It's easy to talk a good game about unconventional strategies. Much harder to walk the talk. Mark Pollard has the most interesting website you've likely ever seen. Go ahead and give it a try.
Words do matter. Mark is very literal in his guidance and that is good. Because from experience many of s know that agreement is often based on a misunderstanding of the fundamentals.
I met Mark when we were both at an inflection point — that's when people are the most open to possibilities and divergent thinking. It was exciting because I had read his original blog cover to cover and found clarity of thought.
Mark and I agree that “Strategy is a dare,” that “Thinking & doing aren't enemies – there's a time for each,” and that “Our job includes helping people improve at their jobs.”
Q: You started Mighty Jungle with a focus on strategy. Was it a natural evolution of your work at big agencies? How did you go about making it happen?
Mark: I’ve worked in agencies for the most part since I was 19. At that time, I was at university and not really enjoying the experience. It felt industrial, dry, and apathetic. I was making websites about underground hip hop culture – rappers, DJs, and graffiti artists. I was organizing dance parties, too. I was wondering about how to build a life around music because I kept gravitating toward it.
Then I launched a hip hop magazine. It was called Stealth. It became the first full color hip hop magazine with a CD and international distribution in the Southern Hemisphere. We’d had a great history of hip hop and graffiti magazines in Australia but this was more music-focused. Before it became full color, I’d stay back at the office late into the night to use the computers. I taught myself basic use of design software and HTML. And I went for it.
I say this because my agency life and music life were very separate things. Hip hop wasn’t in at the time. People made fun of it – grunge, heavy metal, candy dance and pop music were popular. But, also, hip hop is a culture of skill and action. It’s competitive. There’s always pressure to do better or people will call you out – perhaps with violence.
And hip hop life exists in public in a way that agency people don’t. You are on the hook for your ideas – not through a brand. If something doesn’t work – if people don’t come to your event, don’t read your articles, don’t buy your album – that’s on you. It’s not on a client or a media agency mishandling a massive media budget.
So the natural evolution here was combining this public, competitive, skills-based culture, with a love of words and of making things, a bias towards learning, and a fascination with finding out things about people.
When Mighty Jungle started in 2016, I thought I’d focus on workouts and workshops. I was trying to cure myself of my frustrations in the New York advertising system – too many meetings, too many words, too much self-importance, too much confidence… and, yes, more mediocrity than we’re allowed to admit.
A senior American colleague once described Australians in advertising as sprinters, not marathon-runners. This is me. With workshops, I could come in and out, make an impact, and move on. I can’t stand politics and people not thinking because they’re focused on office politics. Life is too short. With workouts, I could focus on teaching people to do what I love to do. Mental workouts are a name I give to my training. I break down the work of a strategist into practicable chunks. I introduce a concept like what ideas and insights are, talk about examples, and then I put people to work.
I’ve shifted my focus somewhat. I’m doing more and bigger public events and publishing. When I do consulting, I do workshops but I prefer to allow for qualitative research time (with an emphasis on interviews) and writing. I adjusted this after a few workshops got stuck on words I didn’t think were useful but the room had bought into them.
I also believe in community and run the Sweathead Facebook group and podcast. The Facebook is really active. There are over 7,000 strategists talking about jobs, projects, and life.
I’ve just launched a book on Kickstarter – “Strategy Is Your Words”. It helps strategists understand the voices in their heads and gives them practical tools to use on their next projects.
I run masterclasses around the world with my friend Julian Cole. They’re called The Strategy Super Sizer Megaclass.
This is all a continuation of a love for words, understanding the human condition, learning, and publishing.
Q: Why Mighty Jungle? What was your thought process?
Mark: The name sat in my head for close to a decade. Like many people, I fell into advertising and I didn’t think of it as a long-term career. I just went from one year to the next. Around 2008, when the economy shook, I thought about setting up my own thing. A little later, “Mighty Jungle” as a company name came to me. I love the song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”. The words are from that song. I felt it encapsulated this heaving Internet and world that we were just getting a bigger and more global feel for through social media. I thought of the tagline “Be useful out there” as a way to communicate the philosophy I was into at the time – use advertising budgets to make useful things for people instead of just yelling at them.
