Turn Disaster into Opportunity

2009 has been a tough year for everyone.

Many of us have had our best laid plans derailed because of the downturn in the economy.

Job losses, delayed retirements, budgets and staff cuts, etc.

Everyone is being asked to do more with less.

At Virgin, this is the norm for us. But honestly, I think it’s what keeps us on our toes.

Our staffs are forced to be more clever, leverage stronger partnerships and get the most out of every event or promotion.

We can’t sit back fat and lazy on big media budgets.

But even though this “challenger mentality” has been the norm for the brand since it was founded in the 70’s…2009 has been amplified.

Nevertheless, I do believe there is a silver lining to the constraints we all face.

When I am in a situation where my plan A (and sometimes even my Plan B) get tossed out the window…I almost always find myself thinking of Steven Spielberg.

WTF? Steven Spielberg?

Flat is the New Growth

“Flat is the new growth”. I heard this expression the other day, and I thought it was witty.

And then I started to really think about it and I thought is was kind of depressing…and dangerous.

I’m a realist (mostly). Well at least I read the paper (when I’ve finished the crossword) and I know what’s going on. Times are tough. But I don’t think we can let that be an excuse for complacency.

Flat may be what the markets are aspiring to, but “Flat” should never become the accepted standard for innovation.

We need to keep pressing on and moving upward, even when it feels like an uphill battle. Actually, especially when it feels like an uphill battle.

These are time of great unrest, but from this turbulence can come some fantastic ideas. The trick is to embrace the uncertainty and use it as a force of liberation and not of stagnation.

After all, it won’t always be like this. But if for now expectations are low, think how incredibly easy it is to exceed them. It may just be the perfect time to take a risk.

Many categories have quieted down in terms of spending and activity. You can make a big bang for a little buck right now.

Not that long ago I was at the launch of Virgin America’s new service to Boston. Amid all the speeches from the celebrities and politicians that were at the launch, one statement really struck a chord.

The head of Massport thanked Virgin for opening a route to Boston in these rocky times. Not just because of the business and jobs it would bring to the city …but also for the signal it sent to the consumers that life and business were moving on.

He stressed how important it was for consumer confidence for companies to keep investing and innovating and that actions like the Boston launch send a powerful, tangible message.

Consider an action you’ve been hesitating about in your business. Why not go ahead and start the ball rolling? What have you got to lose?

I believe that negative thinking breeds negative actions and that positive momentum can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

How are you taking advantage of the current lull to shake things up?

Turn, Turn, Click!

My friend Jane is an amazing problem solver. She’s a Creative Director extraordinaire at an agency with a large and demanding cosmetics brand as her client.

She is constantly producing a high volume of work and wrestling with multiple projects. She needs to be able to quickly evaluate different options, find an inspired solution, and move on to the next challenge.

What’s so neat about Jane is that although she started her career as a copywriter, subsequent job opportunities allowed her to develop the parts of her brain that dwell in visual language.

So now when she has a problem to tackle, she actually visualizes it.

She recently described her process to me as similar to picturing an imaginary Rubik’s cube and turning it around and around, exploring all the facets of the challenge, until all the pieces click into place…and voila the colors are aligned!

It got me thinking that problem visualization could be an interesting technique to try.

Particularly for people like me who are much more comfortable with words. But sometimes reasoning things out on paper only gives the illusion of problem solving. But in our cut and paste culture, it can be just moving our thoughts around but not actually driving them towards any cohesive conclusion.

I like Jane’s approach because you can’t complete a puzzle (or a Rubik’s cube) until all the pieces fit together in an order that makes sense and ultimately represents a sum that’s bigger than the whole of the parts.

So here’s a trick to try. Next time you are struggling with a strategic or creative challenge, leave the memos and the power points aside. Instead, create some sort of visualization of the pieces you are working with.

Perhaps draw a symbol for each of the components (e.g. a stick figure for your consumer, a sledge hammer for that threatening competitor, etc). Then create a visualization that helps you work it out.

This could be a puzzle, a picture book, a board game, even a 3-d diorama.

The important thing is that you demonstrate the issue in a way that’s visual and where you can physically move the pieces around as you problem solve.

Invite others to play along with you and maybe a little creative visualization will be just the trick to help the solution click into place.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?

What’s your Rubik’s cube?