One Level Above: How Showing Gratitude the Right Way Drives Growth


The organizations we work with come to us all the time to discuss new strategies that they can adopt to take their businesses to the next level. Sometimes, these conversations revolve around high-level organizational change. These are great conversations where we take deep dives into discovering the value of what they are currently doing, opportunities that may exist, analyzing what their competitors are doing, and so on and so forth. And despite their enthusiasm for change, they often don’t like our first and most important rule for implementing change strategies, which is to only focus on one thing at a time. This is hard for most people. When you have the resources that some of our clients have the idea of needing to do more, provide more, and change more is persistent. But, successful organizational change doesn’t happen that way. Strategic changes happen one level at a time.


The Problem

When we work with companies to focus on instituting behavioral change the conversation often goes the same way. Sales managers want to change multiple behaviors at the same time. And, again, change doesn’t work this way. Our goal is to work through a discovery phase with our clients to identify problem areas. What are they doing now that works? What are they doing that doesn’t work? Where are the opportunities to have the highest impact with the least amount of complexity? The solutions to these questions manifest themselves in a number of different ways and at the end of a discovery session we’re left with a long list of “actionable items”. We’re then left to choose which strategy or solution to pursue. Then we’ll have the conversation. “We can only commit to one,” we’ll say. And they always look at the list and say, “what about all of the others?” “The others represent opportunities to pursue after the implementation and successful execution of one idea. Once you’ve had success with one, you can use the experience as a rough blueprint to attack the others.” Our goal is not to take your company from level 1 to level 10, our goal is to slowly and successfully take you from level 1 to 2 to 3 and so on. We just need to go one level above where you are and what you’re currently doing.



Large scale change is appealing. In our minds, there is always one gigantic strategy out there that we think if we adopt will change our business and have us swimming in money in no time. The reality is that the most impactful changes you can make are on a much smaller scale and can be implemented by everyone in your organization. The tricky part is finding a simple solution, just one, and being disciplined in its pursuit. That’s right, the real secret behind these strategies is the dreaded “A” word, accountability. Finding the right strategy to focus on is a daunting task. After all, each business we work with is unique and requires high levels of understanding to customize specific strategies that will impact their bottom line. Some strategies, however, work for every business. If you’re looking to dip your toe in One Level Above strategies, we’ve got you covered. 


A Simple Strategy

One of the best strategies you can implement is simple, costs almost nothing, can be adopted by everyone at every level of your organization, and has a massive impact on the relationships you develop with your clients. I’m talking about GRATITUDE. Pushing behavioral change towards graciousness seems obvious, yet day in and day out we deal with companies that don’t put it into practice. Nothing in business is guaranteed and you should be grateful for every opportunity that comes across your desk. There are any number of strategies you can try out to demonstrate your gratitude to your clients. It doesn’t matter if it’s a phone call, a face to face meeting, or a sale, you should have various ways you show that you’re thankful for your clients time and consideration.


Try This

At Creative Ventures, we have a few. We send various thank you gifts to people that work with us on projects that include food, swag, music, and experiences depending on what we learn about each contact. But getting to know each contact on a personal level to deliver a custom tailored thank you is time consuming, difficult, and doesn’t work for everyone. My favorite strategy and the one that works for everyone and every company is ridiculously simple, thank you cards. I’m not saying a thank you email, a thank you text, or a thank you phone call. What I’m referring to is the good old fashioned handwritten note.



Here’s why it’s great. Like me, you no doubt receive a dozen or so pieces of mail a day. Almost all of them have nice little plastic windows on them and no sense of personalization. But, when you go to your mailbox and find a letter that doesn’t fit the “you qualify for a new credit card,” mold your interest is peaked. You open it and find a thoughtful handwritten note saying thank you and nothing else. This means that whoever you spoke to took the time to get out a card, write a note, address it, put a stamp on it, and take it to the mailbox just to say thank you. They’ve given them a piece of their most valuable currency, their time.



