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The mythical “Head of Marketing”

Most organizations have someone that they call the head of marketing, but unlike the other departments, this person’s job is usually more tactical and less strategic than it could be.

That’s because the boss isn’t willing to let go of the decisions that are actually at the heart of marketing.

The boss is holding on tight to the answers to questions like, “who’s it for” and “what’s it for?” The boss certainly isn’t ceding responsibility for the company’s posture and the change it seeks to make.

So, it’s a bit disingenuous to call this marketing person the ‘head’ of anything.

I’m seeing the same thing with project managers who seek to extend their span of control to things that growth hackers get all excited about.

Head of marketing operations is probably more accurate, right?

In fact, the head of marketing is often more of a consigliere, charged with making a case to the CEO. If the boss is any good, she’ll listen carefully, ask hard questions and then make a smart decision. The rest of the time, the head of marketing is mostly following the lead of the boss. That’s because marketing is everything that the organization does that interacts with a member of the public. Marketing is personal, it’s vivid and it has its fingers in everything.

To be the head of marketing, you need the freedom and responsibility to change the way things work, not simply how they’re talked about.

At brand-oriented companies like Unilever, the brand manager has far more influence than she might at a place like Facebook, Basecamp or Slack, where it seems like the degrees of freedom are much narrower. If you want a marketing head, you need to give them the freedom to actually do marketing.

The reason that the tenure of a CMO at a big company averages about 18 months is that it takes a year and a half for the boss to realize that pain-free, risk-free, easy miracles aren’t arriving on schedule.

Of course it could be better

That’s not the question, not really.

The question is, “what are you going to do about it?”

And, to follow up, “what effort are you willing to put in to make it better?”

If you’re not willing to make it better, it’s probably going to stay the way it is.

The first day of summer is right around the corner (or winter, if you live in the other hemisphere).

The changing of seasons is as good a time as any to say, “now, I’m going to make it better.”

The key word isn’t ‘better’. The key words are now and I.


When you’re ready to take that on, we’d love to have you join us and become part of the altMBA. It’s worth checking out–but do it before June 21, that’s our final deadline for this session.

Awkward memorization

The spread of TED talks means that more and more people are being put on stage and told to memorize their talk.

This almost always leads to failure.

It’s not because people memorize too much, it’s because they don’t memorize enough.

Watch a great performance and you’ll see no artifacts of memorization. Instead, you will see someone speaking from the heart.

This is what it means to know something by heart.

Memorizing the words is half of it.

And woefully insufficient.

My suggestion: Don’t memorize your talk. Memorize your stories. Ten stories make a talk. Write yourself a simple cue card to remember each story’s name. Then tell us ten stories.

Be you.

We didn’t come to hear your words. If that’s all we wanted, we could have read the memo and saved a ton of time.

Bring your heart.

Book recommendations–present, future and past

Jerry Colonna, the quiet coach of so many successful leaders, has his first book out, publishing tomorrow. It’s raw, personal and life-altering. It’s called Reboot.

Lewis Hyde, author of the seminal The Gift, only writes a book a decade. The new one is due soon, I’ll be adding it to my stack on pub day. It’s called Forgetting.

Marie Forleo, who speaks clearly and with kindness, has her new book coming out in September. Everything is Figureoutable.

Paul McGowan, entrepreneurial wizard and quite a ruckus maker, has turned his autobiography into a bestseller. It’s called 99% True. A great title, and a rollicking ride.

The inimitable Scott Miller has written his first leadership book, via FranklinCovey: Management Mess.

Chris Guillebeau generous as always, shares 100 Side Hustles.

Charlie Gillkey has an important new book out in September: Start Finishing.

Coming soon, a modern-day classic on naming by Louise Karch: Word Glue.

Scott Perry on our journey: Endeavor.

Magician and speaker Brian Miller helps us think differently about human engagement in Three New People.

Chase Jarvis launches Creative Calling in September. Sure to be a keeper.

And just last week, we re-sold the rights to my book Linchpin in Korea, and I was reminded of how long it’s been since I’ve written about it here. I re-read it annually, and I’m glad I wrote it. It’s certainly the book my readers mention the most often.

Susan Piver to the rescue with: Start Here Now.

The True Believer is a must read. It’s dense, it’s more than fifty years old, it’s an easy read and it’s urgently important.

Surely you’re read Kevin Kelly’s classic New Rules for the New Economy.

And don’t miss Ainissa Ramirez’ Save Our Science.

Cookbooks? Here are two. The genius of Kenji Lopez Alt and the Food Lab and Made in India from Meera Sodha.

Tiffani Bova has written a smart book about smart decisions. Growth IQ.

Years ago, Nancy Lublin wrote a classic about a new kind of non-profit. It’s called Zilch.

I know a lot of authors. And I know the work of even more authors I’ve never met. It’s a privilege available to anyone who wants to take the time to read.

The appropriate medium

We spend all day communicating, and we’ve invented myriad ways to do it. You can buy a stamp, press a button, rent a room or use a microphone. Choose wisely.

Don’t send an email when you should pick up the phone instead.

Don’t send a text when an email makes more sense.

Don’t have a meeting when a memo is more likely to get the point across.

Don’t give a speech when a blog post would reach more people with more impact.

And don’t write it down when it’s better said live…

Investing in slack

If your delivery drivers have to do six deliveries a day, they’ll rush from the first moment. They’ll be super efficient at easily measurable metrics. They’ll cut a few corners.

