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Momentum for stalled, stuck, and stale industries.

A pile of lightbulbs.

By Steve McKee

It’s not easy to be creative when you’re discouraged. Even less so when you’re terrified.

That’s a lesson I learned the hard way many years ago when my company was on the rocks. Not only was my job on the line, the jobs of all of my employees were as well, and I was responsible. That’s a lot of pressure. Especially when you have no idea what to do.

For some reason I had the instinct to go back to first principles. I’m a big believer in market research and built my career being unafraid to ask questions. So we set about to conduct research among companies that had the growth thing figured out and see what they knew that we didn’t. I tell the full story in chapter one of my book, When Growth Stalls, but perhaps the most helpful insight was this: we weren’t alone.

Our research revealed plenty of lessons from growing companies, to be sure, but it was the twenty percent or so we discovered were struggling—just like us—that were the most encouraging. Not just because it meant we weren’t alone, but because we identified four internal dynamics that get and keep companies down. One of which is that loss of nerve that I had staring in the mirror each morning, unsure of what to do.

That’s what initially freed me. I realized it wasn’t my fault. Oh it was my problem, to be sure, but there’s a big difference between “my ineptitude caused this” and “my abilities will get us out of this.” It is that mindset, in fact, that unlocked a new phase of innovation at my firm. And we’re still here.

No, it’s not easy being creative when you’re discouraged. It’s not easy looking for solutions with the grim reaper breathing down your neck. It’s not easy being innovative when what you’ve always known works isn’t working anymore.

But you’re not alone. It’s not your fault. It’s a fact of business life. In fact, our research found that over the course of an average decade more than half of all companies experience stalled growth. Quit blaming yourself. You’re not the problem. You’re the fix.

Believing that is how to stimulate innovation—even when your job is on the line.


Steve McKee

This smart looking guy is our agency’s co-founder. When he’s not sitting in his not-so-oval office looking official, he’s busy writing books and winning awards for them.

How disrupted are you?

For over a decade, McKee Wallwork and Company has been a leader and innovator in death care. The firm’s groundbreaking national market research is to this day the definitive consumer segmentation study on funeral care. On the creative front, MW+C was behind breakthrough work including the inception of Passare, “Scatter Day,” YODO, and the documentary The Empty Chair. MW+C has served as the agency of record for leading funeral homes, cemeteries, and death care brands from coast to coast. In addition, the firm’s robust research arm is responsible for developing the Death Care Disruption Index in partnership with Selected Independent Funeral Homes, and the Death Care Genogram in partnership with Passare. This fall, MW+C  will release its first book on the future of funeral service, The Right Way of Death, authored by partner Eric Layer.

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