Stratagem Weekly

Earworms and Emerging Marketplace Dynamics

Have you ever had an “earworm” that’s not a song, but a thought? I’d like to infect you with one.

I read daily, capturing, and organizing insights by topic or trend for future reference and analysis. My reading spans The Economist, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, HBR, McKinsey, Deloitte; revelations of thinkers I admire like David Brooks and Karen Nelson-Field PhD. Books and posts of friends and fellow strategists Roger-Martin Buergel, Steve Goldbach, Scott Cook, Les Binet, Peter Field, and Orlando Wood.

Invariably, things I read haunt me for weeks. Like a proverbial “ear worm,” long after exposure they play over and over in my mind until I consciously deal with them. Among my 2023 earworms were three "emerging marketplace dynamics."

The first two concepts are from Rory Sutherland, vice chair at Ogilvy UK.

“There's a big, big difference between what you need to do to win an argument and what you need to do to solve a problem. Unfortunately, in the modern business world, you can't solve a problem without winning an argument first.

“There's a big, big difference between approaching a problem rationally and approaching a problem creatively. The rational person sees a contradiction and thinks of it as a trade-off - the creative person sees a contradiction and tries to resolve it.”

The third concept comes from Geoff Tuff and my friend Steve Goldbach.

In their great book "Provoke," they argue that leaders increase risk by following the traditional rule of thumb to “wait and see.” They underscore that leaders learn a lot more, faster, when they stop overthinking issues and instead, provoke the marketplace through a simple marketplace test, a trial balloon, or a "minimally viable move," to reveal insights and possibilities.

In processing the three, my conclusion surprised even me:

If it’s harder than ever to win an argument today, and if contradictions are everywhere you look, then no wonder weeks spent trying to reach a consensus or reconcile trade-offs easily become months. It’s no wonder that, along the way, biases and divisiveness become entrenched. Odds of productive future debate or planning get lower and lower.

Everyone’s strategic playbook needs a new approach. I hope it’s an earworm you can’t get out of your mind:

The minute arguing and debating starts, immediately redirect the discussion by asking “If you could wave a magic wand, what insights and possibilities would you wish the marketplace could reveal to us? What –if we knew it next week- could help us make a quantum leap in agreement and problem resolution?” People will offer rational and creative research ideas.

Provoking the marketplace for answers could begin without delay using small tests. All that’s learned and processed before competitors could give you competitive advantage. But the ability to lessen your organization's unproductive and potentially culture-harming behaviors? It just might give you even more.

For more, visit my website or follow me on LinkedIn.

Worm with headphones