Better Capitalism Requires 3 Reforms

image of Market Street in Paris France - Delightability Rick Steves Tour

[This article is from a talk I gave to members of the Olympic Club on May 10, 2018, A Better Capitalism. The current economic and political framework (capitalism) is failing too many stakeholders. Evidence abounds and isn’t the subject of the talk. With 3 simple policy reforms we are on our way to a better capitalism. This may seem impossible at first. But, so was putting in place policies that enabled the building of massive towers of wealth while doing harm to people, communities, and the environment. I’ve turned off comments but feel free to reach me directly or comment and share on social media.

A Better Capitalism  – an 8 minute talk and an even quicker read

I’m a pragmatist. I believe we can all do better, as individuals, organizations, even the world community. So, I’m optimistic. But, I also live in the real world. In my world view, I see things as connected. They don’t sit artificially isolated from one another. Here are the connections that I see:

  • Growth in the city and tents in the parks and spaces in-between
  • Record corporate profits and the unpaid shadow work each of us perform
  • Globalization, offshore profits, flattening wages, and boomerang kids
  • Hollowed out communities and politicians desperate to remake them
  • Indebted consumers addicted to things and stuff to distract them
  • Marginalized and outraged citizens and the tone-deaf politicians elected to represent
  • Registered voters not participating in a country divided with scapegoats aplenty

We can have lawful, dignified, respectable capitalism or we can have unbridled greed, wanton destruction, and divisive crony capitalism with fewer winners supported at the expense of the public and the environment.

I’d like a better capitalism where we get the spoils of competition, continuous innovation and benefits for the many. I love that our trade and industry are privately owned and operated for profit.

I love capitalism. But, I’d love a better capitalism, even better.

What might that look like? That’s what I’ve been pondering. That’s what I want to tell you. I only have time to tell you about 3 big ideas. Here they are.

Big idea #1 – We need to decouple healthcare and employment.

Here is why. The world of work has changed. There is more and more automation. Companies are paring down employment. They use on-demand help, independent contractors, and are pushing more people to part-time to avoid the full costs of employees.

Uber and Lyft have declared themselves platforms, not transportation companies, even though their main business is providing transportation services. It’s innovative, but make no mistake this is about internalizing gains while externalizing costs to the public.

Imagine instead of fighting innovation, we embraced more of it. Free the innovators. Embrace the gig economy but don’t further cripple labor in the process. We need to decouple healthcare and employment to give 99% of the people a little bit more.

Imagine US businesses were free to focus on their core purpose and could compete more effectively with other developed nations, nations where employees already enjoy national healthcare.

Free businesses from providing healthcare and watch innovation flourish and entrepreneurship soar. American businesses will be more competitive and without adding a single tariff. What this likely means is a #MedicareForAll #SinglePayer system. That is the least expensive healthcare program we have in this country with the best health outcomes. It would also be focused on healthcare as opposed to for-profit sickcare. Get used to hearing that idea. It will come back again and again until it finally arrives.

Big Idea #2 – We need a Parasitic Index.

For too long people have been duped into believing maximizing corporate profits is synonymous with increasing shareholder value. It isn’t the same thing. You can do massive harm to customers, employees, and the environment in the name of short-term profits but you’ll have destroyed shareholder value. Just ask Volkswagen. Ask the CEO of the now defunct Peanut Butter Corporation of America who sits in a jail cell. Ask the former makers of Asbestos.

Maximizing shareholder value should mean providing reasonable returns to shareholders while acting in harmony with the environment, communities, customers, and employees. You balance stakeholders not pit one against the other.

A Parasitic Index would show how much a corporation leeches off society’s infrastructure and labor force – while killing its host in the process. Is the corporation a partner to the community or merely a beneficiary?

Imagine a world in which corporations didn’t extort cities and states for unneeded tax breaks but instead became partners in building stronger communities, improving the environment, and creating more stable democracies. Capitalism that serves is a better breed of capitalism than the unbridled greed varietal.

I just returned from a trip to central and Eastern Oregon. One of the cities I drove through was Prineville. That’s where Les Schwab founded and grew his $1B dollar tire retail chain. His motto was Doing the Right Thing Since 1952. If Jeff Bezos embraced that motto Amazon might look different and they probably wouldn’t have halted downtown development in light of the city council’s proposed “Head Tax.”

Image of Living Wage Sign in Dashi Sushi Coffee Shop Window - Bath England - better capitalism needed
Companies Who Pay a Living Wage Would Score Lower on the Parasitic Index Whereas Companies with Massive CEO-to-Worker Pay Ratios Would Score Higher
image of WPA Plaque Main Entrance Timberline Lodge Mt Hood Oregon - better capitalism needed
When Capitalism Fails Government Steps in to Alleviate Suffering as it did with the Federal Emergency Relief Act which brought economic livelihood and meaning for people with the WPA and CCC

Big Idea #3 – We need Congress to give federal prosecutors the ability to revoke a state-granted corporate charter.

You might need a little background here. The federal government doesn’t provide any mechanism to form a corporation. That is left up to the secretaries of state within each state.

Corporations have long figured out they can abuse employees, customers, and communities with impunity, to maximize profits. They can do so because if the state attorney general where they are incorporated were to harm them, the corporation can simply threaten to move to another “friendlier” state. So, companies based in Delaware, for example, are seldom sued by the State Attorney General of Delaware.

