Carving the Statue

You recognise the statue in the picture above, right?

It’s the statue of (the Biblical hero) David.  It’s a masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture created between 1501-1504 by the Italian artist Michelangelo.

The statue was originally placed in a public square, outside the Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of the civic government in Florence.  Because of the nature of the hero it represented, the statue soon came to symbolise the defence of civil liberties embodied in the Republic of Florence. 

These were liberties that were threatened on all sides by more powerful rival states and the dominance of the Medici family.  The eyes of David, with a warning glare, were fixated towards Rome.

Michelangleo produced an amazing end product – the final statue.  He also brilliantly summed up how to get there – the process of sculpting.

“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it”.

Sculpting is about taking away.  You keep chiselling the stone until you are left with the essence. 

Michelangelo started with a block of stone.  By the time he had finished chiselling he had discovered David.

Why are we talking about this?  Well, we think that a lot of the things we do in the FMCG world are additive.  It could be the additional step in the (already complicated) process.  Or the additional slides in the presentation.  Or the additional actions in the strategy.  Or the additional messages in the communication. 

These additions are often made for good reasons.  To make the process more thorough.  To make the presentation well evidenced.  To turn strategy into action.  To tell shoppers all about our product.

But the more you add the less you actually see.  You end up with a block of stone not the statue that is inside it.  To see the statue you need to subtract.  You need to take things away.

So, how can you do this?

Communication & Design Briefs.  Think about the templates that get used for briefs.  How long are they?  Probably pretty long.  How many boxes do you have to fill in?  Probably quite a lot.  The longer they are, the more boxes there are ,the more you have to write.  So, you end up with a brief that says we want to do A and B and C and D… You have a lot of stone, but not much statue.

Instead what about thinking like Coca Cola in this design brief from 1915?  “A bottle so distinct that it could be recognised by touch in the dark or lying broken on the ground”.  Then not write anything else.  Because what could you write that would make that brief better?  All you’d be doing is adding stone.  Have a briefing template that has just one box.  That needs just one sentence.  It should make you nervous.  But not as nervous as you should be when the 4 page brief goes out the door.

Annual Planning Process.  Let’s just say up front that you need an annual plan – we are not advocating complete freestyling.  But we wonder whether the classic big company process helps or hinders the final plan.

It is a process that seems to have got so long that, by the time you are finished the current planning cycle, you are nearly into the next one.  It is also a process that is about adding things.  It encourages you to identify a lot of issues or opportunities.  This then leads to a lot of jobs to be done and potential actions.  Resources get spread too thinly so none of the jobs to be done get done well enough.  It also encourages you to search for something new.  The completely new insight.  The game changing action.  You can’t go through the planning process and end up saying “let’s just keep focusing on the 2 things we’ve focused on this year”.  Even if that’s the right thing to do.

There is a lot of talk about how bigger companies can act more like smaller companies.  How can you do more things at speed?  Well, one of the first things we’d suggest is to strip back the planning process.  Get to what you need to do quickly.  Then focus your time and resource doing, not planning.

Strategies & Selling Stories.  We’ve all seen the category strategy document that starts with about 20 slides of performance information.  Then a bunch of insight slides.  Then some growth drivers with little connection to the insights.  Then a long list of actions not well connected to the drivers.  We’ve all seen selling stories that start with the history of the brand.  Then get into the mood film.  Then eventually get to what the NPD actually is.  By which time, the meeting is nearly over and you haven’t discussed the launch plan.  A lot of stone.  Not much statue.

Writing a strategy or a selling story is about taking things away.  Removing the things that are not helping the story to focus on the things that are.  It’s about creating a really clear line of sight between what you want to do, why you want to do it and how you want to do it.  It’s about focusing on the statue.

It is easy to add.  It is much harder to subtract.

But clarity requires us to take things away.  Speed requires us to take things away.  Agility requires us to take things away.

Keep chiselling…

Feel free to forward. Have a great weekend. Speak to you in a fortnight.