Sometimes, going the same direction as everyone else doesn’t yield the same results. Being successful in doing the opposite of the norm, Allen Fahden, shares his knowledge and perception when it comes to advertising your products and services. Listen in and learn all about the opposite effect and how being a dumbass can be your greatest weapon. Understand why you need to treat ideas as valuables and protect them from being killed by objections. Allen also talks about the difference of being an innovator and an advancer and gives an example of extremely successful people who fall under those two categories. In addition to this, he also differentiates between being an early adopter and a later adopter as he discusses the roles they play in realizing an idea and driving your business to success.
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Playing The Opposite Game To Be Successful In Business with Allen Fahden
Our guest Allen Fahden wrote the book on innovation and then used these techniques to create global attention by selling it with this One-Book Book Store. His business card says Another Dumbass Author, but he has worked with 20 of the top 100 companies in the world, including having Jeff Bezos, Amazon, and Disney as clients. He changed the course of my life as a 23-year-old when I heard him speak and throw $2 bills at me and everyone in attendance.
He single-handedly taught me how to stand out by doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing. From having dancing players to selling Dolce and Banana underwear to hosting flatulence, fun nights, and morning beer festivals to having a world book tour at Epcot to promote my book. Allen has impacted many decisions I’ve made and countless others in the business world. Allen, I am absolutely fired up to connect with you and have some fun together.
It’s already fun. Thanks, Jesse.
I’m excited because I heard you speak many years ago and I was inspired. The whole mindset of thinking the exact opposite you call it the Oppo-tunity, which I love. I want to know a little bit about your background. How did you find this idea and your Oppo-tunity?
It was in a chair in a barbershop in the last century and I saw an ad. I just got out of school and the ad showed a picture of a little tiny Volkswagen and it said lemon. Of course, lemon is the symbol for a car that not only doesn’t work now. It’s never going to work. It’s like, “Who would call their own car a lemon?” I had to read the rest of this and the guy could have given me a mohawk. I wouldn’t have cared because I was into this ad. I read the ad and it said, “We have 1,700 inspectors in our Wolfsburg factory, so we catch every bad car before it comes off the assembly line, and then we break it down into parts. We correct the mistakes and we build it again, so you don’t get any lemons.”
The lemon we’re calling this car. It was that one car that we caught on the assembly line and never got out. We pluck all the lemons and you get all the clumps and I went, “I’ve got to do this. What is this?” I was working at a TV station at the time and the weatherman says, “That’s advertising. That’s where you make up stuff.” I went, “I want to do that. Do you get paid for that?” “Yeah.” I fought like crazy to get into the ad business. It was a catch-22. “We’d like to let you in but you don’t have advertising experience.” “How do I get advertising experience?” “You work in advertising. It’s obvious, isn’t it?” I’ve read Catch-22.
About why I started my own agency at age 25 is called Fahden As in Cat because nobody could pronounce my name. I thought, “That’ll help them. F as in Frank. A as in Cat.” One day, my aunt called directory assistance in Minneapolis and she was from Chicago. She said, “Do you have a listing for an Allen Fahden?” The operator said, “You mean Fahden As in Cat?” At that point, I went, “I had something here.” I found out that there was no way to come up with concepts.
There was no single unifying principle of creativity that allowed people to come up with concepts. I tested this thing of doing the opposite because I observed in about every award-winning ad campaign, there was an opposite. I saw it in movies where you want to make a murderer especially scary. Stanley Kubrick played it in A Clockwork Orange and he played the happy music. It’s combining opposite elements, so I came up with a method to do it.
I went to work at a big ad agency and sold my agency to them. “I was your creative director. We only had beginners. I taught this to them. We won 29 national awards.” I said, “That’s good.” I heard one of your former guests who were wonderful, Duncan Wardle. Duncan says, “Where do people get their ideas to shower?” Number one idea place. I was tired of being clean and having my skin wrinkled because I would spend hours in the shower trying to get ideas. I thought, “What if I had a method based on real principles that work?”
What were some of the crazy things you did at the beginning of an agency to create attention that was opposite? I want to put some practical framework for the audience here.
It was mostly applied at the time to advertising because I had this little agency. Nobody had ever heard of me but I did some advertising. One in the Minnesota advertising awards, best of show and best campaign. It was for a little wine place and it was about these grapes that are late picked. It was called Noble Rot. I wrote a headline and said, “Impress your friends with rotten wine.” That helped get the agency kicked off. We were in a beautiful old mansion for offices, but we were burglarized seven times, so I put an ad in the paper and it said, “Attention burglars. Fahden As in Cat has moved to 430 Oak Grove.”
You started drawing attention. You mentioned the Von Restorff effect.
The guy said, “I’ll give you $1,000 if you can prove that to me.” I showed him all the evidence and all the Von Restorff research, and I said, “Where’s my $1,000?” He goes, “I’m not going to pay you.”
What is the effect based to say about being different?
We perceive all elements in a sequence and that’s the way we get our communication. Words come after words, pictures move, and film goes in frames. Everything is in a sequence. In any sequence, the best to remember are the first and the last element in the sequence, and it has to do with the way the brain works or short-term memory and long-term memory. The first one gets kicked into long-term memory so you remember the last one stays in short-term memory. That’s why you remember the first and the last. Von Restorff has also found out any element that breaks the pattern in the middle. If you have XXXXO, that O is going to be remembered far in excess of all the Xs. What happens is the repetitive pattern becomes the context and then the opposite becomes the burr under the saddle that breaks the pattern that makes all the noise so you can use context to set up your idea to be more powerful.
Is it more important when you’re coming up with an ad? What’s the best way you would say to stand out? You want to sell an AC unit. You’re in the heating and cooling company. How would you stand out? What would be the framework you would use?
The first thing I would look for is what’s obvious. Let’s say an air conditioner. What’s obvious about air conditioners? What do they do?
They cool down the house.
What’s the opposite of cool?
