Ugh this is difficult

But that's what makes it fun

Hey friend. Every Sunday (or so!), this dispatch helps you make better creative and strategic decisions, or talks about the innies and outties of independent consulting, or dives into projects I’m working on. Anyway, hello, it’s good to see you. -Steve

Let’s talk about difficulty. 

Specifically, let’s talk about how difficult it is to do a new thing.

More specifically, let’s talk about how difficult it is for a brand—a company, an enterprise, a make-for-a-nickel-sell-for-a-dime global corporation—to do something they’ve never done before. 

We can start with a measure of what we’re trying to achieve. Call it the degree. We can rank the degree from Low, as in hanging fruit, to Extreme, as in X-Games. 

And then we look at the scope of what we’re trying to achieve.

At the low end of scope, there are known knowns. Proven and reliable technology. Available assets and people to work with. Distribution that fits nicely into an existing scheme. I dunno, what’s a good example...Apple, making a new iPhone model with a slightly better camera. It’s a complex global operation, but Apple knows how to manage it.

At the high end of scope, there are unknown unknowns. First-of-its-kind technology. Matrixed coordination with uncertain assets and personnel. Distribution that’s a mystery. Not sure there are good examples of that. Probably Apple making the first iPhone. Or maybe if Ford repurposed automobile assembly lines to make whatever comes after mRNA vaccines. 

Reductively, all of that ☝️would look like this 👇:

So that’s a serviceable view of scope. But it’s also pretty vague. Let’s add more specificity. Let’s add in leadership. 

Low end: someone who has support within the corporation and topical expertise on whatever the project entails. 

High end: someone who’s just, like, been appointed and who nobody knows, or maybe even has respect for, and who has absolutely no topical expertise. 

This whole thing costs money and time, too. We’ll need stakeholder support. 

You’ll also agree that this big project may need contractors. No corp is an island or something, so let’s layer in contracting strategy. 

And let’s say, why not, content. Maybe it’s an app build that only needs copywriting. Or maybe the brand only has a good idea, but no conception of how to express that idea in a social medium.

Put it all together and you’ve got a delightful little matrix like this:

What do we do with this?

Well, we could use it to begin conceiving the challenges of certain projects. Like, this would be your typical big brand marketing project:

IOW, it’s a manageable scope with competent leaders, that has a somewhat reliable budget (but that will almost certainly be exceeded…), and support from line of business owners. When it comes to content, the brand is already competent (should be an expert!) in the topics it plans to explore. And, if there is agency support, that agency knows the subject matter well.

Of course, he says, rolling his eyes heavenward, not all projects are like this. Here’s a reductive description of one I was involved with recently:

Lemme be clear. This isn’t a cynical tool for finding reasons not to do something, or why something will fail. It’s a practical tool for highlighting the areas that will require the most attention.

In the chart above, Leadership and Content Strategy stand out to me. If you’re trying to create a first-of-kind application that requires several independent agencies to create—plus requires that you, the brand, do a lot of work you’ve never done before, at a speed you’re unaccustomed to, with a working methodology none of your personnel are familiar with (I mean, you’re gonna have to take care of this application yourself, eventually)—then that puts significant pressure on leadership. And if this application is centered around content that your brand has no credibility with, you’re going to have to devote a significant amount of time and resources developing your strategy, and communicating that strategy, before you begin producing that work and staffing the project with net new management and creators. You can’t just pull in Bob from accounting.

Anyway, this is a simple tool for understanding where challenges will exist.

It’s just a beginning point, but perhaps it will be helpful to you, should you ever need to create a very high-level overview of the project you’re considering or about to embark upon.

The Google Slide is below and provided for your use. Modify it, copy it, make a paper airplane. Maybe you’ll make it better? Fair winds and following seas. ⛵

What I’m working on

  1. Helping Meg Marco at the Observer staff up her newsroom. Know a talented human who’d be an excellent business editor, or an organized and visionary human who’d be an excellent strategy editor? Drop a line.

  2. Raising money for cancer research by running the NYC Marathon. Please donate if you can.


The Essential Guide to Frameworks

The Essential Laws of Creativity

The Creative Problem Solving Reading List

You don’t get it, you’re not the point

Make relationships, not things

How can I help?

This is a 100% organic, free-range, desktop-to-inbox newsletter devoted to helping you navigate uncertainty, seek the most interesting challenges, and make better creative decisions in marketing and beyond. Delivery at 6pm ET most Sundays. Your host is Steve Bryant, who is for hire. He’d love to help you develop and deploy creative and bold ideas or staff your newsroom, content, or marketing project.

Get in touch

Thanks for reading. Be seeing you.