Symbiotic Branding

30 09 2011

I have an annual pass to the Singapore Zoo. I often catch an early bus up to Mandai so I can grab a coffee and a chat with my friend the Sumatran Orangutan. On the last couple of visits I noticed something unexpected and intriguing in the orchid house.

Turns out that most orchids (and I presume we’re talking about the epiphytic orchids, not the ones that grow in soil) have a symbiotic relationship with a fungus, without which they would not be able to feed. Even more interesting, orchid seed is so fine that there is effectively no room for any stored food, just genetic coding. Once again, fungus is the secret solution; the seed collects some fungal spores and on landing the fungus grows and provides food for the orchid seed.

I haven’t had time to explore this (probably 5 minutes in Wikipedia would do it) in order to learn what the fungus gets from the arrangement, but I’m sure there is something. (Okay so I did go to Wikipedia and learnt that “All orchids are myco-heterotrophic at some point in their life cycle“, but that the benefit to the fungus is largely unexplored. Doctoral thesis, anyone?)

So from orchids and fungus let us segue smoothly (like an 18-wheeler through a garden wall) to recruitment and branding.

Brands have tiny seeds, so small that there is no room for food, just genetic material. Attempts by brand experts and marketeers in the past to propagate brands by tying them to pretty logos and witty advertisements have resulted in significant media spend but little growth in brand value. (Much as I love the Guinness mud-skippers and the Old Spice “Man your man could smell like”). Turns out that to grow and reproduce, brands have to be in a symbiotic relationship with people; not customers in the first instance, but rather employees who embody the brand’s DNA. That is how a brand grows…

If you accept this premise at all, then you will eventually conclude that there must be a pretty important symbiotic relationship between brand and recruitment. Recruiting the right people is critical if customers are to experience the brand as it is meant to be; and that experience of the lived brand is critical to build the employee experience required to make the brand desirable as a potential employee to the right people.

Cycle from recruitment via customer experience to brand, and back via employee experience

Grow your brand without chemical additives

Of course this doesn’t just apply to orchids. One word: Apple.

Catch ’em while they are young

28 09 2011

A little reflection which may explain also why posts on this blog have been fewer and further between…

A friend gave me a copy of Bob Buford’s “Halftime” which I have been enjoying immensely. “Halftime” is about making the mid life  transition from mere success to a focus on doing what has signficance.

The only thing is, I would kind of like to put Bob out of business. I absolutely agree that “first half life” has to make room for the financial obligations of marriage and raising a family and all that goes with that; it is just that I would like the rising generation to have a clear view of how to live a life of significance from when they first set out. And I do believe it can be done.

(And just to be clear – I am not taking anything away from Halftime; just using it to make a point; I am all for people finding a way into greater significance at any age)

hoozyu ( is a programme we have set up to bring Birkman power to the 14-25 age group, in an appropriate package and at an affordable price point. Our ambition is to roll it out to young people across the globe; our first big push is into Asia, but we are ready to support people who want to work with this anywhere.

Have a look at the site (and the blog,; wherever you are in life, if this sounds like a way you could be working towards significance while helping young people do likewise, get in touch!

Roller-Blading to America

13 09 2011

The subject of Birkman versus MBTI (or sometimes DISC or StrengthsFinder) as an Organizational Development / Talent Management tool comes up with alarming regularity. Alarming because from where I am standing, this seems very like asking whether flying or roller blading is the better option for intercontinental business travel. It isn’t wars of religion – Boeing versus Airbus Industrie or SQ versus QF. It is “tool designed for this purpose” versus “tool designed for a completely different purpose”. Roller blading is a wonderful thing, and so is MBTI.

  1. MBTI (and DISC and even StrengthsFinder) are essentially sorter tools (they sort you into one of predetermined number of boxes; StrengthsFinder just has more boxes). The 90 currently available Birkman scales mean that every Birkman profile is close to unique; so this is more like a fingerprint than a type indicator AND YET it allows you to categorise broadly. So, for example, you can say these people are all Strategic in their organizational perspective, and yet still discriminate between them on the basis of important differences as well. So: MBTI has 16 possible outcomes, Birkman has a million or more (theoretically around 79 million, but there are a lot of null possibilities in there). Birkman is a fine grained tool that captures uniqueness in a usable manner.
  2. MBTI is not calibrated. You and I could both come out with identical scores and yet behave quite differently. One major reason for this is that there is no attempt to calibrate what a particular score means. So, for example, my view of possible ranges of human introversion v extraversion may be quite different from yours. What seems unbearably introverted to me may seem uncomfortably extroverted to you. Birkman on the other hand is normed and calibrated within and across populations, so that a particular combination of scores is always going to produce very similar behaviours in the individuals concerned. With Birkman, apples are always apples.
  3. MBTI is theory driven, Birkman is empirically based. Birkman doesn’t start from a theoretical view of human behaviour, but from 60+ years of observation of actual behaviour and building an instrument that accurately captures and predicts that behaviour. (MBTI is of course based on Jungian Psychology).
  4. MBTI was never designed to be a tool for organizational development or recruitment, and, in my experience, has very low levels of acceptance amongst organizational psychologists (i.e. it is pretty hard to find practicing organizational psychologists who promote its use as an OD or talent tool; I am not suggesting that Org Psychs cannot be found who like MBTI, any more than I am suggesting that no business traveller ever roller blades to his office on a sunny morning). Birkman on the other hand was developed because of Roger Birkman’s fascination with organizational behaviour and especially the impact of perspective upon problem-framing and behaviour. Birkman looks at the individual in their social and organizational context and as such is pretty well unique among psychometric tools.
  5. In order to use MBTI to predict behaviour under stress (for example), the user must work on the assumption that everything in the way of behaviour arises from a person’s own view of her or himself (which is all that MBTI measures); Birkman on the other hand predicts negative or reactive behaviours on the basis of unmet and often unrecognised underlying needs and expectations on the part of the individual, which may have little or no connection to the individual’s conscious view of self.

Or at least that’s why I will keep hopping on a plane to Houston every time there is a Birkman Conference on!