Without the ability to revoke a state-granted corporate charter, bad actors simply pay federal fines if caught in a misdeed and chalk it up to the cost of doing business. Wells Fargo recently paid a hefty federal fine but it was still tiny compared to its quarterly profit. Facebook has a long history of apologies. Losing their right to exist as a corporation would be a much stronger deterrent.

In Summary:

In society, there will always be bad actors because as Mr. Burnham points out there are people involved. Modern capitalism isn’t living up to its potential – maybe that’s because it’s not yet ruled by robots and artificial intelligence. There are still too many greedy humans in the mix.

The 3 ideas I shared will create a better capitalism. A better breed of capitalism for the good of the many, not the few. Let’s confront reality. There are too many forces leading us to a gig economy. Let’s not fight it. Let’s embrace it and flourish in its presence. People need healthcare, let’s make that a priority.

There will always be bad actors. Let’s make it more transparent and unpopular to be one. Like the #MeToo movement did for individual accountability amid sexual abuse a better capitalism includes a parasitic index to shine a light on corporate accountability in a sea of economic abuse.

And let’s give the most egregious organizations a death sentence when warranted. The ability to revoke corporate charters will allow our representatives to protect all of us from some of us.

It not cruel. It’s not personal. It’s just business AND it’s better capitalism.

about the author

image of author and consultant Gregory OlsonGregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

Greg is a virtual chief marketing officer to small and medium sized businesses. He founded Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers success will follow.

Teachers Guns and Kids – Oh My

image of interesting architecture seen in Liverpool England - Gregory Olson - Author

[This article is from a talk I gave to members of the Olympic Club on February 22, 2018, Experiences Part II . The talk ties together the Experience Halo and the emotional scars that remain after school shootings. I’ve added a few links and shared it here for members of the Olympic Club and the broader public. I’ve turned off comments but feel free to reach me directly or comment and share on social media. My February 1, 2018 talk on Experiences while referenced here is not yet online.}

an 8 minute talk and an even quicker read

It was a beautiful spring day in 2003. Exams were over. Commencement was around the corner. It was a quiet Friday afternoon.

Then the sound of smashing glass and automatic gunfire broke the calm. tatt tatt tatt tatt tatt – tatt tatt tatt tatt tatt

Professor Susan Helper came face to face with the shooter. She slammed her office door just as he fired his gun, directly at her. The bullet came through the door, hit her in the chest, bounced off her collar-bone and onto the floor.

She was lucky. She was eventually rescued by police 4 hours later.
That was Case Western University.

School Shootings Continue

Since 2013, there’s been an average of 1 school shooting per week in the U.S.

Following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida last week, Professor Helper spoke out. It’s been 15 years since she was shot. Physically, she healed long ago. But, every time there is another school shooting her emotional healing cycle starts again.

She knows it’s completely irrational to feel affected by a shooting that happens across the country. But, she still fears for her safety and feels powerless.

image of filmstrip that plays in mind includes experiences and stories heard of school shootings - The Experience Halo from book Experience Design Blueprint - Gregory Olson 
 
A few weeks ago, I gave a talk about experiences. In that talk I introduced The Experience Hoop. I also mentioned that much of our experiences is all in our heads. And that requires another mental model, the Experience Halo.

The Experience Halo

The Experience Halo is that filmstrip that plays in your head. It’s shaped in part by your context, but also by your past experiences, brand baggage, and stories heard.

Our Experience Halo remembers. It reminds us of the brands we love and those we hate. Our halo recalls past experiences both good and bad. And, it also remembers stories, EVEN if those stories didn’t involve us, directly.

For example, if we hear of a potential investment opportunity – our Halo might conjure up warnings of Bernie Madoff Ponzi schemes or Enron – even though we may never have been affected by either one.

Happily, our Experience Halo also reminds us of good stories. Case in point: Mr. Burnham shared a wonderful story where as a boy he hit up his father for money to purchase a kite. His father refused and helped him build a kite instead. That story is now in our own Experience Halo. It didn’t happen to us, but if a kid in your life hits you up for money to buy a kite, you just might recall that story – even if you ultimately give them money.

With each new school shooting, Professor Helper’s Experience Halo AWAKENS.

I want to bring this a little closer to home.

image of open door and vulnerability from teacher who experienced a school shooting - the Experience Design Blueprint 

School Shooting Club – Not the Club You Wish to Join

My friend Dana is a Biology Teacher at Marysville Pilchuck High School.

On October 24, 2014, Dana joined the School Shooting Club. On that day, a 15-year-old assassin shot five students in the school cafeteria before killing himself.

She hasn’t gotten over it. She can’t. Like Susan Helper her Experience Halo gets stoked with every new school shooting. I want to share with you what Dana recently said:

Two thoughts occurred to me this year that most people do not have to think about at work:

First, I was sitting in my desk in my empty classroom working on my computer during my prep period. I suddenly was conscious that my door was unlocked and I started to imagine a gunman coming in to kill me. Do you ever think about that at work? When I do, I imagine begging him to let me live because I have kids who need their mother. What would you beg?

