Tag Archives: SXSW

Building great company culture

We are currently in the middle of repurposing our student-run advertising agency, Allen Hall Advertising. As a result, we are taking a hard look at our agency’s culture and trying to figure out how to create one that fosters innovation, great ideas, initiative, creativity, sustainability, etc. So it was nice to attend the core conversation on how to create a great company culture.

The conversation was moderated by Sam Decker of BazaarVoice and Jason Black of Boundless Network – both companies are known in the Austin area for fostering great company cultures. There turned out to be many nuggets of useful insights and ideas that came out of it.

Unsurprisingly, it was reiterated that central to any great culture is a shared belief in common values. This always starts with a deliberate and careful hiring process. Despite the ‘duh’ moment, the ideas on how to accomplish sharing these values were great. One good idea was to sit everyone down (maybe just everyone in a team, depending on company size) and have them tear the entire company strategy apart and rebuild it from the ground up. Your employees may not come up with an incredibly revolutionary idea, but thats ok because its not the point. The point is to offer significant investment and buy-in and to align the roles such that everyone knows how they impact the end result and the bottom line.

It was also mentioned that silos kill creativity. Keep the organization as flat as possible, skill sets as wide as possible, and ownership as shared as possible and you will foster a positive and productive culture. This works great in small entrepreneurial settings, but how do you achieve the same result in larger companies? The methods can be as simple as the CEO offering to pay for the meals of any marketer that goes to lunch with a programmer. Opening the doors to collaboration always pays positive results in both worker satisfaction and buy-in as well as business success.

Once your employees are invested in the company and your culture is established, its very important to always remain very conscience of maintaining this culture. To do so, remember key events such as anniversaries and birthdays. But most importantly, always remember to celebrate your successes. One example discussed in the conversation was to bang a loud gong. More often though, celebrations take place in open bars. Not surprisingly, a poll of the packed room revealed this to still be the most popular form of both celebration and team building. Go figure.

Finally, great company cultures serve as equally great recruitment tools. Life’s too short to work somewhere you hate. So, if you have fostered a welcoming, fun, successful culture, then it will pay dividends not only in financial and competitive success, but also in the sustainability of your workforce.

Final takeaway:

If you are copying lots of people on emails and meetings, then your roles aren’t defined well enough.

Here’s to making the world a more fun place to work.

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Shameless self-promotion

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Broken models lead to failure

The Sunday keynote interview featured Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com, a political website that was created prior to the ‘08 presidential election that used a unique algorithm to predict the outcome. His career started by using an innovative approach to analyze baseball statistics, and this election allowed him to take the approach to a new level. By factoring in the complexities of humans beings, his statistical analysis changed political polling forever.

One of the biggest takeaways occurred during a discussion of his projects since the election. While using his method to predict the outcome of the latest Academy Awards, he realized it didn’t take into account the Academy’s reluctance to give an award to someone who had previously won. In the category of Best Supporting Actress he realized this error would result in the wrong prediction, breaking his first rule: never use a model that predicts something that you know will be wrong. “If you know you’re gonna be wrong, keep working on you F*@#&! Model.”

This statement applies to so much more than just gathering statistics. Whether it’s voter polls, educational curriculums, business models, group projects, personal interactions, etc. if you know in advance that the approach you’re taking will not lead you to the solution you’re trying to achieve DON’T KEEP DOING IT JUST TO DO IT.

Unfortunately, changing this model will likely be difficult: if it was easy you’d already be doing it, but instead it requires going back to the drawing board and reassessing the process. At times this might be scary as hell or hard to embrace, but saving the time, energy and resources that are spent building an unsuccessful finished product will be so much more useful in the end, and will truly allow for a sense of personal or organizational pride.

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Best SWAG of day 3

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How to: Film in 3D using two Flip cameras

 3D Flip camera

This was incredible. We learned how to film in 3D using two Flip cameras! We will be doing this as soon as we get home. Check out how below:

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SXSW Interactive Tradeshow

We went to the Interactive Tradeshow today to check out what was on display and to see if anything was interesting. It was good timing too, because we got there right at the start of the Block Party, aka free food and drinks. What a great draw to an otherwise boring Tradeshow, too. The booths that shelled out the extra dough for food and drink enjoyed more engaged and larger crowds by far.

The swag was smart too. With everyone carrying around cold drinks, the booths that offered free drink-cozies were well-trafficked as well:

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Cow and me

Other booths used music, giveaways and dressed up characters to attract attention:

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One of the coolest displays we saw was Pixton, an easy to use comic strip creation online app. Check out their pitch and how they sell and demonstrate the product:

Main takeaways from tradeshow:

  • Have freebies, ideally food and beer, in order to attract attention.
  • If you’re at an interactive conference, make your booth interactive. Everyone likes to play with fun technology.
  • Have a flawless demonstration that is engaging and enthusiastic.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously…

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Making creativity actionable

One of the speakers I was looking forward to the most was Scott Belsky, of Behance. When working on another project and soaking in how people foster ideas, become ‘creative’, and be inspired, I stumbled upon Belsky’s work. His company doesn’t claim to care about inspiration or where ideas come from. Instead, they only care about making these ideas happen.

He calls this method for making ideas happen the Action Method. Watch him explain it here:

In a makeup that resembles most agencies, Belsky asserted that there were three main members of creative groups currently: doers, dreamers, and incrementalists. The doers and dreamers are typically paired together, while the incrementalists are the ones who can do it all, and the ones sought after. Unfortunately, they don’t have much focus.

Belsky also had something interesting to say about periodical meetings… something we have all been guilty of scheduling:

Other quick ideas on productive creativity included:

  • Seek cross-pollination, push your comfort zone
  • Don’t become burdened  by consensus
  • Get respect for your strengths
  • Make sure that leaders always talk last, don’t kill ideas before they can be said
  • Seek restraints on projects where there are none
  • Hire for initiative and value chemistry over the people themselves
  • And finally, share ideas liberally:

 

These lessons will certainly be embellished later, but as a parting thought, “Nothing extraordinary is ever achieved through ordinary means”.

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