When you started your agency, it was probably pretty exciting and somehow any worries you had were squelched before they could get in the way. But as our agencies get a little more established and we get a little more comfortable, taking a risk seems scarier, doesn’t it?
My guest thinks that’s a problem and he recommends that we re-acquainted with being uncomfortable.
In some ways, I’d like to think my big risk-taking days are behind me. But when I go to manage my business, and in nearly every conversation I have with my AMI colleagues, I know being risk-averse is not a strategy any of us can afford. Staying relevant and successful—according to my guest—requires a level of comfort with being uncomfortable.
It is a bit of bromide that the rapid pace of change is the one constant we can count on these days. How do we manage that change and thrive in the midst of it? That’s what we’re getting at in this episode.
On episode #167, my guest Scott Amyx proves that he knows this topic. From a childhood of poverty in South Korea to a career at the tip of the spear in terms of understanding and embracing innovation, Scott has lived and thrived in this era of discomfort. The upshot of his research is clear: being prepared for change and meeting disruption with a strategy of embracing it and pivoting as needed is a critical skill to survival as a business owner today.
Scott Amyx is the Chair & Managing Partner at Amyx Ventures and Singularity University/Smart City Accelerator Mentor and Startup Board Member. He is a TEDx speaker on disruption and success. Scott is a thought leader, speaker, author, and winner of the Cloud & DevOps World Award for Most Innovative Vendor.
Scott’s book, Strive, is all about how doing the most uncomfortable things leads to success.
What You Will Learn About in This Episode:
- How to get comfortable with being uncomfortable
- What you need to know about decentralized, autonomous organizations
- The market imperative of lifelong learning
- Why selling expertise and strategy is where differentiation happens
- How individual discomfort gets collectivized and creates tipping points for innovation
- Why as individuals and organizations, we need to be disrupted in order to be our optimal selves
- How process automation is disrupting the work of agencies as much as any other business sector
- Why the way we tell stories in our business needs to evolve with the tech and platforms people use to engage with stories
- Why the move toward a more agile, freelance workforce in your agency is likely not a short-term trend
The Golden Nuggets:“In order to achieve that lifetime goal, we have to break it down from the decades, to the annual, to the monthly, to the weekly, so that every day we're doing something small and big, getting us closer to that goal.” – @AmyxIoT Click To Tweet “You have to ask yourself, what is our differentiating core competency? What is that one or two things that you and your organization to better than anybody else?” – @AmyxIoT Click To Tweet “Pay attention to what’s next. During the time of the railroad tycoons, they saw the Wright brothers and thought, how can this thing that can barely carry people let alone cargo potentially disrupt the railroad?” – @AmyxIoT Click To Tweet “Agencies cannot just take orders. They have to transform themselves and further accentuate their role as a trusted advisor. This means you have to be several steps ahead of your clients.” – @AmyxIoT Click To Tweet “Just like building muscle, we're not going to grow; we're not going to become our self-actualized, optimized selves if we're not fundamentally disrupting ourselves on a constant basis.” – @AmyxIoT Click To Tweet
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Ways to contact Scott Amyx:
- Order Strive: https://amzn.to/2yqtMGh
- TEDx Talk: https://youtu.be/FXoqlqpWpao
- Website: https://scottamyx.com/
If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency Podcast. Now in our third year of bringing you insights on how small to mid-sized agencies survive and thrive in today’s market. We’ll show you how to grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money and keep more of what you make. With 25 plus years of experience, as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.
Hey there everyone, this is Drew McLellan with another episode of Build a Better Agency. If I were to quantify the questions that I get asked most often, the first one is always about biz dev so we’ll put that aside for a second, but the next one is almost always what’s new in the business. Where are the trends going? Where are agencies finding new ways to add value? How are they monetizing in new ways? How are they serving clients in new ways? And with everything that’s going on with technology today, how are they navigating all of that and how is that going to change our business? So some subset of questions and conversation around that topic is almost always when I go to a conference or I’m hanging out with an agency owner group and we’re having dinner, that’s always a hot topic of conversation.
And in fact, as you know, I work on and put together a list of trends that I see facing the agency, which were my solo cast for the last couple of months. So I’m also always thinking about trends and the shifts that are happening in our business and in our client’s business, which is going to affect our business. And so I was fascinated when I learned about today’s guest. So Scott Amyx is president of Amyx Ventures, he’s done a Ted Talk, he is a Sloan Woodrow Wilson fellow, he’s an IBM futurist. So he’s got some serious chops. He also just wrote a book, which is fascinating, and the book is called Strive. And the whole premise of the book is that we have been sort of sold a bill of goods around success and that success isn’t about working harder or being smarter.
But success is really about being comfortable, being uncomfortable. That the more we can put ourselves into circumstances or places that create discomfort, the more we innovate our way out of that discomfort and the more we grow ourselves and our business. And it’s a fascinating read, I highly recommend it. But given the fact that we live in a pretty uncomfortable environment, there’s no promise that a client’s going to stick around for more than a day. We’re always chasing after new business in today’s environment, a lot of agencies are struggling with employee retention, turnover, recruitment. So again everything about our world is a little uncomfortable. And in fact, when I think about it, many of us took a huge leap and jumped right into the deep end of the discomfort pool when we started our agency to begin with.
