Corporate Fellas: Shiny Happy People 

A few weeks before we graduated from our MBA in the Asian Institute of Management in 2004, our professor, Dean Eduardo "Edmo" Morato, told us "if you want to apply everything you learned in the MBA, don't go corporate, go to an SME (Small to Medium Enterprise)." I got what he meant then. I fully understand and appreciate it now.

A few years ago, our company launched a brand of candy. It was a foreign candy with a totally different set of strategies (positioning, product formulation, packaging). Months before the launch, Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) and UAI (Usage, Attitude & Image) Surveys were done by a reputable global research firm. The product's taste and packaging were revamped based on the findings. The FGD and UAI findings were used to properly identify the core target markets and to develop the positioning strategy that would dictate the brand's life. The advertising agency we used to develop our print ads and tagline were involved in the process to ensure they knew the consumers. The major trade channels were also included in the process. We even met with the President of our most important account, the one that we wanted to initially pipeline the product in. The President loved everything, the product, the packaging and the tagline. It probably took us almost one year before we finally launched the brand.

The product was and continues to be a success. Year-on-year growth never goes below 60%. Years after the launch, we conducted a survey (over 500 respondents) on the core target market of the brand. The results were overwhelmingly positive. The strategies and tactics implemented all resonated with them. That's what you get when all relevant stakeholders synchronize to satisfy carefully segmented consumers. 

Unfortunately, we are now being challenged by the new Marketing Director of our principal supplier. She's challenging all decisions made and implemented prior to her joining the company. She's doubting the output of all researches done, saying the design of the FGD and survey were suspect (so she's better than the reputable multinational research agency we got). She doesn't like the tagline (she's better than the ad agency). She has her own tagline and positioning strategy which she forced to be tested in the last survey. They failed. But she didn't care. She knows better because she successfully launched a totally different product in the Philippines (she's lived here for a few years). She has convinced everyone in her company to see her ways. The tagline will be changed this year to a more globally-aligned one. She wants the positioning and tagline to be the same throughout Asia! 

I learned in AIM and I teach it to my students in my various teaching endeavors (eg, college, graduate school, executive education, etc): LISTEN TO YOUR CUSTOMERS. That's basic marketing, Hell, that's basic management. This is what Edmo meant with the quote earlier. He elaborated that some corporate people tend to forget the sound principles of management. In my previous example, two customers were not listened to: the end consumer and us, the distributor.

In one of my workshops with a multinational company, I guided the the sales managers to develop excellent overall strategic plans for their brands, anchored on two very targeted target markets, which they profiled properly. The managers started poorly though, ending the first major exercise with vague ideas. I made them repeat the process with a stricter set of directions. The results were tremendous. I told them that what they developed weren't tactical sales programs, but long-term strategic directions for the company. I told them that they generated ideas for the marketing team. I was deeply satisfied seeing them transform from tactical sales people to strategic visionaries. Lo and behold, someone from the marketing team (who went through the same workshop before the sales did) called me a few days later saying that I ridiculed them in front of the sales managers when I said that the sales generated ideas for the marketing team. It seems that my words were distorted by someone from sales to paint the marketing team in a bad light. "They're jealous of us," the marketing guy explained. Sheesh. 

The Corporate Killer Robot: "Everyone Is Jealous Of Us!"

Stories painting idealistic management students selling-out to become lifeless, robotic, puppets are plenty. They can't be blamed I guess. The bigger a company gets, the more complex it becomes. Various departments, people, performance indicators interweave and interlock. People are therefore forced to streamline operations in such a complex environment. Convergent thinking becomes the norm:

When people become singular in focus, regurgitating ideas and choices previously decided on, the tendency is for some to lose their drive to generate new ideas. Worse, they shut out the ideas of others. Silos are formed. When other people have new, better ideas, they are not considered. Worse, they are branded "jealous". 

Another reason why some people become convergent thinkers is to play it safe. The bigger the company becomes, the more money it makes, the more money it spends. For these people, when the stakes are high, problems should be avoided at all cost. As the late great, Biggie Smalls said: 

Notorious BIG: Patron Saint of Convergent Thinkers

You can't fully blame people from taking the safe, financially stable route. The companies that have  made them risk-averse are to be blamed as well. But the sad thing is, ultimately, the consumer is forgotten. They are given products and services that are good enough, not the best that could be made for them. These people forget that the company is, was and should forever be there for the customer.

Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, the great ones, know that convergent thinking is myopic. The great entrepreneurs are not motivated by plain financial objectives. They want to create products and services that would make competitors obsolete and have relevance and impact on the consumers. To do this, they know they have to be constantly generating new options, seeking opportunities. They have to diverge from the common ways of thinking:

Entrepreneurs know that to sustain innovative companies, they have to master both thinking and philosophies. They need to constantly generate new ideas, screen the promising ones and finally implement. Once the innovation becomes stale, they then circle back to step 1. Some don't even wait for the innovation to be obsolete before they go back to divergent thinking. 

To be both divergent and convergent means you need to have active left and right brains. You need to balance these two sides...effortlessly. Dean Edmo calls this whole-brain thinking. Dean Roger Martin of Rottman University calls this Integrative Thinking. Dean David Kelley of Stanford calls it Design Thinking. Dean Martin would probably call it drinking, smoking and singing at the same time.

Dean Martin: An Entrepreneur

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. 3M is a treasure chest of stories about corporate entrepreneurs ("intrapreneurs") who have have the integrative thinking mindset. As the famous story goes, 3M's Art Fry transformed Spencer Silver's unique adhesive invention, which was considered by everyone else "terrible," into the post-it (click here for the story). Then, you have Sony's Ken Kutaragi who found his child's Nintendo gaming console lacking in image and sound quality, forcing him to develop his own, giving birth to the PlayStation. 

All these remind me of the countless times I butted heads with some our principal suppliers, most if not all, are among the biggest companies in the world, at the least their countries of origin. The most common issue is us growing our purchases from them. When asked about what we can do for the end consumers and how we can satisfy the requirements of the trade customers, then the conversation becomes one-sided. Money is needed to satisfy these customers. "We have limited budgets. This doesn't mean you shouldn't sell our products," would be the song the broken record plays. They want to grow their sales without fully giving what the customers need and want. 

One time, I told Edmo I was curious to know what would have happened to me had I worked in a traditional corporate setting. He told me this: "Don't even think about it. You will just ruffle a lot of feathers in the corporate world." Maybe he's right.

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Comment by Aaron A. Palileo on July 18, 2012 at 1:52

Thanks Fernando! I like your "ethnographic" analogy. That's the challenge when a company (or as you pointed out, a group of friends) gains in size. All the best!

Comment by Fernando Galdino on July 17, 2012 at 17:26

Great post!


My theory is simple. Innovation potential is inversely proportional to a company's size.


Just see how MS and Apple started. And even apple nowadays, while called the main innovators in the world, are launching an IPAD MINI!!! Aka Big Iphone. (and never forget iPad is just an bigger iPhone anyway).


Or, in a less business more ethnographic view, try  to decide where to have lunch with one friend. Now two. Try ten them. More people increase complexity and chance you end up at a boring "one size fits all" kind of place.


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