If they only have to make five deliveries, you can ask them to spend that ‘down’ time doing things your customers will actually remember. They can invest in less easily measurable metrics. Instead of cutting corners, they’ll embrace them.

Systems with slack are more resilient. The few extra minutes of time aren’t wasted, the same way that a bike helmet isn’t wasted if you don’t have a crash today. That buffer will save the day, sooner or later.

One thunderstorm can cripple the air traffic system for six major cities, because each plane is stacked so efficiently that the ripple cascades, leading to failure and cancellations. In the old days, when efficiency was measured over a longer term, there was enough buffer to absorb a bump like that.

The mistake happens when we over-index on the easily measured short-term wins and forget to account for the costs of system failure.

Competitive environments push profit seekers to reduce slack and to play a short-term game. If your organization hits the wall, the market will survive, because we have other options. But that doesn’t mean you will survive.

Slack is actually a bargain.

Even if it’s not graduation week for you…

Consider writing.

Not plastics.

Not Wall Street.

Simply writing.

As we race toward a post-literate world, the surprising shortcut is compelling indeed: Learn to write.

Audiobooks outsell print. AI can turn text into speech. People scan, they don’t read.

Doesn’t matter. Learn to write.

Yes, it would be great if you could become a full-stack developer. If you put in the hard work to be a civil engineer or a mathematician on the cutting edge. But most people were persuaded from an early age that this isn’t the work for them.

But writing?

If you’re an actor, being able to write means that you can cast yourself.

If you’re a marketer, being able to write means you can tell your story.

If you’re looking for a job, being able to write makes you part of a special minority.

Writing is organized thinking on behalf of persuasion.

Writing is your opportunity to stand out, to pitch in and to make a difference.

And you don’t need a permit or equipment. You don’t need an insider’s edge, or money either.

Writing may be the skill with the highest return on investment of all. Because writing is a symptom of thinking.

There will be weather tomorrow

There always is.

The song you’re listening to will end, a surprising news story is going to change the status quo and you’ll get feedback you didn’t expect.

It’s easy to imagine that things are going to calm down, that there’s a neutral position coming up, and that it’s all going to go back to normal.

But the swirl is normal. It’s always been this way. Changing.

There is no ‘ever after’. There’s just the chaos of now.

Ten words per page

That’s how many words get scanned the first time through. Perhaps five on a billboard.

Which means that your memo, your ad, your announcement, your post–you get ten words.

Highlight the ten of the 1,000 you’ve written. Which ten do you want someone to scan so that they’re intrigued enough to slow down and read the rest?

If you can begin with the ten words and write around them, you have the foundation for an effective message.

As Jay Levinson said, the best billboard ever said, “Free coffee, next exit.”

What do we see when we scan your work?

The Learning/Doing Gap

Our society separates them. Somewhere along the way, we decided that one interfered with the other.

Go to school for 8 years to become a doctor–most of that time, you’re learning about doctoring, not actually doing doctoring.

Go to work as a copywriter. Most of the time, you’re doing writing, not learning about new ways to write.

The thing we usually seek to label as ‘learning’ is actually more about ‘education’. It revolves around compliance, rankings and “will this be on the test?”

Being good at school is not the same as learning something.

One reason that we don’t incorporate doing into education is that it takes the authority away from those that would seek to lecture and instruct.

There are 56 million people in K-12 (compulsory education) in the US right now. Most of them do nothing all day but school, failing to bring real-life activity, experimentation and interaction into the things that they are being taught.

And there are more than a hundred million people going to their jobs every day in the US, but few of them read books or take lessons regularly about how to do their work better. That’s considered a distraction or, at best, inconvenient or simply wasted time.

The gap is real. It often takes a decade or more for a profession to accept and learn a new approach. It took gastroenterologists a generation before they fully accepted that most ulcers were caused by bacteria and changed their approach. It has taken our justice system more than thirty years to take a hard look at sentencing and corrections.

It could be because we’re confusing learning with education. That education (someone else is in charge and I might fail) is a power shift from doing, so I’d rather be doing, thank you very much.

What happens if the learning we do is accomplished by always engaging in it in conjunction with our doing?

And what happens if we take a hard look at our doing and spend the time to actually learn something from it?

When police departments invest time in studying their numbers and investigating new approaches, they discover that efficacy and productivity goes up, safety improves and so does job satisfaction.

When science students devise and operate their own lab tests, their understanding of the work dramatically improves.

Education (the compliance-based system that all of us went through) is undergoing a massive shift, as big as the ones that have hit the other industries that have been rebuilt by the connection and leverage the internet brings. And yet, too much of the new work is simply coming up with a slightly more efficient way to deliver lectures plus tests.

I see this every day. People show up at Akimbo expecting lifetime access to secret videos, instead of the hard but useful work of engagement.

The alternative? Learning. Learning that embraces doing. The doing of speaking up, reviewing and be reviewed. The learning of relevant projects and peer engagement. Learning and doing together, at the same time, each producing the other.

If you want to learn marketing, do marketing. If you want to do marketing, it helps to learn marketing.

That same symmetric property applies to just about everything we care about.

To quote the ancient rockers, “We don’t need no… education.”

But we could probably benefit from some learning.

In the middle of all this doing, this constant doing, we might benefit from learning to do it better.

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