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Friday, May 30, 2008

Rote and creativity -- a real challenge

I keyed the words "rote and creativity" and found Peter De Jager's page "Creativity by Rote and Mechanism" where he writes: "Here’s a rote behaviour which is guaranteed (or your money back) to increase creativity in your organization is: Give all new ideas respect… even when at first glance, they don’t seem to deserve it."

One challenge (that is an euphemism for 'problem') I have yet to truly resolve is my tendency to fall into a rote/script when handling a repetitive task. This correlates with my own need for routine -- I have enough adventure in my life, with the challenges of self-employment , family and the like -- so I like some things to the same way, every day, every time. This certainly is apparent in my eating patterns (for breakfast and lunch) and my favorite sofa seat. These behaviors are normal enough, I suppose, but what is less normal -- and therefore much more of a marketing challenge -- is how to express good deeds and courtesies to clients and potential customers in a systematic, but natural, manner.

Take, for example, the idea of the "thank you call". I thought this would be a great idea a year ago. We have a lot of one-time advertisers, who purchase their advertising largely because they wish to support or maintain healthy business relationships with their current clients. I wanted to connect with these customers in a somewhat stronger and more personal manner than a bland invoice, once they do business with us. So I set out to call and thank them.

First time around, the new initiative worked like a charm. I learned interesting things, found ways to improve our service, and gained a real appreciation of the interests and needs of our clients. So I decided to make it part of my routine. I continued for a few months until I saw something not quite right.

First, I began dreading making the calls. Then I realized why. I had descended to using a call script -- a repetitive phrase that became almost drone-like. I had become, in trying to improve our client service, a "telemarketer". And I sensed that the people at the other end of the line were feeling the same.

My initial reaction proved to be less than effective. Whenever I find I'm doing something I need to do that I don't like, I think like an entrepreneur -- get someone else to do it. So I dumped the work on my sales team. Fortunately, they are astute enough to give it right back to me. They said most people weren't returning their calls, and they, too, said it felt funny to make the calls this way. So we reverted to sending hand written thank you notes. These may be somewhat rote-like, I agree, but they certainly don't have the horrible flaw of the phone calls -- the intrusive, voice mail or time hogging nature of artificial interaction, requiring you (the client) to engage, whether or not you are prepared at the moment.

This challenge of rote-like "relationship" behavior is common in other circumstances. I don't go to too many 'networking' events, but I'm sure one reason I don't is because the plastic goodness at these things drives me nuts. (I am getting better at it of course -- now I really put the 'selling' side away and focus exclusively on sharing, listening, and connecting -- that is when I'm not running away to the bathroom, or a corner table, or somewhere I don't need to be 'there' with the others in the room.)

And of course, we've all experienced and I sense find discomforting the plastic 'friendly client service' with all the scripted niceness at certain retail establishments and other businesses. If the warmth is coming from the heart of the employee, good, if it is coming from the "corporate training program" we can see it a mile away.

As I said at the beginning of this posting, I don't have really good solution to this problem. Maybe you can share one in a comment. The best answer I have is when you find you are travelling down the path of rote and it doesn't feel right, stop and do something else. And maybe that 'something else' is something you like doing. I'm a writer/journalist, so naturally, I enjoy blogging. Here, I combine some routine (right now I'm at my favorite family room sofa) with the absolute pleasure in finding something new and sharing it, instantly, wherever we may be.

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