Finding Your Bearings in the Brand Wilderness

Psychologically, there’s little difference between a group of survivors who crash-land on a mountain, and a group of leaders in a boardroom dealing with unexpected changes. Both groups will experience disruption and both can overcome it in the same way. Disruption, whether we like it or not, is our new normal. And it’s not going away anytime soon.

In this episode of In Process Podcast, Trusted Counsel talks with Jonathan David Lewis, a branding and strategist expert about building resilient brands for harsh business environments. He explains ways to help brands navigate through the wild in what he explains is survival psychology.

The New Economy
Lewis states, “Something that we need to get out of our minds is that things are not going to go back to the way they were. The great recession of 2008 in many ways ushered in trends that were already underway for many years….We’re in a new environment, a new economy that requires new ways of thinking about doing business.” And so, running a business today is fundamentally different than the past 100 years. Why then are so many of us pushing to operate on those old principles of success? Lewis simply states that “it’s just not effective.” Today, the economy is performing better, but across the board all organizations are being disrupted by externalities with the advent of bio-engineering, automation, and artificial intelligence that are changing our business models, whether we like it or not.

Disruption in Organizations
Inside of our organizations we are often faced with fear because you didn’t see it coming or there are unpredicted challenges inside of the organization. Faced with fear, according to Lewis, you begin to drift as an organization and then you lose your focus. Once the focus is lost, you become inconsistent in decision-making and ultimately you become savage and turn on each other. The alignment is lost. “This is the very same thing we see in survival scenarios and real-life research.” In other words, there’s a very predictable response to disruption.

Find Your Focus
In this new economy that we all inhabit, it’s probable that you’ll go through the wilderness sooner or later. However, do it with resilience. Have a healthy team in place, and adapt. “Have healthy conflict, don’t be passive aggressive…have kind truth when entering the danger. Then you will have a culture of healthy conflict which will allow you to be resilient when you’re facing these hardships.”

Lewis recommends asking yourself these questions about your organization. “What am I really, really good at? What does my customer actually need? And lastly, where do those two overlap? Because where they overlap is where you find your relevancy and that becomes your focus.

Jonathan David Lewis is a branding and business strategist. As partner and strategy director of McKee Wallwork + Company, Jonathan led his firm to be recognized by Advertising Age as a national leader in branding and marketing, winning the Southwest Agency of the Year. He is a regular contributor of, speaker and author of a new book titled “Brand vs Wild.”

Stream the conversation with Jonathan in the player below to learn more about leading your business through the wild. Listen to real businesses that trenched though the wild and how they emerged out of the wilderness. Don’t miss an episode, subscribe to InProcess Podcast on iTunes to receive this episode as well as future updates from the show to your smartphone.





Finding Your Bearings in the Brand Wilderness
Jonathan David Lewis is a Branding Strategist with McKee Wallwork + Co., and author of new book “Brand vs. Wild.”

(c) Trusted Counsel (Ashley) LLC. All Rights Reserved.


Announcer:                        It’s time for In Process, conversations about business in the 21st century, with Evelyn Ashley and John Monahon. Presented by Trusted Counsel. A corporate and intellectual-property law firm. For more information, visit And now, with In Process, here are Evelyn Ashley and John Monahon.

John Monahon:                Hello, and welcome to In Process, conversations about business in the 21st century. Presented by Trusted Counsel, a corporate and intellectual-property law firm. I’m John Monahon.

Evelyn Ashley:                 And I’m Evelyn Ashley.

John Monahon:                We are partners in Trusted Counsel.

Evelyn Ashley:                 So, John. We’re gonna talk about brands fallen into the wild.

John Monahon:                Yeah. I think this is something a lot of people can relate to. Your branding strategy goes a little bit into the wilderness, and you are fighting for survival, or at least trying to find your way out of the wilderness.

Evelyn Ashley:                 Out. How to emerge from the harshness of that kind of business environment.

John Monahon:                Right.

Evelyn Ashley:                 So, I think this is gonna be a really interesting conversation. We certainly know what it’s like to have a brand, and try to maintain focus and keep it current. And on the edge without kind of falling to the multitude of distractions that present themselves to us.

John Monahon:                Right. Exactly. It’s sometimes hard to stay focused on your branding. And to find the path that’s right for you. Or, even if you find it, to definitely stay on it.

Evelyn Ashley:                 Stay on it.

John Monahon:                Yeah.

Evelyn Ashley:                 Keep it alive.

John Monahon:                Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Evelyn Ashley:                 Keep it alive, and out of the jungle.

John Monahon:                Right. But luckily we have a great guest with us today that’s going to help us with that. His name is Jonathan David Lewis. Jonathan is a branding and business strategist. As partner and strategy director at McKee Wallwork & Company. Jonathan led his firm to be recognized by Advertising Age as a national leader in branding and marketing. Winning the southwest small agency of the year. He is a regular contributor of, speaker and the author of a new book titled “Brand Vs.Wild.”

