Instructions vs. Imagination (FastCo Leaders Feature)

December 31, 2010 § Leave a comment

Early example of Lego Technic.

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When I was growing up (circa mid 1970’s), Legos were my favorite toy. Back then, Lego sets consisted of random bricks of various sizes and shapes and it was up to me to build what I imagined. It was all about discovery and exploring the possibilities. Problem-solving. How to construct what was in your mind.

Today, my 13-year-old son Noah still enjoys a good Lego set, but they have changed dramatically. Now you’ll find a box with a beautiful picture of a pirate ship or a Ferrari on the cover. Inside, there are lots of single-use specialty parts. And, unfortunately, detailed instructions that step-by-step lead to a single outcome while simultaneously erasing the possibilities.

Instead of building blocks of right-brain imagination, the sets have become a left-brain exercise of how to follow instructions. Do what you’re told exactly. Follow the rules. There’s only one right answer. And God forbid, don’t make mistakes!

How ironic, considering this trend is the exact opposite of what we need to win in business (and life). In the industrial age and even much of the information age, following instructions was just fine. Get good grades, work hard, do what you’re told, don’t make waves, and 30 years later you’ll retire with a gold watch. Today, that fantasy simple no longer exists … right along with rotary phones and lead-based paint.

Today, the world has become too complex and changes too fast. There are no more operating manuals for success. Today, winning is about creativity and imagination and exploring the possibilities. You may still get hired based on your resume, but you will advance based on your ability to improvise, adapt, and create.

In this new era of business, a key challenge for you as a leader is to develop the imagination of your teams. Instead of issuing detailed instructions, allow your people the freedom to dream. Establishing a culture where team members can unleash their creativity and explore the possibilities will not only drive better results … it will create teams that are motivated, happy, and actually having fun instead of being clock-punching drones.

The next time you are tempted to issue a set of instructions, try a different approach. Provide the building blocks and then let your team create their own masterpiece. You may just discover that game-changing innovation is already present. It may just be locked inside a team that needs to be instructed not to just follow the instructions.

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It’s time to let your team’s imagination come out to play. And I’m happy to lend you my old-school Lego set if it will helps jumpstart the process.

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2011 Consumer Trends to Watch

December 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

brands affect the subconcious

According to a recent study conducted by consumer insights firm  There are eleven key trends to watch for in 2011.  Among them are acts of kindness from brands, online status symbols and global ’emerging’ generosity.

Following is a brief overview of each of the 11 consumer trends which predicts will have a global impact on marketers in 2011.  However, I must admit there was one omission from this list that I feel deserves a great deal of attention over the next two to five years and that is the evolution of the App and it’s implications for marketers and consumers.

1.Random acts of kindness: Consumers’ cravings for realness, for the human touch, ensure that everything from brands randomly picking up the tab to sending a surprise gift will be one of the most effective ways to connect with (potential) customers in 2011, especially beleaguered consumers in North America, Europe and Japan. advises that the rapid spread of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook among consumers gives brands previously unavailable insight into their moods, wants and locations, and also provides a new direct channel to deliver acts of kindness.

2.Urbanization: Urbanization remains one of the absolute mega trends for the coming decade, with about the global population currently living in urban areas. Urban consumers tend to be more daring, more liberal, more tolerant, more experienced, more prone to trying out new products and services. In emerging markets, these effects tend to be even more pronounced, with new arrivals finding themselves distanced from traditional social and familial structures, while constantly exposed to a wider range of alternatives.

3.Pricing Pandemonium: Mobile devices and social networks allow consumers to constantly receive targeted offers and discounts, even at the point of sale from a rival brand, as well as join interest groups. Brands should target consumers with offers and features such as instant mobile coupons and discounts, online group discounts, flash sales, and dynamic pricing based on real-time supply and demand.

4.Made for China/Emerging Economies: In 2011, expect an increasing number of ‘Western’ brands to launch new products or even new brands dedicated to consumers in emerging markets. Growth in consumer spending in emerging markets far outpaces consumer spending in developed markets, and Western brands are favored more than local brands in emerging markets. Western brands including Levi-Strauss, Apple and BMW have already capitalized on this trend.

5.Online Status Symbols: In 2011, recommends that brands supply customers with any kind of symbol, virtual or ‘real world,’ that helps them display to peers their online contributions, interestingness, creations or popularity. This includes personalized social networking memorabilia as well as location-based games and contests which award virtual or real-world prizes.

6.’Wellthy:’ Growing numbers of consumers will expect health products and services in 2011 to prevent misery if not improve their quality of life, rather than merely treating illnesses and ailments. Products such as mobile health monitoring devices, as well as online health apps and health-dedicated social networks, will serve the multichannel wellness needs of consumers.

7.‘Twin-sumers’ and ‘Social-lites:’ Both of these types of online consumers identified by are critical to spreading positive word-of-mouth recommendations. Twin-sumers are consumers with similar consumer patterns, likes and dislikes, and who are hence valuable sources for recommendations on what to buy and experience, while social-lites are consumers who consistently broadcast information to a wide range of associates online.

8.Emerging Generosity: This trend is about brands and wealthy individuals from emerging markets (especially China) who will increasingly be expected to give, donate, care and sympathize, as opposed to just sell and take. And not just in their home countries, but on a global scale. It’s a profound cultural change and a consumer demand that their counterparts in mature markets have had a few years to getting used to.

9.Planned Spontaneity: With lifestyles having become fragmented, with dense urban environments offering consumers any number of instantly available options, and with cell /smartphones having created a generation who have little experience of making (or sticking to) rigid plans, 2011 will see what calls full-on “planned spontaneity.”

Brands can expect to see consumers in 2011 rushing to sign up to services (the planned part) that allow for endless and almost effortless mass mingling with friends, family, colleagues or strangers (the spontaneity part). A developing segment of this trend is consumers signing up for mobile services that passively and constantly broadcast their location.

10.Eco-Superior: When it comes to ‘green consumption’, brands should expect a rise in “eco-superior” products; products that are not only eco-friendly, but superior to polluting incumbents in every possible way. says brands should think of a combination of eco-friendly yet superior functionality, superior design, and/or superior savings.

11:Owner-less: Fractional ownership and lifestyle leasing business models have re-emerged, with services such as car-sharing and public bike programs enjoying success around the globe. For many consumers, access is better than ownership.

12:App Dominance: The iTunes App Store was the beginning of a revolution and now it’s time for it’s evolution.  Companies that are investing heavily in the App evolution, such as Qualcomm are poised to reap huge rewards in the next few years.  2011 will be a pivotal year as expansion in the area of App innovation takes the driver’s seat.

Retail Sales Update…

December 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

Cherry Creek Shopping Center during the holida...

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About a week ago I wrote about the pending Holiday Shopping Season.  I wrote that retailers were optimistic about the season as store inventories seemed to be robust.  The latest online figures look promising and sales could exceed $32B this season while online retailers saw Cyber Monday sales of more than $1B.  Overall, retail adjusted sales was up by 1.9%.

  • For the first 33 days of the 2010 holiday season (Nov. 1 – Dec. 3), $16.8 billion has been spent online, marking a 12% increase compared to the corresponding days last year.

The Notebook — The Story from APM

December 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

National Public Radio headquarters, located at...

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I came across this terrific story in my car listening to American Public Media’s ‘The Story’ and felt compelled to share it.  It’s a story that redefines what it means to be social.  What it means to be connected through community.

The Notebook — The Story from APM.

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