Second, when my students cleared out after the last class, there was a lone backpack left behind. As I picked it up to find out who it belonged to, I suddenly felt panicked that it might be a bomb. I began to rush it to the door to throw it outside (I’m not trained in handling bombs, clearly) and then the student came back in to claim it. I laughed it off, but thought, “What the hell is wrong with me?”

Do you ever wonder if you might have a backpack bomb at your work? Obviously, you might if you are in law enforcement or the TSA, but I AM A BIOLOGY TEACHER.

I think about saving children from being shot at school when I am not thinking about teaching them, counseling them, making sure they are fed and safe, planning their futures, and just getting them to turn in their homework.

People are coming up with terrible reasons not to keep me safe. Not to keep children safe. I’ll always be on the side of kids, and, at this point, I’m listening to them for answers.

Reasonable People Agree Yet Inaction on Gun Reform Persists

Most Americans and politicians agree that a kid that can’t buy beer shouldn’t be able to buy an assault rifle. Or, that if you are deemed dangerous enough to put on the no-fly list then you ought to be put on the “can’t buy an assault rifle list”, too.

Sadly, that list doesn’t exist. Most other lists related to guns or gun deaths doesn’t exist either. You can thank the NRA and the members of congress they purchased for that.

But, this school shooting may have finally sparked a change.

High School Students Are Leading the Change

Surviving students of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting are forcing a new conversation. They’ve started movements such as #StudentsStandup, #NeverAgain, and #MarchForOurLives, a nationwide march on the 24th of next month.

image of March For Our Lives Banner from student leader who survived school shooting 
 
It IS possible to support the 2nd amendment AND also support sensible gun reform.

In this movement, politicians will be shamed for inaction on sensible gun reforms while they continue to take money from the gun lobby.

If there is one group that is even better than cats or Russian trolls at hijacking the emotions of adults, its kids. After all, they aren’t buying their own Lucky Charms.

Our teachers are not bodyguards or first responders. They are educators trained to get other people to think.

And, it looks like now it’s the kids who are getting us to think. I only hope our lawmakers will listen, learn, and act.

Board Free for Now

I recently completed service terms on two boards. On the first board, a University department, I was an inaugural board member who had served long past my term-limits.  My second board position was for a social investor and international financial cooperative where I served two consecutive 3-year terms.

Benefits Galore

Each board experience broadened my perspective, provided me with opportunities to meet interesting people from other countries and expand my professional and leadership skills.  Of course, I also cared about the organizations and their respective missions.

Culture of Care

While the University department is primarily concerned with preparing students for tomorrows STEM careers, the social investor is investing in people and organizations working in agricultural, renewable energy, and a plethora of social enterprises across 70 countries. In working with them, I gained a better understanding of how the world’s poorest people are most affected by climate change and extreme weather events. Both organizations are deeply empathetic and represent a #CultureOfCare, a concept I’d like to see expanded and normalized across the general population.

Perhaps There is Board Service in Your Future

If you lean forward a little and take initiative most people are happy to let you lead. If you haven’t served as a volunteer board member you might consider it. There are plenty of organizations who would benefit from more heads, hearts, and hands at the table. But, the organization isn’t the only one to benefit. Your service to others will forever change you, for good.

Your Brand Matters

image of Brand Matters featured image for delightability blog post

“Brand Matters” is a double entendre in case you missed that subtlety. One interpretation of brand matters is in the verb sense for the word matters. Your brand matters, meaning your brand is important and has significance. Another interpretation uses the word matters as a noun. There is a great deal of work under the topic of brand, or matters related to brand, or brand matters. And so it is with your brand, nuance. There is different interpretation depending upon context, understanding, and perspective. But, how much variation exists?

Unacceptable Discomfort

Brands become out of step with changing teams and times. When there is unacceptable discomfort with your brand among your company’s leadership, then there exists a tension that clouds your operation and impedes progress. Employees feel it, partners feel it, and your customers feel it. When this happens, a new conversation is warranted.

Acceptable Discomfort

The goal in reestablishing your brand is to get all of your stakeholders to at place of comfort so that together you can assert your brand across the operation and fully activate it in the marketplace. Once you do this, the velocity of initiatives that rely on it go faster and much more smoothly. Remember, consistency before momentum! Your company’s leadership team doesn’t need to agree on every nuance of the brand, but they do need to find a level of acceptable discomfort. If there is ongoing tension your work is incomplete.

Start a Brand Conversation in Your Organization

image of brand considerations - Delightability LLC
Click to Download Full-Size PDF. (Opens in New Window) Please share with others.

I’ve assembled a “Brand Matters” one page resource for you to reflect on and use in your conversations with your leadership team. Most of the terminology is generic and easily researched for more detail and understanding. At a high level it includes:

  • Brand definition
  • Guardrails
  • Positioning & message platform
  • Identity
  • Assessment & tools
  • Actions
  • Brand leverage
  • Potential payoff

Taking Action to Close the Gap

Whichever way you think of brand, I simply want you to do just that – think. And, if you do have a gap between what your company says and does and what customers think and feel, then I do hope that you will spark a productive conversation within your organization and among your team. Your customers deserve this. Your employees deserve it, and your company won’t be relevant forever, without closing that gap. Once you close the gap you’ll be in a great position to go even further by creating a living brand that never gets lost, while at the same time delivering more remarkable experiences for your customers, partners, and employees. But, I’ll leave those subjects for future articles.

about the author

image of author and consultant Gregory OlsonGregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

Greg is a business and marketing consultant who founded Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers success will follow. He also believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.  Gregory serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit USA, a national support association for impact investor, Oikocredit International.