Evelyn Ashley:                 Jonathan, welcome to the show.

Jonathan Lewis:               Hey! Thanks for having me. Excited to be here.

John Monahon:                Well, you know one of the things that we were … You have a really interesting book, and Evelyn and I, we sort of touched on it about this wilderness theme. And that was sort of how you touched the lessons that you’ve learned about branding, is in terms of wilderness and survival. Can you tell us a little bit about what brought you to, I guess, that concept?

Jonathan Lewis:               Certainly. I mean, it’s really rooted in our company’s history, which we may touch on later, but when we as a company … We’ve been in business 20 years, where we’ve been very successful. But we’ve gone through our own major wilderness about 10 years ago. And that laid the foundation of our own pain, our own learning, which led to our niche. Personally, really the majority of my career has been made and molded through the Great Recession, which we all have those flashbacks of late 2008, early 2009, where there’s literally two-weeks period after the stock market crashed where we’re getting phone calls every single day with clients slashing budgets. Cutting budgets entirely. It was a lot of upheaval. You know, layoffs. It was just a really difficult time for us all.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative) Sure, it was.

Jonathan Lewis:                So, for my own career, experiencing that, and then having to survive through it. You know, I haven’t really experienced abundance in the way that other business professionals have. You know, my entire career has been in the midst of incredible change. And we’re celebrating 20 years as a business this month, actually. And so, we’ve actually gone back, we created this timeline, looking at the last 20 years of world history. You know, economic history. And then the last 20 years of our business. And the pace of change … We all feel it, we all know that the pace of change is just increasing every day. But when you look at it like that, and you see … You know, social media is only a few years old. Smartphones are only a few years old. And when you look at what’s ahead, with artificial intelligence and automation, the world is changing so fast.

And in my own career, I’ve had to learn how to do a lot more for my clients with a lot less. And I’ve never known anything else. So, I think it’s … And this is true not just for me, but all millennials. I think it’s native. Understanding how to be resilient. Understanding how to adapt to constantly changing environment is really native to me and to my generation. And in a lot of ways, it kind of explains a lot of what other generations complain about with millennials. It’s kind of interesting, you think of millennials, they’re not loyal, they’re not interested … They don’t own anything. And you, know boomers like, “What do you? How can you not own anything?” But really if you look at it through the lens of resilience, it’s fascinating, if there is no tomorrow, and tomorrow’s not promised, then yeah, I don’t have a garage full of junk. I’m gonna rent everything, I’m not gonna own everything. I’m going to buy into the sharing economy. I don’t need to have stuff, I need experiences. You know, I’m not going to be loyal to my employer because they’re not loyal to me, because everything’s going to change tomorrow.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                So really, it’s an interesting filter. And it really is something I have learned to … Natively, had to learn to be successful in the Great Recession, throughout the Great Recession, especially in a field like marketing and adverting, which is in upheaval like, you know, we rival most other industries in how much upheaval we’re going through today.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Amazing. I think you put it really succinctly what I think most baby boomers and, you know, maybe even gen-xers look at millennials and are completely curious as to the why’s. And I think that you very articulately presented a really good position, because … And I will tell you, Jonathan, I don’t think many millennials are actually able to communicate it in the fashion that you just did. So, bravo, bravo.

Jonathan Lewis:                Thank you. You know, how am I supposed to take a job at a startup in Tokyo, if I’ve got all this baggage in my life? Whether it’s debt, or whether it’s physical stuff in my garage, or whether it’s, you know, some sort of loyalty. The world is just changing too fast, and that doesn’t mean loyalty’s not important. Or, you know, basic structures of our society aren’t important. But they are changing. And today it’s more about resilience than it is about strength. And that’s a concept that most of us, especially if our careers have flourished pre-Great Recession, that’s a concept that is really hard to understand, and really hard to put into action, because many of us have it burned into our brain that we must be strong. Whether that’s size, or longevity, or scale, or intellectual property.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                The very things that may actually point towards your vulnerability, in today’s new economy.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Exactly. I mean, I also like the idea that you’re taking a very positive approach to what actually happened in the recession of 2008, because so many people were absolutely devastated by what happened during that period. To be able to emerge on the other side and take the view of, “Well, our learning here is resistance, transition, transformation, and constant growth.” It’s the right way to be looking at things.

Jonathan Lewis:                Absolutely. And I think something that we need to get out of our minds is that things are gonna go back to the way they were. I think the Great Recession in many ways really ushered in, or made complete, trends that were already underway for many years. And really, we’re in a new environment, a new economy, that requires new ways of thinking about doing business. That are fundamentally different than the last 100 years. And to the extent you’re trying to operate your business on those old principles of success, you’re going to bang your head against the wall, because they just aren’t as effective as they used to be.

