Michael Mapes: Graveyard Innovation
In this episode, my guest is Michael Mapes of Graveyard Innovation, a results-based innovation firm that helps business, design and execute winning strategies because, as Micheal puts it: “ we like to win”. We talk about innovation as providing relevant value to your audience, about the importance of always asking questions and really listening and hearing what our clients are saying. Listen to the podcast to find out the details.
Listen to the Podcast
Some of the highlights of this episode include:
- For a few in the market producing the most content might be the right approach. For most people, it really isn’t. It’s about producing the most relevant kind of value for your audience.
- We are using the internet as a megaphone to magnify conventional wisdom and yet here we have this amazing storytelling tool and we’re producing glorified marketing brochures - that is not the best we can do with this!
- Answers are cheap.....what questions do is they give a promise about what something could be and they encourage you to really confront where you are strong and where you are not; where your voice needs to be strengthened and where your voice needs to be refined or maybe your voice doesn’t need to be there at all and I think I could care very little about people thinking, ‘I have an answer’ because mostly what we do is get to know the client’s business.
- If you spent enough time with your client, really hearing what they’re saying, really listening, really absorbing it, really not knowing the answer, eventually a gap In the market is going to emerge.
- Being really really curious - a place that really good things emerge because when you go to customers and ask them what they want what you find is that customers want something and because nobody has made that exact thing yet, they don’t exactly know how to ask for it.
- I say to people, ‘Whenever you’re done being really good at a lot of things, you will be excellent in one thing, and that will set you apart.’ So we gotta get our self-esteem from confidence and start saving our world with our excellence.
- People think advertising doesn’t work. The fact of the matter is, here’s what works- interesting, relevant, good ideas- and that really doesn’t matter if it’s a book, a movie, a song, an advertisement, [or] a magazine article. ‘What’s a good idea? What’s interesting? What engages the customer.’
The Buzz - Our Innovation Round
Here are Michael's answers to the questions of our Innovation round. Watch the interview to get the full scoop.
- #1 thing to be more innovative – Give themselves space to be innovative.
- Best thing for new ideas – Observe. I just watch what’s going on around me.
- Favourite tool for innovation – Learn about non-obvious things. Collect interesting things to revisit and learn.
- Keep project / client on track – Know fundamentally the result the client wants to get and what you are both committed to. Be really clear about what you’re committed to.
- Differentiate – Look in the mirror and be honest with yourself.
To Be a Leader
Make your art - do the thing that you would do anonymously. Find your art and do it.
Michael suggested I interview his business partner, Janette Valentino of Graveyard Innovation, as well as Kim Mylls and Jennifer Wilkov of Boys Before Business on a future InnovaBuzz podcast. So, Janetter, Kim and Jennifer, keep an eye on your inbox, for an invitation from me to the InnovaBuzz podcast, courtesy of Michael Mapes.
Hi, I'm Jürgen Strauss from Innovabiz. Welcome to Episode No 51 of the InnovaBuzz Podcast - designed to help smart businesses with an interest in innovation become even more innovative.
In this episode, my guest is Michael Mapes of Graveyard Innovation, a results-based innovation firm that helps business, design and execute winning strategies because, as Micheal puts it: “ we like to win”.
In the interview we talked about innovation as providing relevant value to your audience, about the importance of always asking questions and really listening and hearing what our clients are saying.
This is another fascinating and educational interview, Michael’s energy is infectious and his unique view of value based marketing has many lessons for all businesses. So, let’s fly into the Hive and get the Buzz from Michael Mapes.
Jürgen: Hi I’m Jurgen Strauss from Innovabiz and I’m honored to have with me here today on this episode of the InnovaBuzz podcast, all the way from Kansas City, in the USA Michael Mapes of Graveyard Innovation. Welcome to the podcast Michael.
Michael: Thanks for having me.
Jürgen: Yeah. It’s a privilege to have you here.
Michael: Hopefully! You gotta say that at the end of the interview.
Jürgen: Do I? (laugh)
Michael: Yeah (laugh)
Jürgen: Michael is the founder of the Graveyard innovation which is a results-based innovation firm that helps business, entrepreneurs, leaders and organizations create and execute winning campaigns so they can grow. Now, I really like the comment you make somewhere on your website, I think “We design and execute winning strategies because we like to win,” so for me, it encapsulates what you are about as I read your website.
And Michael also is a best selling author. His book, “The Conscious Entrepreneurs Guide to Creating Wealth,” is available on Amazon.
So Michael, [it’s] great to have you on the podcast and before we start talking about digital marketing innovation and all those kinds of things, let’s find out a little bit more of your background. What did you want to be when you were a young child?
Michael: Well, I know the answer to this question because I just went through three boxes of stuff from my childhood that my mother sent me. And so I’ve actual evidence of this. But I wanted to be a figure skating baker.
Jürgen: Figure skating baker?
Michael: Yeah [laugh]
Jürgen: Tell me more about that (chuckles)
Michael: Yeah (chuckles) I mean not a baking figure skater either. I’m pretty sure. I just thought I like figure skating. I like cookies - why not perform and bake?
Michael: I can’t cook and I’m not coordinated so it didn’t really pan out.
Jürgen: It didn’t pan out but you were already thinking out of the box so I think it was a sign of..
Michael: Not all innovations succeed. You know and that’s important to remember.
Jürgen: That’s right. Yeah..But it’s feedback isn’t it? It’s feedback. If it’s not working out, we change it. Because I think one of the other things that you’ve said on your website or maybe it was on a podcast interview that I listened to, you said, “Stop doing what other people are doing and start doing something better.”
Michael: Yeah. I think that takes a lot of testing, you know. And it takes a lot of listening to your own experience. I think sometimes that’s very difficult for us to do. Especially for those people who have original ideas. Because if it’s truly original, that means it’s not in the world yet, right?
