Sabotage and Sameness

What can an instructional manual on industrial sabotage from 1944 teach a marketing change-maker in 2019? Let’s take a moment to pause and reflect.

  • In 1944, the OSS—predecessor to the CIA—created the Simple Sabotage Field Manual. The document was declassified in 2008. It came to our attention recently via the excellent Why This Is Interesting newsletter.
  • The section on “General Interference With Organizations and Production” contains a series of tips that will sound eerily familiar to anyone who’s experienced life inside a large organization. Times change, but the nature of complex organizations … not so much. And we don’t even need saboteurs to fall into these traps. To paraphrase Radiohead,we do it to ourselves.

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  • Jason Mashak thinks the heart of the problem is thoughtless adherence to best practices. We think he might be onto something.
  • But here’s some good news. As a marketer, you have a natural tendency to push beyond sameness. You understand the importance of differentiation. You know that great ad creative needs to go beyond box-ticking.
  • Here’s an idea worth your attention: differentiation doesn’t stop with ad creative. We like this recent tweet from Bud Cadell. Bud’s talking about culture. But he could just as easily be talking about any aspect of how work happens.

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  • Cadell’s sentiment is echoed by the authors of Strategy That Works: “Your whole company needs to be distinctive, not just your product.” It’s a simple but powerful idea. Every point of difference—internal or external—is a potential source of competitive edge.
  • Here’s a tip to help you avoid the pitfalls of self-sabotage and chart a path that’s more distinctive: Run down the OSS list above. If anything sounds familiar, flag it. Figure out why it’s happening. And then add it to your change agenda.
  • And here’s another: Make sure that change agenda isn’t taking you somewhere same-y. If the new capabilities you’re looking to build are too reliant on benchmarks and best practices, pump the brakes for a minute and order a copy of Strategy That Works. The central concept of “differentiating capabilities” is worth digging into.

Word of Wisdom

According to Harvard Business School legend Michael Porter, being strategic and being distinctive are essentially the same thing.

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Issue #70
Jun 2, 2019

Further Reading