The air conditioner heats the house. How can that be true? Generally, if there’s an air conditioner, there’s hot air coming out somewhere, some heat exchange. They say that if your car is overheating, turn on the heat. Musty as it is, turn on the heat. It ties in with that exercise in the book. How do you sell refrigerators to Eskimos? It used to be the cliché. Igloos are in cold weather. You’d start with heat. The way you sell a refrigerator to Eskimos is a refrigerator can’t plug-in, of course, in an igloo, but a refrigerator still insulates things. You can use it to keep your pizza warm if you get a pizza delivery in your igloo. That’s a way an Eskimo could need a refrigerator.
I would first go with heat, and then go from there and find a context to put air conditioning into. It could be any number of things. You may turn up the heat too much in your furnace and you’ll need an air conditioner to cool it down or your refrigerator breaks down and you’re going to need an air conditioner to keep your food cool until you can get a new refrigerator. It’s messing around with the general principles and their opposites. What you’re doing is bouncing back and forth between hot and cold. Another way to sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo is who says that Eskimos have to stay in the North Pole? One of them could move to Phoenix and live in a condo instead of an igloo. How hard would it be to sell a refrigerator if they didn’t have one?
It’s almost usually the opposite way that it could use it. When you start saying the AC, I was like, “To keep all your food cold, use this unit,” and it doesn’t make any sense. You have a chapter in your book that says, “Be a dumbass.” You’ve even put this on your business card. For the people who are reading that might have lost on that right there. How does that work? What have you done to say, “This is going to stand out. This is going to be different and create attention by being a dumbass?”
Part of being a dumbass is doing something nobody else would do. Jesse, welcome to the dumbass club because I know that you have done a lot of things that nobody else would do. Our business paradigm is that we think we need to do something somebody can’t do so we need a technological edge. There are only many technological edges, so do something somebody won’t do. For example, the yin and the yang, are you familiar with that? The little circle with the black area and the white area. There’s a little dot of its own opposite. In other words, the field of black has a dot of white and a field of white has a dot of black. That’s to show that everything contains its own opposite.
When you’re trying to come up with something, think about this. With that yin and yang in mind, the theme of the Another Boring, Derivative, Piece of Crap Business Book is that stupid is the new smart. Everybody’s going to say, “That’s idiotic. Where’s the data?” “Here’s some data. How many new businesses fail? What’s the loose percentage of new products? Ninety percent to ninety-five percent.” “What does that mean? Is everybody trying to do stupid things?” “No, everybody’s trying to do smart things. There are a lot of smart ideas that fail.” I’m going to start sounding like Seinfeld. “If a smart idea can fail, doesn’t that mean a stupid idea could succeed?”
I don’t know what the numbers are because not that many people do stupid ideas. You’ve done a lot of what somebody might call stupid ideas and they’ve succeeded wildly. I would say there are an unspoken high percentage of stupid ideas that can make it, and what you need to do with any stupid idea is make sure it doesn’t kill people. Get as many of the dumb things out of it as possible. The things you know are going to whack you right away. That’s why, as part of the book, I invented the WHO-DO Method, which is handing the idea off to the right person so that you can get the flaws out of it but the idea stays alive. In the meantime, we can deflaw it without killing it.
Go into the WHO-DO Method. That’s fascinating.
This is based on the idea that people have core natures. That’s not your personality. Your personalities are, are you outgoing? Are you an introvert? Myers-Briggs and all that. This is more based on, are you an early adopter or a later adopter? About 110 years of research into diffusion of innovation as a marketing tool everybody talks about. Simon Sinek talks about it, but it’s been around for many years. That’s about how we buy things. I took that into the company and said, “Maybe we buy ideas the same way we buy a product.”
If you think about it, most products are ideas. They’re made manifest, whether it’s a service which is intangible or a product that is tangible. Let people classify themselves and say, “Here’s who I am. Here’s what I love to do.” We took early adopters, those are the people who want the new ideas, but they don’t want to do the details. The late adopters who are great at the details and you need them to finish things, but they don’t want that new idea coming in and messing everything up.
People are talking about that in companies. A lot of training people and HR people, “You always go to the early adopters to get innovation done.” I’m in the back of the room and I raised my hand and said, “How do you know who they are?” They said, “We don’t. We haven’t gotten that far yet.” This tells you who the early adopters and the later adopters are then it also tells you whether a person is a thinker naturally or a doer. I’m a pure thinker. I’ll do a crazy idea but don’t ask me to get it done. I got a museum of ideas that just lay there. I’m hoping to get it done. Can I share one of them with you?
Yeah, let’s go into it.
I was looking at the technology market and everybody’s trying to sell things to the Millennials, Gen Z, and all the people that are most likely to adopt the technology. Everybody’s chasing after that crowd. I said, “Who’d be the worst possible market segment?” People like me.
The older people.
I’m older than dirt but I’m also the guy who sat in line for eight hours to buy the first iPhone in 2007, only to find out I paid $200 too much for it. I didn’t care because I loved it anyway. Why not have something that honors older people and make technology easy for them to adopt, but only in areas that will benefit them and make their lives better? It’s a simple niche market. It’s called Geezerware. The idea is this. The lead product is free. It’s an app and you can download it. This is lying around on my floor here. I need things to get this done. First of all, I need an advancer to get the thing done and make the thing work.Everything is in a sequence. In any sequence, the best remembered are the first and the last element in the sequence. Click To Tweet
The first product, you download it and it’s free, and it’s called Why Did I Come into this Room? If you know people who are getting along in years, it’s called the senior moment and everything, walk down the hall. By the time you get to the end of the hall, you open the door to the bedroom, “Why am I here? What was I coming in here for?” This would use existing technology or just record your voice. The minute you start your trip down the hall, you say, “Siri,” or whatever it is and you say, “I’m going to the bedroom. Look for the remote.” You get into the bedroom and you say, “Why did I come into this room?” The little electronic servant comes on and replays your statement.
Why isn’t this invented? This seems like a necessity.
What’s the business model? It’s brilliant. If the remote is not in the bedroom, what you can do is you can download this other app, which is where the hell did I put that? That’s what that’s called. What you did is when you put the remote on the coffee table because your hands were full and you were trying to get some dishes back of the dishwasher, you say, “I’m putting the remote on the coffee table.” You would say, “Where the hell did I put that?” “I’m putting the remote on the coffee table.”
It is using that mindset a little bit. Everyone is trying to go the young. I’m going after the old in a different way using something that already exists. It’s combining elements too.