Michael: And so, there’s a certain amount of people who aren’t going to get it until they do and you may need to shape a conversation slowly over time but on the other hand, that doesn’t mean you should be immune or allergic to criticism, right? And you need to also know when something is just not working or when it’s not right. And I think that takes a lot of discernment and a lot of listening to yourself.
Jürgen: Hmnn. Yes that’s a really good point! So, how did you get into the business of marketing and marketing coaching then?
Michael: It’s not something I ever considered or something I even knew was a thing. Looking back, I could certainly see different entrepreneurial tendencies that I had but I mostly thought that they were liabilities.
I thought I was a very lazy person. I thought I was an uncommitted person. I thought why can’t I pay attention? There were things I just didn’t know about myself. We were encouraged to be pretty much what we ever wanted but to what a business owner was like- ‘They’re in a jewelry store or restaurant.’ I didn’t really get what it meant to be entrepreneurial. What I cared about- what I’ve always cared about is intuition- listening to yourself. Because being gay and growing up in a very small, conservative area, I just think I had a choice very early on. I could listen to what other people were saying or I could listen to some voice inside myself that said, “That’s not really right. Nothing is wrong with you,” and for me, books and my imagination, I had a grandmother who really encouraged my imagination; I escaped into that and I’m very grateful because I didn’t turn off the parts of my brain that tell what can be different, whether or not I see it around me. And so, I had always cared a lot about listening to that inner voice because it seemed to me that basically my life worked better when I did and it did not seem to work out much it all when I listened to everybody else’s voice- everyone but myself. So what I was initially interested in at 19 when I lost a family member very close to me was getting connected to that. I mean it was much more of a personal growth journey, spiritual journey.
I was finishing college and I started the business at 19- teaching, talking about intuition, spirituality, personal growth- that’s what I cared about. At some point, I thought, ‘Okay, I’m making some money out of this. I wonder what it could be.’ Along that path I just came across people. These people were incredible people who were changing lives and making a difference and yet they couldn’t get three people to their workshop.
And I’m so damn stubborn. I mean, I would just fail until I succeeded. And I got super interested in helping these people!
Because I just thought, ‘Well, that’s a shame, right?’ And I shifted my business of eventually helping them market, helping them sell, helping them bring their message forward. I’m also a very honest person and I think the best personal growth to all is the mirror, right?
Michael: There’s reality and not reality. And I believed a reality-based life is a better life. And when I went to the mirror after three and a half years- building a quarter of a million dollar business - I did everything I wanted. I got everything I wanted in my life. But something was missing and for me, the needle wasn’t moving fast enough. I saw people with high performing characteristics. They were succeeding. And I saw a lot other people who weren’t succeeding.
And so I had to go and say, ‘Consulting is great. Coaching is great. What’s missing? Why isn’t it working? What’s going on?’ What I started to notice was a lots of trends- a lot of things that I thought- ‘Why is nobody talking about this? Why is nobody paying attention to this?’ We may talk about this as we go on but essentially, I decided to make a change again and that was what led to Graveyard Innovation. Basically I just followed the signs and I was naive. And I definitely recommend it.
Michael: Because I wasn’t so afraid
Jürgen: There are so many good messages in there. I really loved that story. It’s starting off by listening to your own inner voice and not being influenced by what other people are saying or thinking. And then looking at the mirror as a personal growth tool. I really liked that analogy and being naive. I mean you put in that term- but really it’s about being curious, isn’t it? Being insatiably curious, asking the question, ‘What’s missing here? Why isn’t that working the way it could be working or why aren’t people doing somethign and what would add some value.’ Really interesting stuff…
Michael: The world never felt like that safe to me with how I grew up and I think I wish every child could feel safe and secure and every person could feel safe and secure. But I think because what I was told was supposed to safe wasn’t, I had much more of a value system around experience saying, ‘travel, being a gypsy, learning’- that’s what kind of I value. I knew that things are always changing so it doesn’t mean it was always easy. There was a lot of hard times. I think I was just more adaptable. I didn’t expect things to be the same day after day so I didn’t waste so much energy when they weren’t.
Jürgen: Yeah. So tell us a little bit about Graveyard Innovation and what you do in the business?
Michael: Yeah. I’ll do my best. I tell people, the fact that I can explain it in an hour is pretty good, considering it took me three when we began. So at some point, I will have this down to the best one minute you’ve ever heard.
Jürgen: Okay (laugh)
Michael: And I would tell that to people. Mostly, don’t rush to get your elevator pitch. Just talk about your idea long enough and eventually that will emerge, right?
Jürgen: hmmnnn (agreeing)
Michael: So, what essentially we do is like you said, we design and execute winning strategies. What ‘s, I think, unique about us I guess or what our kind of branding value is, is reliable originality. I’m very interested in ‘How can you, with extreme precision, knock it out of the park again and again and again and what does that look like?’ And when I was looking around at all these marketing trends, the one thing I realized was, we were operating under a very fraught model from the beginning considering the outdated framework and I think we have Bill Gates to thank for this, which is the “Content is King” philosophy and if you try to search Google, I just kind of thought I just became a dumb person who didn’t know how to use Google because it’s very frustrating and what I noticed was- there’s all this content.
I figured out that we have a saturation of value by which I mean I looked around my house one day and what did I see? I saw on my end table, eight books, all in partial stages of me reading them. I saw my Kindle full of other books that I was partially reading, magazines were stuck up on my counter, my phone was blowing up saying ‘delete something’ because there were so many podcasts or audiobooks or things on iTunes University and I just spent the last 90 minutes scrolling through Netflix, Hulu and Amazon just curating the documentaries that I was going to watch. And I thought..
