Maveriqs Profile - Ryan Berman - I.D.E.A.
By Lamin Turay
Ryan Berman is the Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer of the Courageous ideas company, I.D.E.A. He's also one of my former employers and a friend. I had the privilege of working at his agency as an intern last summer. While there I was witness to some real magic. Ryan's company is a true modern-day agency that employs any and all aspects of integrated marketing to develop successful campaigns for company's like Pentel, Harrah's, and the US Ski Team. Ryan is also a highly progressive thinker, who has been developing a personal brand built around the concept of courage. I recently spoke with him about his "Courage Brands" concept as well as the book he'll be publishing about his research and findings all related to courage. Here's how our discussion went...
Tell us how the “Courage Brands” idea came to fruition.
It has been just about two years since I started the process. I never intended to write a book. I'm probably the least qualified person in my family to ink a book. If we actually played “Family Feud” with my family, and we were asked, “Who in your family should write a book?” I may get a couple votes from my younger cousins, but that’s it. My brother would be the most qualified, followed by my father. Like I said, I never intended to write a book. It was more a question of, “How do I properly position the agency (I.D.E.A.) so when clients come in here they know what they're signing up for?”
I’ve realized even from my New York days that, half of my clients bought courageous work and half of them didn't. With the half that didn't, it's because we didn't declare to them that we are in pursuit of the courageous idea. That courageous ideas are the only ones that matter.
So, in March of 2015, I came up with “Courage Brands.” I liked how it sounded but I didn't know what it meant. So, I took the next 100 days and asked myself, “What could the definition of this actually be, and is there anything here?” What I realized fast, is that in order for me to understand what “Courage Brands” could mean, I had to really deconstruct the word “courage.”
My initial findings is that nobody likes this word. Nobody thinks that courage is for them. I set out and interviewed the most courageous people you could think of: astronauts, Navy SEALs, C.E.O.'s who make brave decisions in the office and many more. One of my favorite quotes is from a great guy and Navy SEAL named Jeff Boss who said, “I don't see myself as courageous, I see it as the byproduct of the purpose I'm pursuing.”
That’s cool. So rather than him choosing to be courageous, it’s inherent to the path that he chose to follow.
Yeah. In his case when you train to become a Navy SEAL you know it’s not going to be easy, and that courage becomes a byproduct of that training. In another interview I spoke with a woman named Trish Chaplin-Bailey. Trish was a bank teller who got robbed at gunpoint. When she originally applied for her job she certainly wasn’t thinking she was going to be robbed. However, in order to get the job she had to pass all of the company’s training modules. One of those modules was on how to handle a robbery. So it’s not like she was learning that skill to eventually be brave, right? She was learning it because she needed to get a job. Wouldn’t you know, after about a year on the job the bank got held up, and the robber came right up to her. Her training kicked in, instinct took over, and she used what she had learned to resolve the situation.
After the robbery had occurred, Trish’s coworkers all approached her and asked, “How were you so brave?” She replied, “I didn’t feel brave. I was just following the training and methodology that we were taught.” So whether we consciously opt in on courage -- or don’t opt in but learn it anyway -- training for courage makes us better. It prepares us for any obstacle that comes our way.
Yet, society as a whole does not think that courage is really important in their everyday lives. Employees aren’t typically rewarded for being courageous in the workplace. Most of us get rewarded through annual reviews. You’re typically rewarded for following process, and adhering to company policies, not for sticking your neck out. That’s in opposition to being courageous. Those were the findings from my first bit of research. So I continued to look for more.
How did that go? You’re interviewing people, data mining, and conducting more research. What was the “Aha!” moment that made “Courage Brands” something you wanted to pursue?
I started looking at the number of businesses that were perishing, and there’s a few statistics that I can share. Since the year 2000, 52% of the Fortune 500 are now extinct. Now a lot of that is due to mergers, however about 90% of mergers don’t work because they end up being more of a takeover than a merger. You’ve got one culture overtaking another culture and people are like, “Forget this! I’m out!” so you end up losing a ton of institutional knowledge. Then you have to start over from scratch in a lot of business areas.
Also, the Boston Consulting Group studied 35,000 public companies, and found that no company shape, size, or sector is currently safe from extinction. Right now public companies are perishing at an alarming rate. You could be in the hospital business or the hospitality business. You could be two people or twenty thousand people. Either way you’re at risk right now.
So what I realized from all of this is that businesses are failing. The statistics are there to support that notion. Every company is talking about risk, but not many are doing anything about that risk. My philosophy coming out of all of this is that if you’re having a conversation about risk mitigation, you’re really having a conversation about courage mitigation. If you’re in a boardroom talking about risk management, you’re really talking about courage management.
My theory is that courage is the “gas” and risk is the “brakes.” They’re two pedals in the same car. When you hit the brakes the car doesn’t go. When you hit them both at the same time the car is not going to function. So there’s only one way that the car will actually move, and it’s about determining how hard you can press on that gas pedal. That was the turning point for me.