All of a sudden you have an emotional connection to your client. You’re no longer a voice on the other end of the line or that guy that was pushing that new software. You’re a person who appreciates other people and follows through on each interaction. I have a stack of thank you cards right next to my phone. We send a few out every week without fail and the results we see are significant. Sometimes it’s a big result like a new deal, and sometimes nothing happens. (By the way, when nothing happens, it’s a good sign. It typically means that we may not be a good fit to work together.) But one thing that has been consistent since we implemented this strategy is that when we call, our clients and partners answer. This strategy took our business one level above where we were.


It wasn’t easy to create consistency in our approach to this strategy. It took a few months to make sure we had systems and relationships in place to make sure we didn’t let any opportunities to show gratitude fall through the cracks. But, once we demonstrated that it was a repeatable systemic process in our sales cycle, we were able to focus on another strategy. The trick is to always only focus on moving the needle one level at a time. If you follow this process, you won’t need to agonize about how to find the secret to transform your business tomorrow because you will have been operating in a constant state of improvement, which in and of itself, is transformational.

This One Strategy Could Save You 100+ Hours a Year


We teach thousands of people every year various strategies to help them manage their time. Time management seems to be a ubiquitous problem. How do I segment my day to maximize my productivity? What can I do to feel like I control my time rather than letting the tasks that come across my desk control it? How do I help my clients respect that my time, like theirs, is finite?


Master of the Day



As professionals we often misplace value, focusing most of our time on business development and revenue growth. The reality is there is only one thing of true value, our time. We can’t buy time, we can’t negotiate for more time, and once it’s gone there is nothing we can do to get it back. When the concepts and strategies for 21 Secrets of Million Dollar Sellers were taking shape, this theme of time and how the participants perceived, manipulated, and used time was an apparent differentiator for their success. They all saw time in a uniquely flexible way. The participants understood that, although they’ve always been told time was linear, it wasn’t that simple. Rather than look at their time as a rigid straight line ticking by one calendar planning block at a time, they looked at it as more flexible, like a rubber band. It could be stretched, flexed, compressed, and manipulated in a way that best suits their needs. These great salespeople didn’t abuse their time. It isn’t as if they said, “It’s my time and I’m going to spend it however I want.” Rather they troubleshoot various techniques to control it, discarding those that had a negative or neutral impact and incorporating those that had a positive outcome.

There is no cookie cutter model we can provide that will work for everyone. Not everyone is dealing with the same products, services, or clientele. Nor are all people most productive at the same time of day. Some people do their best and deepest work at 5:00 am and others hit their grove at 2:00 pm. Let’s not forget those night owls who toil away in the dark and produce their best work while others are counting sheep. There are, however, time vampires that exist in all of our professional lives. One of the biggest time suckers is the dreaded email inbox. Here is a solid breakdown of the data. 


The Culprit: Email



We can be deep in the flow of productive work and hear the ‘ding’ of a new message and have our attention immediately pulled away from what we’re doing. Trying to get back to that state of deep work is futile. Like Keyser Soze, it’s in the wind. I get why we do it, email is a source of new revenue, client communication, internal updates, and so on. I also know how important speed is when it comes to winning new deals and clients, but at Creative Ventures, we have a few guiding principles. One is that speed should never outweigh thought. If we step back and think rather than react to that alert in our inboxes, we can see how detrimental it is to lack an email strategy.

When looking to share strategies that have a direct impact on our readers, clients, and partners it’s always a good idea to focus your efforts on issues that they all mutually share. We discovered various techniques from the top producers we interviewed and worked to find ways to share them in their most simple terms. My favorite, the one I immediately implemented, is the idea of creating boundary constraints to manage communication expectations. For me, this means not reacting to email. I answer my email three times a day. That’s it. Crazy, right? No, this is how I control my time and provides me the opportunity to analyze when I’m most productive. This doesn’t work for everyone but you might be surprised how it could work for you.


