolution By contrast, Charles Darwin has the sense of the central and very positive role of copying and the variations it creates at the heart of his Theory of Evolution.35 When Darwin’s name appears, most of us jump straight to the notion of the survival of the fittest (the idea that fitness of the individual or individual trait for a given environment is what makes it successful – the ‘fittest’ individuals are ‘selected’, we say, by that environment and this is what explains their long-term survival and thriving).

When someone asks, ‘why did Susan Boyle wind up being so successful in Britain’s Got Talent Series 3?’ (and ultimately become one of the world’s leading recording artists), ‘because she was the best’ or ‘because she had a surprising combination of voice and face’ both seem much more comfortable answers than ‘because she got lucky’ or ‘that’s just the way things turned out’ – it reinforces our sense that the world is ordered and that quality should out. However, before and above ‘fitness’ and ‘selection’, Darwin’s model of evolution relies fundamentally on two other things: the transmission of traits from generation to generation and the means of introducing variations in those traits over variations.

Just like the great man’s contemporaries, we like the notion of better (fitter) things Both of these are delivered by winning out over weaker Darwin’s finches copying – without copying, no things. It gives us a flattering Source: transmission and no variation. (and strictly unDarwinian) And without these everything sense of an underlying direction, a natural progression would stay the same – perhaps as the hard core creationists supposedly inherent in the mechanics of evolution and thus suggest, with each species just as they started. None of the by implication of the justness of our place at the top of the variation that, for example, Darwin observed in the shape of pile. It also helps us post-hoc: it helps us post-rationalize the closely related finches would have occurred. None of the stuff qualities in the thing or the person that has won out in some that happens generation by generation. version of ‘life’s struggle’.


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9/03/2015  5:43 PM


Copying, changing and period instruments The importance of copying in creating value this way is particularly clear in those arts in which the output is not one single, fixed thing: in the theatre, each production and each performance of a play introduces some variation – intended or otherwise – which is why many theatre actors enjoy long-run productions that allow them to evolve and develop their performances over time.

Compare this, if you will, with those forms of creative activity which involve building a specific and static thing (or those who’d rather freeze the play or story or its telling in its original form). Variation and copying is far more problematic here, whether it is Shakespeare not done in Elizabethan dress (as my father would prefer) or classical music played with period instruments. While these kinds of artistic archaeology projects are interesting and can add real insight to our appreciation of a historical artwork, they are far from the whole story.

way, each recounting of an anecdote subtly (and

“  ”

sometimes less subtly) twists the facts and the detail of

approximate rather than precise). And in creative matters,

Similarly, each performance of a song changes the arrangement slightly, sometimes in ways that get picked up and repeated, sometimes just in temporary ‘variations’. Each telling of a joke changes that joke in the same

that anecdote. Sometimes this is more akin to the monkeys and typewriter story – much of what is produced is just noise – but now and again and more often if the players or comedians are good, something great happens.

Copying brings change if you let it. 

Copying brings change if you let it – particularly if you let humans get involved and do their thing (which is copying is legend. What follows are some more practical ways in which you can make copying work to create novelty and variation: fixing things, copying from far away and iteration.


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copy, copy, copy

Copying and fixing things One way of deploying copying as the core mechanic of innovation is focusing on ‘fixing’ things that are broken. While you may have learned at high school that Scottish engineer James Watt was the Father of the Industrial Revolution, being the inventor of the steam engine, the truth is rather different.36

lost as the cylinder cooled to working pressure) and then cooled by jets of cold water.

W  att didn’t ‘invent’ anything, he innovated on Newcomen’s design. 

“  ”

Watt’s breakthrough design was a ‘fix’ to Newcomen’s

in the early part of the 18th Century who worked on

In addition, he subsequently switched the beams which

steam engines to pump water more than 150 feet out of

the engine drove to rotary ones, but the heart of Watt’s

the deep Cornish tin mines to make deeper geological

innovation was what you might now call a ‘hack’ rather

seams accessible.

than an innovation.

