A study issued last month by Comscore (“Marketing to the Multiplatform Majority”), uncovered that among the top 100 digital media properties (see: Groupon, Pandora, etc.), nearly one out of three monthly visitors only access that brand’s content on mobile platforms.
That is a trend that is only set to grow. In fact, a June study (also by Comscore) suggested that more than a third of ecommerce website visits come exclusively from mobile devices.
A quick look at mobile commerce spending, and it’s clear where this is heading. Certainly, seasonality plays a role. Yet, despite the spikes, there is a clear and irrefutable upward trend.
What is also clear is that companies need to evaluate their mobile share of marketing. Here are a two considerations for brands as they explore deepened mobile experiences.
1. The rise of mobile is not an invitation to confine experiences
As quickly as “mobile” rises, is as quickly as it becomes less about device-specific experiences. Not that a stellar app or mobile website isn’t critical. But, mobile is a matter of movement and convenience — the portability of, and quick access to, information and purchase. So while we can look at these bar charts and see a trend, it is important to rationalize that there is no single step toward a purchase. Most people don’t log into a mobile device and make a purchase just like that. Often a computer is involved somewhere along the way, not to mention the multitude of searches performed on a mobile device to get them to the point where they are ready to buy. Successful commerce experiences in general require that mobile be a mindful and well-thought out consideration. That means taking into account that users are likely to switch between devices and may or may not purchase on their mobile device, even though mobile is a likely part of their path. There should be no barriers in this process. And in fact, there should be as many tools in place to promote the seamless transfer of research and purchase intent from device to device.
2. Analytics are not inherently straightforward
Every organization knows that the power to create better experiences lies in their data. Even so, a relative few are truly arming themselves with the best picture through a complete analytics review that includes their customers’ actual path to purchase. The mobile revolution has only served to make this more complex.
With a push to multiple platforms comes a subset of data that rounds out the picture for a customers path to purchase. But it is not straightforward. The Comscore study perfectly lays out how important it is to be critical about the data that is being captured. As they put it, “[traditional website analytics] don’t necessarily reflect the reality of a customer’s online and offline journey because the computer thinks each interaction is an independent user and independent event.” Still, as they point out, sophisticated analytics streams are helping to turn this chaos into order. And brands who want to create an advantage through mobile will be doing this — it will take direct and implicit effort to turn that data into a strategy for a mobile generation.
READER DISCLAIMER: I am posting this mostly for myself, as it it will let me have a record of what I went though for future races. Feel free to read this if you’re interested!
On November 2nd, 2013, I competed in my second Ironman — Ironman Florida, in Panama City Beach. Last year, I completed Ironman Coeur d’Alene in Idaho. Deciding on Florida meant I would have races on two ends of a spectrum. The Coeur d’Alene course was highlighted by frigid water (54° – it required a neoprene cap under the swim cap), a brisk and mountainous bike (quite literally) and a cool and moderately hilly run. It was by far and away the most picturesque race I have done, of any kind. Florida would be an unpredictable ocean swim, a flat and probably-windy bike, and a warm and flat run. The ocean wouldn’t make for bad scenery, but we wouldn’t see it much.
Unlike last year, the race would be within driving distance. And I would be competing with three other friends. With all of our families and a contingent of friends, there would be dozens of people on course to cheer us on.
That made me all kinds of anxious. I’m a worrier by trade, so knowing that I would have all of these people watching made me a ball of nerves. I felt I had to perform. Getting plucked out of the water was my worst nightmare.
The day before the race, our group went out for a quick swim/bike/run. The weather was mean. Heavy winds (easily around 15-20 mph) coming off the ocean made for five to six foot swells and intense gusts on the bike. Getting down to the water with my wetsuit in tow, I was in trouble. I have a very complex relationship with the water. Having learned to swim only a few years ago, there is a part of me that deeply fears crashing waves and the utter smallness created by my presence in it. I broke into snotty, irrational tears. Slowly, I was coaxed into the water by my training buddy, Carlos. I turned and ran into shore dozens of times. Each time, he dragged me back in. I was unclear about how to dive waves and was continuously if not violently turned in summersaults with each crashing wave. Finally, with help from an unwavering Carlos, I mastered it and we got past the breakers. Coming back in though, I lost my racing goggles. My boyfriend remedied this with a quick trip to Sports Authority.
