Being bold and thinking about taking your career in a new direction, takes courage. But can a simple conversation with the right person lead to new possibilities and opportunities beyond ones normal reach? Fresh from a visit to Harvard and face-to-face meeting with a marketing legend, Dr Charles Hancock, Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Derby, thinks so. Here, he talks about how his meeting with Harvard Emeritus Professor Gerald Zaltman came about and the impact it has had on his career.
Some newly created research seed-corn funding for the College of Business, Law and Social Sciences had been announced and I had an idea to bid for funding to meet an academic who inspired my PhD research on the ‘ZMET’ methodology and gave my work the breakthrough I was looking for.
However, the academic I wanted to meet was someone recognised as a marketing legend, and seen as one of three people who had changed the direction of marketing in the last hundred years. It was Harvard Emeritus Professor Gerald Zaltman. I began crafting a bid to seek some funds for travel and hotels and Professor Marc Cowling suggested I made contact with Professor Zaltman first to strengthen the bid.
I did not expect to get a reply, but when I checked my work email the next day, there it was, an email from Professor Gerald Zaltman: ‘Dear Charles, I would love to meet you, let me know when you get the funding secured’.
Over the next few months, several emails were exchanged. Professor Zaltman had arranged for me to meet his son Lyndsay Zaltman, the CEO of Olson Zaltman, a global insights consulting firm in Pittsburgh. Olson Zaltman has relationships with many of the Fortune 500 companies. They had been building these relationships since 1997, primarily around its Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique (ZMET).
When I arrived at the Olson Zaltman offices in Pittsburg – a mirror glass tower block resembling a medieval tower – I met Lyndsay in the foyer. They had a full schedule prearranged for me at the offices. I was interviewed using the ZMET methodology on my thoughts about the method. I then had the chance to interview several of the consultants and, finally, Lyndsay himself.
Then on to Boston, where I was finally going to meet the esteemed academic who I had studied for five years. I had read his work but also through my PhD, I had provided new knowledge on his methodology. I waited eagerly in the hall and then down the stairs came the sprightly professor who said “you must be Charles, let’s go for coffee and breakfast,” and instantly my nerves settled.
His latest book is about unlocking your thinking. He had just done this to me and after my tuition and interviews with him, I felt he had opened my mind and shared so much about the methodology from his own mind. I also undertook a ZMET interview on the man who developed this process. I now know from his thinking that this is a powerful qualitative method that gets to every nook and cranny of ones thoughts and feelings. I sketched his montage about ZMET itself and this was a new insight among others that Professor Zaltman has said that I had given him.
After two days of insights and tuition about the methodology, which is not fully in the public domain, I felt blessed and privileged to have shared our thoughts on our mutual interest. I thanked him and he thanked me for showing an interest in his methodology, and he extended his support to me going forward to take the ZMET baton and run freely with it.
Upon arriving in the UK, I soon discovered my first article, ‘Exploring the ZMET methodology in services marketing’, written with Professor Carley Foster, was to be published. The moral of this tale is, that you never know where one small conversation will lead, but by nurturing and living our University values they have unlocked doors that were never previously on my horizon.
Further Information about ZMET and other Visual methods for business management can be discovered at a SAMS funded early career and doctoral research event at the Enterprise Centre, hosted by myself and Professor Carley Foster on 22 January 2020.