John Monahon:                 Now that we’re in an economy of, perhaps, abundance, should we switch our mindset? Or, should we really just stay in the, you know, think about being resilient, think about scarcity. Keeping that mindset, that’s the way to continue to survive. Has the economy shifted your way of thinking at all?

Jonathan Lewis:                That’s a really insightful question because the one thing we do need to change is, once you’ve emerged out of a survival scenario, once you’re outside of that moment where you just need to hunker down and get through, you do need a different mindset, which might be a little bit more of an abundance mindset, in order to survive, in order to thrive long-term. What we do need to adopt fundamentally is the concept of resilience in our companies, because while perhaps the economy is performing better than it was, it is still, every industry across the board, is being disrupted at a faster and faster pace because of technology. Automation, robotics, artificial intelligence are going to interrupt, disrupt, change business models for us all. So, we have to be resilient, which requires different concepts.

Things like flexibility being more important than efficiency. Or really embracing the idea of uncertainty, rather than trying to get rid of uncertainty and risk in every decision. Those are concepts required for resilience. However, if you’re stuck in survival mode, just because you’re just hunkering down, not investing in yourself, not investing in growth, then you need to get beyond that. That is a mindset that certainly some companies are still stuck in, because they’re traumatized with what we went through the last 10 years.

Evelyn Ashley:                   So, I think that’s a really insightful point you brought up there.

John Monahon:                  In your book “Brand Vs. Wild”, I think you do a great job of … You give some real examples, some survival stories. And, you know, we’ve been touching on it, about survival and resilience, but it’s a little bit more concrete in your book. Can you tell us about how business professionals, as a group, are similar to survivors in the wilderness? What sort of connections you saw between those situations?

Jonathan Lewis:                You know, I think one of the most preposterous things that we came across in our research that is at once preposterous, but also absolutely true, is that psychologically, there is very little difference between a group of survivors on the top of a mountain, or in the desert, or in the wilderness, and a group of business people in a board room trying to deal with unexpected changes, an unexpected challenge. Psychologically, as humans, we’re going through the very same predictable response to that disruption. And that’s actually born out of our research that we learned was highly correlated with survival psychology. We conducted two national studies and learned there are seven factors that affect business growth. Three of them are the things you’d expect. So, they’re external, they’re the economy, they’re competition, or even disruption of some sort in your industry. It doesn’t have to be Uber, it could just be some new law from Washington or your state capitol or something.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                Those are external. What got us excited, what was so transformational for our own company, is that four of the seven statistically significant factors that affect growth are internal. They’re inside of our organizations. They’re things like a loss of focus, a loss of nerve, inconsistency, and then ultimately and most importantly, a lack of alignment among leadership. These four internal factors actually are predictive of your own growth struggles. Now, what was crazy that we learned is that these very same internal factors that we learned in our business research are highly correlated with survival psychology. So much so that there’s actually a predictable response. When you’re facing some unexpected challenge in business, that you just didn’t see coming, the first thing that happens is you and your team deal with fear. Then, once you’re afraid, and there’s very specific things that happen when you’re afraid. Then you start to drift as an organization, and you lose your focus. Once you’ve lost your focus, you turn [inaudible 00:12:57] you become inconsistent. And then ultimately, you turn savage. You turn on each other, and you lose your alignment. This is the very same thing we see in survival scenarios, and real-life research. As well as we see in our own business research.

John Monahon:                 Jonathan, when we broke (took a radio break), you were drawing the analogy between business and, of course, survival situations. Can you continue to expand on the similarities between those and what your research found?

Jonathan Lewis:                Definitely. You know, as I was mentioning, there’s a very predictable response to disruption, where you’re moving through those four internal factors in a very sequential form. And the first thing that organizations deal with, when they’re disrupted, when they have a challenge they weren’t expecting, is fear. And it seems pretty obvious, but there’s very specific bad decisions you make when you’re afraid. And according to the latest in survival psychology, there’s a theory called the 10-80-10 theory, it’s by Dr. John Leach, who’s a pioneer in survival psychology.

He says that in any survival scenario, where you’re dealing with something you’re not expecting, people tend to fall into three categories when reacting with fear. 10 percent of us are logical, and rational, we’re prepared when we’re disrupted. So, we get through a challenge, we can even lead other people through a challenge.

80 percent of us are paralyzed by disruption. We don’t know what to do, so we don’t do anything. 10 percent of us actually make things worse. We panic. Right? And we make things more dangerous for ourselves and others. And we see this in a lot of actual survival scenarios. There’s a famous Manchester disaster, it’s called … In the eighties, there was an airplane filled with passengers on a tarmac about to take off, when a fire erupted. So, the pilot very calmly pulled the plane over, opened the exits and everybody had plenty of time to exit the plane. However, many people still died, and nobody could figure this out, but what happened was people were so overcome by fear, they just sat in their seats. They were paralyzed by the fear.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Ugh.

