The ‘That’s OK’ Economy


I recently wrote about how companies can provide small, unexpected surprises, based on their normal business practices, to create ‘WOW!’ moments for their clients. Of course, the opposite is true at the other end of the client’s experience spectrum, when you ignore the impact of your daily interactions you can plunge your customers into head-shaking reactions.




I was at a bakery to buy a loaf of sourdough bread (really good sourdough bread). I waited in a long line for about 15 minutes, an eternity in the right-now-reality of today. Part of the reason, of the three registers, only one was being manned despite the obvious backup of customers (the line was 12 deep). But, the bread was worth it. Even though I had to listen to the customers around me complain about the ridiculous wait, it was worth it. As my turn approached I asked for a loaf of sourdough, thickly sliced. She gave me a legitimate blank stare. I waited and then politely repeated my order. She turned to the racks of bread loaves and asked, “Which one is sourdough?”

Uh Oh! The one with the little beautifully calligraphic sign that said, you guessed it, sourdough. “Can I get it THICKLY sliced?” “Sure.” As she put the properly identified loaf into one of two slicers, I recognized that she put it in the thin slice machine. I said, “No, no, the thick slice machine.” She corrected me, “This IS the thick slice machine.” Though I don’t work for this purveyor of carbohydrates, I could tell by the width of the cutting template which machine was which, but too late to correct. The deed was done and I had a thinly sliced loaf of bread. Oh, by the way, it was the last loaf of sourdough. She apologized and I said, “That’s alright,” and went on my way.




At the movies, I ordered a medium Diet Coke. That will be $4.11. I gave her a fiver and she counted out the change. She thanked me and said’ “I hope you enjoy the movie.” I stood there and she asked, “Would you like something else?” “No, but I would like my Diet Coke.” What? I gave you the money and you didn’t give me my Diet Coke, thus the transaction is incomplete. She looked at me blankly. We all, unfortunately, are getting used to that look. I politely waited for a reaction and receiving none, I repeated the order of events until she finally perceived that she had yet to complete the transaction. She passed over the drink and as I had a sip on the way to the theater discovered it was a regular coke. “That’s alright,” I figured.




What’s the Problem

We immediately retreat from our expectations into the realm of ‘that’s alright.’ Neither of these incidents was world-changing, but both were evidence of a lack of face to face attention. This spells a lack of training and it is the core reason for our commonplace low expectations. The basics are a big deal and the basics should be the basics. If it is client facing, it’s NOT basic, it’s fundamentally critical to your desired outcome. Front facing is the empirical identity of your brand.

Check out how you’re greeted by the front facing folks at Chick-Fil-A or the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award winning teams at Rudy’s BBQ (when you’re in Texas). They make you feel like family and they know their stuff because they are well trained.

We expect things to go wrong, for the service to breakdown, for the ‘that’s alright’ experience.

So, if you are looking for WOW moments, look no farther than how your phone is answered, how your receptionist greets someone entering your office, how well those that are your front line warriors represent YOU.  You know what’s important and you can stop the dipped shoulders of a customer saying, “THAT”S ALRIGHT!”

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 – ) 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.


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!


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

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

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

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

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


Keeping Perspective in Leadership


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Challenge of Story and Raising the Quality Bar



Today the nominations for the 2014 television Emmy Awards were announced.  What do think the following categories have in common?

  • Best Original Programming
  • Best Actor in a Drama Series
  • Outstanding Drama Series
  • Lead Actor and Actress in a Mini Series
  • Outstanding Mini Series
  • Outstanding TV Movie

Not ONE nominee from the Big 4 TV networks.  Not ONE!

3d leadership business dynamic conceptThe quality bar has been raised so high by the original programming coming out of HBO, Netflix, FX and other content providers that network TV simply has not been able to keep up.

Sure, there are lots of factors in this viewing and nominating formula.  We have radically changed how we consume content.  From binge watching via streaming services to mobile technologies, but at the end of the day it’s really not about delivery strategies, it’s about the quality of the crafting and delivery of story.  It’s always about STORY.

The writing and idea development for TV is raising the entertainment and educational bar (think Cosmos) to new and challenging heights.  Couple that story crafting with high dollar production, effects, acting and direction and you will see the true POWER that exists in the two core aspects of story –  CRAFTING and TELLING.




In our THE ONCE UPON A TIME PROJECT we bring these very aspects to every part of an organization and its individuals power to leverage story as a core business development strategy.