All I could do was hope the weather report held true and the conditions would calm down for race day.
That night, Carlos and I cooked a meal for our friends and family at our rented condo, enjoyed some laughs and headed to bed at 8:00 pm sharp. The 3:30 am wake up came quickly. Some coffee, oatmeal and yogurt and we were on our way for body marking.
My race goal was to beat my Coeur d’Alene time, which was 13:32. It seemed doable for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which being that the course in Florida is flat. I was hoping for 13:00, or to break 13:00 if I could.
SWIM (2.4 miles): 1:13:13
Making our way down to the water, it was clear that conditions were in our favor. The wind was blowing toward the ocean, keeping the waves at bay. There were some breakers to get through at the start, but it looked calm on the other side. One of my friends and I headed over to the 1:30 self seed area. My head was spinning. A hug. A quick prayer. The gun went off. I was doing it. It was time.
Nearly 2900 people in a mass start in the ocean is almost comical (see it here). It took several minutes to spread out enough that you could even freestyle. But once I could — despite a few kicks, swats and leg pulling — I settled in. The sun was rising over the ocean, the water was cool and salty. In that moment, I realized how awesome it was to be out there. How lucky. I didn’t panic even once. I felt at perfect harmony. I was…having fun. We looped out of the water and back in for lap two. It had only been 42 minutes. I was on track to crush my predicted finish of 2:05. The water was a little rougher by lap two, but not much. There weren’t as many people to draft at that point, yet I managed to finish the swim in 1:31:13. That was a 2:21/100 pace — exactly what I had been swimming in the pool. I’d love to improve my swim time for my next event.
TRANSITION ONE (T1): 8:45
It felt like this took forever. I anticipated a much faster T1, but there was a big run up to the tents and then to the bike.
BIKE (112 miles): 5:29:01
Once I was on the bike, I was ready to go! My mouth felt like somebody poured a salt shaker in it. Hydration would be really important. My pace strategy was to ride hard because the bike is my strength. I knew that I’d run slowly no matter what because I struggle with the bike-to-run. I certainly didn’t ride all out, but I pushed the pace. Because I am a slow swimmer and a fast biker there was a lot of passing, and that is pretty fun. I witnessed a lot more drafting than I expected. I’d heard stories about how prevalent it is in Florida. What a shame. I like to think that people who compete in this sport understand the importance of racing honestly.
In any case, I saw my cheering crowd at the halfway point — awesome, really motivating. At mile 95 or so, I passed one of my buddies. Then, I saw the cheering crowd again. My strategy on the bike was to take in a bottle every hour to hour and a half. Starting with two bottles of HEED on the bike, then grabbing water from aide stations. I would use only gels and honey stinger waffles for food. And would stop eating and drinking with about 30 minutes left to ride, aside from small sips of water. That would mean I could start the run without a sloshy belly. I nailed it. (I took Perform on course, which I didn’t want to, but diluted with water it worked out just fine). My pace on the bike leg was 20.42 mph. My goal was 19 mph. With the swim also faster than calculated, it was dawning on me that I was likely to hit my race goal with ease if I could just manage an OK time on the run.
TRANSITION 2 (T2): 5:51
My legs felt awful coming off the bike. I just had to keep moving. A lot of folks were walking at this point up to the changing tents. I decided to stop and take the shoes off so I could jog it and loosen up. Once in the tent, I had a volunteer spray me with sunscreen while I dressed. I threw the shoes on, left the band aids in the bag because putting them on would be too much work, with too little reward. I also decided to keep the tri shorts on instead of changing into running shorts — to benefit from the compression they would offer on the run.
Dammit. My watch. I hit the lap button twice by accident and screwed up my multi-sport mode. I had to reset the Garmin and start the run separately. Only this time, the data was messed up. The distance was reading short and my pace never read under an 11 minute mile. I was feeling so rough. The sun was hot. My boyfriend told me later it was over 80. Still mild enough, but I felt like I was cooking. The goal was to run through mile six, which would get me into St. Andrews Park, where friends were volunteering. I did my best, but I had to stop to adjust lace tension several times for my jacked up foot. And I walked some.