Michael: And those were the good things, right? Those weren’t the bad things.
Jürgen: You’d already filtered them.
Michael: Exactly. And I could never get to them all.
Michael: And I realized, ‘Oh my gosh! I’m part of the problem.’ Because if I’m out there producing at this rate, even if it’s all excellent. I’m in this turn so what would I need to do to be invaluable and to be noticed when I want to be, to turn the light on, get the attention that I want, and then turn it off when I don’t want it. And I started looking at who were the people I followed no matter what, who were the people that I would look them up on Twitter to see what they were doing. They didn’t have to tweet me. What were the authors I was looking for in magazines, like Slate, New York magazine, like Atlantic. I didn’t have to follow them anywhere. They were compelling enough to me that every couple of months I would check. And what were the publications that I like? Which weren’t the publications producing the most content! What were the publications producing it takes exactly to the right or to the left of what is everyone else is doing? And that’s what I started to look at and as I pulled back, from nearly everything that I was doing in marketing, an incredible thing happened- people started to ask me, ‘Hey what are you up to?’ I wasn’t up to anything, I was trying to figure something out but it just looked interesting by default.
And so this has led me to believe that there are some people in the market where producing the most content might be the right approach. I think for most people, it really isn’t. It’s about producing the most relevant kind of value for your business. It’s sort of like- I think the Greeks called it “Kyros,” right? This moment where everything comes together- timeliness, relevance, narrative coherence, narrative fidelity- and really looking at that, and that to me is the future and I started figuring out, ‘I don’t want to get stuck in the marketing cubicle if the problem is the product or the problem is the team structure.’
I just realized if I can’t look at every part of someone’s business, I’m not that interested in it so we really help clients figure out not just what do they want their business to be but what is the business trying to be. It is infinitely more interesting and then really help them create local product, framing, or most people call it positioning, and marketing that is absolutely invaluable because valuable is not enough anymore.
Jürgen: That’s definitely true and I love what you said there in so many levels as well. There is so much stuff on the internet and it gets totally overwhelming and as you say, there’s a lot of valuable stuff, even if you filter it out, there’s a lot of stuff there and you can’t get to it at all. I mean, it’s the same boat as you. I’ve got…
Michael: We have all these terms like engagement and…
Michael: You know I want to get value. No business doesn’t want to give value.
Jürgen: That’s right.
Michael: Except for pretty unethical, sleazy people, right?
Michael: And we have this imprecision in language. There is a good kind of engagement, there is irrelevant kind of engagement. It’s like who is engaging? To what end? What is that engagement lead them toward? I think these are really important questions. For me, this is just kind of my personal thing. The internet to me is the greatest storytelling tool in human imagination. It is incredible. But what we have used it for is- we haven’t used it any more than we used libraries before it because we are not running off to radically new spaces; defined new information . We are using the internet as a megaphone to magnify conventional wisdom and here we have this amazing storytelling tool and we’re producing glorified marketing brochures - that is not the best we can do with this. I think that, if there was ever a time for the meritocracy, now is that time! And that’s what I’m fascinated by.
Jürgen: Hmmn. Yeah. I mean you’re definitely right. There is so much that’s really just the glorified brochures and some of them might be exceptionally good but they’re not relevant to anybody or they’re not relevant to the right audience. One of the things that I always try to focus on is understanding who is your audience and what are they looking for. Here’s an example. I’ve got an issue with my PC that I can’t solve. There’s some random numbers popping up over the screen and they just seem like coordinate pairs.
And I thought, ‘I’m sure somebody already experienced this,’ so I do an internet search to find the solution and usually end up with an answer. For this one, there’s all kinds of stuff popping up that’s totally irrelevant, so nobody has actually written anything that seems easy to find, addressing this particular problem which comes back to this- understand who your audience is- what their problem is, what they’re looking for- and give them that and if you do that then you’re getting closer to what you’re saying in terms of what you need to do to capture that attention when it’s needed and then turn the light back off again.
Michael: Exactly the right questions and I think so much of what we do is paused questions which are infinitely more valuable than answers. Answers come very cheap in my view. You can call any psychic hotline, pay $10 dollars. If you don’t get the answers you want you can hang up and call back.
Michael: And if you have a budget of anywhere from $10 to $50, you’ll get an answer. But what questions do is they give a promise about what something could be and they encourage you to really confront where you are strong and where you are not; where your voice needs to be strengthened and where your voice needs to be refined or maybe your voice doesn’t need to be at all and I think I could care very little about people thinking, ‘I have an answer’ because I think mostly what we do is get to know the client’s business.
Einstein said, ‘If you have an hour to solve a problem, you spend 55 minutes in the problem and 5 minutes in solutions.’ He didn’t say in frustration by the way, which I think is a mistake people make. But what he meant by that was if he examined a problem from enough angles, if he arranged it enough ways, [and] if he daydreamed about it, because Einstein discovered that there’s a relativity while on a train daydreaming, that the answer would become obvious. If you spent enough time with your client, really hearing what they’re saying, really listening, really absorbing it, really not knowing the answer, eventually a gap In the market is going to emerge. The solution will become very obvious. I started Graveyard Innovation because all I was going to do was tell a couple of my friends, colleagues what I was seeing, and then I had no clue what I was gonna do.
Michael: But I just trusted and I talked to a couple of these people and the first woman I talked to said, ‘Okay I’ll hire you’ and I said, ‘Oh, you’ve misunderstood. I’m closing my business.’
