Harry Beckwith: A second interview by Bob Morris

Posted on: April 5th, 2011 by bobmorris

Harry Beckwith

 

Harry Beckwith is a frequent guest lecturer for many national corporations, including ABC, Inc., BellSouth Corporation, Norwest Corporation, and Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc., among others. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His published works include Selling the Invisible, What Clients Love, You, Inc., and The Invisible Touch. His most recent book, Unthinking: The Surprising Forces Behind What We Buy, was published by Business Plus/Hatchette Book Group (2011).

 

Morris: Before discussing Unthinking, a few general questions. First, in your opinion, which of your previous four books has increased the most in terms of its relevance to the business world today?

Beckwith: Selling the Invisible continues to sell well, 14 years since it was published, and readers still email me to say that the book helps them.  I haven’t noticed anything in it that I would change.  In What Clients Love, I wrote about the then-current (2003) status of the Internet; those sections, fortunately very brief, are dated.

Morris: Of all that has happened since our last conversation 2-3 years ago, which single business development do you consider to be most significant? Why?

Beckwith: The recession.   It has forced virtually every company to be more frugal, and many to go beyond that.  When you start slashing costs, you open yourself up to mistakes, because you will cut what you think is least important.  You might be wrong.  As we’ve seen often, customer service can be among the early casualties.

But the recession may also be stifling creativity.  It’s axiomatic in creative work that you should never try to ideate when you’re sad or scared.  Fear disables your imagination.  Now, instead of doing what might be profitable for the company, people start looking for ways to keep below the radar.

So we may look back and discover that innovation suffered during this period.  We know that customer service has.

Morris: To what extent (if any) the challenges of being a leader changed? What about a manager?

Beckwith: Let me answer that first with a story.

Several years ago, I found myself on a whirlwind tour of three special companies: Microsoft, Nike, and Harley Davidson.  Each company is unique, yet felt similar.  You felt it within seconds after entering the doors.  It was passion, and it was palpable.

After that whirlwind, I wound up at a major retreat.  One fellow attendee was Ian Anderson, who was the chief executive of Unilever’s European Operations.

On our second evening, I told Ian about my just-ended tour, mentioned the feeling of those three places, and asked him if in his longer experience, “Is passion one of the traits of great companies?”  I’ve never forgotten his exact answer in his wonderful Scottish accent.

“Harry, you’re absolutely right.  When you enter a great company, there’s a feeling there,” he said.  It’s incandescent.”

I’ve never forgotten that word: incandescent.

But what happens to the passion when fear descends on a place?

That suggests that a primary role of a leader today is to stave off the fear–by whatever means possible.

To do that, the leader must model it.  The leader, after all, may also feel at risk.  But like a good military leader, the leader must put those fears aside, and offer a vision that makes success look both possible and vivid.

But all of this has to authentic.  The leader must believe it to convey it.  That means that periodically, the leader must ask, “Do I still care deeply about what we are doing?”  In sports, you see men walk away when they admit they cannot bring the same fire to their work anymore.  I saw that with football coach Bill Walsh at the end of his career.

But if you realize the fire’s gone, how do you summon the courage to walk away?  Once again, it’s fear.  Fear stifles the followers and the
I’ve studied desire far more than I’ve studied fear, given my profession.  But even then, I see that fear drives so much of our behavior–right down to our choice of fast food hamburgers.

Now, to the managers.  I think their challenge is different, and it comes from their newest workers.  I have two sons and dozens of acquaintances who are under 30.  They’re different, as this quick story reveals.

It was the summer of 2009.  A young man had just graduated with slightly above average grades from a school that barely known outside its Eastern state.  He returned to Minnesota but decided that he needed a summer off after his four years of work.  Once that summer was over, he began to look for work.  But he had one major requirement.

The job had to pay at least $60,000 a year.   He was certain he was worth that and could find it.

In addition, as so many young people do, he believed that he was ready to be the CEO.