So I’m curious about how Scott is going to chat with me about how, let me pick that up again, [Cap 00:03:41]. So I’m really curious to dig into that with Scott a little bit and acknowledge that many agency owners started out pretty uncomfortable. And I will say this when I look across the table at my AMI agencies, yes, every one of you goes through sort of ebbs and flows of great business years and then challenging business years. But for the most part, most agency owners that have been around for eight, 10 years, they have survived the rocky beginning and you have built a foundation. And without a doubt, your business sort of expands and grows and then sometimes it has to shrink down a little. So I’m not saying it’s without its challenges, but for many of you, you have found some level of stability.
Is it hard work? Absolutely. Is it get harder and harder every day? Honestly, I think the answer to that is yes. But many agency owners have gotten pretty comfortable where their agency is at today. And so what I wonder is when we started our agency, many of us experienced sort of this rapid growth and sort of this really the two or three years of constant change as we were sort of inventing ourselves and we had good success. And we enjoyed sort of the early fruits of all of that labor and, to use Scott’s word, discomfort. And then I think things sort of mellow out a little bit. And so unless something from the outside triggers a disaster, a big client goes away or whatever it may be, many agency owners actually I think are not all that uncomfortable anymore.
And so, one of the questions that I want to dig into is do we need to be more uncomfortable again, if we’re going to keep growing and succeeding. And so if we’ve plateaued, if our agency has been the same size in terms of profitability or number of people, or number of clients for a few years, is it because we’ve let ourselves get too comfortable in that place? So this I suspect is really going to be a fascinating conversation. I cannot wait to dig into this topic and to ask some really hard questions about how we all keep up with the trends and how we actually set some of the trends that face us and our clients by innovating on a more regular and consistent basis. So let’s jump into the conversation and see what Scott has to say. All right. So without further ado, Scott, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.
Thank you, Drew.
So tell everybody a little bit about how you came to, as I said in the intro, how you came to have this idea that discomfort is where success comes from. Where was that born from and where was the core idea of your book, Strive? Where did all of that bubble up from in terms of your own story and your own experiences?
Yeah, I think it’s not meant to be an autobiography by any means, but it definitely has been a culmination of my life experience. And certainly more recently as pertains to my mission statement of creating sustainable economic development around the globe. I’m seeing firsthand the resistance to change that the governments, the NGOs, the private entities down to smaller communities and even individuals. And that compelled me to write this book, Strive, specifically to challenge people, to look at the world differently and to recognize that the only constant that we have is change.
Right. And it seems to be coming a lot faster than it used to.
Very much so. I think for most of your audience that look up my background you’ll know that I’m very much into deep exponential technologies. And if you look at the history of just general broad innovation, it used to be that the innovation cycles were much longer. So for example, let’s say the PCs, and if you look at the great run that Microsoft has, it’s quite reflective of the decades of PC saturation and the OS. But as we get into newer technologies, we’re starting to see that the slope is getting much higher and steeper.
So just to give you a very concrete example, when I was in Korea, speaking at Samsung, they were under the impression that the smartphone market was going to be very profitable, a profitable cash cow for many years to come. And they were surprised that they have essentially hit the zenith much sooner than they thought. And the last several years they’ve been scrambling to replace that cash cow with something else like the internet of things, like AI, like connected appliances and digital electronics and so forth. So it is happening very rapidly and more importantly, when these things and not just technologies, but the underlying business paradigms converge, it is introducing change at a rapid clip that none us can really truly anticipate.
Yeah. It’s interesting. When I’m teaching our AE Bootcamp, so I’m talking to the client facing people inside an agency and normally they’re young. So typically, they’re 35 and younger in some of the classes, or maybe they’re in their forties in the more advanced classes. And what I say to them is I’ve been in the business for 25 years, almost 30 years now, and the pace at which we had to work and the amount of time what we were doing today, I could have some confidence would be the same things we were doing tomorrow or next year. All of that has been so compressed that the demand to keep learning and keep trying new things is so much more exponential at this stage of my career than it was when I was 25.
I think that’s very well articulated Drew, I couldn’t agree with you more. And just as a transition to going back to your first question around kind of my personal story as to why I wrote this book, Strive, is that I come from I would say probably more kind of a non typical background in the sense of having more share of challenges perhaps than maybe kind of the average. I’m originally from South Korea, and I immediately was born into poverty and it was very difficult. And just for backdrop purpose, South Korea is not the kind of country that most people think of when you think about the Samsung, the LG, the Hyundais, right now the world cup is the thing that people are paying attention to. But not that long ago in the ’60s and ’70s, we were climbing out of 40 somewhat years of Japanese colonization.
Then we had World War II and then we went right into a civil war, and that civil war with North Korea has been ongoing. So technically we have not been at peace. It has been an active war for all those years. And of course, North Korea is very much in the mass media. So that’s the backdrop. So in the ’60s and ’70s, when we’re just kind of climbing out of all that destruction and devastation, we were much poorer than many of the sub Saharian African countries. And our GDP was literally in the hundreds relative to other nations. And yet when you look around that devastation and just literally dirt and it’s half of the country, half of the peninsula. We managed in a very short period of time to climb out of that, to become an [inaudible 00:11:45] nation.
