“I feel like I’ve swallowed a cloudy sky.”
Ok. I am a principles person. By that I mean I believe, and have found, that most business principles have a timeless quality to them. The majority of the best of the best principles offer solid fundamentals.
That said. I cannot tell you how many times I have sat in a business meeting, often with very smart business people, and someone pulls out <verbally> some marketing, or any business process/idea/way-to-think from over a decade ago as if it represents a principle rather than a process <which is implementation OF a principle>.
As I sit there and listen, well, I feel like I have swallowed a cloudy sky.
<note: it feels a little uncomfortable>
It’s not that the old principle is wrong it has just been improved upon from an implementation aspect.
My whole issue in this situation is a version of unlearning.
Anyway. By a ‘version’ I imagine I am thinking it is maybe more unbundling and shedding some of the outdated features and learning some of the newer features rather than simply unlearning something.
I fully understand that most business people are under constant pressure to learn more and to learn quickly and to mostly focus on the shit that is most important to them. Therefore, they will also tend to absorb one of their ‘non expertise competencies’ in the most simple sensible fashion possible.
The future belongs to the people who can unlearn stuff faster than the rest WHILE leaning into the timeless principles.
In other words. The ability to apply principles in new contexts.
I know I didn’t say ‘adapt’ or anything except ‘unlearn shit.’ I did that because it is almost impossible to learn something new until you have created some mental space by letting go of something else.
** note: it is a skill to know what to let go and what to hold on to.
So I am suggesting you cannot do that <adapt> unless you learn how to do this <unlearn>. You either learn to unlearn quicker, on everything that reflects context, not just your core competency or … well … you will either be too slow <because that one part is like dragging algae on the bottom of a sailboat> or you will fail <because even that one part can blow up the entire engine>.
What I am suggesting is hard.
Because, as I noted earlier, discerning between principles and implementation of principles is often difficult to discern let alone explain in combination with the fact this will sometimes means letting go of something that has worked really well for you for a long time.
Now. To be clear.
I do not think that just because something is an ‘older idea’ that it is not usable. In fact I believe we have shed more good thinking under the guise of some bullshit ‘pop business culture’ soundbite type thinking than is good for us. But there are aspects of old thinking & ideas that can be updated.
I don’t suggest this simply or flippantly. I do so because I see the value of new thinking, but from a more practical aspect – the business world has changed in some dynamics that should make us not simply reapply a slightly tired business thinking ideas.
Once again. This is all hard. Really hard. It gets harder because the business world is demanding us to ‘think new faster.’ Most simply this has created the perception business life has become even more fragile than ever before which increases the stress upon us to do things faster (which encourages is to reapply past ideas & thinking that may have worked).
The perception is buttressed up by some contectual facts. A Yale professor noted the average lifespan of a company listed in the S&P 500 index of leading US companies has decreased by more than 50 years in the last century. <67 years in 1920s to 15 years today>. I’d also not in 2020 around ¾ of the S&P 500 are companies that either did not exist in 2010 or were below the awareness radar.
So how do principles stand the test of time. Well. Relevance is the name of the game. Which means context matters and adaptability addresses the most basic business truth that much of what used to work will not work now and what works today will most likely not work in the near future.
Old business models and old business thinking has been shaken to the core which has two obvisous consequences:
fundamental principles are mistakenly tossed away as outdoated (a mistake)
new (loudly spoken) ideas are confused with real principled thinking (a mistake)
This is not just because of ‘old people.’ This is thinking survival. You store away thoughts in your head and prioritize what you just use, and reuse, and what you unlearn and what you learn anew.
Look. I know I still hear people quote ‘good to great’ tripe <when I wish more people would pull out Covey’s ‘Habits of’ instead> so I know we get confused on what to hold on to and what to let go of.
I know I was just in a meeting where an incredibly smart person discussed the traditional purchase funnel <see image to left> and he was kind enough to chuckle when I pointed out that model type thinking had solid aspects, but there were significantly newer models which reflect the dynamics of today’s word better.
I guess I need to remind myself a couple things:
- I live, eat & breathe new thinking and new ways of doing things.
- Most people do not.
This doesn’t mean I am better than anyone, it is just that I am always seeking the ‘right way to think in a particular situation’ rather than ‘best practice for all.’ And I am involved with such a wide variety of industries and business and business people that ‘one way does not fit all’ and context, or contextually applying principled thinking, can often make a principle look not like a principle, but rather look like a new idea.
Today’s business world is all about living in a non-stagnant world. Business has always been restless … it just seems more restless.
Stay still and get run over.
Or as John Maynard Keynes said:
“The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping the old ones”
We are all creatures of habit and custom ingrained by decades of repetition.
In addition. Smart people have a tendency to hold on to sensible smart ideas.
Escaping old ideas is hard.
REALLY hard <especially if they were good>. And sometimes seems counterintuitive to let go because “I found something that works and I want to maintain it as long as I can.’
Uhm. Now hear the sound of your business getting crushed.
All that said.
What made me start writing this post?
An old friend of mine wrote the following words on his linkedin site and I liked them <albeit I did find a typo … to his chagrin>. It is about branding and advertising … but the concept behind the words ring true thru any business category:
I want to encourage our industry to evolve beyond the tired branding principles that haven’t changed since Oglivy made his bones over 30-years ago.
If you find yourself baffled by double-speak and special language that only brand experts seem to understand, trust your instincts and find a firm who is fast and whose counsel makes rational sense.
A client told me about his experience with one of the agencies in his stable:
“… it’s like talking to the Mandarins that keep all commoners from the Forbidden Palace … I don’t speak their language … the process takes too long … and I have other things to do ….”
Getting to the Forbidden Palace of Brand shouldn’t take three months and war chest of fees that would be better off in working media.
This, I know, will upset an industry cobbled together on pre-recession consulting contracts just to come up with a snappy line, color palette, and logo.
If you find yourself sitting in yet another meeting where somebody poses the question: “But who are we really, and who do we want to be when we grow up?”
You can shape your brand in less than four weeks. You and your company knows who they are and your consumers know who you are. The faster you come to leverage points and missed opportunities, the faster your retail or sales organization can get back to doing what they do best — SELLING.
You need to unleash a burlap sack of caffeinated ferrets into your marketing world to get things done, excite your organization, and make sales happen.
That’s where I come in … head caffeinated ferret at your service.
Mandarins need not apply.
Look. I know it is difficult to stay in touch with the newest best thinking. I also know it is difficult to stay in touch with the principles. I even know it is difficult to discern what is good new thinking and what is shitty useless new thinking.
But it is what it is.
Thinking with fresh legs will pass tired thinking any day.
All I know is that, personally, every time I hear someone speak tired business thinking I feel like I have swallowed a cloudy sky – its pretty but useless. I do believe the business world does need to reenege with some of the timeless principles but at the same time i believe the business world need to reinvigorate those principles within a contextually dynamic world.
Maybe I am also suggesting we need to begin teaching some classes on the differences between principles and ideas. Ponder.