Two Ways To Bigger Thinking And Bolder Ideas
There’s no question that the field of marketing is more complex, more challenging, more multi-disciplinary than ever before. Marketing leaders must now run the gamut of high-order analytics, data modeling and increasingly AI, all the way through to the most ethereal, artful elements of creativity and emotion.
As the complexity of the function grows, so too does the span of influence. CMOs are now expected to lead digital and cultural transformations, ringlead a multi-functional customer experience initiative, catalyze breakthrough innovation and act as the engine of enterprise growth. It’s great to see marketing playing such a powerful and central role in the life of the organization. But in order to take on these many next-level challenges, marketing leaders will need to bring the highest order of big thinking and bold ideas.
I’ve been reading and re-reading two books recently that I believe do a great job of capturing this important quality of next-level thinking and problem solving. I heartily recommend that sitting and aspiring CMOs give both of them a good read. The first is The Opposable Mind, by Roger Martin, a professor at the Rotman School of Management. The second is Sensemaking, by Christian Madsbjerg, a partner in the consultancy ReD Associates.
While they focus on different aspects of problem solving, both authors provide powerful and complementary guidance for marketers facing enormous challenges: massive proliferation of data, which often clouds rather than illuminates; competing and seemingly contradictory agendas; increasing power of analytics and algorithms that risk squeezing judgment out of the equation; and widely varying cultures and business environments across global markets.
The central idea of The Opposable Mind is that we must beware of false trade-offs: for example, “You’re with me or you’re against me.” This framing creates a black-and-white choice that may not reflect truth, or the best solution. The reality may be, “I’m very much with you, but I disagree with you on this issue.”
Marketing, now more than ever, continually presents its practitioners with dilemmas that pit two competing needs against one another: short-term sales vs. long-term equity; product vs. brand; rational vs. emotional; data vs. judgment. I’ve long been a believer in the creative integration as a resolution to apparent contradiction: the “Great Taste, Less Filling” answer. Where there is tension between two compelling thoughts, a creative answer is waiting to be teased out by avoiding the simple zero-sum trade-off mentality.
Martin calls this, “Integrative Thinking”, and it consists of four steps:
Salience. The willingness to keep many relevant considerations in mind, and resisting the temptation to over-simplify and prematurely narrow the input to problem solving.
Causality. Looking beyond a simple “A drives B” answer to causality and seeking a more complex inter-relationship of factors that create a multi-directional relationship.
Architecture. Seeing the picture as an organic whole that needs to be solved at once, rather than parsing it out into sub-problems—solving for the forest and not individual trees.
Resolution. The ability to hold several possible solutions in mind at once, and the willingness to consider seemingly contradictory answers. Resisting the temptation to fall in love with a solution and being willing to remain skeptical.
Another reality of modern marketing is the growing prevalence of data, algorithms and automation. In the face of all this quantitative reason, author Christian Madsbjerg issues a passionate cry for humanistic, liberal arts thinking. He believes that over-reliance on data and algorithms creates enormous risks for employees, business and society. What all the data fails to capture, he says, is the critical nuances of culture and context that ultimately drive behavior and lead the way to enduring innovation.
Thick data—not just thin data. Go beyond sterile facts and figures, and seek the contextual detail that provides a richer picture of consumers’ lives, dreams, pains. This is the stuff of great marketing.
The Savannah—not the zoo. Get out of the laboratory and resist the temptation to do a clinical study of pain points and satisfactions in a vacuum. Get immersive, hands-on experience with real humans in their real context to understand them at a deeper level than simple factoids.
Creativity—not manufacturing. Practice abductive thinking, the non-linear approach to problem solving, where an educated guess is applied to data without the rigor of a specific logical explanation. While doing this, follow a “messy” thought process, pursuing twists, turns and revisions. Only this kind of thinking, Madsbjerg maintains, generates really breakthrough new ideas.
The North Star—not the GPS. Avoid over-reliance on the seductive simplicity of quantitative rules and algorithms. Learn to develop a feel for the pulse and rhythm of the market, borne of a deep understanding and genuine caring about the product and its users. Leverage expertise, judgment and instinct every bit as much as data.
The integration of these two ways of thinking provides marketing leaders with a framework for taking on the daunting, sprawling, exciting challenges that modern marketing serves up: more data than we can possibly absorb; massively complex media and communications ecosystems; the urgent need to generate breakthrough, enduring innovation; and the quest for resonant, emotional relationships with connected consumers.
As I think back on 30 years of marketing across multiple industries, the most exhilarating high points were when I and my team were most living these principles that Martin and Madsbjerg describe: rolling around in a sea of complexity, bringing holistic thinking to nuanced insights, focusing on contexts, and refusing to accept the easy, pat, overly logical answer. Great marketing still relies on a heavy dose inspirational magic, and the principles of Sensemaking and The Opposable Mind go a long way to explaining how to make that magic happen.
Originally posted on FORBES.
Marketing strategies to help your team get inspired to make bold moves. Join me.