Is Negative Target Fixation Crushing Your Opportunities?

image of clear field from plane for negative target fixation blog post - Gregory Olson

In a past life I founded a software company. In that company, I cast a wide net searching for learning and support wherever I could get it. One of the places I landed was at garage.com’s bootcamp for entrepreneurs. During my two-day immersion with Guy Kawasaki and entrepreneurs at all stages I heard a valuable story that resonated with me; it still does. It goes like this…

image of clear field with object from plane approaching for negative target fixation blog post - Delight Customers Gregory Olson
Pilots of small aircraft are a highly attentive and skilled group. Some might even refer to them as anal-retentive. They are trained to always look for the clear field; that is the place where they’ll set the plane down in the event of engine failure. This obsessive lot are constantly scanning the horizon, looking out the window, and monitoring their gauges much like an attentive driver rotates glances among the speedometer, rear-view mirror, side mirror, and windshield. With a small plane, you have much more control than a large plane so putting one down in a clear field doesn’t necessitate a grisly crash like one normally associates with the crash landing of a commercial airliner. So you’d expect more fatalities with large commercial airliners. But, statistically this isn’t what happens at all. Most of the fatal airplane crashes are small planes that are more easily controlled by highly attentive and skilled individuals. So, what is going on? Chock it up to Negative Target Fixation.

image of clear field with tree or object for plane approaching - Negative target fixation blog post - Greg Olson

Here is what often happens during the small craft clear field landing scenario. The pilot, upon having engine trouble, recalls the field they saw moments before. They position the plane and begin a controlled descent toward the clear field. As they approach the field they notice an object, it could be a tree, a house, or a goal post; it doesn’t matter, the outcome is the same. Consciously or more likely subconsciously the pilot begins saying or thinking, “Don’t hit the goal post. Don’t hit the goal post. Don’t hit the goal post.” The plane descends further, speed is well within control, and as the plane approaches the field it seems to make a beeline right toward the goal post. Negative Target Fixation captivated the pilot’s attention.

Not being a pilot myself, I’ve been validating this story with pilots of small aircraft ever since I heard it. Granted everybody I’ve talked to has survived and most never had engine trouble that necessitated such a landing. What would be telling would be to interview those who didn’t survive.

The Office Experiment

Interested with the concept of Negative Target Fixation and its applicability to the business world I ran an experiment when I returned to my office. We had a small portable golf putting setup in our open office space. We’d use this to blow off steam and generally take a break from the nonstop pace of our startup. Usually 3 or 4 people would be involved. This day the setup was a little different. In between where we putted from and the receiving cup that would receive our golf ball I placed an office chair, you know the type, thin round chromed steel legs and a curved plastic bottom and backside. Hey, we were frugal Ikea shoppers.

Player number one stepped up to the tee mark, peered over and around the chair and swatted the ball with the putter. The ball went directly to the steel leg. Player number two, same fate. Player three was me and I simply ignored the chair. I don’t remember if I got a hole-in-one, but I did not hit the chair legs. I was focused on the green not even thinking, “Don’t hit the chair.” Player four also crashed his proverbial plane into the goal post.

After that round completed I told the story of negative target fixation and we played another. This time nobody’s golf ball hit the chair legs. The lesson was imprinted in my mind like indelible ink. To this day when things are going rough or not measuring up or there are obstacles in the way, I try to stay focused on the value and benefits, what is possible, and creating a clear path forward. If you are in leadership you have a duty to keep your team positively focused on the path forward. But, you can also employ this bit of team psychology no matter your place on the team. Good luck in your ventures. May all of your opportunities always clear the goal post.

image of goal posts for plane to avoid with Negative target fixation blog post - Greg Olson

To Pivot or Persist, That is the Question

image of compass for Gregory Olson blog post Pivot or Persist

When Performance Doesn’t Track Expectations

It happens to most of us. We reach a point where a campaign, a project, or even an entire enterprise is not progressing as expected. When results don’t live up to expectations you have a decision to make – do something different or stay the course. If you are working alone this is easier; you can decide and then take immediate action. If the road is crowded with other decision makers (or stakeholders) your decision making ability may encounter some traffic. Aside from the slowdown, your options for action may be more limited.

I started this article by suggesting to pivot or persist is the question. As usual, life is slightly more complicated than the simple binary choice presented. Other alternatives exist.

Beyond the Pivot

  • Full stop (This might be relevant if you have a go big or go home model or you run out of cash)
  • Blame others (I include this only because many people resort to blame when things don’t go according to plan. Don’t join this nonproductive crowd and as importantly don’t let the turkeys get you down.)

The Persist path has much variation. Staying the course does not necessarily mean leaving things exactly as they are.

Variations of Persist

  • You can persist “as is” expecting that time or external circumstances will eventually bring you favor. The timing goddess can bless you or curse you. There were fundamentally sound businesses and even startups that got washed out during the dot com bubble simply because of timing. Likewise, there are publicly traded startups that went public at an opportune time but still require ongoing cash infusions to survive. Timing isn’t everything, but it is huge.
  • You can adjust your expectations and carry on. Sometimes you have to get grounded in reality; not all Little Leaguers will make it to the Major Leagues.
  • You can adjust other elements, e.g., the product, the service, the distribution, the messaging, how you think about and engage your audience, etc.

