Beliefs into Action: Fähren Events & The Community

tl;dr: Leaders should lead by supporting the communities they work in

When Joe and I started Fähren, one of our foundational beliefs was we needed to be good supporters of the Twin Cities business community. More specifically, we wanted to put our beliefs into action by creating the events, ideas and connections that spark the insights that innovators need to keep growing.

We can help spark those ideas through our words, our writings, and the conversations we have with our clients and partners. And, we can do it by bringing together other exceptional thinkers to share their work and experiences and ideas.

Tonight, Fähren is hosting a unique group of strategists who are on the front edge of the next wave of consumer, digital experiences. Our event is called Voice is the Interface: UX Lessons Learned Designing for Voice and the speakers will include folks i know and trust to share some hard-won insights from the early days of figuring out what happens we stop clicking and swiping, and start talking to our computers.

The move to voice-only or voice+screen is going to be seismic, a transformational change. But it will take years to generate best practices and trusted design patterns. The work to figure out which practices are “best” vs “good” will take lots of conversations, collaboration, trial and error and sharing between practitioners. It will take a community effort.

Why are we putting on an event about leading edge UX stuff?

Reason #1: Fahren is a talent company focused on business leadership. We’re in business to help leaders drive change, faster. So, we see it as our responsibility to support the leaders and the thinkers who will invent, test and advocate for those design patterns, methods and best practices so we can get to the future faster, together.  One of my favorite business leaders helped me understand the truth in the saying, “All of us are smarter than any one of us.”  Sure, its good business, but it’s also just good.

Reason #2: We see innovation opportunities and we want to help figure those out. As long-time digital nerds, we’re really interested in how the computing environment will change our behaviors as consumers (and how fast businesses will have to move to keep up) when voice becomes the primary interface. It’s going to be as fascinating and fun as the move from desktop “programs” to web “pages” to mobile “apps”. Creative destruction is on the horizon, which means creative opportunities for innovators.

We’re excited about our role in the business community and we’re looking forward to the conversations ahead. We’re working on our 2019 event plans now.  Let us know what you’re interested in and if you’d like to join us as we put our event and community plan together!

 

Data Leaks: Doc Searls, Facebook data and what’s about to come

Are you you one of the folks in the digital/ad tech world trying to answer your friends questions about the “what’s going on with Facebook and all that data” situation? It’s going to get worse when everyone understands how thoroughly widespread the data-leaking problem is. Give this article a read. It’s from OG/Cluetrain guy Doc Searls, one of the best thinkers about the open web and what advertising has done to it. It’s a little over the top, but the underlying story is one we (“we” being humans on the internet and perhaps also in the digital business) should understand.

 

Why I’m Starting My Own Company

Every entrepreneur who starts their own venture better have a clear idea of why they’re doing it. With a clear “why”, it will be easier to navigate when the inevitable obstacles pile up.  If for no other reason than to get my own thoughts straight, here goes:

I’ve got Some Personal Motivation

I’m a small business guy by birth – I grew up the son of a second generation entrepreneur. My grandfather took a huge risk in 1916 and started a car business. He never made it to college, but i benefitted because he had the right combination of courage, vision, perseverance and a super supportive wife. He sent his two boys (my dad and uncle) to college, gave a ton back to his church and community, and sold the boys a successful business. They managed it well and grew it so that their combined 11 kids could go to college and grad school. I can’t count how many of their employees sent their own kids to college, or bought their first homes or a cottage on a lake or were able to retire because they were paid well by dad’s small business. It’s in the hundreds. So, i’m a believer in main street. I think the world needs more successful small businesses. We probably have enough Facebooks, Googles, and Twitters.

I want to build a great culture – I was having coffee with Amol Dixit, the brains behind Hot Indian Foods and he told me that his goal wasn’t to get into the restaurant business. His goal was to build a great company and a great brand, first. The restaurant business was just the fastest way in. When he wakes up in the morning, he’s thinking about how to keep the business growing so the people that work there can get where they’re trying to go, professionally. I hope that, in my small way, the little company i create can be a place where others can get their start on a new career or at least a new phase in their career.

Create More, Consume Less – I try, everyday, to focus on creating. Whether it’s words on a page, music, or even a dumb sketch, it’s critical to me to put something good out into the world to balance out all the consumption i’m doing. Business is the medium where i think i can be the most creative (should have practiced my guitar more) and this is a time where creativity in business will be rewarded. I hope when i’m done working someday, i’ll be able to look back and feel proud of what we all created together at my little company.

Put it into Practice – I’ve been blessed to have worked with some amazing leaders. Whether it was learning how to manage through rapid change at Ameriprise, or learning how to build excellent brands at General Mills, or how to build an amazing professional services business like Ciceron or GoKart, i’ve been around inspirational folks my whole career. I owe it to those leaders to try to do something special. I want to see if i can put it into practice.

