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.

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!

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.

 

Become a Master of Your Day

Most people begin their day without so much as a simple plan.  They end their days without an afterthought to what happened or a thought as to what to do the next day.  Days begin and days end.  They are victims of their day.  Master sales professionals are anything but victims.  They instead plan, execute, review and think about how they spend their time.  It’s a critical measure of their success.  Without a plan, there is the potential of wasted time and wasted time is the enemy of a sales superstar.  Great sales people are MASTERS of their day.

 

Trudy and Percy are what I call, Sprint Workers and highly successful real estate professionals that share a small but thriving practice in Northern California.  They work in hard 90-minute time blocks which form their “Ultradian Rhythms”, their particular type of energy pattern.  Ultradian Rhythms are activity – rest cycles favored by the brain to generate high levels of productivity.  Early in their careers, they both began to understand their particular patterns of productivity and soon learned they had a lot of what they called “nothing time”, basically just sitting around or doing “nothing stuff”.  It might look like they were being productive, but they sure weren’t generating sales!

It took a little experimentation, but after a while, they learned to “hit it hard and then take a break.”  This became their 90-minute patterns.  Go hard for 90 minutes and then take 10 to 20 minutes off.  They leveraged their biological pattern and matched it to high levels of productivity.  In the world of high-end real estate sales no one cares about your time in the office, all they care about is how many homes did you close.

In an average sales day, Trudy will have 4 to 5 high output periods and an equal number of down time segments.  During the down time, she might take a short walk or enjoy a snack.  Percy has a guitar in his office and will practice and play during some of his down cycles.  Percy tells me the key is to NEVER miss a down cycle.

Superstar sales people get the most out of their days.  They have a laser like focus on productivity and with intent, design their days around their energy.

For more examples of how the big time sales professionals are masters of their days, check out SECRET # 16 in our new book.

 

The 21 Secrets of Million Dollar Sellers

The Problem with “How”!

 

I knew what I wanted to do.  I wanted to discover what patterns were followed by great sales professionals.  I had an inkling they were doing a lot of the same things no matter what they were selling.  But, I struggled with the how, how would my curiosity lead me to results?

There have been countless surveys and models based on sales.  In fact, I had been part of many teams for many companies looking at their sales processes with the goal of making them better.  I had seen numeric surveys galore that simply took the scales of 1-10, accumulated the answers, divided by the participants to tell you some number is significant because it appeared in the data.  I was not interested in that.

I wanted to talk to successful sales people.  I wanted them to tell me what is important and I wanted them to use a 40,000-year-old tool, the story.  I wanted their stories.  I wanted their emotional context.  I believed that in the tales they would tell, there would be truly significant patterns of behavior.

As a scientist by education, I always fall back to a simple problem-solving tool, the scientific method (with a few Creative Ventures adjustments).

  • Observe: I had worked on sales projects for Fortune 500 companies for 30 years.  I had a boat load of observing under my belt.
  • Question: I wanted their stories, but I needed a framework for their narratives to follow or you would get an endless rambling of stuff.  Sales people love to talk.
  • Hypothesis: I believed that all successful sales people did many of the same things.  I believed that their successful behaviors crossed products, markets, and businesses.
  • Gather Data: I was willing to take a long time to find the information and a long time it would be.
  • Test: I had the opportunity to see it in action.

So armed with that, I created my HOW framework.

Normally this process comes up with a very OBJECTIVE methodology.  I was not interested in that.  I came up with an insanely subjective approach; ask them questions and let them tell me stories about that subject.  In these stories would be the real ways they FEEL, they THINK and they BEHAVE.  I don’t believe you can find that in any scaled answer.  Not very scientific.

I spent a long time storyboarding the questions that would serve as the foundation for the project (all of which are in the book).  I used my knowledge of story as a strategy to create a framework.

  • Each question would create a sort of subplot to the overall information I was looking for.
  • Each question would create independent stories.
  • In their response would be everything I need to find a pattern.

This brings me to the key to this type of creative procedure:  CONTROLLED STORYTELLING.  This simple sketch below, which drew hundreds of times for the sales people I interviewed, showed the idea.  You can tell me as many stories as you want.  You can pontificate and explore within your response, you simply CAN NOT GO OUTSIDE THE PARAMETERS OF THE QUESTION.  This is controlled storytelling and we became experts at it.