The More Drastic Pivot

When more drastic action is required or patience runs thin, there is the pivot. One thing to think about is how far do you pivot. Think of a sailing vessel. Will you turn completely around 180 degrees? Will you pivot 90 degrees, 45 degrees? How significant will your course change be? A word of caution on pivots: If you have romantic dreams of reinvention you might be looking for more of an escape than a pivot. If the underlying foundation and behaviors is what’s retarding performance then any romantic reinvention will only expose that pattern. It would be best to shore up the foundation and improve your operating mechanisms – those improvements will serve you well whether you pivot or persist.

Remember, if you a sailing in very rough seas a pivot might save you in the short run but you really have to persist until the weather clears. Make sure your pivot will actually change your circumstances. If it doesn’t you may be returning to the very question we began with, to pivot or persist.

No matter what lies ahead for you, when the path forward is murky and your spirits are running low remember these words, “When the world says, ‘Give up,’ Hope whispers, ’Try it one more time.”’ – unknown

“When the world says, ‘Give up,’ Hope whispers, ’Try it one more time.”’ – unknown

It’s lonely at the top, whether you are the Chief or the Chair or the master of your freelance domain it can be helpful to get some outside and objective help from a business coach, advisor or other confidant. Good luck in your journey.

about the author

Gregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGreg is a business and marketing consultant who founded Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers success will follow. He also believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help. Gregory serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social investor, Oikocredit International and as an advisor for Seattle University’s Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering.

Nature: Our Silent Teacher- Learning from Bees, Thistles, Lotus Flowers, Sharks, and More.

image of Sea Turtle Big Island Hawaii - author Gregory Olson

What could we possibly learn from bees, thistles, lotus flowers, and sharks? As it turns out – quite a bit.

[This article is from a talk I gave to members of the Olympic Club in September of 2016. I’ve added a few links and shared it here for members of the Olympic Club and the broader public. I’ve turned off comments but feel free to reach me directly or comment and share on social media.]

an 8 minute talk and an even quicker read

Good afternoon gentlemen. Today I’m going to talk about nature – our silent teacher.

Nature is the physical world made up of plants, animals, and the landscape – as opposed to humans and the things humans invent and produce. Without the resources of the natural world there would be no built landscape. We would have no cell phones, computers, comfortable homes, transportation, or the clothes you are wearing. In fact, we wouldn’t have any lunch. But nature gives us more than objects and resources. We use nature for leisure and recreation, to escape and find solitude, and we even use it in our art and literature.

NATURE IS A REALLY BIG DEAL.

But perhaps the biggest gift nature provides us is in its teachings. There are many lessons to be learned by this eldest of elders and indigenous to all. I am going to share four such stories.

Our first lesson comes from bees, nature’s highly social insect. One thing I didn’t have time to share a few weeks ago when I talked about ideas is that it isn’t always the highest quality ideas that advance. Sadly, in many organizations, WHO an idea comes from matters most. But, it shouldn’t. Bees don’t suffer with this problem.

Bees Have a Healthy Innovation Culture

image-of-bee-in-search-of-nectar-for-delightability-blog-postHere is how it works in a bee colony. Each morning scout bees venture off in search of nectar, water, and better nesting grounds. This pursuit is necessary to sustain life for the colony. When a bee discovers a stash of nectar, water, or a great nesting site, it returns to the hive and performs a waggle dance. In this dance the energy exuded signals to the surrounding bees the value and direction of the treasure found.  That way the bees know who to follow. This is a fully inclusive process. No scout bees returning to the nest are discriminated against for any reason.

Imagine if organizations and governments learned to be as inclusive as bees. Wicked problems might be solved and more people could participate in a widespread culture of innovation.

Imagine if organizations and governments learned to be as inclusive as bees. Tweet This!

Imitating Life: The Word for This Is…

Increasingly, creative minds  ARE turning to nature for lessons in design. The discipline is referred to as biomimicry – a word derived from the Greek words bios meaning “life” and mimesis meaning “imitate”. Or together – imitate life. (pronounced mesis like thesis)

Solutions Hiding-In-Plain-Sight

image-of-hooks-from-burdock-plant for learning from nature blog post - delightabilityMy second story is one of the most well-known and commercially successful examples of biomimicry. In 1941, Swiss engineer George de Mestral returned from a bird hunting trip in the Alps. He noticed his socks and his dog were littered with prickly seed burrs. While pulling off the burrs he noticed how easily they reattached. Mestral  studied the burr needles under a microscope and discovered small hooks at the end that could easily attach to fur or socks. The burdock plant uses this feature to propagate its seeds through attachment. This gave him the idea of creating a hook and loop fastener. Mestral experimented for years and eventually perfected what we now know as Velcro.

