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.

Making Truth Matter

image of What is the Truth From Sagrada Familia entrance - Delightability blog post on Truth

[This article is from a talk I gave to members of the Olympic Club on May 26, 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 on social media.]

an 8 minute talk and an even quicker read

Good afternoon gentlemen. Today I’m going to talk about the Truth.

3 noteworthy things happened this week.

  1. First, a new book came out Bravehearts: Whistleblowing in the Age of Snowden. In the book, the senior DOD official in charge of the federal whistleblower program goes public with accusations that key officials retaliated against whistleblowers, destroyed permanent records and altered audits of multibillion dollar programs. They did this under political pressure. This senior official calls into question the very program that is supposed to protect whistleblowers when they report fraud, abuse, and waste.
  2. Another noteworthy thing that happened was the acquittal of Edward Nero, one of the Baltimore police officers involved in Freddy Gray’s arrest and subsequent death. If you recall, the original incident is what sparked the Black Lives Matter movement.
  3. And the 3rd thing that  happened this week is that snopes.com, debunked stories that reported violence and specifically chairs being thrown at  the democratic convention in NV. Numerous media outlets regurgitated the original tale that was casually fabricated in a 140 character tweet. Media outlets on the bandwagon included: The New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, the Associated Press, CBS, and NPR.

It has been a really busy week for the TRUTH.

Now, no matter what we believe or how we react to these developments, there is a TRUTH that supersedes our opinions and reactions. I view truth much like I do gravity. You can choose not to believe but that doesn’t make it go away.

What is Truth?

I want to be crystal clear on what I mean when I say Truth. I’m talking about conformity to facts; accuracy. Certainties. The truth I’m talking about isn’t squishy. A moral relativist would have you believe that truth is relative to the circumstances. I’m not talking about a malleable truth or aberration of fact. I’m taking about that which is incontrovertible. Like Newton’s law of universal gravitation. It applies to everybody whether they choose to believe it or not.

Human Responses to The Truth

When we are exposed to a new truth, our reactions fall into a predictable range of human responses:

  1. We can be apathetic. Maybe what we are hearing is simply noise to us. We really can’t be bothered with it.
  2. Another response is we may simply adopt the truth immediately and adapt our own views.
  3. We may also seek clarity. A person can react by seeking new information and knowledge – “Help me to see what you see, Mr. Severs.“

But sometimes the facts don’t fit our current views at all – that internal narrative we play in our head. When our views are challenged with a new truth we have a few OTHER options to choose from.

  1. We can object outright: “That’s not true.” We can do this loudly and aggressively or we can do this quietly, slipping out of the conversation or even the room.
  2. We can also redirect attention: This is the magician’s trick – misdirection. Here, we shift the attention to something else more fitting of our own views.
  3. Another predictable reaction is we resort to any one of several logical fallacies. There are plenty of these to draw from. Most people are unaware of these fallacies even as they commit them.

The original logical fallacies were documented more than 2400 years ago by Plato and his thinking colleagues. You’d think we’d have learned by now.

Here are a few of my favorite logical fallacies.

The Ad Hominem Argument: This is where you attack your opponent’s character or personal traits in an attempt to undermine their argument.

Example: It is conceivable that any one of the presidential candidates could say something truthful. It could happen! But, reactions to their statements could easily be, “Well, he’s a communist.” “She’s a pant suits Nixon.” “He’s a xenophobe” So, we can’t trust them.

Another common logical fallacy is the The Appeal to Tradition: This is the fallacy that a standpoint, action or situation is right, proper and correct simply because it has “always” been that way. Imagine not being able to advance human progress in the name of tradition. You’d still be cooking over fire, hunting and gathering your own food, and you certainly would not be able to read this passage, and least of all on a computer or smartphone.

The opposite of this is The Appeal to Novelty or Innovation. This is the notion that this is NEW, and [therefore it must be] better!”

Then there is the The Big Lie Technique. This is the contemporary fallacy of repeating a lie, slogan, or talking-point until it becomes part of daily discourse and is no longer questioned. An example is  the non-existent “Weapons of Mass Destruction” “WMD’s” in Iraq, used in 2003 as a false justification for invading that country. [See also Mind Hijacked: A History Lesson in Propaganda.]

There are a host of other logical fallacies. [University of Texas at El Paso has compiled a living document of logical fallacies. A nicely designed poster of commonly used logical fallacies has been created by Your Logical Fallacy Is.]

What About Reaction to Lies?

Up to now I’ve been talking about our range of reactions when we are exposed to the TRUTH. But, what if we are exposed to a lie? Sadly, it doesn’t really much matter.