Try This


Here are a couple of steps you can take to test this strategy in your business.



Understand your most productive time: Everyone does their best work at different times of the day. These are the times where the world kind of fades away and you’re completely wrapped up in deep and valuable work. Cal Newport talks a lot about the value of deep work and we couldn’t agree more. Deep work can be elusive if you don’t create opportunities for it. What’s worse is, once we get to that space, we voluntarily give it up on a whim to check that email inbox. Don’t do that. Create and value the time when you do the best work. This means getting rid of distractions like email. Once you’ve defined that time you can plan your communication around it.



Commit to your Constraints – My constraints are 8:00 am, 1:00 pm, 6:00 pm. I check my email every day at those three times. I use that time to respond to clients and co-workers, prospect, and prepare to attack the new tasks that arise from those communications. These are the times that work more me. Your task is to create space around that time. Define the times you intend to dedicate to email and be steadfast in your commitment to them. If you go down this path, and dedicate time and effort to this strategy, but are undisciplined in its application, this exercise will be nothing more than another time vampire.



Set Expectations – Communication is key. Most people don’t have set email times. People won’t necessarily immediately warm up to the idea. On top of that, most clients/coworkers/managers want an all-access pass to your time. It is your responsibility to set these boundaries. For existing clients, let them know about your new strategy and why. For new business, inform them of the constraints from the get-go. If you set the expectations from the beginning it is just the reality of doing business with you rather than some wild idea. What if I need to get a hold of you immediately? What if something goes wrong? This is why the phone exists.


This isn’t an all-encompassing communication strategy, it is only an email strategy. This is one thing that you can do to take back your time. If done correctly the effects will surprise you.

And in the words of my friend Greg McKeown,


“Remember that if you don’t prioritize your life someone else will.”


We’ll share some more strategies on how you can Master Your Day soon!

Committing to a Model of Innovation


Last week, in an effort to feed the Netflix monkey on my back and having already exhausted so many of Netflix’s great original series, my wife and I stumbled upon a true gem. As a foodie, I’m fascinated by the creative process that takes place in the kitchen and was blown away by Noma: My Perfect nomaStorm. The documentary offers a unique peek into the internationally recognized Danish restaurant, Noma, its head chef Rene Redzepi, and the inner workings of a restaurant that has been voted #1 in the world for 4 years since 2010. It wasn’t that the movie was great (it was), or that the food looked amazing (it did), or that watching this film with my wife has cost me a future unknown fortune as she was insistent on a promise to take her there one day (the downside of Netflix and chill) that caught my interest. What was interesting was how Rene had developed and implemented a systemic approach to a culture of constant innovation and accountability.

At Noma, on Saturday nights, after 80-hour workweeks, and into the wee hours of the night  (after 2am), the hustle and bustle in their kitchen doesn’t seem to die down. You don’t see chefs and kitchen staff wandering out into the night looking for a drink to calm the nerves of a high-intensity night. Instead, eager and weary chefs gather for what has become a sacred saturday-night-projectsceremony, Saturday Night Projects.  At Saturday Night Projects one chef from each station in the kitchen is responsible for creating something new, a snack, a dish, an ingredient, or an idea, it really doesn’t matter as long as it is new, true to the chef, and pushes the limits of their current reality.  (oh and that it uses regionally specific Nordic ingredients which can be a problem as his chefs come from all over the world).

