Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill: An interview with Nancie McDonnell Ruder

Nancie McDonnell Ruder, Founding Partner of Noetic Consultants, sat down with Noetic colleague Lauren Stradley for an interview about her new book, Jack and Jill Went Up the Hill: How Senior Marketers Scale the Heights Through Art and Science. Here’s the full story:

LS: What sparked the idea for jack and jill?

NMR: I have interacted with many, many amazing senior marketers over my career, both through Noetic and in my earlier years at Leo Burnett. I’ve seen so many things that I admire. I was struck by how some people in these roles were advancing and doing impressive things, even though the business climate seems to only have become more challenging. I loved the idea of doing research to really delve into that. And it was a way to give back to a community who has given me so much.

LS: Any other reasons?

NMR: I will also say that when I was little, I would write stories, title them and bind them with Elmer’s glue. It was something I wanted to do when I grew up.

LS: What do you think the seven-year-old Nancie would think about this book?

Noetic Assessment Art iconNMR: She would be very excited to see one of her dreams come to fruition. I was into everything creative as a kid—drawing, painting, writing creative stories—so the little girl I used to be would love to know there’s a big creative element in it. What she wouldn’t know, as I do now, is that there’s also another side.

LS: What do you mean by “another side”?

Noetic Assessment Science iconNMR: The premise of Jack and Jill is that there’s a balance of art and science that one needs to achieve in marketing today. Most people feel stronger on one side or the other. I felt strong on the creativity side (or “art”) and had to work more overtly on my science side to build those skills. The important thing to know—and Jack and Jill unpacks this—is that there are things you can do to strengthen your weaker side.

LS: Do people always demonstrate an “art side” or a “science side” as children?

Noetic Assessment Leaning towards Science iconNMR: It usually has to do with where you lean early in life. Let’s say, for example, you had some aptitude in math and also had a really great math teacher. Or, your mom was an engineer and brought out your analytical side. Then, you might build those science muscles more. I would say that most people don’t know how to build up their complementary side. Successful senior marketers sense that they need to round out their skill set and work toward that. Marketing is so fluid and vast that you need both.

LS: So, is that what jack and jill is about?

NMR: Yes! Jack and Jill is for people who have an interest in marketing, whether they are already leaders in their field or aspire to be one, with formal or informal interest. It helps folks understand core components of what is needed to be successful—as I put it, “the art and science of the discipline.” We offer an assessment so readers can discern where they fall on the art/science continuum, as well as a toolkit of activities, resources and tools they can use to strengthen the side where they may be weaker.

LS: I really like the title. Tell me about Jack and Jill. Are they the ones of nursery rhyme fame?

NMR: I did a whole body of research of senior marketers to take from their vantage point how they excel, and I refer to them as “Jack” and “Jill” in the book. It does bring to mind that nursery rhyme, in which they go up the hill then disastrously fall back down. But it also turns it on its ear. In our story, when Jacks and Jills fall down—which they all inevitably do because failure is a key component of the senior marketer journey—they get back up and continue striving and climbing again. There’s also the expression Jack or Jill-of-all-trades, which most people finish with “master of none.” I see “all-tradesness” as a positive. Jacks and Jills are generalists, who are resilient and keep a learning mentality, so their business and career can keep evolving and growing.

LS: The people you interviewed – most of whom allowed you to use their names – are pretty high profile, busy people. How did you choose them?

NMR: I worried about getting people who excel the most because, naturally, they are so busy. I first went out to those I had a significant relationship with, like a client or colleague, because I knew they would take the hour to talk to me. And then to get to over 50—a good qualitative sample number—I asked everyone I interviewed whether they knew someone who fit the profile and would appreciate the process. Most did and most enjoyed the hour we spent. It seemed to be a cool thing for them to put words around something they instinctively understood about themselves.

LS: I would have liked to be a fly on the wall for some of these! Tell us a funny or illuminating anecdote from your interviews.

NMR: As far as funny…one of my first interviewees was with someone I knew well. They said, “Some of these are horrible questions.” It made me pause. I had only interviewed a couple of people at that point, so I took the criticism and honed the questions further. And, of course, it was much better after that. What I found most illuminating was the role of resilience and grit. Marketing is hard. You are going to have to lean into innovation and change. It’s not like I didn’t know these folks were resilient. But it was striking how many mentioned it as a key to their success. They connected the dots—you have to take risks, you have to be willing to fail.

LS: Can people become more resilient?

NMR: It’s not like these rock star Jacks and Jills feel super-courageous every moment of every day. It’s about choosing a mentality of leading with learning and not worrying about being correct or putting yourself on the line. It’s about trying, and if it doesn’t go well figuring out how to right the ship. If someone feels they don’t have resilience—or as much of it as they’d like—these marketers and I would say that all you need is to want to have it. Failure isn’t a word they relate to.

Nancie McDonnell Ruder AuthorLS: What did you learn about yourself and your own work through this process?

NMR: It was harder in certain ways than I thought it would be. After talking to several authors, I knew it would be challenging, but it was more challenging than I expected. Having an editor early on was a really critical factor in getting it done. I also learned my Noetic team is as passionate about Jack and Jill as I am. I see the book as a vessel/platform for my co-senior marketers.

LS: I loved that you were able to bring our work at Noetic into JACK AND JILL, how did you achieve that?

NMR: The people involved with the book are either clients, could-be clients or are like clients. It is for and by the people we serve. So, it became a place to showcase what makes them so great and unpack that for people who don’t know. I also chose to include something I call “Noetic Notes” throughout the book, because I am so proud of and grateful for our team. Through the Noetic Notes, I bring in client stories and anecdotes that showcase how we practice what we preach. I draw from work and also even from my personal life—families are organizations, after all—and these principles apply pretty globally.

LS: What was the hardest part of writing JACK AND JILL, and the easiest?

NMR: The easiest was research. I loved doing it, and it was fascinating meeting and reconnecting with people. I could have kept going forever. The hardest was finding time to focus on writing. Creativity is interesting, and we discuss the nature of it in the book and how folks can develop theirs. Sometimes it’s counterintuitive. You have to make space for the muse to visit you. Because I was balancing writing with running Noetic, one of the places I was able to be most focused was on airplanes. And I wrote nights and weekends.

LS: What did you hope to gain from writing JACK AND JILL, and do you think achieved that?

NMR: I wanted to expand my community of marketing geniuses and give back to them, as well as create thought leadership for Noetic. I have achieved that. And I’ve helped that seven-year-old girl get her book done!

LS: When is it coming out and where can we all get it?

NMR: Jack and Jill is available on Amazon.com.




Featured image photo credit: Coyle Studios