K Street Newsletter :: Directions

June 2019    |    VOLUME 17, ISSUE 6

Communication & Culture

We started Knowledge Street with the idea of blending Knowledge Management and Communications, since in our corporate KM days we felt strongly that programs were failing because people didn't understand them. That is, we saw our company putting a reasonable amount of effort into the design and development of KM systems, but virtually no effort into training or promotion. Knowledge Management was run out of IT, and perhaps understandably the CIO managed KM projects like software deployments. If it was installed and running and everyone had an ID, IT's job was finished. Deriving business value was someone else's problem.

So we liked this article at The Huffington Post, which positions Communications as the ultimate foundation for business success. It suggests that all successful companies must create an environment that encourages the open sharing of information. The author believes that when communication improves, the quality of the business culture improves too. And that has a direct effect on the bottom line. In fact, one of her four suggested initiatives was also our most successful program in the corporate job -- an online employee directory. We called ours PeopleFinder, and put as much effort into communications as we did into design. We had posters, and T-shirts and magnets. We pitched it with webcasts, produced a "guided tour" in PowerPoint and enlisted local administrators in each of the company's locations around the world. It was a resounding success. A lot of fun, too.

Design Thinking

nnovation is the key to business success, and companies which can innovate more quickly than the competition will be the market leaders. That sounds fine, in theory, but traditional enterprises don't lend themselves to innovative cultures. Most are still top-down organizations, with functional models that are built on specialization. So they might look for innovation in the R&D department, but wouldn't expect it in the warehouse. In fact innovation can come from anywhere.

Design thinking is one way to encourage innovation. It's a way to blend analytical thinking (based on logical methodologies) with intuitive thinking (which tries to bring creativity into the mix). Some of today's most successful entities have used design thinking to create positive customer experiences for a variety of products and services. Design thinking helps them develop a better understanding of the customer's needs and meet those needs in the marketplace. Diagrams can be a useful bridge between these two ways of thinking, and this article offers 13 ideas for diagrams that can get you started. From a simple vision exercise to a cornerstone diagram, each one can help work teams think about their challenges in a new way. All you need is a whiteboard and some markers.


Street Smarts 188: Shift gears.

This month's Directions seems to have turned into a special issue on creativity, so that's where we went mining the internet for tips and tricks. This one comes from a collection of 25, and they're all worth your consideration. The idea in this one is that you can't force a creative insight by banging your head into the wall. If the ideas aren't coming, do something else. Do a jigsaw puzzle. Take a nap. Thomas Edison liked to go fishing. Ray Bradbury went for a bike ride. The Coen Brothers wrote Barton Fink as a break from the writing of Miller's Crossing. (If you haven't seen it, Barton Fink is the story of a Hollywood screenwriter with writer's block.)

Another tip is to break your patterns. Try a different route to work, or eat something you've never eaten before. Listen to music that's not usually on your playlist, or watch a film that you wouldn't normally see. And it doesn't hurt to immerse yourself in the creativity of others. Visit museums, look at art galleries and read about how others have worked through creative challenges. It's all out there.


Good taste, good art, good writing. 

While we often recommend articles about the nature of communication, we haven't pointed out one like this. It's an appreciation of the work of Bill Bernbach, whom Advertising Age described as one of the most influential people of the 20th Century. He was one of the co-founders of Doyle Dane Bernbach, an agency that came together 70 years ago this week. He died in 1982. And while many in the business saw advertising as a science that relied on formulas and data points, Bernbach saw it as an art.

His company was behind groundbreaking campaigns for Avis ("We try harder"), Life Cereal ("Mikey likes it") and Levy's Rye Bread ("You don't have to be Jewish...") One of its most notable was the 1959 "Think small" campaign for Volkswagen, which broke all the rules for automobile advertising of the period. It used a minimalist, black and white approach with ad copy that had an intelligent sense of humor. Bernbach wrote that creativity was the last unfair advantage companies could claim over their competition. "Let us prove to the world that good taste, good art, good writing can be good selling." A lesson to remember.

Creativity is a Process

You've probably heard people protest that they're not the creative type. Maybe you've said it yourself. But creativity is something that can be learned -- not everyone will be a creative genius, but anyone can learn the basic process of creative thinking. In this blog post, author James Clear describes creativity as the act of making new connections between old and seemingly unrelated ideas. Unfortunately, creativity can also be "un-learned." In 1968, researcher George Land tested a group of children every five years, starting when they were five years old. In year one, 98% of the group scored in the highly creative range. By the time they were 25, only 2% still did.

One tip for being more creative is to start small. You can't write a novel in one sitting, but you can write one page. Small steps can add up. There also seems to be a relationship between creativity and embarrassment, in that more creative people are willing to look bad in pursuit of a new idea. They understand that there are very few mistakes you can’t recover from, and the fear of embarrassment is just an excuse to keep from moving forward. As an old friend of Knowledge Street's used to say, "you have to be willing to get caught trying."




Directions is an electronic newsletter about things related to KM & Communications, published on the second Wednesday of each month (check out the current issue above). It’s a double opt-in system, which means you’ll receive an email asking you to confirm that you really want it. Once you click on the link in that mail, you’ll be signed up. You can always unsubscribe using the same link (or by using the link provided in every issue). We will absolutely not give your address to any third parties. What are we, crazy?

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