Start with the Purpose and the Rest Will Follow.

 

Let thy speech be better than silence.

Dionysius of Halicarnassus

 

He was a retired NBA superstar and took the stage to a huge round of applause.  It was exciting and I was jazzed. I love studying other speakers with the evil intent of stealing as much as possible.  I had my sketch pad ready and we were off to the races, or so I thought. In my notes, I wrote, what is he talking about?  What is the message? I had ten different ideas on what the purpose of the talk was, but even as he ended, I had no idea. It was a classic scatter-shooting, shotgun approach to content.  He had the public speaking chops, but the heart of the message was hidden in fluff. There was no real purpose to the presentation.

In 1974 we sent the first radio wave message into space.  It was called The Arecibo Interstellar Message. Its design and message were INTENTIONAL, PURPOSEFUL and SIMPLE – “we are here.”  Just in case anyone is looking, “we are here.” In a simple visual form it looked like this:

 

 

On November 4th of this year, a bunch of smart guys at MIT had a better idea.  If the core of the message is just “we are here” you should use lasers.  “If extraterrestrial life exists (see the Fermi Paradox – https://www.space.com/25325-fermi-paradox.html ) somewhere in our galaxy, we should use laser technology.  We can create a celestial front porch light.”

 

 

They knew what the purpose of the communication was.  They created their projects with a purpose at the core of their design.  The purpose of a message is at the heart of a great presentation.  What is the core message? Define it and embrace the message in a story and you have the fundamental beginnings of a well- crafted presentation.

Stage presentations, like stories, have a definable beginning, middle, and end, but without knowing the real and true message, the actual purpose of your actions, you may as well fire a shotgun and see where the pellets land.

Simple Things

Chaos is inherent in all compunded things. Strive on with diligence.

-Buddha

I opened one of the cupboards in my office and looked in with disbelief – it was a chaotic mess.  Impossible!  I had just cleaned all of these out, what, maybe a week ago.  OK, maybe a month ago.  How in the heck had they returned to their cluttered state?

I knew the answer.  We spend almost 80% of our client project time around the idea of simplicity.  I have spent 32 years committed to its strategic impact, so I knew exactly what happened  –   THE CREEP.

 


Keeping an Eye on the Creep

Simplicity is about a small sense of order, not a big one. The universe fights against big order, but you can get away with the success of small order.

 

 

Simplicity needs a rather constant level of attention.  If you pass off keeping the simplicity train on track, THE CREEP will step right in. THE CREEP loves and thrives on a lack of attention.  One of the favorite homes of THE CREEP is your garage.  You spend an entire weekend cleaning out all the junk that had a gravitational attraction to the garage.  You stand with hands on hips with a triumphant smile on your face.  You conquered the black hole of order.  A month later, with tears streaming down your face you cannot comprehend how the whole damn mess has returned.

THE CREEP is the creator of operational complexity.  It gives birth to bottlenecks and backward thinking that stops your forward momentum and leaves you asking, “How did this happen?”  Given an empty space, THE CREEP looks to fill it.

 


Simplicity Requires Attention

During a recent project where we were working with a client to simplify their client experience, this happened; he said, “Despite the success of our simplicity work, we just let it get away from us and started adding stuff until we were right back where we started.”  THE CREEP.

If you are genuinely committed to the benefit of a simple approach to anything, PAY ATTENTION.  It takes discipline to become simple and even more to stay simple.

Nothing, and I mean no strategic focus, can gain more impact than a commitment to simplicity and no strategy can collapse faster than simplicity ignored.  We consistently default to our bias for more.  Come on, we can add another feature, another service, we have the capacity and I think our customers really want it.  BOOM, say hello to THE CREEP.

You hear people talk about simple all the time.  It’s EASY, just get rid of stuff.  What?  No, no, no, it’s not about reduction, it’s about THOUGHTFUL reduction and then subtle adjustments until the simplicity you’re searching for fits YOU, fits your culture, fits your company, and fits your clients’ needs. It’s about allowing simplicity to be your lighthouse, providing you direction on your course.

