BIF and Mavericks at Work

Bill Taylor Author, Mavericks at Work

Co-Author of Mavericks at Work, Taylor is a provocative and inspiring voice on the future of business – an agenda-setting writer, speaker, and entrepreneur who has shaped the global conversation about the best ways to compete, innovate, and succeed. As a cofounder and founding editor of Fast Company, Taylor launched a magazine that won countless awards, and earned a passionate following among executives and entrepreneurs around the world.   Blogs: and Game Changer:

Dan Heath Author, Made to Stick

Heath is the co-author of the best-selling book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. A consultant at Duke Corporate Education, Heath designs and teaches executive education programs for clients such as Microsoft, Dow, and Home Depot. Heath also co-founded a company called Thinkwell, a company producing innovative new-media textbooks that incorporate new approaches to learning.   Blog:

Dave Balter Founder and CEO, BzzAgent, Inc. (word-of-mouth marketing firm)

Balter is the founder and CEO of BzzAgent, Inc., one of the advertising industry’s most recognized word-of-mouth marketing and media firms. A co-founder and board member of The Word of Mouth Marketing Association, Balter currently serves as Chair of the Association’s International Committee. In 2005 Balter co-authored Grapevine: The New Art of Word-of-Mouth Marketing.   Book: Grapevine: The New Art of Word-of-Mouth Marketing –    Blog:

Paul English,  Founder, the gethuman project,  Co-Founder & CTO,

English is the co-founder & CTO of a travel search engine. Recently, English has gained recognition as the founder of gethuman, a consumer movement, with the goal to change the face of customer support in the United States. Gethuman provides company contact information so consumers can talk to actual employees instead of automated machines when they call a helpline.    Blog:

Dan Heath

  • asked us to write down in 15secs everything that was white and then everything that was white in your fridge.  A limited challenge often produces better results.   Everyone says think outside the box, but thinking inside a box can produce better.  you have to be able to improvise on something
  • so I want to go to bat for the box.  we need to find the right box and get in it!
  • Paul Sawyer looks at improv comedy – and good improv needs a setting, some fodder to get going
  • Improv actors get trained…ask direct questions, guide the dialog, which can make it easier to riff.  The box can be liberating
  • Hollywood uses this…the High Concept Pitch.  Die Hard on a Bus – Speed.  Jaws on a spaceship – Alien.  Business: Blockbuster by mail – Netflix  Used on education etc.  Quebec City says – we are like France without the attitude!  All have a flavour of concreteness and specificity  – aids decision making
  • Look at the set design for Aliens – diff form previous spaceships on film.  So Jaws on a spaceship gave ideas for the set, changes the mental image
  • Chip Conley, created boutique hotels in CA, each needs to have own identity  He wants to bring magazines to life, to drive creativity.  Framing it this way got the team to come up with innovations. 
  • Savings and Load – does not want to be first but definitely does not want to be third.  They are fast followers, they do things better/
  • Staying in the box can be a guide to thinking, an inspiration to thinking.
  • About 10 years ago I created thinkwell, to re-create the college text book.  Not too hard to get seed money as it was in the dotcom era…the only thing easier than getting the money was blowing through it in 9 months.  We were spamming the VC community with business plans.   My mentor, Kevin, worked with me to get money…I used to always say how great things were but never followed through.   He had to tell me that no-one were ever go and say no, as you were so passionate.  they will pat me on the back and never return calls.   He told me I had to stop pitching a textbook and start pitching an investment.  I had to change things – do a business model, revenue model etc.  Someone had to tell me.
  • So the right box can make all the difference, I was trapped in the educational product box, I had to change the box. It made all the difference.

Dave Balter

  • in 2001 I was told it was the worst time to start a business….it was the best for me.  cheap rent, lots of talent.  So we started bzzagent
  • we wanted to start a bit of a lifestyle company…a relaxed place.  But it turned out to be more a creative plce..the whole business was about creativity.  We wanted to turn marketing on it’s head.  We grew and grew, we focused on building, profits etc.   And lost some of the magic.  In 2003 we started a blog called insidebzzagent.  We were transparent, we opened up.  We asked an author to come in for 90 days on 2005 and get him to write about us transparently
  • we got corporate passion but could not keep the creative passion…talked to others and they agreed once profit was there, it goes.  So we looked at keeping.  In 2006 we started a project, 10 days at BzzAgent, we invited a painter in everyday to do something.  It was fun and frenetic and did not work!   We found that the artist itself was too polarising….staff would not going nearby, the PR agent jacked up the prices
  • on the last day, the staff joined in for something…got 16 bird paintings.  it worked
  • the staff liked being part of the project,
  • next was 180 days, everyone could write about the porject….it was fun, enticing, exhaustingly complex.  Some did not like it, it was hard work
  • we thought about giving up.   But Seth (the painter)_had moved in and was painting in the back room.  Started to be part of the team
  • We invited Seth to be part of the agency days, where we trained the agencies on how to do it.  He painted all day and the people all went away with a painting.  He painted the staff, we used the images
  • it became part of the company, he came the artist of residence
  • we removed the constraints, the blog, the time limits etc,.  it became part of the process and the team
  • it creates WOM for ourselves, people talk about it
  • it has all the WOM elements-  exclusive, storytelling, souvenirs,
  • we needed to fail a few times to get to this stage
  • we decided it would be fun to have Seth talk about his art.   We took this and used it as our hold music…recently a big CEO heard the talk..he hung up  After it being explained..he hung up again./  We are still working out the kinks.