Whether it is fact or fiction if it reinforces our beliefs then we strengthen our views, digging our heels in further. And, if it doesn’t strengthen our views then we dismiss it. Researchers refer to this phenomena as the “backfire effect.”  It is even more pronounced when the new information challenges an especially emotional or long held belief. For a depth reading with examples on WMDs, Stem Cell Research, and Climate Change see this document.

The takeaway from this is: it’s really hard to change people’s minds.  Some people will want to build a wall, no matter the facts presented to them.

Friedrich Nietzsche said it well, “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.” I want to put this another way, “We only see the truth we are looking for.”

Conclusion

I opened this talk with stories about Freddie Grey, the new book BraveHearts, and debunked reports of chairs being thrown at the democratic convention. I used these 3 examples because:

  1. Protecting Truthtellers is important in a free and democratic society. Truthtellers can prevent and end wars and get dangerous products removed from the market. [See also: Preventing the Next Scandal]
  2. Police brutality is inexcusable, period. Lucky for you it wasn’t your family member. But Freddie Gray was someone’s son & brother.
  3. Communication of all forms has become faster AND sloppier. When experienced reporters and media outlets are quick to judge and almost as quick to report, the Truth can Suffer.

TRUTH SHOULD MATTER.

Our republic in caught in the grips of a protracted presidential election. As a nation, we face important issues. It is hard to solve problems when you don’t even agree on the truth.

Ann Richards the former democratic governor of Texas once said, “We’re not going to have the America that we want until we elect leaders who are going to tell the truth not most days, but every day.”

But, the Truth is too important to leave to politicians, alone.

So, What Can WE Do?

In a civilized society each of us has a duty to respect and uphold the truth. We also have a duty to hold others accountable to do the same. Imagine the possibilities if we made the truth matter. In this election year, the Republican and Democratic parties are splintered. They are worried about healing and uniting their respective parties.

Their focus however,  Ought To Be on healing a nation, not a political party.  And, that gentlemen is the Truth.  Now,  I’m counting on You to uphold it.

about the author

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINT

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

Gregory 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.

Innovation Lessons from a Runaway Toddler

By now you’ve probably heard of the 3-year-old who escaped the care of his father and went joy riding aboard his Fisher-Price Power Wheels, or equivalent, riding toy. The kid (let’s call him Martin) reportedly climbed up on a chair to unlock the front door while his father was in the bathroom. Martin then hightailed it for his little, motorized vehicle. He reportedly circumvented neighborhood eyes by staying off the main streets, cutting through backyards as he headed for the highway, US 19. After entering the busy highway, mere blocks from his home, Martin nonchalantly drove his toy vehicle alongside traffic from the safety of the median. Some observant and concerned citizens eventually stopped him and comforted him until police could arrive.

Now, our collective gator brains will immediately lay blame on the parent(s); there is no shortage of accusations floating around in comment feeds on related articles. But, I’d like to offer a different approach.

Even if you are not a leader at Fisher-Price, the maker of Power Wheels, there are many innovation lessons to be learned from this potential tragedy.

First, a specific idea related to this situation. An ignition lockout switch would be a great feature for parents to have on Fisher-Price Power Wheels (or any brand) riding toys. There could easily be a companion smartphone application. Let mom or dad enable or disable the engine via a smartphone. This would put mom and dad in control when kids are not or shouldn’t be. This common sense feature (even an upgraded feature or module) offered to parents and guardians would provide them more peace of mind and a sense of control. Not only is this idea an opportunity to improve safety, it is also an opportunity to increase revenue and brand contact with the parent, through the smartphone application.

Now for the general lessons to be gleaned from the situation:

  1. Look outside your organization for ideas that could spawn innovation. Unforeseen things can create opportunities. Lesson number one is to be open to seeing things you may not be looking for. I’ve shared this opportunity here and elsewhere in comment threads related to the story. Are people at Fisher-Price that are concerned with the brand, product safety, or increased revenue opportunities listening? Are they sifting through various channels to hear such ideas? Time may eventually tell.
  1. Invite future conversations that don’t fit well with the present. Let’s assume for a moment that somebody at Fisher-Price or a competitor did see this story and the opportunity. Or, maybe an employee already had the idea for the safety switch and application; now they have a real story to add more color. When new information does arise, either from the outside or inside the organization, people must know how and when to fold it into a discussion. What is the name of the meeting where new ideas are discussed? When does that happen? Where is the global suggestion box? Your innovation culture must give people the ability and confidence to champion an idea even if it looks very different. It’s still only an idea, not a commitment to change the entire business. All ideas that create value for the customer or the organization originate as ideas and those ideas can come from anywhere. If you protect the status quo you may end up on the wrong side of history.
  1. Be wary of the limited fitness of ideas to existing initiatives. In truth, the next best idea may not fit. So, who is the chief of “things that don’t fit” within your organization? If you’re running a very lean operation (too lean perhaps) there will be nobody with the capacity to take on yet another role or champion an idea. This is true of overburdened leadership and all of those who follow. Spawn a team or position and accompanying process to periodically assess ideas whose time has not yet come. Make new ideas feel as welcome as an old friend coming for a visit.
  1. Create capacity to explore opportunities. When an idea does hold some promise have the courage to run an experiment. There won’t be any data to support a business case before there is any data. So, build prototypes of the product, service, and even the organization to create real customer data. If the initial data looks promising, then dial up the experiment. No matter the size of your organization, you don’t have a lock on all talent. Increase your capacity and expertise by inviting others to the table. Tap outside entrepreneurs, those in coworking spaces, and small firms like my boutique strategy and design firm, Delightability. When there is not yet data have the courage to run experiments and create the data. Remember, everything large and substantial started small, even you.

