“In general, people are not drawn to perfection in others. People are drawn to shared interests, shared problems, and an individual’s life energy. Humans connect with humans.
Hiding one’s humanity and trying to project an image of perfection makes a person vague, slippery, lifeless, and uninteresting.”
“Never go outside the expertise of your people.” It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone.
Saul D. Alinsky
So. The question today is: Is there anything marketing people can learn from a revolutionary?
I thought about this after fishing around for some new ways to talk about leading a business <I get bored with using the same words and thoughts over and over again> and I came across the Saul Alinsky quote ( the second one I used upfront).
It resonated with me because I cannot tell you how many times I have sat in some company “forward thinking strategy” meeting discussing how we would expand the business … stretching not only beyond the existing functional strength of the business but also stepping beyond the existing expertise of the employees <note: I can actually tell you ‘too many times’>. Expanding thoughts are usually cloaked in the infamous “oh, if we can do this, we can certainly do this” statement … or the even more dangerous “we have always figured it out” mantra.
To be clear … progress is always tricky. And leading progress almost even trickier. But, if you want it to be less trickier, ‘feeling secure’ is almost always a great step toward increasing the odds of success.
You can secure this ‘secure feeling’ in a number of ways – some reality based and some emotionally charged ways. And that is where Saul Alinsky comes back into the leadership discussion. He wrote a book called Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals in 1971. He wrote it as a guide to community organization <uniting “Have-Nots”, in order for them to gain social, political, legal, and economic power>. What I loved about the Rules, beyond the rules themselves, was that Alinsky believed, when organized and directed well, the community can determine & achieve its purpose & goal. That thought, to me, is exactly the attitude a leader attempts to create <supporting a vision offered by the leader> within an organization.
What I loved about the Rules is the rules themselves are actually signposts for how to have a company compete in the marketplace.
Let me share the rules and some brief thoughts with the rules. The Rules:
- “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.” Power is derived from 2 main sources – money and people. “Have-Nots” must build power from flesh and blood.
Far too often … despite the fact 99% of businesses unequivocally state “our difference is our people” … a business forgets to actually build their power off of flesh & blood.
Money comes and goes.
Machines and infrastructure does what it does.
But people, flesh & blood, is the true power. It pays, as a leader, to never forget that. Empowering people is the most powerful engine you can ever build.
- “Never go outside the expertise of your people.” It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone.
Every business I have been involved with has had an expertise. Uhm. The difficulty is that far too many leaders & managers wish the organization had a different expertise or they aspire to some other expertise.
I, personally, love the thought of isolating a company expertise, consolidating the inside expertise and using it like a battering ram in terms of progress. People love doing things well and being appreciated for the expertise they have <and not diminished by suggesting they should have another expertise>. Too many businesses make excuses for what they don’t have, or do, and not love what they do have & do.
- “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty.
When I saw this one I almost chuckled. It is so good, so solidly strategically right … and I would guess 95% of businesses never think this way. Oh. They may be happy identifying a “this is what we are better at than they are” and competing with that in their hip pocket … but I struggle to think of any business I have ever been involved with who has sat down and said “let’s go outside their expertise <and consciously accepting they have an expertise.”
Crushing a competitor is always fun but ignoring an opportunity to outflank them is stupid.
- “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules.
Ok. Here is why I loved this one. I loved it because bullshit & hollow rhetoric and promises/claims are strewn throughout the business world. I can guarantee, with 95% certainty, I could pick up any business’s vision & strategy & ‘rules of the road’ binder and find a significant amount of hollow bullshit. What would happen if I consciously attacked one of my competitor’s hollow shit? Make them live up to their own book of rules?
I am chuckling. You would crush them.
You would crush them in two ways:
- External perceptions: everyone knows almost all businesses make hollow promises but get aggravated when it becomes too obvious that the promise really is hollow.
- Internal perceptions: almost every employee simply accepts that some of the company rhetoric is bullshit but they accept it because it doesn’t really affect them. But if the hollow rhetoric becomes obvious AND a pain in the ass … discontent grows. Bitching at the water cooler increases.
This is an awesome competitive leadership thought.
- “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.
I admit. Ridiculing your competition is fraught with peril. However … having some swagger and vocalizing your swagger is … well … infuriating to some competition. It puts pressure on them. Ridiculing, specifically, what a competitor believes is their most potent weapon will … well … infuriate them.
Pick your path wisely but there is absolutely nothing wrong with swagger, infuriating your competition and putting some pressure on them.
- “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones.
Far too often some strategic guru envisions some tactic that will be smashingly successful and then attempt to imbue some excitement within the people who will actually do it. Imbuing excitement is like trying to convince me I will love Brussels Sprouts the next time I eat them <I hate Brussels Sprouts>. Excitement comes from within someone not thru “imbuing” or external encouragement. I think the best strategic thinkers find tactics that people enjoy AND can be smashingly successful. Unfortunately this is harder than you would think. But nothing really good is easy.