My nutrition strategy was simple – NO whole foods. Only gels – every 45 minutes to an hour. Avoid Perform if I could. And if I couldn’t, mix it with water. It took willpower to do this. But I stuck to the plan. Nothing would ruin my run quicker than a side ache and stomach pain.
Still, I struggled in the first half. My feet hurt so badly. The blisters formed almost immediately. I saw my cheer crew at mile three or four. That boosted my spirits. And the more the sun went down, the better I felt. But my Achilles started to scream and that caused me to stop several times for stretching. With each stop came the intense urge to keep walking. It was mind over matter. And my brain was kicking my ass. I had to force myself to run again. At mile 14, one of the blisters burst in the shoe. It almost felt good. I saw a fellow Dailymiler at some point on the course. When the sun went down, I hit my stride and was able to run more consistently. The music was going on course. People were cheering like crazy. I felt ON FIYA. With two miles to go, I ended up next to a guy who said, “You’re looking great! You must be shooting for a sub 12:00, huh?” I was in shock. He quickly helped me with the math and I busted out a faster pace to cross the finish line. My run pace was 10:11. I had hoped for a 9:30-9:45 pace. So this fell a little shy. But, hey, how could I possibly complain!?? I need to work on the bike-to-run stuff and get my brain in the right place.
How’d I do? 27th in my age group (out of 123); 136 out of 743 women; and 866 out of 2891 total competitors. If I’m reading correctly, the top age group woman came in at 9:27 (omg). And the top woman in my AG was 10:33. So, I wasn’t THAT fast. But dammit, I was a lot faster than I thought I’d be (an hour and 20 minutes faster!). I cried crossing the finish line. This was absolutely one of the best moments of my entire life.
Not one to exploit the obvious fact that I’m a woman — I have some permanent fixtures that make this an inescapable detail — I’ve chosen to lead my life and my career genderless-ly. This is not to say that I don’t see the gaps between men and women in industry. I do. I just elect not to focus on it, as it has always been my opinion that women who do so with fervor are the ones that make us seem different, unequal and somehow more fragile.
So I don’t join women’s groups. I don’t write about the plight of women in the workforce. Instead, I encourage women to follow their dreams and work hard, like everyone else. Not to shudder or shrink, but to ask for the salaries and the positions they deserve. To shuck the inevitable assessment that she is “bitch” when she is stern and driven. To plow forward and be proud of her accomplishments. To assimilate rather than segregate.
And so we arrive at pink. I am saying it out loud and in public: F*CK You Pink. I hate you. I have always hated you. I hate that a pretty pastel has been ascribed to me without my permission and without my input. I hate that you, in a single swipe, make me somehow more delicate, softer and less capable. And f*ck you most of all for invading my safe place — sport.
When I was little, I hated dresses. I didn’t adorn my body with feathery hues or florid things. Instead, I wore t-shirts and holey jeans. I rode my bicycle, ran in the mud and got dirty. This is not to say that I didn’t play with dolls, but rather to illustrate that I was more than that. Like everyone in this world, I’m a complex human being that cannot be defined by any single measure.
Now, as I continue my love of sport as an adult, something truly exciting is happening. Thousands more people have found the thrill and reward of running and cycling. Triathlon has taken off, with nearly 60% growth from 2008 to 2011. Among the fledglings are droves of women, representing more than half of newcomers to the sport. And while it would be difficult to pin down exactly what is motivating this growth, it’s easy to imagine one aspect being that women feel empowered by their newfound potential and the ability to compete around people, not genders.
The more women that participate, the more balanced the world of sports will be; the more opportunity there will be for everyone, men and women, to make a living doing what they love; and the more revenue for manufacturers of sports equipment. It’s just good all the way around.
Yet, something horrible is also happening — pink has invaded. Not only that, manufacturers have found it somehow necessary to gender-define designs for things we don’t need it. Certainly, shoes, shorts, saddles and bike geometry all benefit from customization. But, when it is purely aesthetics, I take huge insult. Women’s cycling skirts? Because women must be somehow stymied by leg holes? Is it the 1930′s?
Pink bikes. Pink shoes. Pink shirts. Pink, pink, pink, pink, pink. For this, men and women are equally culpable — both are designing and flooding the market with these products. And women are buying it. Sometimes because there is no other option, and sometimes because a turbid and confusing marketing effort suggests we should.