As discussed in Chapter 8 of The Experience Design Blueprint, every organization has a Promise Delivery System. That is the invisible system by which an organization makes and keeps promises (or doesn’t). One component of the Promise Delivery System is Apply Learning. Sources of learning can come from insights and validation gained within the organization from its own operations, or they can be from external sources. This story was about a kid on a joyride. But, imagine all of the stories unfolding every day that organizations could use to sharpen their insights and strengthen their businesses and their brands.

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. 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 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 as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social investor and financial institution, Oikocredit International.

3 Modes of Failure and 10 Reasons You Don't Get Help

3 Modes of Failure and 10 Reasons You Don’t Get Help

Modes of Failure
Failed, failing, and will fail. If you haven’t failed or are in the process right now, your time will come. It’s guaranteed. Here is why…

Failure happens to all of us. We all fail at some point. It is a fact. The frail human body demands it. We are not giant sequoia, the only natural living organism that doesn’t have a natural terminus to its life. Unlike humans, old age just keeps getting older for the giant sequoia. All other plants and animals undergo changes at the cellular level, as they mature and eventually die. A giant sequoia properly supported and shielded from insects, fires, and other damage will literally live forever. Key to their long life is a supportive ecosystem.

image of giant sequoia courtesy of National Park Service - delightability blog
Image of Giant Sequoia Courtesy of National Park Service

A Better Ecosystem
The giant sequoia is at peace within the forest ecosystem and within itself. Every tiny cone, winged needle, water carrying capillary, section of thick spongy bark, all work together toward making the giant healthier. This is true until the day the giant falls. The sequoia does eventually lose its ability to support and sustain itself. If it could reach just the right size or expand its support system as it grew, old age would keep on going. But it does usually fall under its own weight. In life and in business our ecosystems are inferior to that of the giant sequoia; we have much to strive for.

What to Learn From an Old Giant
Building your support structure should be like the ecosystem of the sequoia. A strong base of support can keep the organization healthy as it ages. Relationships should be symbiotic where both parties benefit. Avoid parasitic relationships that can weaken you. At the extreme, a parasite can unwisely kill its host. Healthy forests are comprised of diverse trees at different stages of maturity. Each offers something unique to a healthy environment.

image of child in isolation walking alone - delightability blog postIsolation Limits Perspective.  Each of us can get into the heads-down mode, intently focused on our task at hand. But, focus too long in the same direction and you can lose perspective. It is easy to lose touch with the world that changes around you. Colleagues that share an office or a water cooler often share similar perspectives. As in nature, mono-culture can lead to a lack of diversity and unhealthy cycles where what nature provides to plants and the soil are eliminated. A less time-lapsed version of this limited perspective is the circular death mill, where army ants dutifully follow the scent of the soldier in front of them. Marching forward in a circular pattern together, they slowly grow weary and each of them dies. Their limited perspective never did reveal a clear path forward.

It’s lonely at the top, whether you are the Chief or the Chair or the master of your freelance domain.

Talk of Death is Easier than Failure
Conversations about failing are difficult to have within an organization. You might be searching for solutions, but somebody else might interpret your actions as you giving up. So, many play it safe instead; they don’t speak of failure, failed, or failing. This can lead to feelings of isolation. If you work alone as a freelancer, you already have this isolation built into your business.