- “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.” Don’t become old news.
Amen. A lesson we forget every day <and should not>.
- “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.” Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance. As the opposition masters one approach, hit them from the flank with something new.
Tactical adaptation is possibly one of the most underrated strategic decisions a business can make. While we talk a good game on this in today’s ‘digital world’ the truth is that most of us chase numbers more than we think about outflanking and expertise advantages. That is kind of the bane of the ‘big data’ world.
Numbers are good in judging things but, in the end, people & behavior are not numbers and no matter how good a tactic may appear in a number it can always be replaced.
- “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.” Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist.
I am not an empty threat guy, however, ‘power is what the competition thinks you have.’ My point here is not to make shit up and offer empty threats but rather the more you can make a competitor think, and worry, about the wrongs things the better off you are. Stoke their imagination. Make them have high falutin’ meetings pondering “what if” scenarios.
I wouldn’t do this to replace any of the other rules … but in combination? Whew. This is good stuff.
- “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.” It is this unceasing pressure that results in the reactions from the opposition that are essential for the success of the campaign.
Sometimes in today’s business world we treat tactics like spaghetti we throw against the wall and hope something sticks. I am not suggesting a business should invest gobs of energy developing operations to maintain constant pressure in INDIVIDUAL tactics but I am suggesting that strategic tactics tend to coalesce and operations can be developed to support them. Agility is the big buzzword these days but it shouldn’t come at the expense of having a ground game which constantly grinds against the competition.
I imagine the real point here is hollow tactics may generate some numbers for you but they don’t really make any dent into the competition <which, inevitably, is the key to leading an industry>.
- “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.” Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog.
I love this thought because, let’s be honest, we have become a mamby pamby business world. What I mean by that is at the first glimpse of any significant negativity we tend to retreat or retrench. Pushing through a negative is not standard operating procedure in a business today. Shit. Using a perceived vulnerability as a strength is almost non existent.
Let me be clear on this one.
If you do Rule #5 well, you will infuriate your competition. An infuriated competitor reacts <usually with some desire to inflict some negative pain> — they will violently react. If you stay the course, maintain your expertise, well … you can push through and own a positive.
More businesses need to remember this.
- “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.” Never let the enemy score points because you’re caught without a solution to the problem.
I call this “consolidating a win.”
I cannot tell you how many times <but far too many> I have seen a business “lose after winning.” It is maddening, depressing & demoralizing … and completely avoidable. Far too many businesses chase the success assuming they will be able to take a breath and take advantage of the success in a relatively timely fashion.
This is where ideas die.
In the take-a-breath moment.
This happens for a bunch of well-intended reasons … the most likely one is everyone invests their energy on the attack and a successful attack rather than diverting any energy & time to “what do we do when we are successful” other than maybe a framework of ‘what will happen.’ Unfortunately … frameworks do not consolidate.
The solution to this is so obvious I scratch my head as to why more businesses do not do it. Businesses always have two basic levels … the outside structure and the inside structure. The outside is the face of the organization and most typically is the one that pushes through and creates the ‘wins.’ The inside operations gets shit done … I have always had an ‘inside operations team’ well briefed and ready to go and insert them into the breach as soon as the win has occurred and have the ‘fresh team’ consolidate.
I could write an entire ‘consolidation strategy’ piece but suffice it to say your business gains value in a number of dimensions by doing it this way.
The larger point with this Rule is ‘don’t lose a win by not having a plan for when you win.’
- “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.
Well. Let me share the thought that first hit me on this … “a brand is a promise delivered in the store everyday” <this was The Limited’s phrase>. The point is that a business doesn’t exist if it doesn’t deliver upon what it promises.
That said … this is an important rule. As in a REALLY important rule that I bet 99% of companies do not even think about let alone adhere to. Most businesses target another competitor’s users & customers and go about trying to steal them <persuade them to switch>.
What about instead we attacked the company, the support network … the “promise” as it were … and make the people who actually deliver the promise start doubting, or start feeling less than secure, or just “less good about their brand & promise”? If we did this, we create a gap, isolate as it were, between what the customer thought they wanted and what they perceive they are getting or would get.
I love this rule. I admit I had never thought about it this way before … but from here on out it is part of my leadership toolkit.
Those are some good rules for business.
But you know what?
It all comes back to the first Rule and my first quote.
Flesh & blood is the real power in any business and people are drawn to shared interests, shared problems, and an individual’s life energy. Humans connect with humans.
Honestly … I don’t think most leaders ignore the fact the people in their organizations are important, but I think we don’t elevate them to ‘flesh & blood is the power’ status.
And that is where the Rules come in.
Inherent to each rule, and the success therein, resides with the flesh & blood.
That is the most pragmatic of the pragmatic reminders for radicals leading a business.