Clean as a Shark

My third story is a lesson from sharks. About a decade ago, Dr. Anthony Brennan, a professor of engineering at the University of Florida, was asked by the Navy to find a way to keep barnacles and algae from forming on the hulls of ships and submarines.  In the industry, it’s called bio-fouling. It is an expensive problem that creates drag and increases fuel costs. Clarity struck Dr. Brennan one afternoon as he watched an algae-coated nuclear submarine return to port. He remarked that the submarine looked like a whale lumbering into the harbor. He then asked the question – which slow-moving marine animals don’t foul. The answer to that question is the shark; Brennan wondered why.

image-of-shark-for-learning-from-nature-blog-post-delightability.jpgWhen he viewed shark skin under an electron microscope, he saw that it was made up of countless overlapping scales called dermal denticles (or “little skin teeth”). The pattern reduces turbulence, making water pass by faster and the rough shape inhibits parasitic growth such as algae and barnacles. Technology inspired by shark skin has improved ship hulls and even swim suits. Scientists are now using the same technique to create films and surfaces that resist bacteria growth. This has many applications but perhaps the most important is in hospitals, given the ongoing problem with Hospital Acquired Infections and drug resistant bacteria.

Natural Vacuum Cleaner

image-of-lotus-flower-for-learning-from-nature-blog-post-delightabilityOur fourth lesson from nature comes from the Lotus flower. Leaves of the lotus flower and shark skin behave similarly. The flower’s micro-rough surface repels dust and dirt particles. If you were to look at a lotus leaf under a microscope, you would see what appear to be a tiny bed of nails. These nails prevent water droplets from adhering to the surface. When water rolls over a lotus leaf, it collects anything on the surface as it rolls off, leaving behind a clean and healthy leaf. This self-cleaning property is known as the Lotus Effect.

A German company spent four years researching this phenomenon and developed paint with similar characteristics. The micro-rough surface of the paint pushes away dust and dirt, diminishing the need to wash the outside of a house.

Nature: The Original Hacker

I’ve only shared four stories – nature has plenty more lessons and many more teachers than bees, sharks, burdock thistles and lotus flowers. Whether solving social problems or inventing next generation products and technologies any innovator should first ask – how has nature already solved this? Nature is an EXCELLENT designer.  Mother Nature has been at it for a very long time, much longer than humans have been designing anything. Nature IS the original hacker.

Mother Nature has been at it for a very long time, much longer than humans have been designing anything. Nature IS the original hacker. Tweet This!

Nature’s Biggest Lesson

As global citizens on an increasingly tiny planet we share serious problems. Imagine if humankind would shift its thinking about nature – away from conquering and exploitation. And, instead we embraced our silent teacher and embedded biomimicry into the fabric of our innovation culture and institutions. If we were to do this, then perhaps we could free ourselves to learn nature’s largest lesson of all – the lesson of coexistence, balance and sustainability.

about the author

Image of Chapter 9: Environment - L'impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through TomorrowGregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Chapter 9: Environment, is related to the content of this post. Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGreg is a business and marketing consultant who founded Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers success will follow. He also believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help. Gregory serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social investor, Oikocredit International and as an advisor for Seattle University’s Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering.

 

Learning Innovation From Bees

There is something you should understand about ideas.  It isn’t always the highest quality ideas that advance. Sadly, in many organizations and groups, WHO an idea comes from matters most; but, it shouldn’t. In this regard we could learn something from nature, in particular from bees.

Bees have a healthy innovation culture

Each morning, scout bees venture off in search of nectar, water, and better nesting grounds. This pursuit is necessary to sustain life for the entire colony. When a bee discovers a stash of nectar, water, or a great nesting site, it returns to the hive and performs a waggle dance.

In this dance the energy exuded signals to the surrounding bees the value of the treasure found. More waggle means a better stash. This is a fully inclusive process. No scout bees returning to the nest are discriminated against because they don’t carry a certain title, possess a certain number of years experience or have a direct relationship with the queen.

Every Organization Has Buried Treasure

Bees appear to work alone but are always working in a larger distributed team for a common purpose to keep the hive alive and thriving. Whether you lead an organization or simply work with or for one, act more like a bee and less like a raccoon and your hive may soon thrive, too. Imagine the treasures organizations could free from their employees’ imaginations if those employees were as engaged as waggle dancing bees.

Recipe #40: Dance Like a Bee

Have a discussion with your team to brainstorm how you can work together more like bees and less like raccoons. Discuss how your organization handles shiny objects and how you can establish the equivalent of an innovation waggle dance.

About The Author

Gregory Olson is the author of The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true. Chapter 8: Bees & Raccoons especially pertains to this blog post. His latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson founded marketing strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help. Gregory serves as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social investor, Oikocredit International and as an advisor for Seattle University’s Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering.

The Care and Feeding of Ideas

[This article is from a talk I gave to members of the Olympic Club on September 1, 2016. I’ve added a few links and shared it here for members of the Olympic Club and the broader public. I’ve turned off comments but feel free to reach me via phone, email or social media.]

an 8 minute talk and an even quicker read

Everything begins as an idea, this talk, this Club, even The Rainier Club. They ALL started as ideas. But, ideas are not exclusive to any club. EVERYBODY gets ideas.

Some ideas will move forward and make an impact in people’s lives. Nine of us recently convened on an electric boat on Lake Union to celebrate Mr. Riddle’s 70th birthday. That too, started as an idea. The idea happened and I think it made a very positive impact for all involved.

While some ideas actually happen, other ideas remain trapped in our imaginations or become stalled, never to make an impact in the real world. I was curious about this. I had my own experiences, but I wanted to hear from others.  While doing research for my first book, The Experience Design Blueprint, I asked people in all types of organizations why they thought ideas failed to gain traction.

