Embrace Your Inner Masochist

I recently had the opportunity to keynote Compete’s Annual Digital CMO Conference. After the sessions, a small group of senior marketing execs had an intimate lunch and discussion about organizational change and cultural transformation.

One of the paradigms and frameworks we discussed came from Stephen DiMarco, Compete’s CMO, who referenced a very simple matrix of pain and pleasure as motivational forces and catalysts of change. The continuum looks something like this (in order from most important to least important):

  1. Pain now
  2. Pain later
  3. Pleasure now
  4. Pleasure later

What struck me with this very simple and yet effective breakdown is how pain trumps pleasure -- both present and future.

Intuitively, this makes sense if you think about disrupting norms and the status quo: fear of failure (losing one’s job, being lambasted by the trades and blogosphere, market share loss) is the known devil versus the unknown devil of wild success (new revenue streams, competitive advantage, viral mania, best in show creative.)



And yet, it makes no sense at all. The downside is always known and somewhat finite. Our goal here is to minimize and/or mitigate the “cost” of failure. On the flipside, the upside is limitless and infinite. And yet, we resist or choose to stick with the tried and tested instead of framing inaction as an “opportunity cost”: the cost of doing nothing.

The second surprise from this breakout is how “pain later” trumps “pleasure now." One would think the pecking order would read: Pain now. Pleasure now. Pain later. Pleasure later. The result is the quintessential “stuck between a rock and a hard place”: a purgatory or limbo of sorts between the pain of clutter, confusion and lack of metrics with the looming noose of missed goals. I guess this is where “paralyzed with fear” comes into play.






Analysis Paralysis; Confusion & Clutter; Talent Shortage etc.

Missing goals; earnings; sales quotas


Better optimized & allocated budgets & Investment

Transformational Change


Completing the matrix (above) is definitely a helpful exercise, but I think it’s time we also “flip the matrix” by redefining pain and pleasure; rethinking time frames and in doing so, separate “fear” from “failure.”

It is widely held that change happens (action) when the cost of not changing is greater than the cost of changing. Put differently, when the pain associated with inactivity outweighs the pain (risk, fear, uncertainty) associated with venturing out of one’s comfort zone.

The problem is that we typically either misinterpret these signs or don’t always act in a smart, strategic and holistic way. Cases in point: a bad Twitter experience results in closing down an account or being on Twitter in the first place respectively.

Today, we are surrounded by forces of change that jolt us into action. Often these are sadly knee-jerk reactions that are “forced” versus voluntary, and mired in short-term thinking and instant gratification.

If it is true (and it is) that the incumbent paid media world continues to erode -- both in terms of efficacy and efficiency -- and if it is true (and it is) that the emerging digital landscape continues to expand and evolve, then surely now would be the time to rework the matrix to essentially blend together both pain and pleasure as positive stimuli, working in tandem under the unified banner of innovation.






Failing Fast & Failing Smart

Pivoting and Course Correction


Patents, Proprietary IP, Barriers to Entry & Exit

Competitive Advantage & Transformational Change


The takeaway here is to embrace pain “now” in order to avoid it later, but equally to embrace pleasure “later” in order to avoid the soft, artificial and increasingly temporary appearance of pleasure now (status quo).

2 comments about "Embrace Your Inner Masochist ".
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  1. Bryan Boettger from Reevuit, May 23, 2013 at 1:07 p.m.

    Nice article and thoughts. Reminds me of the question: Is your product a pain pill or a vitamin? It's much easier to get people to stay loyal to a pain pill than to a vitamin.

  2. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, May 23, 2013 at 4:15 p.m.

    So interesting! Thanks for sharing :)

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