Michael: And she said, ‘Oh, not for that, for this’ and that happened again and again and again. I never overcame an objection and I never had anyone argue with me about price. I just went to work and I said to those first few people, ‘You gotta tell me if at the end of this, it’s not worth what I’m charging.’ Then we’ll work on it. We’ll figure it out. I think people are so much in a hurry. You want to rush a product to market but if you haven’t spent enough time in that- getting to know the psychology of your customers, asking questions, willing to be wronged, understanding the problem. I think it’s very hard. What you come up with just doesn’t tend to work.
Jürgen: Yeah that’s really great advice and it reminds me when I was in the Corporate world. We did some work on redesigning our entire research process and product development process and the redesign was exactly what you are saying with focussing a whole lot more time on understanding the customer need [and] customer problem before going to the development stage. And I remember the first project we used as a prototype to test the process once we’d done the background work on the process and it was a four-week turnaround time that we had working with the customer. We spent three weeks understanding the problem and a lot of people we’re getting really nervous and saying, ‘We should be doing something.’ And I was really firm and said, ‘Until we understand exactly what we need to do, we can’t go into the next step so let’s really focus on that front end.’
Michael: Yeah. I just have to say- that is so refreshing to me because, it’s sort of like, ‘You can do that and fail, you cannot do that and fail,’ right?
Michael: But you can also succeed in a much bigger way and I think in innovation there is often more failure but it is a different kind of failure. You are learning things on the go. You are deciding things. It is a very informed kind of failure and you are able to pivot very quickly. I don’t really meet a bunch of people that are super lazy, don’t want to be successful and don’t take action. Mostly, when I meet people, I’m like “Please stop taking action.”
Michael: Because if you just stood still for 5 minutes, the direction to take would make sense. And I’ve gone back to Sun Tze and reading the Art of War and there is so much in there. I think time was a principal for what it means to be strategic and it’s all about really understanding yourself, understanding your opponent, and if you don’t leave enough space, you can’t do that. I’m all about execution. I’m all about execution with precision but I don’t see the point of rushing in a direction that is so ill-considered because it feels to take a bunch of action and I think what you said to me, that is taking action, right?
Michael: Because it is looking at considering and being really really curious. I think that is a place that really good things emerge because when you look at customers, you can go to customers and ask them what they want and sometimes producing that is the right thing, but mostly what you find is that customers want something and because nobody has made that exact thing yet, they don’t exactly know how to ask for it, right?
Michael: I look at 2008 in America when Barack Obama became President. If you did a poll of anybody in 2006 or 2007 that said, ‘Will the next president be a one-term senator from a very liberal state with the middle name Hussein?’
Nobody on a poll would have said, ‘Oh yeah. That’s gonna to be our next president.’
Michael: It would have been so far fetched because nobody knew Barack Obama. But Barack Obama saw these trends and his team saw these trends and they were able to meet the moment and greet this moment almost perfectly. The country was asking for Barack Obama. It just didn’t know to say, ‘We want Barack Obama.’
And I think that probably what happened in this case you were working on. They knew some of what to ask for, some not, but you just saw something, like giraffes, or something we look to in Graveyard Innovation because they see above the trees.
Michael: That’s a lot of what that process I’m guessing enabled you to do and it’s really frankly refreshing to hear.
Jürgen: Yeah that’s right. And like you say, often customer don’t know exactly- they’ve got some idea of what they want. Usually they have a good idea of what they want but they don’t know how to articulate that and don’t know how that it might impact their business and often it turns out that they need something slightly different.
Michael: Exactly! If I only ever had white cake and I kept asking for vanilla cake….
Michael: And nobody ever gave me a cinnamon roll, I would have never eaten a cinnamon roll, right?
Michael: Something far superior to white cake (laugh)
Michael: But I would just be asking for the thing I knew, right?
Jürgen: That’s right.
Michael: Instead of the thing I might like way more.
Jürgen: Exactly. Yeah. So spending that time and getting that understanding is- it’s not about taking action, it’s about taking action that gives you a better understanding of what then will be the ultimate outcome.
Michael: You could do so much damage, I think. And that’s what we forget. Action is not neutral. You can diminish yourself and now you have to know the difference between giving space, being creative, really being strategic and what a lot of people call strategy, I just do not think it passes for it. Being in fear, you can certainly over analyze, you can certainly be paralyzed. Sometimes you need a tactic. And that’s where you are and what you need at the moment. And they are gone. It really is knowing yourself and even more importantly, knowing the value of your company and are you being true to that value. That to me is the thing that always guides me. If I was being true to this value, what matter I would they be doing, what choice I might be making, it always leads me in the right direction, even it requires a hard choice in the moment.
Jürgen: Yeah. That’s something rises another question. For me, in terms of what you do, you mentioned somewhat, “Define your true genius. Get yourself esteemed at what you’re really exceptional at and get others to help stuff that is not your strengths,” so talk to us a little bit more about that because I think that’s a really good philosophy.
Michael: Yeah. I would say, look to the thing that you’re trying to fix about your personality most likely. Whatever thing you think is some liability that’s keeping you from success and lean into it, most likely? For me, it was my curiosity because I thought it was a hindrance- I mean, I heard so many times, growing up, ‘Michael, shut up! Stop talking! Why are you asking that question? This is just we’re gonna do.’
So I got it in my head that I couldn’t just learn like other people and that these questions were wrong, bad, you didn’t need to ask them. Then I built my last business- I didn’t ask as many questions as I should’ve and I regret that. And I try to make up for that now. I’ve gone back to most of my clients and I’ll go back to all of them, and talk to them about that because I think it’s so so important. But I thought I had to overcome that because I thought it meant I was undisciplined. But truly, it has been my greatest gift. Does that mean every moment is the time to be creative? No! That side of me needs a rest too. And it would be tiranny to always be innovating, always be creating. There’s a time to implement.
