2009: Year of Nothing

Happy New Year everybody. Time to usher in a new year…with new hopes, dreams and expectations of a year that can’t really be worse than 2009. Can it? It’s time to close the book on arguably one of the most frustrating, draining and demoralizing years in our professional lifetimes.

Yes, I know. It’s still mid-November, but I’m pretty sure I speak on behalf of the majority of us who can’t wait to slam the door shut on 2009. If ’09 were associated with a color, it would probably have been associated with pink — as in pink slip. It was a year that many, many people lost their jobs. If that doesn’t include you (consider yourself fortunate), it probably affects someone you know.

2009 was a year that witnessed entire companies wiped off the face of the Earth; it was a year when media stalwarts faltered, stumbled and even careened headfirst into the dust; it was a year in which even billion-dollar bailouts couldn’t motivate banks and financial institutions to incentivize and reward the backbones of this great nation: small business owners and entrepreneurs.
While many of us would like to wave a wand and wish this year away, it’s probably not a bad idea to pause for a moment and take stock of the year that was…or perhaps I should say, the year that wasn’t.

When all is said and done, what did you accomplish this year? What did you achieve? Did you venture out of your comfort zone or did you recoil into your shell and hide from the storm? How did you gauge success? Was it the ability to avoid Armageddon (as WPP’s Martin Sorrell put it) or the ability to preserve status quo?

I’ve always liked the analogy of change and innovation as a treadmill or a conveyer belt, where the speed and the backwards direction of the belt represent the inevitable passage of time and progress. Standing still results in a pretty obvious outcome. Less obvious is what happens when the march forward is at the exact rate of the belt itself, yielding a net result of nothing. In fact, the only positive outcome is when movement is greater than that of the speed of the belt.

So how did you fare on the belt? Are you hitting your stride as you power forward or are you nursing a bruise on your rear end?

If the latter is the case, the good news is that it’s not too late. Not too late to make the most of the final few weeks of the year and certainly not too late to hit the ground running in 2010. You can still make a concerted effort to make a difference. No more operating on the back foot.

It’s well documented that companies who increase their investment in marketing during recessionary times almost always realize a competitive advantage from doing so. The same must apply to an operating philosophy or climate which focuses on innovation and experimentation.

As you prepare for 2010, here are a few ideas to consider:

• Carve out an experimentation or innovation mandate and commensurate budget.

• Find your magic number: perhaps it’s 2 or 3 or even 4 new projects or “experiments.” Is one per quarter that unrealistic?

• Less talk; more walk: Don’t debate and talk yourself out of change. I hate to say it, but “just do it” already. If you can’t bring yourself to commit, recognize that someone else will come along and take the initiative away from you.

• Avoid bright and shiny object syndrome. Don’t wait for the next big thing, because there are way too many new colors in the box of crayons begging for your attention and consideration right now.

• Inaction is tantamount to failure. If you remain on the sidelines for too long, waiting for “proof of concept” or the mainstreaming of fringe or emerging platforms, you run the risk of being left behind. To be sure, it’s a balancing act between premature experimentation and paralyzing procrastination. Find the balance and find your stride.

And while you continue to debate the relative merits and demerits of emerging media, bear in mind that the “belt” of change, evolution and even revolution never stops and is even accelerating.

So Happy New Year to you and yours. I raise my glass to your success and toast to 2010 being your Year of Something.

Joseph Jaffe is chief interruptor of crayon. Reach him at jaffe@crayonville.com or @jaffejuice on Twitter.