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.

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.

Stuck in Low Gear? Time to Shift.

Have you ever dismissed something straightaway because you knew it to be false? Or, have you parroted something you heard because you were certain in its truth? Of course you have; we all have.

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 summarily dismiss it, like a filter protecting us from noxious air. 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.

Reluctant to Change

No matter the issue, whether politics, environment, economic, or social justice and whether it is far away or something local, we are often stuck in low gear when it come to acceptance of new truths. And, it seems that we are reluctant to shift.

But, shift is what we must do. Recognize that change for change sake is not good. The logical fallacy of Appeal to Novelty (that which is NEW! is better) is as deeply flawed as its cousin, Appeal to Tradition (that’s the way we’ve always done it so it’s the best).

Progress Requires Change

Whether you are a champion of change or the status quo you must accept progress inherently requires change. But, how do you react when change is afoot? Jeffrey Moore documented well in his 1991 book, “Crossing the Chasm” that each of us self segments on an axis of risk aversion. It is a classic technology marketing read. Before him, Everett Rogers discussed the same concept in his 1962 book, Diffusion of Innovation. This line of thinking is where we get the widely used terms, “early adopter,” “laggard,” etc. This is easy to think of in terms of technology adoption.

Impossipreneurs Face Multiple Barriers

But, technology isn’t the only hurdle we face as change agents, entrepreneurs, and as a society. As I outline in my latest book, L’ impossipreneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, once an entrepreneur overcomes technology hurdles, they must still face head-on, the political, social, and culture opponents who oppose their success and who would rather see things stay exactly as they are. This is true whether the agent of the new, was Nikola Tesla, Helen Keller, Franklin Delano Roosevelt or is the entrepreneur of today, especially the social entrepreneur. Welcome to the term, impossipreneur.

Backfire Effect Near and Far

The backfire effect  is part and parcel to the opposition faced by the bringers of the new and those who dare surface the truth. If you have a tough time grasping this concept, envision trying to ensure voting rights and fair elections, an inherently nontechnical challenge rife with political opposition. Or, think of the social and cultural barriers you’ll face in introducing safe medical and burial practices to villages grappling with the Ebola virus. The backfire effect is alive and well, near and far.

Competing Narratives

Each of us has a visceral reaction to the headlines we scan and soundbites we hear. Some anger us and some make us feel sad. Fewer by design make us happy and still fewer cause us to think deeply. Consider your reaction to what you are hearing and seeing today. What narrative are you tuning into? Are you tuned into a narrative that desires to keep things as they are or one that seeks progress? See related post about the history of regimenting minds – Mind Hajacked: A Brief History of Propaganda.

Truth Doesn’t Care About Feelings

Consider at certain points in history, it was deemed that the sun revolved around the earth and that the world was flat. New ideas and models challenged those “truths” of the moment. Do you think you would have supported these novel ideas and gone against the tide of the times? The funny thing about the truth is that it doesn’t care about your beliefs or feelings. Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation applies to you even if you choose not to believe in it. Truth has a funny way of surfacing even as others attempt to suppress it.

Reaching Our Potential

Whether we champion the new or hold onto the status quo we should do so on merits of truth, not because it’s new, tradition, or fits our current views. Resist the soothing temptation of the backfire effect. Find solace in the truth and upgrade your thinking. Imagine the possibilities when, as a society, we are able to overcome the backfire effect. Think of the authentic dialogue and meaningful connections that would ensue. It’s at that time that we will free ourselves to live in to a higher potential. I hear the gears a whirring; perhaps it’s time we shift.

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 communications 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.

Mid-Year Business Performance Tune-up: 7-Step Action Plan for Leaders

Automobiles, machinery, and precision instruments at times need to be tuned and calibrated to ensure performance. Life and business have similar demands. If you aren’t concerned about performance then whatever you’re doing is adequate. But, periodically in your life and in your business you’ll want to re-evaluate strategies that are misfiring, products and services that seems amiss, a launch that falls short, an identity that isn’t working, communications that don’t connect, recognition that is absent, etc.

When there is an uncomfortable enough performance gap, then you’ll do something different. This is true in life and in business. Mid point in a calendar year is a natural point to reflect on the first half and project forward what you’d like to have happen by year-end. You may have a similar cycle with your financial planner and dentist. But, what about the rest of you and your business?

