Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The future arrived half an hour ago. Where were you?

If you are reading this post on the MNAMA blog, odds are you also attended the recent MNAMA conference.  Perhaps you were fortunate enough to hear the keynote address by Cecily Sommers, ‘Think like a futurist”.  Dave Buchanan, wrote a nice summary of that session, which you can read if you scroll back a few posts.   

Let’s build on the ideas surrounding her session.   Why a futurist at a conference on conquering chaos in today’s marketing world?  Don’t you have enough to do without being distracted by someone going on about what’s going to happen someday somewhere?  And if you’ve seen some of this before, why give it another thought?  After all, it’s at least one week since the conference has come and gone.

As a psychologist (yep, I’m one of those), I can tell you that if you resonated to the conference theme of Conquering Chaos, then you need a conscious strategy beyond just showing up for the day.

We’ve already acknowledged that the marketing space (and wherever you locate yourself within it) is expanding, evolving and accelerating.  Great, just what you need: more chaos! 

All of which creates a stress reaction.  A little stress is a good thing as it activates your brain.  More stress continues to energize some people and begins to paralyze others.  Too much stress and we all get overwhelmed.

There are, however, well known tactics, which we can call the 3 A’s of stress management for marketers:

1.      Avoid the source of stress.  Hmm, you could hide under the covers, cross the street when you see future trends at your doorstep, or get into another field, but I’m guessing this tactic really isn’t you.

2.      Adapt to increased stress levels.  This is where you learn to adapt and adjust your body to more ambiguity, more multi-tasking, more rapid change imposed by changing events.  Exercises, healthy eating, sleep, biofeedback, mediation, keeping a sense of humor – they are all part of the prescription.  These work, but you may still feel like a victim to events coming at you faster than level 15 of that video game on your Smartphone.

3.      Alter the situation that is causing stress.  Take action! Kick back at the source of stress; change your course of actions so you impact the situations that create stress.  See the future, create your own future, and eliminate some of the stress of an externally imposed future. 

What does that look like?  Well it could look like a traditional brand strategy firm (or independent consultant) diving deeper into the social media space, learning how to moderate online communities, and from there discovering new ways to deploy brand strategy that go far beyond traditional advertising for CPG companies. And it could look like someone who does that in sync with their awareness of increased societal/business/government focus on a particular macro trend, such as getting yourself known as THE expert for design of branded, engaging online healthcare communities.  (If it sounds like I’m talking about you, it’s because I am!)

So how does a futurist fit into the stress management prescription?

In our culture, people often are optimistic that anything is possible in the future, but focus all of their energy on today and what is immediately required.   For many, aligning today’s actions with the future is more hope than strategy.  But that doesn’t have to be you.

What Cecily and other futurists offer is perspective; today’s events are just one point in a stream of events.  When you have a sense of the trends, you are better able to place a bet on the future and see how your choices today line up with where you plan to go.  The world will begin to seem less chaotic; misaligned, yes, but not nearly as random or chaotic.

One last thought:

Assume the future arrived half an hour ago, but is distributed in many different pieces and locations.  All you have to do is connect the dots!

So what are you waiting for?

Marc Sokol is an organizational psychologist with an eye for how people and teams can be more effective, even in a dysfunctional company. He is part of M Squared Group, a data-driven marketing consultancy. 

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