Jonathan Lewis:                Until the smoke and the fire took their lives. So, this is a very real phenomenon. I mean, when you deal with an unexpected challenge in business, if the fundamental nature especially of your business is being disrupted by a new business model. If you’re being commoditized or if there’s something fundamental happening, especially. If you don’t understand it, you just know it’s making your life horrible, you will likely react with fear.

So, in terms of marketing and branding, this usually comes to life in a variety of ways. First and foremost, you have a real resistance to narrowly defining your target. When the research says, “The more narrow you define your target, the more successful you’ll be. The more growth you’ll find.”

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                However, when we’re afraid, we don’t want to narrow … Are you kidding me? I’ll take any business. I’ll take anybody. I just want to survive.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

John Monahon:                 Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                We also have a real problem with investing in ourselves. We hunker down, we get into survival mode, we stop investing in ourselves, and our people, and our training. We cut investments in R&D and in marketing.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Right.

Jonathan Lewis:                And the research tells us, especially when a market is down, that is when you need to invest, because that’s when market share opens up.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Right.

Jonathan Lewis:                And there’s an opportunity to steal the market share. So, we make really, really bad decisions when we’re afraid.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                Which then leads … It’s a cascading effect here. That fear immediately leads into that drift, where you lose your focus and you try to be all things to all people, which immediately leads into inconsistency, where you look for silver-bullet solutions and these answers. Which then leads into savagery, where you get your politics, turf wars, infighting. And if you look at any embattled industry today. So, if you look at the retail-apocalypse, for instance, Walmart, Target, Sears, everybody is suffering in retail. If you open the hood and look inside and really see the inner workings of that organization today, you’re gonna find savagery.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                You’re gonna find their best people have left the company. You’re gonna find turf wars. You’re gonna find people who don’t really understand what to do about Amazon. So they just sort of cling to what they know, cling to their department until it just evaporates. You’re gonna find a lot of internal problems because they’ve cascaded down those four internal factors to where now they’re just sort of drifting. They’re lost in the wilderness.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Okay. So, if you are lost in the wilderness. How do you work your way through it?

Jonathan Lewis:                You know, there’s some really interesting research here, as well, where we’ve all heard that … Or we all wonder, maybe, when we’re watching a movie. Do people really walk in circles if they’re in the desert? You know, do people really walk in circles if they’re lost in the wilderness? And many of us, probably, you know … You’ve been camping as a kid, or something, and maybe had a moment where you were lost. And it’s pretty terrifying.

John Monahon:                 Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                People kind of lose it when they get lost.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                But somebody decided to actually go test this. They said, “Can we conduct some research to see do people walk in circles?” And so, they attached GPS trackers to individuals and dropped them in the middle of the desert, and then dropped them in the middle of the forest, and said, “Okay. Try to walk in straight line.” And what they discovered is, yes in fact, we do walk in circles when lost. And the key difference between those that could walk straight and those that walk in circles, was whether or not we had our bearings. So, if it was overcast, and you couldn’t see a mountain in the distance, or you couldn’t see the sun, you tended to walk in circles. If it was nighttime and there was no moon, you tended to walk in circles. So having your bearings is absolutely vital if you feel like you’re lost today. So any survivalist will tell you, if you feel like you’re lost, you don’t know exactly what to do, you’re sort of drifting, the first thing you need to do is the last thing you want to do. You need to stop.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                It’s actually an acronym. Any Boy Scout can tell you, stop, think, observe, plan. And what’s so powerful about this is, it’s simple and it seems like, “Okay, sure.” But, when you’re in the moment, when you’re lost, when your body is experiencing the adrenaline and all the hormones. And your emotional part of your brain is sort of taking control of function of your body, the last thing you want to do is stop. Either you’re paralyzed and you’re just sitting there, and your brains going.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                Or you just want do something for doing it’s sake. You need to stop. Because when you stop, it’s actually your first act of courage as a company, as a professional, stop. Now what this does is it allows you the room to begin to then orient yourself to your surroundings. In the wilderness, that’s as simple as, “Okay. Do I have food? Do I have shelter? Does anybody know where I am? Did I tell anybody where I was going?” Those basic questions. In business, it’s, “Where is relevancy today? How is my business either being undermined, or is the business model changing? How do I become relevant to my, and highly valuable, to my marketplace?” And that is where you begin to go out and try to understand what is happening in the marketplace. And kinda famously, a good example of this is, Steve Jobs, we all know the famous story of how he returned to Apple and turned the whole ship around.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                It was almost miraculous. Right? Very few of us actually talk about, “Why was he able to do that?” Because, it’s not like he had access to information that Microsoft and others didn’t have at that time. Everyone has equal information today. It’s not about information. What he had was perspective. He had his bearings, and that only was possible for him because he wasn’t in the business. He had left Apple for years. And because of his own personal wilderness wandering at that time, he was able to gain perspective. Step back and say, “Okay. Where is the business today? Where is the business going to go?”

