The relentless organisational mixed messages of “we need to grow” and “we need to cut” leave employees confused, stressed, anxious, and risk-averse. Add the desire to benchmark competitors means that more and more brand offerings tend to all merge to a common and me-too territory as markets mature. What is required is a greater capacity for innovation and risk taking. Organisational life can be demanding as each step taken outside the norm needs to be championed and negotiated. But without some intelligent risk taking and boldness the average brand is destined to a life of incremental growth at best.
Recently the Australian Weekend ran article on Tim Jarvis and environmental scientist and adventurer. Antarctic expeditions to both poles has provided Tim with significant experience in taking and managing risk. He discussed three themes very relevant to brand managers wishing to explore new frontiers in their categories: the importance of doing and learning by doing, the importance of embracing risk and the need to focus on milestones, yet be flexible enough to respond to change.
Jarvis places great emphasis on achieving outcomes rather simply participating in a process. In the bureaucratic and prescriptive world of many corporates I particularly liked his advise to pare down the planning to the point where there are no excess process-based steps. Every meeting, every piece of equipment, everything you do has a purpose or it gets discarded. Such a mindset could well be liberating for many organisations.
As an adventurer Jarvis believes that once you have decided on your goal it then needs to be prioritised ahead of all else: that means relationships, career, even family. One kind of gets that mindset when one is embarking on dangerous expeditions. However, it raises an interesting questions as to where innovation sits in the commitment hierarchy of many companies. The challenge is often that there is not such a single-minded focus, that the day operations take priority, and we are left with such unimaginative innovation. Case in point is our department stores here in Australia.
At a time when their relevance to shoppers is truly being questioned you cannot help think that their leaders may well learn from a trip to the North Pole with Jarvis about truly committing to ‘a cause’. This reinforced when you read in the Australian Financial Review (17/8) that David Jones chief executive Paul Zahra says that DJ’s 200 new style advisers, 100 additional shop floor staff and its soon to be launched online are part of a program to win back shoppers (surely simply only table stakes initiatives), you really are left thinking they could learn from an adventurer, as their current thinking does not yet have them remotely near base camp.
Brand Scientist and Armchair Adventurer