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Joe Jackman: “Getting rapid and scrappy with innovation”

Getting rapid and scrappy with innovation: Other retailers are taking this opportunity to rethink how they deliver their customer experience. We’re working with Dave & Buster’s, for example, to rethink the way they use digital and mobile applications in-store. What’s particularly interesting about that work is that the approach was to focus on getting going […]

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Getting rapid and scrappy with innovation: Other retailers are taking this opportunity to rethink how they deliver their customer experience. We’re working with Dave & Buster’s, for example, to rethink the way they use digital and mobile applications in-store. What’s particularly interesting about that work is that the approach was to focus on getting going versus getting it perfect. Move fast, learn, implement and keep going. That’s not something that retailers have historically been very good at, but the ability to scrappily innovate and rapidly execute new tests and experiences is increasingly going to need to be a core capability for retailers.


As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Jackman.

An advisor to consumer brands, B2B companies and private equity partners for 30+ years, Joe Jackman has proven invaluable to leaders intent on sharpening strategy and orchestrating brand-driven reinventions of their businesses. Throughout his career as strategist, creative director and reinventionist, he has helped companies create the most powerful and relevant versions of their brands in record time. As CEO and Founder of the reinvention firm Jackman, Joe is widely considered to be the leading expert on rapid reinvention.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Excited to join you! This story from my youth — although I didn’t realize it at the time — set me on a path to what I do today, namely, helping leaders and their companies reinvent themselves….

My older sisters had gone off to University in Windsor, across the river from Detroit. At the time, Nixon was the U.S. President, the Vietnam war was raging, and cities everywhere were hotbeds of civil unrest. I was spending the summer with them in a dilapidated old mansion they had rented with their friends, and daily life was much different from normal life at home with my parents: protest marches, campus sit-ins, union picket lines. Change was in the air, and I had a front row seat to a massive and collective challenge to the status quo of the day. According to my sisters and their peers, the status quo was the enemy and it was up to us to tear it down and rebuild. I was thoroughly inspired, and passionately swept up by the idea of purposeful change. I was 10 years old.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

As a partner in a brand design consultancy I had co-founded, I had been working with a large, publicly traded retailer for the better part of two decades. I knew them very well and was comfortable advising them on everything from brand positioning to store format evolution and retail communications. What I wasn’t prepared for was joining their executive ranks to become their first ever national Executive Vice President of Marketing. For two and a half years it was retail exec boot camp, a time of massive transformational change at a 20 billion dollar plus company. When I returned to the consulting world afterward to create the one of the world’s first reinvention consultancies, I learned firsthand what it’s like to be inside a company undergoing a complete restructuring. It was painful on so many levels. Yet, as hard as those years were, they were the best and most foundational of my career.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

When I finished industrial design school I joined up with several classmates and started a small creative shop. We pitched everything from brochure and display design to full-on product development, which was the core focus of our education. Somehow, we landed a meeting with the CEO and full leadership team of a global coffee company, and we diligently prepared a presentation we were confident would wow them. Minutes before we were set to present, I stepped out to the restroom to straighten my tie and hair. When washing up afterward, hurrying so as not to be late, I accidentally sprayed my tan slacks with water. Not an appropriate look for the front of the room given it looked like I had another kind of accident. The quick fix was standing beneath the wall-mounted hand dryer, hips pitched forward and up so as to dry as much as possible. It was at that precise moment that the CEO walked in. Aah…such are the trials and tribulations of youth in a hurry. The lesson, of course, is to stay focused and — above all — calm!

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

We’re working on the reinvention of the Staples brand in both the U.S. and Canada, helping it to move from its roots as an office supply superstore to becoming “the working and learning company” focused on lifelong achievement. Today, entrepreneurialism is a requirement, whether you own your own business or are an ‘intrapreneur’ faced with making rapid change within a larger company. The leadership teams, with our help, are finding ways to add value and support a growing community of business people, students and teachers in fresh new ways. That makes us feel good, particularly in these incredibly challenging times.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

As I wrote about in my book, “The Reinventionist Mindset,” making change can be less stressful with the right mindset. For example, one of the principles is Make Momentum Together. When you do, solutions become more thoughtful and powerful, and the collective buy-in that results from real collaboration ensures change happens faster. Each of the five principles is intuitive, and perhaps even deceptively simple. What I’ve learned from helping to reinvent over 40 companies is that they are the game changers of change itself. Said plainly, the way to avoid burn out is to not only get good at change but to get really good at it — like ‘pro athlete’ good.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I’ve been blessed to have so many mentors along the way, either formally or informally. My stance has always been that you can learn from everyone you interact with if you are curious and a good listener. What you’ll discover is how willing people from all walks of life and perspectives are to share what they know, and it’s this diversity of experience and critical thinking that makes each of us stronger. Said another way, be a sponge. It’s why the first principle of the mindset I’m referring to is Seek Insight Everywhere.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Besides charitable contributions — for example, the pro bono work we do at Jackman on behalf of organizations involved in making social change — I invest time in helping people in my community become their most relevant and powerful. This includes mentoring, being accessible to younger people for career advice and networking support, and simply being as good a person and citizen as possible. I like to think that simply setting a positive example as best I can, particularly in difficult times, can go a long way.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share five examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

Overall, throughout the pandemic we’ve seen four overarching themes that companies are focusing on in order to bring themselves into the post-pandemic world. These include finding new ways to engage with existing communities of consumers, getting rapid and scrappy with innovation, defining new roles for digital and physical assets, and, at the highest level, getting creative about new ways to deliver an emotional benefit above and beyond just product and services.

