Atomic Tango

Brilliant Jerks? Bring ‘Em On! (And Why I Hate The Term “Team Player”)

April 10th, 2014 · Manifestos

by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango LLC + Talent Worshiper

LinkedIn’s wall is degenerating fast. It used to focus on careers and business discussions. Now it’s becoming Facebook, complete with people playing games and inspirational quote posters.

For example, I recently came across this poster of Reed Hastings, who built a mighty empire in Netflix, but who could have used more brilliant jerks to challenge his more dubious decisions:

Reed Hastings

Says the man glowering into the camera.

Now if the “brilliant jerk” is a bully who smells like cat food, harasses others, and doesn’t do his job, I can agree with giving him the heave-ho. But that’s not about “teamwork” — that’s about avoiding lawsuits and improving office hygiene.

If the brilliant jerk is someone who simply questions the answers and rejects the status quo, by all means, he should not only be kept, he should be rewarded.

Keep in mind that the opposite of a brilliant jerk is a mediocre team player, the person who nods in assent to everything. They’re useful for getting tedious jobs done, like filling out TPS reports. They can also be found easily — indeed, corporations are using outsourcing services in India where mediocre team players cost a lot less.

People with ideas and visions are truly rare and valuable. As advertising legend David Ogilvy once said, “There are very few men of genius in advertising agencies. But we need all we can find. Almost without exception they are disagreeable. Don’t destroy them. They lay golden eggs.”

Note that, with Netflix, Hastings has simply built a better vending machine. Whenever Netflix needs anything creative — whether it’s an original series or a fix for their recommendation engine — Hastings has to look outside his company. What kind of people does he think create all those Hollywood movies and TV shows?

Teamwork Is Overrated

In a seminal New York Times article from 2012, “The Rise of the New Groupthink,” researcher Susan Cain wrote about introverts and their need for solitude and quiet time. Not all smart people function well in teams. They just want to be given an assignment and left alone to get the job done:

“Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature.”

Guess what happens when you force these creative introverts into continuous teamwork — particularly with mediocre yes-men. Some withdraw even further. Others become (you guessed it) brilliant jerks. I see it when I assign students to work in teams. Some of the smartest minds don’t play that way.

Consider Apple (which Cain also cites): neither Steve Jobs nor Steve Wozniak was a team player. Jobs was a domineering extrovert. Wozniak was an eccentric introvert. Both could be classified as “brilliant jerks.” I guess Hastings would have fired both of them.

“Brilliant jerks” often become entrepreneurs because they can finally try things their way without being forced into teamwork. I can think of one such entrepreneur who Cain doesn’t mention in her article. Listen to him explain why he quit officer training school in the Marines:

“I found myself questioning how we packed our backpacks and how we made our beds… My questioning wasn’t particularly encouraged, and I realized I might be better off in the Peace Corps.”

His name? Reed Hastings.

The Full Netflix Value Statement

Now, that quote you see in the poster above is actually a paraphrase of one slide from Netflix’s Culture presentation. (See below.)

People who are liking and sharing the Hasting’s “brilliant jerks” poster in social media need to read the rest of this presentation. They’ll notice that while Netflix talks a lot about teamwork, it also places “Courage” as one of its top values, including the mandates, “You say what you think even if it is controversial” and “You question actions inconsistent with our values.”

A few slides later, the presentation notes that, “Sustained B-level performance, despite ‘A for effort’, generates a generous severance package.” Netflix wants “stars at every position.”

Netflix also expects “Innovation” from its workers, and abhors a “Process-focus [that] drives more talent out,” resulting in a company that “grinds painfully into irrelevance.”

So there you have it: not a simple aphorism in a poster, but a 126-slide presentation that says what Netflix wants. It’s not a prescription for anyone else (indeed, I can’t see most companies pulling this off, unless they also want to offer Netflix-level salaries and Netflix-level freedoms).

In short, Netflix wants only stars who are passionate and courageous and innovative and always do A-level work while abhorring process and questioning assumptions yet working as a team — otherwise they get fired.

Sounds brilliant. And jerky.

→ No CommentsTags:··········

Amazon Dash: Put A Little Scan In Your Content Marketing Plan

April 8th, 2014 · Random Observations

by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango LLC + Recreational Grocery Shopper

Amazon Dash

Just what you haven’t been waiting for…

“Who the hell would want that — even though it’s free?”

That’s what I first thought when I saw the Amazon Dash: a combo barcode-scanner and voice-decoder that lets you order food from AmazonFresh without a computer. Instead of making me say “wow,” the news provoked a “so what?”

Three issues bugged me… [Read more →]

→ No CommentsTags:·······

BRILLIANT! What We Can Learn About Marketing From A Guinness Ad

March 17th, 2014 · Case Studies, Marketing 101

by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango LLC + Guy Who Thinks Beer Ads Are Better Than Textbooks

‘Tis St. Patty’s day, so what better way for a marketing blogger to celebrate than to write while totally drunk share a classic Guinness commercial:

As another Guinness campaign used to say…

Brilliant!

Guinness Ad From Days Of Yore

Not only is the video fun to watch, it hits all 3B’s of my marketing promotions framework:

  • Brand: It makes the Guinness brand distinctive, likeable, and, at least for me, memorable.
  • Buzz: 3,183,000 views on YouTube alone in just over 2 years.
  • Behavior: The ad includes the call to action “Round up your mates for a Guinness” (positive), but doesn’t include a link to a website (negative), yet it compelled me to drink a Guinness in gratitude (sales = ultra-positive).

Beyond all that, the commercial does a BRILLIANT! job of presenting what real competition looks like…

[Read more →]

→ No CommentsTags:·····

Introducing the Ultimate Social Network: Fatter+

March 9th, 2014 · Random Observations

by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango LLC + Social Media Conspiracy Theorist

LinkedIn junk

And posting drivel like this on LinkedIn is hardly working.

