Sometimes you gotta build the sidewalk from scratch and sometimes you just follow the tracks

by Jeff Hilimire on September 30, 2011

One of the great things about Engauge is that we/I continue to hire people a lot smarter than me. I’ve always subscribed to that model. Why hire people that aren’t better/smarter/faster/badasser than you?

Badasser is a word. So is badassedness, if you were curious.

I remember years ago watching a particularly pompous agency founder giving a presentation at a conference and he was talking about how he grew his company over the years. He explained how early on when its just you and you’ve started a company, you have to do everything. Client work, sales, operations, finances…everything. Then he started to talk about how as you grow, you have to hire people to do those things.

At this point I thought he was going to then talk about how he would find really great people in those areas that were better than him, but instead he explained how he was always going to be better than his employees at those areas of his company, so he had to do his best to get people who could come as close to his ability. He explained that the more he sliced the business into specific areas, the closer he’d get to hiring people as good at him in those areas, but that he’d never get there and that was his big “aha” moment, that he had to accept he’d never hire people as good as himself.

He actually said that. Out loud. In front of people. Probably a few of which were his employees. I can only assume a few of the people in the audience were his employees because they actually clapped after his presentation. For fear of their jobs I presume.

What a huge tool. But I digress :)

Yesterday in a strategy meeting one of my colleagues — actually, it was this dude but he doesn’t tweet often…don’t hold it against him ;) — and we were talking about putting together a digital strategy for a company that really hasn’t moved too quickly into the space. We were trying to articulate that given that we’re fully into the “digital age” and since their customers were already using the space to find them and their competitors, that we could learn from that behavior without having to do much guess-work.

My colleague gave the following example to highlight the thinking. He said that the ideal way to build a college campus would be to put up the buildings and hold off a year before you build the sidewalks. By the end of that year, there would be well worn tracks where the students would prefer to walk to get between classes, and that’s where you’d build your sidewalks.

I love this example and I think it applies well to social media, mobile and innovation at large. There are times when you need to build the sidewalks in anticipation of where people might want to walk. And I think that’s important for brands to consider. Today that would be testing things like QR codes, augmented reality, even mobile apps to a certain degree. Then there are things that we already know people are doing and we can build our strategy based on tangible research. Today this might include Facebook and Twitter, mobile websites, and browsing the web while in front of the TV.

But don’t let this example only point you in the direction of executing marketing campaigns if you see that your customers are actively using those channels. True, MOST of your campaigns should be based on where your customers are, but its important to be testing and trying new things to anticipate and learn where your customers are going.

  • Katie Melick

    “That dude” just came by my desk with yet another great analogy! Ask him about sporks ;)

    I love working with the brillant people that you hire. Thanks!

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