Superhero leadership is bullshit. Killing your ego and working with rebel thinkers is the way to create the impact you seek, writes Scott Morrison, former Marketing and Commercial Director at Diesel and now author of Creative Superpowers and founder of the Boom!
2009 - a bleak year for retail
With the recessionary grip, teenager’s first kiss levels of consumer confidence and wallet- closing austerity, it was not the best time to be CMO. Let alone one of a fashion brand with high end products, expensive retail and a need to reposition at pace. High stakes take heavy tolls - the ego kicks in and the ‘cometh the hour… chest-beating language of business in crisis engenders the visceral fight or flight response. It’s the leader's moment to shine - to take all on their shoulders, be the smartest in the room and have all the answers… and burnout.
As Ryan Holliday beautifully pens, ‘the ego is the enemy’. Getting to the nub of complex challenges and creatively solving them is too big for one person - however, with extreme pressure, our mind convinces us we’re the diamond - the one to solve it all. It’s the quixotic superhero leadership that we’ve been fed in films and biographies - it’s the prodigal rebel who comes back and saves their business from collapsing, the flip-flop wearing CEO who ‘crushes it’ and sells her business for $1bn after 3 years - you’ve heard it, maybe even believed it.
But it’s bullshit.
I can vouch - in 2009, all the solutions I was thinking about were rubbish. My ego persisted to roll the turds in glitter but, deep down, I knew none of them were good enough. So after one long night in a darkened room in Kings Cross I kicked my ego aside and looked for a fresh approach. I won’t lie, booting out the ego is tough. It’s ingrained and it's who you are. And whilst it’s actually weirdly trying to protect you, at the same time it’s holding onto your blindspots. It’s creating singular points of reference, reaﬃrming biases and looking for cognitive security. Therefore, in complex situations like the world we’re in now, it will trip you up and out.
Conversely, it’s the power of collaboration that will fire you up. The right mix of cognitively diverse people and their ability to view challenges through lenses and experiences you never even knew existed, is where the power of connected thinking comes into play. Getting the right people together is only the start - uniting them and getting to action is a hockey stick learning curve - but, as we’re in this together and you’ve read this far, let’s look at how to do both as I share how you can truly harness the power of collaboration and fire up your business to create results and impact you never thought possible.
“Think how comforting it is to be surrounded by people who think in the same way, who mirror our perspectives, who confirm our prejudices.” Matthew Syed
Just picking people we know we like and who are like us to collaborate with is just an extrapolation of the ego issue explored earlier - we must seek out people who have a cognitive diversity that will seek out new areas that we must explore. The danger is, we only look to impact the things we know, the easy stuﬀ, the ‘business as usual’ tweaks - we never truly get beyond, as Keith Cunningham states in his book The Road Less Stupid, “the symptoms of the deeper problem”. Cognitive diversity also doesn’t just mean the gimmicky type often associated with Mad-vertising-esque brainstorms: you would only ever bring in a butcher, a skier, a teacher and a bishop if the challenge really merited it, not if you’re looking to rebrand a cereal. It needs to be fit for purpose with an understanding as to who and why everyone is there.
In 2009, I brought in thinkers from the team, our stores, teaching, musicians, events organisers and media - brave, rebel thinkers who were looking to create meaningful engagement with consumers during tough times.
Unblock the challenge
Team assembled - it’s time to Unblock the challenge. Challenges for me resemble a huge dining room table. What I need to create for collaboration is a series of puzzles that the team can work on to get to the root of the challenge and build out solutions. So, unblocking becomes a series of insightful exercises aimed at finding the four corners of the puzzle and looking at how we meaningfully fill the inner bit with their insights. And this is why cognitive diversity collaborating together is so powerful - if you simply use your own (ego-fuelled) thinking to solve complex challenges, you may get, at best, one corner of the puzzle - with people like you, maybe two. It’s when you get a broader team that they start to build out four corners into wider perspectives and powerful, impactful thinking.
Unlock impactful thinking
At stage 2, collaborative team come into their own as we Unlock ideas, inspiration and thinking. The generation of powerful and impactful creativity at this stage comes from the open-minded, objective and no-holds-barred empowerment of minds clashing together - as film director Jim Jarmusch says, ‘It’s not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to’ - the power of clashing ideas being reframed for the task in hand is palpable - ideas that have been dormant, builds on existing thinking and case studies rewritten to reframe solutions to the puzzles you identify is energy-fuelled. The amount of times we had thinking that inspired us so much that it became a HAD TO DO was immeasurable - and one such idea hit us hard. What would happen if we didn’t spend a dollar on advertising? That’s ‘don’t come Monday’ heresy in marketing circles. But, that’s what we did. We wouldn’t ‘spend it’, rather we'd invest our whole budget on living our brand’s raison d’être - to empower people to live successfully.
Unleash with impact
The third area of focus is to ensure that you Unleash your creative solutions with impact and drive. That the ideas you create aren’t blue sky wannabes living in the Moleskine of dreams — but they’re tangible, real and you can create a blueprint for their existence. The collaborative group have untapped experience, existing roadmaps.
They’ve probably made all the mistakes anyone could possibly make when rolling out the solutions created - they make sure you don’t make them twice. They bring in their network and their network’s network. It becomes seamless — many hands rolling out incredible work that solves complex challenges and potent solutions. I watched the team build on the collaborations bringing in people who we’d wanted to work with for years; who suddenly saw the right opportunity to deliver something powerful. They did things none of us thought possible and our audience's love for our brand grew by over a third, year on year.
Collaboration like this is the wires you don’t see in a conjuring trick, the special eﬀects in a movie. When done really well, no-one experiences anything but the magic it creates. The hard work is all behind the scenes, but the output is impactful and incredible. And even though you’ve let it go, your ego will quietly clap your achievements from the corner. Stay Boom!
This article came from issue 8 of Marketing Society publication Empower. Read the archive here.