There are plenty of tools and conversations you can use. The key is to start. Once you begin it is easier to keep going and pretty soon you’ll be closing the uncomfortable gap just as you avoid toothaches and worse with periodic checkups and cleaning.

Here is a 7-Step Action Plan for a Business Performance Tune-Up

  1. Revisit your strategic imperatives for the year – what were the big bets for the year and are they paying off? Didn’t really have any solid strategic initiatives? Now would be a good time to establish some. Get clear on the destination: where are you going and what does success look like? See related post: Make Work Feel Like Vacation
  2. What have you learned and how can you apply it? Consider both the business landscape and the customer ecosystem. Organizational immaturity and old habits and patterns may get in the way of identifying and leveraging the talent and resources available in the business landscape. Also, if you don’t have personas to represent your various stakeholders now would be a good time to prioritize their development. Personas provide representative profiles for a customer base and other stakeholders too, e.g. investors, employees, partners, etc. As a design tool, they are a powerful way to visualize and communicate behaviors, goals, wants, needs, and frustrations.
  3. Get clear on your audiences and priorities: what promises will you make and keep and to which audiences? Make visible your Promise Delivery System for each of your stakeholders. The Promise Delivery System is a closed loop system that revolves around an audience and includes strategy, delivery, validation, and learning. You have a Promise Delivery System for each stakeholder that is served as well as those who serve. This is the subject of CH 8 in the Experience Design Blueprint.
  4. Define deliverables: what will you produce and deliver to keep your various promises? Think products, services, events, campaigns, programs, and communications.
  5. How does all of this line up against the calendar? What will be your day-to-day operational reality? What will your organization invest its time and resources into?
  6. Establish operating mechanisms: how will you stay on track and maintain your Promise Delivery System? What will be the rhythm and pace of the organization? Revisit your operating mechanisms and calendaring processes and events to ensure excellence in execution. Create an operating mechanism to capture ideas that may come at inconvenient times. Also, create an operating mechanism to evaluate and advance ideas. These are important to maintain (or establish) a culture of innovation.
  7. Revisit your performance metrics. How are you keeping score? If any of your metrics are irrelevant, modify them. If something is working well and appears to be a bright spot, then do more of it. Dial-up the activities that drive desired metrics. Stay focused on those areas where you have uncomfortable gaps between current performance and desired performance. See related post: Business Performance Continuums. Identify experiments you can run to test ideas for value. These represent quick trips around the Promise Delivery System.

You wouldn’t be comfortable flying in a commercial airliner that doesn’t receive maintenance and performance tuning. Your business is no different. Don’t let you customers, employees, and partners suffer through an under-performing business, especially when many of them would love to be engaged in a solution path to higher performance.

“Drive thy business, let not that drive thee.”

Benjamin Franklin
Author, Printer, Scientist, Musician,
Inventor, Satirist, Civic Activist,
Statesman, and Diplomat
(1706 – 1790)

Ben Franklin said it well, “Drive thy business, let not that drive thee.” Leadership sets the tone and begins the conversation. If you’d like some brainshare and assistance shoring up your strategy and designing deliverables to accompany that strategy, then please contact me.

about the author

Gregory Olson authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true. 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 article include:

  • Chapter 2: Make the Customer Come Alive
  • Chapter 3: Who is in the Sandbox?
  • Chapter 8: The Promise Delivery System
  • Chapter 9: The Neighborhood
  • Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall
  • Chapter 13: Taking Flight
  • Chapter 14: The World of Work has Changed (see Glimpse)
  • Chapter 15: From Argh to Aha!

Read The Experience Design Blueprint on Kindle or any device using the free Kindle Reader application or read the full color print edition.

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.

thumbnail image of author Gregory OlsonGregory 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.

Parks, Progress, and Prosperity-A Lesson in Change

Eventually great ideas tear down or circumvent the barriers that oppose them. It’s hard to resist an idea whose time has come. The world changes and the grand or even ludicrous visions of one epoch become commonplace in another. If you’ve visited a national park in the United States, you’ve experienced this first hand. Sometimes change is promulgated through the persistence of a visionary.