And one more thing.  He didn’t look forward to working.  He reminded me of some children of divorce, who vow never to marry because marriage looks so harsh.  He’d seen his parents give up too much, including time with him.

So we have an infusion of new workers who believe they are exceptionally prepared and want work and pay commensurate with their skills, but many do not want to sacrifice too much.

I have a client in Australia who complains that his middle-aged and older American employees and managers aren’t as motivated as his Australians.  He insists we’ve lost a lot of our famous ambition.  I wonder what he would say about the younger American workers.

Morris: Here’s a follow-up question. Why do most executives tend to be a more effective leader than they are a manager…or vice versa?

Beckwith: Maybe the best answer is that we are not perfect.  We have some skills in abundance, and others not at all.  I am a very good strategic thinker, a reasonably good leader, and a third-rate manager.

The traits that make me a good strategist and pretty good leader are the traits that make a poor manager.

Many people are wonderful at the details and weak at the bigger picture.  They can see the process–are very process-driven–but lack strong people skills, and even the desire to acquire them. It reminds me of a story about a group of accountants, speaking of a specialized group.

Sometime in 1998, a colleague went to a national meeting of some accountants, to talk to them about the Internet.  They all listened intently as he described it, and what it meant for the future of their business–their communications, business development, ongoing education.  His talk was well thought-out and comprehensive.  But because the Internet was relatively new, he expected that the accountants would have lots of questions.  So when he concluded his remarks, he braced himself for a deluge of questions.

There was silence.  He looked around.  The accountants started looking around.  After an uncomfortable silence, a fellow raised his hand while he fidgeting with his glasses.

“Yes, you sir,” my colleague eagerly said, delighted to hear the silence broken.  “What is your question?

“Who pays for the call?”

My friend said he was sorry, he didn’t understand.

“It’s dial-up, right?”

“Yes,” my friend answered.

“Well then, who pays for the call?”

That’s what I mean by different skills and perspectives.  We feel obliged to promote good managers, and they seek the promotions.  But as the Peter Principle says, too often you simply are promoting someone to their level–and area–of incompetence.

Morris: What are some of the most common misconceptions about “teamwork” and what in fact is true?

Beckwith: Teamwork isn’t natural for many people, and you often see cases where assembling the team is the problem, not the solution.  You assemble a large enough team and before long, the majority of members expect that with all those people, someone else can take care of the problem: group loafing is a good term for it.

I serve on a board that advises Stanford’s athletic department.  I study recruiting, partly because a student’s choice of schools is a buying decision, and I study buying decisions. Years of studying recruiting and teams have convinced me of several things.

First, skills are overrated when it comes to teams.  You need a level of competence.  But the skill isn’t enough without the commitment and passion, and many skilled people sabotage teams rather than help them.  It’s common.

Every year, there are teams loaded with talent that falter, and teams with relatively little talent that win.  The second group of teams play to their strengths and away from their weaknesses, and work like bees, and they win.

Second, leadership is misunderstood.  If your leadership is all on the sideline–in your coaches–you’re doomed.  Every year, when we assess athletic teams, we ask, “Do they have great veteran leaders on the field?

Do they have at least one leader on each side of the ball?  Do their teammates respect them and listen to them?  Do they sense that the leader cares most about the team’s success, and not his own?”

You can ask all those questions of workplace teams. The leaders aren’t just those with the titles.  You have to have leaders in the trenches and on the field.

But as it relates to your previous questions, a lot of these leaders aren’t the guys you want managing the team and calling the plays.  That’s not their best use; you can even distract them from leading by sticking them with the management.  And their own frustrations with their skills as a manager can lead them to withdraw from leading.

And the final misconception I’d address is that teamwork is very good to a point.   Every organization can benefit from few renegades, provided that they assume leadership for their ideas and don’t sabotage the rest.  They’re the likeliest source of the big ideas that make the business better.

Morris: Of all the past and current CEOs you have known, whom do you admire most? Why?

