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On life and leadership: The Big 5

Updated: Sep 7, 2023


This week’s newsletter comes to you from 38,000 feet: I’m on my way to the Gold Coast to deliver the opening keynote at the imedia Future of Marketing summit.


Here’s a sneak peak of my keynote to a room full of senior marketers.



It’s a jungle out there


Marketing these days is full of glimpses of wonderful futures. Futures where you know your customers intimately and can tailor your message to the individual. Futures where you can make 1,000 different versions of the same ad for less than it used to cost to make one.


These glimpses remind me of walking through a jungle catching occasional glimpses of a bird of paradise.


But…the day-to-day realities of the marketing teams I work with are more like having to cut your way through dense undergrowth with a blunt machete. While being swarmed by blood-thirsty mosquitoes.


An example: one team I know were agreeing their strategic priorities for the year. There were 14. Fourteen! They had to invent another category called ‘critical priorities’. That’s a lot of jungle to cut through.


When everything is important, nothing is important.



Get out into the open savannah


What would it feel like to step out of the marketing jungle onto the open grasslands, the savannah? Imagine the blue sky, open space, grass gently swaying in the wind. You could breathe.


In my experience we all spend so much time hacking away at what’s in front of us that it’s difficult to make time to look up, to step back, to work out what really matters.



On safari: the big 5


If you do get the chance, maybe with your team, to put down your machetes for a few hours, then what might you see? What might you go looking for?


In my experience of helping marketing teams with their strategy, and helping them focus on the bigger picture, we are often looking for one of five invisible decisions. I’ve written about this recently here and here – and it’s about having bigger conversations and asking bigger questions.


I call them the big 5, like the big 5 animals you look for on a safari.


The elephant in the room

The question here: What’s the most important thing we’re not talking about?


The hippo under the surface

Are we treating the symptoms or the root causes of our situation?

Do we understand what’s happening under the surface?


The invisible gorilla

This is the 800lb gorilla, the BIG decision, that you can’t see. You can hear some sounds and maybe see some glimpses. But you need to be patient to find it. The question to ask: What is the biggest decision you could make in the next 3 months?


The rhino that charges at everything

Like the marketing team with fourteen priorities, the rhino charges at everything. Which can be exhausting. Question: If we took all our priorities off the table, what’s the first one we’d then put back on for the next quarter?


The leopard that won’t change its spots

What have we always done that we need to stop doing?



At the end of the day


If you and your team can spend some time looking for your big 5, you’ll find something interesting and compelling. You’ll surface something important that previously was on the edges of your awareness as a team.


Maybe it’s the elephant in the room, maybe it’s a gorilla-sized decision that could set you up for a big shift.


Making bigger decisions allows you to take bigger steps forward.


And when you look up for a moment, take your eyes off the jungle, you will find that your team shifts too.


You’ll get more focus, more alignment, more time and more energy.


Your work will feel more meaningful.

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