Let it slip and you’ll find yourself loosing another weekend to a garage full of stuff, courtesy of THE CREEP.

I’m a Delighted End User

While it may seem small, the ripple effects of small things are extraordinary.

-Matt Bevin

 

Extraordinary customer experiences seem to elude us at every turn. I often wonder if it seems like too monumental a goal to reach for and perhaps that is why we settle so often for mediocrity or words like fine, ok, good, alright, and the like. If you think wowing your end user, client or prospect requires extraordinary effort I’m here to tell you it often doesn’t. Here are three great examples of what I mean.

 

First…

I was sitting in my plane getting ready for the flight from Portland to Austin when I took out my headphone case and realized; DAMN, I left my headphones in the hotel room. I was charging them and they’re black, the nightstand was black and the combination equaled invisible to my standard last minute “do I have everything” room inspection.

I had a backup pair, but I loved those wireless earbuds. I chalked them up to another absent-minded loss. When I landed and turned on my phone, the hotel manager had sent me a text:

 

Mr. Harvill, we found your headphones and have put them in the mail to your Austin address.

 

HUH? WHAT? You’re kidding. I immediately looked up the hotel phone number, called the manager and said, “THANKS!”

 

Next…

I was getting off a flight in Charlotte where I had a two-hour layover before my next flight. As I got off the plane there was an airline representative who asked, “Where are you headed?” I said, “Myrtle Beach in a couple of hours.” She told me the plane at the very next gate was headed to Myrtle Beach in 15 minutes and there were seats available. “Want to head out early?” HUH? WHAT?

 

Then this happened…

I don’t do any banking. My wife handles all the personal stuff and the Dallas team does all the business stuff, but I was in need of 500 pennies. Yeah, 500 penny’s (a common tool we use in our workshops). So, I walked into our local branch and was greeted with a big, “Hi, we’ve got fresh coffee and just baked cookies, want some?” Uh, YEAH! Then I thought, HUH? WHAT?

Every day our meters are set at normal.  Our expectations are for minimum effort and when even the smallest thing shatters our daily hamster-wheel-existence we are stopped in our tracks. We respond with our eyebrows raised in incredulity. What the heck, a twinkle of kindness, an extra step of effort, a simple moment changes things.

The three instances I shared made me write this.

Those minutes are measured in seconds of impact.

It doesn’t take much. The space between ordinary and extraordinary is smaller than you think. It just takes a moment, one available to everyone. It’s what separates and differentiates companies and organizations. It’s about training, accountability, and focus. I mean, how expensive is a smile?

The Art of Doing

 

It’s a dangerous business going out your door.   You step onto the road and if you don’t keep your feet there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to”

Bilbo Baggins – The Hobbit

At Creative Ventures, we get to spend a lot of time in the realm of ideas.  We often act as the genesis point for new ideas or we move and shape existing ideas.  It’s a wonderful creative playground, but it’s not the final act on the stage of creating value.  No, it’s not the sketches and the roundtable discussions.  It’s not the ideation or the Skunkworks group.  At the end of the day, it’s about doing. The actual application of an idea in the real world of business, of client connections and generating profit while cementing value.  Doing is a damn scary business.

 

 

There is an insular aspect to the world of ideas.  It’s safe.  It’s kind of like staying indoors during a storm.  When you don’t venture into the cold of the world you can stay warm and comfortable, but ideas are about motion and movement.  They’re about making something happen and making something happen is always a riskful proposition.

 

The world is not found in your books and maps, it’s out there. . ..

Gandalf to Bilbo

 

 

Roy and Ryan Seiders are brothers, brothers that were tired of the cheap and fragile coolers they took with them every time they went hunting and fishing.  They started to play around with an idea for something better.  They made model after model until they figured they had it right.  It was big.  It was a hard shell tank of a cooler. It kept ice for days.   It was EXPENSIVE.  It was the evidence from idea to a real something.  It was the birth of the YETI brand.

