These days, everyone wants to talk about strategies for motivating employees. The topic has exploded over the past decade or so because our understanding of motivation has evolved. Decades ago, people thought we were motivated primarily by compensation. Pay people more and they’ll work harder, right? Fortunately, we’ve come to understand that human beings are more complicated than that.
Now, culture is all the rage. Thought leaders across every industry preach the effectiveness of building great work environments and weaving perks into the career experience. Article after article, blog post after blog post, headline after headline. The same talking points—largely repackaged.
What is culture? According to the experts, it’s a magical confluence of work and fun that improves performance across the board.
But the culture peddlers are missing the point. Yes, it’s important to create an atmosphere that drives and inspires great work, but are employee happiness and performance really as simple as a few perks and a pinch of autonomy?
We don’t think so.
Do you remember what you were doing the day that Netflix died?
During the summer of 2011, Netflix announced that it would be splitting its DVD-by-mail and streaming services. The streaming service would continue to be called Netflix, while the DVD service would be renamed “Qwikster.” Not only was this a bizarre and confusing choice, it also essentially created a price-hike for loyal users that had been signed up for both services. Consumers were outraged. The move was dubbed a giant “FAIL” by the collective masses, and CEO Reed Hastings quickly scrambled to put the toothpaste back in the tube, so to speak. Qwikster was scrapped, and prices returned to normal, but it seemed Netflix had done irreparable damage to its reputation. They were as good as dead…
The common cliché is that a picture is worth a thousand words. However, the worth of an image is still grossly undervalued. A picture has the ability to break down barriers of misunderstanding across languages and cultures, while using universal truths and experiences to help people make connections.
Of course, it's easy to see how a picture could lose its perceived worth. Today we are so inundated with imagery that it seems very commonplace, from skulls to represent poison, to street signs that tell us when there are children at play, to directions on how to put on a floatation device should our plane lose altitude. And of course, there are those wonderful things called infographics, which help break down the loftiest, dustiest, most impenetrable statistics into easy to understand bite-sized chunks. You can’t visit a website, open a magazine or even go the bathroom these days without seeing one.
There are many people throughout history who helped push the use of infographics to be commonplace. Most notable among them is Edward Tufte, whose book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, is considered the Bible on the subject. However, Tufte is far from the first to use pretty pictures to make things simple and easy to understand. Way before Edward Tufte mortgaged his home to finance his book on infographics, a polymath by the name of Otto Neurath saw value in images being more than just a pretty picture. He had a vision of using images as a universal language, changing the way we look at statistics and, yes, the restroom… forever.
We live in a content-driven world.
Not a second goes by where we’re not hammered with Buzzfeed articles and gif sites and blogs and articles. We have access to 300-some cable channels, not including what you can get with a Hulu or Netflix subscription. Then there’s a billion-plus YouTube videos, along with original sketches on sites like CollegeHumor. There’s magazines and books and newspapers – almost all of which are available in digital, on-demand form. There’s theater movies. There’s Red Box rentals. There are apps that give you instant access to nearly any song ever recorded, along with podcasts, interviews, and audio books. There’s traditional radio. Satellite radio. And we haven’t even touched on display ads, billboards, television commercials, or other more interactive marketing experiences.
There’s almost no limit to the scope of the content you can consume at any given moment. So, while it’s become much easier to create content, it has become exponentially more difficult to truly captivate an audience. The number of hours in a day hasn’t changed, just the number of options. Authors aren’t just competing with the other books on the shelf anymore – they’re fighting their ass off to get people to read a book at all, let alone read theirs. It’s effing hard to create content that resonates with people in the digital age. It’s really, really hard.
The internet is a lot like a boomtown. It was built around the resource vein of information, and it was quickly populated with every type of company prospecting for paydirt. As any boomtown, its housing was utilitarian at first: rows of canvas tents and Plain Jane HTML. Companies eventually found that they liked the place and decided to set a spell, improving their websites and creating the internet community we know and love today.
However, within this community there are companies and organizations with what might be considered not so much websites as historic sites. Some of these are kept for posterity (Space Jam); some are just inexplicably bad (us.gov), though you get the feeling that they’ll be renovated eventually as was whitehouse.gov; and some are jealously guarded by old, white-haired, hermit prospectors who refuse to be bought out, still shouting from their porch at passersby. The most heinous of these offenders has to be BerkshireHathaway.com.