Newcomen’s engine was based – like others of the day –

Contrary to what we’ve been told by the textbooks, Watt

on steam and vacuum. It worked remarkably well in that

didn’t ‘invent’ anything, he innovated on Newcomen’s

it claimed to replace the strength of 500 horses used in

design. He fixed by copying. Good copying, that is.

Focus on ‘fixing’ things that are broken. 

engine: specifically he improved what he’d inherited by adding an external condenser for the steam which drove the pistons so that the main cylinder didn’t have to cool and be heated repeatedly (and thus lose a lot of the energy created).

Thomas Newcomen was one of several individuals

previous machines (hence horsepower), but it had some obvious weaknesses that Watt identified.

For 20 years, he and his partner, Matthew Bolton, vigorously defended their patent rights against further

Above all, it was energy inefficient: it required the cylinder

improvements by users. Their business model – one based

to be alternatively heated by steam (most of which was

on leasing rather than ownership – was a great deal of help


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2  HOW TO COPY WELL in keeping users from both doing their own hacks on the

First, you identify what’s broken for users in a particular

Watt-Newcomen design and from sharing these hacks with

service, say in a particular market like household insurance.

each other. But their support in the legal profession was

Then you set about solving that as best you can, as simply

particularly advantageous.

as you can. Most of the original product or service abides – it’s been copied across – but you’ve ‘fixed’ the ‘broken’ bit.

Watt became grumpier – like a Dickensian villain, cowering in the shadows of his residence, plotting his revenge – and lost many friends by clinging on so tightly to the legal protection to his IP. By the time his patent rights eventually lapsed (at the turn of the 19th Century), he was extremely rich but alone and embittered. Thereafter, he failed to make another sale. Why would anyone buy from him, when they could learn from each other even better solutions? The descriptively named ‘Lean’s Engine Reporter’ which then appeared was one of several platforms which appeared in order to provide the platform for many of the engineering community to share ‘fixes’ and ‘hacks’. Which in turn provided similar scales of improvement in productivity that Watt had originally achieved, albeit compared to Watt’s product rather than Newcomen’s. The great ‘fix’ of the one-time University instrument maker was now common-knowledge and therefore effectively worthless.37

Fixing broken things


Most of the original product or service abides, but you’ve ‘fixed’ the ‘broken’ bit. 

If this sounds familiar, this is because it has become a commonly used grammar in start-up pitches, not only to communicate to potential investors the idea at the heart of the start-up, but also to root the product or service in what customers really need: X is broken, we will fix it by … Y. Can I just make one request: can we please stop trying to ‘fix’ things that aren’t broken? Or, at least, focus on what’s broken for the customer … really. I recently heard a pitch for a product that aimed ‘fix’ Karaoke. Now there are things that ARE broken here (for example the

Fixing broken things is a more proactive approach to

font-size of the catalogues often make it hard to make a choice

helping copying work and one which I’ve used repeatedly in

late at night in a darkened bar, but not being fun is not one of

helping clients innovate new services and products.

things that Karaoke lacks. For most of us, anyway.


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copy, copy, copy

Popular thing for a broken thing John V. Willshire has a great game to do this more directly – copying both broken thing and its solution. He calls it ‘Popular thing for a broken thing’: •• First, encourage individual players to identify a number of things that don’t work for consumers or users of a particular category. Each player should write down two of these that seem most pressing and urgent from the users’ perspective. These then get pooled for the team to use. • Second, individuals are encouraged to identify two services (on- or offline) in any other category38 which they particularly like and which they think others could learn from. Again these get written on separate cards and pooled for the team’s resource. • Now the team is encouraged to create ‘popular’ solutions

Broken things at scale In one large scale version of this (at Insight Innovation Exchange Amsterdam in Winter 2014), my colleagues and I first asked the hundreds of market research buyers and sellers to identify the broken things in their market and then together, under our guidance, to fix them by stealing from elsewhere. My favourite hack here was the one created with Mike Macleod of Atlanta, GA.

for ‘broken things’ by assembling appropriate pairs of both sorts of thing, broken and popular. The remarkable thing about this game is that it rarely disappoints: the result is always several great hitherto unimagined solutions to real problems that the business has habitually ignored (because they seem too hard).