If you’ve ever held the hand of a dying person, then you realize that even though you are in the same space with objects common to both of you, your experiences are very different. Of course they are, because your context is different. They are dying and you’ll go on to live another day, R.I.P. Karen and Lavera. It is much the same within and between organizations that work together. People are at all different stages of awareness, acceptance, solution finding, denial, anger, etc. In some ways, it is easier for people to talk with a person physically dying than it is for them to talk to another about their own organization that may be nearing the end. They often put on the “happy face” and pretend.

smiley face for signature - Greg Olson Delightability LLC.Positive Thinking May in Fact be Negative
People fixated purely on positive psychology can mistake a situation problem with a people problem. This can exacerbate the feeling of isolation and prevent people from getting the help they and their organization need. My friend, whose business DID recently fail, did all things right, and still failed. She didn’t attract it. There was no people problem. There was no energy she was exuding other than positive, wonderful, game changing, future making energy with jobs created, services provided and taxes flowing into the community. But, the situation morphed. The external environment changed and made her business illegal, by the stroke of a governor’s pen, backed by a state legislature. It was completely outside of her control. She didn’t even know it was happening, that is until it did. Like a sick patient, a business also needs to confront its reality. She did. Others, do not. See related post: Why Think Positive is So Last Year.

The Timing Goddess
Equally perilous, the timing goddess can be merciless. I saw many would-be good companies disappear during the dot-com bubble because funds available for investment dried up as investors recoiled to inspect their damaged portfolios. Guided by fear and greed, many investors were not good at separating the wheat from the chaff prior to, or following the bust. In fairness, the timing goddess can also bless a company, even one which at a different time would not pass scrutiny. Whether it is physical death or business failure people need comfort, assurance, and when appropriate interventions and remedies that can prevent premature or painful death.

Learning from Success AND Failure
We all love a great success story. There are no shortage of people who wish their brand could be “just a little more like Apple”, etc.  But, success rarely follows a straight up-and-to the-right trajectory and it’s definitely hard to replicate, though many have tried. Most successes, like progress itself, are built on the backs of failed experiments, trial and error, early initiatives, course corrections, and false starts, etc.

I’ve had my own businesses fail. I’ve worked with others who business has failed, too. Some of my failures include ideas that couldn’t get going or those that got going and then fizzled later. I’ve also had projects that failed, campaigns, design approaches, even routes. The route failure was particularly painful because in the end our party hiked 3 times farther than originally planned. We arrived at our vehicle, hungry, cold, blistered, sore, and exhausted at 10:40 pm one dark and dreary fall evening – sorry Shannon and Lisa. All of my failures AND successes have helped to sharpen my approach when reaching for new destinations, whether in the natural or business landscape. But, I also learn from the successes and failure of others.

Expanding Your Village
In a software company that I started I created three levels of advisors. I had my official board of directors, comprised of one outside board member (a VC that extended a loan) and two insiders, one of which was me. This board provided little value to me, or the operation and was even detrimental at times. I also established a formal advisory board and what I referred to as my coffee-table advisors. Upon reflection, I view the latter group as the most beneficial. We’d meet for coffee occasionally to chew through an issue or to catch up and review. Meetings were usually one-to-one or one-to-few. Each of these advisors was experienced, retired, interested in my success, and didn’t need my startup’s stock options, a stipend or even an honorable mention. There was no formal written agreement. Each of them simply wanted to help.

By contrast, each of my formal advisory board members did have a written agreement that spelled out the number of stock options (warrants actually) they were to receive; there was no cash compensation or stipend. Each adviser provided something valuable and tangible to the business. In one case that was “starter” code that helped showcase our first prototype, the predecessor to our minimally viable product. Advisors also provided perspective, guidance, and feedback to less experienced personnel. In one case, an advisor provided access to their personnel and even some office space within their business. The strategic, technical, and financial advice we received was beneficial to me personally, as well as the business. All of my advisors provided access to their network, which was valuable and appreciated. None of what I’m sharing ever appeared on an organization chart and much of it remains unknown today, to the people involved in the company. In life and in business, it really does take a village. And that village isn’t always visible.

Failure, While Certain for Humans is Not for Business
While our own body’s ecosystem is prone to failure, our businesses don’t have to be. Like the giant sequoia, with proper care businesses can outlive their earlier human contributors. There is no natural death cycle for a business, even though some refer to the life cycle of a business. Tell that to Zildjian, a company that continues to reinvent itself. It’s leadership has persisted through revolution, changes in technology, movement across counties and continents, and even fire that gutted the factory. The company has persisted since 1623. You can be sure the company leadership from its inception to today, received much help from a broad village of support.

image of child reaching for help - delightability blog10 Reasons We Don’t Ask for Help
In some cases, the barrier that prevents us from getting help is the monoculture already mentioned. It has us seeking counsel inside the organization, reflecting what we want to hear. After all, outsiders might tell us something uncomfortable. Other reasons we don’t ask for help include:

  1. We wait too long and convince ourselves that it’s too late to effect change. Feelings of hopelessness and even depression can accompany this.
  2. We are too proud to ask for help. Leaders are accustomed to leading and not the best people to ask others to help them.
  3. We don’t know where to begin. Things are not well, but we don’t have a question to ask or project to pursue. There is no clear path forward.
  4. We are distrustful of strangers especially outsiders to our business. We may lose control.
  5. We have a blind spot that we are failing and that others could possibly see more potential for our business.
  6. We lack the knowledge of the type of help we need; there doesn’t appear to be a company doctor to ease or prevent our type of pain.
  7. We believe our situation so unique that nobody could possibly understand or help.
  8. We believe our business and current situation are too complex or dynamic. They are not stable enough; they change too quickly to immerse anybody. FYI – this can also prevent people from hiring new employees.
  9. It is expected that I seek a self-help solution. The cultural drive for self-help can be strong and there could be stigma associated with getting help.
  10. We have no budget for this type of this. Getting help outside of established patterns is rarely a budgeted expense anymore than one budgets for a healthcare emergency. Nobody plans for a chipped tooth (that happened to me in the recent past). But, sometimes an investment in your health or professional development is warranted (I feel much better with my restored tooth).

You can’t avoid death in life, but you can in business.

Summary
You can’t avoid death in life but you can in business. Notice that none of the ten answers was “because help was not available.” Like a patient that seeks medical care there is plenty of help available. There are general and specialized consultants to address challenges and opportunities for all sizes and types of organizations. But, you have to seek it out. Just like you establish care with a medical practitioner ahead of when you need it, it is a good idea to have some “go-to” people for your business health, too. If you do, perhaps you should let them know how you are feeling. They might have just the medicine you need. And, like a good doctor, each has a network of other resources standing by for referral. Cheers to your continued health and kudos to you for overcoming these 10 barriers when the time comes that you too, need some help.

about the author

Gregory Olson’s 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. Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true. The models in the Experience Design BLUEPRINT are equally relevant to organizations of all types and sizes including start-up entrepreneurs, nonprofits, for-profits, and government.

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 as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social and impact investor, Oikocredit International.

Don't Let Your Organization Become a Lumpy Snowball

Don’t Let Your Organization Become a Lumpy Snowball

This article was inspired by a recent article in Wired. Dell. EMC. HP. Cisco. These Tech Giants Are the Walking Dead. The author raises interesting points and provoked me to write this article. I hope I similarly provoke others to think, write, and discuss. My comments are not so much about these companies in particular though much of what I say may ring true for them.

More Makers Please and Less Takers
For too long now, many companies have been fixated on the short run. A short-term focus cripples a company, little by little. It is exacerbated when the company’s leadership has an overall attitude of “taking” as opposed to “making”. You witness this mentality in various actions of the corporate playbook including stock buybacks, excessive executive compensation, layoffs timed near earnings reports, tax avoidance, austerity measures, and poorly thought out mergers and acquisitions. Much of the M&A activity we see is intended to prop up financials as opposed to fundamentally making a stronger innovation culture that can propel the creation of innovative products and services. Value is combined, rearranged, and extracted as opposed to created. Executives and their backers can do extremely well under this scheme, especially in the short run. Employees and society, not so much.

Creating a Culture of Care Within the Organization
Organizations are a bit like human bodies in that you can focus on satisfying short-term cravings, but those decisions often don’t lead to healthy systems or longevity. Companies large and small need to continue to shape and shift their strategies as the business landscape changes,  technology evolves, and customer ecosystems shift. To survive, they need a longer term focus with short-term actions that don’t harm the organization. To accomplish this, they need engaged employees. They also need customers and communities that care about the company as well as its products and services. When companies are takers and solely focused on the short run, this would-be loyalty can evaporate, if it existed at all.

Size Matters Less than the Ability to Respond
Size alone doesn’t cripple a company. It’s true that being too small you’ll have insufficient resources to make a large impact. But, being too large is not a problem onto itself. The problem is one of responsiveness no matter the size of the organization.

How Would Your Organization Perform in the Logrolling Competition?
Companies wedded to the past lack agility to change their footing quickly. And, that’s bad news since the world outside the organization isn’t static. Imagine a logrolling competition. On one end of the log is a company fixated on the past. On the other side, a more nimble organization, lighter on its feet. The race begins. As the log spins in the water, both organizations are rolling with it, together. But, then a sudden stop and reversal of direction. The agile opponent responds by shifting their weight, focus, and movement accordingly, whereas the wedded-to-the-past opponent ends up in the water. The equivalent soaking happens in healthcare, technology, automotive, insurance, financial services, software, food, hospitality, and nearly every industry and sector you can imagine as more nimble startups or even restarts outmaneuver their opponents.