This process has opened the door for new and exciting food that consistently places Noma at the top of the restaurant charts year in and year out.  Creating a process that fosters creativity isn’t easy. If you look at the Saturday Night Projects now vs. what it was at its inception you wouldn’t recognize it because it’s changed quite a bit. So, what is the secret to Noma’s success? Well, in traditional Creative Ventures format I’ll break it down for you in three parts:


  1. Budget time for creativity: You have to intentionally etch out time in your schedule for innovation. Noma isn’t the only great example of creating a specific time for innovation, Google does a pretty good job too. They allow their employees to have one day a week dedicated to idea development, which has led to the success they have had with Google Maps, Gmail, and Froogle. Or look at 3M, arguably the most consistent innovator in business. They mandate that 15% of all engineers and scientists time is spent on a project that interests them, effectively giving them permission to be creative and harness their passions. It doesn’t matter whose model you follow, just that you create an environment that fosters innovation.
  2. Find the right fit for you: When Saturday Night Projects started each chef in the kitchen had to present something. Rene figured out rather quickly that having that many people create and present at the same time wasn’t an effective use of his time. What did he do? Quit? No, he adapted. He tweaked the model until it fit his restaurant and his staff. The lesson here is that if it doesn’t work at first it doesn’t mean that you should abandon the idea. Work on it until it not only meshes with your business and culture but also has some success.
  3. Repeat

What’s great about all of this is how Noma handles prototyping. We have preached in previous blogs and newsletters the importance of the prototype. We at Creative Ventures have experimented with our own models of innovation until we finally found the right fit for us. If you decide to make a prototype-review-refinecommitment to a culture of innovation you have to be prepared for the outcome, new ideas! Having a new idea is great but how do you share, test, and ultimately have success with launching something new? Over the years we’ve stolen some great ideas from companies who do this very well (yes its ok to steal good ideas, just ask Austin Kleon or read his book Steal Like an Artist) and have created a system we teach and share with our clients across the country.

Step One: Be Quick to Prototype – Take advantage of the energy that exists around a new project. Push your team to get something to the table. The prototype is just that, a prototype. Don’t waste time trying to perfect your idea, product, or process in this phase. Just create something. Refining it comes later.

Step Two: Prototype to Market – This can be the most tricky aspect of this whole process. How do you test your prototype? Do you test it internally? Do you test it on existing clients? There are a multitude of options for you to explore and find out what works best for your business but if you’re looking for great Printexample check out Nikes Innovation Kitchen. At their innovation facilities in they have the great benefit of mitigating the risk that comes along with new products by testing their gear on their sponsored athletes. Why is this great beyond having experts critique every aspect their product? It insulates them from the risk associated with consumer testing. Whatever model works best for your business make sure to capture all of the feedback.

Step Three: Final Product Launch – Take all of that feedback, analyze it, and implement changes. Make all the final adjustments needed, create a marketing and sales strategy, and execute.

Your business might be running smoothly today. Hell, it may continue to run smoothly for the next twelve months. But, a strategy that omits a commitment to growth and innovation leads to business stagnation. Whether you find inspiration from Noma, Nike, 3M, or some other innovator, what’s important is embracing and implementing your own innovation model. Commit to a process and hold your team accountable to its application. If you find yourself struggling in this endeavor, give us a call. We’d be happy to help.

Recruiting the Right Millennial Talent

TipsforRecruitingMillenialsforRealEstateIf you are like most companies, by now you have come across the illustrious group known as Millennials, and seen their impact on the work place. Or perhaps you haven’t. Perhaps the negative stigmas that seem to follow them wherever they go have delayed you from taking a risk on this young enigmatic bunch. Accenture and Ernst & Young have been ahead of the curve in hiring these tech savvy individuals as Millennials make up 2/3 of their entire workforce, a trend that will continue to spread to every industry in America over the next 10 years.

So, what can you do as a HR manager or small business owner looking for some new talent and a fresh perspective? How do you avoid hiring the wrong type of person? Where do you begin to look for the ideal candidate? These are the questions you need to know how to answer because I have news for you…. There is no new magical hiring pool for you to tap into. Millennials are it. Now, I want to be perfectly clear, Millennials don’t represent the default but rather an opportunity.

