One of my favorite quotes comes from a jazz musician, Charles Mingus, and it concerns one of the things I work on with clients every day: simplification.
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“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”
That doesn’t mean dumbing things down. It means finding the big idea in everything we’re doing and relating each and every action to that big idea. If we’re selling air fresheners and someone thinks our cute logo would make great T-shirts, how do those ideas relate? If they don’t, maybe we need to move on.
Michelangelo captured this notion when he likened sculpture to simplifying the marble. He said that there was an angel inside a block and it was his job to set it free. There are statues inside every block, he said. His task was to remove the excess, to make the complex simple.
Many people in business make what they do unnecessarily complicated. Maybe it’s to prove their worth to themselves or to others. Maybe it’s because they’re distracted by every new idea or shiny object. As Mingus said, it’s commonplace. Take the complexities that surround you in business and make them simple. Find the big idea – the paragraph that explains the central tenets of whatever you’re doing – and use it as your roadmap. That is the tent pole that keeps everything else up and running. It’s the thing around which you build your business.
We’re getting close to the start of baseball season. It’s always felt like a time of renewal – Spring has arrived (despite snow on opening day from time to time) and that’s a very good thing in my book. I grew up playing the game and it’s always intrigued me how baseball metaphors run throughout life here in the US of A.
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One of the baseball terms on my mind these days is “small ball.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, it refers to a strategy of getting men on base and advancing them through a series of hits or walks rather than placing an emphasis on home runs or big plays. To me it’s a great business strategy these days and here is why. Business is filled with what I call “Rob Deers”.
In his prime, Rob Deer weighed about 210 and there were many seasons where he barely hit his weight. Nevertheless, he was a valuable member of 5 different major league teams because he hit home runs. A lot. In fact, he would often appear as a league leader in both home runs and strike outs. Go big or go home personified, I guess. A lot of businesses think like Rob Deer. They’re after the home run and while they might strike out a lot when they connect it’s a big win. The problem with that is that there are also a lot of lean times in between.
I prefer to do business more like Derek Jeter. Lead the league in hits and in runs scored. That’s small ball personified. Sure, hitting one over the wall is fun and almost everyone does that from time to time. But unlike baseball, in business one isn’t assured of another game tomorrow if we don’t produce today. Playing small ball in business isn’t heroic but it can be profitable. The notion that it’s just as difficult to land a small order as it is to land a big one might be true but I’ve found that there are far fewer opportunities and far more competition as the size of the deal grows.
Don’t think for a minute this is about lowering standards. It’s hard to play small ball well since it requires team work and a squad of folks who can hit the ball. Managing that activity well requires someone special. You?
Ah, technology! The faster we chase it, the faster it moves away. Very few businesses can move fast enough to keep up with how technology changes consumer behavior, and the 2013 Email Marketing Benchmark Report from the good folks at Marketing Sherpa shows us yet another example of that.
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The shift to mobile from the desktop has been causing all sorts of disruption. According to an Econsultancy report, fewer than half of businesses (41%) are able to accurately measure the behavioral differences between mobile and desktop visitors. In fact, almost a fifth (18%) report that they have no clue (OK, that wasn’t exactly how they answered but you get that they’re operating in the dark).
There is an interesting correlation between that report and the aforementioned Marketing Sherpa email report. As reported by the eMarketer folks:
Just 42% said they were fully designing emails to render differently on mobile devices, despite the fact that many consumers rely heavily on tablets and smartphones for email access.
Hmm. I wonder if these are the same 41% as are able to measure how mobile makes things different? Coincidence? More importantly, why is mobile lagging behind? Three-quarters said their web and email efforts were integrated; more than half had integrated social and email; and 35% have even coordinated email and blogging. I think I know: time.
The commercial web is going on 20 years old and web-based activities such as social and blogging take place in that now ancient environment Mobile is the shiny new object and businesses don’t like to invest in those sorts of things until they know they’re mainstream. Of course, by that time there’s another new thing – I wonder how businesses are preparing to integrate with wearable tech?
My advice to clients is this: investing in and supporting the shiny new objects as they become mainstream means you’ll be late to the dance. It takes time and resources (neither of which anyone seems to have) to get up to speed in these new spaces and starting when they’re just starting to be buzzed about means you’ll be ready when you need to be. Sticking your head in the sand (what are the 18% thinking?) and hoping they’ll go away only increases the chances that your business will be the one vanishing.
Now, let’s get back to the race.