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Just in case you don't read my pieces over on Corante's Marketing hub, here's the latest:

John Winsor's been on a roll lately. In his latest opus (I'm kidding), he puts into words a phenomenon I was forced to witness more or less helplessly for years:

"So many companies spend a great deal of time counting everything, but seeing the significance of nothing.

When you count things, you first have to define them in measurable ways, letting the system manipulate the figures by narrowing the definition. The reality is that the more you count, the less you understand."

Reading this reminded me of a Sales Manager I once shared a suite with who used to pore through dozens of economic indicators and other industry charts to find one that most closely match our company's preformance. He used this prop in monthly brass meetings to appease the powers that be... who always seemed quite impressed with the nice magic show he put on for them.

Unfortunately, no matter how entertaining and seemingly impressive, the correlation between our numbers and the ever-changing graph of the month meant absolutely nothing. (Good thing our sales numbers were always pretty decent.)

Given the right audience, the right amount of charisma, or just enough bullsizzle to talk your way out of anything, you can make numbers say just about anything you want.

If this sounds crazy, that's good. Just know that a large number of companies fall prey to this sort of nonsense. (Consider yourself lucky you aren't working for one of them.)

Here's more from John:

"So much of modern marketing strategy takes the white tower, arm’s length, and quantifiable approach to strategy. Strategy can’t be so sanitized and kept so distant from what’s actually happening in the market. Being so reliant on quantitative models misses the point. As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “There are no facts, only interpretations.”'

True... but interpretations aren't objective, are they? Of course not. But now that we know that numbers aren't either, we're free to have a look around. To test new theories. To consider new points of view. To go seek out relevance and context and meaning out there in the real world, where our clients and customers live. We aren't chained to numbers anymore. We know better now. Don't we? (Anyone? Anyone?)

What you have to realize is that objectivity is a myth. Perhaps more importantly, objectivity has no place in the world of business. Everything out here is subjective. Everything is about likes and dislikes. Everything about markets is about choice and prejudice and competition. There is no objectivity here. People buy things because they like them. Because they love them. Because they feel that they need them. People buy things and choose services based on their likes and dislikes. Objectivity might as well be scratched out of our dictionaries. It has no place here.

Now, don't get me wrong: I am not advocating that we stop looking at sales figures and other performance indicators. Of course not. But what I am suggesting is that in order to make the most out of what often turns into a confusing heap of blank nod-inducing "data," we turn to the real world for meaning and context. Yes, that's right, that big bubble of space outside our companies' four walls. (I guess that would be a whole lot more than just four walls, but you get my drift.)

Meaning, context and continuity live out there. (Pointing in the general direction of your office window or building's front door.) They absolutely do not live in here. (Squinting up at your fluorescent ceiling lights.)

In order to make sense of your numbers, you have to spend a whole lot more time talking to customers than you are. (Or pay very insightful and engaging people to do it for you, which is probably even better.)

Here's more from John:

"Even numbers have to be integrated into a story in order to be made meaningful. (...) I often find that, when asked by a client to solve a particular problem, the solution becomes clear after spending time in the field listening to people who use the product. I might get the same result by looking at internal reports and Excel spreadsheets, but it would take a lot longer. I would also miss the opportunity to discover the unexpected, become exposed to new ideas, or learn how the customers’ expectations of the product could lead to real innovation."

Having just spent almost four years directing product development projects, I can tell you from personal experience that innovation doesn't happen in labs or design studios. Those are the places were theories and ideas are applied and tested. Where they are put into motion. Where they take on a real life of their own. "Innovation," though, happens out there. It happens by being out in the world. It happens when curious and imaginative people observe and listen and reach out for new experiences. It happens when people allow themselves to be inspired, and then turn this inspiration into something actionable. (... And by golly, may I suffer a thousand lashes for having used that wretched word in a sentence.)

Find out more about Innovation in the business world - and particularly as it applies to Marketing - by attending Corante and the Center on Global Brand Leadership of Columbia Business School on June 8-9 in New York City for the 2006 Innovative Marketing Conference. The theme of the conference: innovation. It will tackle head-on the question of the future of marketing — drawing on the best practices from the past, and the real promise of the future.

Find out more here.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. :)

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