The Founder of Accidental Creative Shares Common Pitfalls Marketing and Leaders Encounter and How to Avoid Them to Create Your Best Work.
“Hi my name is John, my job description is: Whatever it takes.”
“Hello, my name is Sue, my job description is: Yeah I do that, too.”
Does this sound like you?
Industrial marketers are problem solvers. We find creative ways to make our seemingly dull industry interesting and fun. We come up with unique ideas to make our industrial valves stand out from the hundreds of other valve manufacturers across the country. Oh, and we do social media, emails, events, trade shows, support our sales team, PPC ads, paper ads, magazines, press releases…
Industrial marketers do all of it, but perhaps not all of it really, really well. Todd Henry wants to fix that.
Get Out of Your Creative Rut and Be a Better Leader
At the Industrial Marketing Summit on September 6, 2019, New York Times best-selling author Todd Henry laid out several pitfalls that prevent leaders and industrial marketers from creating their best work and how to avoid settling for mediocre work.
“Mediocrity doesn’t just it happen… it’s chosen over time in little decisions that we make,” says Henry. “The reality is, there are a number of pitfalls that live between [mediocrity and our best work] that we have to be aware of, especially if we are in charge of leading and managing other people.”
Take a minute to reflect on you – how you approach your work, leadership, and clients. Where are you investing your time, effort and assets?
Do you feel stuck creating mediocre work?
Henry encouraged the crowd of industrial marketers to look inward for an hour and to ask these questions of themselves and their teams. He also presented challenges and solutions to getting unstuck from these common pitfalls and to get back to creating brilliant work.
To create brilliant work, Henry says, requires the discipline of bravery. He says leaders and marketers must practice the discipline of bravery to avoid what he calls the “seven deadly sins”.
Pitfall #1: Aimlessness
“There is little gratification that comes from work that’s not sourced in intent and purpose. As human beings we are wired to derive a sense of meaning, of identity, of purpose from the value of creative work that we do. And, when that work is decoupled from a deeper sense of why we’re doing the work, even success can feel hollow,” says Henry.
He’s talking about aimlessness – specifically, aimlessness in your company or team. This purposeless way of working can often lead the best teams to poor results.
“You can easily succeed our way into failure if your daily activity isn’t tied into something deeper, a deeper meaning, a deeper purpose – something that is guiding your decision-making, something that is guiding the choices that you make as you are serving the people you are aspiring to serve,” he adds.
So what does aimlessness look like?
It looks like this magic trick Henry performed on stage. Only two people really failed the first part of the magic trick, but how many in the room didn’t realize that the four final cards Henry revealed were four completely different cards than the original five?
This is aimlessness at work. You can get so caught-up in your one objective that you miss the bigger picture.
When we stop asking, “Why are we doing this?” we can easily slip into failure, even when we succeed at the job at hand.
“We become so fixated on doing the things we’ve been tasked with doing, we stop asking, ‘Why am I doing this?’ which is why we can easily succeed our way into failure if our work and our strategies and our organization principles aren’t tied into something deeper.”
To combat this, Henry suggest we take a bold point of view, or a position, on how we work and our why.
“In the face of uncertainty, we have to have a point of view. We have to have something that is driving our work and decision-making, and we have to be able to tie every decision we make back to that point of view.”
Henry calls this a productive passion.
Henry defines this as the thing you are willing to spend yourself on behalf of – the thing you care so much about that you’re willing to suffer to see it happen because the outcome matters more to you than your temporary suffering.
Curtis Martin – an NFL Hall of Fame running back – didn’t like playing football. BUT, he was talented and had the opportunity to play it to go to college on a scholarship and then the NFL for the New England Patriots. Football became the platform for his productive passion – to help families and mothers like his own get help and support when they need it most.
Curtis Martin was willing to suffer a little – to play a game he didn’t love as his career – to see his productive passion through.
Henry suggests people consider the notables – key moments in your life when you start to discover your productive passion:
- What angers you?
- What makes you cry?
- What gives you hope?
Use these notables to define your battles and determine your company’s battle lines. What outcome are you truly committed to? What does your company believe that others think your crazy for? What are you not willing to do to win a customer? What’s your company’s mission statement?
Pitfall #2: Boredom
“We are living in a world that Linda Stone has coined, ‘continuous partial attention’. I’m always kind of here, but I’m kind of somewhere else at the same time.”
This isn’t how the best world gets done, argues Henry. Yet, these “pings” (I should check my email right now. I should check Twitter right now.) have trained us to believe that something out there might be more important that what is right in front of us.
How often do these pings interrupt our daily work?
How much impact do they have?
If you glance at your email or get distracted every 5 minutes at work, you will have checked your email 24,000 times over the course of one year. If it takes you 10 seconds to regain your focus (a conservative number), you waste 66.6 hours a year doing nothing.
