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!

But I’m a Great Multitasker…

 

People say pot-smokers are lazy. I disagree; I’m a multitasking pot-smoker: just the other day I was walking down the street, I was putting eye drops in my eyes, I was talking on my cell phone, and I was getting hit by a car.

Doug Benson

 

I don’t want to post all the research around the absurdity of multitasking.  I’ll give you a couple of salient bullet points (everyone loves bullet points!):

 

  • Psychology Today – Neuroscience tells us that the brain does not do multiple tasks simultaneously.
  • The brain stops and then starts. This allows us to switch tasks quickly which are often disguised as simultaneously.
  • This stop and start does not save us time, in fact, it costs us time and energy.
  • Here’s why; Tasks quite often use different parts of the brain. The anterior part of the brain is goal/intent-oriented; “I want a cookie.”  The brain has to switch to the pre-frontal cortex to get your hand on that Oreo.  This takes time and energy.
  • A study at Stanford showed when testing people who described themselves as expert multitaskers that:
    • They made more mistakes
    • They remembered poorly
    • They took 50% longer to interpret the ideas presented them.

That’s enough to help you stop trying to do everything or even two things at once.  It makes your work suck!   Instead become a great Intentional Tasker.

 

 

This morning I was doing, what at Creative Ventures we call, IMAGE FARMING.  I was searching through our gigantic inventory of images to find just the right graphic to go with the idea I was working on.  This is exhausting for your eyes and imagination.  I INTENTIONALLY stop, pick up my guitar and work on a new song for a couple of minutes.  I then return to the task.  I am focused on the project in front of me, but recognize when I need an attention break.

I turn off my distractions.  NO EMAIL.  NO PHONE.  They can wait until I finish my deep work.  I’m not waiting for a kidney transplant!   T. S. Elliot said, “you’re distracted from distractions by distractions.”

 

 

We need to get some stuff done and we have short time windows.  Stop doing a bunch of things and focus on one thing.   Make it good.   The other stuff will wait.

The secret to multitasking is that it isn’t actually multitasking. It’s just extreme focus and organization.

Joss Whedon

Your Business Process Might Be Too Complex

The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary can speak.

-Hans Hofmann

 

During a recent strategic planning project, we were challenged on our philosophy of Three Part Models. Why three? Why not five or ten? Why are we restricted to three in this process?

This happens quite often. Clients are looking for some sort of support beyond our “just cause you say so.” I get it. It’s is hard and challenging to develop the discipline around a limiting factor. Despite the incredible success we have had in over 30 years of applying our ELEGANT SIMPLICITY planning model, I still understand the need to have some type of reassurance before the application of the discipline. So here you go:

 

FUN

 

·     We simplify the description of our 26 letter alphabet to the ABC’s.

·     There were three blind mice.

·     The genie gave you three wishes.

·     You get three strikes and you’re out.

·     My favorite, The Three Stooges.

 

SCIENCE

 

·     Einstein’s E=MC2.

·     Newton’s enumerated the movement of the universe with the Three Laws of Motion.

·     The proton, electron, and neutron.

·     Light can be reflected, refracted or absorbed.

·     Waves all have frequency, wavelength,  and cycles.

 

As far back as the 1950’s research has been done on making visual connections. In 1953 a project at Michigan State found that the brain finds it relatively easy to grasp three items but pushed to a fourth the brain gets confused. This visual clue gave rise to the ELEMENT, FONT and COLOR formula used in graphic design to this day.

Dr.’s Baddely and Hitch, in the epic study of working memory in 1974, developed the multi-component model of working memory. They defined two “slave” systems for short-term memory and one Central Executive Function that supervises information integration and coordinates the slave systems.

In 1956 Miller worked on memory and brain capacity determining that young adults were able to process up to 7 elements or “chunks” but discovered that as you matured and gain more and more knowledge the capacity lessened to three “chunks.”

As we age, the fantastic microprocessor that is our brain starts to search for no more than three parts to find context, connections, and meaning.

So at the end of all this support material, remember one thing and one thing only – Find the disciplined thinking that when applied, will shift your strategy from the complex to the simple and watch the impact!

Table Stakes: Stick to the Basics Pt. II

 

We were with a client recently and they took us on “walkabout” of their beautiful facility. The purpose was to find a starting point, a beginning for our OLA project (One Level Above). The goal was to find a single thing to do that would improve their client experience. John and his team were talking about how to improve this thing and as their brains were working around the project, we stopped them, right at the entry door. The evening was turning to night and we asked what they noticed. They looked at each other and didn’t understand. We had them turn around and take a look at the parking lot. It was filled with cars, client/customer/member cars.

