Why Objects Matter

Stories are all around us. They're part of our DNA. From our earliest childhood, most of us can remember the sound of Mom or Dad reading stories to us. Stories of superheroes, folktale legends or just simply stories about some pretty wild and wacky characters entertained us for hours on end. The best childhood stories were able to draw you into a plot and world quite different from your own. Worlds where the good guys often won and imaginations ran free.

As we grew up, stories took on a whole new meaning. The books we read and films we watched reflected our "coming of age." As we struggled to find our place in the world, we hoped that stories would help us find meaning in our somewhat confused and chaotic lives. Sometimes we relied on heroes to provide a path through darkness to light. At other times, stories were just a means of escape, a way to temporarily leave the present world to experience a new one in print, on stage or on screen.

While enlightened companies are waking up to the fact that stories can help their brands better connect to consumers, stories can also be of great personal significance when they're a reflection of the objects we own. These objects, artifacts or "Narrative Assets", tell the story of our lives and as a group, can even reflect the story of an entire culture or nation.

Every object, or artifact has a story. Not only does it have a particular meaning for the owner, but it can also have broader implications as well. People are naturally curious beings. Just look at the popularity of museums, art and photography exhibits, antique fairs, movies and social media. We all like to share stories about what's important to us in our lives. Artifacts are one way to help us understand our place in the world.

By relating a story to an object, we're able to connect with others on an emotional level who may or may not have gone through a similar experience. Humans are naturally curious beings and are drawn to objects. What does an object represent? Who owned it? What's it made of? How old is it? and "What's its story?"

Artifacts taken from the site of world changing events can be an important source of reflection. For example, artifacts gathered from Ground Zero were placed in a museum honouring the heroes of that dark day in our history. Artifacts can represent stories that invoke either good or bad memories, but their significance to an individual or to society in general is equally important in that they serve as connecting points to our own community - or to the world in general.

Perhaps more than anything, objects and artifacts have the amazing ability to transcend time and space. When an object is passed on to another generation, that generation bears the weight and responsibility of keeping its memories alive. It's as if the original owner passes his or her story down to future generations through a particular object of great personal importance.

This blog will attempt to find meaning in otherwise everyday objects. In some cases, they may have little significance to the reader - but by adding a story the purpose of the object and its emotional relevance will become clear and generate a life of its own. So whether you're a company looking for innovative ways to showcase your brand, or an individual curious to hear or share some really cool stories, I invite you to take and share in this journey through the fascinating world of "Narrative Assets." Feel free to post your own stories and pictures along the way. I hope you enjoy the adventure.

(Image from http://www.slideshare.net/Timmilne/make-objects-tell-stories)



Wagon Wheels (Reliving The Lunchbox Experience)

My parents were of European heritage so food was important to us. As a child attending public school in suburban Ottawa, my brothers and I rarely ate in the school cafeteria. Instead, my parents would make us lunches that we would schlep to school regardless of weather conditions (this included months of sub-zero temps as Ottawa was second coldest to Moscow).

In my early school days, I remember that plastic lunchboxes were all the rage. Not just any lunchbox, but the coloured “Thermos” ones that often came with pictures of your favourite superheroes or TV show characters. The lunchboxes would come with a good size Thermos container (attached with a clip) that would provide needed warmth with soup or hot chocolate on those endless bitterly cold winter days.

Included in my lunch would always be a sandwich – usually salami, cheese or peanut butter – to give us extra protein. Back then, our lunchboxes weren’t refrigerated at school so it’s amazing none of us came down with food poisoning. I still remember my parents buying those monster size salamis which sometimes looked like small baseball bats. Being a daughter of parents of European heritage, dessert was always a much anticipated treat to find in my lunchbox. If we were lucky, our lunches would also include a small size DelMonte pudding cup (usually chocolate). The cups came with sharp, pull off lids so you had to be careful they didn’t slice your fingers as you rushed to pull them off.