And a lot of that is reflective of kind of the DNA, the fabric that I try to infuse into the book, which is that the individual discomfort that we experience collectively at a tribal and a communal and then at organizational, and then at national level is what brings about substantive change. So recently in the last year or so, the Me Too movement is a beautiful example of the cascading effect that has progressively moved the women’s liberation and the women’s rights much further into the limelight, that was very much in the background. And it was something that people knew about, but really then weren’t explicitly addressing it at the forefront. But when the collective individual people took risks and together were starting to make some significant changes. Same with the era, Spring Revolts, a few years back, a lot of the major things really takes somebody to step up and say, I’m willing to make a change.
And so is it your premise that in essence, we only make huge strides and adapt to and accept change and grow when there is a motivation, when there’s enough pain or discomfort, that the fear of change, which I think everyone to a degree has seems like the lesser of evils.
Yeah, I think so. I think the analogy that I like to use is most of my life I’ve been an active fitness fan, I regularly exercise, I lift weights. And one of the things that I’m very much aware especially when it comes to building muscle, is that if you want to grow, if you want to get ripped and defined, if you want to accentuate a particular part of your body. You really need to not just work out hard, but effectively what you’re doing is you’re getting to a point where it’s fatigue and at the microscopic level, it is truly starting to tear the muscle fibers apart. In other words, we’re not going to grow, we’re not going to get better defined, we’re not going to become the self-actualize optimized selves if we are not constantly tearing and fundamentally disrupting ourselves on a constant basis.
Because if you’ve ever been on a fast, or if you’ve taken a break from a particular healthy lifestyle for even a week, you see the immediate results. I love these YouTube videos where people eat ridiculous amount of food, and they themselves admit that immediately the very next day, their weight just jumped up and they feel completely different so then [inaudible 00:14:39]. So unless we’re regularly disrupting ourselves and moving ourselves towards a greater lifetime goal, we’ll find that we’re just kind of circling in the same sphere doing the same things and expecting different results when in fact we’re stuck in our habits.
So I’m sure the listeners right now are going, so what you’re saying is for me… Because in my head where I’m heading to is okay, this translates to me, the business owner in that, what you’re really saying is that the only way I grow my business, the only way my business gets stronger, the only way my business survives in the long run is for me to get comfortable in being in constant discomfort.
That’s exactly right. So prior to this recording I shared some of my thoughts with in advance, which is that when you think about what’s happening just on the technology front alone. So literally just a few weeks ago, Google announced something called the Duplex, which is their application of AI, artificial intelligence, that can actually act as your virtual assistant and even make outbound calls. So on the demo, it actually shows them calling a hair salon to make an appointment and was having a very natural conversation and even inserted, uhum, and some of these fillers as an example. In another demonstration the male voice, it even called a restaurant to make a reservation. And the other side never knew that it was an artificial intelligence being or a system that was actually communicating with them. Same thing with the latest from IBM, IBM just showcased something called a Debater and it’s extending the natural language processing, where the system is actually having a forensics or a speech debate contest with a professional Israeli debater on very difficult topics and is incredibly fluid and powerful.
Now, why is that important? Because when we think about everything from, let’s say social media, when we think about programmatic buying and ads, when we think about even content generation and campaigns, is that it’s no longer humans that is doing the content creation, it is no longer humans that is curating it and it’s no longer humans that’s distributing or even engaging. So if you look at social media, a large percentage of the interactions and engagements are really bots. And more and more we’re going to see more of the interactions happening between bots and bots. And then of course, AI brings it to another higher level. More importantly, the other piece that I mentioned from a process automation is that there’s something called Robotic Process Automation, RPA, which is a step below AI. So anything that you can do in any of the various social media marketing, advertising programs and platforms that you do in front of your computer, these systems can automatically capture that and then repeat that without human intervention.
What does that mean? It means that the accounts that you have, and perhaps these are large accounts, whether it’s the GEs, maybe it’s the IBM’s, I just spoke at a PTC conference as an example, you’ve had these accounts for potentially years, but yet they are actively pursuing these types of technologies. At which point they don’t need to outsource it to agencies or independence or freelancers anymore, because they can fully automate that entire process. And it doesn’t matter what it is. If a human can do it, they can automate it and they can automate it on scale 24/7 error free. And that is significant.
Yeah. Well, it’s the whole idea if somebody can order it, there’s a technology that can do it automatically.
It’s really more and I’ve been saying for years to agency owners, you’ve got to stop thinking about and talking about the stuff you make, because even before technology got to be what it is, someone else can make it cheaper. It really has to be what is it that you uniquely bring to the table in terms of your ability to think, and plan and ask good questions and anticipate, and all of that sort of strategic part, that’s the part that is not going to be commoditized. And to your point, isn’t going to be literally turned into an automatic AI process as opposed to a human process.
