May 26, 2014
When I ask a room of Brand Leaders “do you think fast or think slow?” what do you think the prevailing answer would be. Like them, your immediate answer would be they think fast. There’s a bias in marketing that we are supposed to think fast, so it’s only natural to say “yes, I’m a fast thinker”. We even have a cultural bias to believe that fast thinkers get ahead in life, and slow ones fall behind. From the 2011 book by Daniel Kahneman “Thinking, Fast and Slow” he talks about the two different ways that the brain forms thoughts:
- Fast Thinkers: instinctual, automatic, emotional, stereotypic, subconscious
- Slow Thinkers: logical, deeper thinking, effortful, logical, calculating, conscious
We all do a bit of both fast and slow, but we each have a natural disposition for one lead style. I’ve seen enough Myers Briggs results to realize that ENTJ (Extraversion, iNtuition, Thinking, Judgment) is the prevailing result for Brand Leaders. And if you are ENTJ, it likely means you’re a slow logical thinker, but a quick decision maker. Even though you are willing to voice your opinion quickly, you should really be taking the time to think things through. When you try to go too fast, you’re not at your best. As a Brand Leader, you’re also likely surrounded by fast thinkers (from your ad agency, sales colleagues, R&D people and even your boss looking for a decision) and that puts you into a choice: do you speed up for them or do you slow them down?
Are you a Strategic Thinker?
Of course you’ll say yes, but are you really? Everyone has it on their LinkedIn profile. But not everyone in marketing is strategic. From what I’ve seen, most are tactical executors, not deep conceptual thinkers.
Strategic Thinkers see questions before they see solutions. They map out a range of “what if” decision trees that intersect and connect by imagining how events will play out. They reflect and plan before they act. They are thinkers and planners who can see connections. They use knowledge and judgment about the long-term health and wealth of the brand. I’m a strategic person, and pathetic at trivia questions but can stay up all night debating concepts of politics, religion and of course Marketing.
Non-Strategic Thinker see answers before they see questions. They get to answers quickly, and will get frustrated in delays. They opt for action over thinking, believing that doing something is better than doing nothing. They are impulsive and doers who see tasks. They can be frustrated by strategic thinkers. They use instincts and driven about the short-term health and sales of the brand.
The Best Brand Leaders balance strategy and execution
If you think too much, you’re dead. You might miss an opportunity. Or worse yet, you might over think it. So the simple advice is don’t go too fast, but don’t go too slowly. You are running a live business, not some a Socrates major laying on the grass of a University.
There are three main areas of conflict for strategic thinkers: Action, Sales Team and your Agencies.
- Your brand in is in a live market so there is a propensity for Action. We are faced with a problem and so everyone immediately turns to you and asks “what is your solution?” Never be that Ready, Fire Aim type of leader.But your action must have the proper focus, so that you are not just spreading your resources (investment, people and time) randomly, but rather well thought against what will provide the biggest return. As the Brand Leader, you can’t just react to everything, take your time and think things through.
- Strategic thinkers can have a conflict with Sales people. Sales people are no less strategic, but they place ahigher value in relationship than many marketers. In fact, they may be strategizing about their relationship with Wal-Mart instead of your individual brand. They have to work within the needs and opinions of their buyers and balance the shorter term risk with the longer term strategic gains. Many Sales Leaders focus on the next six months, while Brand Leaders focus on six months and beyond. Sitting down with sales people and finding the middle ground will find a mutual benefit to both. Most marketers believe that everything is relatively negotiable, while most sales people see everything as negotiated.
- Brand Leaders have a conflict with agencies. Agencies tend to be more emotional than Brand Leaders and value pride in their work, more than the brand leader—Agency people want to make work they can be show off. Not only do they show it off for pride, they show it off for more business. Also, agencies are filled with fast thinkers, who value instincts and feelings ahead of pure logic. When I ask Brand Leaders “how liked are you by your agency” they find it an odd question because you feel you are paying them so you should get good service and they should be courting you. Here’s a secret I learned mid way through my career: the more emotionally engaged you are with your agency, the better the work will be. Yes, you can replace your current agency, but you’ll just run into it again with your next agency. You should want to be one of your agency’s favorite brands to work on.
