Jason Voiovich, Innovation and Marketing Lessons from History – InnovaBuzz 497
Jason Voiovich, Marketer in Chief
In this episode, I’m really excited to have as my guest, Jason Voiovich, author of “Marketer in Chief: How Each President Sold the American Idea”. In a career that spans more than 25 years, Jason has launched hundreds of new products – everything from medical devices, to virtual healthcare systems, to non-dairy consumer cheese, to next-generation alternatives to the dreaded “cone of shame” for pets, to sex aids for cows (really!).
He’s a graduate of both the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota, and he has completed post-graduate studies at the MIT Sloan School of Management. His formal training has been invaluable, but he credits his true success to growing up in a family of artists, immigrants, and entrepreneurs. They taught him how to carefully observe the world, see patterns before others notice them, and use those insights to create new innovations.
History is Jason’s favorite way to observe the world. He believes the people from the past have plenty to teach us about the challenges and opportunities we face today.
In our discussion, Jason talked to me about:
- How stories are more powerful than facts
- How reimagining history as a set of possible outcomes, we develop the skill to view the future in that same way
- An example of over-reliance on technology that led to undermined trust
Listen to the podcast to find out more.
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Show Notes from this episode with Jason Voiovich, author of Marketer in Chief
Key points and takeaways from this episode include:
- We can’t predict the future by studying the past, but if we study it with the right lens, we can stop stepping into the same holes.
- Learn to be curious without exception.
- Curiosity doesn’t only help you develop empathy for what other people might be thinking. It also helps you draw connections. That ability to draw those connections is where all innovation comes from.
- It’s difficult to be innovative if you’re not curious.
- Changing behaviours is the core of innovation. It’s not just about creating the idea. You have to get people to adopt it.
- Think about the things that happened in the past year and how can you tell a story for it that will inspire people to go forward.
- Humans are only capable of accepting very limited points of view at any given time. Our brains create pathways and structures that help us make sense of things. We all have the natural ability to ignore some things that don’t concern us.
- People don’t really know which facts are important. A leader’s role is to help people identify the things they should be remembering and focusing on.
- Propaganda didn’t have a negative connotation before World War II. In every history we read, people used propaganda to create a story and help guide society in the direction that they see best.
- Propaganda is a neutral term. There’s a difference between guiding someone towards the better end and manipulative guiding, which is towards negative end.
- It’s not only the policies of a politician and what they stand for that we should focus on. What’s more important is the kind of person that they are because their ability to influence the facts that we believe in and where things will go is a moral and ethical question.
- There is no one-size fits all vision of what a company should be doing at different points in their life cycle. The challenges of a startup versus an established organisation are very different and so too, must be their visions for what they want to accomplish with that time.
- Before you start talking about vision, make sure you are introspective enough to understand where you and your people are coming from. Where’s the market coming from and how do you paint that vision going forward.
- The way to craft a story about what happened in the past is very similar to the process of crafting a story about what will happen in the future.
- There’s no difference between reality and what we vividly imagine. That’s why we think dreams our real. Our memory works this way. We convince ourselves of things that don’t exist and can vividly remember things that weren’t true.
- The role of a leader is to paint a story that will exist in the future so that people will have something that they can look forward to. Leaders need to figure out how to paint that vision in a vivid enough way so that people can imagine themselves in it.
- History is so valuable. It provides guidance on how we should go forward in the future.
- History is a study of what happened, not what we wish had happened.
- Just because there’s a linear path through history doesn’t mean it’s inevitable. History could take many different turns based on the decisions that people make.
- Learning history doesn’t mean learning inevitability. It’s learning the meta-level. It’s learning about the stories and valuable facts that give us context.
- Scenario planning is a way of understanding that there are infinite possibilities of what could happen next at any given moment, and that some are more likely to happen than others.
- Leaders should use history to imagine different scenarios that could happen because that is what helps us plan for the future.
- To get started with scenario planning, imagine the present from different perspectives and then project each of those forward to a year or so, and see what happens then.
- Storytelling has different arcs and centres of gravity. When evaluating a scenario, it’s important to understand what’s more likely to happen than not, so that you can then project that story arc in terms of the different pivot points that may happen in the future and get a more likely set of scenarios than if you ignore that story arc.
- Stories give us a glimpse of things that are more likely to happen in the future.
- History consists of millions of true stories. When you learn how to identify the patterns, you’ll start to see what human beings gravitate towards, that will help you plan future scenarios.
- History isn’t perfect but it certainly gives you a better set of scenarios to plan for, than just assuming anything could happen at any time.
- Plan for multiple possible futures, not just the one you want.
- When thinking about the future, think about how you can set up your company to win in each of those most likely scenarios. What alliances do you need? What products do you need to develop today? What talents do you need?
- Have a well-balanced investment portfolio so that you can maximise the risks and returns. Don’t be comfortable with a linear path spreadsheet. There’s a difference between managing a financial portfolio and managing a strategic portfolio.
- The best leaders in history look at how they could set up a scenario where they could place multiple bets. They’re involved in a lot of things where they could become successful in many different aspects of what the future might hold.
- Don’t just focus on one strategy. The likelihood that that scenario will turn out the way you think it will, is very low. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll get exactly what you want and that things will line up the way you want them to. Think about a strategic portfolio rather than a strategy.
- Scenario planning and strategic planning are all about balancing risks, investments, and returns and then planning for multiple possible futures.
- History isn’t linear because the future is not. The timelines in history could disintegrate and fall apart. It’s one possible future but there are infinite other ones. It doesn’t have to be all bad. It doesn’t have to be all good. You just have to plan because no one can tell what the future holds.
- The advice that airlines give you is the same advice you should take. Put your own oxygen mask on before you assist others. Really know where you’re coming from. Be confident and self-assured.
- True self-assurance isn’t arrogance. True self-assurance gives you the psychological freedom to really listen. It helps you understand where you’re coming from so that you can finally open up.
- All business is personal. There is no separation between business and personal life. That separation is just an illusion. It is understanding how to get to know people behind their business that will make you more successful.
The Buzz – Our Innovation Round
Here are Jason’s answers to the questions of our innovation round. Listen to the conversation to get the full scoop.
- #1 thing to be more innovative – Be curious without exception.
- Best thing for new ideas – Get out and expose yourself to new experiences. Force yourself into situations where you are uncomfortable.
- Favourite tool for innovation – Information that governments publish for our benefit
- Keep project/client on track – Good communication. Communication is 80% listening. Listen carefully to the verbal and non-verbal communication.
- Differentiate – Listen. If you’re empathetic and you understand your audience well, and you are curious about them, they will tell you what they need. Have the courage to listen when they tell you something that you may not want to hear. Listen to them and they will tell you what will differentiate you.
To Be a Leader
Business and storytelling aren’t separate things. Learn how to be a better storyteller and really understand how stories work to become a better leader and innovator. You’ll be happier too!
Jason suggested we have a conversation with Dr. Nancy Chesach and Dr. Amit Sood, authors of the Mayo Guide to Happiness. So Nancy and Amit, keep an eye on your inboxes for an invitation from us to the InnovaBuzz Podcast, courtesy of Jason Voiovich.
Cool Things About Jason
- He’s the Fractional Chief Marketing Officer and Chief Innovation Officer of Vojvdec & Sigma.
- He’s Co-founder of Agent Zero: Mission UX and the Voyageur University Independent Career Community.
- He started doing freelance marketing consulting when he was still in university.