But the item that stands out the most as having the most impact on my day was when I saw a Wagon Wheel in my lunch. These tasty treats (resembling a Joe Louis by Vachon for those of you who grew up near Quebec) consisted of a generous portion of marshmallow sandwiched between two chocolate covered soft biscuits.

As a kid, I knew it would be a good afternoon if my lunch included a Wagon Wheel.

Today, the product hasn’t changed much except that with most consumer products, the size seems to have shrunken a bit. What’s funny is that I still occasionally buy it for a treat. The brand has the incredible ability to take me back to the carefree days of my childhood when a simple treat in my lunchbox was able to make my day.

Eating a Wagon Wheel makes me experience my childhood all over again as in spite of its seemingly smaller size, not much has changed with the product. The taste is still unique and I sense I am that same kid all over again.

What is it about some brands that make them so timeless?

I looked at the new packaging for Wagon Wheels and not much seems to have changed either except for the fact that I’m now looking at it from the eyes of an adult. The font looks the same (quite retro) and each piece is individually wrapped. In what is probably an attempt to bring us back to our Wagon Wheel roots, the company makes it a point of saying the product is “original.” Which is true, because that’s exactly how I remember them.

Yet what hit me the most on the package was the five word line printed directly below the product name “Ideal snack for the lunchbox.” The image right next to it features a yellow lunchbox with a Wagon Wheel and wrapper sitting directly outside of it.

What’s even more intriguing is that I wrote most of this post BEFORE I even took a look at the packaging. Dare Foods totally nailed it. As a consumer, you can’t get any closer to a brand experience than that.

In a world cluttered with competing messages, to me that’s brand genius. Timelessness, taste, experience and meaning make this one brand story that’s destined to be around for a long, long time.

Wagon Wheels






Life and Death In New Orleans (Why Jewellery Is No Match For A Hurricane)

To some, a piece of jewellery is just a piece of jewellery. A static item that represents fashion sensibility, style or status.  Yet to others, the underlying story behind a favourite piece of jewellery may actually be more valuable than the value of the item itself.

I love New Orleans  and have visited there twice. I’m amazed at the energy, life and vibrancy of the place. Unless you experience it for yourself, it’s impossible to understand its magic – magic that makes you fall in love with it over and over again.

In October 2011, my husband and I took a much anticipated trip to NOLA and one afternoon found ourselves in the French Market. The market is a well-known eclectic spot where vendors sell food, food items, clothing and jewellery and other items. I was wandering around when I was struck by a table filled with vibrant colours. The table was full of fun, funky and unique jewellery made by NOLA native Russell Gore. I fell in love with several of the pieces and started talking to Russell. Turns out he was raised in the not so nice part of NOLA called the projects (St. Thomas housing development). His colourful jewellery, dubbed “Made in the Ghetto”, is a stark contrast to the harsh reality faced by others who had a similar upbringing.


(Photo courtesy of Richard Critz Photography http://prints.rwcfoto.com/)

Russell was wearing a huge gold medallion around his neck which he made out of his wife’s gold after she died in his arms during Hurricane Katrina. His life was filled with hardship and tragedy, and could have gone a different route had he not chosen art and photography as a way out of a seemingly desperate situation.

What struck me most about Russell (over and above his incredible talent) was his kindness, compassion and energy for everything and everyone. He had faced such tragedy, yet didn’t seem hardened by it all. There was energy and optimism in his voice.

After talking for a while, I mentioned that I had just been to the music store to buy CD’s by NOLA legend Kermit Ruffins. He told us he knew Kermit, and invited us to attend a local bar called Bullets where Kermit was performing that night. We smiled and said we would try to make it, not knowing anything about this place or part of town where it was located.