The best athletes in team sports have an ability to slow the game down. Larry Bird in basketball, Joe Montana in Football or Wayne Gretzky in hockey were never the most gifted athletes in their sport, but were given extra time and space by those defending them because they slowed the game down and then made quick decisions. They were playing Chess while everyone was playing Checkers. You need to find a way to slow the game down, so that you can make quick decisions.
Slow it Down so you can move faster
When we are in a heated debate with our teenage kids, it’s natural to say something inflammatory to make a point. And I find myself saying “did that comment make this go faster or take longer?” Considering now that my kids are debating my inflammatory comment, I know it took longer. If only in that moment, I could think things through slower, then it would go faster. But my only solution to teenagers is wait for them to turn 22.
Here’s my advice on how to slow things down a bit, so that you can move things faster.
- Find your own thinking time: About 90% of my best ideas were thought of in a car, not at a desk. I’d try to block off time in my busy calendar just to think. Sounds crazy but you need it. I’d go for walks at lunch or a drive to get away from it all. The more I did, the more I realized that my first thoughts weren’t always my best thoughts. Steve Jobs was notorious for going for a walk with someone. Instincts are not always at the tip of your tongue. You need to find a way to reach your subconscious mind, where your best thoughts might be.
- Proactively, do the deep thinking BEFORE the decision time comes: During the quiet periods, I would dig deep into the analytics, no matter what my level. I keep telling everyone that at every level, I wrote a monthly summary report on my brands, forcing me to stay on top of the brand. Every six months, I’d answer six simple questions: 1) where are we? 2) why are we here? 3) where could we be? 4) how do we get there? and 5) what are we doing to get there? Usually it was 2 or 3 bullets per question but it allowed me to stay planful yet flexible, knowing yet ready and on top of my game. You know it’s going slow motion because of how much thinking you do beyond the meeting, but everyone else thinks you’re moving fast.
- Next time you’re in a meeting, spend your time and energy asking great questions, not giving great answers: As the Brand Leader you are the thinker and decision maker on the team, surrounded by subject matter experts who know everything. The big secret about Brand Leaders we don’t always want to share is we don’t really know anything about anything. And that puts you in a very powerful position. I used to go into every meeting believing I’m the least knowledgeable person in the room, which is an advantage because I’m the one asking questions, not giving answers. Not only is it respectful to your experts, when you shift to this type of model, you’ll see that it’s a powerful way to move the group of experts. As a consultant, I’m paid for answers, and while my answers are good, my questions are even better.
- Connect with your the “people” at your agency: I bet you wait till your first creative meeting to have your first conversation with the creative people. What I found more useful was to have lunch with the creative team the day after the brief was released, mainly to give them a chance to ask any questions, but really just to get to know them. Keep it informal and relaxed. At every stage of the production, talk to the experts, not with directives, but just to get to know them. They’ll work harder for someone who talks to them? Do you talk to the editor? No one ever does. I did. And then when I needed to try something that my agency didn’t think could be done, I’d hear “let me give it a shot” by the editor. When you are your agencies favorite client, things go so easily and by slowing things down, it goes faster. Send thank you notes at each major stage, pride notes at each major win, and encouragement notes at each major bump. They show you’re human and emotional.
- Use THREE different types of Feedback for agencies: When giving feedback to your agencies, map out three levels of thinking time for the feedback and tell them ahead of time what you plan on doing:
- feedback during the presentation which is just pure gut reaction–it doesn’t mean much at all
- feedback following the presentation which is just your big picture instinct
- feedback 24 hours later which is well-thought through and detail oriented.
By the way, I’m a quick-thinking creative INTP, so I needed to train myself to slow things down and do the thinking to go beyond just using my instincts, especially in a corporate setting where risk is avoided. As Abe Lincoln said “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
You will move faster if you take your time, slow it down and think.
Here’s a presentation on Strategic Thinking:
To read more about the Brand Leadership Center, click on this link: Brand Leadership Center At Beloved Brands we offer a unique learning session on Strategic Thinking. Everyone in marketing thinks they are strategic. But what is it that makes someone strategic and how can you use that thinking in the role of a Brand Leader. With our Strategic Thinking program, Brand Leaders will learn how the elements of strategic thinking–focus, early win, leverage and gateway. They’ll look at this from a consumer/customer view, competitive strategy as well as visionary strategy. Through workshop breakouts, we’ll be able to try it out on their own business with hands-on coaching to help them improve their own strategies. Here’s the outline: