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Change is inevitable (except from a vending machine)

Boardroom Bingo relieves the tedium of those seemingly aimless and endless management meetings like nothing you’ve tried before – other than a Valium smoothie.

The Boardroom version is just like regular bingo, except that instead of someone calling out random numbers printed on ping-pong balls, you mark your card whenever a piece of hideous business jargon escapes from the lips of one of the overly keen yes-men managers smugly sipping their skinny soya cappuccinos around the boardroom table. And believe you me, in this age in which superficiality is admired more than substance, it doesn’t take long for your Boardroom Bingo card to fill to the brim. The jargon just flows, relentlessly, like a river of utter meaninglessness.

The words and phrases that score you points are things like “disruption”, “paradigm shift”, “game-changing”, “swimming upstream”, and “zigging when the others zag.” These are just a few of the dozens of entries in the Boardroom Bingo lexicon, but they are certainly among the most frequently used. And the eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that these expressions all allude to that much-praised business strategy of having an appetite for risk and challenging the status quo.

So why (to use another couple of BB front-runners) do we not “walk the talk” or “put our money where our mouths are”? After all, we’re more than up for a bit of risk-taking in our personal lives – think about the experimentation we enjoy with clothing (my gold sequined cat-suit springs to mind), restaurants, travel, adventure sports and so on. Yet the moment we park the company car in our designated bay at the office, we become another of those obsequious cowards whose only war cry in business is “steady as she goes, captain”, and whose only strategy for forward planning is “last year plus ten percent.”

Perhaps it’s human nature to resist change and to seek comfort in the familiar. Just look at the outcry whenever a well-known brand adopts a new identity – Absa being the most recent in a long line of new visual identities that have been pilloried for no better reason than being different from what we’re used to. This is somewhat ironic when we consider that the one thing that is beaten into every aspirant brand manager’s brain is the importance of differentiation.

There’s a further irony in the fact that attitudes to novelty evolve over time. What began as a knee-jerk “I don’t like it” reaction at launch, matures to tolerance and then from acceptance to outright preference. So hang in there, marketers, let a little time go by and everyone will be wondering what the fuss was all about.

But the most important lesson to be learnt about creatively-driven change is simply that it works. The debate is over; it has been proven in countless empirical studies that brands that embrace responsible risk-taking outperform those that watch cautiously from the sidelines. We need to grab hold of that willingness to experiment in our private lives and bring it into the boardroom. We need to behave like the brands are our own possessions, built or destroyed by our own actions.

We need to have some “skin in the game”.

Bingo!

A highly regarded and influential strategist, speaker and writer, Andy Rice is one of South Africa’s best-known branding and advertising experts. He headed up Ogilvy Johannesburg’s account planning department before founding specialist brand strategy consultancy Yellowwood.

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