Are you a practioner or a pontificator?

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One of the benefits of working for a company like Best Buy is that we get a bunch of interesting and notable speakers that visit our corporate campus  Many of them are related to the retail or consumer electronics business.  For example, our CEO holds a speaker series where most recently the CEO of Cisco, John Chambers, held a talk.  But the presenters that visit the office aren’t always business related; we have folks that range from social responsibility to entertainers to politicians stopping by the campus. (I believe that Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar gave a speech at the office in the past year or so.)  Typically I choose to attend the ones from brands that I’m really interested in learning about, such as when the former CEO of Harley Davidson appeared, or I go to presentations that have a marketing focus.

Earlier this week author and blogger Seth Godin gave a presentation to a pretty packed house over the lunch hour.  If you’re not familiar with him, Godin is much publicized and pretty heralded in marketing circles.  I haven’t read any of his books but I do keep his blog near the top of my Google reader.  Going into the event, I was interested to check out the hype. 

Change management.  Transformation.  New industrial revolutions.  The democratization of technology.  How the internet has changed the marketplace and given power over to consumers.  These were many of the themes that he hit upon while he spoke.  Godin was clearly an experienced storyteller.  He’s been in front of companies and conferences all over the place not to mention that he’s been a TED speaker.  He’s knows his audience and did a nice job keep the crowd’s attention.

Godin positions himself as a thinker on a big stage.  He pushes big ideas and challenges conventional thinking.  I get that; it makes a ton of sense.  Working for a company that has been on top of its game but now faces a very complex competitive environment, I see the need for change.  But the stumbling block for me with Godin is that he doesn’t address how to implement change or how to bring ideas to fruition.  Now to his defense, Godin claimed that it isn’t his job to show people how to do the work.  The analogy that he used in his speech was that the world doesn’t need any more map drawers but that the world needs more map creators.  On the surface, I get that point-of-view.  Lead the change – don’t wait for the change to happen.  But I also think taking that stance is somewhat of a cop out.

At the heart of the matter for me is the question of whether people are practioners or pontificators.  I’ll admit that I am biased when it comes to taking guidance or feedback or being inspired by someone that preaches without the chops to back it up.  (For evidence of this, just log on to Twitter and start following the slew of social media “experts” that are out there.)  Working on the front lines for a big brand, I want to hear from people that have put in the time and done the work.  I want to share stories with and be inspired by those that have been in the trenches that have fought the good fights and have battle scars to prove it.  I want to hear from those that have learned lessons from failed attempts and from those that have put up wins.

That’s where credibility lies for me.  Hell, that’s one of the reasons why I had been on the fence about the idea of starting a blog.  I didn’t want to be just another chatterbox that was adding noise to the echo chamber without something to back up my take on things.  But by knowing my bias going in, I became more comfortable with blogging.  Because when writing about topics marketing related, I would try to bring in a point-of-view that is grounded in experience, grounded in strategy, grounded with insights.

Bringing this all back to Godin, even though he fell short of what I would have liked to heard, I think I should give one of his books a shot.  Between hearing his speech firsthand and recommendations from peers I trust on a couple of his books titles, I figure it’s worth spending the few hours of reading time.  It might confirm some of my suspicions, or it might challenge my thinking.  Or maybe it will do a little bit of both.

(photo courtesy of Creative Commons license: A K M Adam.)

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3 thoughts on “Are you a practioner or a pontificator?

  1. I probably don’t need to tell you how much I agree with you. I’m generally an optimistic, upbeat guy, but if there’s one thing that gets me going it’s pontification without experience. One thing that I’ve noticed in my own experience lately is that "chatterbox[es]…adding noise to the echo chamber without something to back up [their] take" make it really difficult for marketers trying to invest the time necessary to build something sustainable. Those bloggers serve up the social media trends-du-jour and tempt brands to believe that digital strategy can be boiled down to 10 easy steps (or that you can produce the same results by copying someone else). The reality is that actually implementing digital strategy across departments for a brand is just not that easy. Makes it hard for me to believe that those bloggers have ever had to face a tough legal department :)Great thoughts, Jamie.

  2. You’re right, Seth doesn’t give the blueprint for how to implement ideas. He’s all about getting people to "make something happen." Like Dodds comments, posts and books with promises of "Ten Bullet-Proof Ways to Do Whatever" almost always fail to me. That’s because everyone’s situation is too different do solve with an exact blueprint.To me, Seth understands this. Seth knows people who read his stuff are smart enough to connect the dots to make something happen. He seems to believe people need less instruction and more inspiration. That’s what I get from his books and blog posts.(Also, Seth practices what he pontificates. He’s a practicing pontificater. People fail to realize Seth has been in the book business for decades now. He has published over 100 titles not all as an author but more as a producer. His Domino Project is the result of his experience in the publishing business. He also has a deep business background in a variety of high-tech and low-tech businesses.)I’m not trying to defend Seth. (He doesn’t need that.) Just was motivated to share my quick thoughts. Good blog posts do that. Nice work Jamie.

  3. John, thanks for weighing. After your comments here, I started to reflect on a conversation we had back at School of WOM in 2010 about Godin in particular. I think we touched on many of these points. You definitely bring in some good counterpoints – thanks for the stoking the dialog.

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