So, here are some tips to help you attract the “right type” of millennial:

  1. DON’T USE SOCIAL MEDIA TO HIRE: Social media has created this awesome environment for us to communicate and many will tell you that you need to leverage your accounts to find social medianew and exciting candidates for your business. But, DON’T USE SOCIAL MEDIA TO HIRE! Use it to RECRUIT. Focus all of your social media energy on developing your brand and defining your culture. A Millennial’s bottom line isn’t a paycheck, it’s doing meaningful work, having fun, and having the flexibility, and you need to communicate that that’s important to you as well. We want a supportive manager, we want to contribute, to learn and grow. You have to court this new generation and appeal to our social awareness. Make your brands social media activity exciting and meaningful. Show how your culture reflects your mission and vision in exciting and fun ways. Seek out the type of followers that you want with your content and watch your numbers grow organically. Make them want to work for you and quality candidates will be beating down your door.
  2. TELL US WHY? : Simon Sinek has it right, “start with the why.” This generation more than any previous generation is motivated by the “why”. Ask them to do anything and they ask “Why?”. It can be frustrating when met with this retort but I LOVE IT! It is the perfect why1opportunity for you to leverage the power of story. Whether recruiting or managing being able to answer this question is paramount to successfully working with Millennials. How do you communicate the importance of why you do what you do? My recommendation, tell a story. As a millennial candidate I need to know why I should work for you over the other guy and you need to tell me. You need to entertain me while you do it. You need to make me feel like I need to be a part of what you believe in or you’re going to lose good candidates to your competitors. You’re not looking for buy-in, you’re looking for enrollment and communicating the “why” effectively is your quickest and most direct way of doing this.
  3. OFFER GROWTH: Regardless of the generation there are still only two reasons people leave their job: Lack of upward mobility and feeling undervalued. As you begin to recruit make growthcareer development a strategic imperative. You can take steps to make an employee feel valued but often this is an intrinsic problem. Career advancement is something that you can control. Let this new generation know that you are not only interested in what they currently bring to the table but in what they will bring to the table as they grow as a professional at your company. Professional development is a great way to show employees that you want and expect them to hone their skills and learn new ones. By doing this you have the opportunity to show and tell them that you don’t want them to be in the same position 5 years from now. Often, offering diverse training and an investment in the future success of your employees leads to a culture of value. Show Millennails that you understand that they represent the future of your company and that you don’t take that lightly.

One size

There is no one size fits all strategy to hiring those entering the workforce.                  They too are going through some professional growing pains and some harsh real world realizations. It will take them time to find their way and learn how they can contribute their unique skill sets and personalities to the existing employment climate, but using these strategies will alleviate some of the headaches that you will incur from working with and facilitating the growth of Millennials.

Want To Tap Into Millennial Spending? So does Vegas!

It never cealas_vegas_welcomeses to amaze me the adaptability of organizations. Companies have slowly been shifting their strategic initiatives to focus on the value that exists in generational shifts. It’s easy to look at the data across the board and see that more and more of the dollars being spent in the market place are coming from a Millennials wallet. There is value in exploring new and creative methods to gain Millennial market share based on current data. However, it is extremely difficult to see the correct path to take to leverage this data, and once you see the solution it’s even harder to take the risk to execute it. There are some anomalies out there, companies that are taking the leap and spending millions of dollars to create an environment that caters to Millennial spending. Take Las Vegas, a set in stone culture of development since 1931. For almost 100 years Vegas has been developing some of the most luxurious and awe inspiring hotels and casinos that are iconic symbols from here to Timbuktu. And for 100 years Las Vegas has followed a very simple formula; build extravagant interiors and create an environment that keeps people inside the casino. Pretty straightforward and effective, but oh are a times a changing… and so is Vegas.

partyOver the last decade Vegas has discovered a radical change in spending patterns and a significant loss of profits from gambling. This of course doesn’t apply to Boomers and Gen X’s who still ­­­­­­­prescribe to the traditional Vegas experience of gambling and relative debauchery, but rather to the younger generations that have already established a spending pattern that clashes with Vegas culture. As a generation, Millennials have learned to pinch pennies where they can and spend them on the activities that drive them. And what are those activities… Drinking and Clubbing of course. Well not everywhere, but when they are looking for a sinful escape like the one that Vegas represents, these are their top priorities.