  • Engaging consumer communities: Staples and Kay Jewelers

We’ve been working with both Staples and Kay Jewelers to launch new programs with a focus on engaging existing communities of consumers in new ways — and, particularly, to help those communities during the pandemic. Staples understood its small business customers were struggling, so they created a resource center with helpful tips and tricks to help businesses stay afloat and manage reopening. They also created a community business directory focused on bringing members together to connect and share helpful tips.

Kay Jewelers knows that finding the perfect engagement ring is just one small part of a couple’s proposal journey. To help people better express their own unique love stories, Kay created a platform for a community of people passionate about love to come together, helping others plan and pull off their perfect engagement proposal.

  • Getting rapid and scrappy with innovation: Dave & Buster’s

Other retailers are taking this opportunity to rethink how they deliver their customer experience. We’re working with Dave & Buster’s, for example, to rethink the way they use digital and mobile applications in-store. What’s particularly interesting about that work is that the approach was to focus on getting going versus getting it perfect. Move fast, learn, implement and keep going. That’s not something that retailers have historically been very good at, but the ability to scrappily innovate and rapidly execute new tests and experiences is increasingly going to need to be a core capability for retailers.

  • Defining new roles for digital and physical assets: David’s Tea vs. Domino’s

In that context, I’m curious about how different strategies will play out. What’s interesting is that there is no one-size-fits-all right answer, and that’s what makes right now such an interesting time to be doing this work. Let’s take what should be a very basic question: What’s the role of real estate? We’ve seen companies take some very different approaches. Take David’s Tea and Domino’s Pizza, for example.

Domino’s has been on a rapid expansion of its physical footprint so they can deliver faster and fresher, and has seen a 16% sales growth in response. David’s Tea, on the other hand, has closed most of its stores and gone fully digital, as they see the future of tea-buying being online only. Two very different strategies, but both demonstrating the challenges and opportunities that will come up as companies wrestle with this very profound question of the role of digital and physical in delivering customer engagement.

  • Focusing the benefit you provide outside of the product or service: Lululemon

One last example to call out because they’re doing a little bit of everything: Lululemon. They’ve made some very interesting moves during the pandemic, including the acquisition of in-home fitness company Mirror. This allows them to do what they’ve done in-store with their classes, but bring it to consumers in their own homes. They have also capitalized on the customer community by creating a membership strategy that includes classes, digital workshops, and VIP access to the brand. They’ve really rethought how they deliver their core benefit without letting some of the operational challenges of COVID get in the way.

In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?

Yes, undoubtedly, they will. But to survive and thrive into the future, stores and their complementary digital dimensions will need to do three things simultaneously:

  1. Be incredibly efficient at fulfilling a customer’s needs in the way they wish to be fulfilled on that occasion. Brands must deliver transactional ease across channels, without which is a high risk of deselection.
  2. Engage with customers in thoughtful, compelling and personalized ways which will create an important tie-breaker when everything else is equal. The physical store is a wonderful platform for human connection and experience beyond only goods and services fulfillment.
  3. Ultimately, winning customers’ hearts, minds and wallets will require clearly serving a higher-order purpose, and this must manifest across everything: online, offline, and — more broadly — culturally. Welcome to the values economy, as different from the value economy we grew up with, where every decision is made not on what you sell but who you are.

The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?

It’s a big question. Fortunately, there is a simple answer, the one thing that continually successful retailers do that others don’t: they make change and evolve before they have to.

Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Just like the onset and wild growth days of Walmart which taught retailers how to be efficient and get their cost base in line, thankfully there is Amazon (and Alibaba and others) to point the way to the next model of serving customers in ways that make sense for them today. But here’s the thing: To beat Amazon you don’t need to be them. You simply need to sell products and services they do not, remembering that differentiation calls on us to actually be different in some meaningful way and create an engaging customer experience they are either unable or unwilling to match.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

A guest on my podcast (The Reinventionists), Maryam Banakarim, when asked what she would most like to reinvent, answered “democracy itself.” That’s the movement I would like to be a part of. The world needs today’s version of democracy, now more than ever.

How can our readers further follow your work?

My company can be found at www.jackmanreinvents.com. The very best way to stay with the incredible research, thinking, and work that is coming out of that very talented group of Reinventionists is to join our community; simply send an email to [email protected] and we’ll get you on the list. Personally, I can be found at @joejackman3 on Instagram, and as an author and speaker at www.joejackman.com.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Truly, it was my pleasure! Thank you. Wishing you well on your own journey to your most relevant and powerful self.


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