Beckwith: I admire Steve Jobs’ incredible vision and sense for design.  He realizes that people think with their eyes.

I admire Alan Mullaly’s surprising turnaround at Ford.

But I most admire Warren Buffett, who has a wonderful mind and way with people.   He’s succeeded repeatedly and spectacularly, yet remained the same man.  And perhaps no CEO has achieved more personal happiness.

Morris: Because you have always been a very serious athlete, and still are, I am eager to share your next response. Professional and even so-called amateur sports (including the Olympics) have become BIG business. In your opinion, which team demonstrates the most valuable lessons to be learned, not about being profitable but about achieving and then sustaining competitive success?

Beckwith: Now that’s a fascinating question.  Not that your others haven’t been excellent, Robert, but that really sets me to thinking.

The challenge that sports face is suggested by your question.  Our love of sports is for the game itself, and the play.  We can accept the business aspects of these games if they do not detract from the game.  I am in regular contact with fans, and see a strong backlash against professional sports that is starting to intrude in amateur sports.  Today, for example, we face the unpleasant thought that the winner of the Heisman Trophy, emblematic of the best performer in amateur football, may have not been an amateur at all.  Too many college boosters are too invested in their college team that they will end-run the rules to win more games, often comforting themselves with the excuse that “everyone else is doing it.”

So in college sports, I admire the teams that play by the rules, and who see to it that their young men are not exploited.  So I admire my alma mater, Stanford, and Pat Fitzgerald and the administration at Northwestern.  I’m a bitter rival of Notre Dame, but respect how they treat their young men.  I’m sure there are other teams, but wish there were many more.

But I need to isolate a professional team.  It’s timely, but still justified, to single out the Green Bay Packers.  They won the first Super Bowl and the most recent one, and won in decades in between.  They’ve won through years of different executives and coaches.  They have extraordinary fans–passionate, yet cordial to visitors.  And their players generally stay out of trouble.

How did they do it?  I think it’s partly psychological.  There is just something about being a Packer, a heritage of which these players feel incredibly proud.  When you tell a former Packer that he was a star, you can tell that he is more proud of having been a Packer, because of what that stands for.

I think the basketball player Maurice Lucas–who perhaps just coincidentally attended college in Wisconsin–put that Packer attitude best when a reporter asked him about being a star.  “I don’t want to be thought of as a star,” Maurice answered, in his typical thoughtful way.  “I want to be remembered as a player.”  He meant someone who worked hard at his craft, and played for the wins and not the attention.

The entire history of the Packers is their realization of what football is about, and what it takes to succeed: toughness.  As they say, football is not a contact sport; it’s a collision sport.

Perhaps the conclusion to be drawn is that success comes from the development of a strong and enduring culture.

Morris: If you could be commissioner of any one of the professional leagues (i.e. MLB, NBA, NFL, PGA), which would you select? Why?

Beckwith: I think football is the greatest game, and that football players are among sport’s best, courageous, and hardest-working men.

I’ve been around far too many professional basketball players to aspire to lead them–and I’d also say that the sheer complexity of pro football dictates that football players tend to be significantly more intelligent.   I respect Kareem and Dr. J. and David Robinson, but then struggle to add to my list of admired basketball players.  But in football, heavens: Jerry Rice, Jim Plunkett, Gene Washington, Gale Sayers, Andrew Luck, Calvin Hill, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Alan Page, Joe Montana . . .

Plus the NFL, starting with Pete Roselle, has been very well-run. So I wouldn’t have to reinvent much.

Being the PGA commissioner would be dreadful.  The game just doesn’t have the same excitement as the others.  Fun to play, far less fun to watch.  It’s more like chess.

Morris: Are career opportunities for school and college graduates today better, worse, or about the same was they were in (let’s say) 2000? Please explain.

