Remember the regular routine and natural cycles of school? Always a fresh start and a welcome ending to the semester or year? With natural cycles, we know when to gear up, focus, wind down, and reflect. Some industries, like school or theater or sports, have natural cycles. In theater, the director and designers create a production, actors rehearse, and the play runs, for a set period. Sports have cycles too: football in autumn, baseball in spring and hockey in winter, although it seems like we watch baseball till November and hockey till July, so maybe those cycles aren't quite as "natural" as they once were.

But what about industries like advertising or software, news or health care? Organizations in these industries are always "on," with little regular time or energy to reflect, celebrate and refresh. So what can they do? Create their own cycle.

Jamie Cooper, thinking about the 90 day cycle?

Drake Cooper's CEO, Jamie Cooper, hails from Northwest Arkansas, Wal-Mart country, but you'd never guess it. He's "Seattle hip," but lives in Boise, Idaho. With longer than average CEO hair, funky glasses and a penchant for riding his scooter to work, Cooper exemplifies the marketing/advertising ethos. But he's also a tough minded business leader, who looks for ways to improve his organization, even in a chaotic industry that lacks any semblance of natural cycles. One way is to fail fast, often, and hard, to learn faster, more often and better than his competitors. And he makes it happen every 90 days. 

For the advertising industry, chaos and unpredictability are the norm. As Cooper says, "in July, I have no idea what September will look like, in terms of business. We could be busy or everything could just fade away." That ambiguity is hard for some employees, who probably won't last in the industry. But Cooper fears that the chaos and constant change could affect the quality of his agency's work if he and his employees don't find ways to review, rejuvenate and reorganize on a regular basis. With no natural cycle that allowed for reflection and time to find ways to improve, they had to invent it. 

So, Drake Cooper created its "90 day cycle" to increase agility and nimbleness and build in fast change. At the start of each cycle, leaders set goals for the organization and employees set individual goals; both levels include new ideas to test. In addition, employees from different parts of the company match up in pairs and act as mentors or "idea bouncers" for each other. It's a way to meet others, test ideas fast, and coach each other.

The company has a hard push for 90 days, and then, as Cooper says "...the shop comes together, reviews successes, cries over failures, talks out issues, and looks at how to adopt things that are working and nixes those that are not." And then, they do it again. All in 90 days. Almost natural.

To listen to a podcast about Drake Cooper and the rest of The Gang, a group of diverse high performing, highly creative organizations, please visit Boise State University's Beyond the Blue podcast series:

About the Author

Nancy K. Napier, Ph.D.

Nancy K. Napier, Ph.D., is Professor of Strategy and International Business at Boise State University.

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