Not all women want this. And frankly, not all women should be wearing it. Instead, we need to imagine a sport where more than a color sums us up. Imagine a female athlete in your mind. Now take out the inevitable ponytail, the flowers and the (bleck) pink. What’s left? An athlete.
So, for all the women out there who want to be defined as an athlete, unregulated by a color, this is for you.
Stop it with the “Women’s Gear Guides” that weave a ribbon of pink through the whole damn thing. End the assumption that we are feeling left out because we can’t get a GPS display highlighted with pink. Or, that we need a cycling skirt, if only somebody would make one. Or, that our cycling saddles are inferior because they don’t have a fierce cheetah print running down the gusset. It’s chicanery.
Stop perpetuating the notion that women need to feel pretty, feminine and delicate. We’re not all flowers. Some of us enjoy the sweat and the grind, and gutting it out. We want clothes that function, that protect us, that perform, that help us beat people with a smaller number scrawled on their calves, and that allow us to cross the finish line and look good doing it — and that isn’t defined by a color.
These are defining times for brands. Advancements in technology like interactive video, wearable tech and even 3D printing have rocked the status quo and are fundamentally changing what it means to interact with the world today. It’s the continuous nature of of these changes that are evolving the brand-consumer dynamic.
The brand on the shelf is merely one dimension. Companies have to be more, do more. To win market share, they can’t just out-school a competitor with advertising. Instead, brands have to be “relevant.” Who thought a word so benign would become so pervasive?
That little word means brands have a huge content marketing problem: social media, video content, infographics, articles, newsletters, mobile content, webinars, white papers, case studies, ebooks, testimonials, demos, branded content. And that’s not to mention the important role of data and analytics, SEO and SEM, or even distribution strategy.
So complex is this issue that some agencies and brands have hired editorial directors from big publications to steer the content ship.
Still, as the recipients of this, it can be an assault to our sensibilities. While we’ve come to accept that brands are often a part of our content experience, it’s not always comfortable. For instance, as an avid runner, do I really want my trusted content coming from my favorite shoe company? I have mad love for my brand of choice (Altra!), but maybe I’d prefer it from a less biased source.
Refocusing on Damn Good Content
Let’s think about just one aspect of content for a minute — the quality. A friend of mine, Josh Beane, is a producer. He started his career outside of the agency world where the only thing that made you successful was damn good work. He then dipped his toes in the agency world for a few years, then left to pursue more damn good work with his new company Idea Farmer. In the years that I’ve known him, he continually demonstrates something for me — what matters is the content experience. Make it damn good and people will care. And they’ll come back.
It’s when brands lean to hard on the advertising tactics they know that it goes wrong — uncomfortable overlaid ads, a blatant and awkward use of the brand, or even a redirection of content to suit their own purely selfish pursuits.
This is not to suggest that good, quality content and branding are mutually exclusive. Rather, if brands want to reap the benefits of excellent content and the people that it draws, they should accept the terms that content is built on.
Josh’s most recent project is a cooking show called Saucy. While his intention is to eventually make this platform open to brand integration, right now the effort is exclusively centered on building content that people love.
He found a dynamic and talented chef to host, filmed it beautifully, sourced great material and built a functional and attractive website to view it in. Many in the marketing world would consider the antithesis of how things are done. And that’s the point. Lead with damn good content…dammit. Make people love it. And then, let brands in. Go Like them on Facebook to follow the shows. You’ll be glad you did. Especially if you love food. And who doesn’t?
There is another example, albeit a lot less homegrown. Cupcake Wars on the Food Network has a guest judge on each episode that is invariably a brand. That guest judge is the one the contestants are designing their cupcakes for. Brands are then integrated into the construct of the content, so it’s not a distraction. And I almost always remember the brand that was profiled. And not in an icky way.
So get out there brands. And make some damn good content.
