By Mark Dominiak
Special to TelevisionWeek
In January we began considering the principles of growth and how following them could help raise the bar on media efforts this year. Resolving to grow was the first topic of discussion, followed by the principles of time, change, critical decision making, the need for others and, last month, learning. This month concludes the series with the final growth principle: adaptation.
Growth will not occur simply as a byproduct of having become oriented toward the initial principles and then having learned from others. People, media planners or organizations cannot successfully adapt to a changed environment unless two important steps are taken: the embracing of new perspective and determined action.
Embracing new perspective means enough understanding has been gained in reflection through the growth process that the person or company actively begins to appreciate ongoing situations and environments from the perspectives of the consumers who create and are influenced by them.
Embracing of new perspective in an active way is important because it keeps sensitivity high for how consumers see the world. Given that consumers are critical drivers of change, being in tune with their perspective heightens the ability to sense opportunity arising from change. Not only that, but the consistent exercise of understanding the consumer’s perspective makes it less likely that individuals or organizations will fall into the trap of becoming pigeonholed by how they themselves see the world.
The networks are showing evidence of understanding and acting on this portion of the adaptation principle.
First, note how little time was invested by the networks during the upfront presentations promoting that they were No. 1. Further, they invested much time in recapping how they were going to work hard to deliver content to consumers via the myriad new platforms consumers are embracing. To cap it off, everyone conveyed that their rationale for connecting with viewers in these new ways was to serve the needs of their consumers-advertisers.
And just this past week, the news that ABC was willing to move on the currency issue and negotiate buys on live-only ratings suggests the networks are indeed trying to see changing marketplace situations from the perspective of their consumers and adapt.
Changed perspective is a beginning, but determined action is required to completely adapt and realize a vision for growth. That’s not just philosophical conjecture; it appears to be a fundamental of survival in living beings. Consider this passage from the acclaimed book “Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain” by Antonio Damasio, a M.W. Van Allen Distinguished Professor of neurology and neuroscience:
“Perceiving the environment, then, is not just a matter of having the brain receive direct signals from a given stimulus, let alone receiving direct pictures. The organism actively modifies itself so that the interfacing can take place as well as possible. The body proper is not passive. Perhaps no less important, the reason why most of the interactions with the environment ever take place is that the organism requires their occurrence in order to maintain homeostasis, the state of functional balance. … Perceiving is as much about acting on the environment as it is about receiving signals from it.”
In short, learning isn’t worth very much and potential for success in endeavors is unlikely unless you actually put that learning into action.
From an organization’s perspective, determined action might translate to the creation of environments where there is freedom to ideate, supplying resources to bring new solutions to market and commitment to follow through to execution in the face of market pressures. Innovations that flow from adapted behaviors must make it from the drawing board to the marketplace in order for them to generate intended impact as the fruit of the growth process.
Planner Action Points
Here are a number of determined actions planners can take to facilitate adaptation.
First off, practice, practice, practice. How many clich%E9;s can you spout off that get exactly to this point? They are clich%E9;s for a reason. Once you have learned a new skill or information, one sure way to cement it into your skill set is to practice it repeatedly until it’s mastered. What is the old adage about learning new words? Spell and recite them a number of times and you know them. Use them in sentences and you own them.
A second action planners can take is embodied in Nike’s tag line: “Just Do It.” Diving into a planning process or sharing commentary in a critical meeting that requires a planner to use new learning is easier said than done. If one hasn’t had the occasion, it takes some courage to step out into that new territory. But you need to remember that if that new information or skill was learned from an expert in that area, the larger risk is to keep it to yourself and leave a potential contribution on the shelf.
A final action media planners can take to facilitate adaptation is to teach what they have learned. Stephen Covey mentions this in his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” The contention is that we learn better when we teach. Intuitively, that seems right on target. When you consider that any teaching of new learning requires ongoing mastery of the new learning and actual practice in the conveyance or demonstration of what has been learned, teaching should serve to strongly hone skills.
The difficulty of adaptation as the last step in the growth process should not be understated. It takes belief in one’s self, one’s organization and courage to take real action even after powerful decisions have been made and valuable knowledge has been learned. But we must take that step in order to grow.
A final story: A desperate but courageous man was driven by need to climb a mountain to reach a pass beyond in order to come down on the other side and ultimately secure aid for his village. After an arduous trek, he reached the pass to discover it had deteriorated into a chasm spanned by a slender rope. He fell down with his back to the mountain, disheartened and beaten.
Shortly, a clown pushing a wheelbarrow came up from behind him, smiled and proceeded to cross over the gap on the rope bridge, easily pushing the wheelbarrow. On the other side, he smiled back to the man and returned back over the rope.
The man exclaimed it was the most amazing thing he had ever seen. The clown replied that it was no big deal. He had learned how to do it as a child and could walk the span backwards and forwards. “I believe it!” replied the man. “Do you need to get to the other side?” queried the clown. The man replied that he did, to which the clown said, “Get in and I’ll take you across.”
Embarking on a path to real growth isn’t easy and as we’ve seen over the last months, it takes a lot of work. But perhaps the most difficult obstacle we will face along the way is having enough faith in ourselves to take that first step.
Mark Dominiak is principal strategist of marketing, communication and context for Insight Garden.