Protecting Yesterday as Though it is Tomorrow
It’s also why you see organizations engage in extreme chest thumping and massive lobbying to protect the enterprise of yesterday. Can you say fossil fuel, cable monopoly, giant food, consumer goods, etc. The giants of industries that become outdated and displaced often have the financial resources to reinvent themselves, if only they had the will. Unfortunately, their blinders hinder this action. See related post, Don’t Let Your Ideology Blind You to the Facts. The funny thing about the future is that it eventually arrives, whether you’ve prepared for it, or not.

The funny thing about the future is that it eventually arrives, whether you’ve prepared for it, or not.

Building a More Responsive and Increasingly Relevant Organization
A responsive organization that can shape and shift its course, as the world outside changes, is the best insurance against joining the ranks of companies that have lost their mojo or worse. If you want to avoid the lumbering and desperate “Hail Mary” attempts that will eventually exhaust and break the will of your people, then you’ll need to be more mindful of your audiences, inside and outside the organization. You’ll also need to balance the promises you make and keep across these various stakeholders. One mental model to use in accomplishing this is the Promise Delivery System™ from Chapter 8 of my book, The Experience Design Blueprint. Every organization has a Promise Delivery System by which they make and keep promises (or don’t) to their various stakeholders. Make your Promise Delivery System visible for each stakeholder and you’re on track to building a more responsive and increasingly relevant organization.

The Dreaded Lumpy Snowball
Ignore your Promise Delivery System and you may be unknowingly and unwittingly building a progressively lumpier snowball of an organization. And, we all know how that ends. Sadly, the large lumpy snowball melts in place or breaks under its own weight as people eventually attempt to move it.

about the author

Gregory Olson’s 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. 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 as a volunteer board member for Oikocredit Northwest, a support association for social investor and financial institution, Oikocredit International.

Preventing the Next Scandal

image of whistle for prevent the next scandal blog post - delightability

Wells Fargo Joins Seemingly Endless List of Companies with Chief Executives Involved in Scandal

[September 29, 2016 update – Add Wells Fargo and its chief executive, John Stumph, to the seemingly endless list of scandals that could have been prevented. Read on to learn how to prevent the next scandal.]

Preventing the Next Scandal
German prosecutors raided the offices of Volkswagen AG to secure evidence for the investigation of the company in the emission-cheating scandal. Volkswagen stock has plummeted and the CEO has resigned, maintaining the story that he had no involvement in any wrongdoing. Also, the head of Volkswagen’s U.S. business answered questions from a congressional panel. But, somewhere, deep within the organization, is a person or people who knew exactly the genesis of the software cheat. They also likely know how the cheat has been able to persist through the delivery of 11 millions cars to the marketplace. So, where was the whistleblower?

And the Whistleblower is …
The whistleblower is nonexistent. There isn’t one. And, it really isn’t any surprise. Traditionally, there hasn’t been a safety net for would-be whistleblowers. Their lives are often wrecked by the people in governments, agencies, and corporations whose practices they expose. History reveals it is easier to systematically wreck the lives of the whistleblower and demonize them, than it is to make changes to a system that has run amok to the advantage of some. The list of wrongdoers, both people and organizations is long. View “list of whistleblowers” on Wikipedia and you’ll have days of entertainment, albeit in a dreaded, “watching the aftermath of a train crash”, sort of way. You’ll recognize some high-profile companies and organizations, but you may not know the back stories that led up to the moment the whistle blew. The lead up is the most important and often untold story.

Wasted resources
Imagine all of the resources, human and technological, inside and outside VW, that are focused on the emission cheating scandal. Now add to that, the resources involved in the multitude of other scandals and investigations happening. And to that, imagine further adding the resources yet to be consumed for future scandals that will sadly unfold. It’s abhorrent. Surely we can better make use of those resources, not the least of which would be to spend more time with family and friends and in strengthening our communities. It’s time we stop trashing the human race and the environment in the short run and pretending as though there will be no long-term consequences for generations to come. There always are long term consequences. Short term indulgent thinking is like junk food. It might satisfy our immediate hunger, filling us for the moment. But, it lacks nutritional value and substance. And in the long run, it doesn’t work for your waistline or your health.

Short term indulgent thinking is like junk food. It might satisfy our immediate hunger, filling us for the moment. But, it lacks nutritional value and substance.

You wouldn’t have blown the whistle either
Ask yourself, if you were an employee inside Volkswagen and knew about the emission cheating software, would you have said anything? To whom would you tell? How? When? You probably would not have said anything. Who has the courage to do say or do anything differently than toe the line? After all, if you’re livelihood is dependent upon continued ruinous behavior, whether it is emissions cheating or other nefarious activity, you’re not very motivated to change. Especially if you want to continue eating, paying your bills, and getting about in your life. Why disrupt it, especially for abstract things like other people you don’t know, the climate, or the environment. It’s even easier to justify bad behavior when the results of your actions are “at a distance” or you don’t see the immediate impact in the near term.

