Friday, June 29, 2012

6 things strategic thinkers do well – and how brand innovators can learn from them

I know how it is with inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs. 

In the beginning, there’s just you and maybe a partner. You do everything. You make the calls, and you answer the phone. You make the presentations, and you make the powerpoint. You write the website and you code it. You order the midnight pizza and you take out the trash.
So, when it’s time to “be strategic,” I know how tough it can be.

A recent article in Inc. Magazine helps provide some guidance.

“Every leader's temptation is to deal with what's directly in front, because it always seems more urgent and concrete,” writes Paul J. H. Schoemaker. “Unfortunately, if you do that, you put your company at risk. While you concentrate on steering around potholes, you'll miss windfall opportunities, not to mention any signals that the road you're on is leading off a cliff.”

One reason the job is so tough: no one really understands what it entails. It's hard to be a strategic leader if you don't know what strategic leaders are supposed to do.

Schoemaker says, “After two decades of advising organizations large and small, my colleagues and I have formed a clear idea of what's required of you in this role. Adaptive strategic leaders — the kind who thrive in today’s uncertain environment – do six things well.”

Here’s his list:
  1. Anticipate – Look for game-changing information at the periphery of your industry. Build wide external networks to help you scan the horizon better.
  2. Think Critically – Reframe problems to get to the bottom of things, in terms of root causes. Uncover hypocrisy, manipulation, and bias in organizational decisions
  3. Interpret – synthesize information from many sources before developing a viewpoint. Question prevailing assumptions and test multiple hypotheses simultaneously
  4. Decide – balance speed, rigor, quality and agility. Leave perfection to higher powers. Take a stand even with incomplete information and amid diverse views
  5. Align – foster open dialogue, build trust and engage key stakeholders, especially when views diverge. Bring tough issues to the surface, even when it's uncomfortable.
  6. Learn – encourage and exemplify honest, rigorous debriefs to extract lessons.
I know this may seem daunting. I’ve run companies and advise start-up companies, including my latest venture Bioscience Bridge. So I appreciate the chance to share strategic insights and experiences with other innovators.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Clinical Trial Insights: a different way to identify evaluate new pharma brand experience

I'd like to share a note I received from my friend, Ross Weaver, President and CEO at DDI.

Are you absolutely positive -- not just somewhat positive, but absolutely positive -- there is nothing else that can be done to identify benefits that new products offer? That is a question we asked our R&D folks.

They said 'oh sure', we are positive. We weren't so sure, and had them think about it more.

To the windowless room they went.

To the white boards, pizza and cramped space.

After two weeks, they came back with some newfangled analytical methodology to identify another benefit. Nope. That wouldn't help. What they recommended was simply a re-crunching of the same old data. We told them to re-consider the whole process. Every step of the way.

Back to the white boards, pizza and cramped space. Naturally, with some more assertive stimuli (think 'Slumdog Millionaire'), they had an insight. Instead of a new way to look at old data, they said 'what we need is new data'!

Here is what they came up with:

  • They said, you know, the typical approach is to have the clinical team summarize the findings from the clinical trials.
  • Then, we conduct market research by having physicians who treat patients with the condition review the findings and asking them a bunch of questions.
  • We conduct market research with patients whohave the condition and ask them a bunch of questions
What is missing?

Follow me here. Did anyone actually just ask the people who actually took your new product a bunch of questions about their experience with it? Did anyone just ask the study coordinators (i.e., the nurses at each investigator site who have day-to-day management responsibilities of the study) about their experience with it?

It was one of those 'well, duh' moments! Of course, let's get insights from those who have real experience with the product. Not just those for whom it is all make believe.

We planned to name it the 'unifying theory'. But, someone told us that name was taken. After a few beers and more pizza, we came up with name 'CTI'. CTI stands for clinical trial insights. 'Clinical trial insights' is too many letters, plus it just doesn't sound as cool as 'CTI'.

We started doing CTI studies and, as we had hoped, it did identify some terrific benefits previously uncovered.

For all of you in new products, I'd love to tell you more about CTI.

You will like what you hear.

Contact Ross to schedule a teleconference, web-meeting, or in-person presentation.

Ross H. Weaver, PharmD at

Friday, June 15, 2012

26.2 miles of wild and serene terrain: The Mohican Marathon

I'm on the way to Mohican State Park for a trail marathon.

