Saturday, September 29, 2007

A growing we will go...

Assuming you agree with the notion that the organization will succeed by engaging an intelligent team, your next priority is to define what growth is.

This profound question has a lot to do with the organizations' brand. You have discovered what your identity framework for the organization is and you firmly believe you've captured the essence of that identity both in words and visuals, you are now prepared to push the go button and thrust that identity out on different trajectories targeting market segments. But wait a minute; is this identity you established reflective of your individual aspirations and ideas of the organization brand, or does it properly represent the beliefs and aspirations of your intelligent team? Does the identity represent the organization holistically.
Getting to the essence of what your organization is all about is a primary objective toward establishing a powerful identity.
Bottom-line is the identity aligned with your customers aspirations and beliefs and will the identity cast your organization in a memorable way that reflects the core of the experience and values you deliver.

When we look at growth, we can think of many metaphors for the organization. One immediately enters into an enterprise the minute one adds one. The enterprise of two creates a growth relationship. If you can't get along the investment in growth ends and you're back to one. This is likely the best course of action in many scenarios. Trial periods are extremely useful to gauge the enterprise stability prior to setting up the legally binding terms and conditions. But even discovering a dysfunctional relationship after binding the relationship can be an advantage. It may look like failure in the moment but the learning, contacts and understanding that evolved during the brief enterprise foray may very well have you on a platform that accelerates your growth tremendously post the failed enterprise of two. Failure is part of risk taking. Risk is an essential, primary ingredient in growth. (Risk was not a core curriculum item in my design college years)

Growth is achieved with the following ingredients 1.Risk, 2.Identity* 3.People 4.Market...

*identity must be based on a framework that has powerful brand attributes and evokes meaning and emotional response from the buyer. Successful individuals, organizations, countries engage expert counsel to attain brand leadership models.

Getting back to growth, the force of two delivers a number of significant advantages. Two heads think better then one, two can spread out, two have double capacity, two may have unique strengths i.e.: process/marketing or production/finance or HR/engineering or Risk taking/hedging.

You get strength in numbers. Reflecting on the business, a tremendous outcome from having a team has been the collective results. Growth is about collective results. I think this is why the first year of any enterprise is often that most difficult and carries the most risk. You may find you don't have a large collective output. In fact alone, you have very little again unless you happen to be a genius. The growth curve for the startup has significant downward pressure, limited cash-flow, limited clients, limited talent pool, limited service lines, limited everything. My goal from very early on was to build an agency. I had this objective when I enlisted into design school. Many individuals find they have a outstanding quality of life in the freelance side of business. I have not known this model although we certainly engage contingent highly competent and skilled professionals. They augment our collective output, which of course drives our growth.

Of course a ship standing still or even a dinghy will eventually flounder. Life is growth. This is another reason I love the design vocation. You're always growing in this business. We have hit a tipping point in the last few years. The collective output or the organizational team has made many positive successes in the market. The market is saying now to the organization a big thank-you for a job well done. The market is not saying take a six month sabbatical and go off and explore tasmanian bat ecosystems. It is saying: the leadership you have within your collective is valuable to us and we want more of it. This is the next greatest thing in growth. The market drives the growth cycle. Once the alignment (including many happy clients) is in place within the organization, the market commands that you have the best talent, the visionaries and the leadership. Within the design organization we have this in all the functional units we operate. We can anticipate that the market will present us with opportunities in the weeks and months ahead that will have our team collective growing.

Team delivers to market, market grows team and so on and so on. This is growth.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Stellar, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

One of the most satisfying aspects of business has been the contribution people make daily. The team has been a true force in my sphere of experience. Reflecting on where we started and who we are today the team has always played a profound role and a sustaining role keeping the company vital.
So looking at the team what are the attributes that make the team a success in the design organization? I’ve been reading a really fabulous book by Felix Dennis self made millionaire who created his fortunes in the publishing business.
I discovered Felix being a subscriber to “The Week” a super condensed topical review of the worlds current events weekly. Really smart piece of work that takes excerpts from the worlds great newspapers and condenses it all together for a quick fix weekly. Anyway we are in the early days of building our publishing empire and in some ways I can relate to how this Brit mogul went about building his. The notion of hiring people who are smarter then you in areas you need expertise is certainly one important axiom of team building Felix establishes this point early on and its something we follow.
For example we have engaged expert, English plain language writers, (they could help me with this activity) expert designers, expert accountants, expert sales people, expert formatting professionals, expert production managers, expert project managers, expert photographers and expert illustrators. The expert list could extend for a full page. In order to get the dynamic squarely grounded I also engaged in an expert partnership which contrary to many myths the partnership has been very gratifying and proved quite rewarding. Again partners brought smarts in areas that I have not.