So right now, as we speak, AI is starting to chip away at occupations, whether it’s radiologists, whether it’s particular healthcare professionals including predictive healthcare to accounting, finance. And what we’re going to find very soon as that PR functions, marketing functions and sales functions. So for example salesforce.com, and a lot of the larger firms have been acquiring companies specifically with AI capability so that they can actually systematically know who to contact that’s going to have the highest conversion and likely to convert over from a customer or an upsell. The point of what I’m saying is that to your point, when we analyze the North American data sets around labor force and labor data over the last century or so, the only sub category where the data is showing a general upward trend versus a downward trend. So in other words, jobs in manufacturing, jobs in construction, blue collar, agriculture, you name it, they kind of spiked around kind of the 1960s, but since then have declined substantively. But the only sector that is growing is personal services.
And to your point, Drew, the key differentiator for agencies is no longer about what they can do. What they can do is starting to become systematically automated and becoming intelligent. So what they can do that cannot be replicated is the strategy and it’s about the relationship. Meaning a lot of the PR functions can be automated, but what cannot be automated are the personal relationships that you have with particular editors at the Wall Street Journal and New York Times and so forth. It’s those relationships, it’s those human connections that cannot be easily replicated. And those are the pieces that the agencies need to really think about because the context is changing. So Facebook, although I think they’re temporarily somewhat out of the fire, were under quite a bit of radar because of the Cambridge Analytics as an example. So even though we look at Google and Facebook as a juggernaut, when it comes to advertising and marketing, the reality is, and I can tell you being on the technology side, what’s coming down the pipeline and it’s something called DAOs, Decentralized Autonomous Organizations.
These are organizations that are decentralized, distributed, there is no central corporate or business entity that exists in the middle as an intermediary. It means that the Ubers, the Facebook will eventually start to be chipped away as these DAOs come into play, where it seamlessly facilitates the buyers and the sellers directly without these companies, without a company in the true sense at all. And that’s being fueled by blockchain. So these kinds of things at that point, how do you start to disseminate information? How do you start to publicize, propagate, accentuate when things are not centralized? There isn’t a single point of governance, let alone being able to actually contact somebody and saying, okay, can you write about this or can you cover this? Truly becomes million to million, many to many.
Right. Okay. Well now we’ve scared everyone into thinking their business is about to become obsolete. So I want to take a quick break. And what I want to come back to Scott, is how do we get good at being comfortable in our discomfort? And what do we need to do to be viable and valuable in the future world that you just described? So let’s take a quick break and then let’s dig into that.
I want to take just a quick second and remind you that if you head over to the agencymanagementinstitute.com website, one of the things you’ll find there in our effort to support agency owners is some on-demand training. We know that many of you want to attend our live workshops, but for some reason that doesn’t work out, maybe you’re outside of the U.S. or maybe you have little kids and it’s tough to travel, or it may just be that our calendar and your calendar do not align. And so what we’ve done is we now have three courses that we either regularly or occasionally offer as a live workshop. And now we’ve got them in an on-demand training version.
So you can now find a Biz Dev workshop, our Agency New Business Blueprint course, you can also find our AE Bootcamp and our most recent addition is the Money Matters workshop. So all of those are available. If you head over to the website and you go under training, you will see on-demand training under that tab, and you can check out all three of those courses. And obviously those are courses that you can take at your leisure. You can get through the whole thing in a weekend, which I don’t recommend, or you can space it out over time. You can do it individually, you can do it with your leadership team, whatever serves your agency best. We just want to make sure that you know that they are there and available for you. All right. Let’s get back to the episode.
Okay. We are back and I’m hoping you stuck around, that we didn’t scare you away with the promise of what’s coming in the future. It’s fascinating conversation so far. So my question for you Scott, before the break was okay, we acknowledge, and I think anybody who’s been in business for a day or a decade, they too are feeling this compression of time that change is coming faster and more incrementally and is so much more overarching than it was early in our careers. So there’s no relief from that, that is our reality that as technology continues to refine itself and get more sophisticated that we are in a state of constant change.
And to your point and again, you made this point in your TEDx video and in your book, Strive, that really for us to survive and to grow and thrive in this environment, we have to get very comfortable in the fact that we’re never going to be quite comfortable because the state of change is going to be constant. So how does someone who owns a business, who owns an agency or is in a leadership role in that agency, what do they need? Either the skills or the mindset or the habits, what do they need to survive and be successful in this time of constant change?
Great question. Let me share a couple of examples and I’m going to go right into the book itself, where it provides a very specific how to, step-by-step. Two examples I’m going to give you is in my role, I travel the world speaking to key leaders in government, industries and the capital markets about the change, about the opportunities as well. So very specifically, in the MENA region, as an example, in the Middle East, oil and gas is expected to tap out, be fully depleted in the next if lucky 25, 30 years. So you would think in that situation that they will start to diversify away into something else. And certainly, from a government perspective, there is a desire that the actual family offices or the holding groups that have these infrastructure and these assets, and that’s how they made their fortune. Guess what they’re doing?
Going after oil and gas.
They are holding onto what they know and not diversifying. And that’s a perfect example of what happened during the time that you had the railroad tycoons. And they saw the Wright brothers and some of this airplane buzz, and they thought, how can this thing that can barely carry people let alone cargo potentially disrupt the railroad. So instead of diversifying into new technologies like that, they doubled down into the existing and of course we know what happened. That is happening everywhere, regardless of the industry. And you’ll be surprised, I just spoke at this conference on something called Artificial Swarm Robotic Intelligence. And it’s about this notion that it’s not just robotic arms in many second floors anymore. Robots are becoming collaborative, smarter and smaller. And in some cases they’re working as a group, that’s huge implications.
