Creators, critics and coasters

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Snapshot : Who are the creators, critics and coasters in your business? We define creators as people who bring growth opportunities into a business. Critics can be those who try to block change and be the opposite of constructive? And coasters tend to be the majority view in most businesses, not necessarily a good or a bad thing, just a thing.

One of the biggest business challenges we all face is working out how to influence and motivate large numbers of very different people. Particularly if you are the unfortunate soul trying to launch a new product. Or a communication campaign. Or set up a new sales channel.

Some people like to call it ‘stakeholder management’ but those same people also like using words like ‘paradigm shift’ and ‘game changer’. Don’t be one of those people. Stakeholder management is one of those management consultancy buzzword phrases that has hung around like a bad smell and immediately drains the morale of anyone hearing it.

It’s as welcome as an Australian Prime Minister in the countryside at the moment. 

So, ‘people’ and definitely not ‘stakeholders’. Because thinking about people and what motivates them is how you get things done in business. And the definition of ‘people you need to motivate’ in a business usually comes down to “anyone who might express an opinion that will hold up or delay the thing you are trying to get done”.

Simple.

But wait a minute.

The factory manager whose production line is running at capacity and can’t fit your product in until next September.

The finance manager who needs you to justify your budget with a 3 months ROI delivery so the P&L makes sense at the next half year report.

And what about, the IT and procurement teams? The ones who won’t let you buy that piece of marketing tech or work with that agency without jumping through multiple approval hoops.

All valid concerns.

And yet, all total momentum killers for driving any change in your business. Hmm, not so simple.

The three types of motivations we see most often

There are many ways to try and understand what motivates people. We’ve covered some of these areas in previous blog posts like Insight profiles and Marketing to non-marketers.

But we believe there are 3 types of people and motivations you’re most likely to encounter as you navigate your way through any business. Creators, critics and coasters. Have a think what type you are.

Creators

So we define creators (as opposed to creatives) as those people who can bring new growth opportunities into a business. They create new products or services. They build relationships with new consumers or create new trade channels with new customers.

Creators are catalysts for new and future business. These are a rare breed to find in most organisations.

Because the people who have these sorts of creator skills tend to be free-thinkers who like to be flexible, agile and push the boundaries.

And most organisations are set up to actively discourage those sorts of behaviours. Senior leaders and HR people in your business might say otherwise, but the realty is creators are risk-takers and risk-takers find corporate life challenging.

Creators challenge

Most people we know who’ve got the imagination, drive and the skills to be creators soon realise doing it within existing ‘set’ businesses is bloody hard work.

Because those existing businesses will have a history and a set of control mechanisms that make them the business they are today.

And it’s that history and the control mechanisms that are generally the key barriers that stop creators bringing in new thinking to generate the business of tomorrow

So, evolutionary innovations like new flavours for an existing product or new pack sizes for example, those might scrape through business stage-gates (which we’ll come to in a second) but only because they are imitations of what has gone on before.

Revolutionary change-the-model innovations really need one of three things. Acquisition – say Unilever’s purchase of Dollar Shave Club.

Or exceptionally strong and prescriptive direction from the very top – Apple for example.

Or a completely separated ‘greenfield’ approach to route to market – like Nestle has done with Nespresso.

Critics

The expression ‘everyone’s a critic’ (now we’re on to stage-gates) has never been more true when you are trying to navigate a new product or campaign through a business.

At each approval stage, you have to get through which most businesses call a ‘gate’ to proceed.

A gate.

Think about it.

A gate is something to stop progress. Something you generally need to clamber over to make progress. And that’s the mindset you find in most ‘gate’ meetings where the onus is on finding ways to stop or prevent things happening. 

Have you researched your idea enough? Have you given the trade customer at least six months notice? Will it fit on their shelf? (actually, we know of at least one instance where this question should have been asked and wasn’t). Will it make money? Will it make enough money? How many people will it need? Is it better than what we are doing?

And on, and on, and on.

A relentless barrage of questions from the ‘critics’s’ in the business. The ones who want to make sure the company doesn’t make mistakes. That the proper control mechanisms are in place to protect the business from risk.

But businesses need to take risks in order to survive. Like the famous quote, a ship in harbour is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for. 

Facing the critics

Going into those stage-gate meetings as a ‘creator’ can feel like Luke Skywalker facing up to Darth Vader at the end of The Empire Strikes Back. Where shortly before revealing the old Skywalker family tree, Darth (an obvious critic by the way) is throwing the weight of The Force at Luke.

Except when it comes to gate meetings, rather than bits of spaceship, its financial projection models and risk matrices that are getting thrown at you to ward off. Before you jump into a black hole.

Now, we’re not proposing a free for all and total anarchy in the way businesses and innovations and new campaigns operate. Some checks and balances are needed.

But if you look at what most businesses churn out in innovations and new campaigns, and how damn long it takes, surely there must be a way to reset the balance in favour of the creators over the critics?

We’re not averse to a bit of critical analysis ourselves, but always in the spirit of making innovation more likely to be successful.

And not in the spirit of turning  new ideas into an organisational cul de sac to quietly die. And here’s where we come to our third group and where we think you should really focus your efforts.  

Storytelling on stage - woman presenting to audience

Coasters

Most critics in any business are unlikely to change, they’ve already gone over to the Dark Side. They’ll see you trying to challenge them and their process or approvals as part of the ‘sport’ of them maintaining control over the business. 

But actually, you find in terms of pure quantity of people in a business, most people are neither creators or critics.

Most of them are quite satisfied doing the job they were hired to do, paying their mortgage and bills, feeling valued for their expertise when called upon and enjoying the benefits the company throws their way. Health insurance, company conferences, free booze or biscuits, whatever.

These are the ‘common people’ (thank you Jarvis Cocker) who keep businesses going.

Finding what coasters want

Continuity and consistency are the underlying motivations for these types and a savvy ‘creator’ will be able to tap into this motivation to help drive through necessary change.

Coasters like following the processes that have been set up. Generating the reports that need to be done. Attending the meetings and reviews that are embedded into the company culture. Predictability and certainty are key.

If you understand that motivation, then that’s how you start to get more support for your new product or campaign.

Show how what you are proposing helps to support the continuity and consistency motives that underpin what coasters look for. Show how you are adding to a long-term business story that will keep the wheels of the business turning into the future. highlight how NOT pushing through with innovation threatens the way that the company runs now.

Those are motivating and scary words to anyone coasting though the business. But persuasive creators can use that motivation to build support for whatever change it is they are trying to deliver.

So what’s our point?

Creators, critics and coasters isn’t an all defining model for describing everyone in your business. But it is a useful short-hand in working out where people are when it comes to delivering change.

We believe everyone has a bit of ‘creator’ in them at some point. And probably a bit of a ‘critic’. But in reality, most of us when we are in big organisations spend our time coasting. So we are all creators, critics and coasters at some point.

We can’t change the critic behaviour, but we can aim to nudge coasters out of their comfort zone.

That meeting about that HR training thing. That meeting about that budget number. That morning tea.

Coasting.

Really.

And that’s fine.

But when you go into a ‘stage-gate’ meeting, decide which side you are on. When you are coasting and you spot someone actively being a creator, stop coasting for a minute.

Think about how you can help.

Because the next time it might be you on the receiving end of one of the Critics attacks.

Because if it’s your business and you have creators, critics and coasters, you know which one needs the most protection.

Photo credits

Confetti: Photo by Pablo Heimplatz on Unsplash

Woman presenting on stage : Photo by Product School on Unsplash

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