Last night I ended with a rather sour note that compared the consultants life with that of a gray hound. A good metaphor but a bad rendering of life here at the heart of world of marketing.
Somethings going on here.
It feels as if the commercial world is beginning to take up residence of the excluded middle in the strategic worldthat big stretch between the academics at one end of the continuum and the marketing practitioners at the other.
The academics keep their distance. Creatures of privilege, protected by tenure, safe in the parochial world of their “discipline, academics like to imagine themselves the occupants of the world of pure idea. But this proves to be a world so divorced from the real world, so well insulated by privilege, that they have not had to grapple with the real intellectual challenges of the day. They are persuaded the categories are unstable, but they take this to be a license for their repudiation of the world.
The rest of us must use these categories anyhowunder pressure, with a world of reference whirling around us, with moments of clarity that come and mostly go.
On the other side, the practitioners who are deeply and properly occupied by meeting their numbers and managing growth. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to look up and out.
Whats out? It is a newly imponderable world. Consumer taste and preference continues to fragment, and change runs swift and fast. Advance warning becomes more important because the future gets here sooner than it used to. What used to be an option is now a necessity. Without advance warning, we must play a game of perpetual catch, to endure a condition of perpetual surprise. As Andrew Zolli puts it, advance warning is becoming “just in time notice.
With academics confined to their corner, the commercial world is working its way up the continuum. This week I have worked with Sterling Rice, UBS and the Global Business Network as they explore the excluded middle (though both of them, to be fair, have made a good living looking in this direction for some time).
There are rules to living in this middle ground. The first one is that no one is an expert. In the old days, these forecasting sessions would have brought oracles together with those prepaed to defer to them. But here in the middle distance, no one can know for sure. The trick is to talk about what you know, and to suggest intelligent ways to think about it. This does two things. It gives advance notice, to diminish the “surprise effect. It gives a first form, with which to think about what the novelty might be.
This doesnt sound like much. But without it, we are flatfooted. Everyone who has played sports knows the difference between engagement and flatfootedness. The latter happens from time to time. A moment of distraction and we are removed from the flow. The game seems suddenly to be happening around us in hyper time. The most ordinary athlete passes us around effortlessly. If this is the difference between getting the news early and having it visit it as a surprise, then value is being created here.
New York City continues to be an interesting place in which to pursue this sort of thing. You still get the sense that the future happens here first. Even when, seconds after room service arrives, you are visited in your hotel room by a cockroach the size of a Buick. Hes looking for the future too.