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.

The Right Way to Design Client Experiences.

We live in a world of magic. Most of it passes by us unnoticed. We are lulled to sleep by its repetitive nature. It happens just below our awareness.re on your way to Starbucks!

We sit in planes waiting to take off. No big deal, heck I do this almost every week, but it is really a magical experience. Take a look outside your window as you barrel down the runway and you will discover the application of Sir Isaac Newton’s principles still in play after 350 years. A precise combination of lift, thrust, gravity, and drag are put into action. Molecules of air are pounding on the fuselage and wings creating the wonder of flight. But to us, it’s so regular people are already taking their airplane snooze.

Turn on the facet at your home and bam, water comes out. It’s expected. It happens literally every time. But to make that happen is another magical experience. Did you know that a gallon of water weighs 8 lbs? The average shower uses +/- 18 gallons of water. That’s 144 lbs. of water that had to be moved from a source to your shower. It had to be pumped, cleaned, boosted and filtered just to give you that nice hot shower! In New Jersey, they have over 9,000 miles of pipe to make that happen. In the Twin Cities in MN they grab their water from the mighty Mississippi. In California, it comes from the Sierra Nevada snowpack. It’s a wonder of modern engineering to give you the water to brush your teeth.

 

 

Every morning many of us, without a second thought, get in our car and turn the key fully expecting the engine to start. A modern miracle of internal combustion mechanics. The key sets in motion an electrical current that draws power from your battery. It sends the current to a solenoid, which in turn sets an electromagnet on its mission to complete the circuit and vroom; you’re on your way to Starbucks!

What do these modern day miracles have in common? They all occur behind a magic door of repetitive mystery. Great client experiences share this same element. The client sees something extraordinary, but that DAZZLING interaction had a mountain of processes, elements, and training that all occur behind the magic door.

The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is in the level of commitment leaders make to the client experience. For the Dazzling experience to become the norm for a car starting or a hot shower it needs to become a focal strategic imperative. These Dazzling companies open the “magic backdoor” and stare straight at the customer. They envision what would create, in that client, a level of commitment to our product or our service. They create a sense of loyalty, a quickness to comment to others that they made the right choice. They build the experience to that desired outcome. They involve teams in the development of the pieces of their Dazzling client experience. They garner promises of delivery from their employees and hold them accountable to their agreed upon outcome.

These ideas, perspectives, and commitments create something different in the market. It develops separation from the idea that what they do or make is simply a commodity available anywhere from anyone.

When you turn on your companies water tap, when you put the key in your organization’s ignition, is the result a guarantee for your client? Is it a magical experience driven by consistent delivery? IT SHOULD BE and we can help you create a truly DAZZLING BLUE experience, EVERY TIME.

The 21 Secrets of Million Dollar Sellers

The Power of You

 

Sales is a really unique profession.  It follows a delicate dance between seller and buyer.  It is often a solitary pursuit, where the sales person is building a strategy to gain a relationship, which hopefully turns into a sale.

It’s a simple fact that most sale approaches end in failure, in fact, failure might be the most common result of a sales process.  That being said, sales people need to have tough skin and an even tougher attitude.  They need to have a very powerful level of confidence and resilience that allows them to see what failure really is, just a part of the process.  Each failure is filled with lessons.  All of the million dollar producers in the study had an attitude of success and a firm belief in themselves, their processes and their skills.

In the early 1900’s the Texas Rangers were riding a legendary reputation for being the toughest lawman of the West.  Captain WJ McDonald was a legend among the legends.

He was known for his rugged individualism, leadership skills (he was made a Ranger Captain in 1891) courage and honesty.  He faced bank robbers, cattle thieves, long standing feuds and all out gun fights.  It was said that he would “charge into hell with a bucket of water”.  Despite all of that, he was famous for one incident in the early 1900’s.

There was an illegal prizefight scheduled in frontier Dallas, TX.  The fight had drawn an unruly crowd just ready to turn the entire scene into a bloody riot.  The mayor contacted the Texas Rangers for help and hurried down to the train station to meet the Rangers he was hoping would quell the unrest.  At the train station, Captain McDonald got off and looked around.  The mayor hurried to him and asked; “where are the rest of the Rangers?”  McDonald uttered; “Hell aint I enough?  There’s only one riot isn’t there?  One riot, one ranger.”

Captain McDonald stared down the crowd and stopped the riot.

CONFIDENCE.

In the 21 Secrets of Million Dollar Sellers, you will find the steps used to build this attitude, to discover confidence in the face of failure and to develop a personal plan to join the ranks of the elite salespeople featured in the book!

 

On Simplicity and the Mystery of Throw Pillows

We’re having family drop in for a visit to enjoy the beautiful pollen-filled spring time in the Southwest.  This, of course, requires a special level of house cleaning.  Both guest rooms will be occupied and since these rooms don’t receive a lot of use during our regular life routines, they need some sprucing up for the level of hospitality you want your guests to experience.

One of the guest rooms, the “Green Room” (you guessed it), yep, its color theme (did I just write “color theme”?) is green, is my sports room and music room.  All my tennis, golf, and training stuff is stored here and all of my guitars and assorted music stuff is there too.  The Green Room gets a little more attention than the “Black Room”.  This is Laura’s domain and is where all her gift wrapping stuff is.  When Laura wraps ANY gift is it a museum-worthy piece of art.  I kid you not.  Whereas, after 40 years of wrapping various treasures mine resemble the result of an exercise for any creature without opposable thumbs.

Laura came back from our marathon road trip really sick, so I wanted to jump in and get these rooms in GOOD TO GO condition.  Simple stuff, like new linens on the beds, dusting, vacuum, and the general once over.  It was during these housekeeping exercises that I once again stumbled upon one of the great mysteries of the human condition –  the abundance of pillows.

There are pillows of all sizes and shapes.  There are pillows of all colors and textures.  There are sleeping pillows, decorative pillows, and pillows that escape a description of function.  There are pillows EVERYWHERE!

They seem to multiply in some bizarre genetic methodology that would stump even Francis Crick and James Watson (go ahead, Google them, I’ll wait…………).

I am befuddled by these pillows.  I thought I understood the function of a pillow.  I use two to sleep on and take three off our bed every night and then proceed to put them back on every morning.  That’s just MY side of our bed.  Now I’m good with the idea of design and the roll a pillow would play in bedroom creative decorum, but COME ON.  What’s the appropriate number?  I’m pretty sure that a combined 21 is a little high, like 106 degrees is a little high for the Jacuzzi.   Is there some theorem that could be applied like the Pythagorean Theory or the Mean Value Theory?

I have made a living helping organizations understand and apply the principles of simplification and yet our pillows seem to expand like the Universe.  Forget about comparing the grains of sand on our planet to the number of stars in the sky, I’m switching to a throw pillow scale.

I know this is a losing battle and in reality outside of driving me nuts, has little impact on the spinning of our globe, but come on . . . . .