It’s time – I started out as a small business guy, but then found my way – through luck and being in the right place at the right time with the right knowledge –  into corporate America. My whole rationale for going corporate was to learn enough to sell some digital marketing into big companies. My longterm plan was to go start my own business; i just needed a little corporate experience first. As i look ahead and make my plan for the next 10 years, this is the best way to get where i want to end up.

Why this Particular Business?

We’re starting a company that will make it easier for companies to find the talent they need to innovate and change. It’s a professional services business, but not an agency. We’re going to have a pool of talented consultants who can provide interim leadership and support for your most strategic digital initiatives. They’ll have experience at the senior levels inside big corporations and agencies and could step into your VP and Director level roles.  I’ll save the particulars for another post, but the general reasons for this business are going to be pretty familiar:

  • The market size is huge
  • There’s a gap in the marketplace
  • There is long term opportunity
  • I’ve got a unique way to help address some market needs

More on that later…

But, beyond the financial and business rationale, there’s a deeper reason. The transformational change that most companies are pursuing will come about through hard work and courageous leadership. That change will be driven by technology, but it will ultimately be a cultural change, where the company vision, mission, values, incentives, ways of work, tools, leadership behaviors, communications and customer experience will all be challenged.

It’s going to come down to great leadership.  It’s going to take vision, courage, resilience and persistence. And – we think –  partners that work like we do.

The Middle is Where the Change Gets Real –  This kind of change will have to be supported at the “top of the house”, the C-Level folks. And, the execution has to happen everywhere, from the entry level folks on up. But, the leaders in the middle – the Directors, the VP’s – are where the real change happens. Or, I should say, where the change gets real. Those people are in the tough spot of trying to influence up (to the C-Level), across (to their peers) and around, to their teams, their vendors, their functional partners. They’ve got to bend and dismantle the old ways of working to create the space for the new ways.

While we will probably be hired by “senior management”, we think we can make the most impact by helping to lead from the middle. So, we are building this organization to to help at the Director and VP level, the ones who have to make the change actually happen. The ones taking the risks to innovate where their peers are playing the game, the ones who are trying to create something new or pioneer new techniques instead of following the path laid out by their boss.

This might be one of the best times in American history to start a new business. It’s also the best time for existing business reinvent themselves. And, it’s an amazingly interesting time to be a business leader. If we work our plan and this business evolves the way we want it to, we’ll be doing our little part to help those great companies – and the leaders inside – reinvest in their futures and reinvent themselves.

 

A Couple Resources for ID on Blockchain Apps

The more i’ve learned about blockchain-based apps, the more i’m curious how ID will be managed across apps, platforms, and technologies (e.g Etherium, Corda, etc. ). One of the key design decisions of blockchain approach is that ID doesn’t really matter. Anonymity was the design intent. But, as the concept gets applied beyond currency/assets, ID will have to get figured out. Worst case, we end up with a bunch of accounts across new centralized platforms (e.g. Coinbase et. al). But, i have to believe we’ll have a platform that will enable us to manage our various identities in one place , something like Civic but one that will enable me to manage my various  online identities:  a public, professional, private, friends, financial, creative, hobby, etc.

Here’s a list of  some places to start:

I’m sure there a tons more, let me know which i should look at.

How Four Agency Holding Companies Are Upping Their Consulting Skills | AdExchanger

Decent overview/update on how agencies are trying to become consultancies and consultancies are trying to become agencies. Brands just want to grow.

Note: Notice the snark in the analysis of Publicis’ own challenges integrating Sapient. A little of the shoemaker’s children, i guess.

Source: How Four Agency Holding Companies Are Upping Their Consulting Skills | AdExchanger

Innovation Framework From Doblin

It seems like there are just as many ways to talk and think about innovation as there are reasons to innovate. To get the conversations started with clients, i’ve always liked to use a framework to jumpstart the thinking.

I’ve mostly relied on simple 2×2’s or some variant of the incremental/disruptive comparison. Mainly because they’re simple to understand and most leaders can immediately apply the framework to their situation.

But, after reading a bunch of thinking from Doblin Group, i’ve come to really like their framework. It takes some work to fully understand all the dimensions, but that depth makes it versatile and forces the conversation beyond the obvious topics. Especially for folks like me who are deep in “digital”, a framework like this gets the conversation away from the basic stuff – technology, digital advertising, content – and should force a conversation about more potentially transformative options: business models, partnerships, etc.