So, when he returned and started doing crazy things, like striking a deal with his arch-nemesis at Microsoft. And all of these weird things. Cutting products. His competitors didn’t get it. But he had perspective, because he had separated himself from the problem. He had his bearings. We, if we’re lost, we have to get our bearings in business. We have to separate ourselves. Get a little bit of perspective. Then that leads to the next thing, if you want-

Evelyn Ashley:                   So, Jonathan, when we broke you made the excellent observation that perspective and getting your bearings are critical in order to help a company to emerge from the wild with its branding. Its brand. And, it raises the question for me of since Jobs was outside of Apple, and came in, and was able to transform it, because he had had his perspective, is it possible to be inside the organization and still get your bearings and have that kind of change perspective?

Jonathan Lewis:                This is a tough one. I actually have extended conversations with my colleagues about this a lot. And kinda the core question is, “Can you disrupt from within?” And honestly, it depends on the day of whether I think it’s possible or not. Because, there are days when I’m pretty cynical and it feels like it’s not. You’re so entrenched in the way, in the status quo, and in protecting the status quo, that it’s very difficult to disrupt from within.

Is it impossible? Nothing’s impossible. But it is very difficult and if you look at Apple, that was a key to their success, is they brought Steve Jobs back. If you look at Lego, they went through their own disruption and near-bankruptcy near the turn of the century.    They had an outsider, who had worked there a couple of years, but they brought an outsider in to run the company. Marvel is the  same thing. So I would say most often than not, perspective requires you to come from without the company, from outside the company. That doesn’t mean you can’t get it. It just means that it’s harder to find within. Meaning often a company will have to hire it, or bring it in from a professional consulting.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                Somebody who can be objective. And that’s why consultants get a bad rap. But, perspective is extremely valuable, and that’s why consultants make money, because the one thing you don’t have when you’re in the trenches is a sky view. You know, you don’t have perspective. You can’t see it like other people see it.

So, this takes us to that next factor. Once you’re afraid and you’re hunkering down and you’re losing perspective, you begin to drift as a company. And you lose your focus. And so, if you want to stop, and then orient yourself to the marketplace. Once you’ve oriented yourself, you have to then find your focus. It’s not enough to know what’s going on, you need to then focus your organization. And this is actually harder and simpler than it may sound. It’s just three simple questions. What am I really, really, really good at doing? That’s the first question. The second question is, “What does my customer actually need?” Really, really need. Not what I want to sell them. But what do they actually need. And then here’s the money question. Where do those two things overlap? Because where they overlap is where you find your relevancy, and where you can find your focus. And if you go all-in on what’s relevant to your customer and what you’re good at doing, you find value. You find margin. And you can actually focus. And you can have then, you can have the courage and conviction to let go of the things that used to make you money, used to be valuable but aren’t anymore. And there’s great examples here. Blockbuster. They used to make enormous profit from their late fees.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                And it was also the thing everybody hated about Blockbuster. And you know, they had a very courageous CEO at the time, who had decided … You know, they passed on buying Netflix, famously. And which turned out to be a bad decision. But, when they figured that out, they did two things, they started their own online streaming service. And then they cut out, entirely, their late fees. Very courageous. This was happening from within. But guess what happened. The organization revolted. There was mutiny inside, and then they had an activist investor come in, which then kicked out the CEO, who is doing these things that they needed to do to be relevant.

John Monahon:                 Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                And actually turned the whole thing backwards. They hired a bunch of executives from 7-11, because as opposed to looking at entertainment as being easier and more convenient, and actually streaming into your home, they thought their secret sauce … They thought their focus needed to be on the retail. They thought people liked them for the experience in Blockbuster. So, they hired all these executives from 7-11 to focus on retail. They had all this weird junk in the stores. People are like, “What is this? This is … I don’t go to Blockbuster because you’re nice and it’s fun in the store. I go there for entertainment. It’s … You’re a facilitation of entertainment. And guess what? These guys over here, they make it … They facilitate entertainment a lot better than you do.” So, again, even if you have that perspective internally, which credit to the CEO of Blockbuster, at that time …

Evelyn Ashley:                   You can lose it in the process.

Jonathan Lewis:                You can lose it, simply because of mutiny. You know, everyone … If you don’t bring your whole team along, if there’s no alignment, you’re gonna have trouble.