Creating a reality TV drama that exploits the Amish Rumspringa may have been my first major sign that Discovery Communications was walking a precarious line between educational programming and sensationalism. Rumspringa is the term for the time period when teens “break Amish” to explore life outside their faith before (ideally) returning to the church and their families. It’s an intensely personal decision made by kids who have little idea about the modern world, or what it means to put their lives and actions on television. I grew up around the Amish in Michigan. Their presence can be divisive, yet most understand the very private lives they lead. Out of respect, I have never so much as taken a picture of their farms because that is what they wish. Then came Amish Mafia on the Discovery Channel. And (ugh) Here Comes Honey Boo Boo on TLC. Gross.
Then, Megalodon — when the Discovery Channel took the bold leap from unabashed distastefulness to downright betrayal. Creating a mockumentary about the near-discovery of an extinct species of shark just to draw eyeballs for their years-running Shark Week was tasteless at best. How many people sat in front of their television for this show, fully bought in and clueless? 79% did. Ouch.
Wasn’t the channel created to bring science into the mainstream, to demystify and build excitement about science and the world for millions of kids and adults? Sure seems like it’s done just that. When before the Discovery Channel would millions of people get excited about a week of shark education?
The anticipation of Shark Week has steadily and impressively grown viewership. 2012 set a record of 21.4 million total viewers. The Megalodon episode this year commanded 4.8 million. Fans are intense about Shark Week. They dress up (and dress their pets), create videos, DVR episodes, host viewing parties and ravingly use social media to share and discuss during the broadcast. So why the need to deceive?
What really gets me is that megalodon was real. We have scientific evidence. A retrospective on the now-extinct shark would have been worthy of a premiere slot in Shark Week. To take this unethical step in programming baffles me.
And now the Discovery Channel finds themselves in the contentious position of responding to explosive backlash. Not that they’re even trying — they haven’t even offered an apology. As a result, nobody wins. Given so many viewers were fooled, they will have a hard time shaking this off.
As a communications professional, I cannot understand how this happened. How was this decision made? It’s not as if it was an accident. It was carefully thought out, produced and designed. It was decided months if not a year or more ago. It was a long time in the making. Which leads me to…
Three Cardinal Rules for Communicating with Raving Fans
1| Be Honest & Transparent
When you’re dealing with an audience that has organically grown into a raving base, it demands transparency. Shark Week kicked off in 1987. They have earned a remarkable amount of trust over those 26 years — enough that people believed their Mega-lie. It’s the breakage of trust that stings so badly. Companies who build the trust have to keep it. Like any good relationship, that is achieved and maintained by being honest and transparent. A single fault and the commitment will forever be questioned.
2 | Engage Your Audience
Make them feel like they are a part of your success. Bring them into the circle of trust, praise their involvement and be active with them. Shark Week is a great success story in building fan involvement. While it hasn’t necessarily been overtly nurtured, it certainly has never been squashed. For many companies, just learning to relinquish some control is a battle. This is a lesson in the payoff of doing so. Shark Week has also embraced their fandom by not only giving the fans latitude, but also by creating new ways for viewers to get excited and involved through social media. Quick Service Restaurant Chick-fil-A offers another great example. Their very first Facebook presence was actually created by a fan and employee, not by the company. Rather than snatch it away, they stood back at watched. Eventually they reached out and worked with her, helping her to grow the presence, only taking over when they were both ready.
3 | Learn from Mistakes
People make mistakes. So do brands. What’s important is that they learn from them. This week, my son’s best friend said was telling me about a neighborhood kid, “He keeps getting in trouble for the same thing. Over and over again. Seriously, when will he learn?” Exactly. Wise words from a 16-year-old. Discovery Channel pulled a similar stunt last year with Mermaids: The Body Found. Though in this case, they did unequivocally state that it was fiction at the close of the program. And, while most people know mermaids never existed, there was still some outrage. It should have been a warning. They didn’t heed it. If they’re smart, Discovery Channel will issue an apology this time around. Work hard to regain trust. And never do this again.
“He’ll probably never leave home. He won’t go to college or get a degree. He could have a job — something with his hands, like digging ditches.”
My son was six or so when I heard that gem from a neuropsychologist at an esteemed metro-Atlanta children’s hospital. Not that there is anything wrong with digging ditches…but he was six. Later, when he was 12, another neuropsychologist deemed him mentally retarded: an inaccurate diagnosis and a term no longer used by the medical community.
This parenting journey has been filled with moments of frustration, mystery and dogged-determination. But ultimately there’s acceptance — a space in which I can focus on what this experience has taught me about life and leadership.
