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Response-Ability, or How to Raise the World’s IQ in One Easy Step

SUMMER VACATION! Following is a reprint of a popular post from earlier this year:

Doesn’t it seem sometimes like the world is filled with irresponsible idiots? Wouldn’t your job be easier if they just got a clue and did what they obviously need to do?

Let me give you an example of corporate idiocy. I used to work for a company that marketed the same brand in two related but distinct categories that were shelved near each other, bought by the same buyers, but served different needs. We in Marketing did our job. With great regularity, we uncovered opportunities to grow our business in specific markets. With great regularity, we recommended incremental spending plans. And with great regularity, we got shot down by Finance.

“We’re only #5 and #7 in that market,” they’d argue. “Small brands can’t compete by spending. Besides, it will dilute margins.”

Great. The idiots thought they knew our job. How could we grow the brand if we didn’t invest in promising markets? And we knew our customers thought our brand was more important than our own internal managers did.

The idiots in Finance were being irresponsible, plain and simple.

Then one night I woke at 3 a.m. with an idea. I drove to the office in the dark, pulled out our IRI reports by market, and looked at the two categories as two segments of a single uber-category. What do you know. In this new frame, the picture of our brand was pretty different. Instead of a small player in two categories, our brand was #1 or #2 in the combined category in most major markets, and a strong #3 in the rest.

I shared the new report as an FYI. Wove the new perspective into every presentation, no matter what the subject. Didn’t ask for anything. Let them process the info.

The next time Marketing requested incremental funds to defend our leadership share, we got it. No questions asked.

Instantly, effortlessly, the number of idiots in the company shrank. Now there was just one: the guy in the mirror who’d been so distracted by finger-pointing that he forgot his primary job wasn’t to be right, but to help others do their jobs by providing new perspectives for looking at the issues.

If I’d been thinking, I’d have realized I was response-able all along. And by the way, the incremental spending grew share and margins. Marketing and Finance were both happy with that!

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