But what happened when I went back to that was everything just started to work for me in a different way and I found people that could come in because it does give me certain liabilities. I’m not as good with everyday things, like around my house or remember to check my mail, because I’m obsessed with ‘What would be a better way to get the mail?’ And I’m thinking about things and forgetting them.
Michael: So there’s certain ways I have to calibrate for that. But the great thing about that is- you had Lisa Wells a while ago on your program and Lisa and I are great friends but Lisa and I have very different personalities and what’s she’s kind of showing me is there’s someone who can pick up where I’m weak. And that’s something we open the door for people to come in and do what they do. My mother, I will always be grateful for this, told me very young, ‘Never get it in your head that because you might be educated or because you have certain opportunities that you’re any better than anyone else or any job is any better than any other job.’ One of the most important jobs is picking up the garbage. If we don’t have that there are plagues and diseases and a whole bunch of other bad things.
It’s such honorable work. But we need every single person in the society, doing what they’re meant to do, and I really believe we have to honor that more and I’ll always thankful for that. But I think it’s sort of like, we try to correct for those. I’m the type of person who starts things and that’s basically what I do in my business. I start things. I give them to my team and then I come back in the end to refine and to finish, make sure that they’ve created excellence, make sure that we are nearing perfection. It’s very important to me. But for a long time, I thought, ‘Oh I have to do every phase of this and every phase of it or I’m not committed.’ So I would say to look at things you were trying to fix and consider what might happen if you simply lean into that, there’s often so much brilliance there.
Jürgen: Hmmnnn Yeah. That’s great advice. I mean you point out on your website that 80% of service businesses fail. I think the statistic is that it’s 90% in the first 10 years.
Jürgen: And probably part of the reason for that is, exactly what you’re saying there, falling into that trap of ‘I’ve gotta do everything’ and not focusing on the thing that is really your strength and getting help with other things.
Michael: We’re very focused on Silicon Valley at this moment and apps and technological development. It’s very important but Silicon Valley isn’t the next wave of innovation. I truly believe that the next wave of innovation is in services and now some of that is gonna be a meeting between online and offline and the seamless creation of those things. Some of that’s gonna be brain technology. Some of it is just gonna be returning. We’re all remembering right now that the phone is faster than email which you sort of thing we would’ve learned when we invented the phone, first time we sent letters, right?
Jürgen: Right [laugh]
Michael: I think there’s so much potential there and I’m constantly saying to people, ‘Why are you not innovating this?’ There’s so much opportunity right now. There’s such a hunger for, I mean, the CEO of Coca Cola has gone totally to pay for performance in their advertising agencies because they’ve been so disappointed in the level of creativity and Coca Cola is a brand that’s totally dependent on good advertising. I mean it essentially is a brand right?
Michael: So there’s is this writing on the wall and I think I’m so excited to see where that leads us. We don’t have really the right framework in our world quite yet because we don’t cultivate these strengths from an early age. And I would just say, I’m all about being optimistic. I’ve tried to be a positive person but don’t shortchange yourself. It is not self-duplication to be clear about your weaknesses or to dismiss them. I really believe if you can get very truthful and honest about those and own them and you may need to to minimize the risk sometimes but if you could get very clear about those, spend some time in that uncomfortableness.
Spend some times, ‘Oh yeah I’m not good in everything,’ because too many people are wasting their lives, never getting to their brilliance because they are really good at a lot of things. I say to people, ‘Whenever you’re done being really good at a lot of things, you will be excellent in one thing, and that will set you apart.’ So we gotta get our self-esteem from confidence and start saving our world with our excellence.
Jürgen: Mhmnnn. That’s great advice and of course then, coming back to what you said very early in the interview about unique value proposition and don’t rush to get to that. I like that pitch. Once you understand what’s your point of excellence and point of difference, that becomes your elevator pitch, doesn’t it?
Michael: Exactly. If you’re a new business, you can’t win every battle all the time and you’re gonna be really bad at it because you don’t have the language yet. There is so much you don’t know but get clear on what problem you’re trying to solve today and what you can be really good at. We couldn’t be really good at finishing people’s projects in the beginning because it was all innovation. It was all testing. So we couldn’t be committed to finishing. But what we were committed to is caring and creativity so we were honest with the clients about that. We didn’t make excuses, we didn’t try to hide it.
And I was comfortable with the client walking away or being seriously irritated with me. I would rather have that, than send out something that didn’t meet my creative standards in the beginning. I would rather have a client angry and give them their money back than put bad ideas or something that was not our best out in the world. So I had to decide this is where we’re gonna be really good today. And these other things, let’s do our best. I hope we’re really good there tomorrow. But I just think in the beginning, we don’t have the resources to do all of that. If you want more focus and honestly, clients will completely understand. I didn’t have any clients quit or some of them irritated at certain moments- they were- but there are ways to make up for that and I found they totally respected the process and it was invaluable to them to see it’d be built and really what I found is that it inspired them and encouraged them to do the same thing, to play where they were strong today, to know that they would get some of the rest right tomorrow.
Jürgen: Okay, now you mentioned process- do you have strict processes that you follow for your coaching plans?
Michael: Not all business want to innovate. I just want to say that it’s totally okay. Some businesses are more traditional. It’s totally fine. You wouldn’t want a world where every business is innovating all the time. You wouldn’t and we don’t need it. We actually take people through a three-phase process. It’s called our strategic storytelling process. Most of our clients have had so much coaching, so much personal growth and development, and what they need is strategy and that’s what we drive.
In phase one, it’s all about creativity- ‘What are the targeted innovations as we see them? What’s the narrative?’ We bring that to the client. Mostly in that phase, we are just looking at ideas.