Beckwith: It’s a wonderful era for some creative people.  You can leave college early, invent a product, start a company, make enough money to provide for you for the rest of your life–all that to an extent that wasn’t possible 40 years ago.

But that’s the exception.   I’d insult several million American men and women under 30 if I said that these are better times. But increasingly, you are competing against the world.  Legal research and tax accounting is being outsourced to India, as one example.   We have talented and well-educated people who cannot find work; it’s a white collar recession, too, as opposed to the much bluer collar recessions of previous years.

It’s always been said that business is competitive.  But we now play against teams from dozens of countries.   And I don’t think our reign as the world’s economic superpower is assured.  Like you, I’ve studied a lot of history.  Empires don’t last forever.

Morris: What is the single most valuable life lesson you ever learned? Please explain the source, circumstances, and significance.

Beckwith: I love that question.

I seem to learn a critical new lesson every year.  That’s not necessarily a great thing; it means it took me over 50 years before I finally figured out many of these things.

To isolate the lesson that’s most vivid to me now, it’s that the meaning of life certainly is not one’s achievements.  When I think of what I want for my children, I realize from that question what I value most, including for myself:  To be respected, generous, and happy.  That naturally means that you need to be good, honest, giving, and grateful for what you have, whatever you have, and for life itself.

Morris: Is there any one business thinker who has had the greatest influence on your professional development?

Beckwith: No.  But I did appreciate Peter Drucker and Ted Levitt.  And the clarity and directness with which Robert Townsend (Up the Organization) wrote influenced the way that I write–but so did John McPhee and Kurt Vonnegut, who writes on dozens of subjects but not on business.

Morris: Here’s a hypothetical situation. You will host a private dinner to which you can invite any 6-8 people, living or dead, and each would be in her or his prime. Who would they be?  Please explain the reasons for selecting each.

Beckwith: I am intrigued by DaVinci’s genius.  I would want to try to study him while I was pretending just to be passing the salad dressing.

I am impressed by courage, which would lead me to invite Sir Thomas More.

I am fascinated by acting, and would invite Anthony Hopkins, who seems very intelligent, thoughtful, and engaging–and a damn good actor.

My father, not just because he was my father and is not longer here, but because he would enjoy the company and contribute to the conversation, and keep it moving.

Chuck Berry, because he’d have a distinctive take on things, and could tell me about music and the early days of rock and roll.
Jesus of Nazareth, because I want to get the story straight from him.

Renoir, again to understand his particular gifts in his field, art, which also intrigues me.  Picasso might be interesting, but credible sources describe him as a horrible man.  Annie Leibovitz might be interesting, too, and would give the meal some much-needed diversity.  So scratch Renoir, add Annie.

I think we’d then find a great need for some wit:  I’d have a hard time deciding among Oscar Wilde, Gore Vidal, Fran Lebowitz, H.L. Mencken.

Ideally. I’d want nine people, because I cannot easily eliminate any of those eight, and I’d want David Kennedy, Stanford’s professor of American History, to help put things into my most familiar context, which is our country’s history.

Morris: Now please shift your attention to Unthinking. In my opinion, it is your most important book…thus far. I also think it is your most entertaining. Is that a fair assessment?

Beckwith: I think the next big frontier in work is better understanding how people think.  The mind is much more complex than we’d suspected.  So any book that whacks someone alongside the head and gets them to think differently about thinking has value.  Unthinking does that.

Selling the Invisible really seemed to help thousands of people think differently, and more clearly, about services, and how to grow a service business.  I know from many comments that it was very important to many people.

Unthinking was the most fun to write, and edit.  It made me smile several times.  Human beings are very entertaining, and I just told their stories.

Morris: Of all the “forces behind what we buy,” which will most readers find most surprising?  Why?

Beckwith: Our relative aversion to things that is truly new.  Improved we like; really new we sit and wait and makes sure it’s really useful and usable,

Morris: You organize your material within three source categories: Our Childhoods, Our Culture, and Our Eyes. Here are three separate but sequential questions. Are your insights relevant to most (if not all) childhoods?

