Category: Leadership


Don’t Be A Futurist Faker

Luigi Russolo, 1911, The Revolt (La rivolta), Gemeentemuseum Den Haag via Wikipedia

Luigi Russolo, 1911, The Revolt (La rivolta), Gemeentemuseum Den Haag (via Wikipedia)

When Kevin Roberts recently told Business Insider that gender equality was “over for him” and his advertising agencies, saying “(he)… rarely thinks about the problem,” many commentators howled at his indifference. While ad agency employment data shows women make up about 50% of the industry worker force, there’s rough parity within the ranks; 80% of men at big agencies hold leadership and creative director roles according to research from the 3% Conference.   

And if 2016 lawsuits filings are any measure of disparity, patterns of abuse seem to be running rampant in some of the world’s biggest agencies with allegations of racial and gender slurs and inappropriate sexual advances. To be fair, ad firms are but microcosms of society, reflecting larger structural patterns of gender discrimination. From technology to the sciences and across media and entertainment, companies are finally striving to do their best at managing the vestiges of gender discrimination, including promoting and keeping female executive talent.

So why would Mr. Roberts casually elude this reality and go on to describe women as temperamentally ill-suited for executive leadership positions? The answer doesn’t lie in whether or not sexual discrimination still goes on — it does — but in what this says about Mr. Roberts’ status in the media industry, which is even more troubling than his casual dismissal of social ills. As a “coach” to executive talent and expertise, a mentor such as Mr. Roberts should not believe these things. Or should he? Mr. Roberts, I argue, has fallen victim to futurist fakery. That’s right, fakery.

As a society, we’ve become too enthralled with idea leaders. We’re drawn to the men and women who write, blog, teach and educate — crossing the TED stages and traveling the lecture circuits — about the importance of Big Ideas. I’m not suggesting fakers are everywhere. Many of these futuristic insighters bring plenty of real-world context and knowledge to our industry. What I am saying is that while we’ve become accustomed to these educated, talented, and creative men and women to raise our awareness, we’ve let in a few fakers along the way. It’s hard not to.

We’re much better informed and well rounded when talented people step out of their labs, classrooms and offices to share with all of us. But we shouldn’t be idea-complacent or even idea trend-driven. While ancient philosophy has taught us to be respectful of thinkers, we should also use our own powers of reason when it comes to idea hucksters. Ideas for the sake of ideas; concepts without connections to everyday and real problems in search of solutions is simply posturing. And that is what Mr. Roberts seems to be doing. He’s bought into his own ideology, projecting that he’s successful in no small part because he “knows” trends and can connect data and information; therefore, he’s putting himself in a position to constantly seek a connection, no matter how far fetched.

To give some historical context, I use the term “futurist” as it comes to us from the anti-traditionalist art movement in Italy and the Soviet Union in the early 20th century. Futurism was committed to rejecting all established art techniques and styles that depicted the “dynamism” of technology, industrialism and automation. Futurism wanted only art that put people in the experience of machinery, the then-future of economic and cultural progress. Because futurism was so thoroughly unforgiving of tradition and history, as a movement it had little depth beyond a love of industrial machinery. What it did have was an unyielding commitment to projecting the idea of progress — a future people see only in art. And as a result, by the 1930s, it had devolved into propaganda art for totalitarian regimes.  

Unfortunately, Mr. Roberts is the sort of “thought” leader who has adopted the futurist role model for audiences and, in so doing, wiped away any concern for the real, the here and now. What concerns futurists are ideas, trends, disruptions and data points pointing to something… and if they’re not able to back up that something with context or evidence, well, there lies the fakery. But I don’t believe that it’s intentional deception on his part. Mr. Roberts, and many like him, believe they can’t delve into the real-world issues of today as, in their minds, they’ve already crossed over to the other side into tomorrow. Our devotion to the prophecies of industry futurists sets us all up for failure as it’s an unrealistic expectation that thought leaders can consistently think beyond what everyone else can even imagine.

Truth is, we’ve grown a bit complacent and perpetuated these sorts of idea leaders and their sometimes misguided or downright ridiculous projections that have no recognizable bearing on our industry. I admit, I’ve been known to pore over “white papers” and beg favors for tickets to hear giants in science and technology speak on the state of blah, blah, blah. I follow every MIT scientist interested in neuroscience and technology. I’ve got a PhD in political science, but I’m obsessed with the behavioral science of decision-making as I am design thinking applied to… anything.  So I’m not pointing fingers. I’m saying let’s not delude ourselves. Using Freud’s observation that humans are extraordinarily good at deceiving ourselves, especially when chasing their own ideas, leaders like Mr. Roberts seem all too silly. Let’s not be fakers.


7 Reasons Why Introverts Are Your Secret Weapon

Although businesses, especially creative ones, are full of myriad personalities, when talking about how to manage, we tend to group people into two main types – extroverts and introverts. And, while every strong team can benefit from a balance of both, we tend to value and admire the outwardly expressive personality types, projecting them with positive qualities such as warmth, confidence, and intelligence, overlooking their more introspective peers.

That’s big mistake, according to our Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Founder Kate Canada Obregon, who shared her insights with Everyday Power in her article “7 Reasons Why Introverts Are Your Secret Weapon.” Read the full article here and find out how introverts can capitalize on their secret strengths.


Better Together: How Introverts and Extroverts Can Leverage Their Skills for a Stronger Workplace

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Do you get your best ideas while talking to others or do you prefer quiet time processing your thoughts? Whatever your personal disposition, if you’re charged with leading others, or you want to move into managing others, you’ve got to understand introverts and extroverts, and how they do their best work.

