Adrian Pittman is a business innovator who believes that crafting a successful brand requires both art and science. It’s about thinking big-picture strategy, forging the right relationships, and creating the most customer-relevant story. It’s a holistic framework of high-tech and high-touch – where the building blocks are synthesized into a new form that’s more compelling than the sum of its parts.
He is co-founder and CEO of Velocity Matters and SOMTU MMS, two business ventures that reflect his philosophy and dedicated spirit.
Adrian has more than 15 years of high-tech marketing and brand development experience partnering with Fortune 500 companies on both the domestic and international fronts. He directed web-based design and messaging initiatives for Apple, Nissan and Infiniti for TBWA/Chiat/Day in Los Angeles, and Dish Network for Publicis in Seattle. With BBDO, he co-directed the launch of Daimler/Chrysler's web-based campaign for their brand's introduction into Eastern Europe. He also served as marketing director for several investments groups to facilitate their strategic branded launches in the US and abroad.
Adrian will be writing about entrepeneurship, innovation and why he lives and works in Ann Arbor.
Multicolored pixels swarm around my screen, coalescing into the form of Thom Yorke's face. He’s singing the chorus, "Denial, Denial." No cameras were used in the creation of this video. That’s right. No cameras.
Everything — the singer, other actors, and the scenery — was captured with a combination of Geometric Informatics and Velodyne LIDAR. Two technologies, initially developed for high-detail scans of rock formations, buildings and the like, are now being repurposed to create innovative visuals for a music video. The page I'm viewing is part of a larger online-only marketing schema that includes donation-paid digital releases and remix promotions to engage fans, giving winners exposure via music download and social networking sites.
What a great idea.
Practically everywhere I go these days, I find myself surrounded by great ideas. New creations formed from the merging of multiple concepts, processes or technologies.
I'm waiting in the first floor lobby of the Ann Arbor District Library. My appointment is late. It’s quite some time since I visited here. While I wait, I wander around to get the lay of the metaphorical land. To my left, there’s a row of gleaming iMacs, each beckoning me to search for and self-checkout titles … or go online to manage my personal account. To my right, a sign reminds me to register my laptop at the front desk for free wireless access. Upstairs, artwork… framed prints... presumably available for checkout. What a great idea, I think to myself. Utilizing readily available technologies and a broader variety of material, the AADL is not only increasing interaction with current library goers, but also enticing a new generation to take a look.
For a while now, I’ve believed that the next generation of great ideas will emerge by combining existing tools and models into new hybrids. The developing success of ventures like Twitter, the iPhone and Pownce confirm those beliefs.
I'm sitting street-side at an evening meeting over drinks with a friend. The topics of conversation are many and varied. My friend begins telling me about a book she read called The Medici Effect. The basic premise intrigues me.
"The Medicis were a banking family in Florence who funded creators from a wide range of disciplines. Thanks to this family and a few others like it, sculptors, scientists, poets, philosophers, ?nanciers, painters, and architects converged upon the city of Florence. There they found each other, learned from one another, and broke down barriers between disciplines and cultures. Together they forged a new world based on new ideas — what became known as the Renaissance. As a result, the city became the epicenter of a creative explosion, one of the most innovative eras in history. The effects of the Medici family can be felt even to this day."
She explains that the Medici Effect occurs when extraordinary ideas result from bringing together various disciplines and cultures, and searching for places where they connect. The idea seems as though it’s cut from the cloth of my own imagination. Like when you discover there's a word for something you’ve felt for a long time. What a great concept. I immediately search for the book.
In the introduction, there’s an example of an architect who's tasked with designing an energy efficient building for an insurance and real estate conglomerate in Zimbabwe, where the temperature ranges from 100 degrees during the day to below 40 at night. The intersection of his knowledge with the building techniques of an indigenous termite and modern green construction results in an amazing structure. One that maintains an internal average temperature of 77- 73 degrees and uses only 10% of the energy as compared to its surrounding neighbors. What a great idea.
The world is full of these. Great ideas. Simple ideas. Purposeful ideas. Ideas that utilize the best of available concepts, models and technology. Whether it’s a web-savvy band and their liberal repurposing of military, retail and social-networking components. Or a generation-savvy district library that insightfully combines technology and content to increase accessibility. Or an architect who uses insects as inspiration for energy-efficient buildings.
What makes an idea great? Originality? Ingenuity? Functionality? Accessibility? One thing’s for sure, there will always be great ideas to discover. And entrepreneurs with a protean sense of ability – like the Strategic Expeditioners described in my first post – will be the catalysts for future creativity.