Bullets is a hole in the wall sports bar in the 7th ward area in New Orleans (Treme area). The neighbourhood looks tough and some of the clientele equally so. In spite of the “off the beaten path” location, the reviews were excellent and we decided to take a chance. We took a cab to the bar yet even the cab driver got lost. After driving around for what seemed like the longest 20 minutes of my life, we eventually found our way and made it to Bullets. The place had an amazing vibe and quite a mix of demographic. From biker jackets to well-dressed senior couples, anyone was welcome there and no one seemed to care who you were – or where you were from.

Kermit showed up and the place went wild. Russell walked in and everyone knew him. Turns out that if you know Russell and if he likes you, you’re treated with grace and respect. And so we were.

We had a blast. Strangers would raise their glass and everyone was dancing on the floor. Russell was total class, and even chased down Kermit so I could have a picture with him. For those who don’t know, Kermit Ruffins is to NOLA what Bruce Springsteen is to New Jersey.

We talked to the owner of the bar who was a total sweetheart. He told us the story of how he lived through Hurricane Katrina and lost several friends in the process. In great detail, he described the water levels and bodies floating down the streets. One could not help but get teary eyed. Bullets was one of the anchors during the storm and somehow he was able to feed many of the locals. In these parts, he’s known as a hero. He knew and respected everyone, and they did the same. To me, he represented the strength, optimism and resilience shown by many in the New Orleans area.

I still wear the jewellery I bought from Russell. A colourful guitar decorative piece – and eclectic piece I like to think symbolizes life and hope amidst the despair of the projects. To this day, I get more compliments and inquiries on his jewellery than any other pieces I own.


I always wondered what became of Russell and hoped for the best. While researching his story, I came across a recent clip of him on CNN. He was interviewed for a 10th Anniversary story of Katrina  and seems to be doing well.  

When someone compliments me on his jewellery, it’s also a compliment to Russell. So the next time you see an interesting piece of jewellery on someone, take a moment to ask them about it. Because sometimes an object as small and seemingly insignificant as a piece of jewellery can represent a story far more intriguing and inspirational than you can ever imagine.





Nostalgic Over Heinz

Heinz is one of the world’s most iconic and memorable brands. To this day, I refuse to buy any other ketchup than Heinz ketchup. The topic of brand loyalty has long intrigued both manufacturers as well as advertisers and academics. What makes a brand so good – that consumers will go out of their way to buy it every time – regardless of price or the wide array of other options on the grocery shelf?

Iconic global brands have several qualities, but perhaps the most dominant is their ability to invoke some sort of emotional connection in the consumer. By consuming a product represented by a global brand, we are often transported to a different place and time. A time when things were simpler and less rushed. A time when we were perhaps surrounded by family gathered around the television set watching the Flintstones or Walt Disney.

Take Heinz spaghetti. To some, it might be just another option to soup on a cold winter’s day. But to me, the idea of eating Heinz spaghetti has a far deeper connection and meaning. Having grown up with 3 brothers, I remember us all eating Heinz spaghetti on (usually wobbly) TV trays  watching our old black and white TV on those long and cold winter days. On some days we might have come home for a quick lunch from school. My grandmother would open up a couple of cans, then serve them to us sprinkled with Kraft grated parmesan cheese.  I still remember shaking those large green containers with the red lids. I also remember watching the spaghetti boil as the odour of tomato sauce filled our house.

We loved Heinz spaghetti, and I still eat it today when I want to feel nostalgic. That’s one reason comfort foods exist. When it comes to brands, it’s not so much what they ARE – but what they DO to us that represents their true quality and value. A brand is a promise of quality, and I know that whether it’s today or 10 years from now, Heinz will still offer me the same quality product I experienced when I was 10.

Perhaps most importantly, it will offer me the same brand STORY I experienced when I was 10. Brands offer context, and whenever I eat Heinz spaghetti I’m transported back to childhood. It represents comfort food and reminds me of a time when we were all together as a family.

To me, it’s not just another can of convenience food. It’s a promise that what I experience when I eat it will contain good memories and will make me feel good about the purchase. That’s what iconic brands do – and will always continue to do. It’s what makes them unique.

