“I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” – Abraham Maslow
In the last year, I’ve moved from a multidisciplinary web agency to a small consultancy to a huge eCommerce retailer. In each of these business environments, I’ve noticed how discipline bias can show up in different ways to reduce the effectiveness of any business’ marketing efforts.
In an agency environment, discipline bias shows up in the form of stalemate and problems with prioritization. Without careful management, each team member approaches every project with the flag of their specialty firmly in hand, ready to plant on the hill of the project. Instead of looking for harmonious solutions, each individual seeks ultimate optimization for their own discipline, disregarding any adverse effects on interrelated disciplines and losing sight of the big picture.
Of course, the flip side is that each discipline has a passionate voice speaking on its behalf. It’s rarer for any important element to be completely ignored, unless the “designated representative” for that discipline doesn’t speak up, or is routinely ignored or dismissed. That’s a whole other organizational problem better addressed elsewhere.
In a consultancy, the problem of discipline bias is more nuanced. If your USP is subject matter expertise, then of course you’re expected to provide recommendations within your wheelhouse. However, being focused doesn’t mean being unaware of the fundamentals of other disciplines, or the dependencies, conflicts and halo effects different tactics can create between different marketing approaches. Focus doesn’t mean you operate in a vacuum. The most successful consultants develop complementary relationships with other service providers, and make informed recommendations that don’t assume their particular skillset is the sole solution.
In a corporate environment, the problem of discipline bias shows up when someone moves up from the ranks into an executive role. Search engine marketers tend to approach every marketing problem as an SEO problem. Social media geeks approach every problem from the perspective of “how can social tools address this?” Public relations folks tend to skew towards attaining earned mass media coverage. Which is fine, when you’re only responsible for that particular department. Once you’ve been promoted to a role tied to P&L, it’s important that you don’t disregard the other levers that can contribute to moving that balance sheet more deeply into the black.
Regardless of your current role, or your career plan, it’s important to have a comprehensive understanding of what tools and disciplines are best suited for which kinds of marketing problems. That isn’t to say you can’t try unexpected or unconventional approaches. But you should start with fundamental best practices and a healthy respect for what other disciplines bring to the table.
Otherwise, you might end up the frustrated guy or gal at the end of a hammer, in a situation that calls for a power drill.