Enlightened Conflict

fluff and fold (aesthetics and value)

May 24th, 2016

trust just fluffy duck



“Aesthetics is the shop window, ultimately, if there’s nothing in that shop, it has no longevity, do you know what I mean?”




Geri Halliwell








Of all people in the world I never thought I would read ex-Spice Girl Geri Halliwell <Ginger Spice?> saying something relevant to business … and actually use it to write something.


Anyone who has ever worked with me has heard me use the “fluff and fold” reference.


Fluff is the aesthetics.


Fold is the value.


Fluff is puffery.


Fold is the substance.




We like the aesthetics. Maybe even love it, adore it and bond with it.

But without the fold … the value and functionality … we end up disappointed in the aesthetics … and will inevitably move on to the next thing to adore.


And while I have never articulated this thought like Geri did I have tried to say it over and over … and over again in meeting after meeting after … well … meeting.


I do know it is one of the most consistent discussions in business positioning, selling and marketing. and it will continue to do so because there is a natural tension between “fluffers” and “folders.”


While the most strident of each wish it would be 100% at the exclusion of their kindred enemy … most of fall into a natural 80/20 versus 20/80 Pareto rule.


A fluffer understands that substance is necessary … just maybe as a period at the end of the interesting fluff.


And the folder grudgingly accepts that aesthetics are necessary … just maybe as a “once upon a time” entrée to the main story of substance.


It really doesn’t matter which side you fall on in this discussion the debate revolves around the same issues time and time again:pooh full of fluff


  • If they are not interested <sometimes confused with ‘entertained’> they will not pay attention


  • Everybody is stressed for time and if you don’t engage them in the first 10 seconds you have lost them <hyperbole statement at best>


  • People are tired of bullshit and just want you to cut to the chase <flawed logic because this assumes substance sell itself>


But regardless of how often all of us fall into this tired argument … here is where most trains go off the tracks.


Suffice it to say … businesses get mesmerized by aesthetics.


If I hear one more quote about “first impressions count” or “they have to like you before they can enter into a brand dialogue” or … well … any of the semi-intellectual strategic crap that flippantly gets tossed around like the newest office toy sitting on the conference room table … I will puke.


In the simplistic dialogues that take place you inevitably find people debating what is more important when it isn’t a matter of importance … it is a matter of balance.


And, yet, while I sense we all know that balance is the answer we seem to consistently slide down the slippery slope of fluff under the guise of “the substance is complex and we need to simplify!”




Everyone wants ‘the one thing.’


Everyone wants ‘the formula.’

election they are all nuts vote



That is what I say to that.




Substance is substance. I am not suggesting you have to serve it up in some complex unpalatable way but … well … substance, more often than not, is not simple. And if we try and simplify substance too much, uh oh, it becomes … uhm … fluff.


In the end.


You cannot just have fluff.


You cannot just have fold.


You have to have both in some form or fashion.


And more often than not there is no formula … but … I have to tell ya … if you can balance your fluff and fold in a quasi-50/50 split <maybe 40% fluff & 60% fold> you have a very good chance of delivering relevant information in a palatable way.


Oh. That word may get me in trouble … “palatable.




I am clearly in the substance <fold> camp.

While I enjoy the fluff I find that it maddeningly takes up an excessive amount of energy and focus away from fluff and fold colorsubstance <fold> which is inevitably what represents the effectiveness of whatever idea you are sharing.


But I have also learned, and have the scars to show, that ideas … even great bigly ideas … do not explain themselves, do not sell themselves and are often not attractive in their black & whiteness. And I have learned that, while starkness has its time & place businesses <and people in general> engage with things that have a more rich & royal hue.


I imagine all us business folk should remember the famous words of that ex-Spice Girl Geri:


Aesthetics matter … but … if there is nothing in that shop … well … there is no longevity … is there?