Evelyn Ashley:                   So, okay, so you did allude to Lego, and the experience there, and I know you go into detail about focus and how that new CEO actually changed things in Lego. Talk to us a little bit about that, because I think it’s a really interesting story.

Jonathan Lewis:                This one is a lot of fun, simply because if you were paying attention 20 years ago, you’d think, “Of course, Lego. You know, they’ve been … They’ve always been successful. They’re the biggest toy maker in the world now.” When you rewind a few years ago, and they were on the brink of breaking up the whole company at the turn of the century. And what had happened was, they did research, and like any research if you interpret it incorrectly, you can go in really bad directions. And did research, they wanted to understand millennials. Those doggone millennials. And what the research told them was that millennials, you know, they’re digital-minded. They don’t want to work with their hands, and they want stuff easy.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                You know, they’re lazy. And so, they said, “Oh my God. You know, what are we gonna do?” So, they actually started to … They made their Lego blocks bigger, so it would be easier to work with. They started to diversify, they went into all of these different things including amusement parks, and they even created a toy that looked more like a GIO than a Lego. You know? So they were all over the place. And what happened was they started to crumble from within. I mean, their profit margin was shrinking, and they got to the brink of breaking up the whole company. And so, what they had to do was they revisited the research. And they said, “Okay. Something’s wrong here. Let’s just go … Let’s go straight to the customer. Let’s see what’s going on here.”

So, a bunch of the executives started to visit middle schoolers in their homes and kinda see how did they playing with the toys? What did they like about them? They talked to their parents, sort of things. And there’s this critical moment where there was this 14 year old, or a young man in Germany. They were hanging out with him and just kinda talking to him about Lego. And they noticed a pair of sneakers on his shelf. And they were beaten up, and they were written on, and they were shredded. And they said, “You know, what’s the deal with these sneakers?” And this kid lit up. And he said, “Oh my God. These are my favorite pair of sneakers. What … Because I’m one of the best skaters in their … The city in Germany. And everybody knows it. And you know what? Those, those sneakers prove it, because every skid mark, you know, every stretch, every rip, is a cool trick I, I made. And, and it proves that I am one of the best skaters.” And the light went off, they figured it out in that moment. Millennials, it’s not that they don’t want to work hard. It’s not that they’re just digitally minded. In fact, it’s the opposite, they love to problem solve. They love a challenge. They simply want to share it. They want to show other people how good they are.

And that’s when it all came back together for them. They refocused. They got rid of all the amusement parks that they were trying to run themselves. They refocused on their toys. They made their toys harder. They reduced the size of the toys, and they reoriented towards who they really are as a company, which is not just letting kids have fun at amusement parks and things. It’s building up creative problem solving through what they’re good at, which is the toys.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                And when they refocused, that turned the whole company around. And we see where they are today. Where they actually have learned from this. The CEO who turned them around just became the chairman, and he is leading a new committee to prevent what happened before. To prevent them from getting unfocused. And their new CEO is coming in to help keep them focused on the students, on the problem solving, on the toys.

Evelyn Ashley:                   That’s so interesting. I mean, so the whole idea, just coming back to your points, to know what you’re good at doing. What does the customer need? And do those two things overlap?

Jonathan Lewis:                Right.

Evelyn Ashley:                   And that worked completely in that scenario too. Right?

Jonathan Lewis:                Right. And the key again, came back to that perspective. The first time they thought they had it, and they were completely wrong. But they finally found it.

Evelyn Ashley:                   It’s amazing. I think the other curious thing that comes out of that is research and data.

Jonathan Lewis:                Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Evelyn Ashley:                   And you know everyone talks about, “Oh, I have to collect data. I have to collect data. I have to know what the research says. What does … What’s the voice of the customer? Wha … blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And to actually accumulate the data and read it wrong, or look at it differently than you should be, that’s just amazing. I mean, to be able to make or break a company just off of a perspective. Seriously.

Jonathan Lewis:                Absolutely. Absolutely, and I would say this, we love research. And data can be very powerful. But research is one of the most abused fields out there, because it’s really, in many ways, it’s a way to cover your butt, and it’s a way to pretend like you’re reducing risk in whatever decision you’re trying to make.

When one of the new realities of our new economy is the world is changing too fast. You can no longer reduce risk in any decision to a comfortable level anymore. It’s not possible.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                You have to get comfortable with uncomfortable decisions. Because, you just can’t do enough research, it’s always gonna come back to interpretation and your gut. So, operating in that environment is a new mindset that’s pretty scary for a lot of professionals today.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Makes perfect sense. So, we’re gonna take a quick break. And we’ll be back in just a few moments.