They presented it to a small sporting goods store and the owner was skeptical.  “That’s a lot of money for a damn cooler.”  Roy and Ryan told him; “this is no ordinary cooler”.  After a few rounds of “pitch”, he agreed to take a few, which to his surprise were sold in two days.  Proof of concept.

 

 

Next came the famous tumblers of which I am never without.  Mine follows me around the house and the golf course.  It’s a miracle of modern design.

Roy and Ryan are still on the Board of Directors of YETI, which now employs close to 600 people.  They went from idea to model, model to sale, sale to a dominate new thing!

It’s hard to let your idea go from its warm and comfortable flipchart, but making an idea real, even in its earliest stages is the only way to really get it out there.  Make something.  Test a service.  Create a model.  That’s the road from idea to value to impact!

 

Leadership… with a Little Help from Your Friends

Leadership Doesn’t Happen in a Vacuum

 

Mary Jo softly told me; “I do a lot of little things.”

Mary Jo is the CEO of a fantastic mid-size company that develops software that tracts time-based billable projects and was part of the leadership survey we did to build the 11 shared leadership behaviors forming the foundation of our leadership platform, THE DNA OF SUCCESS.

I tilted my head and simply said; “Explain please.”

She shared; “I have a great team built around all that we do, fixing bugs, marketing, client relations, financial, you know, the big stuff that makes a company run, but a lot of cracks exist in any organization and things fall through, they fall through all the time. I try to catch those. I pay attention to those things. I know the big things are critical, but the little things matter too. I think good leaders spend time on little things that matter. By providing a key focus on this I get to see where we can use improvement.”

Ah, little things THAT MATTER.

Marry Jo gave me some examples:

  • THE PRESENCE FACTOR:   Good leaders need to be present. Not just in the boardroom, but all over the place. Mary Jo is religious about getting out of the office and making small visits with just about everyone in the company. In her company, they affectionately call these – Oh Hello – meetings. She genuinely wants to know what people are doing, what they are thinking, what problems she doesn’t know about. It is an engaging and very caring little thing that defines her style. She told me the stuff she learns is invaluable and actually impacts her decision making!

This small thing has been referred to as MANAGEMENT BY WANDERING AROUND. In Mary Jo’s situation, it is a LEADERSHIP trait. You can actually trace this style back to Abraham Lincoln who used to make informal surprise troop inspections and would stop and chat with the soldiers. Management guru’s Tom Peters and Bob Waterman shared that as a practice at Hewlett Packard in 1982 in their epic business book, In Search of Excellence.

 

  • HELP: Here’s a great little thing she told me; “I am in constant need of help”. What? “I need help, A LOT. I burned out my need for ego, or the belief that I know everything during the various war’s I fought to get a CEO position. I made so many mistakes that could have been avoided had I just asked for a little help. I’m not talking about abdicating decision making, but I will tell you this, when I need input I ask. Then I weigh the contributions and act.”

You would be surprised at how hard it is for leaders to ask for help. People look at them as the answer people, but the really good ones know what they know and what they don’t know. They look for solutions, not struggles. This little thing creates engagement and builds the confidence needed in successful teams.

I know big stuff is important, but it is often the small things, those elements in your leadership peripheral vision that can make all the difference.

Great leaders sweat the small stuff, the important small stuff!

Table Stakes – Stick to the Basics

 

“This is a simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball. Got it!”

Skip – Bull Durham

We were recently in a Dazzling Blue meeting with a client, a meeting where the focus is on the remarkable small space between ordinary and extraordinary when designing and delivering a “Dazzling” client experience.

The conversation centered around a batch of new client experience ideas. One element of the meeting that was quickly glossed over was the standard deliverables, what the meeting leader referred to as “table stakes”. In my sketchnotes, I rapidly drew a stop sign, followed by an exclamation point. “Can we go over the current delivery of your basics, those parts of the product/service expected by the client?” You can’t brush the basics under the rug when talking client experience if you want to be DAZZLING. You have to be a master of the basics. You have to look at the basics as the heartbeat of what you do.