The individuals are so frightened, they resist, they kick and guess what happens? If you read the newspaper, HP is laying off 5,000 people. City Group is expected to lay off 20,000 people and retail, as you know, has been closing stores, divesting and it has been absolute capital destruction in the trillions. That’s an example of what happens when individuals and collectively as an organization resist that change versus those that actually proactively like the example on Hidden Figures, the movie, decide that I’m going to actually learn something new and I’m going to actually add to my value and my skill sets and become valuable in this new economy. The other thing that I want to share with you is like I said the step-by-step that is in my book, Strive.
So strive stands for the following. S in strive stands for, set a goal. Now, before we can forge ahead, it’s very important that you know where you’re going. And when I say that, it’s not about the fact that you want your agency to go from $10 million to $50 million. Yes, of course that’s a financial goal. But what I’m talking about is in the context of Good to Great, Jim Collins, which talks about level five leadership. It’s about leaders who have a greater purpose in themselves.
And when they set a goal, it’s a goal that’s looking at the bigger picture, more specifically at their lives. I know too many people in their 50s and 60s where they were SVPs, in some cases CXOs, or leading their own agencies and find that some point they’ve been let go, or that agency is no longer growing. You don’t want to be in that situation, you want to make sure that you’re heading in the direction for your life and that you’re going to leave a legacy. And that it’s not just simply about money, fame, or glory. That’s very important.
Number two is the letter T in strive, which stands for think about how to get there and plan for success. Which is there’s a difference between those who realize success versus those who just have big dreams. But we know that it’s really about execution. In order to achieve that lifelong goal, we have to break it down from the decades to the annual, to the monthly, to the weekly. So that every day we’re doing something small and big getting us closer to the long-term goals.
I’m taking steps towards the goal.
Absolutely. And we heard too many people say that I’m so busy, when in fact what they’re working on is sand. They’re not even working on pebbles, let alone the rocks that’s going to really move the needle for them. Number three is R in strive, which stands for risk. You got to take the risk. Many of the agency founders they took the risk. But if you’ve been in business for five, 10 plus years, you’ve gone perhaps comfortable. You know a certain way of doing things, but now-
[inaudible 00:31:23] happy.
Exactly. But in the case of AR VR mixed reality, the way you tell stories from a first person, experiential is changing as an example. So your content has to change, your messaging has to change, the way you deliver, all of that has to change. So it’s about making sure that you are investing into the areas that is uncomfortable for you, but you know that’s exactly what your agency needs to be relevant, to be growing and to add value to your existing accounts and new accounts.
Number four is I in strive, which stands for insights. Which means that as you take these incremental risk and experimentation and learning and trials is that you have to become self-aware. Meaning when you did that, what did you learn from that experience? And did you take the step to self examine? Because one of the greatest things that people don’t quite understand is that failure is valuable if you’re willing to evaluate that failure and to learn from that failure so that in the next iteration, you take those insights to improve, to tweak, to optimize and to increase your success.
Number five is letter V, it’s verify progress. Are you going in the right direction? We have dashboards, measurements, KPIs. We use it for clients. We have to have something like that for ourselves. Do you have some sort of meters that can be quantified tangibly aside from just pure financial, you beat those and a lot of these ratios for your business, but what about you as an individual? Do you have those measure and those yardsticks, and do you know for a fact that you are moving incrementally towards your ultimate goal?
And then lastly is E in strive, which stands for enhance yourself mentally and physically. I tell you, especially those entrepreneurs that are starting their businesses, it’s so easy where they have to put everything in it to the point where they are just decimating their relationships, their body is being wasted, they’re gaining so much weight and they’re unhappy. What is the point of eventually succeeding or being successful if it means that physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally you’re bankrupt. So for example, I start each morning with the Bible so that my faith is strong. I then move on to exercise so my body is strong. I then move on to meditation so that my focus, my mind is strong. So when I sit down to work, I am productive, I’m focused, when I’m interacting with people, I’m at my best. So we have to think in terms of holistic.
So my call to action for the agency owners and the listeners and the professionals is that regardless how you choose to do define success, you want more out of life. Whether it’s for ourselves, for families or for the greater purpose, but how can you make an impact in your agency or the world for that matter, if you’re spinning in the same circle, doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results? I’ll give an example, I’m not going to say the company name, but it’s the largest consulting firm in Japan. And their way of doing strategy work hasn’t changed for the last 30 plus years, and that’s exactly what the executives told me. That is not how you do business, you have to change, you have to tailor for what’s happening and that’s current. So I challenge the listeners to do the things that’s most uncomfortable for you specifically, you have the opportunity to realize great success and to adapt if you choose.