 

CEO’s & CMO’s: 2017 Strategic Planning Questions for Your Digital Team

While the rest of us are enjoying the fall weather, football and the changing seasons, most CMO’s and CEO’s and their leadership teams are elbow deep in 2017 planning and budgeting. In addition to all the normal business challenges, most leadership teams are probably spending a significant amount of time talking – one away or another – about digital and/or their digital transformation. Maybe its a question of how to allocate the capital budget for digital capabilities, or it could be a culture question (“How do we get more digital talent?”). Or, more urgently, it could be an existential question (“how do we compete against X and the disruption they are causing”).

Eventually, those boardroom conversations and plans will make their way down to strategic planning discussions with the VP’s of Digital Marketing, the Chief Digital Officer, Head of Digital, or Directors of Digital. Here’s what we hope those lucky leaders are getting asked in those strategic conversations:

  • What’s our strategy to use data to develop a competitive advantage? We see a lot of C-level leaders who are missing the strategic opportunity to plan for, collect and analyze data in unique ways (not just the obvious stuff) to give themselves a competitive advantage. We know of one company that bought a couple large Instagram handles from their owners, just so they could get the day to day data on likes and use the comments section to gain unique consumer insights that their competitors wouldn’t have
  • How are we using digital to create a unified experience over the whole  customer journey? Smart companies are moving on from digitizing their functions (Sales, Service, PR, brand Management)  to looking for ways to integrate and unify the whole consumer experience. They are going from good/great execution at the functional level to managing the whole customer journey in a holistic, integrated way even though there’s not an immediate ROI and dramatic changes in short term results are rare. Not only is it better for consumers, it positions companies to collect unique, potentially proprietary data along the way. It’s an easy concept to grasp, but it’s incredibly hard to execute internally unless there is a multi-year commitment from the top to keep investing ahead of results.
  • What capital investments and resource allocations do we need to make to get better data across the customer journey? See above. A dramatically improved customer experience will generate incredibly valuable data
  • What must we do to invest enough in both incremental and transformation innovation? No good leader says “no” to opportunities to invest in innovation, but few leadership teams are disciplined enough to balance short-term, functional innovation (i.e. incremental) with the willingness to pursue transformational opportunities.or instance, we know of one company that is generating a surprising amount of revenue from advertising on their digital platform; enough revenue to pay for a larger, more advanced digital team. It’s almost guaranteed that the directors and managers and coordinators on the digital team have ideas for both, but they may not be getting the support to pursue both due to a heavy prioritization of short term results.
  • How do we need to evolve our brand position and actions to be even more relevant to our customers? All leaders should by now understand how digital is transforming consumer expectations of brands. But even after years of watching brands like Dove drive great results by moving the brand to a higher, more aspirational space (and creating amazing digital content that’s getting shared all over the place), too many leaders are still(!) focused on the result (“get me something that goes viral”) instead of the characteristics of a soap brand that millions and millions want to connect with. In other words, you have to do the work to elevate your brand and your company in order to be relatable, digitally.
  • What do we need to do culturally to create the conditions for more agility and innovation in our marketing? Most good business leaders have read up on Agile, Lean Startup, and “working like a startup”. It’s thrilling to see courageous leaders try to change their companies actions. But, smart C-level folks will listen to the digital teams about what needs to change culturally to create the conditions for more flexibility, agility and innovation in their marketing model (or their business, overall). The behaviors are one thing, but the attitudes and beliefs and values and incentives are another. Most importantly, CMO’s and CEO’s should be asking: Have I created the right incentives to unlock true innovation (or  will my team still get penalized for taking risks)?
  • Are we being aggressive in looking at business model or product innovation opportunities? This is something that any sufficiently paranoid organization should be asking itself every six months: “what would a potential disruptor do to come take our business away?” Or, put another way, “how do we not get Blockbustered?” And, as part of the same exercise, CEO’s should be asking their digital team “what opportunities are we missing to use digital for  new revenue, new products, or serving our customers more effectively”? It’s easy to get a false sense of security that “we’re on it!”.
  • What do we need to do to help our employees work at the pace and speed of our customers? As the proliferation of tools and technology accelerates, it’s imperative for customer-focused companies to enable their front line people – the sales folks, the community managers, customer service – to work with the same tools and platforms that their customers are using. So, whether it’s instagram or Snapchat messaging, chatbots or Kik, CMO/CEO’s will make the hard policy changes to stay connected with their consumers

If you’re the VP or Sr Director of Digital, the Head of Digital or the Digital Transformation leader and these questions aren’t coming up in the annual operating plan discussions, you should set up time with your CMO and CEO and push these issues forward. It’s your chance to lead “up” and push the thinking of your organization and, ultimately, position your team to drive even greater impact in the organization. And, to make life a little better for your customers in 2017.