Caution: Not suitable for the technology faint-of-heart…
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"We put up a website to help us with our marketing," says the man coyly … as he looks at his wife across the table. I sense insecurity in his voice.
We are sitting in a Mexican restaurant enjoying a quiet, friendly lunch. The unavoidable topic of occupation has steered our social conversation in the direction of work-related matters. They are interested in my views on their marketing. I listen politely as he explains his strategy.
"Yeah, a friend of ours is into marketing. We have a video on our site that uses this technology that allows us to track who’s viewed it." To what end, I think to myself. As he turns to look at me, his eyes tell me he’s thinking the same thing.
The couple owns a small business. Their story is a common one. Faced with an increasingly competitive industry, they want to create a marketing edge by using Internet technology — with little or no understanding of what they are choosing and why. This often stems from a desire to try something “new” without first establishing knowledge of what is and isn’t working with their current marketing. Lacking the strategic or technical expertise to properly evaluate a technology, they decide to experiment. While experimentation can be a useful learning tool, there’s a thin line between a carefully targeted experiment and firing blindly. It seems to me this couple is participating in the latter. I wonder … what are their expectations?
They’re not completely to blame. Current technological trends have continued to introduce an ever-broadening array of component-based solutions to the non-technical masses. Thus leading to significant confusion. More tools with more capabilities and all the gee-whiz-bang-for-your-buck you could ever imagine. Tools that are easier to use — and don’t require a degree in computer science to integrate — are fast becoming the norm. Technology providers are getting wise to the concept of community development platforms, creating developer toolkits and allowing third-parties to help create the next generation of products. In essence, products built for their customers, by their customers.
However, out of that model, a new challenge arises. Increased access drives the demand for increased education. The need for technical understanding hasn’t really changed; it’s just changed positions. Now the question becomes “what do we integrate” instead of how. They ask this as they rub their hands together, eagerly eyeing the smorgasbord of plug-and-play features … often without the insight about what to implement or why. The focus is on the tool and not the relevance of the tool. A new challenge and a new set of responsibilities.
With the void increasing between those who use … and those who build and understand … a new technocracy is developing. And in the middle somewhere is the truth about ROI. Also worth considering is the number of unsubstantiated myths about the value of popular measurement methods — click-throughs and page views — because these metrics do not actually correlate to revenue generated. Things like relevance analysis and conversion mapping — tracing the roadmap of website viewing to actual prospects gained or purchases made — often are omitted until after the tools are implemented. As the void between myth and reality increases, small business owners are putting a lot more faith in the technical consultants they engage.
As for my dining companions and their website experiment, it appears they made that leap of faith when teaming up with the video-toting consultant. I hope he’s done his research. If not, they’ll likely find the results too hit-or-miss for their taste or their marketing goals.
You can learn a lot about a person by how they spend their free time.
Seeing that it’s the weekend, I opt not to work. Instead, I seek to unwind with alternate activities.
The thing about continual multi-tasking during the week is that you can only do it for so long before your productivity is depleted. Pile on a week’s worth of responsibility-induced stress and inefficient amounts of sleep … and you’re pretty much out of fuel by Friday. One must have alternate activities to re-energize the brain.
I meander my way into my office and flip open my laptop. Not to research a strategic opportunity or write yet another business proposal. Instead, I activate Reason — my virtual music studio of choice — plug in my keyboard and begin doodling with some melodies that have been bouncing around in my head for the past few days. Composing allows me to engage my creative problem-solving skills without the added stress of timelines or external expectations. The compositions are simply what they end up being. It’s truly therapeutic. And it’s always a kick to hear people’s thoughts on my work once it’s released.
I remember, years ago, when I used to paint to unwind, but that ended about the time I became an Art Director. Suddenly, painting felt too much like “work” to be truly enjoyable – too reminiscent of the daily grind. Not relaxing … no re-energizing there.
In response to my first post, Man with no Name, a friend noted that the question “what do you do for a living?” is a very American one. She explained that, in her international travels, this was not commonly asked. In fact, she further revealed that it is considered uninteresting and even rude. Perhaps we readily ask it because of our western 9-to-5 sensibility or a more materially focused orientation. Whatever the case, it’s an ideology that’s woven deep within us — the thought that what defines a person is what they do to earn a living. It’s a concept that doesn’t hold up in practical observation. How many aspiring artists, actors, lawyers and the like are currently working in occupations that are not their vocation or calling? We live in a society that prefers to define people by their occupation. Yet knowing how a person earns a paycheck does not inherently mean knowing the person at all.