In the case of the world’s first publicly owned park, that visionary was Ferdinand V. Hayden. After a couple of exploratory expeditions over a decade, Hayden proposed setting aside a 2,219,789 acre swath of land in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, comprising lakes, canyons, rivers and mountain ranges as a pleasure ground for the benefit and enjoyment of all people. The bill to create the first national park, Yellowstone, was established by U.S. Congress and signed into law by U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant on March 1, 1872. This was thought to be a radical idea at the time.

Thankfully, the radical idea became less so and spread to eventually include actions of many other presidents and to the creation of the National Parks Service whose mission is to preserve the natural and cultural resources of the nation for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of current and future generations. Now, over 275 million annual visitors enjoy more than 400 such places. It is worth noting that these places are owned by the public, not aristocrats, a monarch or captains of industry.

Imagine before Yellowstone, Yosemite, Central Park, Mt. Rainier National Park, or any other publicly owned park. Imagine thinking, “We should set aside that land for the enjoyment of all.” You might imagine yourself saying such a thing, at that time and place. But, statistically, you would be an outlier. Chances are, you would have opposed such a radical change. You might have been more concerned with rebuilding after the civil war ended.

Sometimes people want things to change, desperately in fact, but their actions or inaction support the current state of affairs no matter how unsettling they may be. We sometimes blindly and obediently protect a monoculture that favors a few while crushing diversity, human spirit, and retarding better possibilities for all of us. Think of the people that opposed the abolition of slavery. When we oppose change we may not realize we may be opposing human progress. Not all change is good, but without it, there can be no progress.

We all have the potential do to better as individuals, organizations, & the world community. But, first we have to embrace a culture of care and stop fearing progress. Some people fought the national parks idea from its inception. They thought the commons were to be exploited for private good. Many still do. But, these are the forces that build walls and ugliness that divides our common humanity.

I like what President Lyndon Baines Johnson said when he spoke of “New Conservation.”

“The same society which receives the rewards of technology must, as a cooperating whole, take responsibility for control. To deal with these new problems will require a NEW CONSERVATION. We must not only protect the countryside and save it from destruction, we must restore what has been destroyed and salvage the beauty and charm of our cities. Our conservation must be not Just the classic conservation of protection and development, but a creative conservation of restoration and innovation. Its concern is not with nature alone, but with the total relation between man and the world around him. Its object is not just man’s welfare, but the dignity of man’s spirit.”
—Lyndon Baines Johnson
President of the United States
NATURAL BEAUTY MESSAGE

Instead of building walls that divide us, let us instead build bridges, parks, and pathways to a more prosperous and shared future. Some may think this to be an impossible idea like the national parks idea was at its time. ‘Impossible ideas” and the impossipreneurs who champion them are all around us. Perhaps you are one. I am one. Some may look at us as impossible dreamers. I think of us as evangelists of the possible, of what’s next, of what will one day become ordinary and commonplace. A culture of care is an idea whose time has come; it has many converging forces and proponents. Opportunities to advance human progress are all around us if we open our minds to the possibilities. Investing in people and advancing human progress is not only a moral responsibility, it also produces great returns. Contrast this with austerity measures which have never produced prosperity at any point in the history of civilization.

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.

Make Work Feel Like Vacation: Destination Postcards Exercise

Making Work Feel Like Vacation: Destination Postcards Exercise
Much of the time we muddle through. Okay, maybe not you, but those around you. 😉 We show up to work, we grind through the day, glancing at the clock that’s embedded in our computers, smartphones, and burned into our psyche. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to get “in the zone” where we become deeply engaged in something, perhaps writing an article or code, talking with a customer or colleague, or crafting whatever it is we craft. In those moments and in our “free time” we seldom feel as though we’re grinding through. After all, we are excited to meet the weekend and few people ever grumble about being on vacation; quite the opposite. So, how can we find that vacation feeling while we ARE muddling through our busy lives?