Are there any other brands you can think of that offer you a similar story? Are all brand decisions based on price, or do you sometimes buy something just because it reminds you of another place and time?




What Alois Said

They called him the “Butcher of Prague” and the “blonde beast.” A man known to carry out his tasks with brutal efficiency, even Hitler called him the “man with the iron heart.”

Reinhard Tristan Eugen Heydrich, a high ranking German Nazi during World War 2, arrived in Prague with the intent of suppressing Czech culture and deporting and executing members of the Czech resistance. Also nicknamed “the hangman”, Heydrich was one of the most fearsome members of the Nazi elite. One of the chief architects of the Holocaust, he was the leading planner in Hitler’s Final Solution.

On May 27, 1942, Heydrich was attacked in Prague by a team of British trained Czech and Slovak soldiers sent by the Czech government in exile to kill him. The project was called Operation Anthropoid and revenge was swift and lethal. The Germans falsely linked the assassins to two Czech villages. One village was burned to the ground, men and boys over 16 were shot, and most women and children were taken to Nazi concentration camps.

Heydrich died one week later of his injuries.

So why does this man – and this horrific event in history matter to me? Because if it weren’t for the man in this picture, I might not be alive today.

If a picture can say a thousand words, then this one can tell a thousand stories. One day while picking through my Mom’s old ruffled family photo album, I came across this photo of her as a young girl. She’s being held by her Uncle Lola (Alois), her mother’s older brother. It was taken in Prague along the river Vltava circa the 1940’s.

My Mom describes Uncle Lola as “A tall, not too handsome man, but with a beautiful and kind heart.” He lived in a small European size flat with his wife in a 5th floor apartment in Prague. They had a child (boy) called Jan, who contracted scarlet fever but was treated with penicillin. Unfortunately he was sent to school too soon which seemed to affect his heart. Poor Jan died at the age of 8. The death of Jan had a great impact on Lola’s marriage. It slowly fell apart. His wife left him, and he remarried a gold digger who just wanted his pension. In the end, he suffered a stroke and died a lonely man somewhere in a hospital in Prague. A sad ending to the story of a man I never knew.

An only child, my Mom didn’t have much family in Czechoslovakia. Both her parents were Czech. Her Dad (who died months before I was born…my Opa) went to law school at Charles University in Prague then worked as a lawyer. Her Mom (my Omi), was his secretary and later on became his wife.

The family grew up in Czechoslovakia during turbulent times when the country was invaded by just about every brutal regime on the planet. What little they had was soon confiscated by whatever forces happened to be invading at the time.

To this day, my Mom has very fond memories of Uncle Lola. She remembers him, his apartment – even being at the funeral of his son. But it’s time spent with him around Prague that holds the most meaning. On May 27, 1942, Uncle Lola had taken my Mom to the Prague Zoo. An armed German soldier approached them as they were making their way home. Remember that the Germans were bloodthirsty for revenge and weren’t about to spare anybody. Which makes the next part of the story even more unbelievable.

There was a heated conversation, and understandably my Mom (then a child) was quite terrified. I’m sure Uncle Lola was too, although whatever it was he said to the Nazi saved both himself as well as my Mom. Looking at what happened that day, and the deadly consequences on innocent Czech civilians of Operation Anthropoid, there’s no reason that they both shouldn’t have been shot on the spot in cold blood.

I wish I had known Uncle Lola. Because I would have thanked him. If it wasn’t for his smarts and quick thinking, I might not even be here today.

After having led what seemed to be a life full of tragedy in a very dangerous and turbulent time in history, I felt it necessary to tell his story. Because a picture isn’t always just a picture. There are real people, stories and memories behind pictures too.

Pictures tell the story of our past – and help us to understand our present.

