Q&A: Kiirsten May On Writing The Proximity Paradox

Traditional business structures love stability and predictability. Yet many organizations believe the two essential ingredients for long-term success are creativity and innovation. Our Kiirsten May and Alex Varricchio call the relationship between these two opposing expectations the Proximity Paradox™.

Kiirsten and Alex hold such strong beliefs in this Proximity Paradox that they wrote a book by the same name to share some practical ideas on how to create the distance necessary share some practical ideas on how-to create the distance necessary to generate innovative ideas.

For this blog, Kiirsten chatted a little bit about the book.

What motivated you to write The Proximity Paradox?

When we started UpHouse Inc., we knew that our focus would be on supporting in-house marketers. We had seen a lot of organizations work less with agencies by building in-house teams because so much marketing requires hands-on, day-to-day work that is best done by in-house staff.

But sometimes you lose that outside perspective on your business.

An agency can bring that because they’re not as mired in the day-to-day and they typically spend time at that 30,000-foot level looking at a lot of different organizations so they bring a fresh way of thinking.

When we were conceptualizing UpHouse as an agency, we had many different situations and experiences to draw from and different ideas and activities to help shake things up and we decided that this would be great material for a book.

Can you explain what a Proximity Paradox means?

A lot of people have experienced a situation where they needed to solve a challenge—they were wresting with it and stewing on it and simply couldn’t figure it out. Finally, when they’re at their wits’ end, they casually mention the problem to a friend over coffee who says: “why don’t you just do this?” And it hits them like a ton of bricks—the idea could actually work and they wonder why they didn’t think of it themselves. That person could be in a completely different field with a completely different education but sees a way over the challenge. Why does that happen? It’s because the closer we are to a challenge, the harder it is to solve.

It’s a problem that everyone struggles with. The book breaks down this struggle and looks at it within people, within teams and within processes that are common at the industry level. It explains the barriers that create proximity and then shows a way to approach them with a fresh perspective.

Each chapter goes through a number of strategies and then offers a case study showcasing a business leader or organization that is doing it well, either at the business level or the micro level, to validate our thinking.

How are you qualified to write about this subject?

On the jacket it says “Kiirsten and Alex are for all intents and purposes, nobodies” and that’s exactly the point. We’re not these hot-shot creativity execs, we’re just outsiders that are going to approach a challenge in a different way.

When did you find the time to write a book?

We know a lot of folks who have great ideas for books and have the concept and maybe the chapter outlines but they have such a hard time sitting down to write it. We knew that would be our biggest challenge so we set really ambitious goals for ourselves. When we first launched UpHouse; we knew we wouldn’t be as busy because we wouldn’t have a lot of clients. We just put the pedal down and wrote as much as we possibly could. We probably wrote the first 80% in those first two or three months, then it took another year and a half to write the rest of it because the company got busy and there just wasn’t any time to write.

Who should read this book?

Anyone who is responsible for innovation or ideation in any space, not just marketing. There are lots of folks in R&D departments—engineers or technicians—business leaders and more who wants to create a culture of creativity or innovation in their organization. As well anyone who is just entering these spaces—students in marketing and communications or business management; it would be a good heads up of what they’re walking into or how to hold on to that outside perspective that they’re bringing into an organization.

Want to order a copy of the book? Find a retailer here!

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