Dealing with the noise
There is a lot of meaningless noise in our world today that fuels our pings. Our challenge is not only to squash the pings but also to turn noise into something meaningful. Here is Henry’s pathway to turning noise into meaning:
noise → data → information → knowledge → understanding → wisdom.
“Noise becomes data when it achieves a cognitive pattern… but data itself is not very useful. Data becomes information when it’s combined with other data in a way that actually gives us some bit of information we can act upon. Information becomes knowledge when combined with other information in a way that allows us to act meaningfully. Knowledge becomes understanding when knowledge combines with other knowledge in a way that allows us to predict where we should go and the decisions we should make… Understanding becomes wisdom when guided by purpose, by principles, by ethics.”
“Understanding is, ‘What can we do?’ Wisdom is, ‘What should we do?’” Henry adds.
What does it take to turn noise into wisdom?
It takes focus, dedicated time to think and synthesis, and curiosity. Henry says marketers and leaders must train themselves to think deeply about the issues and to make dedicated time to doing this, or “filling your well”. This dedicated time for deep thought is essential to coming up with those brilliant ideas, to turning noise into wisdom, and to connecting the dots.
“Leaders are the chief dot connectors… If you’re not inspired, you cannot inspire others,” says Henry. “If you’re a marketer and you’re not inspired, do you think your customers will be inspired? Absolutely not.”
Henry offers up some tips to help marketers do this:
- Be unreachable (sometimes).
- Ask inconvenient questions.
- Find time to feed your curiosity.
Pitfall #3: Comfort
Comfort is when we begin to settle in. There are many people who believe that comfort is the goal of life, but Henry thinks about comfort differently:
“The love of comfort is often the enemy of greatness,” says Henry.
“You cannot pursue comfort and great work at the same time – you can’t!” he adds. “You can experience comfort, but you cannot chase comfort.”
To avoid slipping into the pursuit of comfort, Henry tells leaders to embrace growth and innovation, particularly personal growth. Employees new and old can find ways to both grow personally through discomfort and to be innovative and stretch the boundaries at work. Henry illustrates this as a growth curve – a process for teams and individuals to experience growth and to continue to pursue growth.
The Growth Chart
This chart is also representative of how people learn new skills. The first step is discovery: you’ve identified a new skill that you want to learn or direction you want to go.
To develop your skills, you must move on to the emulation phase – when you find someone who is doing that skill well, and you copy them. To really grow and add unique value, you must move on from that phase into the divergence phase.
“This is the phase where you become known for something. This is what makes us different,” says Henry.
Divergence is when you begin to apply your own perspective, productive passion, unique skills and experiences to the marketplace. This is where a lot of organization and individuals become main contributors and build a name for themselves.
The critical phase is what Henry calls the crisis phase.
“Crisis phase is when you’re still doing all the things you’ve done, everything is fine… but inside you know that you’re stuck. It still may be working for everybody else, but you know you’ve stopped growing,” says Henry.
This leads to a critical decision: go back to the beginning and start a new growth curve (try something different) or start down the backside of the curve, stuck in mediocrity.
So, where are you in this process? Where is your team?
What new skill would re-invigorate you?
Find that, and then just do it, Henry advises.
Pitfall #4: Fear
“Fear is when the perceived consequences of failure outweigh the perceived benefits of success,” says Henry.
When we feel fear at work (or in life), we don’t think to take strategic risks. Our perspective fuels our fear of failure in the workplace, notably our perceived outcome of the failure, even when the skills acquired to do the task are achievable. We can walk across a wooden plank on the ground and 100 ft. in the air – both tasks require the same set of skills – but the perceived consequences of failure are very different. This is how fear can be a pitfall on our pathway to creating excellent work.
Henry points out an important issue in these scenarios: Many of us are artificially escalating the perceived consequences of failure at work. Fear can also be the smell of opportunity. We know we need to start a new growth curve, but we are afraid of failing at the new skill or project.
“We tell ourselves stories about what will happen if we fail, and as a result, it paralyzes us… or we do sub-par work,” says Henry.
Once you begin to confront the reality of the situation, you can dispel the fear. Henry suggest leaders to discuss true risk to dispel perceived risk with their teams. Teammates might be artificially escalating consequences of failure, which can inhibit the potential of their work.
Start to think of fear in a different way.
To conclude – Why does it matter?
The remaining “seven deadly sin” are delusion, ego and guardedness, which you can read more about in Henry’s book, Die Empty. But why does it matter? Why is it important for leaders to consider these potential pitfalls and to take action against them?
Henry says it is all about finding your sweet spot – as an individual and as a team.
“You can accomplish more for the same amount of effort if you’re operating in your sweet spot, but many people and team never discover it… because they slip into mediocrity,” says Henry.
Never stop learning, growing, evolving, and adapting as a business.
Never stop as a leader – or as an employee.
Never stop for yourself.
Check out the Industrial Marketing Summit 2019 page to recap the whole event and watch the videos of the other speaker presentations.