The time for change is NOW
As a society, we need a rethink, a re-frame. It’s time we pivot our behavior toward human progress, not away from it. Some of our past behaviors have not been stabilizing for any democracy on earth and they have retarded human progress and harmed the environment. Here are three things we can do to prevent the next Volkswagen emission cheating scandal or Enron debacle or Peanut Corporation of America poisoning or [fill in the blank here].

  1. Create a safety net for would-be whistleblowers
    As I’ve written about previously, we need a culture of care from the board room to the dining room. We also need a safety net for people that can sound the alarm when they see an innovation culture gone awry, whether it is involved in financial engineering, food production, emission scandals, government abuse, healthcare fraud, military wrongdoing, or some other area of society. We need a safety net for the people who have the courage to stand up and declare a system breakdown. But, we know most people won’t tell stories or reveal that bad things are happening unless they feel safe. So, let’s create a safety net for people to tell us when bad things are happening. If a whistleblower advances an accusation and then subsequently gets fired as a result of it, instead of having to crowdfund their way back to financial health they can draw against the safety net aka Whistleblower Insurance Fund. Fund the safety net through fees paid by the perpetrators of past egregious behaviors. In that sense, it is an insurance policy organizations pay into, triggered by their past bad behavior. It could be corrective in that people will feel safer to sound the alarm early, possibly preventing later disastrous and more costly circumstances. So, who would fund such an insurance scheme today? For starters, the banks that engaged in financial engineering that brought about the global financial crisis, automotive makers who delayed recalls that knowingly killed unwitting vehicle occupants, oil companies that have ruined ecosystems, etc.
  2. Create an Early Warning System. Probably the best innovation for policymakers in government and industry would be to collaborate on a system that prevents the need for whistleblowers in the first place. Alongside the notion of “ideas can come from anywhere” organizations also need to instill the notion of warning flags and that anybody can invoke them. As in automotive racing, a black flag means disqualification and a return to the pits. Nobody shoots the messenger, the flagger is safe to be the flagger in future racing events. We need to revere the person that waves the proverbial “unsportsmanlike-conduct” flag. When a rogue engineer, or accountant, or marketer, or whomever, does something that doesn’t appear to advance an agenda that favors humans and the environment or worse outright harms it and subsequently the organization, then we need to make this visible. And, we need this to be made visible long before the train is off the track and things cannot be easily corrected. 11 million cars is the current tally for VW cars affected, along with a 40% slide in stock price, a six billion dollar set aside for fixes (and climbing), halted sales, diminished resale values, and a tarnished brand. An early warning flagging system would be much less expensive.
  3. Declare a Stop. As a species, we originally create industries to do useful things for humanity. It makes us unique from other animals on the planet. And, when industries and institutions stop doing useful things for humanity we need to unwind them, divert them, correct them, check them, and even revoke corporate charters. I’m not suggesting that Volkswagen should go away; I don’t think they should. I think there are many good and innovative people that can do tremendous good for themselves, their country, and for a global community. But, when their culture or leadership prevents them from doing this or their harm exceeds their good, then they need to be stopped.

Conclusion
It is important that preventative measures be taken ahead of more ruin to humans and the environment. Government regulation is necessary but insufficient. We need a more holistic and inclusive system that isn’t reserved for trial lawyers and the judicial system to work on behalf of things already dead or harmed. A free market without any oversight is like the pudgy little kid at mom’s party that takes more cookies when guests are not looking. Pretty soon the cookies are gone and mom’s friend Marge never got one. It’s not immediately obvious why. Thankfully, in our increasingly global community, people are looking. You should be, too.

This article is a call to leadership in all industries, government, and academia to consider that as a human species we ought to be sunsetting wasteful, deceptive, and harmful practices that manufacture financial crises, harm people and the environment, waste human potential, and then remedy it later through courts. Let’s put that nonsense in a museum. But, this article is also a call to action for every member of civil society to engage leadership in that conversation and hold them to a higher account. We can and must do better.

Rather than attack whistleblowers, let’s create a safer environment where we can learn from them, confront our collective reality, correct our behaviors going forward, and move on to creating a better world with more nutritious cookies for mom, Marge, and all. These are conversations worth having inside your organization, with elected officials, among elected officials, and at your dinner table. Or, we can continue to talk about the next scandal over our collective spilled milk.

about the author

Gregory Olson’s 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. In Chapter 8: Social of the book Gregory provides historical perspective around whistleblowers as well as promotes ideas that would help make society more civil with respect for truth, increased accountability, and transparency. This is good for nations and good for investors in companies who get caught up in scandal.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINT

Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true. Chapter 8: Promise Delivery System in The Experience Design Blueprint especially pertains to this article. The promise delivery system is a mental model for making and keeping promises to an organization’s various stakeholders. It is technology agnostic. Any organization can operationalize a promise delivery system using whatever technology and personnel it has at its disposal.