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procurement rules: •• Small vendors can’t afford to go through the tendering process and struggle with the paperwork and financial pain of procurement-led contracts. • Large buyers don’t get what they really want – they find hard to make occasional use of the boutique suppliers. • Large vendors can do the procurement procedure (clearly some are better than others) and are really good at managing their costs at scale but cannot afford to have the boutique mentality on their staff line. SOLUTION: Steal the model from the aerospace industry: •• Create 1st and 2nd tier contractors. • 1st tier contractors can act (at least part of the time) as ‘talent agents’ to bring corporate buyers and boutique vendors together. • 1st tier contractors can manage logistics and finances without having to buy the boutique or carry their overhead.

Thus far this chapter has shown how copying can create novelty and become the engine for innovation if we follow certain conditions: •• Copy loosely. • Encourage error/variation by repeated copying. • Focus on fixing broken things (and by copying over what’s not broken). But there’s another essential way to use copying to innovate: copying from far away.


PROBLEM: Nobody wins from current big company


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copy, copy, copy

Very small or far away? The cult TV show Father Ted celebrated the craziness of a home for wayward Catholic priests on the selfexplanatory Craggy Island. Our favourite episode features the marvellous spectacle of the self-important Father Ted sitting in a rain-swept caravan, explaining the notion of perspective to the dim-witted Father Dugal by comparing a toy cow in his hand with a real one outside in the field. ‘OK, one last time. These are small … but the ones out there are far away. Small … far away … !’39 he intones, with increasing frustration. Here’s the thing: copying from far away is valuable because it’s likely to be loose. It can’t help but bring error, variation and a new perspective to an issue. This is how it creates novelty and innovation.

C opying from far away is likely to be loose. 

Today’s music recording and editing technology make these things much easier but the practice still thrives in music (despite the long arm of the copyright lawyers). Perhaps the finest example of this is DJ/producer Danger Mouse’s Grey Album, a haunting concoction of acapella tracks from JayZ’s The Black Album and music and sounds from the Beatles’ White Album. Another version – again musical – is clear in the self-explanatory game played week after week on BBC Radio Four’s long running ‘antidote to panel games’ Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, ‘One Song to the Tune of Another’.40 As the name of the game suggests, contestants are invited to sing the words of one song to the melody of another. Some of my favourite examples include

One version of this is what’s known as ‘mash-up’ culture:

comedian Graeme Garden singing the words of Kung Fu

where two previously unconnected bits of content get

Fighting to the tune of Greensleeves, Hit Me with your Rhythm

mashed together to make something new. Hip-hop and

Stick to the music of O Sole mio or Blame it on the Boogie to

other similar musical genres are often rooted in the collision

the melody of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Of course, these

of previously unconnected things. Aerosmith and Run

unimagined collisions are funny because they are absurd, but

DMC’s Walk This Way being perhaps the earliest example

also because they open up new perspectives on both music and

that crossed over into the mainstream.

lyrics. New coming from old, again.


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2  HOW TO COPY WELL Of course, the art of mash-up is taking two unrelated things and putting them together and creating serendipitous novelty from the combination. But stealing from a distance has a much longer and more respectful tradition in the arts.

The making of Modern Russia More than any other individual, Tsar Peter the Great is responsible for the creation of Modern Russia and its institutions (many of which laid the ground for and survived the 1917 Revolution): for its transformation from a medieval state, dominated by an all-seeing Church,

Over there, over there … The great modernist poet, critic and literary editor, TS Eliot, put a great deal of value not on whether a poet copies – like most artists he acknowledged the central role that copying, borrowing and creative response to art all play in their creative process – but on how he or she copies. And how far away their source material is. ‘A good poet’ Eliot observes41 ‘will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.’ Great artists take enormous pride in copying from a distance: Picasso was at different times obsessed with African masks and Ancient Greek ceramics as he looked to develop new ways of representing human forms and different ways of seeing.

a backward and inward looking nobility and a society structured around a very feudal serfdom in which most individuals belonged to those whose land they worked and whose coffers they filled. Thanks to his enlightened tutors, Peter had developed a profound interest in the modern world – in the great postmedieval societies and their practices beyond the borders of the ancient Russian Lands – and sought to open Russia up to this world. So it was, in 1697, that he set off on what has become known as the Grand Embassy – a tour of Western Europe whose primary goals were only partly fulfilled – the strengthening of the pan-European alliance against the Ottoman Empire and the creation of a Western alliance against the Swedish crown. But his secondary goal – of learning more of the practices that made the modern world what it is – was far more successful.