Arthur Koestler said it best in The Act of Creation, 1961. He says, “We don’t create. Everything is already created. We combined. We take elements.”
When you look at things that wouldn’t work, for instance, I think about our morning beer festival. You drink beer at night. You don’t drink beer in the morning. When we hosted the morning beer festival, everyone was confused at first, “Are they doing this? Why are they doing this?” We only sold about 100, 200 tickets. The next year, it sold out because the people they were paying told everyone that they were drinking beer at 8:00 AM on a baseball field. It’s that opposite effect.
A baseball team sells t-shirts and hats. They don’t sell Dolce and Banana underwear. We sell food. A big banana on the crotch and a small banana on the crotch. The small banana sells dramatically. These are some of the ideas and concepts. I want to share some more examples from you because it’s fascinating to say, “This may be a stupid idea on the outside but it will get people talking that may make it stand out amongst all the me toos.” I think of some of the things that you’ve done, obviously, the One-Book Book Store. Allen, I’ve got to say, I’ve shared on stage your story of that about 100 times. I might’ve sold 1 or 2 books. Hopefully, that helps.
Even the wine event you did. I remember the wine event, the wine slobbery. Can you share that and maybe the SuckCess posters? I want to give the context of some of these things that you’ve done to say, “Look at the opposite way it’s done and let’s do it the complete different way.”
Let’s start with the SuckCess posters. By the way, I was doing that work in Santa Barbara. I came up with that idea. This is 1995, maybe, I was at an internet coffee shop and the guy who was tending the internet part of it goes to shut down my computer and he sees what I was doing. He registered a domain named SuckCess.com. Fortune Magazine was writing this up years later and the reporter calls and screams at me because the website I gave her got her to a porn site. This guy made a porn site out of it. I said, “I never gave you the website.” She said, “Maybe I looked for it, but why is that a porn site?” I told her and she said, “Okay.”
Readers, we will not look this site up.
Do not go there.
Let’s go to the posters.
I didn’t like those SuckCessories posters much. I saw it and I was like, “Somebody buys a bunch of posters and hangs them up in the office.” At worst, it’s like, “I don’t have to talk to anybody. I can get motivated by this poster.” I didn’t like it at all. As a pure creator, the revenge of a creator is not to attack something, it’s to satirize it. I thought, “What can I do?” I did almost the exact same look. Nonetheless, the law encourages parody but always change something because you don’t want to look like you’re trying to capitalize on their trade dress. You’ll lose a lawsuit. I came up with a demotivational poster, which showed beautiful blue skies and it said, “Give up. You’re a loser, no motivational crap is going to change that.” We faxed it because that’s all you could do in those days to recycle paper products. They faxed us back a five-year contract and they turned down to about 1,000 ideas a week or they did at the time.
I came up with a whole bunch of different ones. It became a thing. Somebody saw what we were doing. When Fortune did the article, there’s a Despair.com thing. This is a guy who knocked us off completely and even copied our trade dress. He was doing $7 million a year because he was on the internet. What did we do? We sold them as greeting cards and they put them in malls. We’re selling business stuff to housewives. That’s why we need all of this. People will say, “No, don’t do that. You don’t want to be in suburban shopping malls.”
It’s the power of parody. You’re like, “Everyone is seeing this.” It’s like, “People appreciate that, but let’s poke fun at it.” People like that like it or don’t like it, they run to that. I want to give a few more examples. A lot of us are parallel thinkers. We see that idea and it’s like, “Can we use that as well?” Mention the wine event you did.
I used to have these things called mystery parties where I would rent a school bus and put a keg in it and some cheap wine. We’d take people to group belly dancing lessons and we did a parody of Bowling for Dollars, it was Bowling for Nuclear Weapons. One of the things is in Minneapolis. The 510 Groveland was one of the best restaurants in town, it’s like a five-star restaurant, and they were my client. I arranged with the owner to have a wine tasting. We sat everybody down and we brought them in the school bus, unload them and we had the private room.
The waiters were wearing tuxedos, carrying around silver trays, three glasses in front of you with a rating card, bouquet, body, and so forth. The five things that you’d write a wine on during your tasting and we’re all ready to go. They said, “And now, the wines.” They bring in these three bottles of wine and one was Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill, another one was Annie Green Springs and the other one was Mogen David 20/20, also known as Mad Dog 20/20.
For the marijuana crowd, these were all sweet wines that would get the taste out of your mouth. It’s their cheapest possible wines. We were swirling it around to see if it was full-bodied or not. We kept the pretense up all the way. You always have French bread to clear the palate, maybe a little pate. The waiters come in their tux with silver trays. On the trays were Premium Saltine Crackers and Cheese Whiz. It’s festive from the people at craft.
The idea that the nicest possible gala you could have, there are food and drinks that would never be served at that gala and it becomes remarkable for people and they laugh.
We talked about content and context. The content was the cheap wines. The context was the five-star restaurant. What you want to do is pick one rule to break, which is instead of having great wines, have awful wines, and then keep everything else the same. You have control of both, the content and the context. The juice is not so much what they are, but how they relate to each other. The further you can pull them apart, the more powerful the idea is. The reason is that perception is a constant. You understand something when you understand it. I’ll give you an example, a hand clap. If the elements are close together, I can’t make it too much noise when I clap my hands. Put your hands almost together and clap them, it’s faint. If you take your hands way far apart and clap them, it’s much more powerful. That’s what you have control of. You don’t have control over time. You have control over space. You make distance between the elements.
Break one rule. I have an idea book. I’m sure you do too, at some point. The idea book that I got from Mike. I write ten ideas every day. One that came in context of this was, our bathrooms are 1926 ballpark, Allen. We have a 1926 stadium. It’s an older stadium. The bathrooms aren’t the nicest. Our rival is the Macon Bacon. We have Macon Bacon urinal cakes that our fans are irritated. It’s an older bathroom. One idea I wrote was, “One stall creates the golden throne.” It’s the nicest stall ever assembled. You have the bathroom attendant. It looks like it’s on gold. It’s perfectly manicured. There’s marble inside it. You wouldn’t expect to walk into a bathroom and then all of a sudden like, “What is that?” Is that what you’re saying dissonance between the two?