In phase two, we shift a little bit and we take three months. We are implementing this. We are building a unified digital brand for them. We’re just getting in three-months everything the client needs. In this phase, it’s all about trust - us going above and beyond; them seeing we are just going to produce the right amount for their project. We never tell someone, ‘You’re gonna get a website at the end of this. You’re gonna get seventeen partnerships at the end of this and five videos.’ They may get that. They may get more than they may get less but what we’re interested in is what’s gonna drive the result- usually profit, and if we start building the website and all of a sudden we find that strategic partnerships are just really working right now, we’re gonna shift gears there, make the money, and know that we can circle back around at a later date to the website.
We produce a lot of stuff but that is an additional thing. We are just committed to the result in this phase and really earning the client’s trust though we still have project plans and all of these.
Then [in] the third phase is we feel it’s a fit and they feel it’s a fit, we invite them into the third phase which is a pay for performance model. We take a modest fee on a sliding scale, very modest and then we get paid when we earn the client money. Obviously that’s not appropriate for everyone, for lots of reason. But it’s kind of like this, the client takes the risk in phase one, we split it in phase two, and we take the risk in phase three. That’s kind of our processes at this moment, continues to evolve and it’s really about forming a partnership. I felt that if we want to be in partnership with our client, we should put where our money where our mouth is, we should be able to prove that we can do what we say we can do. We should take some of the risk. It really incentivizes us to be honest, to be direct, and to make sure that we are working in everybody’s aligned interest versus going to them and saying, ‘We need more for this. We need more for that.’
For people who need more specific, like they want to run their business as a set of individual projects, we are totally happy to take the proposal to break that down into steps for them, to give it to them and have them take it to the marketing firm. We hope that in every phase, people feel that they’ve gotten the complete value of that phase. But of course, we choose business that we think are right for all three. And we tell people that from the beginning, that they could quit anytime. There are no monthly contracts or commitments but we want them to be there the entire time.
Jürgen: Yeah. I like the whole philosophy around partnering with your clients and building an ongoing relationship so it’s not focus on ‘Here’s a project, and we’ve done that, we are done see you later and good luck!’
Jürgen: I think that that’s such an outdated model.
Michael: It encourages you to believe your own non-sense!
Michael: Or to blame your clients. There’s a lot of people condescending their clients right now. It’s just not my experience. I think that when you start to see what’s right and you build on that and you really are honest with someone, when there’s an issue, when you communicate, but you know that they’re trying their best that you’re trying your best, and when you align the interest to the profit of the business.
We have very high standards when it comes to ethics, when it comes to truth. We require if we’re gonna take somebody on in the third phase, they go above and beyond what the FTC recommends for testimonial guidelines and things like that. We try to be very honest about where we’re coming from, very honest about what we’re testing. I have found there’s so much more respect and also if it’s not a fit, you were able to part ways and you’re able to do a little bit more for that client so they can feel good about it without wasting so much time. I feel you’re able to just deal with the conflict versus feeling that you have to go to war with the client to convince them about something.
Jürgen: Yeah. So what do you see as the biggest challenges in your business right now and what are you doing about those?
Michael: Well, I think the biggest challenge right now is - The thing I worry about the most is it that seems to me that we are getting to a place where we have more answers than questions. That is a very scary world for me.
Michael: Because it starts to shut down the dialogue. It is alarming to me that more than ever, people are surrounding themselves with like-minded people. It’s great to do that sometimes, but you know what’s also great- being around not like-minded people. That’s the essence of democracy. It’s the essence of creativity. A very skeptical group of people getting together and deciding something for everyone and that’s what I see really right now as the challenge that it’s really everywhere.
We are just listening to conventional wisdom when if you look around, it is so clear that hasn’t worked. You see that in politics, where somebody says something at 5 in the morning on the news, may or may not be true, may or may not have done their homework and then by 5 pm, it seems that this is fact not because anything change but simple because now 5000 people are saying it instead of one person. You see that same thing in Hollywood where people say, ‘We can’t make any movies about things other than giant robots because nobody will go to them,’ and then you know Bridesmaids is produced, it makes all of this money, and it turns out you can.
You see that in the music industry, where the music industry blames the Internet and Limewire and Napster for its collapse, when in truth it was mismanaging artists for years and Taylor Swift comes along and shows that you can perfectly well- sell a number of albums, right?
Jürgen: Mhmmnn yeah
Michael: If you know your customers and if you’ve gone through the alignment of your brand. The same is true with advertising, we have essentially forgotten about advertising and PR and substitute it with this very vague word called marketing. People think that there’s no room for advertising. I think it’s essential. Advertising frames a conversation. That is the only way in the world where there are so much information in a non-linear world that you can at all control your destiny. We can’t psychologically manipulate customers to be at a certain place. Customers have all the power, all the information, but what we can do is frame the conversation so we are all at least talking about the same thing in the same universe. And people think advertising doesn’t work and all these examples I gave. The fact of the matter is, here’s what works- interesting, relevant, good ideas- and that really doesn’t matter if it’s a book, a movie, a song, an advertisement, [or] a magazine article. It’s just all, ‘What’s a good idea? What’s interesting? What engages the customer.’ I find that so encouraging because we can make anything, right?
Michael: We can literally make anything. I’m encouraged by that but I also worry because with the decreasing questions comes decreasing listening and with decreasing listening comes decreased trust and with decreased trust comes the collapse of most of what makes our world great and I think that’s very alarming.
Jürgen: Yeah. Really good points there! Now you talked a lot about innovation in your business, I’m interested in what you see as the biggest traps that innovators encounter, trying to sell new ideas?
Michael: I think that they are unclear- well, let me put in esoteric terms and I’ll try to make sense of it-
Michael: I think that they are unclear about the degree to which they need to step out of coherence. There’s all different degrees of innovation and for us innovation - this is not my definition since, couldn’t even tell you the name of it, basically some business school person’s definition and I like it so I stole it-
Michael: ‘Innovation is idea times commercialization,’ right?