But in many other fields, successful innovation is dependent

He brought back (German) fashions (he was particularly

on copying from far away.

known for his dislike of the beards that dominated Russian


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copy, copy, copy style at the time and banned the nobility from wearing

the Julian Calendar (calculated from the birth of Christ

them) and English social rituals (tea drinking, for example).

rather than the Creation) and in doing so moved the official


All of these innovations were borrowed, copied and stolen. 

Like some 17th-Century gap-year student, he dragged back know-how and expertise from each of the countries he

visited: he had long been particularly keen on shipbuilding and sailing (even though when he came to the throne, Russia only had a single maritime port at Arkhangelsk on the White Sea). During the Grand Embassy, he managed to secure four months of anonymous but hands-on experience in the shipyards of the Dutch East India Company and conducted visits to Deptford and Greenwich under the patronage of William III (then ruler of Britain and the Netherlands). He also learned much from the Dutch engineers about engineering and draining marshland and from the British about city building (his visit to Manchester seems a particularly memorable one to modern minds!) – knowledge, expertise and contacts which he subsequently put to work in the construction of his dream city, St Petersburg. He also reformed the governance of Russian clergy along Western lines (though letting them keep their beards) and perhaps most strikingly the official calendar, shifting it to

start of the year from 1 September to 1 January. All of these innovations were Peter’s for sure; but all of them borrowed, copied and stolen from what he saw during his travels.

Let the dogs out When Swiss electrical engineer Georges de Mestral returned one evening in 1948 from a hunting trip in the Alpine forest above his home in Commugny in the Vaudois, he discovered his dog’s fur (and his own socks and breaches) were covered with burdock burrs (those sticky seed heads that seem to stick to everything). Being a curious so-and-so, de Mestral decided to put the pesky things under his microscope and was fascinated to discover the curious micro-hook and loop system that underpins the stickiness of burrs – on man, dog and textiles. Perhaps, he pondered, this might provide some alternative to the zipper – then the gold-standard non-button fastener. To start with few of the people Mestral talked to took his idea seriously, but during a trip to Lyon (then one of


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2  HOW TO COPY WELL Europe’s leading centres of cotton weaving) he started to explore how to make it workable. While cotton prototypes showed some initial promise, they wore out very quickly and it was only when he turned to the more robust nylon that the idea became worthwhile. Today, few remember de Mestral but all of us know Velcro – that highly effective fastening system for apparel based on understanding how the distinctive seedpod of certain plants spreads itself far and wide. Most people imagine that his first major client (NASA) must have ‘invented’ the technology, whereas the truth is de Mestral

C opying from nature – biomimicry – comes in all shapes and sizes. 

Similarly, the pharmaceutical industry has long been aware of how plants and animals might offer new chemical breakthroughs to modern medicine: while the medicine of the ancient Egyptians used products of the willow tree (gen. Salix) in pain relief, it wasn’t until 1853 that the French chemist Charles Frédéric Gerhardt synthesized acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), or ‘aspirin’ as we know it, as a

copied from nature.

copy of the active ingredient. No wonder they scour the

Copying from nature – ‘biomimicry’ as biologist Janine

as the start point for their own work.

Benyus and her colleagues call it – comes in all shapes and sizes. It can – like Mestral’s work – merely involve copying a mechanism that evolution has developed for one purpose to solve a problem in another. A striking example is the (shinkansen) Japanese bullet train’s 15-metre-long nose which helps the train go faster and reduces ‘tunnel boom’ (huge sonic disruptions caused by air compression): this design is based on the extended bill of the kingfisher which minimizes air and water resistance and turbulence as the bird dives for its food.

world for ‘native’ medicine practices of indigenous people

Biomimicry can also involve more metaphorical copying. For example, our notion of a business ‘ecosystem’ really helps uncover new insights for businesses struggling to understand a complex and rapidly changing world. Equally, as discussed earlier in this chapter, the biologically-derived theory of evolution can provide real insights into how technology develops or how behaviours change as they get adopted by more and more people. Phase transitions or fluid mechanics can provide huge insights into the behaviour of large crowds or populations of human agents. Biomimicry, too, is based on copying – copying from far away.