Idea Mortal Enemy #1 – Lack of Clarity

The number one reason I heard for why ideas don’t move forward was “lack of clarity.” People simply didn’t know how to get started or what the next step was. What people really need is a clear path forward and a starting point – even a small step in the right direction. But, we have a poverty of language when discussing the movement of ideas. One of the things we need to understand about ideas is that – as they move from concept to completion – the people involved operate in three distinct psychological zones. Two of these zones we have some familiarity with, the third zone – not so much. The first psychological zone is the idea zone.

Idea Zone

This is the zone we are in when we generate ideas. The idea zone is home to sticky notes, pictures, envelopes and napkins, the whiteboard, and every other place we capture our ideas large or small, good or bad. We are all familiar with the idea zone.

Execution Zone

The other zone that we are familiar with is the execution zone. Here is where the calendar lives, and deadlines and our to-do lists. This is the mental zone for all items related to the discipline of execution. When you are reviewing the Olympic Club program schedule or other upcoming appointments, you are in the execution zone.

I’m going to pause here to take a quick poll? Who here considers themselves more of an idea person? Raise your hand. And who here considers themselves to be more of the execution police – that person that is mindful of the details, even holding others accountable? Yes, it’s the same result I see over and over; I usually find about a 50/50 mix when I take that poll.

Advancing Ideas IS the Challenge

The challenge is in going from the idea zone to the execution zone. Specifically, how do you advance an idea, especially when multiple people are involved? I’ve asked this question 100’s of times and I rarely receive good answers. This is a key area where the poverty of language is harmful to ideas.

Idea Buzz Kill

A board member once shared with me what she would tell other board members that approached her with an idea. She would say to them, “That is a perfectly good idea. Why don’t you come back to me when you have a fully executable plan?” What she didn’t realize at the time was that she was in the execution zone and the people approaching her with new ideas were in the idea zone. She was effectively shutting people down without realizing it. She was dismissing ideas outright, not on the merits of the ideas, but because of how and when those ideas were shared. They needed to have a different conversation. And, that leads us to the third psychological zone, the zone we are mostly blind to, the conversation zone.

The Conversation Zone – Seeing The Big Picture

The conversation zone is the place where we have authentic dialogue. In this mental state, alone or with others, we flesh out ideas enough to gain further understanding of the idea and why it matters. In this zone, we gain the perspectives of others that might sharpen and improve our ideas. In the conversation zone we get on the same page and build a simple plan that all can agree to. When we are in this zone we are trying to “see” the big picture. After creating the big picture we may realize the idea isn’t worth pursuing after all and that’s okay.

If you skip the conversation zone – by jumping directly to the execution zone you’re likely to burn precious time and resources. And, you’ll like hear these questions.

  • What are we doing again?
  • Why are we doing this?
  • What’s the next step?

Overcoming Stuck a.k.a. Wandering in the Swamp

The conversation zone provides the clear path forward and addresses that #1 reason ideas don’t move forward – lack of clarity. Each of us moves in and out of the three psychological zones; so do those around us. That makes it especially challenging when working in groups. People are often in different zones but we don’t recognize it. There are no indicator lights or flags. Having a mental model for the three psychological zones is helpful. But establishing guiding principles for each zone adds to the care and feeding of ideas.

Guiding Principles for the Idea Zone:

  • When you have an idea put it in the playground (that’s the  name for the space where you capture ideas)
  • Ideas can come from anywhere and at times inconvenient
  • Ideas are not judged in the playground

Guiding Principles for the Conversation Zone:

  • If you want to advance an idea, create a big picture
  • An idea not implemented makes no impact
  • Any idea can be broken down into big chunky steps along a implementation path
  • Every idea should have a payoff

Guiding Principles for the Execution Zone:

  • A task unclaimed is a task undone
  • Inspiration has expiration, so it’s best to get started early
  • Once you get started, it is easier to keep going
  • Show visible progress to motivate yourself and others on the team

Recognizing the three psychological zones and referring to guiding principles for each zone can create smoother, more transparent behavior and more positive outcomes. It can also eliminate the drama and ill feelings that plague individual members within groups. Overcoming the poverty of language and normalizing productive behavior around ideas is a pathway to higher performance – as an individual and especially as a team.

One of the CEO’s I interviewed for my book wished that I had shared these guiding principles with him earlier. He recalled a time when he shut down an employee on a conference call when that employee suggested an idea. Rather than shutting him down, he later realized he should have said, “Sounds like a good idea. Put that in the playground and we’ll discuss it later.” Most ideas do arrive at inconvenient times. You know this firsthand.

Talking About the Movement of Ideas is Empowering

A client, a CEO of a software company, was frustrated because none of his employees shared ideas, although they interacted frequently. One of the first things we did when we began working together was to create a visible playground where ideas could live. Once we did that ideas flowed to it freely. The company entered new partnerships and created mobile and cloud versions of its software. Each of those ideas initially started as an idea written on sticky note and placed in the playground.

In Summary

rocket-monument-for-care-of-ideas-blog-post-delightability

Ideas are like food. They are better to be shared with others than left to deteriorate in isolation. Imagine if more ideas received the care and feeding they needed in order to move forward. Imagine that happened all across this city and in every city. Imagine people getting involved to nudge ideas forward; ideas that could make a big impact.