Michael: So it’s very important that it’s NOT plus- if you have an idea it’s not 50% of innovation. It’s idea times commercialization. There’s all different degrees of it. There is a Hillary Clinton innovation, which is getting herself a little bit in line with where the base is now and then minimizing her risk. That’s a form of innovation but she’s not introducing a brand new Hillary Clinton to the world. That would be very very hard. Then there are things that are very innovative like Henry Ford and the automobile. People have literally have no context for it. And I think you have to know, at least vaguely, the degree to which you are suspending coherence because if you were doing something that is completely new or that people are not going to understand, they’re not going to understand it. That’s going to be different than ‘Oh, I’m innovating the positioning for this product but a lot is going to stay the same.’
So often what happens is because these humans want to make sense of things, people put something that is innovative and different into an already existing framework. That is not always a good thing because it can mean that the innovation isn’t given what it needs to succeed. If I would’ve force an elevator pitch into Graveyard Innovation, I would have not developed most of what I have developed. What it needed was conversation because people not understanding it forced me to explain it.
That didn’t mean I rushed it out to a Fortune 500 company and try to sell it to them. It wasn’t ready for that. They weren’t the people to have that conversation with nor did I trust everybody to talk to about it. I was very discerning. So I think it’s that. If you suspend coherence people aren’t going to get it and they’re gonna try to make it coherent and that is not always true to what it is. And other times, it is totally fine because it’s much smaller. And if you’re not clear on that, you don’t know how to craft a strategy. We can make anything work if we know what we’re dealing with. If we are trying to plug a very important change into a system, that is very different than change what the system itself cares about.
I can give an example, if you are at a party and a group of people is talking about a particular subject, one way to innovate that conversation is to say, ‘Hey! Have you all thought about it this way?’ and give a counter intuitive or slightly different take on that subject, and essentially sort of shift the nature of the conversation a little bit but you were still mostly in the framework of what’s being talked about. People look at it. They don’t think it’s that rude. They may think you’re a little odd, but they can engage with it.
Another way is to be in that conversation, be so bored at what people are saying and essentially introduce something that seems in no way connected to what they were talking about. What probably happens in that conversation is 9 out of 10 people think you’re rude and insane or maybe just the crazy aunt/uncle/cousin, whatever, but one person in that group is intrigued, ‘What’s that person up to? I’m interested.’ So you gotta go have that conversation more times. Eventually, you get enough people who think ‘Hey what’s this person doing?’ but the conversation itself starts to change. So to me, it’s really be clear on the degree to which you are suspending coherence because that really informs the strategy you need to have and it helps you see when is it okay when people say, ‘I don’t understand?’ and when is it a hindrance?
Jürgen: Yeah, that’s fascinating advice. And I could go on talking and asking questions but I just think.. you know.. we’ve almost gone more than an hour so I think it’s time we move on to the Buzz which is our innovation round. Our innovation round is designed to help our audience who primarily innovators and leaders in their field with some tips from your experience. I’m going ask you a series of five questions and hopefully you’ll give us some really insightful answers that will inspire everyone and help them do something awesome.
Michael: I hope so. I’m nervous about this section but I’ll do my best. [laugh]
Jürgen: [laugh] What is the number one thing anyone needs to do to be more innovative?
Michael: Space. Give themselves space.
Jürgen: Yeah. I like it! What’s the best thing you’ve done to develop new ideas?
Michael: Observe. I just watch what’s going on around me.
Jürgen: That’s great. What’s your favorite tool of system for improving your productivity and therefore allowing you to be more innovative?
Michael: I think learn about non-obvious things. I do something called daily discoveries which is a folder that I created on google drive and I just collect things as I come across them that are interesting. It just allows me query the information without being distracted and it always comes back to help me be more productive in some way I never expect.
Jürgen: That’s fascinating! Yeah. So collect information that seems to be out of the box right now.
Michael: Yeah, interesting but you don’t know it’s relevant yet.
Jürgen: Yeah. Okay that’s great. What’s the best way to keep a project or a client on track?
Michael: I think know fundamentally the result the client wants to get and what you were both committed to. There are projects where time is more important. There are projects where creativity is most important. What does it mean to be on track? Sometimes it’s finishing, sometimes it’s not. So I think [be] really clear about what you’re committed to.
Jürgen: Yeah. Good advice. What’s the number one thing anyone can do to differentiate themselves?
Michael: Well, I think look in the mirror. Be very, very honest. Know if you’re there. Know if you’re not. It’s like David Mitchell who wrote Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks; in Cloud Atlas it says, “Truth is singular. It’s versions are mistruths.” Just be willing to look at truth. Be willing to have a reality-based life, which is never judgmental. The differentiation is already there.
I used to say, ‘What do I want?’ Now, I say, ‘What does this idea want to be?’ And it is so much more powerful because it always reveals itself. That differentiation is already there. You don’t have to create it. You just have to discover it. That’s it.
Jürgen: That’s great. We’ll link to those books that you mentioned in the shownotes for people to have a closer look at. What’s the future for you then and for Graveyard Innovation?
Michael: I always say the future is that we win or somebody does it better and all of these ideas are done and I can go sit on the beach and read the Atlantic articles that I’ve been meaning to read for the past 10 years! My ultimate goal is to be unnecessary. I made Graveyard Innovation because the place I wanted to work didn’t exist and I feel like I was hired for this and someday I hope to be fired by it.
Quite frankly. That’s my ultimate answer for that question.