The story of a moment. Imagine for a brief second, how it would have felt – to have been confronted by a revenge thirsty Nazi officer during a time of total hysteria? How would you react knowing, that the next words coming out of your mouth could mean the difference between life and death?

Uncle Lola – today I honour you. Your bravery shall not be forgotten for you are a true hero. Thank you.


Superbowl Envy: What Canadian Advertisers Can Learn From The Americans

I'm not a die hard football fan, but I tune into the Superbowl every year. I love the excitement of professional sports played out at an almost superhuman level. There's also a sought after entertainment factor which never fails to impress during the Superbowl. The half time shows are one thing, but there is also a sense of anticipation at being able to see the latest crop of advertising wizardry.

Yet every year around the water cooler, online and on radio stations across the country, the banter focuses on how much Canadians long to see the American commercials - as opposed to the often uncreative and (dare I say) unengaging Canadian ones. With some exceptions (McDonald's and BlackBerry were interesting this year), most Canadian commercials are, for lack of a better term, boring. If I have to see one more bank commercial I think I'm going to cry. And what's up with Bell? A communications giant, yet there's absolutely no creativity to their ads. To make matters worse, the same ads are run over and over again to the point where I start pressing the mute button every time they come on.

Come on people - it's Superbowl time! Engage me. Intrigue me. Make me want to talk about your brand in a positive way. Martin Short, one of the planet's funniest comedians, was introduced as a spokesperson for a contest run by the Lay's brand of potato chips. He's brilliant. But the jokes weren't funny.

What's missing in most Canadian commercials is a real understanding of story - and how it can engage a consumer by bringing up a positive memory - or tugging on their heartstrings. For brilliant examples of how to do this, check out the Budweiser, Dodge Ram and  Chrysler Jeep commercials which ran during the Superbowl. 

And even if the story is silly or stupid (as in slapstick comedy), it can have a huge impact on brand memory and recognition through its use of humour. Check out the Doritos commercial which uses a goat to get its point across. Story doesn't always have to be "deep."

It also doesn't have to be expensive. Look at Hollywood. Good storylines and interesting characters put Blockbusters and low budget movies on even playing fields. And that's before you factor in the benefits of social media.

Now I don't think for a minute that all Canadians nor all agencies are uncreative and boring. There are exceptions to what seems to be the norm. So whose fault is it? Are clients just not buying more creative pitches? Are Canadians really happy with the status quo and are they just unwilling to see riskier and more exciting commercials?

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that both agencies and their clients need to take more chances. Don't tell me the great fuel economy I'll get by buying your brand of car. Don't tell me about the cool dashboard with the nifty new GPS device. So what. Every other car company is telling me the same thing.

Make me remember your brand. SHOW me how I can save mileage and how I can use the GPS device by telling me a story. Use that story about how, years ago, my first driving lesson was in a Ford station wagon. Transport that sense of fear and excitement to the ad. Show how my parents used to take the car on what seemed like endless summer road trips...and how they used maps to get us from Point A to Point B (not always successfully). And how today things have changed because gas mileage is better - and there are onboard TV screens to keep the kids quiet - and how GPS is used to navigate the new worlds of both superhighways and more remote destinations (and how unlike maps, they never require folding). 

Compare the old with the new. Because somewhere deep inside, your brand has earned a spot in my memory.

Engage me. Dazzle me. Get my emotions involved. But please don't bore me with an endless run of statistics and features. And really boring spokespeople.

It's time to battle Superbowl envy with story and lessen the gap between what Canadians want to see, and what they're getting. It's time for a cure.



Brad Pitt Generates "Inevitable" Backlash for Chanel No. 5

As the first male spokesperson for iconic brand Chanel No. 5, Brad Pitt has generated a fury of controversy..not all of which can be bad for the company. Cited as "vague" by viewers and countless media outlets, Pitt seems to confuse the audience with his ramble about life's journeys, luck, fate and fortune. The ads have generated so much buzz, that they have already been spoofed on Saturday Night Live, Ellen and Conan.