Absolutely. You have the worst possible context. I imagine, there are certain times, for example, you could be standing there at a urinal when Babe Ruth hit his 60th home run in 1927 or whatever it was. There are a bunch of things you can do with that too. I wouldn’t ever do two ideas at once. Your golden throne is a beautiful opposite.
Poke fun sometimes at the situation. You poke fun at it and go the opposite route. You wrote, “Find what’s funny and apply it to your business. Be silly. If it makes you laugh, it could be a revenue generator.” Is that the mindset? You were like, “Does this make me laugh?”
If you tell an idea to somebody and it makes them laugh, you know you’re onto something and it’s like, “How do we make these opposites work together?” When they don’t work together, it’s exactly the same principle as humor, it’s jokes. You laugh because you’re releasing energy because the elements don’t fit together. The energies that you get from that perception have to go somewhere. You got a, “Haha,” if it doesn’t fit the two elements. If they do fit together, you got, “A-ha.” Usually, my ideas are dumb that people will laugh, and then they’ll wait a minute and they’ll say, “Maybe that could work.” Some people do.
It reminds me of a season, instead of a seventh-inning stretch, we had the second-inning stretch. Instead of a stretch, we’ve got a Richard Simmons like character that came out and started thrusting, dancing, and having the whole stadium dance, which wasn’t stretching, and it was in the second inning. People were confused. It’s that same, like, “People are used to it this way, do it this way.”
The second-inning contraction, as opposed to the stretch. Weightlifting is contraction and so is Richard Simmons.
I’m going to break it up a little bit here. We’re going to have a second-inning stretch. We’re going to play a game. This game is truth and dare, which one would you like first?
I’ve never played that game because I’m too old. If it’s truth, I have to tell the truth about something. If it’s a dare, what?
You’re going to have to do something.
Let’s start with truth.
Give me one of the funniest and most outrageous failure you had with a crazy idea that you’ve done. Something that stands out, a funny failure.
I had a client and he took me to lunch after we were all done with our ad campaign and he said, “Fahden, if you were my lawyer, I’d be in the electric chair.”
What did you do?Part of being a dumbass is doing something nobody else would do. There are only so many technological edges, so do something somebody won't do. Click To Tweet
It wasn’t that great of an idea. It was for Burgess Battery, which was owned by Gould, a Minnesota company. They were trying to get into the consumer market and they didn’t have much money. They decided to do an outdoor campaign and I helped them with that. That’s a good thing always to do if you don’t have much money because it stays up for 30 days or so. You get a lot of reps. It said something like, “It’s 10:00. Is your battery still awake?” It’s something like that. It was alright. What I did was, I wanted to have the most beautiful photograph of a battery ever taken and the most beautiful printing job. Since I was managing that, I spent all the money on photographing the battery and printing the posters. The only part was he didn’t have any money left in his budget to run the advertising. For example, on my model, it’s like, “There’s a lesson. I don’t think I should manage the implementation of anything because that would be much better done by an advancer and a refiner.”
I want to get into it a little bit. That’s a good example, probably the most self-aware. You have some other funny moments. We’ll get into those. Are you ready for your dare?
This is a game we do at the ballpark. It’s called sing-off. We put 2,000 fans in one grandstand against 2,000 fans at the other stand. We play a song and when it finishes, you have to finish that song lyric. This song, you should know this one.
Do I have to do it accurately or can I make it up?
You can make it up, but you may know it.
“Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre is at the door, ready to make an entrance so back on up. Give me the mic first so I can bust like a bubble. Compton and Long Beach, you know you’re in for trouble. Ain’t nothing but a G thing baby.”
I’m glad you still got it. No one will ever sing Nothing but G Thing on this show, but you did and you knew it. Can you explain why you know that song?
My sons loved that song, I decided to learn it. My favorite part was when Snoop Dogg was saying, “Capital SN double O P, DO double G Y, DO double G, you see.” I would go to karaoke places and I look like an accountant. It’s like, “This old guy, he was an accountant, he’s up there singing Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre.” People would stop everything. You could hear a pin drop. Except for my thinking, “Everybody stop, whatever they’re doing. Look at this stupid thing.” That was a great setup.
That was your entrance song for a lot of your speeches, correct?
A few of them.
You can’t go that far, because some of the language gets a little offensive. I saw a speech and I remember you came in like that and you’re dancing. I don’t know how old you were at the time, but you weren’t young. To come out to that song and hip-hop dancing, that is living your brand. That is doing the exact opposite of what people remember, which is funny.
Thank you. That was fun.
We can do stories for a while, but I want to go into a little bit of the CARE model because many people reading are like, “I can’t come up with all these ideas. Think of the opposite and combine, I don’t know how to do this.” Share with me this CARE model because almost every company should look into this and we’re going to deal with it completely as a team. You and I are creators. We’ll think of ideas. Good luck after that, a lot of times. We have to work hard to get them executed. Share the model.
There are early adopters and later adopters and there are thinkers and doers. If you put those two together, if you have somebody who is a thinker and an early adopter, that’s the person that says, “Ideas are us.” The acronym is CARE. The original name of the assessment was Innovate with CARE. C is for Creator, early adopter, and thinker. Creators are great at thinking outside the box, all the cliché, coming up with the great ideas. However, that’s pretty much it. It’s like, “Okay, I’m done now.” “How about getting it done?” “Let me think of some more ideas.” It’s stuck like a broken record.
The Advancer, and that’s only 15% of the population, is an early adopter and doer, a unique person. No other model will identify that person. That person can look at ten ideas and say, “We ought to do number seven, but we’ve got to do number nine first because number nine drives number seven. Give me that. I’ll get it done. I’ll get a launch plan all done.” That’s a person who selects the best idea and plans it out and makes sure it gets done. That’s the person who says, “Don’t worry about money. I’ve got a budget over here. I know exactly the people we can take this to. I’m trying to collect the whole set. I’m finding every advancer I can.”