Conversely, I think what a person does for recreation, relaxation … or even passion … can reflect a lot more about them. Perhaps the problem is that many of us don’t make the time to take time off — we’re far too preoccupied with our paycheck-driven work.
I ponder that thought as I transition to the Internet to scout for early reviews of my latest electronic music release. One kind reviewer has given a favorable rating — though he mistakenly attributes my work to another artist. Interestingly, I notice he’s comparing one of my tracks to the work of Bruce Hornsby & The Range. I laugh at the reference, because it was the furthest thing from my mind when I wrote it. I sample a little of that artist’s work on iTunes and fail to see the similarity.
I muse at how different the connections are between reviewer and composer … between observer and participant. How we perceive others on the surface versus a deeper appreciation of their being — the things that serve to ignite and inspire them … or simply provide respite from their work-a-day world. Those much more intriguing, not-so-obvious layers that perhaps underscore and inform their next composition … their next body of work – whether it’s for pay or simply play.
I once asked my insightful friend, in an attempt to learn more about her, what she did to relax. Being of particularly varied interests, she cited cooking, reading, photography, crocheting, and dancing around her house when no one is watching as some of her methods. Her answer doesn’t surprise me. She’s one of the most creative people I know. I imagine there’s a lesson in there somewhere.
After a few more minutes of browsing the search engines, I tire of the computer and decide to go to the park. It is, after all, Sunday. And wasn’t that once a day of rest?
I have three distinct feelings.
One is a lump in my throat. I feel this when a film is particularly good and gets me emotionally. Another is a chill down my spine. I feel this when a singer-songwriter has assembled a particularly stunning arrangement. The third is a lump of coal in my stomach. This is the feeling I get when something is circumstantially out of whack. It guides me like an inner voice of reason.
It's the latter that I am feeling right now. I've experienced it many times in my life and each time it's led me true. And that's why … despite sitting in a trendy café in Brooklyn's beautiful Carroll Gardens, at a charming table on a perfect sunny day, across from a pair of pleasantly smiling faces … I know something is off. A follow-up conference call the next day will reveal exactly what that is.
"Your proposal was impressive. Your turnaround time was amazing, and you nailed exactly what we want to accomplish with this project. We really like you. We think you have right mix of understanding and skills to help us execute our vision," says the pleasant female voice on the phone — a prospect we had been courting for several days now. "But…" I think to myself.
"But, we were hoping to bring the budget in at a third of what you've quoted." And there it is. The lump of coal never lies.
Over the years, I've witnessed the repeat offense committed by many businesses. It's the crime of under-valuation. In their quest to stretch budget dollars as far as possible by cutting all non-essentials, they actually cut into essentials. Shortchanging their business in ways they won't even realize until it's too late. In many cases, it isn't about the expense; it's the misguided idea that cheap is better than good. And quality can always be appended later -- as though it were some sort of accessory and not the cornerstone of any professional execution.
The scars of less-is-good-enough thinking can be seen on the malformed business models that remain once the repercussions surface. Companies whose sales are horribly maligned due to technology acquisitions based more on price than function or scalability. Strategic growth targets that have no hope of being reached because salaries were set far too low to attract and retain the specialized talent required for success. Unholy sums of money burned up in a flash by re-executing improperly selected or poorly implemented technologies. Or worse yet, by failed initiatives altogether.
The annals of technology history are a wasteland of implementation strategies that seemed sound at the time. Leaving in their wake the disenchanted, frustrated or downright burned. While always endorsing a healthy skepticism in business matters, I have lost count of how many people developed a near-xenophobic fear of technology initiatives. Running and hiding under their desks in panic at the mere mention of database migration, CRM integration or the like. I once saw a company's entire technology division disappear (jobs and all) because executives feared the unknown.
Yet, when advised to maintain a sense of balance and realism in scoping a technology initiative, these selfsame groups respond with a litany of empty business reasoning, misinformed hypotheses and plain old myopic thinking. In the end, they have their way. Because there's always someone who will claim they can do it cheaper or faster regardless of how large a miracle it might logically take. After all, the client is always right. They get their price. They have their victory, but at what cost?
The lump of coal never lies. This prospect I'm talking to now is a lost cause. Her reasoning on why this is "the right move" is so familiar I could say it before she does. "We recognize that what we asked for is complex and expensive, and yet it all has to be there."
