Time to Reposition?

I listened to a podcast with Jack Trout of Positioning fame – indisputably one of the greats - a day or two ago.  He has a new book, Repositioning: Marketing in an Era of Competition, Change and Crisis.  The question set me to wondering whether –given the impact of economic, climatic, social and political concerns in the last 18 months – we aren’t all facing the challenge to reposition.   

Asked why his original 1987 book is still a must-read (probably by someone who hadn’t read it), he politely pointed out that the subtitle says it all:  The Battle for Your Mind.  He went on to clarify yet again that marketing takes place in the mind of the prospect. 

It’s remarkable to me that so many marketers – some highly paid – still don’t get that point.  The 12 bloggers in this recent eBook - including yours truly -  implore marketers to learn to tune into the mindset of their customers in 2010.  This is still a necessary reminder after all these years???  Trout jokes in the podcast that even now, when he’s brought in to ‘fix’ a brand [one assumes for significant fees], many on the marketing team are obviously counting the minutes till he leaves, when they go back to doing exactly as they were doing before he got there

There's little doubt that prospects’ worlds have shifted significantly in the last 18 months.  The question  of repositioning certainly seems warranted.  How might each of us serve those new mindsets?

Another imperative to Reposition came across my screen same day,  in a new article in Strategy and Business  
We already know that companies with an articulated purpose that goes beyond simply the expediency of “making more money” have fared much better in the downturn. They will also fare better in the recovery. 
I’m off to buy the book.

Learning as a Strategic Investment

I recently contributed to an eBook targeted to Pharma and Healthcare marketers.  The book, intending to guide its audience toward where to invest their learning in 2010, is directly relevant to anyone in business.  It begins with the famous Toffler quote
The illiterate of the 21stcentury will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

                 -Alvin Toffler, Rethinking the Future 1999
Since he wrote those powerful words, 9 years after the publication of Senge's Fifth Discipline, web 2.0 has exploded, and the challenges of choosing where to learn and what to learn are bursting exponentially -changing patterns of trade and social power on the planet. 

Jim Collins says it well in a Fast Company interview:  
FC:  What has changed if you’re building a business now, as opposed to 10, 20, or 30 years ago?

JC: The skills. You need to be continually learning. For example, if you accept the idea that work is infinite and time is finite, you realize you have to manage your time and not your work. You need a laserlike focus on doing first things first. And that means having a ferocious understanding of what you are not going to do. The question used to be which phone call you wouldn’t take. Now, it’s the discipline not to have your e-mail on. The skill is knowing how to sift through the blizzard of information that hits you all the time.
As a Business Anthropologist, I am fascinated by how social media are changing the world of learning.  Sunday's New York Times re-iterates how Twitter works as a learning portal - for approximately 10% of its users, according to a 2009 Harvard study.  With over 1000 user-designed applications, no one has quite figured out how many people that is… a telling commentary. 

Close to the beginning of the revolution represented by social media, I undertook a study of 50 top performers, asking about how they rejuvenate.    They recognized that, 
The ability to be a 'beginner' is a key factor in sustained top performance….Forty eight consciously keep their curiosity sparked through exploration and learning.

"What I'm doing now was totally beyond me 12 months ago."
                        - Entrepreneur, age 72
In my 3 decades in the trenches with business leaders, nothing seems to have gotten easier.  Most would agree that the changes of the past 15 months demand more skill than ever, and a new kind of skill: being nimble in the face of uncertainty.   

I cast my vote with Senge, Toffler and Collins: the ability to learn is our single best strategic investment. The evidence goes back to the first human communities.  

Our ancestors have done it for millions of years.  We can do it again.  How will you choose your strategic learning investments this year?

Brain, Body, & Business

Entering Q4 of a very challenging year, I’ve been asking myself, what would it take to be:
Fit to Thrive in Any Economy?
Is it possible?
In my Business Anthropologist hat, it’s clear that human beings have been finding ways to generate value for each other as the world shifts around us for, oh, at least 150,000 generations*...and probably we’ll find ways to do it too…

That begs the question, how do we go about being effective in the face of – often unwelcome – change? The imperative is urgent, though the combination of skills required are rare.

The lens of Business Anthropology that I find so handy illuminates how commerce and the human brain evolved together. It’s no accident that we sustain Neuroplasticity – so important to innovation - into adulthood. Below is a very rough view over 4 major Ice Ages and countless periods of warming/rising sea levels, no doubt accompanied by earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions, not to mention predators, drought…honing groups’ ability to keep each other alive.

Brain
Body
Business

3,200,000 years
160,000 gens
500 cc
Large male 5’
Large female 4’
Fully upright, arched foot
Sloped forehead
Cooperating for protection
Coordinating
Primitive tools
Language?
Africa

1,000,000 years
50,000 gens
1000 cc
Heavy brow ridges
Less sloping forehead
Good cutting edges
Spread throughout Asia, Africa, maybe Europe

25,000 years
1,250  gens
1500 cc
modern
Large male 6’
Large female 5’5”
Fully modern
Trading over thousands of miles
Art
Elegant tools
Herding
Asia, Africa, Australia, and maybe the Americas

Our ancestors’ stressors differed from ours in several important ways. Understanding how our brains tend respond to the challenges of modern commerce allows us to build new neural pathways: becoming more competent to navigate our changing world as individuals, and revealing how to keep our enterprises viable.

Change is a moment of opportunity for those who can keep their brains curious, bodies vital, and enterprises nimble. I’ve developed Fit to Thrive in Any Economy, a new synthesis of brain, body, & business, based on recent insights from Neuroscience, perspectives from Business Anthropology, and practices from the Martial Arts. What are you doing?  What are you seeing that’s working?

This moment in commerce is unprecedented. It’s a call for ingenuity and leadership. Let’s get the job done.

*The newly-published Ardi fossils appear to push that back to at least 210,000 generations.

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Are You Fit to Thrive in Any Economy?