You look out at the landscape and you see all of the things that are evolving, how does one know which direction to move towards? Whether you’re an agency owner or again you’re inside an agency, technology is touching so many parts of our business. You’ve talked about social media, you’ve talked about artificial intelligence, you’ve talked about even strategy and how we help clients identify the right strategies for their business. We can’t do it the way our dads or moms did it when they started the agency, if we’re a multi-generational agency. So I think one of the things that the listeners in the conversations that I’m having with agency owners every day, and that the listeners are wondering as you and I are talking, is I get that I have to evolve my agency. How do I know, know is probably too strong a word, what tells me that I’m headed in the right direction? What are the clues? If I’m willing to be uncomfortable, what should I be looking for along the way that says, you know what Drew, you’re marching down the right path here.
That’s beautiful question. Let me give you an analogy, a story to kind of reinforce exactly what we’re talking about is that when we think about Amazon, we initially thought of them as an eseller and particularly focused around books. But the founder Bezos did not ever perceive Amazon as a bookseller online. Rather if you look at the core ethos or the principles that drive that company, one of the key pieces is delighting customers to the point they innovate on their behalf. Which is a very important point because any of those that are in the primary science or social sciences know that we do so much in terms of surveys and gathering information to ascertain what are the product attributes or the needs, and then develop products and services around it. But many times the consumers or the customers don’t know.
So what Amazon does is they actually create on behalf of the customers with these things in mind. So this is exactly why Amazon AWS came into picture. This is why Alexa Amazon Echo Dot as an example, came into picture. This is why they’re working on swarms of drones as an example. We didn’t necessarily ask for that, but what we did ask for is we want a place to be able to host our entrepreneurial or our small business website, as an example for AWS. Or we wanted to make sure that we can actually have our order available now, and in some cases we want it to be available in the next hour and that’s where the drones come in. Or we want to be able to order without actually having to pull on my phone or type anything on the laptop, pull out an app, by just simply speaking it I can do that.
So the point is that as an agency it’s very important first, step number one is your self-assessment. As an organization and as an individual, you have to ask yourself, what is that differentiating core competency? What is that one or two things that you and your organization do better than anybody else vis-a-vis your competitors? That is very important because that is a guiding light to identifying what other capabilities will accentuate and amplify your core competency.
So let’s say hypothetically, your core competency is around storytelling. So maybe you’ve had staff of people that are writers, that are contributors, that are bloggers as an example. And so far you’re telling me stories, but ultimately it’s about narrative. But now since story and the formats are changing, particular in the immersive first person virtual reality, that means that now you have to make sure that you understand that context. You can’t just slap 2D metaphors into 3D vector environments, where you’re the first person. You have to come up with a different mechanism for telling that story in a compelling way. That’s how you know.
Number two is the market [inaudible 00:39:46] or the signals. When AWS first launched, people thought that they were crazy. Amazon was the only one and literally were the only ones providing cloud services. It was years later before Microsoft, Google and everyone else jumped on the bandwagon. So there has to be a degree of commitment in terms of how much money, how much resources and how much time you’re willing to commit to learning a new competency or new skill or new technology.
Now with that, at some point in addition to that commitment, just like Steve Jobs had a commitment around user experience, is that you have to look for market signals. Are your clients, are your accounts asking for those things? Are they saying, I want the next thing that can scale, I want it error free. I want better engagement, but I want it to be automated. What are they asking for? And the things that you’re providing, is that in fact what people are asking for? So that market signal is an indicator of whether you’re going in the right direction or not.
Well, and I think Bezos is a great example of doing two things, one listening to what the market is asking for, but two really anticipating what the market’s going to ask for tomorrow and building it today. And because we have such confidence in our engagement with them, we’re willing to experiment with them with things that we didn’t even know we wanted. No one knew they wanted an Alexa in their house until they had one and then they were like, how in the world did I ever live without being able to chat with Alexa in the morning to find out what the weather is or whatever, however they use that device.
So, one thing that I would say is that the key difference between an Amazon type of an organization versus a typical agency that’s online is that you don’t necessarily have the deep pockets where you can afford to spend 10 plus years developing some closed ecosystem proprietary technology. However, you can in fact, and this is part of the strive call, which is you can in fact learn and understand what is happening. When you understand the bigger landscape, you understand where the opportunities are and you know exactly where your chess pieces have to move. To give you an example is as we’re moving from a human machine interface where it was typed, and it was on screen on phone and laptops to gesture-based, speech-based and visual-based, how those different human machine interface change the way you tell stories, execute campaigns and so forth, that’s very important.
The other fact is things are becoming decentralized and distributed. It means that it’s no longer a centralized fashion where you have either a cloud computing model only, or a single organization. Things because of blockchain are becoming decentralized, things because of internet of things are becoming decentralized, things because of edge analytics are becoming decentralized. In that decentralized context, how are things going to move? How are data going to move? How’s story going to move? How are people going to move? How are goods and services going to move? So it’s important that you have to spend some time understanding these upcoming things and the paradigm shifts. If you thought that the shared economy was significant, we’re going to see the next evolution of shared economy in a decentralized fashion. That is powerful. And I can tell you, I have firsthand access to some of these startups and technologies.