The park and surrounding State Forest (4,795 acres) serve up technical terrain that'll challenge any runner -- especially me considering my training regimen, or lack thereof.

Located in Northern Ohio, roughly two hours from Columbus, the Mohican State Park should offer me and my fellow trail runners terrain that is both wild and serene.

Click on the link to watch a trailer from the 2009 premier of the documentary film about the Mohican Trail 50 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

N-of-8 groups using virtual facility: what I look for in project support

This is one last post about my feature in the May issue of QUIRK'S Market Research Review, a leading industry publication.

The article highlighted many examples of combining the high-touch of personal customer insights with the high-tech of virtual groups and online interviews.

The writer wanted to know why I’ve chosen Fieldwork Webwork to help facilitate these virtual groups.

The people and platform at Fieldwork Webwork allow me to do more research projects, get better results, and deliver deeper insights to my clients.

I can expand to national reach instead of just local.

I can do more interviews in Europe or Asia than if I had to travel.

Or I can bring together participants from literally all over the world for two hours – when it would inconceivable to schedule or budget that otherwise.

Thanks again to QUIRK'S for including me, and to people like Crystal at Fieldwork Webwork for supporting my projects.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

N-of-8 groups online can have drawbacks to work around

I’ve been posting this week about my feature in the May issue of QUIRK'S Market Research Review, a leading industry publication.

The article highlighted many examples of combining the high-touch of personal customer insights with the high-tech of virtual groups and online interviews.

In addition to the positive aspects that were included in the article, I was also ask my perspective on any downsides.

There have been two drawbacks that have required me to devise creative solutions to work around.
  1. Creating group rapport if the technology has glitches. It can be potentially distracting if people are too focused on their web connection or hearing the other participants.
  2. Creating composite brand stories from multiple elements. The “slide sorter” can work, but it’s not the same as boards, Velcro, or cut-and-paste exercises.
Thanks again to QUIRK'S for including me, and to Crystal at Fieldwork Webwork for arranging it.

And I’m reminded to thank colleagues like Cindy, Melanie, Eva, and Anita who have helped improve the workability of this kind of innovation.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

N-of-8 groups we could not accomplish without web-cams

As I mentioned yesterday, I was featured in the May issue of QUIRK'S Market Research Review, a leading industry publication.

The article highlighted many examples of combining the high-touch of personal customer insights with the high-tech of virtual groups and online interviews.

In addition to the example that was included in the article, I also shared two other groups we could not have accomplished without web-cams:
  1. A half-day advisory board with thought-leaders from around the country. Several of the physicians told us they no longer travel for these kinds of groups. It takes too much time away from their practices or teaching responsibilities – especially for a relatively short working session. Instead, we used the webcam platform so the doctors in 6 different cities could participate right from their offices.
  2. Focus groups among patients with a rare medical condition. Because the number of patients was limited, and their condition makes travel difficult, we used webcams to create a series of focus groups from patients’ homes. It was especially emotional when some participants told us it was the first time they had met someone else with their condition.

Thanks again to QUIRK'S for including me, and to my friends at Fieldwork Webwork for arranging it.

And especially thanks to the clients who take a chance with this kind of innovation.

Monday, June 11, 2012

N-of-8 with virtual platform featured in QUIRKS journal

I was featured in the May issue of QUIRKS Market Research Review, a leading industry publication.

The article was about combining the high-touch of personal customer insights with the high-tech of virtual groups and online interviews.

Specifically, I shared my experience with our N-of-8 focus group of hospital laboratory directors in 8 markets. We wanted to have focus groups to compare experiences, but could not have facilitated a group in any one city due to the competitive nature of the hospital labs. The webcams allowed us to have face-to-face interactions with a national sample.

Thanks to QUIRKS for including me, and to my friends at Fieldwork Webwork for arranging it.

Friday, June 08, 2012

50% fewer pronouns in Beatles songs from early to later years: Words that matter

As I conclude my week of blogs about words – words that matter – I want to share a book entitled, The Secret Life of Pronouns.

James W. Pennebaker’s book makes it hard to stop thinking about pronouns and the other little “function words” that he sees as “the keys to the soul.”

Pennebaker is admirably omnivorous when it comes to looking for material that will show how these stealthy words — which include articles, prepositions, conjunctions and auxiliary verbs — reflect our social psyche. One of his more unexpected sources is the lyrical canon of the Beatles.