Appreciate for what it is (business)

May 17th, 2016


pick up ideas business appreciate for


I saw this quote on some tumblr site and … well … I thought about business and learning from the past.



Business loves … no … frickin’ adores past business success stories & experiences. They fondle, caress and shower with adoration ideas shared in business books and successes as reflected in some case study.




I admit.


I am not a huge business book guy and I rarely read them. I tend to find them simplistic tripe as well as … well … as an ex advertising agency account guy I got sick of having my clients read some new book and start chasing the new “marketing crap du jour.”


But, in general, I have a general philosophy about business ideas from books and past experience and … well … using an existing idea or case study in business … it is like picking a flower.




It looks great. It smells frickin’ wonderful. And if you water it you can keep it alive for quite some time.



“Time” being maybe a week.


valentines day dead flowersBut it dies.


It wilts and then it dies.



And all you are stuck with is a nice vase, some quickly clouding nasty water … and the memories of a beautiful flower <which died in your hands>.


To be clear.


I will never ever suggest someone should not read. I will never suggest someone shouldn’t try and learn something. I will never suggest that listening to smart people discuss smart ideas has no value. I will never suggest looking at past successes.


But I will suggest that all of those things inform decisions they do not make decisions.


I cannot pluck a flower from somewhere and grow it ‘here.’


I am consistent.


Ideas and successes are contextual to a time, place and people <add in whatever other dimensions you would like … the longer the list the better the point I am making>.


The success was within a distinct moment in time.


And, please, please don’t tell me that an old success idea/process/formula will recreate some ‘white space’ for your business.


True ‘white space’ is … well … trying to find the eye of a needle … on a ship in the middle of an ocean during a hurricane.


In other words. Good luck.




Yeah. Sure. I look at the past and what a business did and what worked and what didn’t work. Anyone worth a shit in business does that.

But, you know what? I look at both what worked and what DIDN’T work … and I have found that you can steal something from everything and reconfigure all your learning <adding in some new ingredients> and you can create your own recipe for success … in this time and place and context.


I do wish more business people thought of past success, wherever they find them, as flowers which will die if you pick it to use.




People will give me exceptions … but exceptions do not reflect the rule. But that would be too hard. Most business people want to replicate and not create and most business people view past business success as ‘a rule we should follow’ flower for you<and not ‘an exception’>.




I am leaving the flowers where they are blooming or have bloomed. They look great there.


I am growing my own frickin’ flowers.


a non formula business world

March 23rd, 2016

 escape the ordinary business order non formula




“You cannot use someone else’s fire; you can only use your own.

And in order to do that, you must first be willing to believe you have it.”



Audre Lorde




“There is always an easy solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.”




H. L. Mencken








This could be about either business or Life … but let me stick with business for today.


I have worked within so many industries and seen so many different businesses I can’t really keep them all straight.

formula confused none

And maybe because of that breadth of experience I have realized that there is no formula for success that is easily transferable.

What this means in a practical sense is that I don’t have a formula to offer when I walk into a new business <because I would have to have dozens and my brain doesn’t work that way>.


Yet, everyone, every business, seeks a formula for success. This can be frustrating <for the business and for me>.


And they do this despite the fact they know in their heart of hearts that most business situations are contextual and dipping into some past developed formula more likely than not is simply not going to replicate whatever had happened in the past that made the formula look so appealing.


And, yet, again and again … businesses seek some elusive formula to apply to their business – to start it, to make it more efficient or even on how to plan tactics.


Here is what I know from having walked through hundreds of business front doors.


Business seems to demand order from its thinkers, doers and leaders.


Think about it.


Inevitably no matter what conversation you are having … innovation, ideation, process, production or even organizational culture you will find yourself mired in some aspect of ‘order.’


And we wonder why there is so much angst and conflict in business? That is your explanation. The world is not a naturally orderly place and yet we constantly seek to put it in order.


