Conversations at the Intersection of PR, Traditional & New Media

Can you Out-Think?

Your bosses, your clients, your competitors and yourself

Can you out-think

Can you out-think

Last week, I had an opportunity to interact with Madan Bahal, Managing Director of Adfactors PR Pvt Ltd. Of the many things that we discussed, one of thing that caught my attention was a topic that he chose to brainstorm with his account managers, at one of the monthly brainstorming sessions he has with his employees across all levels. This topic was quite different from what you can expect from a brainstorming session of a PR firm. He asked a very simple question to his managers – “Can you Out-think, Your bosses, your clients or for that matter yourself?” The answer was a quick – Yes! The next obvious question was then why don’t we? There were many answers given by each one but the most common was – ‘FEAR’. Most people said that the primary reason, they don’t try to out-thinker even think differently than their bosses or clients, is the fear of being ridiculed and laughed at.

After the interaction, I was stuck with the thought – on why we normally don’t out-think? What really stops us from thinking differently? Why don’t we come up with solutions that surpass the intelligence of our bosses or our clients? Hence decided to explore this topic further with the help  of this forum and learn how best we can inculcate the habit of out-thinking in everything that we do.

While researching on this subject, I stumbled upon a book called – ‘Outthink the Competition’ by Kaihan Krippendorff, which hid real gems within it. The author said, “Out-thinkers, see opportunities others ignore, challenge dogma others accept as truth, rally resources others cannot influence, and unleash new strategies that disrupt their markets.”

Today our business is slowly but steadily undergoing a paradigm shift in the way we do business. For many years we have been practising the business of public relations in the same manner and little had really changed. But with the emergence of new technology and new media, the way people consume news and information is drastically changing. Social Media, Brand journalism, content marketing will leave little room for traditional run-of-the-mill strategies or laundry list of tactics to gain visibility or safeguard reputation of our clients. We will have to soon equip ourselves with new ways of thinking and acting to become and stay effective in this newly defined environment.

But the devil is in the routine, after some years of being in business, we start doing things by habit. Our thoughts on what is possible and what is not; get constrained by the paradigms we create around us. We create rules in our heads for working in our organization and in the overall industry based on our past experiences.

In our daily lives, we are constantly bombarded by a multitude of never ending jobs. We are by default multi-tasking. While attending a meeting, we check/write reports, answer emails, send out reminders to clients & associates. While traveling or even walking we – sms/chat, while working on our computers, we simultaneous shuffle between 10 different windows. Such daily routine only takes us away from applying our minds to think differently while approaching a problem or new situation. We need to slowdown; we need to sometimes pull ourselves out of daily rigmarole and try to think, removing all our blinders. To be an out-thinker, we need to challenge the existing norms and the everyday way of doing things.

For our own and organisations’ benefit, we need to overcome our fear of being ridiculed or labelled stupid. Mahatma Gandhi had once said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” People who try and stop us, most of the times do it out of their own insecurities; if we stop then they win. Finally the choice is ours; companies like Apple and Google would have been never successful, if they would have stopped when the so called thinkers asked them to or ridiculed them for their efforts and ideas.

Organisations need to create an atmosphere of free thinking within their teams. Leaders should encourage team members across levels to ideate. Some of the things that leaders can do to build a culture of out-thinking within their firms are as follows:

1)      Schedule time for casual brainstorming, preferably out of office, may be in a nearby coffee shop or for that matter, even on your staircases. You can select one client, per meeting, for whom you can come up a real good out-of-the-box creative idea, generated by active participation of your entire team. Give space for introverts to revert later on their ideas, if they wish to do so. The client may or may not implement the suggested idea, but let the creative engine keep running.

2)      Introduce the team to the new knowledge beyond the daily chores. To facilitate this, companies need to provide their teams with information on how innovative companies do things differently. Empower your team with information on:

  • What is changing in the global economy.
  • New technological innovations and social networking trends.
  • New social trends.
  • How your industry is changing.
  • What your competitors are doing.
  • What delights and frustrates your clients and their customers.

3)      Schedule workshops for your team on creative thinking; lateral thinking; brainstorming etc., your team members may  have the capabilities to dish out new ideas but lacking the skills involved in creative problem-solving or articulately expressing.

4)      Collaborate: Write client problems literally on the wall, call for innovative solutions from across the practises, create contests and reward out-thinkers

5)      Create exchange programs within your firm across practices, sometime your mind restarts ticking by simply observing how others solve their problems, the learning can be later implemented within your team.

6)      Your way should not always be the Highway – I have had heard from some section of bosses saying clearly to their team, “leave the thinking part to me, just do what is being told” or some clients directing their PR partners, to do stuff as they expect them to do, without having a window for any interaction on the way forward. This not only kills creativity, but also severely damages the motivation to work with such a boss or a client. Be supportive, encourage interactions and most important tolerate mistakes. Another thing seniors should remember is that, there can be more than one right answer to any problem or situation. While your answer may be right, not necessary the solutions suggested by your team members have to be wrong. Creativity can be cultivated in an organization, where you give a chance to however outlandish idea to be aired.

I would like to hear about your experiences and viewpoints. By sharing your own experience, you can help make this topic richer, more practical and more relevant to different situations and cultures. This will help us all to learn and imbibe the insights in our day-to-day working. You can either comment on my blog or share your experience on twitter @vikramkharvi


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Categorised in: Life's Learnings, Management, Public Relations, Vikypedia Exclusives

11 Responses »

  1. Nice blog, Vikram. Thanks for the six suggestions for methods of out-thinking. In my view, the process of out-thinking begins with two key words “different” and “breakthrough”. While attempting to out-think someone, the intent should be to do something different or differently, and do something that gives you a “breakthrough” from your current position.