Later on, I hear they found someone to do everything for a third of the original estimate. By their own admission, it's a friend who is significantly less capable than we are. I shudder to think what they'll be given. The simple truth is they don't fully understand how intricate and labor-intensive the project's scope actually is.
On my flight home, I find myself wondering if they feel that lump of coal in their stomachs, somehow hinting that this victory was a battle not worth winning. Perhaps a month, a quarter or a year from now … when the project is technology road-kill … they, too, will learn to heed their internal voice of reason.
What follows are stories, vignettes and little narratives that describe one perspective of the world. Perhaps it's one you share.
"So what is it exactly that you do?" The inquirer and his companions look at me intently. Likely realizing I have never volunteered that information before. Adhering to the strict rule of never mixing business and pleasure, I don't often talk about work in social settings. Yet I find myself inevitably pulled into the topic of discussion. Today is a perfect example.
When asked this question, I'm always struck with finding an effective way to respond. I have not yet discovered exactly the formal name for what I do. Depending on what initiatives are under way at the time, the title might be Creative Strategist, Aesthetic Engineer, Brand Image Consultant, Technologist, and so on. In all honesty, these are just fancy names for a modern-day Jack-of-All-Trades — a Professional Swiss Army Knife, if you will. No stand-alone description describes what I do. At any given moment, I might require multiple skills to solve myriad problems during my latest expedition.
I counter with a clever, semi-self-deprecating joke to throw them off the scent. The group smirks at my wry wit. But the primary inquisitor persists, "No really." He will not be deterred.
I think I just don't like the question … because every time I answer, people respond with either continued bewilderment or non-geek disinterest. It's probably because what I do isn't really as interesting as why I do it. For me, the reward is in the result. This quest to strongly impact the outcome lead me to add an ever-broadening skill set to my professional repertoire. First, as illustrator and graphic designer, then as web developer and designer, and finally as marketing and business development strategist.
The latter two-thirds is where it really got interesting. For a time, I was simply a creative — like many of my artistic contemporaries — content to let the engineers deal with the messiness of building what we designed. Once I crossed the divide and became a creative who could also script and code, something interesting happened: developers took an interest and started showing me their tricks. Before long they were teaching me things that stretched far beyond mere aesthetics. Suddenly I was no longer "just a creative," morphing into an Interactive Experience Weaver. I also discovered something else: there were others like me — creatives who had spliced their artistic genes with engineering chromosomes, learning new skills and crafting some truly remarkable things.
I found my new skills took me all over the country … then all over the world. Agencies large and small clamored for the benefits of a multi-tasking, multi-functioning, elegantly pivoting player — part creative, part developer. But I didn't stop there. I went further … imagining the strategic benefits that could be experienced by a brand or company when technology becomes synchronized with business goals instead of despite them. What a concept! I began to toy with business models — researching market needs, designing technological products to satisfy those needs, and building emerging companies around those products. Suddenly I was a Strategic Technologist. And I wasn't alone. There were others like me. Completely comfortable toggling between pragmatic business strategist and technological dreamer. They could spot a trend, tell the difference between a fad and a paradigm shift, and build a fresh strategy around it.
As they moved up the responsibility (and pay) scale, there became a new hybrid of executive – the Strategic Expeditioner. An extreme adventurer with the ability to anticipate the right direction, adeptly evaluate each potential course, and react quickly, thoughtfully, efficiently. Leading the right moves with an innate understanding of the technology that drives our lives and sets our next direction.
What I found was this. Although the new breed's skill was highly sought, many established businesses were slow to adapt to the look, shape and agility of the Expeditioner. In fact, in most large companies, very little had changed. Us new adventurers found ourselves unable to access all of our capabilities, skills and interests. The companies we teamed up with had titles and roles they were loath to change. So, frustrated, we tore off on our own and began creating — without advent of a regular paycheck or health care — seeking better results through versatility, impact and elegant control.
As newer technologies and techno-centric social movements arise, some sense the oncoming capabilities crunch, challenging the more traditional strategic minds. Within the established business world, some are coming to terms with our existence — realizing their business need for such flexible, skilled thinkers and doers. Creating hybrid positions that are defined more by outstanding challenges than by traditional roles and responsibilities. But a lot more structural change is needed if established companies hope to successfully engage and retain us. At the heart of the matter, the old guard does not yet fully understand the multi-tasking, layered-thinking type of explorer.
Much like my inquirers now.
Their gaze is fixed upon me with keen interest, waiting on my reply. What name will I give myself this time?