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Can you hire a name tag to do a job?

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Clay Christensen is known for his work in disruptive innovation and articulating what we hire the brands to do in our lives. Here are some of his insights.

A colleague and Clay studied people coming out of McDonald's at 6:30 in the morning, to see what they were buying. They found people buying milkshakes. Why does someone hire a milkshake at 6:30am? It isn't about the calories, taste or any one thing. In this case, drivers who had a long commute were hiring the milkshake to stay awake and keep the morning hunger away.

This idea of 'we hire things to solve a problem or serve a need in our lives' was something we wrote about in The Physics of Brand. Clay's concept is fulfilling on the rational and emotional, while giving innovators a framework to look at their ideas. Who is going to hire this new product? Why would they hire it? What purpose would it serve in their lives? Which leads to his perspective on 'Purpose' brands, those that fill a place in our memories, as filling a role in our lives.

Clay uses an example, when you're college student calls and says, 'I need to furnish my college apartment, Dad.' What brand comes to mind? If you're like 90% of the room, IKEA would be your answer. The IKEA brand occupies a purpose role in our lives as we can hire them for cheap furnishings, all in one place.

Now, start to apply this thinking to everything in your life. What jobs are you being hired to do? For instance, what do you hire the Front End of Innovation to do for you? Is it for inspiration, is it for connecting with others who share your situation (see the lonely innovator quote here) or do you hire the conference for practical tools and tips to be a better innovation leader?

This is the question this conference needs to continue to answer about themselves. And, they need to consider what else could you hire to do the same job? Can you find community online? Can you find inspiration on TED.com? Can you find tips and tools via blogs and trade journals on innovation?

If you're not attending the conference, this content here is free. You can get a taste for what's happening here, seeing most of the tips and tools presented by the speakers. You can also get some inspiration, just load up TED and continually watch the most viewed speeches. My contention is the conference is hired to build community among converging and diverging people.

Now, back to Clay and a nugget he dropped into the pool of content we are consuming here at FEI. He said, 'We need to understand the context. There's very little data on context.' He contends we have a lot of data on customers and products, but very little data on context.

So, if we spend our mental energy looking at more customer and product data, how will we be able to see the problems we're being hired to do? We need context data to see the full picture and precisely craft what people are hiring our brand to do for us. If we apply this back to the conference, what bits of context are we missing? Or what in the context could work harder on the job we've hired them to do?

The name tag. Kitty Hart.

Let's break down the information on this tag.

FEI = in this context everyone knows where they are.
US = again, in this context, everyone knows they are in the United States.

Kitty Hart = Sure, the basic information of who she is.
Capsule = The entity where she works.

Barcode = not human language, meant for the robots.
QR Code = also not human language, perhaps for the robots.

Now, let's break down what could be on the tag, if we start with a blank page.

What music do you like? What is your favorite movie? What is your favorite actor or actress? Name a famous person with whom you'd love to have lunch? What single word do people use to describe you? What time of day are you most creative? Are you a morning, evening or twenty-four hour person? What turns you into a geek?

What if we included all the answers to these questions on the tag?

Now, what if you didn't even put a name on the tag? What would happen if you removed the name? Let's be honest, everyone is trying to read names and recognize the company. But, that's the wrong criteria to judge the person. You hire a name tag to tell a small detail about you to make you interesting to someone within close proximity.

Let's use Soon Yu as an example. His tag has 'speaker' on it, which adds one more detail, but what you miss is the fact that he was the head of innovation at VF Corp, he's authored what looks to be a great book, he is animated, funny and a fascinating person to know. I have no idea how he would answer the questions above, but have certainty that it would be interesting to read.

The FEI only hires the hangtag to help them identify if we're allowed to be in the show, because we all know there's a rampant number of thieves trying to come hang out with a crowd of innovators. This tiny artifact, the hangtag could and should serve a much larger purpose to help deliver on the reason we hire FEI, to build community with fellow innovators.

Let's ask the FEI to redesign the hangtag to give it a more relevant purpose.


Kitty Hart, Lucy Robb and I write for the FEI event blog, please reach out if you have a story to share.

Founder, Capsule Design

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