Taking on Challenges

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When it comes to seeking clients, I try to find challenging projects and start-ups. Building a brand from the bottom-up and executing marketing turnarounds are some of the best ways to build a reputation as a marketer.

Seeking opportunities with “good” companies — while always nice for your client list and resume — don’t necessarily distinguish you. It’s always easier to guide a boat on course than one in turbulent waters.

Still those good company experiences have value for practitioners. What you get from good companies is a sense of functional system and process, which of course can be replicated elsewhere.

However, it’s when you take a no-name brand or one that’s struggling and successfully market them that you really cut your teeth. You succeed in the hardest of situations, and other potential clients take note. Of course, turnarounds are hard because you’re often the harbinger of change.

The art of a turnaround can be seen as embracing changing circumstances. A recent NY Times article on Catholic church reform discussed two common approaches to change, the Donatist or a circle the wagons approach vs. the embrace the change method of St. Augustine.

Almost every organization in crisis meets the change with infighting and a consolidation towards core values. Donatists reign.

Successful turnarounds involve the opposite approach, usually embracing antagonizing movements and moving towards common goals.

Whether integrating within an enterprise or appeasing external (and sometimes angry) stakeholders for the common good, the Augustinian approach is the more challenging one. It’s scary for entrenched power brokers. It often shakes up common views of business, at least within the enterprise. The Donatists throw up road blocks wherever possible, creating political quagmires.

Turnarounds are not easy.

No only do they require embracing change, but they also demand a laser focused strategy that creates early wins. While a strategist has her/his eye on long-term objectives, quick successes build trust and stifle criticism.

These two overriding principles: Embrace dangerous change and do so with quick successes are the two critical components of a turn-around, in my opinion. There are many other aspects, most of which deal with day-to-day management and tactics. But understanding these two approaches creates the necessary strategic precursors to righting a ship.

What do you think about taking on big challenges?


  • They’re frightening as hell. But when you succeed, there’s nothing like that feeling.

  • I love big challenges. I always have. It’s why I sought out the “hard” instructors in college and grad school. I need to be challenged, or I quickly lose interest.

    • You seem like the type to run a Tough Mudder! Oh, you are!!! And that’s no coincidence.

      I also lose interest quickly, very quickly. People laugh at me and say the grass never grows green under my feet. Oh well.

      • I don’t know about that. You seem to take time to enjoy life, and you don’t run pellmell after things. You just find joy in the challenge and in the work.

  • Turnaround is very difficult to achieve if a company has a bad leadership and culture. You will be eventually thrown out since people don’t like to change.
    For example, I turned around a company in less than three months pertaining to sales and the CEO fired me since he attributed my success to an accident. He got his accidental insurance.

    • I have seen that before, and have to say that I do look at the management structure and behavior closely. And when I see too many of the wrong tells, I run away. Fast. Good point, Jay.

    • Such a good point. I’m all for challenges, but I’ve learned to run when all the wrong tells are there.

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