As I mentioned in my opening remarks, everything begins with an idea. Perhaps your next idea is right around the corner. Whenever it arrives and whether it is large or small, and whether you are working alone or with a team, I wish you much clarity and clear path forward. I hope your next idea fully takes flight – liftoff.

about the author

Gregory Olson’s latest book, L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, is a light-hearted and deadly serious book containing a couple of hundred ideas that if implemented would create a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help. Gregory also serves on the board of Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social investor, Oikocredit International and the advisory board for Seattle University’s Department of Computer and Electrical Engineering.

Clouds or Weeds: Where Should Strategy Live?

Having lofty ambitions is good. After all, by striving to achieve the impossible we may actually do it. And, the rewards can be many. But, if we only have lofty ambitions and pay no heed to the myriad actions required along the way to achieving them then we’ll likely never reach our destination. Many organizations (and individuals) fall into this head-in-the-clouds trap.

Being More Grounded

You’ve heard it, maybe even said it, “You’ve got to be more grounded. Get your head out of the clouds.” People who say such things are mindful of the implementation details. They are the “execution police” among us. Whereas some minds are filled with lofty ambitions, others are consumed with getting things done. The details they fret over may appear to some to be too grounded, or “weed-level.” But completing weed-level projects is necessary for a functional organization. Whether it’s invoicing the newest customer or making payroll, updating the website, or producing and distributing the latest company news or developing a block of code, weed-level projects guided by a coherent strategy propel an organization toward its destination.

Guided by Coherent Strategy

The caveat in that last statement is “guided by a coherent strategy.” If weed level projects become the strategy unto themselves then the organization is headed for trouble. When strategy gets hijacked by a propensity toward getting things done, minutiae can begin to consume all available resources. When this happens, there is no longer capacity in the organization for healthy discourse. Nobody would ever hang a banner on the wall expressing the norm of “Guided by Minutiae” but many have felt this way in organizations large and small. This spells trouble for employee engagement and an otherwise would-be innovation culture.

Beware of Action Junkies

At the extreme, “action junkies” place demands on the organization that might be counter to the strategy already in play. The time horizon for gratification shrinks. Instead of thinking long term strategy and the benefits thereof, short-termism takes over. This can happen at all levels of the organization, shifting the focus and further demanding the attention of others. Suddenly people are pulled into “surprises” while others may be shed like an unwanted winter coat. You’ve heard this play out in organizations before; perhaps you’ve even uttered the words, “We just need….” When short term tactics become the basis of your strategy, your organization begins to drift. Persistent strategic drift will cripple an organization, no matter its size or tenure. See related articles: Don’t Let Your Organization Become a Lumpy Snowball and also Focus Focus or Hocus Pocus.

“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu said this well, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” 2500 years later we still are dealing with the same human foibles on the battlefield, in board rooms, and in every room.

The False Choice

In the title of this article I presented you with a false choice, namely, where should strategy live, in the clouds or in the weeds? Actually, you need strategy in both places. Your strategy needs to produce strategic imperatives that communicate the overarching aims of the organization. You also need a strategy to continuously ensure that the execution level details remain hitched to strategic aims. This passes the relevance test. You should be able to walk down the strategy from the clouds to the weeds and vice versa from the weeds up to the clouds. If you cannot do this without massive tension among those involved in the discussion then more work (and conversation) is warranted. Two scenarios are likely at this point.

Scenario 1: Mapping but Questions Remain

You’ve heard of such practices and maybe have some firsthand experience mapping individual goals to department goals and objectives that in turn map to the organization’s strategic imperatives. That is great.  You’ve started but related challenges to resolve include:

  • Is your innovation culture able to detect changes in customer mood, needs, and desires?
  • What about the changes in technology, communications, and other factor outside your organization that are certain to change?
  • Does your organization embrace ideas that may come at times inconvenient? Does it matter where those news idea comes from?
  • What about responsiveness to competitive changes or budding alliances in the business landscape?
  • And, how will you keep score of your progress or lack thereof?

Scenario 2: Conversation Needed

You’ve not performed strategy mapping in any form. In that case, definitely more conversation is warranted. For that, I recommend you assemble a team, carve out quality time (and place), and begin a regular dialogue beginning with the questions raised in scenario 1) , but more generally how can your organization remain relevant in a constantly changing environment? One model to leverage is the Promise Delivery System, the subject of Chapter 8 in, The Experience Design Blueprint.

The model and method you use isn’t as important as you establishing a regular dialogue on strategy and execution. Once you do, you’ll more naturally know whether the weed-level project du jour is “on-strategy” or a defection thereof.

A Strategy That Lives

When enough people in the organization are executing on a coherent and communicated strategy, employee engagement will soar, an innovation culture will coalesce, and the organization’s well being will improve no matter how you’ve collectively defined that. Then you can revisit the original question about where strategy should live. Instead of answering “in the clouds” or “in the weeds” you can confidently state “our strategy lives in both places and in between. We are able to shape and shift our strategy as needed. Our strategy is alive and well. Our many stewards of strategy are on the watch and at the ready.”

about the author

Gregory Olson is a consultant, speaker, and author. He founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and entire nations. image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.