Looking Back And Reaching Forward
Chris Houstonon 22 December, 2015 at 04:12
I was crestfallen when the news came. The book proposal had taken months to assemble, and while the publisher said it was refreshingly different and timely, in the world of emerging authors, I was clearly a nobody. My agent and friend tried to put it to me nicely, but it’s difficult to sugarcoat a flat out “no”. What he did report was that the publisher offered a level of readership at which they would reconsider their rejection—50,000 unique visitors and 75,000 pageviews, representing thousands upon thousands of people coming to read my writing.
To suggest that the publisher’s benchmark seemed unrealistic at the time does not do justice to the sense of profound discouragement that I felt at the news. “Let’s serialize the content as blogs and see what happens,” proposed my ever-exuberant editor. So we did. And gradually, more and more people seemed to be reading it. Almost before we could notice, those lofty targets were behind us. It is now the end of a remarkable year, and I wanted to say a personal, “thank you!” for pausing your busy life long enough to read what I have written.
As I sat down to write to the thousands of you who have read Telosity posts during 2015, I regret that other than the collection of family, friends and colleagues who keep up with and encourage my writing pursuits, I know so little about you. Analytics data always presents an interesting and rich composite, but it is not capable of conveying real people, and the stories, successes and struggles that allow us to really know one another personally. However, from what I do know, allow me the privilege to introduce you to your fellow readers. For starters, more than half of you are under age 35, a fact that leaves me delighted.
About 47% of you are women, which is an accurate reflection of the gender representation in business, in North America at least. Geographically, you are truly international, from central and south Asia, to Europe and Latin America, with the largest representation from the US and Canada, closer to my home. Your stated interests are not surprising, given our subject matter, and they range from human-centered design to social media, philanthropy, brand intelligence and sustainability.
Many of you work in the marketing arena—a testament to the reach of the ogilvydo platform. Others self-identify as researchers, activists, professors, coaches, authors, and hail from a host of other career paths. You appear wonderfully diverse and yet unified by the desire to see business, corporate business, lead differently. You support the notion that our current model must and will change, and I sense that you are already engaged in making it so.
You discover the content we offer directly, or after reading other relevant articles on ogilvydo, or through social media, especially twitter. Once you arrive, you choose to pause and spend a few minutes with us, sometimes over 5—which is quite a lot by industry standards. The posts you read the most are the more personal ones, the ones that are more attuned to the often-challenging task of making a real and personal difference where you are. At the same time, you tend to avoid the more abstract and esoteric posts I have written—some of which I was even quite proud! Whatever you read and encounter here, we hope you finish each visit refreshed and encouraged.
Together, you point me to the more practical, gritty task of helping you to change the organization systems of which you are already a part. Since so many of you are still early in your careers, you may feel that you lack the formal authority to change the system from within, to make it more accountable to a purpose that does good, in a measurable way. And yet, a day rarely passes without mention of “millennials” and their different expectations of business.
I imagine that you must at times feel stuck or confounded by how slowly the change toward a better form of business can take. All too often, it feels like one step forward and two back. Yet, if I reflect, perhaps along with the 5% or so of Telosity readers who have lived as long as I have, it is not hard to see that what is unique about today, far more than in the decades we’ve seen, is that those of us without formal authority are making the most difference. You are the ones who mobilize your peers to realize greater influence as both consumers and employees. The pendulum has shifted, and it is gathering speed.
As I look ahead to 2016 to what we each might encounter in the months ahead, I think of a business leader who must navigate a treacherous course through the dated but rigorous demands of shareholders for more profit that has come too easily from delivering ever more corroded value for consumers. The sustainability of a business system, and with it much employment, hangs in the balance. There is no management map-book for this journey, only his moral compass to guide the way.
I see a young analyst, fresh from the right prestigious undergraduate program, who must now choose between job offers to fashion powerful and actionable insight from a tsunami of data, one at a more traditional profit maximizing firm or another in a business that seems utterly resolved to make the world better, smaller bonuses or none at all, if that’s what it takes.
I see a middle manager, navigating a fundamental change in the way her business operates and surrounded by a generation of “juniors” who seem strangely under-motivated by the things bosses used to motivate her cohort only a few years ago. How will she satisfy the demand for more efficiency from above and more meaning from below? Too often she wonders if they are un-reconcilable foes or ambitions of mutual reinforcement.
I see a gatherer of customer data whose organization resolutely rejects the insight that her group offers because it would unhinge the profit model of the business. How courageous should she be? When the data is out there, the required action will be self-evident; no turning back.
Doubtless, you will have your own stories or know of others who face the increasingly familiar uncertainty of another new year, and more choices like these about how to bring about the kind of positive, purposeful outcomes so many of you seem to be pursuing. (To update an earlier request, we will welcome those kinds of stories for the exchange. Submit them here.)
As I reflect on my own challenges for the coming year—not the least of which is to keep producing sufficiently compelling insight to continue to reward the many thousands of hours you all have spent reading these blogs—my thoughts turn again to the emerging, better form of enterprise that I have set out to describe. And again, the hard reality of significant system change confronts me. It is slow, often frustrating, and frequently without immediate reward and so it requires, above all, a long obedience in the same direction (look for a forthcoming blog by the same title!). Better businesses will emerge. Neither my generation nor perhaps the next will experience the new system in its full maturity, but we will each, across generations and continents, have played a part. We will each have to:
- demand answers to the hard questions
- make courageous personal choices to harness profit to purpose and not the reverse,
- look for the unique blessings we have that can creatively be assembled into our own positive legacy, including reshaping the places where we work and shop.
As you contemplate the unique opportunities that are yours for next year, know that here at least, you have joined with a small but growing community from around the world, made up of people who diligently search for a better way to do business. It is possible. Do let me know if there are other ways I can help or encourage you along the way.
In this season of unreasonable hope, I offer my best wishes to you on your journey.
For other posts in the Telosity series, click here.