At the beginning of every new year, we usually take the time to reflect on the prior year – our accomplishments, our successes, our shortcomings – and many of us will embrace the age-old tradition of resolving to change an undesired trait, adopt a behavior, or physically alter ourselves in some way. Then, we dutifully make our list of New Year’s Resolutions and commit to transform ourselves in the year ahead.
Now, if you happen to be a marketer, you know that building a business, telling your story, developing a winning strategy and putting systems in place to scale is not an easy job. In fact, it’s daunting. It’s risky. It’s stressful. It doesn’t matter if you’re running a global brand or an entrepreneurial startup, as you start to execute your marketing plans for 2017, stress is inevitable. When it comes to the discipline of Marketing, transformation and tension go hand in hand. By the way, this is also true whether you’re resolved to gain 5 points of market share or lose 5 pounds this month. The reality is that there is a gap between the promise of where you are headed and the reality of where you are now. This gap results in additional tension, but in this case, it can also be a source of new energy. The trick is how can you manage that stress and turn it into productive uses. In some of my previous writings, I defined this opportunity as generating “creative tension”.
Creative tension is a behavioral adaptation that magnifies creativity and facilitates transformational change.
– Harnessing Creative Tension through Marketing Automation
Under the right circumstances, tension can help facilitate creativity and increase your team’s ability to change. Generating creative tension requires clarity about your desired brand destination and full organizational alignment on the “truth about today”. In other words, the gap and desired outcome need to be clear so people are motivated to change. When properly directed and harnessed, a little organizational tension is not necessarily a bad thing.
With the New Year’s spirit in mind, here are 5 resolutions to help you cope with the natural stress of marketing transformation and generate the kind of healthy creative tension you need to lead you to greater success in 2017:
1. Articulate your Brand Destination (in as much detail as you can)
Don’t worry about using metrics and goals. Just ask yourself the question, “What does success look like?” It’s also important that you’re describing a destination, and not an anti-destination. A destination talks about what you want, while an anti-destination is focused on what you don’t want. Focusing on what you don’t want makes your mind drift back into last year’s problems, so it serves to reinforce the problem, instead of generating creative tension.
2. Tell the Truth About Today
Trying to impress your customers? If you’re pretending that you’re something you’re not, you’ll increase stress levels, reduce the potential for creative tension and run the risk of choosing irrelevant strategies to get to your desired destination. Watch, listen, and pay attention to your present. Ask for feedback and opinions from other people to get different perspectives of your current reality. Question all your stories about reality so that you can peel away the self-deception and the stuff that’s interpretive and get to the core truth of what your current reality is all about.
3. Build “How” Bridges
Notice the next obvious steps for bridging your current reality to your destination and implement those. You won’t necessarily know the full “how to get there” at the outset, but as you keep refining and articulating your perception of reality and your destination and keep taking the next obvious step, you can trust that the creative tension will seek to resolve itself by getting you to where you want to be. Stop stressing out! There is no better way to say it. The moment you feel as if everything is tanking and not going to plan, stop and take a moment to think. How did you succeed in the past? How did you overcome previous challenges? How can you apply those learnings? You should always be thinking about “how” bridges that you can build on your journey from current reality to the desired brand destination.
Focusing on what you don’t want makes your mind drift back into last year’s problems, so it serves to reinforce the problem, instead of generating creative tension.
4. Get Organized and Keep it Clean!
This is going to sound painfully obvious… but it’s true and it’s often overlooked. A key source of stress for marketers is the space in which we work. I found out after a short while of working as a marketer that I worked better in tidy, organized spaces. I was less distracted, less frazzled and I generated greater output per day. The messy and more crowded I felt, the less creative and productive I became. So, when I ran across some research backing this up, I wasn’t too surprised. The research showed that, a messy cubicle often leads to messy thoughts. Your brain is going to get so confused about what it should be doing first that you are most likely to feel extremely stressed out. You then won’t be able to concentrate on your work at all! So if you want creativity to flourish, make sure that all the files, documents, and important paperwork have been organized so that you can easily retrieve data and can get into your creative flow. You may have been surprised to find office housekeeping advice in this article, but trust me, this one wins the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval!
5. Disconnect and Recharge Periodically
We all face tight deadlines, unrealistic target dates, and the highest quality standards, but you know you can’t deliver quality work if there is always a dark cloud looming over your head. The moment you feel stressed out – I’m talking about that nasty feeling when you are wound up with so much stress that you can’t think clearly – just drop everything you’re doing and go take a break. Take a walk, call a friend, relax your mind. One of the tricky things about creative tension is that there’s a sweet spot where the anxiety levels are “just right” to release your peak performance and best thinking. Too much stress and anxiety and you’ll drop into distress, and your performance and the quality of your thinking will plummet with it. So don’t go pushing yourself to articulate a ridiculously huge destination in the hope that creative tension will get you there.
I learned this lesson in my first job out of school – a lesson that I remember all too well to this day. As an analyst, I would bang away at my computer 10 hours a day, often 7 days a week, and I felt the sting of “burn out” quite often. At the time, I was consulting to a business based in Germany and my client counterpart and I exchanged correspondence daily. Whenever we spoke, I could hear the tiredness and sluggishness in his voice – and I’m certain he knew I was burning the candle at both ends as well. We were fast approaching an important deadline and suddenly he stopped returning my calls. Emails to him spit back automated “out of office” messages … the guy just dropped off the grid and disappeared on vacation for a week. I was shocked. I remember thinking to myself at the time: “What? How can you do that?” Even more disheartening for me, when he returned the next week and finished his part of the deliverable with pristine quality, he earned the accolades of our project manager. I pulled nearly a week of “all-nighters” and barely got a pat on the back! Now, I’m not saying you need to run off to the Bahamas in order to feel better. In fact, just a fun night out on the town may do the trick. Everyone is different when it comes to destressing and recharging the batteries. In the case of my German friend, he took his wife to one of the most romantic spots in Germany, completely disconnected, forgot completely about work and returned as a creative genius!
By understanding the ways to generate productive creative tension, you now have a great opportunity to magnify organizational creativity and facilitate the transformational changes you need for a successful 2017.
Transformational Marketing, as the name implies, is about optimizing and mobilizing all marketing assets to create lasting preference for the brand, to activate customer purchase intent, and to accelerate organic growth of revenues and profits. To truly transform, marketing must get all 3S’s right: the right Story, the right Strategy, and the right Systems, all measured through the lens of Simplicity, Clarity, and Alignment. To learn more, download our latest eBook Transformational Marketing: Moving to the TopRight.
Happy New Year!
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