Yet the effect of all this buzz is, to use his word, "inevitable."  The ad has generated over 4 million hits on YouTube. To quantify the amount of free publicity garnished by Chanel with the launch of these print and TV ads would be astounding.

Whoever said that there's no such thing as bad publicity would certainly stand up for this one. According to Vanity Fair, the launch of the ad campaign was made to co-incide with the release of Pitt's new movie Killing Them Softly. Brilliant marketing on both sides.

So while the critics are spending time tearing up the ad, both Chanel and Pitt can be assured of one thing. People are talking about it. And in the world of brand marketing, just having people talk about your product will ensure that the Chanel brand story continues to live on in the minds and emotions of consumers. 


Walt Disney On Why It's Not Good To Grow Up

As a child growing up in Ottawa, I was exposed to a world of imagination through music, reading and stories. My parents were originally from Europe and I was quickly introduced to fables and folklore from the "old country." An outgoing child, I would often take the outdoor stage at our favourite lake in the Gatineau Park and put on a show for my family. Acting, singing, writing - they were all part of who I was as a young child.

Unfortunately as I grew older and responsibilities started to take over, I lost my sense of imagination and some of my creativity. My life took a different direction, and I ended up in the world of the "practical" having to deal with deadlines, commitments and pleasing "stakeholders."

Once in a while, my sense of imagination and creativity make a re-appearance. It happens when I browse through antique markets, check out the dusty corner of a guitar store - or see a movie like Wes Anderson's recent Moonrise Kingdom - the story of rediscovering youth and imagination in the remoteness of small town America.

Walt Disney once said "Too many people grow up. That's the real trouble with the world, too many people grow up. They forget. They don't remember what it's like to be twelve years old. They patronize, they treat children as inferiors. Well, I won't do that." Words on which to build a marketing empire.

In a world full of complex ideas, quick fix hits and information measured in gigabytes - it's up to marketers to reinspire their audience to encourage them to act. More than storytelling, this requires the ability to "hit us" where it will have most impact. Find some way to connect your product with our youth. It's a powerful selling tool. Tom Peters said that a "brand reaches out with a powerful connecting experience." It's almost a primeval way of hitting us at the gut level to re-ignite something that has been lost for so many years.

Being an adult is definitely a wonderful experience. Yet the success of movies and books that cater to the imagination and one's inherent creativity tell me that there's a void in the lives of many adults. It's a void that makes people long for a simpler time - a time when being a child held all the magic and wonder of life - and the thought of growing up was a story yet about to unfold.


The Bistro On Main: Branding From A Foodie Perspective

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I took a road trip to Elora Ontario to check out an antiques fair. Pleasantly tired but starving, we were in the mood for a casual dining experience. Decked out in jeans, we didn't feel comfortable walking into a high end dining place nor did we want to shell out big bucks for the experience.

After a disappointing search in Guelph, we opted to head back to Toronto and stop off in Milton. After all, it was a road trip and we could eat in Toronto any day.

As far as dining goes, Milton offers one strip full of pubs and restaurants. Great variety - but the options were either too casual (ie. greasy foods) or too formal. Just when we were about to give up, we came across a lovely hip venue called The Bistro On Main.

Although there were what seemed like Christmas decorations in the window, we decided to give the place a chance. The menu looked perfect. Gourmet salads and sandwiches at very reasonable prices. The place is bistro-size (aka smallish) but that suited our needs just fine

Service was excellent, and the food was amazing. I expected "OK" food, but the experience told us that this place really cares about its customers. Great quality, at extremely reasonable prices. We could tell the chef really put a lot of effort into creating the best "sandwich" experience. I had grilled crabmeat and cheese which was incredible. The fresh wheat bread was a nice touch too. The more than generous portions meant we could take home enough food to cover our lunch the next day.

