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Top Posts of 2015

2015 December 16
by Greg Satell

Thirty years ago, when Marty McFly arrived in 2015, there were hover-boards, robotic gas stations and a Mr. Fusion machine that could power everything (yet strangely, still pay phones and newspapers). Instead, we got global terrorism and Donald Trump as a viable Presidential candidate.

Not all of the news is bad though. We’re on the brink of curing cancer, sent a spaceship to Pluto and got a global climate deal. Mostly, 2015 has been a strange year. Europe moved right while Canada moved left. We lost Letterman and Jon Stewart, but elevated Stephen Colbert to new heights. It’s hard to know whether to cheer or cry.

Through it all, one constant has been Digital Tonto, delivering two articles a week and a newsletter on Sunday. We’ve come a long way, geographically and otherwise, since I launched the site in my apartment in Kyiv six years ago. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support! Here are my top posts of 2015.

Content Is Crap And Other Rules For Marketers

Content is the hottest thing going in marketing right now. Rather than paying to have ads placed between programming blocks. marketers can communicate directly with consumers, partners, employees and other stakeholder on social media, web pages, YouTube channels and other owned assets. It’s an enormous opportunity,

The only problem is that content is crap. We never call anything that’s good, “content.” Nobody walks out of a movie they loved and says, “Wow, what great content!.” Nobody calls a trusted source of information a “content creator.” The truth is that content remains a fantasy in the minds of business planners.

What brands really need to do is publish and produce. In a sense, that’s a good thing because that’s been around for a very long time. However, publishing is very different from marketing and marketers need to not only learn not new skills, but to approach their work with a different mindset. (And I’ve recently developed an audit to help them do that).

Read it now


How Power Is Shifting From Corporations To Platforms

The industrial age led to the rise of large institutions. With mass production and mass marketing came the massive bureaucracies needed to manage it all. As they grew in power, they began to accumulate resources—in both physical and human capital—that served as barriers to entry and allowed those institutions to dominate.

Yet today, we no longer need to control resources in order to make use of them. Digital technology allows us to access ecosystems of technology, talent and information through platforms. That’s changed the game entirely, because power no longer emanates from the top of the heap, but the center of the network.

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The Science Behind Better Networking

Networking is a time honored tradition. You go to a conference or a meetup, engage new people and hope that one of those random connections will lead to something rewarding. Networking experts tell you that smiling, asking people about themselves and looking them in the eye will increase your chances of success.

Yet science suggests that an altogether different approach would be more successful. While random collisions can be fruitful, we’re much more likely to meet useful people through our friends. Not only does the mutual bond come with an implicit recommendation, but the friends of our friends are also more likely to be influential and in a position to help us.

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Marketers Need To Rethink The Consumer Decision Journey

Brands and communication have long been intertwined. From TV ads and press releases to events and endorsements, the way consumers view a brand will influence their decision making, so crafting and reinforcing a brand image has long been a top priority for marketers.

Yet today, it’s not enough just to grab attention, we have to hold attention. So we need to shift our mental models from that of crafting messages to creating experiences. Instead of carnival barkers, we must begin to think like concierges, helping and assisting customers as we collect data in real time.

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How Numbers Lie

Today’s executives are trained to put their faith in numbers. “You manage what you measure” has become a more than mantra, but a deeply felt article of faith. Often, this engineering based approach is so ingrained in corporate culture that it takes on an almost religious ferver, with dissenters quickly cast out as apostates.

Yet, when managers say they are data driven and ROI focused they are usually more intent on professing a belief than delivering results. They are, essentially, accidental theorists, putting their faith in an abstract idea rather than engaging in any true analysis of cause and effect. Despite what many will tell you, numbers can lie and only fools follow them blindly.

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6 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Managing People

Nothing really prepares you to lead other people.  There is, of course, no shortage of advice out there, but most of it is more myth and lore than anything else. In many ways, being a manager is the art of figuring out all the stuff that nobody ever told you.

I was thrust into leadership positions at a relatively young age and, like most, I wasn’t really ready for it.  Yet over the years I did learn a few things and was able to improve. Here are six of those things. I hope they’re helpful.

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The Art Of The Shift

It’s become trite to say that everyone needs to adapt. Change, technological and otherwise, is so viscerally affecting every aspect of our lives that any level of constancy seems like little more than a fleeting pipe dream. Disruption, not stability, is what we’ve come to expect and change is something that we need to not only accept, but thrive upon.

That, however, is very much easier said than done. To truly adapt, it is not enough to merely alter our actions, we need to shift our mental models. In effect, it’s not that we need to learn new things, but unlearn old ones that are no longer true or relevant. That’s the art of the shift.

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We Don’t Need The Best People, We Need The Best Teams

In 1997, in a landmark article, McKinsey declared the war for talent.  The firm argued that due to demographic shifts, recruiting the “best and the brightest” was even more important than “capital, strategy, or R&D.”  The report was enormously influential and continues to affect how enterprises operate.

Yet more recent research strongly suggests that instead of great individual performers, we should be looking to build the best teams. The fact is that the challenges we face today are far too complex to be solved by a single person, or even a single firm. What’s more, research also suggests that the qualities of great team players are very different than solo acts.

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Why Big Organizations Are Broken

It used to be that what was good for General Motors was good for the country, and vice versa. We trusted large institutions to provide us with security and prosperity. Now that’s been turned on its head. A recent Gallup poll shows that we have lost our faith in big organizations. This isn’t a recent development either, but a longstanding decline.

This article explores how that happened and the answer is surprising. It’s not that large enterprises have suddenly become more inefficient or corrupt—in fact, the opposite is probably true—but that the basic economics of organizations have been flipped on its head.

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The Efficiency Paradox

Efficiency was the mantra of 20th century industry. If you could produce an equal or superior product for a lower price, chances were that you could win in the marketplace. Yet these days, success is determined, as Peter Drucker put it, is not so much by doing things “right,” but by “doing the right things”

In Iraq, General Stanley McChrystal faced this problem in real time.  Although he commanded the most effective military machine ever designed and could win any battle, he couldn’t predict where those battles would be. What he found was that, in a networked world, the old linear approaches will not do. In effect, it takes a network to compete with a network.

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Effective Feedback: The Little Known Secret To Pixar’s Success

With 15 Academy Awards and an average worldwide gross of over $600 million per film, Pixar might just be the most successful creative enterprise ever—and one of the most profitable.  Out of the 14 features the firm has produced, all but one have made the list of top 50 highest grossing animated movies.

What accounts for such outsized success? Talent? Technology? An innovative culture? The company’s CEO, Ed Catmull, points to an unlikely source: effective feedback. While at most places, feedback is often a fairly informal, freewheeling exercise, at Pixar, it is a highly disciplined affair. And that, as it turns out, makes all the difference.

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So those are my top posts for 2015. Thanks again for all your support. I’ll be back on Sunday with my annual reading list and then off till January 3rd, when I’ll post an article about “3 Big Things To Look Out For In 2015.

– Greg

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