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by Bob Hutchins, Brad Ayres & Ken Ott
Agency Exposed Podcast

Innovate or die



This week’s episode explores the mindset behind innovation. Innovation can be hard because it’s a long term investment, it’s risky, and it takes dedicated time. It’s really ANOTHER job, but without it, you’re soon dead. We discuss how we maintain motivation to learn and grow, as well as the steps we take toward innovation regardless of circumstances. As agency owners, our mindset is our most critical tool for moving through uncertainty with confidence. If you want to empower your teams and clients to learn, grow, and stay ahead of the times, it all starts with your own mindset.

A few questions to consider:

  • How do you sell innovation to a client?
  • What opportunities for innovation are there in your industry?
  • How do you create motivation for yourself that drives innovation and a future-oriented mindset?

Top 3 Curtain Pulls in this episode:

  1. Know yourself - The motivating factors are different for everyone, and part of developing a healthy innovation mindset is learning what drives you. Some people might be driven by data, while others are driven by emotions or competition. If you can identify what motivates, you’re one step closer to a true spirit of innovation.
  2. Pursuing innovation with clients can be a tricky tightrope to walk. Remember that agency services have 2 parts: the commodity and the innovation. Clients often come asking for a commodity, and it is your role to sell them on innovation.
  3. Create your identity - Define your identity in terms of values rather than opinions. In Think Again, Adam Grant says, “It’s easier to avoid getting stuck in past beliefs if you don’t become attached to them as part of your present self-concept. See yourself as someone who values curiosity, learning, mental flexibility, and searching for knowledge.”

For more tips, discussion, and behind the scenes:

Resources Mentioned:

About The Guys:

Bob Hutchins: Founder of BuzzPlant, a digital agency that he ran from from 2000-2017. He is also the author of 3 books. More on Bob:

Brad Ayres: Founder of Anthem Republic, an award-winning ad agency. Brad’s knowledge has led some of the biggest brands in the world. Originally from Detroit, Brad is an OG in the ad agency world and has the wisdom and scars to prove it. Currently that knowledge is being applied to his boutique agency. More on Brad:

Ken Ott: Co-Founder and Chief Growth Rebel of Metacake, an Ecommerce Growth Team for some of the world’s most influential brands with a mission to Grow Brands That Matter. Ken is also an author, speaker, and was nominated for an Emmy for his acting on the Metacake Youtube Channel (not really). More on Ken:

Show Notes:

[0:35] Bob welcomes us to this episode and The Guys catch up after a week of snow, ice, and sleet in Nashville. Brad and Ken grew up in this stuff… they’re not phased.

[3:21] Bob introduces today’s topic- Innovation. We’ve talked a lot about being future-oriented as an agency, and we all know that staying ahead of the curve in this industry is a constant challenge.

[4:43] Bob asks: How do we, as agency owners, maintain the correct type of thinking that keeps us sharp, ahead of the curve, and productive.

[5:11] Ken adds that the uncertainty factor is a season that we’re passing through- it can be difficult to remember that! But how do you operate inside of that uncertainty with confidence? The answer: your Mindset. The strategies for maintaining a confident mindset regardless of circumstance are endless, but The Guys will take a shot at providing some examples.

[7:48] Brad talks about finding excitement to improve the inner workings of his business- it doesn’t come naturally for him. But what he does find exciting is potential technology that will change his business and the business of his client just a couple of years down the road. Working with clients who truly get excited about those opportunities is also very motivating.

[10:01] Bob says that as a business owner, it is imperative that we work on ourselves. Without self-awareness, none of the strategies we talk about work. This means being able to admit where your weaknesses are, what you don’t understand and where you may be wrong.

[11:00] Ken says this process is simply covering your downsides. In any team, there are different roles that cover what others aren’t good at. As a business owner, you really have to operate within two different businesses- the business now, and the business that you want to have 10 years from now.

[13:28] Brad talks about how different things motivate different people. He says that he is motivated more by knowledge and information than motivational speaking or pure enthusiasm. Having the self-awareness to know where your motivation comes from is part of this!

[15:55] Bob talks about a common experience that people have- realizing that your motivation doesn’t come from the same sources as others. It’s easy to go with the crowd and assume that you get motivation from the same things.

[18:58] Ken asks Brad about the content that he consumes and how it motivates him.

[19:15] Brad says that watching financial news is the best way for him to understand different industries from a broad perspective. Ultimately, clients come to you to make money! So having a good understanding of the financial news within their industry is a great start. In addition, it pays to stay abreast of technology and the changes that are around the bend.

[21:17] Bob adds that knowing your personality type and how you best work within existing structures can be very helpful. For example, Brad is a 5 on the Enneagram- The Investigator. And his personality type matches up exactly with the way he does business. Yet again- self awareness pays off!

[22:50] Ken highlights that the intentionality behind these concepts is the key. When you are self-aware of what drives you and what you’re good at versus what you’re not good at, you can push your intentions towards what you know is your strong point.