Now I'm not writing this solely to plug this place (but I'm giving it a huge thumbs up). My point is that there are lots of ways to make your brand stand out. Give me a good experience, and I will return. Not only will I return, but I will talk about it too. And those people will tell other people.

In the ultra competitive food business, there are way too many options for consumers. We gave this place a chance, and were extremely impressed. What counted most was the effort and care the owner (Jonathan Yau) put into every dish. The quality, the amount, the look, the seasoning, the service..it all blended together into a delightful symphony of the stomach. And it didn't cost us a fortune for the experience.

Branding is about finding a way to make your business or name stand out. It's about your story, and the story you and your customers tell to other people. Set the precedent and give your customers a fabulous experience, and you will stand out and succeed.

And the next time you're in Milton, do stop in and say hi to Jonathan. And say Karen from Toronto sent you.








Coca-Cola Shares The Love With Launch of New Hug Machine

As part of its ongoing effort to engage customers in the brand experience, Coca-Cola has launched a novel idea called the Hug Machine. Launched at the National University of Singapore in March, the machine is part of the company's "Open Happiness" campaign that began in the US in 2009.

The giant red machine boasts the words "Hug Me" on the front and it contains no coin slot. When people hug the front of the machine it delivers a free can of Coke. Needless to say, the machine boasts an endless array of photo ops and YouTube clips which result in even more PR and brand coverage for the company.

Talk about establishing an emotional connection with the audience! Coca-Cola has always been a leader in the concept and technique of brand storytelling. As Schulich School of Business Marketing Professor Markus Giesler says "A brand that's high up on a billboard wants to dominate me, but a brand that can be hugged wants to be my friend."

Many of the world's most successful brands are able to create and maintain emotional relationships with customers. The more "human" marketers can make these brands, the better the chance of success. Not only is Coke's technique entertaining, it also fosters relationships and creates a sense of community. The next time participants walk down the supermarket aisle - which soft drink brand do you think they'll choose?

In the end, isn't it nice to know that you can still be successful by putting a smile on everyone's face?


On The Money: What Brad Pitt Can Teach Us About Life And Business

The film Moneyball (based on Michael Lewis' book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game), looks at the Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane's (played by Brad Pitt) less conventional approach to the practice of hiring professional baseball players.

While baseball traditionalists tend to hire based on certain criteria (highly athletic hitters and their good looking girlfriends), Beane is convinced there has to be a better way to hire players for teams whose budgets come nowhere near those of other teams in the Major Leagues. He decides that traditional statistical formulations used to gage player success weren't representative of a player's true potential, and starts to build a winning team based on less expensive options. As an example, instead of looking at pitchers with incredible throwing speeds, Beane looked at pitchers who could get more ground outs.

Player attributes that were less focused on looks were often used in Beane's selections. While one player was shunned by the majors due to his odd-looking pitching arm and style, Beane looked at other aspects of his record and decided he was a potential winner. By applying his technique, Beane was able to assemble a winning team that could compete with major competitors fielding huge budgets.

So what does Brad Pitt have to do with life and business?

  • Smart risk taking can have a huge potential payoff. He went against tradition, took a risk in doing so, and won
  • To solve a problem, sometimes you have to look beyond the obvious
  • Using creativity and ingenuity, he transformed his position from being one of having an unfair advantage to that of a winner. He did this by identifying unique strengths in others that the majority of people in his industry dismissed
  • Given a chance, underdogs can turn out to be winners. It takes someone who "thinks outside the crowd" to give them that chance
  • You can't hire people solely based on looks or the fact that they might have some perceived "quirkiness" that doesn't fit the norm. They have other attributes that will make them shine (and make YOU shine too)
  • The greatest form of flattery is imitation - after Beane's success, other Major League teams tried to copy his winning formula

What do you think businesses can learn from the way Billy Beane achieved success? Why does there always seem to be resistance to new ways of thinking - when the people who think differently are often the ones who are able to change the world?