There’s a person who’s a later adopter and a thinker and that’s called a Refiner. A refiner is a person that they can see around corners and tell you what’s going to go wrong, “That’s not going to work. Here’s why.” You never let a refiner or anybody kill an idea. An idea is an off-balance sheet asset of the company. Therefore, they’re valuable. You don’t want to destroy them. Instead, you make the refiner to tell you, “Exactly, be specific.” Everything that can go wrong, you make a list. The advancer takes that list back to the creators. You keep the refiners and creators out of the room. Never have them in a room at the same time because they’re going to fight and they’re going to get all emotional and the whole thing is destroyed.
You take the refiners’ objections, and objections are simply ideas too. You say, “It’s illegal in eighteen states. What are we going to do?” The first thing that creator says, “Doesn’t that mean it’s legal in 32 states?” A lot of them will say, “Doesn’t that mean it’s legal in 45 states?” Everybody is mass impaired these days, but you get the idea. Why not launch in the 32 states and then we’ll lobby in the other eighteen because laws change. Now you’ve got a roll out for 50 states. Every objection can be overcome. Rarely but occasionally, there’s one that kills the ideas and you say, “I’m glad we didn’t do the idea. It would have put us out of business.” You want to know.
There’s an Executor and that’s the person who says, “Leave me alone. I’m going to do the details. Don’t you dare bring an idea in here. That’s going to upset everything. I’m going to have to time my coffee break at a different time.” We need all of us though, from start to finish. There are natural starters and natural finishers. Why not have the people involved at the right time instead of involving everybody in everything? Do you have a team that runs a relay race? It does no good to tie all four of the runner’s legs together and have them run the whole thing together, holding the baton. They’re not fast that way.
You said 85% of people usually want to kill an idea, explain that.
Let’s do the math, 100% minus 15% is 85%. It’s the advancers who want to keep a good idea alive. Thirty-five percent of the people are creators. They will kill your idea for a simple reason, “It wasn’t my idea. Nice idea. I’ve got six others and we’re going to do mine.” There’s the 35%. Another 25% is a refiner. It has too much wrong with it, “You can’t do that. Are you out of your mind? Are you smoking or something? Are you nuts?” The executor, another 25%, will kill an idea because it’s too disruptive, “We can’t handle that. We’d have to change the filing system for God’s sake. What’s wrong with you?” You’ve got 85% of the people trying to kill your idea. No wonder you don’t want to be in meetings with everybody there all the time. It makes no sense.
Nothing gets moved forward because everyone is clashing.
Clashing, killing ideas, coming out madder, or upset. I don’t remember who said this, but it’s like, “Never criticize a fish for its inability to climb a tree.” We criticize fish for their inability to climb a tree every day in every meeting. We don’t need to do that.
It’s interesting. I love this. I want to drill a little bit deeper into it. When I come up with an idea, I’ve started thinking like refiner because I know of all the things that they’re going to start going against. I’m like, “No, this won’t work.” It’s interesting because I know my wife, I love her to death, but she’s always thinking of like, “Jesse, this could cause some problems. You’ve got to be careful.” Put a zip line across the field, in the middle of the game, and have people zip lining in the middle of the game. “No, we can’t do that. They might get hit. They might do this.” What is the step to these dumb ideas, which could be great ideas? What is the best first step for a company to make something happen?
It’s to have the idea. First of all, there’s a great opposite. The bigger the idea you have, the less it will take to implement it. We proved that again and again with our Titanic game where people didn’t have to die. If you do an incremental job, that means you’ve got 1,000 details to do. Every idea launches 1,000 tasks. For example, in the Titanic, if you are deciding to equip the lifeboats so they can hold more people, then you’ve got to get carpenters out and the ship is going to sink in two hours. How are you going to do that? Incremental ideas require a lot of implementation to make them work. Oftentimes, the more radical the idea, the less implementation.
It’s like the no attendance game that Mike and you did in Charleston. No one has ever done that. That’s big and crazy, but it wasn’t a lot of work.
It was profitable too, in a lot of ways. There was little that they had to do.
It got attention, which sold more merchandise. It got more people to come to games, etc.
It’s like with the Titanic, why did the ship have to sink? What you do is you do the opposite. If you hit an iceberg, you feel ashamed. You’ll say, “I’ll never hit another iceberg again. That was terrible.” While the ship is still operational, turn it up to full speed and head right for an iceberg and strike it head-on. What will that do? That will hold the ship into place and there’s a tremendous upward force on icebergs. Even if the compartments fill up with water, the ship is not going to sink, and then you keep partying. It’s a new ending for the movie.
What the captain should have done and said, “Let’s hit the next one.”
Hit it head-on. The refiners in a meeting said, “That’s ridiculous. You’ll ruin the ship. You’ll sink the ship.” Number one, it’s sinking anyway. Number two, in 1910, there was a ship that accidentally hit an iceberg head-on. It couldn’t back out of the iceberg and wound up sailing into New York Harbor pushing an iceberg.
Where have companies got held back here? You’ve worked with lots of companies. You’ve done the assessment. If they go on and they find out whether they’re a creator or they’re an advancer or the refiner or they’re an executor, what holds people from the next step?
From adopting it. They don’t use the method to adopt the method.
You need an advancer to help make this happen.
Absolutely, because people look at it and say, “That’s nice to know. I’ll put that in my file with my personality profile and my Minnesota Multiphasic. Thank you very much.” I called back one of the largest companies in the world. I did a full-day session with their executive team and I said, “I haven’t heard from you guys. How are you doing?” They said, “We use it every day.” I said, “What do you do?” They said, “Lead over there as an advancer. You should take this idea to Pete.” I said, “That’s good. I’m glad that you’ve got this.” That’s the farthest most people get. They get to first grade and they go, “We’re done.” It’s hard to break up people’s thinking. If you made a plan to implement it using the method, then it will work.