 

 

We used this same systemic approach to the application of story patterns for all of our clients that want an internal version of The 21 Secrets.

I agree, not the most scientific approach.  In fact, I recognize that the results and the interpretation of such a bulk of personal data filled with idiosyncrasies and probably biased stories might not fit with any statistician’s view of “real “results.  But, it yielded me and my Creative Ventures team the most significant strategy in the 31 years of our practice.

My HOW has become a foundational aspect of our consulting services.

Funny how curiosity and discovery can yield something of such great significance!

 

For more about our methods and results, check out our book.

The Series: 21 Secrets of Million Dollar Sellers

The Power of Intuitive Thinking

The ability to think differently is a trademark of most success stories.  Sales, science, leadership are all impacted by the ability of people to push their thinking in slightly different directions.

In 1847 Ignaz Semmelweis was a doctor who specialized in delivering babies in Austria.  The mortality level was staggeringly high and his simple thought that if you wash your hands before treating or examining an expectant mother the chance of a good delivery and the survival of both mom and baby jumped astronomically.  He wasn’t sure why (it wasn’t until 1860 that Louis Pasteur made the connection between germs and illness), but he saw the impact.  Despite his record keeping, the majority of the medical community thought he was crazy.  Who has time to wash your hands?

In 1997 Steve Jobs made it back to Apple.  In one of his internal meetings, he told everyone that they needed to get back to basics. That Apple had drifted away from doing their core business well and they were doing way too many things, making way too many things, thus making too many mistakes.  His thinking reduced the Apple product line by 70%!  What, be more successful not by growing but by shrinking?

Wait a minute, wash your hands and expected mothers and their babies don’t die.  Get small to be successful.  These two ideas share a counterintuitive way of thinking, a way of thinking that permeates successful sales professionals.

During World War II, two very secret operations were set up and driven by a type of counterintuitive thinking; one everyone should be familiar with, The Manhattan Project, where the best physicists, chemists, and engineers were working feverously on creating the atomic bomb. The combined effort of thousands of people had to learn to think about the bonds of energy differently.   The other is less known and it was called, The Applied Math Panel with a very unusual division; The Statistical Research Group and it was here that Abraham Wald practiced his craft.

Wald was an Austrian-born statistician who had barely escaped the rush of Nazi Germany.

Wald was tasked with helping figure out how to protect our military aircraft from being blown to bits in the skies over Europe.  The challenge was intense as he viewed photos of planes that had barely made it back to their air bases.  He looked at patterns of impact and came up with a very different solution to the problem than the military had already started on.  His counterintuitive way of thinking is credited with saving thousands of airmen’s lives.  His story is told in Chapter 4 of our book.

In fact, counterintuitive thinking is a pervasive skill set in sales.  Great sales performers have to think differently about relationships, failure and time.

Six chapters of the book deal with how thinking, not outside the legendary box but instead DIFFERENT thinking, right within your sales model, can make a massive difference in the success of your sales strategy.

A New Blog Series from Creative Ventures

 

Creative Ventures will be refocusing our strategy as it applies to our blog. We want to give our readers more of what they want. We want to share more of our ideas and what inspires us to do what we do. To that end, we are focusing on creating content in three core areas.

First, to supplement the content from our upcoming book and share the results of our research, we are creating content to help move your sales model forward. The 21 Secrets of Million Dollar Sellers Series will focus on the key behaviors of top salespeople, what they mean, and how you can implement each one to make you a better salesperson.

Extraordinary People will be filled with profiles, stories, and actionable items from the many people that inspire us and are often found in our strategic platforms. Everyone profiled has done amazing things. Whether it’s business, science, tech, or history these people all have something to teach us. We find inspiration in the often little-known people who have had a dramatic impact in their field and we hope you do too.

The Power of Things is focused on how we communicate big ideas. We often use unusual things in our stage presentations. There is power in the use of things and that power drives our understanding of their impact. From tulips to telescopes, from Big Mac’s to the Big Bang we will profile how ideas became the things that drive progress.

Keep an eye out for our new content and, as always, drop us line to let us know what you think.