How To Be A Visionary

Absolutely loved this post. It’s authentic and validates a very simple approach that mirrors a similar experience I had when I joined Y&R Brands in my favorite role of change agent/champion.

Oops, not supposed to say that… ok, as the guy that Mary Mapes Dodge wrote about at Spaarndam. Same dude they named a paint company after and used the brand moniker “Covers the Earth!”. Which my buddy’s dad coined and came up back in Ohio. But I digress.

How to be a visionary, simple, adhere to the simple philosophy of John Kenneth Galbraith whose greatest pieces of economic wisdom is to know what you do not know. Simple, but not easy.

Solve problems, listen, listen, learn, apply and evolve.

As Josh so articulating stated, he didn’t start out to be a visionary and didn’t know anything about the subject. But was keenly interested, had a analytical mind and was passionate about ferreting out the value and solving a pain point. In this case, the pain point was understanding this new dynamic, really use it to it’s fullest potential and how to apply it practically for maximum benefit.

I will tell anyone that will listen that I didn’t understand Automotive as a category when I was hired to turn around the Digital Marketing Group that managed Lincoln-Mercury.  Recruiters that want to paint this picture of me as this automotive guru because of the exceptional results are especially not comfortable with this story.

Bottom line, I knew what I knew and that I didn’t. The key is getting dirty, asking millions of questions of people I trust (hello WOM) and engaging in every bit of authoritative research I could get my hands on and maintaining a fundamental strategic principle of wanting to delivering outstanding value to customers every day.

Within 6 months our group from the edge of being fired to being named best practice group in the agency. We moved the needle; both Forrester and J.D. Power noted outstanding website usability and customer experience. Specifically improving the ranking of Lincoln.com from 14th of 35 OEM sites to 4th ahead of Mercedes and Lexus.

My focus is the same in the social media space and am grateful for the work that Josh and company have provided. Thank you!

November 15, 2008

by Josh Bernoff

Sncr_visionary (My remarks on receiving the Visionary of the Year Award from SNCR, the Society for New Communications Research. As you can see, I bought “Charlene” with me, although she was feeling a bit “flat” last night.)

Let me start by saying I’m very sad that Charlene Li can’t be here for real, since everything we did on Groundswell, we did together.

We were flabbergasted to get this honor and here’s why: when we set out to write Groundswell, we explicity gave up on the idea of being visionary. Looking at the visionaries that came before us, notably the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto and Shel Israel and Robert Scoble, who wrote Naked Conversations, we decided early on that it would be tough to stake out a startling new area. Instead we decided to focus on how to make this concept of social technologies practical and useful. That’s where the vision was needed.

So the first thing to learn about being a visionary is, don’t start out trying to be a visionary.

The second thing I can share with you is that ignorance is vitally important. That’s right, ignorance. I started out in 2007 with a very limited knowledge of the social world, and I think that naivete led me to see some things nobody else could see. Charlene was hardly naive about social technologies, but her own ideas needed to evolve to get us to the point where we could write a good book about it. The greatest advances in any field often come from people who are looking at it for the first time from a new perspective.

Third is testing your ideas. Everything in Groundswell was batted back and forth between the two of before it ever saw the light of day, and many of the ideas were tested as well on our blog and with clients. The weak ones were weeded out. The strong ones became stronger. That was essential to going further with these ideas.

Fourth is research. Everything in Groundswell is based on data we collected at Forrester, real world stories, and interactions with clients. Without that you’re just makin’ stuff up. It rings true because it is true.

Finally, vision doesn’t mean a thing unless you can apply it. We’ve been all over the world talking about Groundswell, and people are using it. When I went to Wal-Mart and delivered it to their top management, they were creative in their reception of these ideas. That was encouraging. But the next day, they hosted some bloggers, and the bloggers have told me that they were still buzzing about the ideas and receptive to the new way of thinking. That means we changed minds in a place that matters. If you call that vision, I’ll accept your judgment.

Thank you.

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