The thing that delineates this whole team idea is the classic notion of the
“the sum is greater then all of its parts”

Team building can turbo boost growth of the organization when you get it right.
In our first few years the one thing that I found extremely fascinating was the dynamic output of the team. This output drove sales paid bills, salaries, and profits. Team output leveraged growth and stabilized the business in our start up period which contributed to building the backbone of what we have today.

So thanks to everybody out there who was around in those early days and contributed to the out put. That would be from about 1987 to 2000. You know who you are and regardless of what circumstances you have found yourself (hopefully great) I feel a profound appreciation for the contribution and leadership you brought during your tenure within the organization. Thank you. We worked together and the out put contributed to the legacy that has brought the organization to where it is today.

Output seems to me hardly reflects the nature of the team dynamic but it is a functional dynamic of what you need in an organization especially in the early days of start up.

Drilling down to design within the organizational dynamic it may be that not everyone shares passion for this aspect of life. Or it may be that what you view design to be is quite different from what I view it to be. Practicality sets in though when you need to sell the stuff to make a living. A core offering of our business has been design and we have worked in a focused resolve to ensure the quality of our product beats the average. In context with output design boils down to three things.

The Good ,The Bad, The Ugly

Sustaining your brand supporting output, building your enterprise can only be achieved by resorting to The Good. In fact the good is not even adequate you need stellar. The team out put is judged by the weakest link. You do not want that to be the design function. We recently engaged in a adventure to bring aboard a new creative director. There was no guarantee of a stellar design person walking into the organization. Recruiting through typical channels attracted the excessively compensated commercial Creative Director from the large agency platform type who would be searching for alignment in our mid size operation. Alternate to these folks we had a bevy of applicants who essentially had made their mark in our local market but didn’t bring the stellar component we needed into the mix. One great long time friend and affiliate who I have great respect for and who could bring the right balance of stellar skill and as well people skills did negotiate with me. After years of freelance he simply couldn’t go the route of the team. So after much exhaustive interviewing I turned to my colleagues and acknowledged that we would likely not have a “Design Saint” arrive at the organization. This was a compromise unfolding after all we did not want design to be a weak link. Then a miracle happened. I received a box of tasteful packaged goods on my desk while I was away at a meeting. Long story short an individual who was not in my recruitment sphere or an immediate contact from our recruiting networks happened to “just arrive in” from Toronto having just fulfilled about ten years of commercial design tenure for some very resourceful and design centric business’s in that market.
The creative director role has been filled and we have exceeded the output expectations that I had ( with all due respect) contemplating previous candidates abilities.

The point to all of this missive is that to get the design value imperative you may need to put the brakes on. Wait or work harder to source. Or at the end of the day get lucky with who comes across your organization. Design is fickle and as well it is open to everyone’s interpretation. Ultimately our team required the multi disciplinary skills from someone who has expertise in traditional media combined with an excellent grounding in interpersonal skills. This combination is essential for the output of the design organization.

Miracles can happen if you wait but the bottom line is people who are leaders want to work with other leaders for a variety reasons. We have attracted these top performers because our brand has evolved the market is driving us to respond with great output. That’s a very dynamic cycle!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007


Design has been central to my career. Earlier on I entered into formal design training at College in Kingston Ontario. I am fortunate to have good relations with a life long friend who at the time was driven to pursue fine art foundation courses. He has gone on to be a Director in England of many popular TV series including internationally acclaimed U.K. comedy show Little Britain. I attribute his influence to a large extent as a platform for setting me on a course into the graphic design profession. My experience traveling extensively in England with him, having foreign influence this combined with my Canadian family grounding in fabulous natural rural settings such as the Muskoka region and the 1000 Islands provided me a good perspective to take on the challenges of the competitive and hard driving design path.

Three years in a design school gave me the papers I needed to enter the workforce and assert my role as a design professional.

Design College really touched the surface. Today looking at the applicants we see I feel fortunate that opportunities lined up they way they did. Many positive scenarios resulted from design College and from a practical standpoint it provided a focus on a subject area that at the time I felt would eventually lead me into forming an enterprise.