Our Minds are Ruled by Two Competing Systems
The key is to leverage your brain’s natural abilities to be rational and to be emotional, two things that are often at odds with one another. In the book, Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard, the authors reveal that psychologists have discovered our minds are ruled by two sometimes competing systems – the rational mind (the rider) and the emotional mind (the elephant). Switch is a great book and I recommend you read it. It is a great companion to Chapter 13: Taking Flight, in The Experience Design Blueprint. Change is difficult and no matter where you sit in the organization you need to become a master of it.

Destination Postcards Exercise
Switch inspired me to create a tool I use for my own businesses and with clients. I call the tool the Destination Postcards exercise and I know it can help you, too. I’ve shared the steps here as well as a visual reminder so you can be more deliberate about creating the future you’d like to see unfold AND make it feel more like a vacation.

“If you don’t know where you are going,  any path will take you there.”  – Sioux Proverbs

Step 1: Envision Great Possibilities
Our rational mind appreciates the certainty of the path ahead; we want to know where vacation will be. As in planning a vacation, the first step in the destination postcards exercise is to actually decide where you want to go. Every business, non-profit, and governmental organization has multiple destinations; these are the destination postcard categories. The list that follows is not exhaustive. Choose the categories important to the future of your organization. Be creative and be aware of blind spots while choosing.

Categories for Destination Postcards:

  • technology
  • organizational
  • financial
  • customer
  • brand
  • communications
  • community
  • competitive
  • products and services
  • recognition
  • other?


Step 2: Prioritize Categories

Business Performance Continuums - Gregory Olson - Delightability - 206 356 8811Not all categories have the same importance. It really does depend on the type of organization, its current state, as well as the competitive and customer environment. See the related article on business performance continuums to assess the current and future state of the organization across nine dimensions. Once your categories are selected, it can be useful to prioritize them by using a convention common to prioritizing features in product development. Rank each category on whether it is a MD (must do), SD (should do), and CD (could do) item for the organization.

As you prioritize, free yourself of resource constraints. After all, resources can change or even be creatively worked around. It is most important to think about the expected impact to the organization for each of the categories. Again, be careful of blind spots and be mindful of your various stakeholders.  See the related article Customer Schmustomer: Audience Schmaudience.


Step 3: Make a Statement About How the Future Feels

image of love sign - finding the love in what you do - DelightabilityBy establishing the categories that are most important to the organization, you’ve appealed to rationale mind (the rider). In Switch vernacular, you’ve directed the rider by pointing to the destination. This is necessary, but not sufficient. Next, you’ll want to appeal to the emotional elephant; you’ll not reach your destination without the elephant.

To do this, write a statement about the desired future state for each category. How will you know you’ve arrived? What will you see as different and how will that make you feel? You can either write a statement or add bullets to show some detail about the desired future state. If this were a vacation you might write something like “feel my toes in the warm sand” or “be able to ponder the ancient Incan empire from atop Machu Picchu” or [insert most excellent vacation experience here]. If we imagine what it is like to be there, our vacation will be more thoughtful and we’ll be more present once we arrive. This is true of vacation and in business. Here is an example for your business using the category, Recognition. Once we’ve arrived at the destination we might feel the following:

  • be able to credibly apply for “most green citizen” award
  • media and partners are recognizing our organization’s thoughtful work
  • awards and framed articles hang on trophy wall in lobby
  • our products are labeled with the Cradle to Cradle Certification
  • we have more twitter followers than Edward Snowden

Step 4: Empower a Good Story
At this stage, you’ve created a narrative for the organization’s future. You’ll have more clarity yourself, and if you did this exercise with colleagues, you’re better aligned to a common future. You can reference the destination postcards as you build your strategic plan and tell stories about the future.

Go even further by creating physical postcards that can be handed out to employees, partners, and other stakeholders. On one side, make a visual to represent the category; on the other, list the milestones you’ll achieve along the way to reaching that destination. These physical cards can be seen, touched, passed around, referenced and updated periodically. This can be very motivating for all story tellers of the organization. It can also keep people (yourself included) on the right path.

Step 5: Ah, The Path
The Destination Postcards Exercise is a critical tool, among others, to shape and inform a strategic plan. I usually do this exercise with a CEO, executive director, or early stage entrepreneur, but it can be easily extended to include a larger team. I’ve sparked good dialogue among board members using the same exercise in non-profit organizations.