I’m curious and fascinated that Jim Collins shared about how he went in with Amazon and Jeff Bezos and shared The Flywheel and how that concept works for them. When you were working, they’re either Amazon or Disney or some of these groups, what did you notice about it? If you look at Amazon and Disney, constant innovation, new things that they’re doing, what did you notice about that group or those groups, or 3M, another group that’s unbelievable at innovation? Some of the big companies you work with, what did you notice about how they work together as one?With regards to content and context, pick one rule to break and then keep everything else the same. Click To Tweet
First of all, Jeff Bezos’ group, that’s his executive team, 9 of the 12 are creative-refiners in combination and so is Jeff. Jeff is the smartest guy in playing games. He solved every game in about ten seconds and he has a laugh. If you hear him laugh in the movie theater, you’re going to start laughing because he laughed loud and it’s one of those crazy laughs. He laughed at everything. At the break, I said, “What is this?” Everybody said, “It’s the way he laughs.” What you’re talking about is you can predict somebody’s approach to innovation. What I like to do is contract Amazon with Apple. Jeff Bezos’ mission was to be the best bookstore on the internet. That was his mission. He pulled it off with a market cap, I don’t know, 8 or 10 times better than Barnes & Noble who had 400 stores and so forth in the first internet bubble.
He’s an incremental innovator. It’s about logistics. They make their systems better and better. It’s slow. It’s like, “Inch by inch and row by row, we will watch our garden grow.” I didn’t work with Steve Jobs directly, but I profiled several of the people who reported to him and asked who they thought Steve was. He’s a creator-advancer, mostly advancer. He would be the guy who makes sure this got done. What did he say? His mission was to make a product that’s insanely great. It’s quite different from being the best bookstore on the internet. One is incremental. Steve Jobs is a radical-innovator.
Jeff Bezos, he’s done many big innovations but you’re saying it’s maybe that constant incremental, most customer-centric company, “I’m going to do this then I’m going to do this and then I’m going to keep doing this.” They’ve turned into bigger innovations, but it was years of trying to create a better customer experience.
We’re talking years that he’s built this thing. They weren’t even profitable for the first fifteen years.
You mentioned games that Jeff was laughing at constantly in the group. What type of games are you talking about? I’m intrigued.
We played the Titanic game and Jeff immediately got all the answers. He’s that big of a thinker.
How does the game go?
I didn’t invent this game. I twisted it and modified it. You’re the captain of Titanic. You’ve hit an iceberg. The ship is going to sink in two hours because the hole is breached and the only lifeboats are for half enough people. You’ve got to save everybody. You can’t let anybody die. The SS Carpathia is four hours away. You’ve got to figure it out. They’re going to rescue you. They already sent out an SOS. They’re on their way. What are you going to do two hours after the ship sinks to keep everybody warm and dry and alive? Two hours without a ship in the cold North Atlantic, good luck, take a team and go.
The groups got together at this point.
We put together teams. We put them together in perfect order of three creators, one advancer, and three refiners or executor. You’ve got the early adopters, late adopters, and then you’ve got the advancer moderating the whole thing. We teach them the process. They then figure out how to save the people. Some people will come up with outrageous ideas. Some people will stick with incremental ideas. They get it done in 22 minutes time elapsed. In other words, 45 minutes but the other 23 minutes is instruction, “Here’s what you do.” Teaching them how to deal with the team. The advancer gets one minute to pick the best idea after a brainstorming session, one minute and they have time left over. They know, obviously, what the best one is.
At Amazon, Jeff had a lot of the best answers and he pushed it forward. What did you notice in that? Do you remember that meeting?
He pushed it forward, but more than that, he was coming up and blurting out the ideas, “What if we did this? How about this?” He was a guy who knew how to beat in his creator and was smart and creative. At the same time, he also had a well-developed refiner, which is like, “Let’s not do anything crazy here. We’re not going to do crazy and wild stuff to grow Amazon. We’re going to do things that are well thought out.” There are big disasters if you’re in logistics.
Did you notice anything with Disney?
I did Disney’s online group. We did it over distance, on a conference call. I did a two-hour workshop with them. They have a history of that, but I don’t think that this online group was new. I don’t think the culture had been exactly infused into them. 3M, I was the creative director of their ad agency. This is where I developed all the opposites. We had 22 divisions of 3M, scotch brand tape, all of their business products, and everything. That’s a culture that is innovative. Everybody fights a battle. It’s a battle everywhere because the process is damaged.
The key is to know who you are, which most companies probably don’t know. The next step is, who do you need to work with first to get to the next step?
I’ll give you an example of 3M. This is a legendary story. 3M got in the brassiere business in about the ‘50s or ‘60s. They have a pension for action, like an advancer company. They don’t think about a lot of things, they just do them. Their scientists give them this stuff and off they go. They found out that the brassieres were breaking down after washing. They had to take them all back. They got 500,000 brassieres and they don’t know what to do with it. They’re getting nowhere. They bring in this guy, who is a creator, and he looks at that and he says, “I heard what the problem is. Here’s a lot of brassieres and you’re wondering what to do with. I don’t see 500,000 brassieres. I see one million cold weather face masks.”
That’s what they used it.
That’s what launched the face mask business for 3M.
It was seeing it differently.
They were already an advancer company. They said, “We’re doing this.” That’s a big one.
It’s built to last. Jim Collins talked about 3M does a lot of stuff and they keep what works. They try a lot of stuff and keep what works. In Minor League Baseball that you’ve been involved in, that’s pretty much the name of the game. What are you willing to test?
Do it all. Set some priorities, but do it. I would do some of the more outrageous ones first. Use your refiners to help think it through. Can I tell you a brief story on what didn’t work?
Yeah. I’d love to hear those things that didn’t work. There’s been a lot on my list too.
We had to work with Triple-A team in Portland, the Portland Beavers. The mayor, at the time, said, “We’re hiring you because you do crazy stuff and we want some national publicity. You’ve got to do something that gets the attention.” They were managing the team and it was going along and the mayor said, “You’re not doing anything that’s getting attention.” Mike couldn’t do anything. He sent me out there and I sat there and worked with them for a couple of days. I came up with one idea that I liked a lot. I didn’t hear any more about it. A couple of weeks later, I’m in the Seattle Airport. This is during the Enron scandal. I don’t know if you remember but Arthur Andersen is the company that was accused of falsifying the records. The idea was Arthur Andersen appreciation night.
I look at CNN and they’re doing an Arthur Andersen appreciation night. I look over at ESPN or on the other monitor and they’re doing Arthur Andersen appreciation night. I said, “I guess they released the idea.” Here was the deal, “Why would you do something like that? That’s a terrible idea.” The idea was it cost you $5 to get into the game, but we would give you a receipt for $10 for tax purposes. In every section, there was a free shredder. If you had incriminating papers at home, you could bring them to the ballpark and get rid of them in a safe way, no matter what section you sat in the ballpark. It was close to an attendance record. The networks sent camera crews.