The future holds nothing but challenges for the television entertainment industry with barriers being pushed and new ideas  creating new levels of risk.  Staying put is the same as staying behind.  It’s simple, craft and tell a better story and watch the business flock your way.

“Be prepared to fail when aiming higher than when playing it safe.”  Kevin Spacey


The Importance of Experience


Being a specialist does not guarantee you a full roster of clients, but great knowledge of your niche married with a fantastic client experience IS a winning combination. Very few businesses lend themselves to specialized niches more than real estate sales. The industry divides itself into very specific categories:


The list goes on and on. Then there are the never ending sub categories. In residential alone we have: single family homes, multi-family homes, condominiums and co-ops, and resort properties. Yikes! To make a statement and OWN your niche, you have to combine expertise, service, and a unique and powerful client experience.

Enter Whitetail Properties!

whitetail properties

Their specialty is hunting, fishing, and country homes in the heartland of America. You may have seen their show on HGT, Living Country, where they find dream properties for their clients. Now there are lots of real estate firms that specialize in country living, but the gang at Whitetail Properties have a dominate position. The reason, they create a connection between their knowledge, service, and a killer client experience.

Here’s what it looks like:

  1. They have an extensive meeting with their clients to identify everything they are looking for. Then, they ask secondary questions like, “What else have you dreamed about?” This opens the door to something beyond the desire for a country hunting and fishing home.
  2. Whitetail Properties then teams two realtors to develop properties for the clients in a kind of in-house competition. This creates a sense of urgency to the challenge of fitting the client to the property.
  3. The kicker, the key client experience piece is what gives Whitetail Properties their advantage. They CREATE an experience on each property that gives the perspective buyers a sense of what it might be like to live on the property. This might be a four wheeler excursion or a fishing trip to a pond on the property, or maybe camping on a ridge overlooking the properties stream. They take time to plan the excursion, to make it an adventure and it is always the piece that closes the deal.

This is a true client experience and by adding that one piece, the adventures, Whitetail Properties has put itself at the top of the real estate firms specializing in hunting, fishing, and farming properties.


So, what can you do? Put this idea to the test. Storyboard and sketch out ideas that can add a level of EXPERIENCE to your client interactions. Discover a way to add something that can take your client experience ONE LEVEL ABOVE and change the way your clients EXPERIENCE your service.

PS: The Whitetail Properties gang is so successful at their mission, that their branded merchandise is almost impossible to keep on the shelf. By having hats, shirts, and everything else that can hold their logo, they extend their brand beyond their niche!

The Power of Story Continues . . . . . .




A number of our clients are actively moving many of their communication strategies to the idea of STORY.  Our platform, The Once Upon a Time Project is our approach to empowering the idea of story as a real and true strategy.

The CEO of the design and consulting firm IDEA, Tim Brown, in his new book Change by Design says;  “Storytelling, NOT marketing, drives engagement.”  The idea that you can commit to story as your method of client engagement is gaining more and more momentum across all lines of business.

We often think of story as something done by creative writers, authors, poets and marketing/advertising professionals, but the truth is that story is our most natural way of communication and it only takes a little leverage to apply that natural skill to your business.  Just think about it, we have been storytellers from the time we could walk upright.  From the cave paintings of Chauvet Pont-d’ Arc in France (+/- 35,000 years old) to the greatness of the original HBO series ,Game of Thrones, we humans are experienced storytellers and when you deliver a message in the form of a good story, we can’t help but listen.

Story has only two components; Crafting and Telling.

Here are a few “crafting”  ideas to help you get started:

  • PROTOTYPE:  This is a key process in The Once Upon a Time Project and it involves getting something down on paper as quickly as possible.  This usually takes the form of a storyboard or a sketch of the initial elements of the story.  It is critical to jump into the “drafting” process, to create a prototype of your story.  Without something on paper the story is an ethereal idea.  When something physically exists you can fix it, change it, embellish it, you can mold it.


Woman Drawing on Digital Tablet



  • THE PIECES:  Once you have a preliminary storyboard you will rapidly be able to see the three key pieces, beginning, middle and end.  Spend quality time on ONE PIECE AT A TIME.  This allows you to provide the proper level of attention to each critical piece.  There will be time to see the big picture later, but at the initial crafting phase attack each piece individually.  Here is a good filter to use. The beginning has to be strong enough to grab me.  The middle has to keep my interest.  The end, well the end has to be a killer, something that drives me to action.




Those are just a couple of ideas we teach in the crafting phase of a story.

Need some help?  Give us a call or drop us a note.