At Disney, they are always looking at the next big thing, the next must-see attraction. In fact, since the 1971 opening of Disney World, new attractions multiply like rabbits. EPCOT, Disney Hollywood Studios, Typhoon Lagoon, Animal Kingdom and the 2017 opening of Pandora- The World of Avatar. Despite the entertainment push, Disney focuses like an electron microscope on their table stakes, their basics. Let’s just look at one, CROWD CONTROL.

I grew up in Southern California and a trip to Disneyland was an annual staple. I can remember my mom telling all us over-excited kids to remember, we parked in BAMBI. The control of the massive number of guests that visit the parks (+/- 150,000,000) is a power basic for the Disney guest experience.

 

 

What does a real focus on “table stakes” look like?

  • An underground command center that monitors all things related to the guests and can give real-time responses. A yellow warning light at the Pirates of the Caribbean ride generates a call to launch more boats. The length of the line at certain food concessions generates a call to open more registers. Fantasyland a little crowded, send a mini parade to will shift the guests to Tomorrowland.
  • Anticipate the impact on your basics. Disney tracks weather on satellites. It looks at hotel reservations, airline bookings, and park history to anticipate needs.
  • Long line at an attraction will generate a character interaction. Hey, there’s Mickey!

Every “basic” impacts the product and when the product is “happiness” you better strategically pay attention. At Disney, table stakes are a science.

So, take a long hard look at those things that make up the primary stuff. At McDonald’s, it’s consistency. Is every Big Mac the same? Better be sure before you introduce a new sandwich.

Your table stakes are the heart and soul of your current reality. Before you add a bow, make sure the package is well wrapped. Remember you are judged on a daily basis on how well you stick the basics!

As a leader, do you have your feet planted in the past?

I am a child of the west. Born in California. Lived in Idaho and now a long time Texas resident (I don’t think an outsider is ever a true Texan). I always marvel at travel back East. When a client says; “Take the train from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia, I furrow my brow and say, “Train?” When I hear the train I think of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

During a recent trip east I watched an old-time engineer backing up his engine. He had his head craned out the window looking backward at the ground crew for hand signals. No rear view mirror on this engine, or simply an “old school” engineer. Trains are used to going forward.  They don’t often think about reversing. Leaders do.

During our two-year study into leadership (The DNA of Success), I was amazed at the role the rear view mirror played in great leaders. They were great at stopping, turning around and thinking about what they did. They were great decision reviewers.

From this key leadership characteristic, here are some of those rearview images.

 

Keeping Perspective in Leadership

 

  • THE SEARCH FOR PERFECTION: When you take time to look at how you responded to a leadership situation you quickly learn to forget about perfection. In leadership, it simply doesn’t exist. If it is your goal you can’t catch that leadership train. Mistakes, getting it wrong, missing a choice by an inch is just part of the deal. I love the quote that “perfection is the enemy of good.” Leaders love good.

  • NOT ENOUGH HELP: I can do this by myself, heck, I’m the leader. It’s my job to make the call. Every leader we interviewed talked about that learning moment where they figured out they couldn’t do this alone. Somewhere along the line, they were embraced; “I don’t know”. This is a classic mindset shift, a moment past a blind spot. I remember Israel Alpert, a tech/video leader using this little gem – PHELP – It stood for “Please HELP”.

  • WHO AM I LEADING? Leaders ask this question all the time. They check their past, both close and distant for key contact points, and don’t lose touch with their direct team. They check in further down the line and become VISIBLE. They hang out with their customers, ask questions, and listen. They check in!

Leadership is a process that centers on the two key timeframes.

 

  1. The Past – They are learners by experience and experience only teaches when you take a look back.

  2. The Future – They are required to shift their gaze from the learning past to peeking into the various potentials that could make up their tomorrows and the opportunities available to their organizations.

Some trains may not have review mirrors, but you should!

Is Critical Thinking a Lost Art?

Colin and I were in a meeting where a team of people was geared up to take us through a complex and involved process that they desperately wanted to simplify. They had a huge storyboard, timeline, and detailed drawing to help us understand. Without the firing of the starting pistol, they jumped right in. After a few minutes, I had to say WHOA, STOP! Can we rewind and start here?