Beckwith: Yes.  Play, stories, fears of giants, love of rhyme and riddles, love of surprise–those are universal.

Morris: Are they relevant to most (if not all) cultures?

Beckwith: Yes, but I do believe in the concept of national character, as the book makes clear.  Americans are optimistic, averse to authority, and other-directed.  But there are cultures that tend to pessimism, obedience, and inner-directedness, and about one–sixth of the book speaks to American traits, many but not all of which are present in other cultures.

Morris: Finally, are they relevant to most (if not all) who possess sight?

Beckwith: Yes, but in a different way.  I have a section devoted to the eye, and as a related matter, to beauty and design.  A person who cannot see perceives differently, of course; a blind person’s idea of beauty is what is beautiful to her other senses, hearing and touch particularly.

Their appreciation for design, however, is somewhat similar: They crave things that are simple and easy-to-use, and sighted people do, too.

Morris: For those who have not as yet read Unthinking, you cite dozens of exemplars – both individuals and organizations– which understand “our love of play.” In your opinion, which best exemplifies that?

Beckwith: We take it for granted because it’s so ubiquitous and old, but advertisers’ use of contests and games clearly plays into our love of play.

Apple cleverly recognized that while the computer at a computational and data storage device had enormous value, a computer that would allow us to play could be even more appealing.  We don’t appreciate it now, but in 1980 that was a wild idea.

Morris: Which exemplar best understands “our love of surprises?”

Beckwith: Advertising.  So much of the most effective advertising in our lives has been those ads and commercial that surprised us.  “Lemon” for Volkswagen, “We’re Number Two” for Avis, Apple’s 1984 ad,  Traveler’s wonderful Labradoodle-with-bone commercial, the great ad by the Conservatives in England, “Labor isn’t Working.”

Right now, Lady Gaga is a good exemplar, but she is going to lose her capacity to surprise us–just as happened with Madonna.

Morris: Which exemplar best understands “our first love: stories”?

Beckwith: The phenomenal popularity of movies.  I’ve seen over 1,400, and know bigger movie fans.  But here again, many of the great commercials are example of superb short story-telling.  The Little Darth Vader ad for Volkswagen is among the best current examples.

And it’s hard to omit mention of the sustained popularity of 60 Minutes, the television show they said couldn’t been done.  They proved you could, by keeping the stories short.  Longer documentary-type programs hadn’t worked on television, with rare exceptions like Edward R. Murrow’s brilliant Harvest of Shame–and even there, its ratings didn’t match its merit.

Morris: What is the “moral of a hundred childhood stories”?

Beckwith: Big is bad. The Big Bad Wolf, Goliath, Jack and the Giant, The Great and Powerful Oz.  Then there’s Big Brother, Big Government, Big Oil.  Insert the word Big in front of something and you almost instantly demonize it.

So that’s the risk of getting big.  Economies of scale are good for businesses, but I think most humans have an inherent aversion to large things.  Big scares us from the time we are young,

Morris: When completing the research for Unthinking, were there any head-snapping revelations? Please explain.

Beckwith: I suspect most people are not aware of the extent to which their assumptions and expectations about anything–a product, a service, and a person–alter their experience.  If you think a nail is sticking in your foot, your foot hurts, even if the nail missed your foot completely.  People served Pizza Hut noodles in a meaty marinara sauce think it tastes fantastic when it’s served in a very good restaurant, but think it’s merely good enough when they eat it in a Pizza Hut.  Same pasta, different setting, different reaction.

We think we experience things purely.  We don’t.  We experience them through colored glasses, and we taste not just with out taste buds, but with our heads and hearts.

Morris: Most changes initiatives fail and much of the resistance is often the result of what James O’Toole aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” To what extent can – and do — the aforementioned “forces behind what we buy” determine whether or not there will be buy-in on change initiatives?