My son has learning and developmental disability. He is one of what I call “our nation’s many misplaced youth.” Like millions of children in the U.S., he faces challenges in both education and in life that are not easily overcome. Even though we knew since he was in kindergarten that something wasn’t right, and were fortunate enough to have the financial means to do things like get him a specialized education, therapy and private testing, we really never had clear answers. Mostly, we had confusion, mismatched diagnosis and unclear pathways forward. He’s 15 now. And every answer we’ve gotten and every decision we’ve made have been hard-fought.
Not surprisingly, parenting a child like this teaches you important things. His presence in my life has shaped who I am — instilling qualities that have extended to my professional life. Certainly, my career on its own has demanded intuition, persistence, creativity and even thick skin. And I do have those things. But I’m talking about the leadership discoveries you can only collect from painful, complicated, challenging experiences: from fear, from hope and from love.
1 | Embracing confrontation results in progress
Avoiding confrontation is one of the biggest marks of an ineffective leader — it transmutes into an unwillingness to make progress, to create healthy debate and to challenge decisions. Over the years, experts of all kinds have said my son can or cannot do something and what should be expected. Sometimes I disagree, other times I question their commitment or approach. Being willing to challenge a person’s opinion forces them to think all the way through their rationale. Many times with my son, it ended in the same place, but occasionally positions were adjusted. Either way, it created progress — either because I was more informed or because we found equal ground. Most importantly, we knew where one another stood. In the workplace, that is worth its weight in gold. Avoiding confrontation in business, and particularly as a leader, means employees end up unsure about their performance. If they aren’t challenged or given constructive feedback, they can fall into a complacency grind. Employer and employee both end up unhappy and in a constant stalemate with progress. And in the worst-case scenario, the wrong person for the job gets in the door and stays there — stifling forward movement and bringing everyone around them along for the ride.
2 | Anger is ephemeral
Most parents will understand that at times it can be nearly impossible to avoid anger. And with my son, who needs three times the prompting and who routinely makes decisions that baffle, battling anger can feel like a full time job. Still, as mad as I can get, it always passes with relative speed. Finding your center and not letting the anger sweep you away is a valuable quality. A deep breath and a small passage of time, and the entire situation feels different — it means there are no un-moderated, overblown reactions to situations. This is a huge lesson for the workplace. An employee or a co-worker could do something to spur on our most primal emotion, like not pulling their weight, making repeated mistakes. Rather than impulsively reacting and instead taking an “anger break” will allow you to clear the haze and focus on healthy, professional and composed responses. It sounds simple, yet a disproportionate number of leaders have this under control.
3 | Challenging convention is for everyone
Not everything should be taken on face value. Challenging convention is necessary to growing business. This is certainly not an unfamiliar concept in an age when creativity and innovation are becoming business-critical qualities (See: Nike, Apple, Kickstarter, Spotify). Still, too few business people understand that this is a workplace practice, not just a big business strength. And it applies to everyone, not just the senior most leaders. If I had chosen to listen and take to heart to some of our son’s early diagnoses, time could have stood still. And he likely wouldn’t be where he is now — a well-adjusted teenager with a real future. Not everyone learns the same way, and finding what non-conventional things worked for him has made all the difference in his opportunity in life. This is a lesson in good business: you can accept that convention is convention or you could challenge it instead and find new ways of doing things that fundamentally shift your outcomes into new, uncharted “white space.”
4 | The mind-body connection is real
We’re a culture of “too busy to squeeze in a 30 minute workout.” It is not just creating an obesity epidemic, it’s creating a stress epidemic. With no physical outlet for stress, our brains suffer. For instance, a Duke University study proved that exercise worked as good if not better then drugs in treating depression. I always suspected that physical activity played a role in focusing my son before homework, so play time was always built into the pre-homework routine. More recently, though, I began introducing running as a more explicit form of exercise. It has proven to be a miracle drug, better than any medicine for settling the mind and making good decisions. It is also a leadership lesson — I do long distance triathlons myself, so I know the value of keeping an exercise regimen. Still, work often takes over. Seeing his response to running is a reminder of the reality of the mind-body connection, and how important it is for business people to make time for physical activity.
