C-Suite Show-and-Tell

4 Oct

Visualising your strategy could unlock wide-ranging benefits, both personally and corporately.

If you ever get to visit Dan Cobb’s Detroit office, look behind you.  Odds are you’ll get offered a seat alongside his desk and end up missing something that I believe should have pride of place inside every organisation.

Cobb is CEO of DBA Worldwide, a 17-Emmy award winning advertising and marketing agency that is headquartered in Detroit and  produced some of the most imaginative thinking I’ve seen in recent years.

When we met we were trading ideas about a piece of innovation consultancy that I was working on with Sony at the time.  As our meeting ended, I turned to leave the office and was stopped in my tracks.

Hanging on his wall, Cobb has a semi-prophetic picture of his life:  it shows his family playing in a park, a city skyline of clients past, present and (hopefully) future, it shows the silhouette of a theme park that he dreams of building one day.  It’s got plenty more but you get the picture (boom boom).  Running along the bottom are the ancient biblical words, “‘I Wisdom dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions,’ Proverbs 8:12”.  We’ll come back to that on another post…

First things first

Cobb has deliberately set his vision, values and dreams in front of him in a way that he can’t avoid.  Every day.  The picture is both a motivator and a challenge that that helps guide his strategic decision-making.

What a great tool for leaders who continually face the challenge of being dragged to and fro amidst ever-more disruptive and volatile markets.  Admittedly, Cobb’s picture is largely a personal vision, some of which he has the freedom to accomplish in his own company.  But every organisation could easily create its own ‘vision visualisation’ that is rooted in the value that it exists to create, the stakeholders that it exists to serve, and the difference that it exists to make in the world.

Pass the fluff

If you’re thinking that this sounds like the fluffy indulgence that you might only expect to find in a creative advertising agency, I’d say think again.

The harsh truth is that most employees don’t really know what their organisation does.  That makes the job of connecting people with strategy and values a tough challenge.  Given that around 80% of employees confess to not being fully engaged in their work, companies need every ounce of help that they can muster.

Here’s an idea: What if, when customers, employees, suppliers and partners walked into your corporate reception, they were greeted with a huge Cobbism: a picture of who you are, why you matter and what your aspirations are?  And what if everyone had the freedom to continually challenge you around whether today’s reality was living up to that big picture – but also the responsibility to come up with ideas that help pull tomorrow into today?

Telefonica tiptoed towards something like this recently:  the company had undertaken some major refurbishments in its European HQ and to cover the mess behind a huge, demolished wall, the company produced a giant picture of how their products and services touch every part of daily life inside a fictional town.  It was beautifully done and very compelling, but sadly removed once the work was complete.

Back in Detroit, and Cobb’s business has more than doubled during the economic downturn despite being located in one of the nation’s worst hit locations.  I think that picture probably has a lot to answer for.  Anyone need an artist’s contact details?



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