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August 25, 2010

All Hail the Class Clown

2 minute read, in Brand Strategy / Business / Identity / Perception / Tone/Voice

Just wrapped a meeting with Philip Playfair and Steve Hammond, the Co-Founders of Lowfoot.

Lowfoot’s business is based on disruptive thinking, and I’m convinced they’ve got it right. They’ve uncovered the fact that while everyone’s busy figuring out new ways (some green, some not) to meet our ever growing energy needs, no one is really, seriously asking how to build a business on getting people to generate less energy.

So that’s what they’ve done. Lowfoot has staked its business on the power of Smart Meter technology to empower people to reduce their demand for energy and reap rewards (in the form of credits) from using less.

Meetings with these guys are always interesting. They have an “anything is possible” way of thinking that is exciting to be around. One of the insights I gained from today’s meeting is that both Phil and Steve are former class clowns (well, maybe not so former).

The term class clown is generally seen in a negative light. Class clowns are perceived as attention seekers, troubled kids who are using humour to make up for deep-seated insecurity.

If you met Phil and Steve, you’d know that stereotype is pure bunk.

So, I went digging deeper and came up with two very interesting approaches to thinking about the class clown as a model for business innovation.

Copyblogger has a great post on why class clowns rule the blogosphere. The author’s salient point is that while:

“valedictorians are forgotten the moment they step down from the podium,” class clowns are remembered for “telling the truth in an interesting way”and as a result, they are remembered long after school days have drifted by.

This idea of telling the truth in an interesting way fits with Lowfoot’s business model. Lowfoot is committed to turning people into energy generators. They are not afraid to speak truth to power by pointing out that all forms of energy generation (wind, solar, “green”) come at a cost. Just ask the folks in Bala who are facing a “green” dam being built in the centre of their town.

Like Lowfoot, class clowns are good at getting noticed because they’re not invested in the same popularity/unpopularity contests that everyone else is mired in. Fitting in is just not their specialty. Former class clown CEO David Newman does a good job of explaining the skill set that is unique to the class clown:

“Think about it–class clowns, by their very nature, are not afraid to fail, unlike the geniuses. They thrive on being different, unlike the geeks, who suffer by being different. They focus on getting noticed among the noise, unlike the cool kids, who focus on fitting in.”

What’s something the class clown can teach you about running a successful business? Or even better, what’s a class clown antic you’ll never forget.

And, in honor of my new favourite class clowns, I leave you with this:

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