He crunches the numbers on Beatles songs using text analysis programs and arrives at some fascinating conclusions. As the band aged their lyrics grew “more complex, more psychologically distant and far less positive.” The increasing complexity of the lyrics is manifested in “bigger words and more prepositions, articles and conjunctions.”

There was also a big drop in the use of first-person singular pronouns, from 14 percent in the group’s early years to 7 percent in the final years. Self-absorption, it seems, gave way to more socially involved perspectives.

Read more in the New York Times review at

Thursday, June 07, 2012

8 words of strengths and 8 words of areas for improvement: Words that matter

In my blogs this week, I have featured words – words that matter.

Today, I’m sharing 8 words that describe my positives traits, along with 8 words that describe my areas for improvement.

  1. Variety
  2. Involved
  3. Relationships
  4. Options
  5. Innovation
  6. Appreciative
  7. Inspirational
  8. Initiates

Areas for Improvement:
  1. Glib
  2. Overpowering
  3. Patronizing
  4. General
  5. Avoid
  6. Undone
  7. Misses
  8. Defends
The origins of personality theory can be traced back to the fifth century BC, when Hippocrates identified four distinct energies exhibited by different people.

The preeminent personality model was first identified by the Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung. This model was published in his 1921 work “Psychological Types” and developed in subsequent writings. Jung’s work on personality and preferences has since been adopted as the seminal work in understanding personality and has been the subject of study for thousands of researchers to the present day.

Using Jung's typology, I have often used it as a framework for self-understanding and development. Research suggests that a good understanding of self, both strengths and weaknesses, enables individuals to develop effective strategies for interaction and can help them to better respond to the demands of their environment.

I regularly use this profile pro-actively. That is, I identify some key areas in which I want to develop – and then I take action. In fact, by sharing important aspects with friends and colleagues, I can get feedback on areas that seem particularly relevant for me in developing an action plan for growth personally and interpersonally.

I welcome your comments.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Words that establish the Ripa Hotel brand: Words that matter

Earlier this year when I stayed at the Ripa Hotel in Rome, I was greeted each day with inspiring words – words that matter – all around the hotel.

Especially these words in the elevator:  Happy and Dream.

They helped set the tone for the hotel’s brand:  all the staff were friendly, courteous and helpful.  The buffet breakfasts started our morning with an ample selection of hot and cold foods, along with my cafe latte.

The Ripa is located close to the center of Trastevere.  Read more about its design and concept at

I was happy with my visit.  And I dream of returning.

All this week, I’ve been blogging about words and how they matter in persuasive writing.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Alternatives youth program: Words that matter

The Chicago building that stands on the west side of Sheridan Road, one block south of Lawrence Avenue has some inspiring words – words that matter:

  • Stretch
  • Renew
  • Trust
  • Grow
  • Share
This is the home of Alternatives youth development agency.

They offer comprehensive, multicultural programs serving more than 3,000 young people and their families each year.

The mission of Alternatives is to facilitate personal development, strengthen family relationships and enhance the community’s well being. Established in 1971 when the community identified substance abuse as a key issue affecting local teens, Alternatives is dedicated serving Chicago's at-risk youth and their families.

Their programs include counseling, leadership development, substance abuse and violence prevention, and academic enrichment.

The programs and services of Alternatives use an asset-based model that focuses on enriching young people's lives by building upon individual strengths within the context of their family and community. They help increase opportunities to succeed and grow as individuals and community members.

Most of all, they value the diversity of the communities – and so Alternatives will partner with more than 100 local organizations and schools.

All this week, my blogs will focus on "words that matter."  Here are some close-up photos of  the words on the Alternatives Building.

Monday, June 04, 2012

8 Parts of Speech: Words that matter

Persuasive writing makes a single, focused argument, and even the most basic communications must prove or demonstrate a thesis through explanations, examples and concrete details. 

All this week, my blogs will focus on words -- words that matter.

Sometimes we have to go back to the basics to write and analyze the most compelling brand stories.

For example, remember the 8 basic parts of speech:
  1. Nouns
  2. Pronouns
  3. Verbs
  4. Adverbs
  5. Adjectives
  6. Interjections
  7. Prepositions
  8. Conjunctions
How we use them, and how we connect them, makes a difference.

I feature several lists of words that matter in my upcoming book, N-of-8.