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copy, copy, copy

The BrainJuicer® effect Bright-eyed and mischievous, John Kearon started BrainJuicer® PLC in 1999 with the hunch that the rather staid and mature market research world was ripe for innovation. Today his company is a multi-million dollar business with offices in five continents and a reputation of being the most innovative company in its sector.

emotions. It’s far easier to point to one of eight faces to say how you feel than find the words.

How did he manage this? While existing players busied themselves with improving on existing practices with marginal gains on industry performance, Kearon looked elsewhere – far away to emerging insights from social science. When I first knew him, Kearon was fascinated with the wisdom of crowds phenomenon: how, under the right circumstances, the cognitive power of the crowd can be greater than the smartest (or best informed) individual or expert. Kearon and his colleagues found ways of prototyping and testing different ways of making the ‘wisdom of crowds work’. They examined the academic online models of the Iowa Electronic Markets (large scale online platforms which are a mix between futures trading environments and betting shops) and smaller simpler models, before developing their own approach which uses the basic insight that in order for the crowd to be wise, individuals have to act independently (otherwise our friend copying will lead to the kind of ‘herding’ effects that denote booms and busts in real world financial markets). Similarly, Kearon applied the work of psychologist Paul Ekman on the facial ‘ticks’ and ‘tells’ that reveal our emotional response to stimuli to market research, not to read the faces of consumers as you might imagine but to help them to answer questions about their own

FaceTrace® reproduced with permission of BrainJuicer Group, PLC

Bottling the Juicer’s recipe It’s worth pulling out the essential recipe for ‘Juicy’ innovation: •• First, seek out a problem to solve – a real problem or shortfall in customer satisfaction. Something that doesn’t work for your customer. • Second, find a distant skillset or perspective that you feel might help. • Third, make a prototype rapidly (do this cheaply because it won’t work first time) and get real world feedback on your idea as soon and as often as you can.


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Rinse and repeat If Kearon copies from afar, he also keeps copying the

House he designed through the 100 or so sketches and

copy he has made. So even if something he’s stolen

models he made. Each one was an iteration of the previous

seems to work pretty

design and each one

quickly in the new

slightly different.

context, he keeps

Whatever you’ve

copying the prototype

stolen, copy it again

and creating error:

and again. See if you

‘It’s important to

can evolve it through

break things – that’s

copying it loosely, any

the only way to

which way you can.

know what the real mechanics are and

My good friend,

their real limits.’

cartoonist Hugh ‘gapingvoid’

I call that ‘rinse and

Macleod sees this as


an important part of his working method,

All creative people do it. The very visual example of Matisse’s

too. As he works, the ‘definitive’ version

Reproduced with permission of Gapingvoid Art

bronzes described earlier is echoed in the exhibit that award-winning American architect Frank Gehry produced for the Biennale: in it, he showed the evolution of his design for the LA Opera

emerges. So, too with the products and services he’s developed around this content. As he puts it: Copy, copy, copy.


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copy, copy, copy

Stealing from a distance – games to play There are a number of ways in which you can bring stealing from a distance alive in your strategizing that don’t involve a lengthy study of the darker corners of cognitive science. In his best-seller, Eat Big Fish, Adam Morgan highlights the approach of Ian Shraeger. You may not know the name but you certainly know his finest work – the boutique hotel concept. Shraeger was one of the entrepreneurs behind the 1970s NYC nightclub, Studio 54. After a brief sojourn in jail for tax offences (telling journos that the only business in Manhattan making more money than you is the mafia is a strategy you might choose not to copy – it’s the kind of thing that brings the Revenue running) and some time running an even glitzier

and architecture were at best ‘high Jewish Baroque’ and at worst, tired and overpriced Holiday Inns. Shraeger and team brought the sensibility of the nightclub to the market: rather than a small lobby leading to larger private spaces (the accommodation), they created huge public areas – at Morgans, The Royalton and the Paramount – and tiny, dark bedrooms (who needs to sleep?). Style, celebrity and, yes, glitter. The ‘boutique’ hotel concept was born. Porting the rules of one market to a new one often reveals unforeseen opportunity and fresh insights like this. The further away the better.