  1. What is the problem you are trying to solve?
  2. How does this solution create opportunity?

Let’s start with some critical thinking.

Albert Einstein said; “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes on determining the proper question, for once I know the question, I could solve the problem in five minutes.”

Now, I’m not saying we have access to an Einstein-like mind and the experience that gave him that perspective but we can emulate his thinking style. Einstein not only was an applier of critical thinking but also just about every other model, with a deep emphasis on creative thinking. So when we start a project we always start by saying “let’s apply a little thinking at the beginning of a problem-solving session.”

This is really not so much about critical thinking as it is THINKING in general. We seem to be falling farther and farther out of the gravity of thought. We jump to conclusions. We accept ideas without any filters. In 2016 a Stanford study by Wineburg and McGrew found that the vast majority of students lacked the ability to judge the credibility of information. Those are STANFORD STUDENTS!!

So, let’s help return us to the thinking processes of Socrates, Thomas Aquinas, Francis Bacon and Descartes, the process of critically thinking about stuff.

You can go to Google and type critical thinking and find about 180,000,000 sources. That’s a lot! At Creative Ventures, we deal in the world of problem-solving every day, all day and have for the past 32 years. During that time we have developed filters, a process that we use, to pass issues through, in order to determine a wide variety of directions. These act like coffee filters that eliminate the superfluous grounds and leave us with a great cup of Joe. The OVER COFFEE video in our April 2018 newsletter shows our IDEA THINKING FILTER. But let’s focus on a simple, three-part filter that will help you begin your journey into becoming a better critical thinker.

As you know, simplicity drives EVERYTHING we do. In fact, we sometimes make bad sacrifices in the name of simplicity and have to be reminded of another Einstein quote: Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler. With that brilliant caveat, here we go.

  • THE PROBLEM: Spend a lot of thinking time here. Are you working on the right problem? Is this problem simply a symptom? Are you focused on effect and not cause? SLOW DOWN. State the issue a bunch of different ways. Turn it over, look at it in context. I know the urge to speed is overwhelming, but good critical thinkers are DISCIPLINED. Image how much time and how many headaches you could impact if you knew you were looking at the right issue! Spend a good amount of real thinking around the problem.
  • ANALYZE: This is the next biggy in critical thinking and introduces all kinds of problems. First, you can analyze anything to death with oceans of data and the nagging feeling you just need a little more stuff in order to make a decision. You will face tons of thinking barriers and biases. You will be forced to face down assumptions. You will need to examine sources. All of this is OK, don’t freak out. It’s what all critical thinkers face. The more time you spend with thoughtful thinking (is that a thing?) the better you and your team will get. Oh yeah, this is a team thing when used at its best.
  • TRANSFER: Guess what? The purpose of knowledge is to help you make a decision. Yeah, make a choice. Transfer all the thinking and around the problem and your expert analysis to some damn action. Go ahead, it’s alright, it’s time to do something! Do you have to be absolutely right? Heck no, that’s what adjustments are for. The crew of Apollo 11 was only on course to the moon about 5% of the time. The other 95% was all about the right adjustments. They made those adjustments on the way to the moon, not on the launch pad.

If you want a copy of our thinking filter drop us a note and I’ll send you some resources. There you go. Start thinking. In order to think you have to SLOW DOWN. Give it a try and watch a unique, powerful and impact focus start to lead you to your decision making!

The 1,2,3’s of Great Presentation Design

 

I sat in the room with about 10 people as they walked me through their upcoming major product presentation. I was hired to review their content, their presentation skills, and their ability to deliver the message.

It is a common project for us. After 32 years of delivering our ideas, we have developed methodologies around a very simple but powerful formula, what we call; The Architecture of Presentation. Like designing a building, a great presentation has a plan, a plan of parts that need key skill sets to deliver.