John  Monahon:                Jonathan, when we left off we were speaking about data and the use of it. I mean, now there’s so much data going around, especially … One kind of thing that we hear right now is about how everything’s moving from retail to online. Just using, I guess, that and data in general. How are we supposed to interpret data when all the data’s coming back and it’s saying, “Oh, this is going in the negative direction.” Do we get scared? And say, “Then we will not go that way.” Or do we say, “Well, hey, let’s re … Let’s find a solution as to why this data is going in that direction.” Is this a time to think and discover other avenues?

Evelyn Ashley:                  Or, how do we transform the company to get out of that ditch, if you will?

John Monahon:                 Right.

Evelyn Ashley:                  That research is telling us we’re in.

Jonathan Lewis:                Right. Right. You know, this is an interesting one. You know who had the most and the best data in the world? Was Hilary Clinton. And I will say this, you know, it doesn’t matter if the entire industry, every egghead, every person in their ivory tower tell you one thing. That doesn’t necessarily make it true.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                Which, I think underlines something that we’re discovering. I think there’s this perception, almost a myth, that our whole culture is believing, but also it’s especially … You see it a lot in business. It’s that, “Research is the savior. Research will always tell us the way.” And that’s just not the case. Research is a key component of finding your bearings, of orienting, but it’s the interpretation of the research that is so key. And that’s why our own intellect. Professionals, people who are good at this, who understand how to interpret, are so vital in this case. Where Trump, you know, God bless his soul. He saw something with his gut, he went all-in, and he completely disrupted the political machine. And he went straight to the voters through Twitter. And he didn’t listen to any of the polls. And guess what? He was right. And you’re seeing this a lot with data lately. You’re seeing it in the Brexit, you’re seeing it in the recent elections in Israel. You’re seeing it in a lot of places, where the data, the pollsters, they’re having trouble.

You’re also having a lot of problems with online data. It’s not everything it’s cracked up to be. There are problems. There’s a lot of issues that people in the tech realm are trying to tackle right now with online data. So, it’s not the Holy Grail.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                 It’s not the thing that will always tell you the truth. It’s a tool to get you closer to the truth. So, one of the things that we were discussing during the break was, you know, when we have some data, because we need it, we need to look at it. When we have it, can a CMO take it and run with it? Or does it have to necessarily start with the CEO?

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                Which is something we see a lot in these case studies. And I’ll say this, no matter what, the leadership is essential. Every survival scenario we looked at, whether it was Ernest Shackleton traversing Antarctica, or Teddy Roosevelt in the Amazon, it definitely came from the top. Everything comes from the top. Does the innovation, or does the pushing towards the new direction have to? Not necessarily.

The CMO, perhaps, can have a vision that the CEO believes in, and supports. But if you don’t have the alignment, if your team is not on the same page, you won’t get anywhere. And that brings us back to, I think, one of the key findings in our research. That regardless of whether you’re Ernest Shackleton or Teddy Roosevelt, or any of these survival scenarios, any of the business case studies. The key difference between organizations, people groups, who could face adversity and grow through it, and find sustainable growth. And those that face adversity and went backwards, had nothing to do with the externalities.       It didn’t matter how many supplies you had, how many people you had, how smart you were, how much money you had, it all came down to the internal health, the internal alignment of the team. Do you have nerve? Do you have focus? Are you consistent? Do you have alignment?            If you have those things, you can pretty much overcome any adversity. But, if you don’t have those things, it doesn’t matter how smart you are, how great of a plan you have, how skilled you are, you’re probably going to fail.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Interesting. So, we have not talked about this, and I don’t mean to present this, but I suspect you have an opinion on this. I’ve been thinking about JCPenney a few years ago, and how they brought the executive in from I think he was Google, or Apple, I forget, to actually transform that company. And, he was hired by the board, because of course, Penney’s was and I think still is, in a major brand ditch. But, how he came in and said, “We’re just gonna cut prices. No one’s gonna get a coupon ever again. We’re not gonna run sales. We’re not gonna blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, because I’m gonna change basically the way that shoppers like shopping.” And, I mean, the reality is, I think, most women like a sale.

Jonathan Lewis:                 Sure.

Evelyn Ashley:                   And I think his experience showed that. But I think kind of raising that as, I don’t know if you saw this in your research, kind of what he did, or have any thoughts on that, but it’s kind of the upside-down outcome in a way. Isn’t it?

Jonathan Lewis:                 It is. And so when Ron Johnson left Apple and he was famous for the Apple store. I mean, he had reinvented retail.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Right. That’s right.

Jonathan Lewis:                And that’s why he was a star. Right?

Evelyn Ashley:                   Yep.

Jonathan Lewis:                 I mean, the board was like, “If we’re gonna fix, uh, you know, discount retail, we’re gonna … Ron Johnson’s the guy that can fix it.” Well, there was one Achilles heel to the whole plan, because I really believe … Ron Johnson’s a great guy and he really is brilliant.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                But, the one major mistake he made was he never addressed the culture. In fact, he sent the opposite signals to the internal JCPenney culture, so what happened was when they brought him in, first and foremost, he spent millions of dollars recruiting high-level Apple talent to come with him.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Right.