Porting the rules of one market to another often reveals fresh insight. 

nightclub, the Palladium, with huge state of the art video

Knowing how things should be done – what the rules are –

screens and collaborations with New York’s leading

in any context can often be a handicap. Not knowing about

designers and architects, Shraeger and partner Bill Lavell

the ‘should’ can create real opportunities (so long as you

turned their attention to a business they knew nothing

bring your assumptions and new rules from a long way

about: hotels.

away). This is why innovation is often a liminal activity – those who don’t really know what they’re supposed to do

Now around this time, the 1980s, the hotel industry

or don’t fully understand the rules.

both in Manhattan and elsewhere was stultified – décor


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What would the Dude do? Our version of this is a game based on the ‘Dude’, the iconic

Here are some simple examples:

character in The Big Lebowski, played by Jeff Bridges. Asking what the Dude would do in these circumstances is the stepping off point for copying rules from a distant market or context (for those of you who haven’t seen the movie, the Dude is a remarkable Californian drop-out who bowls and drinks white Russians all day and all night until he finds himself entangled in a noir-ish plot). Why focus on a person? Well, we humans are very good at people thinking – better often than we are at things or abstract ideas. A line of contemporary social science research which

•• What would Apple do to furniture retailing? • What would a Leninist cell phone business look like? • What would the Murdochs do to the health sector (perhaps it’d be better not to ask …)? • What would Facebook do to the vacation business? • What would JayZ do to the automotive business? • What would Paul Smith do to the music business? • What would Batman do to the energy market?

examines how stories change as they spread – transmission chain studies – serves to demonstrate this. What people seem to remember is the people stuff not the technical stuff; what’s more, contrary to what the evolutionary

Write down the things you think this person or business would do (try not to worry about the impracticality).

psychologists have suggested it’s not the stuff of obvious evolutionary advantage – just the people stuff. No wonder most people find it so easy to think about something afresh by borrowing the persona or someone

Debrand it and ask yourself what you are left with. What can you steal? In the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of the answers.

else – a famous leader or a brand. Like the Dude … It’s like putting on a mask. What would you do if you were …?


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copy, copy, copy

Not being me A large part of the value from doing exercises like this comes from the way the external persona/brand liberates you from your assumptions about what is and what isn’t acceptable. I run a brains-trust format for clients which seeks to do this on a larger scale: if, for example, the central challenge is

The point here is this: very often it is tempting look too closely at the phenomena you are trying to study. You can get blinded by detail and by the assumptions you make about how a thing works and how to influence it. Borrowing the knowledge of other disciplines and other experiences can provide a liberating new perspective as well as rapid ‘hacks’.

about changing health behaviour in UK offices, I will pool a brains trust of diverse experts, including in this case an anthropologist, a social psychologist, an expert in behaviour change programmes in the developing world and of course an architect who specializes in designing spaces which encourage the productive interaction of people.

Leave your job Equally, metaphorically leaving your job – as the management team at Motorola famously did to transform themselves into a cell-phone business – can create the cognitive space to imagine

“  ”

things that are unimaginable inside the business with its

It is tempting to look too closely. 

default unspoken assumptions about how things work. I often encourage this kind of mental exercise with my clients in thinking about themselves as ‘founders’ of a

Each expert is asked to review their experience and the

start-up, freed from the unspoken but weighty needs of the

literature in their discipline and share perspectives and

corporation, its past and its cultural assumptions. Anything

indicated action. So while the anthropologist might not

is up for grabs then.

have much to say about the office context, he or she does have a lot to say about behaviour change around health in other contexts. By contrast, the architect has an extraordinary perspective on the nature of the office environment and understanding interaction and behaviour change within it.

Compare and contrast the marketer who seeks ‘sector experience’ as a priority from his advisors and suppliers – if you only know exactly what everyone else you know knows, how can you innovate? Know more or less or – more importantly – different.