Apparently, the leading social networks have given up on innovation. Now they just gaze covetously at each other’s “best practices.” And on some late nights, fueled by too many cans of Red Bull and 180-proof insecurity, they surge right past the coveting stage straight to idea theft. Hence…

  • Facebook has copied Twitter’s hashtags, trends, and news-centric stream.
  • Twitter has given more exposure to photos and videos, enabled photo tagging, and made Twitter profile pages more Facebook like.

And they’re just getting started putting the “too” in Web 2.0… [Read more →]

→ 1 CommentTags:········

“Authentically” Wrong: More Abuse of the A-Word

March 2nd, 2014 · Manifestos, Random Observations

by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango LLC + Authentic Authenticator

Do-not-think-it-meansThe other day I saw a billboard for a food company. I don’t remember the brand or the product (total ad fail), but I do remember the tagline: “Real Authentic Taste.” And I immediately thought, what the hell does that mean? [Read more →]

→ 3 CommentsTags:·····

Waiting To Get Hit Isn’t An Option: An Ode To Risk Takers In Marketing

February 17th, 2014 · Manifestos, Random Observations

by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango LLC + Not A Born Natural

Not a best practice. (Photo by Albert Yau via Wikimedia Commons.)

Not a best practice. (Photo by Albert Yau via Wikimedia Commons.)

I was the world’s worst little league baseball player.

I’ve always had the hand-eye coordination of a sponge, so I couldn’t hit and I couldn’t catch. (Too bad this study on baseball science wasn’t around then.) I didn’t even like baseball — watching people stand around and spit didn’t meet my standards of entertainment. And yet I joined my junior high team simply because all my friends were doing it.

Sounds like a drug, right? Or social media… (You see where this is heading.) [Read more →]

→ 6 CommentsTags:···

The Walking Dead: The Only Thing Missing Is Fear Itself

January 26th, 2014 · Media Review

by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango LLC + Guy Who Likes A Good (Virtual) Scare

Sign on "The Walking Dead" writers' room.

Doors to “The Walking Dead” writers’ room.

Like millions of Americans, I love the adrenaline-fueled rush of a good scare … provided it comes via a screen. (I don’t think most of us plan to explore the jungles of the Congo on our own anytime soon.)

Unfortunately, most American horror movies and TV shows indulge more in torture and gore than actual chills and thrills. Or they resort to “Boo!” tactics (loud noises and things jumping out of the darkness), which make me jump but not break into goosebumps. They’re just not fundamentally scary. That’s why I found myself mostly immune to the series “American Horror” (think “torture porn meets the CW”) and even last year’s acclaimed ghost flick, “The Conjuring.”

My latest quest for chills is binge-watching “The Walking Dead” (yes, I’m a very late adopter). And while I do find much of it entertaining, after just 1 1/2 seasons, I’m wondering whether it’s worth surviving, or whether I should opt out. Here are some of the issues that have haunted me… [Read more →]

→ No CommentsTags:········

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badges: American Express Gets Real Flaky

January 21st, 2014 · Case Studies

by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango LLC + Usually an American Express Guy

I dig my American Express card. Really. It enables me to buy pallets of cat litter at Costco, which won’t accept any credit card except AmEx. It extends warranties, so when my MacBook fried after the initial warranty expired (how predictable), AmEx paid for the repair. And when it comes to online security, I trust no card more than AmEx.

So why’d they have to go treat me like a 13-year-old? [Read more →]

→ 2 CommentsTags:····

Guest Post: Get This In Your Head — Confessions Of An Aspiring Jingle Writer

November 29th, 2013 · Creativity

by Kim Tronic, Guest Blogger + Freelance Writer

Intro by Freddy J. Nager: I read too many academic journal articles — the literary equivalent of cold oatmeal. Chew on this excerpt:

“Many of these concepts come directly from a semiotic discursive territory —see, for example, the long tradition of semiotic reflections on “intertextuality” (Bakhtin, 1968, 1981; Todorov, 1981) or “multimodality” (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2001; Ventola, Cassil & Kaltenbacher, 2004) — while concepts like “transmedial worlds” are very close to it. In this semantic reflection on TS, the “intertext” concept — another complex expression widely discussed in semiotics and media studies (Agger, 1999) — will not be considered in order to focus on “multimodality.”

Kim Tronic's muse

The muse that mews: Kim’s bengal oversees the creative process…

When I tire of such “communications experts,” I turn to young marketers who have no problem combining personality and thinking. One such rising star is my former student turned freelance writer Kim Tronic, who pens the always amusing blog The Kim Tronicles. In this guest post, she writes about one her favorite pastimes: writing jingles. So enough ranting from me — here’s Kim… [Read more →]

→ 4 CommentsTags:······

Don’t Believe a Word (of Mouth): Black Milk’s 100% Deceptive Case Study

November 21st, 2013 · Case Studies

by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango LLC + Professor of Marketing

“How to Build a Multi-Million Dollar Ecommerce Business
With $0 Marketing Budget”

No, that’s not the subject line of an email in your spam box. That’s the actual headline of a “case study” on Black Milk Clothing, as published on the Shopify blog.

Shopify stupefies.

Shopify stupefies.

A student sent me this case study after I advised him to never put word-of-mouth in a marketing plan. “Word of mouth” means “gossip,” so relying on gossip to provide your marketing is like relying on the lottery to provide your finance.

Yes, every now and then, a business will succeed based on gossip alone. And as I stated in my post about people who don’t advertise, they’re the exception, not the rule.

Black Milk is no exception… [Read more →]

→ 7 CommentsTags:······