Years later, the name was still in my head. I work a lot with words and I pay attention to words that jam themselves inside me.
I don’t present the Mighty Jungle brand in a big way online. Most of my work comes through word of mouth. I like it that way. But the name sets up a few directions. “Mighty Jungle” can refer to the world and how chaotic it can feel but people also feel this inside themselves. The name has energy. It feels like a record label name to me. I could see a connection to my music days.
Q: Why are words important?
Mark: Words are how we operate the world. We probably spend more time using words to do this than trying to operate ourselves. New ideas can form without words, as hunches, scribbles, sounds, paintings–as art–but they’ll find a way into words at some point.
The challenge with words in business is that we don’t always use words for each other. We use them to dominate or trick people, or to pretend we know what we’re talking about when we don’t. We use jargon to hide. We use common words like “idea” or “strategy” to pretend we have an idea or strategy when we might not.
With “Strategy Is Your Words”, there are two key sections. The first breaks down words that strategists use in their heads. These words include “clarity”, “lone wolf”, “impostor”, “truth”, “opinion”, and “meaning”. I deploy absurdism and real talk from having discussed life with thousands of strategists around the world. The second half of the book explains the words we often use in advertising and marketing. It suggests definitions–the book is not dogmatic, and it shows how a strategist who loves to write and who knows how writing is challenging writes on a strategy project.
Q: What surprised you, so far, and what delighted you?
Mark: On my podcast Sweathead and in the training sessions and events I do, I’ve been trying to do two things: take artistic risks and tell honest stories. These are both risky in business where people aren’t comfortable in themselves and powerful people–or people who seek to dominate–will use your honesty as weakness. Also, many strategists are shooed away from thinking of themselves as creative, especially in companies where creativity is one department. To push strategy and the work I do around it into art is a middle-finger to the oppressors of my strategy people.
So, what surprised me is how people are responding to these two things. In my training, I often finish with a section called “Strategy Upon A Strategist.” It asks whether the strategy techniques we learn in business are really life skills–not career skills, and it tries to reframe certain ideas strategists keep in their heads. But it includes very honest history. I keep this question in mind: “What’s the most honest thing I can say right now?” So I’ll talk about what I grew up around, family experiences, going to therapy, depression, anything that comes out. I was nervous about doing this in a business context but the number of people who come up to me afterwards or who DM me later… I’m going to push myself harder.
As an example, I’m soon doing an event in New York. I want to keep what will happen to myself but it won’t involve a presentation and it will feel like absurdist theatre mixed with group therapy and a mental workout.
I’ve been toying with more ideas to do with what I’d loosely refer to as “intellectual entertainment”–walking people through their own minds. I want to step this up in the future.
Q: You’ve always had your finger on the pulse, what’s now for business. What’s next?
Mark: I spend my time thinking about and talking with people, more than contemplating business. People are what most interests me. They happen to work in and buy from businesses so this is convenient.
I think, in recent years, we’ve been through an over-correction–to logic, data, programmatic advertising, models, systems. People who don’t really care about people are trying to eat the people. I don’t think people want other people to eat them. And they certainly don’t want people to create machines to eat or enslave them.
I hope we can arm-wrestle our way back to a place that is more about human growth than company growth, more about empathy and compassion than squeezing the soul out of everything, and, ultimately, a world in which people realize that art and creativity are fundamental to the human condition, to how we experience ourselves and each other, our unconscious, and something we need to engage in for our mental health and relationships.
For more strategy talk:
- Newsletter: http://www.markpollard.net/email-newsletter/
- Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/markpollard
- Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/markpollard
- Facebook – join 7,000+ strategists: http://www.sweathead.co
The Kickstarter for the “Strategy Is Your Words” book is live until December 4 http://bit.ly/strategykickstarter
Here's why words are important:
You can use words as maps, torches, and breadcrumbs. You can use words as fireworks, tickles, and peace. You can locate yourself with words, stand a career on words, and expose ideas good and bad with words.
If your words can, you can.
What we do as strategist is essentially to turn problems into power, turning them into questions without turning us into the problem. Conversation is not just about words, it's about leading with words to create thoughts and actions.