Jonathan Lewis:                And so, there are all these outsiders that came in. When he entered the company, I think he actually had the right strategy to help with discount retail. Where it was like no more sales. We’ll go low price all time.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                Well, when he brought them in, he sort of created this new fee fie foe dom where old leaders within JCPenney felt like they couldn’t have access to Ron, and their ideas weren’t being heard and there was resentment. And people didn’t understand what he was doing. So, all of this passive aggression kind of spread like a cancer through the organization. So, even though he may have been right, his plan may have been perfect, the whole organization was quietly, passive aggressively revolting. Because there was no alignment.

Evelyn Ashley:                   No alignment.

Jonathan Lewis:                So, again, you can have the vision, you can have the plan.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                If you neglect the culture, you’re going to fail.

Evelyn Ashley:                   So interesting. That’s fantastic.

John Monahon:                  That goes almost along with your savagery analogy that you draw in the book. Right?

Jonathan Lewis:                Yeah.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Yeah. Start feeding on each other.

Jonathan Lewis:                Again if you go look at what was going on in JCPenney, it was pretty savage. There was a lot of internal aggression going on.

Evelyn Ashley:                   So, Jonathan, is there a way? Because so much of what we’ve talked about is when the brand goes into the wild, that it has failed to observe what should be happening in a transition mode, and that everyone should be focused on that. Is there a way? Are there brands, and is there a way to stay out of the wild? To never actually go into it, where you have to emerge?

Jonathan Lewis:                There’s not a way to completely avoid the wild, because business is cyclical.

Evelyn Ashley:                   Okay.

Jonathan Lewis:                What you can do is be resilient. And so, that when you enter the wild, when you’re in this wilderness, because you will be. I don’t care who you are, what company you’re in. I don’t care what. The government is in the wilderness today. Right?

Evelyn Ashley:                   Absolutely.

Jonathan Lewis:                Who thought the government could be disrupted. So, you will go through it, but what you can do is be resilient. And what that requires is a healthy team, and a new understanding of how to be resilient. What new principles are required to adopt in this new economy. But it starts with your internal team, because if you’re on the same page, if there’s trust and respect. Then you can get through almost anything. And if there’s one thing I could recommend to your listeners, I’d say it’s this. Of course, I want you to buy my book, that would be awesome. But if you’re not gonna buy my book, I encourage you to buy this book. It’s called “Getting Naked” by Patrick Lencioni. And in it, he really reveals the key to encouraging healthy conflict, which is at the cornerstone of healthy environments. Healthy conflict, you don’t want passive aggression, you don’t want aggression. You want healthy conflict. And there’s two things in this book that he outlines. First and foremost, if we want to get alignment and retain alignment, so we could be resilient, you need to enter the danger. This is the idea that we all have these meetings where we sit around the table, we talk about some challenge, and everybody sort of knows what the real problem is, but nobody will say it. You know, somebody in the back of the room’s rolling their eyes, someone else is nodding off. Nobody will say it. You need to be willing to get weird. Get awkward. Enter that danger. But it’s not enough to enter the danger, you have to do it in the right way. You need kind truth. And if you go in there with just truth, then you can turn people off, you can be harsh, you can be Ron Johnson. Right?

Evelyn Ashley:                   Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Jonathan Lewis:                Where, I know the answer. You have to also have kindness. Truth by itself can turn people off. Kindness by itself is impotent. You need them both. Kind truth entering the danger. And if you have a culture of kind truth entering the danger, then you can have a culture of healthy conflict, which allows you to be resilient when you’re facing these hardships.

Evelyn Ashley:                   That’s awesome. Jonathan, thank you so much for your time today. This has been a really interesting conversation. Really enjoyed it very, very much.

Jonathan Lewis:                Thanks so much for having me.

Evelyn Ashley:                   We’d like to thank you.

Jonathan Lewis:                It’s been a lot of fun. Appreciate what you do.

Evelyn Ashley:                   So, we’d really love for all of you to go and see Jonathan’s website, at Jonathan David Lewis, all one word, dot com. And please purchase his book “Brand Vs Wild”, it is available on Amazon. And we hope you enjoyed today’s In Process. If you’d like to download this episode, please visit iTunes and search for our show. It’s listed as In Process Podcast. If you have any questions on the topic today or would like to be featured as a guest on our show, please email us at Thank you all for joining us. See you next time.

Announcer:                        This has been In Process. Conversations about business in the 21st century, with Evelyn Ashley and John Monahon. Presented by Trusted Counsel, a corporate and intellectual-property law firm. For more information, visit

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