I think in the near term, we are reaching about what we’ve been really behind the scenes and I think it’s time to roll out some of these ideas. A lot of them are in development. Some of this stuff, I said, you won’t prove true. It’ll change. It’ll evolve. And I hope I can always be honest about that. I hope my ego never gets so big as to think, ‘Oh, this is the moment in time where I’m proud I figured out’ Right now, what I’d like to do is to roll us out to the public a little bit more, share somebody’s ideas, let the crazy ones know that, ‘Yeah, you’re crazy but you’re not alone.’ And everyone who has done anything of consequence has confronted people who called them crazy. I think in the short term, that’s what it’s about. I want my idea to be tested, to be debated.
I’m not afraid or allergic to criticism or people disagreeing. What I want is for us to really get at the best answer for the entrepreneurs. I think they’re worth it. I think they’re ideas are worth it. Without that kind of debate and dialogue and discussion, I don’t think we’re doing them justice, their ideas justice, their world justice, so I’d say that’s what’s next in the short term.
Jürgen: Right. Look forward to that. Look forward to seeing more of you out there then. What’s the number one piece of advice that you’d give to any business owner who wants to be a leader in innovation?
Michael: I would say, make your art and for that I mean do the thing that you would do anonymously because as someone who went from thinking no one would ever listen to his ideas to having people listen to my ideas. Being adored is much more of a curse than being hated.
Michael: I think that when you do the thing, whatever your art is, I mean my art is messing around with other people’s ideas
Michael: That’s what fills me. I’ve done that my whole life. I do that wherever I go. I don’t feel that I’m giving away my value. There’s enough ideas you don’t care to play with forever. I think what’s the thing you would do humbly, that you would do with an anonimity , and you would do if no one cares then you would be so filled up that whether people noticed or not, you would be okay with it. You have to find that your whole life has been leading you toward it. I don’t think there are problems, just misarrangements. So often, we’ve just not arranged our lives in the right way. I would say, what’s the thing that you want to make, whether it’s a literal thing like a painting, whether it’s more of a metaphoric thing like playing with ideas. And just do that. Do that to solve problems and people will pay you. They really will. I think that’s what the world needs. We need to listen to our own voice and we need to trust that. Do I know if it will work? Do I know if we can do it? I don’t. But I just know that I would rather be smiling making my art at the end than not. And that is richer to me than anything else in my life. So that’s what I would say, find your art and do it.
Jürgen: Okay, that’s great advice. Thanks for that Michael. This has been fascinating. I‘ve taken pages of notes here and I’ve got lots of ideas. I really appreciate you spending time with us and sharing so much information with us. Where can people reach out and say, ‘Thank you?’
Michael: Eventually we’ll have a website. That’s up which will be graveyardinnovation.com or marketingisbroken.com. Both those should be rolling out. I’d say 30 days could be sooner. Basically if you want get hold of me, just email me and my email is [email protected] or just call me at 866-798-4084.
Anything you need, I’ve got a business full of old trainings I’m happy to send you if any of them will help you. I’m happy to point you in the direction of a resource. I’m happy to chat with you about your idea. I think so many people don’t take advantage of the opportunities before them and that feels like an opportunity to you if I can assist. If you think I’m wrong, that’s also a beautiful thing to email me about. Just reach out if you feel at all connected to it.
Jürgen: Thanks for that Michael and we’ll put links to all of those contact points to shownotes. Who would you like me to interview on a future InnovaBuzz podcast? Why?
Michael: Of course, I would like you to interview Hillary Clinton because I think it would be so interesting. Maybe we could use “Wonder Woman’s Lassoo of Truth” so she has to answer non-politically or something, right? So we can get the juicy details, after eight years, after she’s finishing up her second term.
My co-founder Janette Valentino is absolutely incredible. Some of my clients, I think of Kim Mylls, Jennifer Wilkov who run a side business Boys before Business, in the relationship niche. But really every single one of my clients and every single one of my team members. But listening to people we don’t know is just as valuable to us.
Jürgen: Well get a list of people from you, Michael.
Michael: It’s like “How many Michaels does it take to change a lightbulb?” You’re asking the wrong question! We’ll let you answer it!
Jürgen: Ok, we’ll get a list from you and in the meantime reach out to Janette, Kim and Jennifer! Thanks so much Michael, for sharing your time and insights with us today. This has been absolutely fascinating, we’ve gone over an hour now, I really appreciate you spending so much time with us. I’ve enjoyed this immensely and learned a lot and I’m sure our audience will as well. I wish you all the best for the future of Graveyard Innovation and let’s keep in touch.
Michael: Absolutely and please keep doing this. I don’t think the world is suffering from too many innovative voices right now!
Jürgen: Alright, thanks!
I hope you enjoyed meeting Michael as much as I enjoyed interviewing him. There is a lot of fabulous advice and lessons in this episode.
All the show notes for this episode will be at innovabiz.com.au/michaelmapes, that is M-I-C-H-A-E-L-M-A-P-E-S, all lowercase, all one word, innovabiz.com.au/michaelmapes, for all of the links and everything we spoke about in this episode .
Michael suggested I interview his co-founder Janette Valentino and his clients, Kim Mylls and Jennifer Wilkov of Boys before Business, on a future InnovaBuzz podcast. So, Janette, Kim, Jennifer, keep an eye on your inboxes, for an invitation from me to the InnovaBuzz podcast, courtesy of Michael Mapes.
Thank you for listening. Pop over to iTunes or Stitcher or Pocket Casts and subscribe so you’ll never miss a future episode. While you’re there, you might leave us a review, because reviews help us get found and your feedback helps us improve. If there is anything you’d like us to cover, or questions you want answered on a future podcast, please send them to us.
Until next time, I’m Jürgen Strauss from Innovabiz.
Remember, if you don’t innovate, you stagnate, so think big, be adventurous and keep innovating!