Well, and as I’m listening to you talk, it seems to me that part of what an agency can do is also help their clients get comfortable with this change. So part of the value as an agency, and this is true, a big part of what agencies have always done is they have been a point of reassurance to their clients, that the client was doing the right things and helping them explore new avenues. That the agency made their client braver to try new things because the agency had confidence or experience or whatever in this new thing, whether the new thing was this thing called the internet, or programmatic media buying or whatever it may be. So as I’m listening to you talk, I’m thinking that part of our role is also to help our clients by being there. And by being a trusted sort of guide through all of this change, we help them get more comfortable in their discomfort as well.
I am loving what you’re saying Drew. Let me tell you a brief story. There is a very large microcontroller manufacturer in Japan, I’m not going to mention their name. They are selling millions of these units that eventually microcontrollers that go into everything from, let’s say appliances, electronics, to even cars and industrial products. And ultimately what they were trying to do and they’re still trying, which is they are perceived by the market and their customers as a transactional type of a position. So simply their clients call them place orders. Agencies cannot in this environment, be just taking orders. They have to transform themselves and further accentuate their perception as a trusted advisor, which means that you have to be several steps ahead of your clients. If not, why would they trust you? So making sure that-
Again, if I want to just place an order, I can do that with AI or something else I don’t need to talk to a human.
That’s right? A human that is thinking ahead, has been experimenting internally, has the domain expertise and the knowledge and is showing how to get there. And just like the agencies are struggling, larger accounts are struggling even more because the fact that they’re midsize and larger blue chip means that they are by nature, not as innovative. So they’re struggling to figure out how to rationalize these new paradigms, new technologies. That’s where the agencies come in, leveraging the strategy, leveraging the relational aspect and leveraging that trust to show them and guide them.
Well, and even if a client is smaller, you’re right, the larger clients, the enterprise level clients, they’re such a big ship, there’s quagmire in politics and other things that’s difficult for them to innovate. On the smaller clients side, they don’t have the resources. So in either case the idea that you’re the guide that are out there, two or three steps, which I think is not a new idea for agencies. I think agencies have always understood that they had to understand technology or media or whatever it was before their clients would be willing to try it. That concept is not new, but I think the speed at which we have to experiment and fluent in some of these new things is just faster.
It is. And one of the things that I think that’s very important, and I’m sure some agencies are doing this or are capable, which is sometimes as a founder in particular, you may not have an appetite to dig deeper into robotics or quantum computing. So you have to make sure that somebody on the staff or some other outside resource or some advisor can bring that expertise or knowledge so that when you’re interfacing with the clients, you are letting them know that you are on top of it. Because the worst thing that clients needs at this point is just a transactional person who has no idea what’s happening and they’re going to just lead them into a blind alley.
Yep, absolutely. So as I’m thinking about this and I know that we have to sort of wind down this conversation, but there’s so much around this. So organizationally, so I’m thinking now of an agency organization, how are you seeing organizations change themselves so that they have the bandwidth, the resources, the intellectual resources, the dollar resources to be in essence this explorer who is willing to wade into what is uncomfortable to learn it, to get comfortable enough to invite other people i.e. clients, to come on out the water’s fine. Look, I’m standing in the water. It’s okay, come on out. Well, how are organizations changing the way they’re built to do that?
Well, I think it kind of depends on the scale and the size that we’re talking about in terms of SMBs and the larger agencies. Some that are large enough, established enough can in fact build some of those competencies in-house including data analytics teams, AI teams, and so forth, and do those experimentations. In other cases, from a resource it’s just not viable or feasible. And that’s where it makes more sense to put together very specific and a very focused project where you assemble the right set of capabilities and resources, including those that are more project-based resources. So that more and more a lot of the organizations, big and small, are becoming more variable where not everyone is a fixed permanent employee. And you got to make sure that a [inaudible 00:49:16] of your organization is variable.
And the reason that’s important is one project you may need expertise in VR, in another project you may need expertise around predictive data analytics and so forth. So it’s being able to adjust that project team using freelancers, variable labor force to be able to bring that expertise and be able to specifically apply it. The other thing is experimentation in a partnership ecosystem. There are many accelerators and labs, for example in the New York in just the VR world alone, the Glimpse Group [DJ 00:49:50] as an example is a very prolific meetup organizer. And they’re at the epicenter when it comes to VR, AR and mixed reality. That meetup is a significantly proper community and regionally and throughout the world, there are similar types of communities, of course, the vibrancy and the depth and the color is going to be different.
However, that’s where you start to find not only expertise and resources, but opportunities to experiment, co-partner, co-innovate and that allows for you to stretch your resources, but yet still be able to gain insights and experience and accessibility that you might not have otherwise. So, for example, when I was visiting Glimpse Group last time, there was a startup from Czech Republic that has one of the best 5K VR headsets in the world in terms of fidelity and just incredible snappy performance. And the fact that you were there, I was able to experiment with it, that accessibility is there if you know where to look for it.
Yeah. It’s interesting. As I’m listening to you talk, I’m thinking how does an organization like mine, which is an association of agency owners small and medium-sized independently owned agencies. What role could my organization play in creating the lab where these, because these are agencies that have a level of trust with each other, a level of confidence, a lack of sort of they’re going to steal my ideas. But how could we create this lab environment where these owners and their employees could come together to do things together in terms of experimenting that they wouldn’t have the resources to do on their own.
