This past weekend I saw “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” a stage adaptation of the 1967 comedy-drama film about race relationships and racism. It got me thinking about many things including how hard it can be to change people’s mindsets. The film was a great success in its day—it was nominated for 10 Academy Awards—although many thought it did not go far enough in terms of exploring the complexity of racism. Playwright Todd Kreidler and Director David Esbjornson do a fantastic job of imagining where the original movie may have wanted to go but wasn’t able because of the highly volatile and racially charged time in which it was made. They also offer a “mirror to contemporary society of where we’ve been and where we may still need to go,” Esbjornson explains, while painting a “broader canvas of human behavior. Everything from gay marriage to religious difference seems relevant to the story.”
The play is set in the San Francisco home of a progressive white couple, whose convictions are put to the test after their daughter surprises them by simultaneously announcing her engagement and bringing home her African-American fiancé for the first time. Reeling in shock, and facing a short deadline for giving their approval of the proposed marriage, the parents must quickly acknowledge and come to grips with their prejudices and fears. What is more, they must do so in the company of the fiancé’s parents who are also fearful, limited in what they can imagine, and completely against the marriage; their black maid who is suspicious of black men; and a bigoted business partner. If they approve, their daughter will most certainly live a challenging and prejudiced-tainted life albeit with the man she loves. If they don’t approve, they may lose their daughter. The stakes are high, as are the possibilities.
The Film, the Play, and Marketing
“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” is a familiar story, not just because of the earlier film, but because most of us understand how hard it can be to change our mindset and to align our thinking and our actions in the face of fear and resistance. How does “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” relate to marketing? Is there a profession that is going through more change at the moment than marketing? The need to be customer-obsessed combined with entirely new ways of relating with customers and a slew of new technologies have shaken traditional marketing philosophies, practices, and organizations to the core. Marketers are still getting their arms around what stays and what goes in this new environment and how to think, perform, organize, and create value. It takes guts, experimentation, and an ability to look differently at established practices and deeply held beliefs. It takes patience, as insights may not be readily implemented given the resistance of entrenched systems and the pressure that enhanced accountability for results brings to bear. And yet it is clear that standing on the sidelines, not putting ideas to the test, is a risky move, too. What marketers do now is of paramount importance to organizations’ long-term success. The stakes are high, as are the possibilities.
Like the parents in “Guess Who is Coming to Dinner,” marketers may feel thrust into a difficult situation, unprepared and exposed in this marketing landscape, surrounded by both naysayers and those who want are demanding change. But here’s the good news: Change doesn’t just happen in the movies or on the stage. Transformation happens in regular people’s lives. People’s ideas and capabilities are not set in stone. Stanford psychology Professor Carol Dweck studies the impact of our mindsets on our ability to learn and grow. As it turns out, our mindsets matter. If we have a “growth mindset,” believing that we can develop new qualities and skills through dedication and effort, we realize that belief. We can enjoy learning and acquire the resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. If on the other hand we have a “fixed mind-set,” where we believe that our intelligence or talent is a fixed trait, we will be stuck in the past, ill equipped for this new world. It’s our choice. Wonder how open you are to growth? Like the mirror that Kreidler and Esbjornson provide in their stage production of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” Dweck offers a simple test of our mindsets and tips for how to shift toward a growth orientation at mindsetonline.com.
On a Personal Note
I know that changing the marketing mindset and retooling for the digital age is not always easy. I have lived it. Having gone to business school in the early 1990s when we were just starting to think about catering to the customer and the shareholder, when static websites were just coming into being and commerce and social media would not appear for several more years, I had to reconfigure my mindset and skill set, too. Trust me, the work is worth it. Relevance is powerful currency. If you need some motivation, cycle through the tunes on the playlist below that I’ve created and entitled, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” If you have any songs to add, please do share.
|Get Up Stand Up, Bob Marley|
|Heart of a Champion, Nelly|
|Tear It Up, Delta Spirit|
|Eye of the Tiger, Survivor|
|Lose Yourself, Eminem|
|Proud, Heather Small|
|I Believe I Can Fly, R. Kelley|
|It’s a Beautiful Day, U2|
|Jump, Van Halen|
|Happy, Pharrell Williams|
|When The Going Gets Tough, Billy Ocean|
|We Are the Champions, Queen|
|It’s Gonna Be a Good Day, Nappy Roots|
|Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen|
|It’s a Beautiful Day, Michael Buble|
|I Will Survive, Gloria Gaynor|
|Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Ferrell|
|Good Life, One Republic|
|The Best is Yet to Come, Frank Sinatra|