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Knowing what to copy Part of the value of copying as an innovation tool lies in whom and what we copy. As evolutionary economist, Sam Bowles, has suggested: knowing who or what to copy is essential to our species’ success. So it is with the organizations that employ us.

Religions tend to encourage their adherents to follow the example of an ideal individual: in the Christian traditions, Imitatio Christi (the imitation of Christ) is a recurring

So if everybody copied Richard Branson – or Donald Trump – we’d clearly not all be successful. Actually, it’s a frightening thought to imagine an army of blond Bransons or flammably flame-haired Trumps. And in any case, would the excess of Branson-rebels all counter each other out?


C opying success is as old as the hills. 

motif. From the early Church fathers like St Augustine who viewed it as an essential remedy to the sins of Adam to the extreme versions both within and without the late medieval Catholic Church – on the one hand, St Francis of Assisi who insisted on following both the physical and spiritual example of Jesus (hence his vow of poverty); on the other,

Part of the value must come from scarcity or absence. 

the early protestant theologians who sought to find their own fresh alternative to the Catholic establishment’s smoke, bells and papery – copying the example of the biblical Jesus has long been held as a way to a successful life. All religions

So part of the value of copying must lie in the scarcity value of

use stories and examplars to encourage successful living (as

what or whom we copy. If we all copy the same people then

they define it).

we’d end up with a similar outcome to single white copying (described earlier) and that’s not at all what we want.

The fairy stories and folk tales we have always told each other (but more importantly told our children) contain

Instead, let’s consider two other dimensions: success

similar injunctions (beware the forest, beware the unknown,

and relevance.


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copy, copy, copy beware greed). As novelist, critic and fairy story expert

contain and whatever empirical research they are based on,

Marina Warner puts it:

they remain simple rule-based descriptions of success. Not just the great Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary

‘Fairy tales are about money, marriage, and men. They

Companies but the more mundane 25 Sales Habits of

are the maps and manuals that are passed down from

Successful Salespeople, and the gender specific Successful

mothers and grandmothers to help them survive.’

Women Think Differently: 9 Habits to Make you Happier, Healthier, and More Resilient or the obviously derivative 7

How to win friends In the modern era we love copying success: Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People was the first major self-help best-seller, selling some 15 million copies around the world since publication in 1936. Fifty years later, Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People did much the same on an even grander scale – more than 25 million copies in any number of different languages have been bought. Why? Because this kind of book gives a blueprint for how successful individuals behave that anyone can emulate and thus (theoretically, at least) become successful, too. Since Covey’s success there have been a flurry of ‘Habits’

Habits of Successful Slimmers.


Copying success is still a great default choice. 

The arrival of the internet, blogging and social media have just amplified this tendency – the ‘listification’ of success – further. ‘Ten secrets about the future of content creation’, ‘The 5 rules of making your video viral’, ‘20 ways to drive traffic to your blog’ are all great ‘link bait’ post headlines. Try it yourself: pop ‘habits of successful’ into Google along with a profession, skill or hobby and see how many blog posts and articles come up. Copying success is a great default.

books in different spheres – whatever insight they might


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The case of the case study Nowadays, the ‘case study’ format is ubiquitous in business books and in business conversations. This seems part of this same trend. The use of a case study works so well not just because it’s a great storytelling device (we all use examples to

One way of answering this is to check over the longer term: •• Which strategies are merely associated with success and which causally connected? • Which always bring success and which only sometimes do? • Which solve which kinds of problem? What is each suitable for?

build our case, from Malcolm Gladwell to our own work here), nor just because it seems ‘scientific’ (case studies are marvellous for illustrating principles or providing memorable anchors for the same or to bring a highly conceptual phenomenon alive but they are terrible for the business of doing empirical science – case studies focus on the individual instance not the generalized learnings from multiple cases). No, case studies work and continue to be popular because they also provide a template for copying. Why don’t we do what so and so did? Why don’t we just copy that? This is what most people mean by ‘case study’.