Vegas has finally taken the biggest shift in strategic development since the 1989 and the development of the Las Vegas Strip. Targeting the millennial generation MGM Resorts is developing a 20,000-seat concert arena and a multimillion-dollar indoor-outdoor park that will be a haven to those who have struck out at the tables. The shift to these pedestrian friendly areas is only the beginning for Vegas. Linq, an outdoor promenade created by Caesars is another example of the shift to these outdoor spaces, hosting the tallest observation wheel in the world and abundance of retail shops.


Now, as much as these efforts will appeal to the millennial generation it is hard to see how, in and of themselves, these additions will drive millennial participation. Lord knows Millinnials aren’t planning trips to Nevada for a concert that will eventually make its way to their home town. I find it highly unlikely that these structures will do anything more than create a diversion for tourists of any generation. It is encouraging, though, to see Vegas take such a big risk to appeal to Millennials. Regardless of the generation you belong to, what draws you to Vegas are not the concerts offered or the new open spaces, but chance, the chance to escape to win something, step out your comfort zone, and for a few days leave your real life behind.

Vegas is again reinventing itself to meet the demand of the changing market which is now overflowing with Millennials looking to spend their money. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking to hit the tables in search of the illustrious hot streak or looking for a night club or music festival, Vegas is determined to remain the desert oasis getaway where, if you spend enough of your money, you can have the time of your life.

Check out this video to see an interview with MGM Resorts CEO Jim Murren.

The Magic of the Garage: A Millennials Take on What’s Next

In this months newsletter Steve talked about the magic of the garage and how in its nature lies a great secret to unleashing phenomenal ideas, creative restriction. It’s amazing how being stuck in a garage can bring about great focus, energy and creativity, ultimately yielding huge advancements. As a millennial the idea of being stuck in a garage isn’t unfamiliar to me. We hear from friends and family all the time about being stuck somewhere but my generation has given the garage a new name, mom and dads house. So I ask myself, “Can mom and dad’s couch be the new Launchpad for getting great ideas off the ground? Can the emergence and success of Harley Davidson, Hewlett Packard, Disney, and Apple all from a garage, sufficiently motivate the next generation to follow suit from mom’s couch or dads workbench?”225145451

Now to a millennial the idea of moving back in with your parents is terrifying. We assume the worst and ask ourselves, “What will people think?” and “Where did I go wrong?” But it’s an all to common trend now and it has an extremely bad rap. But with such outstanding stories of success stemming from similar situations, should it? Perhaps what has led us back to the nest can be deemed negative.  Of course there are those out there who have had to move home because of the backbreaking side effects of massive debt from college (65% of college educated millennials have over $27,000 in student loans) or maybe they’ve moved home because of a horrible job market that has left our generation wildly unemployed or underemployed (Millennials have a 16% unemployment rate and 41% claim they are underemployed in a field unrelated to their degrees). Any number of factors can be blamed for our current predicament but it is my optimistic perspective on the capabilities of our generation that has allowed me to see opportunity here. I don’t think any 20 something year old dreams of moving home with mom and dad only to get back in the habit of watching Wheel of Fortune and NCIS before getting to bed at the reasonable hour of 7:00PM. So what do you do?

Moving back home has given many the gift of creative restriction. They have time to focus on their ideas, weighing those of merit and dismissing those lacking substance and ultimately pursue them at little cost. Everyone has ideas, but not everyone has time to explore them.  So if you’re living at home take some time to take stock of your ideas. Do they have value? If they do write an article, start a book, meet someone who thinks the same way you do and give your ideas traction. Your parent’s house is not the enemy; it’s just a stepping-stone to great success.