The ability to communicate an idea to a group of people is one of the most sought-after professional skill sets in business and rightly so. The talent to create a connection between an audience and an idea is what drives most innovation. An idea goes through three phases:

  • I GET IT: That’s the idea developing traction.
  • I FIND IT OF VALUE: That’s the idea connecting.
  • I CAN APPLY THIS IDEA IN THE CONTEXT OF WHAT I DO OR WHAT I NEED: That’s the idea gaining importance, significance, and practical application.

That’s what a great presenter is charged with, taking a group of people on that journey.

Here are the three (yep, only 3) pieces you need to master to make that happen:

1.   COMFORT: You need to have a strong level of comfort with the content and its delivery. Comfort varies from presenter to presenter. Most find it in the repetition of rehearsal. Not practice! You practice your golf swing, but you rehearse a presentation. You say it out loud. You do it for your team or your significant other. Comfort fights off nerves. It fights off the often sense of dread that might accompany speaking in front of people Comfort is immediately felt by the audience and they equally will feel your discomfort. The good news is that it can be taught. You need, first and foremost a strong sense of comfort around your presentation.

2.   CONNECT: Inside each and every presentation are key points, focal pieces of content that are connection points. Every great presenter knows where the connection points are in their presentation. They know these points take a very specific amount of attention and concentration. This is where the idea is driven home. Connections points are at their highest impact when they are simple and visual.

3.   INFLUENCE: This is the actual goal of any presentation; it’s to influence the outcome of something. It might be to get a sale. It might be to have a process or system changed. It might be to have a behavior shifted. It could be shifting the way a group thinks. It can be myriad things, but your goal is to influence the audience, to move them from where they are to where you want them to be.

The combination of these two formulas, the phases of an idea and the architecture of the presentation based on comfort, connections, and influence, lead to great things happening on stage.

We are often challenged by clients that say; you either have it or you don’t when they look at their team’s presentation skills. NOPE. WRONG. We have taught 1000’s of people to present. Now, some had innate talent and with a small amount of help became presentation superstars. While others that feared public speaking more than death, with the right learning program became good presenters. This is a LEARNED skill set.

With 2018 planning on your table, you should take a hard look at how you and your team can improve your skill sets and put them to use in meeting your strategic goals.

Extraordinary People

 

 

Richard “Dick” Proenneke

We live in the age of technological ease. We can create a baked potato in the microwave in about 7 minutes. We can end any argument with the use of our two thumbs in seconds. We can create photos and movies that rival thousand dollar cameras with our phones. We can turn off the lights in our California home by accessing an app on our phone while sipping a cappuccino in an Italian café. We have no idea how to fix things. We throw away damaged things and simply replace them. Most of us don’t really know how to make something besides a cup of coffee. Basic tools are a mystery. We are in our cars, our office and our home, removed from the natural world.   I’m not being facetious, I’m talking about ME.

But some people look for the challenge that a direct connection between their skills and the desired outcome brings. Enter, Richard “Dick” Proenneke, one of the profiled people from our program:

In the late 1960’s Dick Proenneke decided to challenge himself with a very unusual idea; could he create a life in an isolated Alaskan valley and survive one of the most brutal environments on the planet, by himself. Could he live a life so connected to nature that the land could give him what he needed to survive? Could he endure winter temperatures of -45 degrees that froze his water supply? So began a journey into an idea that would test every skill he possessed.

Using a very simple set of tools; axes, saws, hammers, files, and chisels he cleared a piece of land, fell the trees, and notched each log to form his cabin. He planted his own vegetables, fished and hunted for his meat. He built snow shoes, sleds, bowls, and spoons. He redefined self-reliance. He kept a daily journal and shot miles of film with his little 8 MM camera. For almost 35 years he lived this life by himself.

His story is told in the book and documentary – Alone In The Wilderness.

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For years I have been fascinated by Dick Proenneke’s journey and have read his book and watched his film over and over again. An idea is not just about a product or a service. It’s not only about an invention or the latest app. Instead, an idea can challenge us. It can push us far beyond what we thought possible. It can enrich our lives and teach us, that at our very core, there is very little really beyond our reach.