There were three large lighting fixtures that weren’t working. John turned to me and said, “Hmmm, we’re talking about the wrong stuff aren’t we?”

Strategy, any strategy, has a beginning. We often have a hard time figuring out where to start. Creative Ventures recently wrote about the importance of TABLE STAKES, the basics that form the backbone of your client experience. It’s a great starting point, a huge X on the thinking map. If you’re not good at the basics, there is no point in looking beyond for your next idea.

When the basics are left to a shrug of the shoulder you’re in trouble. We don’t realize how important a client’s expectations are. Before the delicious meal is served, before they are greeted, before they taste a spectacular Merlot, they’ve already begun their client experience and as boring as parking lot lights might be, for all the sex appeal they lack, they are a fundamental detail and deserve more than a glance.

It’s not just the lights, it’s how you answer the phone, it’s the condition of your uniforms (if applicable), and it’s understanding the critical nature of the meat and potatoes of your job.

The experience of surfing starts way before you belly your board and paddle out to the first break. It starts with checking the daily surf report, with the wetsuit and the right wax. It has a beginning that starts far ahead of the first wahoo! Beginnings form the spark that ignites any client experience and becomes the starting line for a deep dive into your table stakes. Beginnings form end to end connections. They complement and reinforce your efforts. They need attention.

My team and I had just arrived at our destination airport. The hotel was nearby and they made a big deal about providing a shuttle service that worked as simple as a phone call and in less than 10 minutes you would be on your way to our welcoming embrace. 30 minutes after our call we were still waiting. I called back and they said, we’re running behind but we will be there in 5 minutes. 20 minutes later, still no shuttle. I don’t care how soft your bed is, I already have become judge, jury, and executioner. I didn’t ask for them to have a shuttle, they provided it as TABLE STAKES.

Make sure you know your beginnings. They have a geography that leads to the emotional commitment I am willing to give to your business. When the focus is in the right place, your table stakes, your basics become a strategic way to differentiate you in a crowded marketplace.

 

The basics are everything!

Great Leaders Ask the Right Questions to Drive Change

 

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

-Marcel Proust

There is a simple formula that leaders follow when they put their thinking caps on. It may not be conscious in many circumstances, but it’s there.

The formula is a thoughtful question, asked of the right audience, followed by active listening. Three parts!

It’s no surprise that discovery starts with a question. It’s been that way in all the sciences from the time we first began thinking. It has followed us from the beginning to form our understandings and to leverage our opportunities.

 

 

Amber Rae is an author and artist. She was stumped as to what her next project might be and decided to leave the studio and head out to the streets with a couple of questions in her head. She approached strangers in New York and asked; “What are your greatest fears, your biggest aspirations and what kind of world would you want to live in?” She was shocked at the response. People shared everything! They laughed and they cried in their answers. The most common response; No one has ever asked me that before. 

This simple exercise led to a creative explosion and a piece of installation art on the streets of New York in 2014. It was a participatory piece and asked people to answer two questions:

·     I want to live in a world where. .. . . .

·     To create this world I will …….

It’s now a global movement. A thoughtful question asked of the right audience and actively listened to.

 

 

This is the 50th anniversary of McDonald’s stalwart burger, The Big Mac. It’s estimated they sell about 550 million every year in the US alone. The Economist, a weekly magazine/newspaper/website uses the Big Mac as an economic measuring tool as a way of measuring global purchasing power!

Its beginnings were the result of a humble question, asked of the right audience and listened to in an effort to discover an answer.

In 1968 McDonalds franchisee, Jim Delligatti, asked corporate if he could try a new burger idea. Though not in the habit of accepting new menu products from anywhere but headquarters, they listened to the research, they understood the audience, and the rest became burger history. But it’s not the only McDonald’s product that resulted from this question, audience and listen formula. You can add beloved menu items like the Filet-O-Fish, the Egg McMuffin, the Apple Pie and the Shamrock Shake to this three-part process.

The idea and its application are simple. In our program THE IDEA FACTORY we use this exercise with our clients:

Take the issue you are working on and invite a team of 3-7 people,  to create ten questions that challenge the issue. Questions like, why now? Where will the resources come from? Is this something that will differentiate us in our market?   From their ten questions, use thoughtful reduction to narrow each team members questions to only 3 (from 10 to 3). Within that grouping, you are searching for the three most important questions that will clarify your goal.

This is the application of the thinking questions, the right audience and, in order to thoughtfully reduce to the holy grail of 3 key questions you have to actively listen.

Who knows, maybe there’s a Big Mac waiting!

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!