I need to validate everything my style is not about uncertainty. I do enjoy spontaneous events and suprise but when it comes to my career aspirations during the design college years I was on a dual quest. One focus was the practical side of design basics and how this could translate into "making a living". The other side of the quest was validating what design is. The cadre of design enthusiasts I was among I believe had different views on what the design field would or could offer.
Some notions included "glamor, cool, prestige clients, easy course, name in lights, work in lights. These aspirations and objectives perhaps are not bad or wrong but for me I wasn't convinced on the practical side that these notions could form the basis for a career.

With the modest amount of money I had I bought visual design reference books, I read extensively. I felt some form of transference would happen by looking at as much visual stuff as a I could assimilate. Reference has always been the designers secret this is apparent in studios when you see walls of hardcover books stacked to the ceiling. I think its fair as a designer you can't get enough reference.

Of course books don't float onto your lap you have to search them out. Like so many things in life searching for books can lead to incidental events that can result in well "validation". The book Information Anxiety fell off the book shelf during one of my reference hunts. This was after I had been employed as a designer/ sales representative for some time. The author a guru of making information easy to understand Richard Saul Wurman describes in his book the designers role. His logic and principles validated in many ways the basis for what leadership in design is all about.

The core of his work is about making information easy to understand. He describes pathways to meaning, making information accessible, structuring information according to organized and logical categories, he suggest finite ways to categorize information. This study in the information age pre internet was in my view powerful reference that pulled together all the disparate elements of the design discipline including typography,visuals, illustration, lay-out and how all this is ordered up. RSW's focus on words and how writing is a key element in the structure and order of things. This very concise reference used vernacular that was not taught in design college and at the time wasn't very pervasive in the professional circles I was immersed in. We have used the principle of access for the last twenty years. The idea is simple yet often overlooked and replaced with more esoteric philosophies that simply hinder good design and weaken communications.

Richard Saul Wurman coined the term information architect this aptly describes the role of the designer who wants to make information easy to understand. A very good grounding and certainly the basis for attracting great demand from clients who need this capability.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

You Belong in the Era of Design!

Organizing around design objectives is a noble pursuit. The positive impact on the client's customer and the clients organization as a whole typically cements lasting relations that harmonize and get richer over time. This is a fact. Design is a proven strategy for those looking to get results out of their investment dollars. One approach to opening up opportunities is to evaluate what is out there today on the landscape that has evolved into commodity. My view is that intelligent markets and mainstream popular audiences deem commodity as negative this is fairly obvious yet so much of the media we witness is really weak cookie cutter. What is truly amazing with such great talent available to organizations looking to establish a competitive advantage how little investment is made toward engaging bright people. People who will drive opportunities faster (shorten the sales curve) with more sustainable bottom line results. True finding talent is not easy and not always affordable. Our design profession is in many ways under the radar. Business who have discovered the power of design get it and understand the benefits. Design has to be integral to the business strategy and plan. It must integrate as a sustained investment. Its clear looking around some organizations are not prepared to meet the design objective today. They may lack the understanding or they may be short on design/brand management. Our successful work in the the national Real Estate sector provides impressive returns for our clients. Brand is pervasive today in modern culture. Design is a primary ingredient among other essential parts of business strategy it drives what makes the product, person, building, service burst out of the clutter. Careful execution will not only sell the product, service but will begin to establish the basis for community building. The goal then is to get to the essence of what the product/service is and not to settle for commodity solutions.

Differentiate with design. Good design is good business.

Opportunity exists for the organization who takes a first entry approach to laying down design standards on service and product offerings. Virtually everything today is being uploaded to the internet. The new media dictates a playing field shift for organizations that otherwise rely on traditional procedures or touch points to get results and market to their constituents, customers and market audiences. Contextually you now face an investment in online products if you want to remain relevant. You do not want to become lost in the evolution. Metaphorically this could be akin to extinction today as the great vacuum of online media busts all traditional media offerings and spreads and entangles most of the functions associated with the market landscape. To the extent the assimilation online has rolled forward in the last decade it is not to late to join the movement and put design as a top line priority within your online strategies. The point here is most organizations have initiated the process to go online. Investment in design will offer greater results in terms of success online. Brilliant design is the new baseline in our MTV world. Start with an identity framework, engage a brilliant writer, invite the engineer and judge the possibilities with dilgence testing in your market. Don't go forward without a designer who has proven results.

Design the new baseline for competitive advantage. A couple of organizations I encountered while in Paris this summer.