Stan Lee and Me

When I was 10 years old I had a paper route and delivered the now-defunct Los Angeles Herald Examiner. Twice a month I would go door to door collecting the subscription fees from my customers. Many would provide a young business kid with a tip. I would pocket those coins and head down to a neighborhood grocery store, these have gone the way of the dinosaurs, but Whites Market was a big piece of where I lived. There, at the front of the store was a wire rack and in its slots were comic books. I would peruse the week’s offerings, make my selections, part with some hard earned coins, jump on my Schwinn Sting-Ray bike and head home to lose myself in story.

 

I saw a skinny kid, whose dream was to serve his country only to be turned down because he was so weak he could hardly carry a rifle. He was just a kid, who readily volunteered for an experimental program that would, if successful, get him into the Army. Successful it was and Captain America was born.\

 

 

I saw a brilliant and rich engineer who had a piece of shrapnel so close to his heart that the slightest movement could have ended his life. He invented a device that would keep that piece of metal at bay and Iron Man was born. I saw a nerdy teenager bitten by a radioactive spider gain untold power but struggle with how to use it until his dying Uncle gave him a now worldly famous sentence of advice – “With great power comes great responsibility.” From those words, Spiderman was born.

An arrogant surgeon with a god-like ego gets into a car accident and his hands are damaged beyond repair. He lost the only thing that gave his life value. While searching for a way to regain his steady hands he stumbles into a Tibetan monastery where he learns that magic is real and trains to become the Sorcerer Supreme. Dr. Strange is born.

Stan Lee the father of Marvel Comics just passed away and though there is always some controversy around who created what, Stan Lee has always been my pusher and provided my weekly comic fix. The sheer volume of the character mythology he was involved in creating boggles the imaginative mind. Just to give you a small feel, let’s isolate the impact on movies:

  • Stan Lee-related characters have appeared in approximately 44 different movies.
  • The adjusted global box office take on those movies is $33,067,097,585.00!

 

Comics are a unique form of literature. They are sequential visual art and provide a rich canvas for storytelling. They captured my imagination and taught me the application of what I would later learn was the narrative arc. This might explain the soft spot in my movie-going heart for superhero genre flicks.

One of my favorite comic writers is the great Warren Ellis who recently described comics:

Comics, at their best, have a purity of intent. There is no visual narrative form that has so few people between the creator and the audience. What you always get is what the creators wanted to say to you.”

I am a comic book fan and for over 50 years I have looked forward to Wednesdays, the traditional day of new comic book releases. Though my eyes have gone weak and I have to enjoy my comic reading via digital downloads, I remain a ten-year-old boy, every Wednesday.

Thanks, Stan. . . .    EXCELSIOR.

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY HOLIDAYS, AND A JOYOUS NEW YEAR!

 

Every December, Laura and I enter our time machine.  It has been stored for a year in the depths of our garage. Surprisingly, it’s contained in a series of plastic interlocking boxes, lighter than one would expect from such a piece of chronological technology.

There is a ceremony that pushes back the pages of our lives and for an evening allows us to journey backward through our years.

The tree is up, the lights are strung and slowly we begin a smile and tear-laced exercise in time travel.

Ornaments are pulled from their protected confines and the strategic placing upon the tree begins.  It is not a haphazard exercise but instead one of planning, reflection, and joy. With a gleam in our eyes and soft smiles on our face we begin.  

“Remember when Colin brought this home from school?”

 

 

“Here is Dylan’s with his sh__eating grin.  Just like his dad.”

 

 

“Oh, our first Christmas together.”  Could that date be right?

 

 

Out comes a silly snowman my dad had made in the 1960s and it still held together.

 

 

Memories flood our living room like the beams of a warm sunrise.

This season is always a special time in any year.  It reminds us of how we became who we are. It locks in the connection we have with family, those here and those who have moved on.   It also provides us a promise of something yet to come, something that should be filled with hope.

Andy tells his friend Red in the film; The Shawshank Redemption;

“Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things and no good thing ever dies.”

The New Year gives us an opening for us to think about.  We all come with an expiration date and new chances and hope make us reach for the most we can in the time we have.

 

I hope the memories you build this year will find a special place in your time machine.

 

From all of us to all of you, 

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND A JOYFUL AND HOPE FILLED NEW YEAR.

Put Your Focus on These 2 Things

Simple drives the universe.  It’s a fact. At the top of the periodic table (you remember that chart from high school chemistry that organizes all the elements we’ve discovered) are two simple elements.  In the first place holder is Hydrogen. It is the lightest of all the elements and has just one proton in its nucleus. Despite its humble structure, Hydrogen is the most abundant chemical substance in the universe, representing 75% of its mass.  Right next to Hydrogen is Helium with an atomic number of 2 (two protons in its nucleus) and it is the second most abundant element in the known universe at about 24%. Simple dominates the known material in the known universe.

 

The idea that simple can be a dominant player in everything from strategy to system and process development has been the foundational principle of Creative Ventures for over 32 years.  We build our platforms and models around a maximum number of three parts. For us, three marks the outside boundary of simple. This takes incrediblediscipline and focus. We also know that if it can be done in two parts, well, that’s exponentially better than three. And, if you’re somehow smart enough to find a way to do something in one step, CONGRATULATIONS, you have a light switch and everyone understands a light switch.

In the recent bestseller by author Lee Child, his hero, Jack Reacher, was in a fight.  A witness told Reacher; “You really were harsh with that guy.” To which Reacher responded; “I only hit him once.  That’s the minimum number of hits.” That’s the Hydrogen of fisticuffs. I love the simplicity of Jack Reachers worldview!

 

I was sitting in a client meeting where we were helping design the curriculum for a series of five regional sales meetings.  I was astounded at the amount of stuff they were trying to jam into a two-day meeting. Every second was accounted for and the volume of content had my head spinning.  It would be a challenge for anyone participating in the meeting to weed through the density of content to discover real learning value. What information, knowledge or skills could a sales professional grab to improve their performance?  That was one of the main goals of these meetings, to provide the kind of programming that would make their sales force better. I get it, you need to introduce the new software package and that the recent shifts in compliance issues need to be addressed.  I know that an update on how things are going is a good piece, but no one was thinking about THE BIG TWO.

 

Within the apparent infinite amount of stuff on the agenda, no one considered the ONLY TWO THINGS any sales professional can actually control, the two things directly in their sphere of influence.  They can’t impact product mix or development. They can’t impact corporate resource allocation. They can’t impact governmental regulations.  So the question is; what can they impact? What can help them get better? There are ONLY TWO THINGS:

 

  1. How good are you at what you do?  This is about skill sets. What skills can make you better?  What existing skills can you hone to a fine edge?  You want to get better, add new skills and improve your existing skills.
  2. How do you treat your customers/clients?  You are the delivery service for the client experience.  This aspect of what you do is probably your top player is distinguishing you from everyone else.  In a commoditized world, the client experience reigns supreme.

You cannot provide enough of these two fundamental sales elements at any meeting.  If the idea is that your attendees will leave the meeting BETTER than they were when they arrived, then give the right amount of focus to THE TWO.   Teach them great sales skills and provide them innovative, unique, value-driven ideas to create a client experience that creates WOW moments. Hit your sales professionals with a focus on what they CAN control and you will hit your goal. A strong learning experience that makes your sales force better.

The universe treats simple as a dominant force, so should you!

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.

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!

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.