Beckwith: A very interesting question.  I couldn’t have written a nearly-identical book, because so many of the examples, research studies, and anecdotes occurred within two years of the book’s release.   I was able to make revisions and additions well into June, seven months before the release date, a rare luxury.

I’ve been thinking about–and writing about–this topic for years.  This book really grows from the section in Selling The Invisible called How Prospects Think.  But not long after that book appeared in 1997, the topic–or the general topic of seemingly non-rational aspects of human decision-making–exploded.  You had Blink, Daniel Ariely’s books, books with titles like Nudge and Sway.

My interest goes back to childhood.  I read nothing but books about sports until I well into high school, except one book: Vance Packard’s The Hidden Persuaders, which I read twice when I was in fifth grade.

How we think–particularly how we choose one product over another—has fascinated me almost forever.

Morris: What do you mean when suggesting that the American people are “the Great Togetherists”?

Beckwith: I was an obsessive student of American history for years, and still read about it often.  The early visitors to our country regularly mentioned that while English men and women liked to drink their tea alone, Americans seemed incapable to doing anything alone.  Years later, as many of your readers know, David Riesman became famous for his book The Lonely Crowd, which called Americans “other-directed.”  We don’t look internally for direction, but to others.

So products and services that bring us together–like Starbucks and Facebook–tap a powerful force within us.

Morris: Why does “familiar” almost always trump “new,” “better,” “improved,” “latest, “ etc.?

Beckwith: Because we are fear-based.  We are afraid of change.  We likely invented the expression, “the devil you know is better than the one that you don’t.”

But then, xenophobia is universal, according to those who have studied it.  We fear the unfamiliar.  So new and improved and latest is good–if it’s not too different, and if it comes from a familiar source.  An established and familiar company can succeed with a new and improved product; an unfamiliar company has a mountain to scale.

Morris: When is irrational exuberance beneficial?  Why?

Beckwith: I strongly believe that optimism is works as force multiplier.  But I don’t think it was necessarily, or at least exclusively, irrational exuberance that created the recent bubbles; I think it was our other-directedness  People saw everyone else buying stocks, buying and flipping houses, buying up internet stocks.  They didn’t want to be left out.

Morris: When is irrational exuberance not beneficial?

Beckwith: When the evidence not only fails to support it, but conclusively demonstrates the folly of falling prey to it.   I just don’t think you could reasonably conclude that a tulip bulb could somehow be worth more than a house in Holland, but a startling number of Dutch people did.

Morris: Why do most people “need” beauty? At least insofar as creating or increasing demand for whatever is offered in a marketplace, why is that significant?

Beckwith: The beauty around us becomes beauty that we feel that we own, and that dignifies us and flatters us.  But beyond that, beauty inspires us.  To see that something is beautiful signals that more things can be beautiful, that this physical perfection can be achieved in other places and other ways.  So beautiful music doesn’t simply ring nicely in our ears; it travels through them and alights in a hearts as an appeal to greater things.

And we’re conditioned to it, too.  Look at our childhood stories: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White.  Who are the nemeses: ugly witches.  Even the ugly Beast has to become beautiful in the end–he becomes a handsome prince, and he and Belle, the Beauty, live beautifully ever after.

The Beast was a good guy.  But only by becoming a handsome prince was he good enough to end the Beauty’s story happily.

Morris: Why are expectations so powerful?

Beckwith: Because we do not react purely to a thing, but to our concept of it.  Our brain allows the expectation to alter the experience.

Why does it do that?  I’m not sure there’s a why necessarily–or what it is.  But if you taste white pudding, you are likely to say it’s vanilla.  If we add yellow coloring to it, you will says it’s banana.  Each of your senses plays on your other senses, and your past experiences color your current ones.  If you go hear a comedian, you will tend to laugh at several moments that were not, and were not intended to be, funny.

We’re funny that way, no?

Morris: Who are the “New Frugalistas”? Why are they significant?