Day in and day out almost everything a business does is about finding some order in a world that demands non order like thinking.

order chaos consistent hugh

This is a crazy, sometimes stupefying, discussion of a desire for a winning formula … and a refusal to follow a formula at exactly the same time.


I cannot tell you how many times I have been pressed by a business to show proof that an idea, or something, has worked in the past … only to have another past ‘formula’ be rejected as ‘not relevant for us.’


Frankly, the inconsistency with regard to using something in the past is maybe the most consistent discussion I have in business.





There are certainly some guiding principles that can help insure, or limit, your stupidity moving forward … but formulas don’t exist.


And what constantly still catches me a little off guard when formulas are being requested <or some derivative of a formula> is that we all know each business, each business situation and each organization is at minimum slightly unique.

Every relatively smart & experienced business person knows this.


Therefore a past formula runs the risk of trying to put a square peg into a round hole.




But then we inevitably slide into the infamous discussion of “let’s just use the parts that apply to us & our situation.”


This is another ‘formula but not-formula’ head scratcher.


Most past successes are a confluence of factors intertwined into some uniquely messy tangled ball of string. It looks messy <albeit far too many business consultants portray it as simple, or linear, or anything but tangled as they

entanglement of nuances

straighten the string out to show a flawed construct> and it is … well … messy.


Therefore trying to pull it apart and using one aspect as a “successful foundation for our future success” <see: “formula”> is flawed logic.


There are rarely, very rarely, neat & plausible solutions to what a business faces in the here & now. If you are shown a ‘formula for success’ and it looks neat and it seem plausible … it is most likely wrong.


What I am now going to say is going to sound painfully inefficient.


A business has to create its own way of doing things. It has to create its own formula.

It can certainly contain some aspects of things that have been done in the past but those are simply ingredients from which you will build your own formula.


And, to be clear, if you start bolting together different formulas to create a successful business … you are simply creating a Frankenstein which the village people are going to end up killing with simple pitchforks & torches.


Your business formula for success will have to be yours.


And, yes, you do need some type of formula. Business does demand some order.

Without it there is only chaos.



‘Borrowing’ order <see: “formulas”> seems like a nifty short cut to minimizing risk as well as creating a foundation on which to build upon.


Unfortunately, it is often not that simple for a couple of reasons.


<1> Rigidity. Using someone else’s formula is like inserting an immovable part. It is a rigid component inflexible to any organizational adaptations … or external adaptations. Customize the formula and you run the likely risk that it fails <because a successful formula is a formula for a specific need>. Leave the formula rigid and you run the likely risk the organization loses some flexibility to respond to external circumstances.


<2> External adaptations. Because the business environment in which a business competes in is a fairly unorderly world and order constantly chafes with disorder. Formulas in today’s business world look significantly different than formulas of the past in that the past had more rigid aspects and the present has more fluidity.




I would like to note that last point as possibly the biggest struggle a business leader has in managing a business – getting comfortable with the constant chafing and recognizing when it is no longer simple chafing and instead a real open wound.



In the end.


Let me end where I began … you cannot use someone else’s fire; you can only use your own. And in order to do that, you must first be willing to believe you have it.


Most businesses have their successful formula already in hand. More often than not they don’t need to look elsewhere for a formula. They just cannot see it yet … they cannot see they have their own fire.formula success steps


That’s what I do.

Painfully, but what I do. Make them see their fire and believe in it.


It comes down to assessing the ingredients that reside in the business owner’s mind, in the business culture and what the organization itself is capable of … and building that fire.


And even then … rarely is there some simple formula which becomes their elixir for success. It becomes almost like the core molecule on which additional molecules can be attached or removed as the business organism interacts with that wacky disorderly business environment.


Success in business is never easy. It only looks easy when looking at someone else from afar or looking to the past.


While businesses demand order the business environment conducts itself in a less than orderly fashion. That sentence right there explains why there is no formula for success and that we have a non-formula world.

Enlightened Conflict