The exercise can be an inclusive process that enables people to get on the same page, something usually overlooked by the committees that shape plans. Imagine the natural forces within our minds that sometimes oppose each other, instead working in harmony. This is the harmony we feel while on a good vacation. And, now imagine all of those minds on your team working better together toward a common future. Oh, the possibilities.

Remember, business planning like vacation is better with postcards. I hope you enjoy your next one. If you are a consultant (internal or external), try using this tool with your organization (clients) and watch attitudes, engagement, and positive outcomes soar. Your destination awaits you; happy travels.

about the author

image of one page overview of L impossi preneurs - A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow by Gregory OlsonGregory 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. This book challenges each of us to think differently, spark our own conversations, and play a role in nudging the world forward to create a better future for all. Find it at Amazon, CreateSpace e-Store, Barnes & Noble, Bokus, or order it from your local bookstore.

image of one page overview - The Experience Design Blueprint by Gregory OlsonGreg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true. 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 article include:

  • Chapter 8: The Promise Delivery System
  • Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall
  • Chapter 12: The Three Psychological Zones
  • Chapter 13: Taking Flight
  • Chapter 14: The World of Work Has Changed
  • Chapter 15: From Arg to Aha!

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.

 

Make Work Feel Like Vacation: Destination Postcards Exercise

image of destination postcards for use in thinking about the future - Gregory Olson - delightability

Making Work Feel Like Vacation: Destination Postcards Exercise
Much of the time we muddle through. Okay, maybe not you, but those around you. 😉 We show up to work, we grind through the day, glancing at the clock that’s embedded in our computers, smartphones, and burned into our psyche. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to get “in the zone” where we become deeply engaged in something, perhaps writing an article or code, talking with a customer or colleague, or crafting whatever it is we craft. In those moments and in our “free time” we seldom feel as though we’re grinding through. After all, we are excited to meet the weekend and few people ever grumble about being on vacation; quite the opposite. So, how can we find that vacation feeling while we ARE muddling through our busy lives?

Our Minds are Ruled by Two Competing Systems
The key is to leverage your brain’s natural abilities to be rational and to be emotional, two things that are often at odds with one another. In the book, Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard, the authors reveal that psychologists have discovered our minds are ruled by two sometimes competing systems – the rational mind (the rider) and the emotional mind (the elephant). Switch is a great book and I recommend you read it. It is a great companion to Chapter 13: Taking Flight, in The Experience Design Blueprint. Change is difficult and no matter where you sit in the organization you need to become a master of it.

Destination Postcards Exercise
Switch inspired me to create a tool I use for my own businesses and with clients. I call the tool the Destination Postcards exercise and I know it can help you, too. I’ve shared the steps here as well as a visual reminder so you can be more deliberate about creating the future you’d like to see unfold AND make it feel more like a vacation.

“If you don’t know where you are going,  any path will take you there.”  – Sioux Proverbs

Step 1: Envision Great Possibilities
Our rational mind appreciates the certainty of the path ahead; we want to know where vacation will be. As in planning a vacation, the first step in the destination postcards exercise is to actually decide where you want to go. Every business, non-profit, and governmental organization has multiple destinations; these are the destination postcard categories. The list that follows is not exhaustive. Choose the categories important to the future of your organization. Be creative and be aware of blind spots while choosing.

Categories for Destination Postcards:

  • technology
  • organizational
  • financial
  • customer
  • brand
  • communications
  • community
  • competitive
  • products and services
  • recognition
  • other?


Step 2: Prioritize Categories

image of Business-Performance-Continuums-used by business and marketing consultant Gregory-Olson-Delightability-206-356-8811Not all categories have the same importance. It really does depend on the type of organization, its current state, as well as the competitive and customer environment. See the related article on business performance continuums to assess the current and future state of the organization across nine dimensions. Once your categories are selected, it can be useful to prioritize them by using a convention common to prioritizing features in product development. Rank each category on whether it is a MD (must do), SD (should do), and CD (could do) item for the organization.

As you prioritize, free yourself of resource constraints. After all, resources can change or even be creatively worked around. It is most important to think about the expected impact to the organization for each of the categories. Again, be careful of blind spots and be mindful of your various stakeholders.  See the related article Customer Schmustomer: Audience Schmaudience.