Let’s define what we mean by Introverts and Extroverts. According to Isabel Briggs Myers and Katharine Briggs, and their now-famous Myers Briggs [Personality] Type Indicator, we tend to fall along a spectrum of personality and behaviors called Introverts and Extroverts. As the names imply, both use their inner and outer worlds differently in their thinking, learning and interaction styles. Introverts are more inclined to delve into inner worlds of thoughts and feelings while extroverts prefer outside stimulation with activity and talking. Introverts prefer less outside activity and draw meanings in their minds from these experiences. Extroverts focus on feeling experiences and figure out meaning in experiences.

Many psychologists and organizational behaviorists tell us introverts and extroverts don’t always understand one another’s communication style. These confusions can lead to unproductive meetings, unnecessary conflicts and decreased productivity.   

If you’re managing or leading teams, understanding personality and knowing the value of introverts and extroverts, will not only garner you respect from employees, but it can also increase productivity, and improve the quality of work products, and conflict resolution.

Consciously appealing to different personalities also improves morale, because we humans work best, and are happier, when we feel understood and respected. And the bigger truth is that we can’t avoid it.  All of us are born somewhere on the introvert / extrovert spectrum and the key is making the most of how these two personality types can best work together.

We carry with us stereotypes about introverts versus extroverts. Sometimes, the reality in every meeting proves our bias. So for instance, extrovert-oriented talkative types speak often, displaying confidence while quieter types listen, conveying inactivity in meetings or brainstorming work sessions.

As Susan Cain argued in her bestseller, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” introverts are forced to work against the “Extrovert Ideal — the omnipresent belief, the gregarious, alpha (who is) comfortable in the spotlight.” It’s easy to buy into the Extrovert Ideal and default to idealizing their personality as the best approach to leading initiatives. But, while extroverts can provide a burst of energy and take the initial reins, introverts have equally valuable contributions to make.

We need extroverts to kick things off and bring a fresh energy to the room. If you’ve ever sat in a meeting where no one wanted to speak up, then you know what a relief it is to have that person who’s willing to go first or just “spitball.” However, it’s important to remember that while introverts may be sitting there quietly, they are actually quite engaged. The truth is they may just be taking it all in. Introverts are internal facing, meaning they can absorb and consider facts, and combine ideas in their head, which they may verbally express at a later time.

Another way these personalities balance each other out is through their approach to thought. While extroverts tend to express their ideas as they think of them, often trying to get a better grasp on what they’re actually saying, an introvert can listen to what an extrovert is saying and summarize what they’re really thinking. Sometimes, an extrovert is able to inspire an introvert, and an introvert is able to give the extrovert focus and structure.

As stated earlier, we often look to extroverts to jumpstart the energy of a meeting, but during long meetings or brainstorming sessions, extroverts can sometimes extend themselves into exhaustion. It’s the introverts who can save the day by swooping in and bringing energy back to the room.

It can be challenging to operate in a business environment where we tend to default to the loudest or quickest ones to talk to lead the conversation, but it’s important to remember that both extroverts and introverts have their own unique advantages and resources. They can actually strengthen each other. In the end, we’re all just trying to make ourselves heard, even if we go about it in different ways.


Five Minutes With – Kate Canada Obregon, PhD

As the Co-Founder, Partner and Director of Strategy and Research of Oishii Creative, Kate Canada Obregon has been with the company from the beginning, since co-founding it with her business partner, and now husband, Ish Obregon, in 2006. Read on as she offers her insight into what the company’s philosophy, “Think Like a Tourist,” means for her, what inspires her, and what she really does all day.

How do you “Think Like a Tourist” (how do you embody that philosophy for yourself)?
For me, “Thinking Like a Tourist” is not only our company mantra, but truly my experience coming into this industry. I had such an outside background that I feel I’ve been able to bring some fresh perspective and understanding to the world of branding. I originally studied political philosophy and culture at university. The more I studied and researched, the more I began to see the small, but powerful, tools people used in culture, language, and perspective — how culture and institutions in society are in a perpetual conversation.

While working in a basement library archive, researching and examining a replica of the Bayeux Tapestry and William the Conqueror’s attempt to win over his new English subjects after defeating the beloved King Harold in 1066, a friend gave me career advice. “You should try out the field of brands,” she said. I looked at her, and we both had a good laugh. “Why not apply your knowledge to different kinds of problems? You know history and science,” she urged. “You should think about applying your skills and passion to more contemporary problems.” And as I completed my PhD studies, I began meeting with creative agencies doing interesting work in strategy, and I was curious and inspired. Around this time, I met Ish, and we immediately clicked. He wanted to shape “branding” into a standalone and serious discipline for his clients, separate from the function and process of marketing, and I wanted to apply social science to study audiences and culture. I wanted to be a “social” scientist, not just study culture for science.So, luckily for me, I still apply my background and outside approach to the industry, and I get to “Think Like a Tourist” everyday — creating actionable strategy and insights using science and good data for companies and brands committed to understanding what their audiences or clients like, want or value.

What do you do when you’re feeling creatively blocked?
Get outside! Even if it’s just for a short walk, getting yourself moving and exposed to fresh air, sunlight and a new environment can jumpstart your creativity.

What three elements would a perfect day include?
Definitely time with my family, a project that I can sink my research teeth into, and maybe a really good cup of coffee.

What do you do all day?
Today, my days are spent working on the strategy and research side of projects at Oishii. As each client comes in, I study their brand, goals, and needs, and help them figure out where they want to go. It’s been a great fit, because like any academic, I’m obsessed with pursuing good knowledge whatever the project or outcome. In my former academic self, I couldn’t have understood English history using hearsay or bad science, and today, my clients deserve no less. Strategy for me is the ongoing pursuit of what makes companies and brands pleasurable for audiences, and that should always involve history, science and rigor.

Do your family understand what you do all day?
Well, my co-founder, Ish Obregon, is also my husband, so I would hope so!