[25:00] Ken talks about how a lack of self-awareness can lead to you becoming a crutch for your team members- often when you step back and allow them to do their job, it leaves you in a place where you can focus on your strengths as the business owner.

[26:17] Brad shares an interview with Elon Musk where he said that people at Tesla don’t get fired for failing, but for not innovating. He is working towards a company and a workforce that accepts failure as part of the process, and you’ll only get fired if someone sees that you’re not innovating or pushing yourself beyond what you think is possible. Developing a culture of failure is enormously challenging.

[28:21] Ken mentions the difficulty of empowering your team to innovate and potentially fail when you’re serving clients. Failure in these scenarios can look like you’re just not doing your job. He asks The Guys how they apply this culture of failure to their own businesses.

[29:10] Bob says that working with clients to teach them what to expect- it should be built into your brand and the way that your agency works. Most clients come to agencies so that they can AVOID failing, so that they can have a guarantee of success. It’s important to be self-aware enough to know when you’re getting into that situation with a client.

[31:05] Brad talks about working with clients and explaining along the way that some parts of their plan may be risky. Helping them to understand why the risk is worth it and really laying out the financial piece is incredibly important.

  • It is often easier to take the risk on yourself- show them how something worked for you first so that if you fail it’s not as detrimental.

[32:36] Bob tells us a story.

  • In the 1980’s Soviet submarine grounded itself on Swedish shores- Swedish army knew that Soviets were up to no good during this time and so they weren’t entirely surprised. The Soviets apologized, said that their new technology had led them astray and eventually they were able to peacefully depart. But that left a lot of people wondering; Weren't the Swedes aware of sonar in the water? How did this happen? There was a recording of the submarine that was kept under wraps for decades, and it sounds nothing like a normal submarine. Scientists were able to study this unusual sound eventually, and they found that the sounds that they thought were Russian submarines were actually large schools of red herring fish.
  • The message here is that because that “secret sound” of what they thought was a Russian sub was never shared, never listened to by anyone else and never challenged, the Truth was elusive. And that is why they were ill-prepared when one of these subs washed up on their shores.

[37:26] Bob “Best practices are not always the best practices.” Be willing to challenge best practices!

[38:41] Ken talks about the difficulty of challenging beliefs and staying relevant.

[38:54] Brad “Most people need a strong process… they want to know that they’re doing a good job and that they’re doing it right.” But it can be hugely challenging to teach that culture to also take risks and think outside of the box. Look at ways that you can innovate your processes to make them better!

[40:13] Ken says it is critical to have a peer group where you can talk about these concepts. The agency world is changing a bit in this regard, and this is great! It’s such a refreshing experience to take part in these groups and learn things from others who are in alignment with your philosophies.

[42:53] Brad: There are two things we sell in our industry- a commodity and innovation. Innovation is the harder sell- it’s easier to sell a commodity because the client is asking for it. Selling innovation means selling the possibility of failure and the unknown.

[45:02] Bob speaks on the importance of creating a culture internally that supports this innovation and experimentation. The great inventions of humanity that solve daily problems have come from the trenches, from the people. Supporting your team and empowering them to evolve through processes is part of your role, and helps to create a culture of innovation.

[48:21] Ken speaks on innovation and the breakthroughs that come from a deep sense of need.

  • Some of the most challenging times are the times that have taught us to identify problems and come up with innovative solutions. It’s a matter of truly digging into that need instead of panicking about it.

[52:24] Bob recommends Adam Grant’s book Think Again, noting that he has some good takeaways from it:

  • “Think like a scientist- when forming a new opinion, resist the temptation to peach, persecute, or politic. Treat your emerging view as a hypothesis and test it with data.”
  • “Define your identity in terms of values not opinions- it’s easier to avoid getting stuck in past beliefs if you don’t become attached to them as part of your present self-concept. See yourself as someone who values curiosity, learning, mental flexibility, and searching for knowledge as you form opinions.”
  • “Seek out information that goes against your views. You can fight confirmation bias, burst filter bubbles, and escape echo chambers by actively engaging with ideas that challenge your assumptions.”
  • “Be aware of getting stranded at the summit of Mt. Stupid- don’t confuse confidence with competence.”
  • “Harness the benefits of doubt- when you find yourself doubting your ability, reframe the situation as an opportunity for growth. You can have confidence in your capacity to learn while questioning your current solution to a problem. Knowing that you don’t know is often the first step toward developing expertise.”
  • “Embrace the joy of being wrong- when you find you you’ve made a mistake, take it as a sign that you’ve just discovered something new. Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself, it helps you focus less on proving yourself and more on improving yourself.”

[55:30] Ken “That ability to be confidently humble and not arrogant is one of the most critical factors in being able to do innovation and move forward confidently.”


Episode 61

Season 1

by Bob Hutchins, Brad Ayres & Ken Ott