Step 3: Make a Statement About How the Future Feels

image of love sign - future of work - delightabilityBy establishing the categories that are most important to the organization, you’ve appealed to rationale mind (the rider). In Switch vernacular, you’ve directed the rider by pointing to the destination. This is necessary, but not sufficient. Next, you’ll want to appeal to the emotional elephant; you’ll not reach your destination without the elephant.

To do this, write a statement about the desired future state for each category. How will you know you’ve arrived? What will you see as different and how will that make you feel? You can either write a statement or add bullets to show some detail about the desired future state. If this were a vacation you might write something like “feel my toes in the warm sand” or “be able to ponder the ancient Incan empire from atop Machu Picchu” or [insert most excellent vacation experience here]. If we imagine what it is like to be there, our vacation will be more thoughtful and we’ll be more present once we arrive. This is true of vacation and in business. Here is an example for your business using the category, Recognition. Once we’ve arrived at the destination we might feel the following:

  • be able to credibly apply for “most green citizen” award
  • media and partners are recognizing our organization’s thoughtful work
  • awards and framed articles hang on trophy wall in lobby
  • our products are labeled with the Cradle to Cradle Certification
  • we have more twitter followers than Edward Snowden

Step 4: Empower a Good Story
At this stage, you’ve created a narrative for the organization’s future. You’ll have more clarity yourself, and if you did this exercise with colleagues, you’re better aligned to a common future. You can reference the destination postcards as you build your strategic plan and tell stories about the future.

Go even further by creating physical postcards that can be handed out to employees, partners, and other stakeholders. On one side, make a visual to represent the category; on the other, list the milestones you’ll achieve along the way to reaching that destination. These physical cards can be seen, touched, passed around, referenced and updated periodically. This can be very motivating for all story tellers of the organization. It can also keep people (yourself included) on the right path.

Step 5: Ah, The Path
The Destination Postcards Exercise is a critical tool, among others, to shape and inform a strategic plan. I usually do this exercise with a CEO, executive director, or early stage entrepreneur, but it can be easily extended to include a larger team. I’ve sparked good dialogue among board members using the same exercise in non-profit organizations.

The exercise can be an inclusive process that enables people to get on the same page, something usually overlooked by the committees that shape plans. Imagine the natural forces within our minds that sometimes oppose each other, instead working in harmony. This is the harmony we feel while on a good vacation. And, now imagine all of those minds on your team working better together toward a common future. Oh, the possibilities.

Remember, business planning like vacation is better with postcards. I hope you enjoy your next one. If you are a consultant (internal or external), try using this tool with your organization (clients) and watch attitudes, engagement, and positive outcomes soar. Your destination awaits you; happy travels.

about the author

image of one page overview of L impossipreneurs - A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow by Gregory OlsonGregory 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. This book challenges each of us to think differently, spark our own conversations, and play a role in nudging the world forward to create a better future for all. Find it at Amazon, CreateSpace e-Store, Barnes & Noble, Bokus, or order it from your local bookstore.

one-page-overview-The-Experience-Design-Blueprint-by-Gregory-OlsonGreg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true. 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 article include:

  • Chapter 8: The Promise Delivery System
  • Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall
  • Chapter 12: The Three Psychological Zones
  • Chapter 13: Taking Flight
  • Chapter 14: The World of Work Has Changed
  • Chapter 15: From Arg to Aha!

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson founded 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.

 

Acceptable Discomfort is Better than None

Acceptable Discomfort is Better than Nonemonster puppet with strings - acceptable discomfort blog post - delightability
Acceptable discomfort is what you tolerate in the spirit of moving forward. In matters of work it might be about a launch, or an initiative. Closer to home it may be about vacationing or home projects on the way to growing old together. Think about the alternative. What if you halted forward progress at each step where you had some discomfort? You would become a puppet master of inaction.