5 | Perception really is reality
Most people have no idea when they meet my son that anything is wrong. He’s articulate, charming, funny and engaging. And he has an intelligent perspective about the way the world works. He knows his strengths and his weaknesses and has learned to play his cards to his advantage. This is, in fact, a strength of many successful business people. In a 2007 study conducted by London’s Cass Business School, 35% of US-based entrepreneurs are said to suffer from dyslexia, with the average population being more like 15%. The logic behind why more entrepreneurs have learning disability then the general population makes sense. These people learn to compensate, and it often translates into traits that are the makings of a successful businessperson — delegation, conflict resolution and oral communications. The bottom line is that perception really is reality. If you know what you’re good at, and what you’re bad at, you can play up your strengths and find solutions that complement your weaknesses.
At Midtown Alliance’s event this Thursday, July 25th, we will discuss the business of creativity. While it’s become a hot topic among notably big businesses such as Google and Apple, the concept is spreading. Organizations of all kinds, big and small, are beginning to realize the value of operationalizing creativity. Through this event, which I am helping to produce with Midtown Alliance, we’re hoping to take a little of the mystery out of it, and to create a conversation that gives our members a sense of what it means to be creative in their own businesses. Registration is now closed, but you can still read the interviews!
The following is an interview with one of the event’s three speakers. Heather Alhadeff is the founder of Center Forward, an Atlanta-based business focused on resolving complex land use and multi-modal transportation challenges.
Heather, your company tackles these challenges through effective community involvement. To successfully integrate a collaborative process in the complex projects you tackle means that you do things a little bit differently. We would love to get your take on what role you think creativity has played in your business.
1. Let’s start with a little background on Center Forward. What made you decide to launch your company?
Through both my public and private sector work I am often asked to help with unique issues or complex projects that aren’t being resolved or implemented with traditional methods. The economic downturn has really changed the nature of the Planning, Architecture and Engineering world. The more urban and entailed projects now require a team of different individuals rather than just one large firm. Creative and inter-discipline thinking is more important than ever. Starting my own business means I can focus on providing those niche services at a lower cost, and I get to work on more Atlanta projects. The variety of work and the people I get to work with is phenomenal!
2. You have said that you see creativity in many, less visible aspects of your business — including communication. Can you speak a little to this?
People think of city building as a process of just thinking and implementing efficient systems. However, the business of creating successful and vibrant places today has to do with providing an efficient thing (a building, street, etc.) and creating a better experience.
The process of designing solutions requires one to be an incredible listener of many different styles of communication and interaction. Accents, backgrounds, levels of education, experiences — they all shape the dialogue. Different disciplines talk and think in opposing ways. Talking with an engineer, elected official, and citizen in the same room requires lots of communication dexterity.
Creative visuals are the fundamental way to overcome these varied mindsets and backgrounds. The Planning and Engineering industry, in my opinion, has done a dis-service to our cities and places by providing overly technical, un-readable visuals to the public. The confusion and frustration to the client, decision maker, or the public is often unnecessarily high.
I truly enjoy thinking of creative ways to display, communicate and ask questions. The experience is positive and you can get to resolution much faster. For the projects I work with, it is personally and professionally pleasing to see people’s faces understand and light up about improving the places they move around or live in.
3. What role do you think creativity has in innovation?
Innovation is absolutely only possible with creativity, which is the ability to see familiar things in a new way.
For fun, I took a left brain, right brain test. I wasn’t surprised at all to find that I have a 56-44% split. I see physical objects (buildings, streets, parks, etc.) and think about their purpose and effectiveness as well as the relationship and emotions generated between those things and the observer. People get frustrated with systems (transit, roads, shopping areas, buildings, restaurants, etc.) if maneuvering through it is frustrating. On the other hand, if the experience is efficient but mind numbing, humans react negatively as well. Everything is about ease and pleasantness.
Detroit solved congestion and made an efficient and huge highway and street system. But the design they chose had a huge cost over a long period of time. It sucked out the life or experience of the City, so everyone that could move. That highway system funded the growth of their suburbs at the cost of their beautiful city. Now they are bankrupt and that costs the whole nation.
Fundamental to people are the efficiency and experience. Creativity is ALL about the experience aspect. The cities that are doing well are focused on the experience just as much as providing the service.