Having developed that concept, what did you do to move forward and execute on it?
The first thing I decided to do was to continue to follow the thread. I asked myself, “Can I come up with a working definition of Courage Brands that declares the type of companies that we want to work with?” I wanted to do this in a practical way. Not in some theoretical way. It was a matter of developing a definition that brings courage back to the forefront. There’s a famous proverb, which states that “fear and courage are brothers”. It suggests you can’t get to courage without first experiencing fear. However, most of us suppress fear instead of addressing fear. This happens in business too.
And one of the important things to consider when applying courage in the boardroom is that an individual or company have to want to be helped. If there is no part of you that’s even willing to consider that courage could play a part in your business, then I certainly can’t help you. But if you consider that you and your business may be in trouble, you understand that you need someone to help, and you’re experiencing incremental rather than exponential growth, or you are in protect share mode vs steal share mode, then maybe I can repair the word courage for you and your team, and bring it back to the business lexicon.
Having completed all of this research, and also starting to lay the groundwork for a practical training on courage, what made you decide to write a book?
This is a story that needs to be told now, and while I joke about being the least qualified person in my family to write a book, the way the introduction of the book is written details what does qualify me to write a book about courage. I’m not a Ph.D., I’ve never been to Mars, I’ve never taken a bullet to save another person’s life, but I’ve been a professional observationalist my whole life. The more I went out and talked to experts in the space, the more I realized that courage, especially in the workplace, has become an uncomfortable and peripheral word at best. If I get to name the book (agents could always change it), it will be called “Return on Courage” - I believe R.O.C. is how you maximize your R.O.I. (Return on Investment). Brands and businesses who have lost their way can achieve a strong return on the courage platform.
The first story in the book focuses on Domino’s Pizza. They threw out an original recipe that was fifty years old. It can’t be easy to throw out an operational mainstay at that stage in the business. They even called themselves out on it in their advertising. When Russell Weiner - who was the CMO of Domino’s at the time - executed that move their stock price was at $2.84. They decided to change everything from the crust up, came out with their now famous “Oh Yes We Did!” campaign, and if you look at their stock price now it’s about $210.
So that all goes back to what you mentioned about the story needing to be told?
Exactly. And by the way, that’s a story about cheese, sauce, and dough. It’s not some complex Silicon Valley web application. It’s pizza. The point is that if an organization that’s been around for over fifty years can do it , you can do it too. You just have to start planning for it. My sense is, by the time you need to be courageous, if you haven’t learned the training already, then you’ll be in trouble.
I believe any business, being or brand who has lost their way can "return on" the courage platform."
What’s the current state of the book project?
Great question. I now have a 53,000 word document. I am still working out if I am going publisher or self-published. As of three hours from right now (Interview executed on March 24th, 2017 at 9am PST), I’ll begin that process of sending out the proposal to agents. I want to find someone that’s as passionate about the topic as I am. I’d like a partner that’s going to be aligned on my purpose of helping companies or people liberate themselves from their current situation -- and to do so with the help of courage.
Who are the major influencers that have driven you to complete this project?
When people see my name on the book, and assume that it’s all just my thoughts, that is the wrong way of looking at it. I want people to go to the acknowledgements page first. That’s where the book was truly made. There’s no book without Eric Ryan who’s the co-founder of Method and Olly. Eric was one of the first to invite me in and gave me his time to interview him. There’s no book without Adam Grant who wrote “Originals,” giving me a little bit of his time and insight which made it into the book. There’s no book without Russell from Domino’s or Jason Spero from Google allowing me behind their companies curtain. Jack Williams at Royal Caribbean, or Steve Wilhite the former VP of Global Communication at Apple who is an amazing all around person. When you have access to these types of courageous people who’ve made calculated courageous moves in their businesses, of course it’s going to make you want to be better.
As an observationalist I’ve noticed that whether it be pizza, computers, cruise lines, or communications, the theories are the same. It’s about team, talent, tenacity and training. It’s about setting yourself up to make fast, calculated decisions. You can only do that when you have trust with your team.
The subline of the book is, “A Playbook for Courageous Change.” My hope is that whether you want to jump right into the training, which is the back half of the book, or you want to understand how we landed where we are on the word courage, you can jump around and get what you’re looking for. My hope is that people will return to the book a few times as they need it.
How can we continue to follow your journey?
Personal Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rberman2
Personal Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ryan_berman/
Personal Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/courageousideas/
Company Website: http://www.theideabrand.com/
Company Blog: http://www.theideabrand.com/blog/
Company Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/theideabrand/
Company Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/theideabrand/
I'd like to personally thank Ryan for taking time out of his busy schedule to discuss courage with me. We look forward to the release of his book. If you are seeking more information about deploying courage on you path to success be sure to follow Ryan. Let us know what you think about this interview in the comments below!