I love this. I love what where you’re going, is that if let’s say in your case, and there are let’s say handful of participating members in that association, if each of them are willing to allocate a single resource, just single resource, the fact that collectively they have a shared budget, which means it could be a hardware. Maybe it’s a 3D printer, maybe it’s a VR headset, maybe it’s a particular access to certain API services for experimentation with AI and certain types of classifiers as an example, but they’ve purchased once, but they work on a project together, then they share the lessons learned, and then they take those lessons and insights to their respective agencies. And then they add their own sort of secret sauce, their set of IP that is unique, but the core fundamental pieces, they were able to share it in some ways kind of a partial hybrid, open source project in a way.
Yeah, I’m going to have to give that some thought. I have to think there’s a way for us to be a conduit to that. I just have to figure out the mechanics, but that’s an interesting idea to be able to bring them together and help them share a finite resource. So that they have enough to really build out something that is cutting edge or fresh, or experiment enough that they have the confidence to go out and sell it to their clients and their prospects. Again, it’s not just agencies that have to innovate, it’s certainly organizations like mine as well as I can’t keep doing exactly what we’ve been doing and not advance and move forward too. So I too have to reinvent not only on the agency side of my world, but on the AMI side of my world. I too have to get a little more comfortable, perhaps being uncomfortable.
I love it. It sounds like my mission here on the podcast is working.
That’s right. Even if no one else listens, Scott, you’ve had impact. So I love that. So tell me given your world and all of the different places that you are collaborating and spending time, what are the must visit sources? Where do you go to make sure that you’re staying current and that the trends that are important in your world are not missed by you? Are there some resources or tools or places or people that you really feel have their finger on the pulse of things that help you stay looking out future forward?
Yeah. I think I’m probably somewhat of an outlier in the sense that I am probably very deep and in some cases I’m a head of many others as well. But if you think about a lot of the technologies or the paradigms in many cases, they actually in concept or in research have been worked on for decades, whether it’s internet of things, VR, whatever, quantum computing very much is in R&D at this point. So when we have access to DARPA, the kind of projects that they’re working on today, which is around swarm robotics intelligence, as an example, will become very much commercialized in the next several years as it comes out of that R&D space into the private sector. Same thing is we have incredible access to some of the best universities throughout the world.
So I see firsthand the kind of simulations that they are building. So for example, in Europe at this particular university, the director of that department was showing me various different demonstrations of what their PhDs and postdocs are working on, such as an FAA sponsored project, where they’re simulating how many drones can you safely have around that plane route without interrupting the FAA traffic control, but still be able to have those drones. Others are simulating autonomous flying vehicles as an example, or in some cases it’s simulated data to test and verify and certify autonomous vehicles on the road without actually hurting or endangering anybody in person. So I have access to that, but I would say more than-
If you were an agency owner, what would you be watching and listening to and tracking?
More accessible kind of more mainstream places I will look at if I was an agency is, there is a publication called Futurism. And that is it’s a decent bridge to academics and commercialization. Same thing with Wired, I think Wired is another great publication looking at world economic forum, looking at things that’s coming out of MIT Media Lab and any other kind of universities that are focusing on core research and development. So there are ways that you can stay on top of it and set up some of those RSS feeds so that you are at least familiar and staying on top, even if it’s initially fairly superficially. And then the areas that you want to go deeper, you can. For example, for me, I have no problem going into Penn citations and white papers and PhD dissertations. I will go very deep until I have a concrete understanding of what that is and how that is going to impact and get manifested in the commercialization space.
Yeah, those are some great resources. So kind of to wrap up our conversation, I feel like we’ve just scratched the surface, but I’m mindful of time. To wrap up our conversation, what does an agency owner need to do? Where does the courage to be uncomfortable come from do you think? Do you get more comfortable being uncomfortable the more you do it? Is it surrounding yourself with a safety net? So let’s say we’re talking about an agency owner who is in their mid 50s, they’ve owned their agency for 20 years.
So the biggest risk they’ve taken professionally was 20 years ago and certainly they’ve made lots of mini risks and have bet on the future and technology along the way, otherwise their agency wouldn’t still exist, but it’s time for them to get a whole lot more comfortable being uncomfortable. What helps someone do that? I know you walked us through the steps of how to sort of navigate once you’re there, but what does it take to have the courage to take that step into the discomfort?
Well, I think it’s very much, I think, a longer term vision of yourself. It’s about that goal that I mentioned before. So in other words part of the reason that diets and weight loss don’t work is because they’re working on certain metrics around the weight loss or measurements around the weight and so forth. But what they’re not really focused on is the deeper inner thing that is kind of the core of self as well as where they want to be in the future. And I think one of the challenges with some of these agencies, especially those that have been around for some time is the mindset of someone who’s been running it for 30 plus years, they’re in their 50s and 60s may be different than somebody who’s just starting out. I think that’s very important. But with that said, it’s key regardless where you are is ultimately, where do you see yourself?
Meaning are you looking to sell your agency? If so, how do you get that agency to a certain performance metric so that it is at the highest valuation and you get the highest multiplying effect. Or if you’re growing it, you’re asking yourself, okay, what do I need to do to reach that goal. But I would ask you and challenge you to think even longer and broader, ultimately as