Beckwith: The New Frugalistas are people who have learned that saving is fun: it’s play.  It’s a treasure hunt, a test of wits.  Plus in paying less, they’ve learned that they don’t have to sacrifice quality.

I think they’re significant because they are likely to stick around in large numbers even if and when the recession ends.  They will treat themselves to special items, but also realize the treat in not paying more than they have to.

Morris: My own opinion is that many (most?) people have an attention span that lasts about as long as a strobe light blink. Do you agree? If so, how do you explain it and what do you recommend to those who struggle to attract and then capture attention?

Beckwith: Absolutely.  And even if we had better attention spans, we are allowing so many more things into our field of attention.  We type answers to interview questions while the Today show plays, text messages flash on our phone, and ideas leap into our heads that we need to write down.   Plus there’s the occasional added interruption of the “thing I can’t forget to do today.”

It’s pretty overwhelming.

To get my attention, you almost have to surprise me.  Maybe the surprise is simply a price that seems’ impossible: 80% off on a Kindle, say.  Or its a name like Yahoo!  Or it’s a wonderful story that we simply have to see to its end–even if it’s a 30 second TV commercial featuring a polar bear in a strange land.

Morris: In Song of Myself, Walt Whitman observes,

“Do I contradict myself?
Very well, then, I contradict myself.
I am large.
(I contain multitudes.)”

Here’a my question. In your opinion, what are the most important “patterns” (to which you refer on Page 292) in the human race’s “fascinating complexity”? Why?  What do “fascinating complexity” and “multitudes” share in common?

Beckwith: We think mostly with our hearts.

We want to feel a part of things, yet many of us want to stand apart, too.

We crave respect above all things–and therefore favor companies, products and service that treat us respectfully.

We think with our eyes, too; we judge books by covers, even when we know better.

The child is father to the adult.  What we loved as children we love as adults.

The complexity, comes, however, because we are erratic and inconsistent.  We are unusually inclined, it seems, to act against our self-interest.  We are capable of such contradictory behavior that when you write a book that offers some basic and general patterns, you are open to the criticism, “But what about X?”  And X doesn’t follow the pattern; it’s the exception that proves the rule.

And the exceptions are large in number.  I’d say that whenever you look at a market, you decide that there is a segment of about 8 percent that is just weird.   The Innovators in technology are a weird market, for example; they not only tolerate some complexity, but even welcome it.  But that doesn’t change the general observation that we are risk-averse and slow to adopt truly new things–particularly complex ones.

Morris: My own opinion is that Unthinking is not a book you could have written (let’s say) 3-5 years ago. Do you agree?

Beckwith: The broken thumb would have posed a problem.  Beyond that, so much of the research on which I rely has been done in the last five years.    And Google makes research–and much deeper research–much easier now.  There’s a level of both detail and accuracy to the book that would have taken far longer to achieve even five years ago.

Morris: Which question had you hoped to be asked during this interview – but weren’t – and what is your response to it.

Beckwith: You haven’t left many stones unturned, Robert.  Many interviews ask me if marketing is radically different now, with the advent of the Web, the Internet, and social media.    There’s enough noise out there to suggest that all the old rules are out.

They’re not.  We’ve added to tools that we can use to reach prospects and clients, so there are utterly new tactics.  Strategically, there is far less change.  Marketers need to identify markets and the products and services that will appeal to them; the ideal channels of distribution; the prices that will generate margin and profit; and they then need to reach those prospects through media that provide real return on investment, conceding that predicting the actual outcome of the investment is necessary for planning purposes but something of a fiction.  There’s an undeniable and unavoidable risk involved.

I think we will begin to see a Back to Basics movement, one that recognizes that while there are new tools, we still are dealing with human beings who haven’t changed much in centuries.

*     *     *

Harry Beckwith cordially invites you to check out these websites

harry@beckwithpartners.com

http://twitter.com/#!/HarryBeckwith

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/unthinking

 

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