Gregory 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.

Would You Have the Courage to Sound the Alarm at Pearl Harbor or in Your Organization?

Would You Have the Courage to Sound the Alarm?
Did you feel that? Something just changed. There it is again. You see it that time? OK, so you missed it this time, but will you sense it next time? And, if you do, will you do anything about it?

Sometimes a failure to confront reality has no impact. Time innocently advances and things seem to go on as normal. After all, you don’t see the thing that you’re not looking for. And, if it isn’t noisy or disturbing enough, it doesn’t punish you for not noticing.

Lessons from Pearl Harbor
This wasn’t the case on the morning of December 7, 1941 at Opana Point, Hawaii. Here at 7:02 in the morning, privates Joseph L. Lockard and George Elliot had been monitoring the mobile radar unit and noticed a large blip, more like a curtain, on the radar screen. When George reported what they believed to be approaching aircraft, to the information center at Fort Shafter, the United States Army Pacific headquarters, they were assured “not to worry.” The large blip on the new radar was reasoned by the commanding officer, lieutenant Kermit Tyler, to be Army B-17 Flying Fortress bombers that were scheduled to arrive that morning. But, Tyler’s prediction was deathly wrong as Pearl Harbor was under siege less than one hour later.

Some of the lessons of the Attack on Pearl Harbor are resoundingly clear:

  • Early warning systems can alert you to trouble, but only if you trust what you are are sensing
  • The chain of command can sometimes prevent the truth from surfacing
  • Consequences of inaction can be debilitating and devastating

You don’t have to be in the military for these lessons to apply.

Is your organization making these mistakes?

  • Your organization ignores warning signs and stories shared by employees, customers, and partners. Some people may be labeled as “alarmists”.
  • Your culture restricts or retards the flow of information across functional areas as well as up and down levels of the organization
  • Decisions made are protected and unable to be changed or even informed
  • As the world outside your organization continues to morph, your company further solidifies its inside-out viewpoint; the strategy drifts from a marketplace reality

Signs of decay within the organization
An organization that makes these mistakes can lose market share to more courageous and thoughtful brands that listen and attempt to understand customers. When customers defect it’s rarely about price. People give allegiance to brands that better understand them and deliver customer experiences aimed to win hearts and minds not just profits. But, perhaps as bad, when leadership and the culture within a company commit these offenses the organization becomes crippled and is unable to effectively collaborate across the silos it has created. Information even if it is seen is not absorbed into the knowledge of the organization. There is no rally around the truth. Competitive attacks occur and with greater frequency and intensity and employees further disengage. Problems seem too big to solve and outside of their domain or department. The cycle seems to get worse with each new plan, new launch and new initiative. Customers and employees suffer, but so does the overall health of the organization. When this happens you’ve built a lumpy snowball.

The Curse of the Lumpy Snowball applies to you whether you are an army of 10 or 10,000 or more. No organization is immune, not the government, small or large business, non-profit, budding entrepreneur or neighborhood association in your community.

In my book, The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations, I introduce the Promise Delivery System, a visible closed loop system that revolves around an intended audience and includes four major components:

  1. Develop Strategy
  2. Produce & Deliver
  3. Insights & Validation
  4. Apply Learning

Among other things, the promise delivery system shows how to adjust your strategy based on changing conditions, so your organization’s promises can meet and exceed your audiences’ expectations. Making the organization’s promise delivery system visible helps people to collectively stay on track, employees to be more engaged and know how ideas fit, and to understand how to improve the organization, its offerings, and how it communicates.

With a fully functioning promise delivery system all of the organizations’s stakeholders become the collective everyday intelligence that prevents the need to sound the alarm or declare a state of emergency.

About the Author

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINT

Gregory Olson is a consultant, speaker, and author of The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations.

Connect with Greg on Linkedin, Facebook, or Twitter.

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Exercises and mental models in the book will build your confidence and competence in envisioning better possibilities and then making them come true, whether you are working alone or alongside a team. Chapters in the book that especially pertain to this post include:

  • Chapter 1: What Makes and Experience?
  • Chapter 6: Aiming for Remarkable, Unbroken, and Generous Design
  • Chapter 8: The Promise Delivery System
  • Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall

See a book summary. Read the book reviews on Amazon. Read The Experience Design Blueprint on Kindle or any device using the free Kindle Reader application or read the full color print edition.  Already read it? Please connect and let me know.