When faced with fear of the present and fear of the future, how does this make our jobs -- whether you work for a brand, an agency, or a provider -- more difficult? At the iMedia Agency Summit in Lost Pines, Texas, Julian Aldridge, VP of brand evangelism and activation at Charles Schwab, addressed this issue, and presented the audience with real, tangible methods for killing this fear.
"Fear in one form or another is pretty much all around us," Aldridge said. Some of these fears are more logical, such as death and identity theft. Some are more obscure, like fear of spiders, of enclosed spaces, and of flying. We're all interested in learning more about this fear in our lives, as evidenced by Google searches: 528 million results for the word "fear," and 96.5 million for the query "What do Americans fear most?"
In our professional lives, fear boils down to two areas: Fear of too much and fear of too little. We fear high expectations that we can't meet and a volume of work that overtakes our lives. And we also fear a lack of opportunity, low pay, minimal appreciation for our work, and of course, having not enough time in order to get everything done.
Aldridge brought up a formula that he recently learned: Data + creativity + courage = great work. Most of us have an abundance of data, and there's certainly no shortage of creativity in this industry. The last part of the equation, courage, is where we are lacking -- after all, the greatest enemy of courage is fear.
The first way to tackle this fear is climb the success ladder. Recall the adage, "It's a marathon, not a sprint." A marathon is a big, scary thing. It's a long way, and it hurts. Athletes who run marathons don't think about it as 26.2 miles -- they think about it as 26 different races of approximately one mile. They calculate how much they need of time, energy, etc. is needed to complete each one. By breaking every project down into compartments, you're climbing the ladder -- every time you complete one task, you gain a bit of courage.
We can also learn this lesson from the startup world of Silicon Valley. If a tech startup gets to 75 percent success rate, that's considered great. And they're successful because they place a series of small incremental bets, test them, and learn. They learn from their failures (and those of others) in order to generate their next successes.
This is what's known as venture marketing. The executives at Charles Schwab define it as:
"The adoption of a strategic portfolio approach to marketing initiatives, in the way venture capital firms do with startups. It is assumed that many initiatives will fail, or underperform. But a few will show the potential for massive, disproportionate, and game changing success."
To put this into practice, Aldridge says, here's what you need:
Attitude and preparation
The ingredients are always critical, says Aldridge. You must:
- Lead from the front. At first, success is all about growing yourself. But when you become a leader, success is defined as helping those around you grow.
- Walk to the edge of the cliff. Aldridge quotes a friend of his, David McGrane, who said that "The bigger the ambition, the greater the freedom." Going out on a limb gives you the freedom to try more things.
- Practice the circus bow. Of course, sometimes you fall down. But if you acknowledge that what you tried was difficult, and everyone can see that, you deserve to recognize this. "What we don't reward is people not trying," says Aldridge.
A living methodology
There are a few rules that Aldridge believes you must follow. First, you should always in work in beta, or what is known as the 90-day rule. If we don't believe from approval of an idea to the launch of beta, it's not a venture marketing project -- which should start and end in a short period of time. This is how you should think about every project.
There's also 20:80 rule, where one spends 20 percent of their time upfront (in the creative, development stage) and then the other 80 percent refining, building, and growing upon that idea. This leads into the final rule: Amplify everything. Everyone else is likely doing what you're doing, and did it before you. You need to figure out how to make your product or venture stand out.
Cementing an endearing culture
Culture is everything. Aldridge suggests that agencies work to make "can/if thinking" central to their culture. Most brands and a lot of agencies rely on path dependencies -- they continue to do something a certain way in order to get the same results, but this can be disrupted. So we need to look at the problem in a different way.
One way to do this is to look outside of your own sector. Look to brands or companies that do something completely different, and do it well -- and see how that can be applied within your organization.
Within this culture, you want to create venture employees. The management team around you think this way, and will allow and encourage you to try new things, as long as there's a measurement plan in place. You can be as creative as you want, as long as you can determine what you've learned, even if you've ultimately failed.