The right tool for the right job There are those who are organized and those who are not. My fishing buddy Jon is the former and I am the latter. Jon’s tackle bag is neat, organized and free of extraneous line, hooks or gadgetry and it stays this way during our long days at the lakeside. My bag by contrast is a mess – so much so that I can sense Jon’s discomfort and rising anxiety as he approaches to borrow some item or other, both of us knowing full well that we will have to reveal the tangle inside! Equally, my household toolkit (with hammers, drills and the like) is distributed around our house in a fairly ad-hoc

But how in this modern world – with so much choice and

manner but my father-in-law’s is hung neatly on the wall,

so much to sift through – can we identify authentic success?

sorted by size and function, each tool on an appropriate

How can we tell the spurious and the snake-oil from the

hook – it’s not that he has outlines painted on the wall for

reliably successful?

each tool but it is disconcertingly tidy to my way of thinking.


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copy, copy, copy Personal style aside, there is something to be said for the

very few behaviour change or marketing strategists and

more organized approach It’s easier to find what you’re

even fewer generalists who are prepared to make the effort.

looking for: to find the right tool for the job, not just the nearest one – or your favourite one.

of examples of successful strategies sorted in a simpler way,

Of course, if you need a nail banging in to a floorboard, then you reach straight for the hammers. But is that really what you need?


What’s needed is an easier-to-use resource: a compendium

What’s needed is an easier-to-use resource. 

The virtue of a tidy toolkit This is true of behaviour change and marketing strategy too: despite the incredible value created for us by behavioural economists in the last few years, the toolkit is unwieldy. Not just the huge collections of ‘cognitive biases’ – those ticks and

according to the kind of behaviour that they’re trying to change.

A ‘kinda thing’ kind of thing I wrote in the Introduction of the tyranny of the singular: our tendency to treat every situation as unique and singular and thus requiring not just huge skill and expertise but a singular solution. Now this might be very flattering for the problem owner (‘no-one before has faced a problem quite as difficult as this so if you overcome it, you will be first among men’ etc.) and indeed, very flattering for the strategic knight errant (‘only the very brightest and best could possibly solve this conundrum’) but it is rarely true.

quirks of human cognition that explain why we each of us do

And even if it is true, it’s not very helpful to assume that it is.

the odd things we do – that constitute the formal literature

It makes the problem seem really hard or indeed impossible.

in this space. Our friend Rory Sutherland was wont to wave one such volume describing 140 different biases until others were discovered (and his arm started to ache). Of course you can use these or similar strategic resources if you’re prepared to put in the hard yards, but we’ve found

The truth is that most things are like other things – certainly they seem that way: the human mind’s ability to see similarities and connections between things is unbounded. Hence the importance of metaphor and simile in human thinking and communication.


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Copying can keep things the same (Bad Copying)

No, this ‘kinda’ thing is very human. The amazing animal behaviour expert, writer and autist, Temple Grandin has written eloquently about what how animals and autistic individuals (on the one hand) and neuronormals (the rest of us) perceive the world – they see every detail, our brains sort the detail before it leaves the occipital zones. They see a piece of foil flashing in the sunlight and go on seeing it, we see it flashing, interpret it as a something like a piece of foil and dismiss it. A piece of flashing foil kinda thing.

Or, it can change things, creating new and

The neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, whose work (e.g. Descartes’ Error42) popularized many of the contemporary insights into how brains work, makes a similar point when he describes the difference between the responses of two proto humans, who walking through the forest see what looks like a snake.

Good Copying looks far away rather than nearby

The one with the ‘kinda’ facility is the one who runs and lives to fight/hunt another day; the one without it has to investigate, gets bitten and dies. Approximate is in many ways more useful than precise. ‘Kinda?’ more than ‘how much?’

different ideas (Good Copying) Good Copying delights in error and variation – this is where the juice is, not in replication Good Copying is loose rather than tight

Good Copying delights in rinse and repeat Good Copying seeks to fix broken things And finally, Good Copying asks different kinds of (“kinda”) questions


Kinda thing

So what the next chapter holds is an exploration of our simple sorting map to help you work out what kind of thing you are dealing with, before letting loose on the strategy archives (the What To Copy bit, proper).


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Marketing handbook volume 2  
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