There was one small problem. They got 2,000 angry calls and emails. There was a guy at their parent team, the San Diego Padres, who had to take all the calls. One day, I get a call from him and he says, “Fahden, you’re going to buy me lunch and it’s going to be expensive because I’ve had to answer 2,000 emails and calls because of your promotion.” I thought he was going to kill me. We went and had lunch and we made peace. I said, “How did you handle it?” He was brilliant. He said, “First thing I did is I’ve said, “What’s the problem with the promotion?” “It’s heartless and it’s mean. Many people lost their job.” He said, “Did you or any person in your family or whatever close to you lose their job?” “Yeah, it was my uncle.”
I said, “The other thing is, did you think we were making fun of your uncle, or did you think we were making fun of the people who perpetrated the misdeed?” The person said, “I guess it was the perpetrators. By the way, we all thought it was funny.” Here’s a clue, when a refiner has an objection to an idea or someone’s complaining about an idea, ask them to be specific. Get into as much because you can’t fix a generality. Ask questions that will lead to what specifically was wrong with it. Get it down to a tiny enough thing where you can fix it or you can make them see how absurd their critique is.
Keep going. It’s almost like ask why again. Why would that bother? Why would that keep going? Didn’t you do a lawyer appreciation night? That was ridiculous. That got people upset, but it was great.
Mike did that one. A lot of things got people upset. A lot of people liked mine, but a lot of people hated mine as it turns out. Mike did Silent Night where mimes ape the umpires. If somebody was safe, the mimes would jump up on top of the dugout and reenact the play. By the third-inning, the fans were booing the mimes. By about the fifth-inning, somebody pelted one of the mimes with a fully loaded hot dog. Soon, the air was filled with food items thrown at the mimes. That turned out to be the biggest concession night ever. Even a failure can be a great success in some metric.
It creates a great story. In one season, are our rivals, Macon Bacon, we did Douse the Bacon. We gave all the fans water balloons to throw water balloons at a few people dressed up in bacon costume. They kept drilling all the season ticket holders in the front rows. They were getting soaked in the back. They weren’t too happy about it, but people were laughing and they were telling stories. This is fascinating. A lot of this inspiration has come from you. I think about the world’s largest tickets. We created tickets for the size of huge posters. We thought it would be a great idea. The fans were like, “This is the most inconvenient ticket we could ever have. We can’t put it in our pocket, can’t put it in our purse.” You do things like that. Any brand, any team, you don’t want to be irrelevant, any company. You become irrelevant when you stop doing things that are a little different, funny, unique. That’s one of the big things that, obviously, you teach to everybody that you’ve worked with. Is that correct?
Absolutely. One of the things that are a lot of fun too is making up products that have no purpose, no use or are stupid. Over time, what happens is, you find a use for it. I’ll give you an example. I have a pharmaceutical. I don’t like the drug ads. Let’s say it’s an allergy ad and somebody is running around in slow motion and then she gets to be with her grandkids because she took this allergy medication. Somebody underneath is saying, “The side effect is you’re going to throw up.” They’re hiding that. They’re suppressing at night. I thought, “What if we made that the star, the side effects, and put it into the foreground?” I have a drug called Zydefex. It doesn’t do a thing for you. It’s all side effects. Instead of hiding the side effects, I made up a rap song for it. Do you want to hear it?
Of course, everyone does.
“Some common side effects. You break your neck, a poke in the eye. Projectile vomiting, a common thing, you think you might die. Diarrhea comes right out your bum. Enough with this guy, some common side effects you’ll die.”
I’m sure that product would be a big seller.We don't create. Everything is already created. We combine. We take elements. Click To Tweet
One of the things you do is when you have an opposite, then you ask, “How could this be true? In what way could it be true?” In most drug tests, the double-blind tests, the placebo outperforms the drug. I imagine somebody has already got the trademark placebo. With Zydefex, I would think we could do a placebo pill. Given the statistics, I would think it would work for a rather large percentage of the people.
It would be a great gift too. You also came up with the Snotrag.
There’s a pure opposite. The 1987 Twins won the World Series and you would wave a thing called the Homer Hanky. The Homer Hanky was fine. Everybody loved it. Millions of people bought them and it’s a new merch item. The problem, I thought, was, “You can’t wave your Homer Hanky when the other team is up. You want them to strike out.” I came up with the Strikeout Snotrag. I did it late. I sold maybe 1,500. There’s a bar in Maui that has a Strikeout Snotrag framed on its wall. What you do is you wave the Snotrag at the other team to get them to strikeout. It was disgusting. It was a greenish glob of something on there.
You might see some from the Bananas. It’s inspiring some ideas of thinking of rod and rags and socks and other things that we could have going during the game. This is cool. We’re coming to our end, Allen. Let’s do a little innovation showdown. I’ll name a type of business. What are some things that we could do this opposite effect to think differently? For instance, a group that’s creative a brewery. There are tons of breweries. If you were going to open a brewery, what are some ways you would think creatively about how you sell it or promote it?
Immediately, the most obvious thing is craft beer. Breweries are small. You’re pairing beer with foods. It’s getting precious. I would probably come out with a beer called Swill or something like that or maybe phlegm, perhaps. It’s thicker beer. Something awful and promote it as a craft beer with a straight face. That’d be the first thing I would think of.
Because you think of a craft, you think of what’s the opposite of well-crafted, crappier.
A crap beer. Beer is like a t-shirt. The barrier to entry is no longer there. Anybody can set up a craft brewery. You’re dealing with the intellectual property part of it, the fun stuff. You might have a passive-aggressive beer for Minnesotans or something like that. Over down there, “I’m feeling a little upset about that.” There’s a bunch of opportunities there.
Can I have one more for you?
An Airbnb, everyone harps on the differences of Airbnb. If you’re going to open up an Airbnb, how would you think differently or the opposite using that?
The first thing I do is I would open up an Airbnb for pets.
“Everyone is doing humans. I’m going to go to animals.”