  2. For out-thinking, one needs to have complete knowledge of the client, about the industry, the media and the business & regulatory environment. For my previous experience in media and with and in PR agencies is that many PR executives lack this complete understanding. Since the time they join the PR industry, PR executives are trained to hawk press releases and come-up with half-baked PR strategies without have a complete understanding of the clients business.

    Vikram, what you are proposing is utopian, I am unsure if we will see this in Indian PR anytime soon. It requires a complete change in thinking on part of the agency bosses. Given the revenue and coverage pressure, this is highly unlikely.

  3. Nice and interesting read.

    First of all, hats-off to Mr. Madan Bahal who is a great leader indeed. I got an opportunity to work under his leadership, interacted with him at several occasions, listen to his ideas, imbibe his thought-process and lastly saddened to see people who fail to follow his foot-steps/directions. (sad smiley).

    Anyways, I feel that without being given a go-ahead/boost-up from the senior management of the company, the subordinates would have a fear to out-think at various occasions and come out with path-breaking strategies to benefit the client in the long run, if not short term. I am fortunate to be a part of a company, whose core rests on idea to be different and to think away from traditional ways of doing PR atleast to some extent. Open work-culture, sharing and enhancing knowledge base, undergo training modules etc. form a part of our daily routine.

    The ideas suggested by you are wonderful and practical as well. Companies/Senior Management should slowly make the clients understand the importance of trans-media storytelling and investing in other evolving new media, along with doing regular traditional PR.

    Thanks for reading,
    Aditya Singh

  4. Hi Vikram,

    You said it all… “Such daily routine only takes us away from applying our minds to think differently while approaching a problem or new situation. We need to slowdown; we need to sometimes pull ourselves out of daily rigmarole and try to think, removing all our blinders. To be an out-thinker, we need to challenge the existing norms and the everyday way of doing things.”

    Thinking, creative thinking to my believe can never be on a fast track. It has its own pace and the more we indulge into it the better is the output. Practice is the key.

    You have mentioned about poor reading habit in your earlier blog. Again, more you read, more you are exposed to new knowledge, broader is your base and better is your thought process. So poor reading habit further cripple our thought process.

    I remember one of the quotes of Abraham Lincoln,” One who cannot make a mistake cannot make anything” ;)

    Everyone has a room for error, after all to err is human. So when we do the brainstorming we should not be thinking ‘what if not successful’.

    I have a different way of looking at failures. You are never wrong. There are always better ways of doing things. And practice makes it better. So whatever you think can only better(ed) and anyone, including you can better it!

    So think….think ‘wrong’ think aloud!

  5. Very rarely i have seen people focusing on root causes. This one is a great article Mr Kharvi. Apart from the wonderful content what is significant is the introspective approach towards addressing basic issues. Let it be any industry sustainable changes are possible only through an ‘INSIDE-OUT’ approach rather than looking for answers in the external situations. There is a very subtle difference in the two approaches. “Approach” is not the appropriate word. The right word would be ‘PARADIGM’ i.e. how we interpret a scenario.

    Few years back i wrote an article on incubation period of an organization, which i think defines the character of the organization just like it is defined for a child during his formative years. And how do we perceive this character of an organization ? we experience the character of an organization in terms of its work culture. Its this character that makes the difference between 2 organizations. There is an even more important questions that lies beneath, WHO CREATES THE CHARACTER OF THE ORGANIZATION. – The Leaders of the organization. These leaders have differentiated impacts on the long term work culture that is gradually getting formed. If the leader of the organization instills fear in the minds of employee, even the most Innovative (OUT-THINKING) employee would prefer restricting his wonderful ideas. If the Leaders encourage the behavior of “Butter-your-way-to-the-top”. That is what the character of organization becomes. It is hard to create the right character for the organization, but once it is done the going is easy. Just like a child, organizational character is developed during its formative years… As leaders of the organization people need to encourage a character of innovative thinking so that it becomes a part of the work culture.

  6. this is very nice Vikram. I shall try and acquire a copy of the book. Hope it is available in India.

  7. Vikram – would be great to hear some ‘out-think’ examples done by Adfactors or for that matter by any PR Agency. With the growth of communication channels, one would expect agencies to look at propositioning their work differently. Question is – does that happen? If so, would love to have examples. If not, would be good to get reasons for that as well.

  8. Nice discussion to initiate, Vikram. While we need to consider why we dont ‘out think’, we must also ponder on why we dont encourage our teams to outthink. Why dont we make it a part of their KRAs? Are our leaders demonstrating a culture of out-thinking? More than routine, I think its the continuous focus on this habit that needs to be pursued.

    I look forwrad to more opinions here.

  9. Thanks Vikram, and Deepanjali.for your veiws..just want to know what will a person do when he wants to do something different for the company to promote the products. but is barred to do so…from the bosses. if a company own boss is scared and give silly reasons to expand what an employee needs to do.?

  10. Hi Vikram, Good article, thanks for posting. Especially liked the remaining portion on the link. There may be some merit to the view that too much multi-tasking might the bane of out-of-the-box thinking. This is because focus, which is critical, becomes the casualty. Whenever I have to ideate on a specific, high-octane activity, I shut out everything else for as long as I can.

  11. Very well said! If things mentioned by you in this blog are practically inculcated by all PR practitioners work will be fun and we would not be seen as postmen/vendors/aggregators but knowledge partners for the company and the CEO.

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Disclaimer: The thoughts expressed by me in this blog are my personal views and do not represent the views of my employer or the organizations I have been associated with. I believe in the principle of sharing information. Feel free to link to any of the posts in this blog.
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