Friday, August 14, 2009

Steve the Innovator

You want to grow in a tough time like this you need to get comfy with these two words: radical constraints.

Steve the Innovator taught me these two words. And it's those two words that allowed him to create (my favorite place on the web).

In short, radical constraint means thinking completely differently about a problem or goal. Another hot innovator, Evan Williams who invented Twitter, told THE ECONOMIST in December 2007 that 'radical constraints can lead to breakthroughs in simplicity and entirely new things.' One question, the story says Evan Williams likes to ask is ''what can we take away to create something new?''

Sounds like big stuff when the big-wig inventor of Twitter talks about radical constraints.

In Steve's case he wrestles the same demons we mortals in businessland face every day: How do I grow in a tough economy? The typical approach is to come up with better answers to questionable sales, marketing, pricing, product programs.

Not Steve.

Radical constraint concepts led him instead to an offbeat question: "What could I do that would get me in the email inboxes of C-level decision makers 52 times a year AND have an 'open' rate of ten times average email campaigns?" was his answer. And the best part is it has no clear linear tie to his core digital consulting agency, Polar Unlimited. Unless you consider that the weekly blogpodcastebookmashup that is is followed by thousands of people, many who are business honchos too busy to read all the must-read business books out there.

So Steve does a nifty, thrifty summary of the best business books of the moment. It's less book review than an unpacking of big ideas bound by hard cover. I actually go looking for his email if I don't find it during the week (this week it was sitting in my spam folder for who knows what reason.)

If I was CMO of a place like Amazon or Target or Wal Mart or Barnes & Nobles and wanted to sell more books to more business execs or a place that peddles publications or software or anything else that promises to make business run better, I'd want to pick Steve the Innovator's brain.

Not for answers. I'd want offbeat questions about how you get inside (and stay inside) the heads of customers and prospects in this idea and knowledge economy of ours.

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Friday, August 7, 2009

We the Writers

You ever wonder why people blog?

The business gurus, Tom Peters and Seth Godin, say blogging helps you think more than it helps you get rich or become famous.

Which makes me wonder what if all this blogging (which is to say writing) makes us better writers and then better thinkers?

I know a business columinist in Minneapolis who knew of a freelance writer who called his trade 'vernacular engineering.'

Goodness gracious, that's well said. And well-engineered.

Writing is the engineering of ideas; the test-bed of creativity; the thing you do to shape and refine concepts until they are just right.

Here's an idea: What if our President, an accomplished author (and, perhaps, now the nation's Writer-in-Chief...), asked every kid in America to start blogging? And to encourage them, Mr. President, how about you promise to make time to read one kid's post during every one of your presidential press conferences and weekly radio addresses?

How great would it be if We the People became We the Writers? And in the process, became the world's best vernacular engineers in this knowledge and idea economy of ours?