Everybody wants to look at cat videos and dog videos. What I would do is build little dog houses full of miniature furniture and put aprons on the dogs and things like that and make a bunch of videos. Instead of boarding your pet at a kennel, I would do an Airbnb. Hopefully, I could build it in a neighborhood. Maybe make it a little tiny house. Everything is miniature. I was living in Sacramento. One of the suburbs of Sacramento is Folsom. I wanted to do the Folsom Puppy Prison. In other words, instead of being nice to puppies because they’re the most precious things ever, do something that’s mean to puppies but you’re being nice to them.
We lost everyone who loves puppies.
Sorry. Don’t worry. We’re going to be nice to hamsters.
The framework is to look far in the other direction and then work with the advancers, realize the refiners, and then get to the executors and you might have something that will stand out. There are too many businesses out there. There are too many people doing things the same way. I’ll go the opposite. I’m going to flip the script here. You’re the host of the show. You can ask me one question.
Have you ever seen such a good-looking host in your life? What depends on your answer is whether this gets into the podcast or gets trashed. Be gentle. A good-looking guy, right?
What a question to ask. I don’t want to build up your head. I’ve never met with someone that’s so full of life and brings energy, years into your experience, and years into your life and still thinking differently. A lot of people get the creative thrown out of them. They keep having to go, “This is the way we’re supposed to do it.” You are still pushing the envelope, still pushing the boundaries. To that, it does make you attractive.
You’re looking strong. I want to finish with two questions here. You know us in the Savannah Bananas and we’re trying to do everything that’s right crazy and going bananas. What is going bananas mean to you?
It means everything you’re doing, breaking the mold, doing complete radical thinking, changing the game and turning it around. One of the things that you made me think of is that you’ve done many off the wall things as a joke on yourself. You could do something mundane and then promote it, “This is our best idea ever.” “What are you doing?” “We’re serving hot dogs in the ballpark.” “Could you tell me how that’s a big idea?” “Nobody has ever done it before.” You could make fun of yourself.
Lower expectations make you different. Instead of hyping, go the opposite.
That’s another one. This worked. We did this with an apartment complex and it was called Arboretum Villages. An arboretum is like a forest. We’re going to tell you, “Our name is maybe Arboretum Villages,” but there’s not one mature tree in the whole place. We filled the apartment building up with that. The self-effacing thing, hype everything that’s wrong.
We could do the most boring night in sports that’s the opposite of who we are, which would be tough. That would go against every part of my existence to create a boring ballpark.
What you could do is to have a regular baseball game.
I feel that way, “It’s like everyone else.” This is great, Allen. We could go on for a while. I want to fish one final question. What makes someone unforgettable?
It’s the same principle again and again. A lot of it is, to do the things that nobody would do. My favorite comedians are self-effacing. Rodney Dangerfield who I thought was funny, especially at the end of his career, he gets no respect. I had to call him and tell him that he was going to do a cheap commercial for these dentists that I was working with, “Ignore your teeth and they’ll go away.” They said, “We don’t want Rodney Dangerfield.” I said, “Are you kidding? He’s doing it for $1,500.” I had to call him back and said, “Rodney, do you know how you don’t get no respect? I’m here to prove it to you. You’ve been turned down by three dentists. Good luck with that.” Self-effacing humor, making fun of yourself, it’s like an underdog thing. It’s the hidden underdog story. The human mind wants to go the other way, “This guy must be good if he’s got the confidence to make fun of himself.”
That’s smart. Become unforgettable by doing something other people won’t do. Don’t be afraid to poke fun at yourself. Have fun and not worry about what people think. That’s been a big part of your success.
Especially because I tried worrying about what they think and that didn’t work out well at all.
Allen, this has been an absolute pleasure. It’s one of my favorite conversations. It was great. There are a lot of resources that people could learn more, especially this CARE assessment, and what to do. We’re all inspired by these crazy ideas. Are there any ways that you can guide them to your books? Where else can they learn more about this?
I’ve got some partners and we’re doing a WHO-DO method thing. We’ve got maybe 100 some podcasts in the can. What you can do is you can learn how to do this method pretty much on your own by going through the podcast. Part of the fun of that is the titles are all parodies of bestselling business books. Have you heard of What Color Is Your Parachute?
It’s the same cover. It doesn’t matter what color your parachute is if it doesn’t open. A bunch of things like that they’re fun. It’s myself and Karla Nelson, who’s the host of the podcast. We’ve got maybe twenty different podcasts that you can thoroughly learn how to do this with. I’ll give you some contact info and I can help people with assessments and things like that if they want.
That would be outstanding. Allen, thank you. You have certainly brought it. You showed up and brought the energy and the fun. Thank you for being different and making a huge difference for me and everyone else.
Thank you for doing that too, Jesse. You’ve created some incredible things. You’ve taken the whole idea of having fun and put it on steroids. What I love about it is you’ll do everything. You’ll try everything. Look at you, you’re unforgettable, a yellow tuxedo, and a hat. You’ve taken all this stuff and added your own touches to it and made it brilliant.
- Allen Fahden
- Duncan Wardle – past episode
- Another Boring, Derivative, Piece of Crap Business Book
- The Act of Creation
- Podcast – The People Catalysts
- What Color Is Your Parachute?
About Allen Fahden
Just on the strength and uniqueness of his ideas, Allen Fahden has gotten the attention of up to 50 million people worldwide … and that was before social media! His One-Book Book Store, ReadDundant, appeared in People Magazine, ABC News, the BBC, NPR and in major newspapers across the country. Allen is the creator of the CARE model, and the co-author of its assessment, the Team Dimensions Profile which identifies key roles that people perform in group settings and supports the theory that when one is working within their strengths, they contribute more to the team and are more satisfied and happier with their work. He has written several books, including chapters on strength-based work for the best-selling book The One Minute Millionaire by Chicken Soup for the Soul author Mark Victor Hanson.
As a consultant, he has worked with 20 of the top 100 companies in the world, ranging from Amazon, Wells Fargo Bank, Coca-Cola, GE and Disney. One company reported that using Al’s technique saved them one million dollars per work team. Allen embodies the Fun Is Good philosophy in all he does.
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