Paul English

  • talking about   My mom passed away, left me as primary caretaker for my dad.  (early stage Alzheimers).  I took his keys away, removed his freedom.   Then I started to take care of his finances, realised that he had a very difficult time on phone calls.   As the banks grew, it went to an automated system and my father got frustrated, he could not get to people.  Many times he would try and call people, he could not get a real person.
  • I started to help him with the photos.  one time too many O could not get in touch with someone.  Too much.
  • I wrote a blog entry one day about this change to off-shores and machines.  We were getting our dignity taken away.  I started to get a big response to this post.  I realised that it was not just me,   there were others.
  • I did some research, found a WSJ article that listed phone numbers for about 10 companies
  • I did more work and came up with 100 companies.  I started posting more tips, took it off the blog and to a website.
  • I stopped having to do work – the community got involved and started giving information.  we got tips from the companies themselves, from support reps giving out secret numbers.
  • The web will not let people hide anymore. 
  • We started seeing companies pushing this as a benefit now, that you could talk to a human
  • Hiring engineers, I see that they are lazy….when they have problems they look for ways to reduce the hassle, looking at ways of never having the problem again.  As a product, service, the only way to do this is to talk to people.  Let your engineers talk to your customers you may get some good things out of it, remove issues
  • has 39 employees, does about 1 million sessions on the website a day.  We give personal answers to all, even with the small numbers of staff.  IT was a requirements…so forcing us to communicate with customers, the engineers make sure there is little need for the customers to ask the same questions – it works!
  • i wrote a few years ago about DELL being in a customer service death spiral – too many layers between the customer service rep and the engineer who could fix the problem.  Companies try and do it efficiently, cost save.  the engineers do not have the heat or accountability to fix things,
  • so gethuman is to restore some dignity and get the ability to talk to them.  if a company won’t let you talk to them – you should switch

Panel discussion

  • BT: themes that i have seen today, one is the power of humanity.  So much of innovation is about the human connection.  Second is the power of locality.  Finally, the power and value of simplicity.  So Dan, what can the folks learn about making more effective connections with humans,
  • DH: simplicity.  It’s almost become a cliche; I fear that people think simplicity is dumbing down, but really this is about priorities.  Too much choices can make people freeze.  As innovators, you have to keep things simple, priority, break log jam at point of decision. 
  • BT: Dave, you are in the business of getting your agents to talk about stuff.  what works best?
  • DB: when we started we believed the incentive was the stuff.  We had a whole reward syste,  But we found that people reacted better to a pat on the back from the brand, or recognition for their knowledge.  We talk to the individuals, we recognise them
  • With marketers, we try and get them to talk in this way, treat them as real people.
  • BT: you site, it spread like prairie fire.  why did it connect so well?
  • PE: it was a problem, did not require work about the story, everyone already had their story about it.  
  • BT: when mass media talks, people still listen.  gethuman was in the mass media as well; we think about social media strategies, but there is still an option to get mass and use that
  • PE: you had to do something the journalists care about as well, it resonates and that helps to get mass media.
  • BT: what makes a good story?
  • DH: one of my favourite pieces of my brother’s research was about stories in Chicken Soup for the Soul…3 main types in the series – connection plot, when 2 people share a moment, transcend a boundary.  Second is a challenge plot, avid vs Goliath, 3rd is the creativity plot, the McGyver plot.   What they have in common is the power to inspire. 
  • DB: a lot of companies forget that you need a great punchline – the great product.  Look at how Borat grew.  You need great product and it will grow
  • BT: what advice do you give entrepreneurs telling stories to funders
  • PE: make sure you believe your story, your idea. I like co-founders, you see what people bring to it, some diversity.  Have belief.
  • BT: another theme is authenticity, if you have an idea, you have to believe it and you have to be the idea, so this story about the advisory board
  • DB: the board had a lot of bigwigs, over the years they stopped paying too much attention.  We sent them board decks every quarter.  In the last deck, we out a slide in the deck about lawsuit and 2 out of 15 responded.  So we asked the blog audience what we should do…the agreement was to disband
  • BT: so companies understanding that who we are internally is who we are externally?
  • DH: FedEx is good at mirroring internal and external – reliability is what they do.  There reward people for doing this.  They had a driver in NY, truck broke, by the time it got fixed it would have been too later.  She talked the driver from another company to drive her around.   Motel 6 had a ‘we’ll leave the light on for you’ sold a promise , friendly, that was never real
  • BT: Paul has insights into how to conduct yourself as a CEO
  • PE: it starts with belief; if you have a vision, you think you will make the world better, people will galvanise around that.  Self doubt can be seen..  In what you say and in what you design,
  • BT: what is the one parting gift/advice that you would give?
  • DH: ideas do not stick naturally.  give time to figuring out how to translate it and get people behind
  • PE: have fun.  have a great time
  • DB: everyone has passion for something…look for passionate people.

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