If a particular issue or item is too uncomfortable, then ask yourself why. What does this matter so much to me? Is it so important that you should halt progress? Often, you’ll find that it is more important to move forward than to declare a shutdown. Remember, perfection is the enemy of good enough.

puppet with strings - acceptable discomfort blog post - delightabilityAcceptance does have ramifications, however. It means you might not get to vote on each item, every time. It means you won’t be able to inspect every nail driven, every line of code, every written word. You won’t review every spoken promise and supervise all interactions. It also means that decisions don’t get undecided when somebody on the team voices dissent. It means you’ll move forward even when you don’t have perfect information. And, you’ll likely do so at a pace that is too fast for complete comfort. You’ll trust where previously, you didn’t. But, it’s all going to be OK.

bridge to progress - acceptable discomfort blog post - delightabilityIf we didn’t have acceptable discomfort there would be little progress. Think about the project that never completes, the product that never launches, or the organization that spits and sputters like an old junky engine. Think of the U.S. Congress and the bickering and obstruction that halts human progress and retards the economy.

You’ll get far more done together if you embrace the notion of acceptable discomfort. And, the feelings you’ll share when you reach your destination together will be far better than the feelings you’ll have with inaction.

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. His latest book project is l’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow.

Connect with Greg on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.

small linkedin iconsmall facebook iconsmall twitter icon

 

Greg also authored, The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true.  Exercises and mental models in the book will build your confidence in envisioning better possibilities and your competence in making them come true. Chapters in The Experience Design Blueprint, that pertain to this post include:

  • Chapter 7: Improving the Journey
  • Chapter 9: The Neighborhood
  • Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall
  • Chapter 13: Taking Flight
  • Chapter 15: From Argh to Aha!

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.

5 Lessons: Picking Up Passengers on the Train of Progress

Here is the situation. You’ve got some place you’d like to be; a destination yet to be realized. Progress, a big change initiative, the launch of a product or service. Whether you’re the chair, the chief, the executive director, product manager, board member, or some other concerned change maker, you acknowledge you’re not going to get everybody to the destination all by yourself. You’ll need other people to get on board and participate.

Here are 5 lessons to master so that you can all reach the desired destination together.

  1. high speed train in germany - gregory olson - delightabilityOnboarding is Essential

Assuming you all know the destination (that is another article) you’ll be picking up passengers (employees, vendors, partners, members, volunteers, etc.) at various stops. Be mindful that not everyone will be at the same level of awareness. Slow down and help people get on board. The recently boarded are not as familiar. Take time to show them around. You want to avoid cognitive overload, the proverbial drinking from the firehouse, where little is retained. Provide people with communication tools that allow them to slowly get immersed. See the related blog post about transfer and absorption value as key to better storytelling.

be smooth like a washing machine spin cycle - gregory olson - delightability

  1. Maintain Smooth

As you journey together toward your destination, pace and rhythm are key. You don’t want passengers to get thrown off as you approach a corner too fast. You also don’t want a sputtering, inefficient engine. Emulate the smoothness of your washing machine’s spin cycle. In your organization you can establish operating mechanisms to keep things running more smoothly. Like the garbage service or doing laundry at home, operating mechanisms create a regular cycle to keep things from piling up or from being neglected. You’ll retain more passengers on your journey if you avoid abrupt changes, extremes, and neglect. Even a comprehensive strategy pivot can be smooth when thoughtfully handled.

  1. the playground is where ideas live - gregory olson - delightabilityKeep Synchronized

Some people will want to go faster. Others will think the journey is far too slow. Listen to both concerns. Consider ideas can come from anywhere, even the newest passenger. Inviting others to share ideas could shift your perspective for the better. Create a space for that conversation to happen. I call this the playground and it represents the idea zone. Read more about the 3 psychological zones in Ch 12. Remember, ideas are not judged in the playground and not all ideas will advance. But, it is still important for people to have a voice, be respected, listened to, and for their ideas to be considered at an appropriate time. Establish an operating mechanism to screen and advance ideas.

  1. tornadoDon’t Ignore Conditions

There may be cattle on the tracks, a bridge out ahead or another hazard. Trains encounter changing conditions and hazards; so does your organization. Establishing “sensors in the ground” (see Ch 8) can serve as your early warning system, like seismometers that detect shifts in the earth’s tectonic plates. The journey will be smoother for all aboard if you confront reality and don’t pretend your passengers will be unaffected.

  1. diversity as seen through shoes - gregory olson - delightabilityBe Mindful of the Audience

All passengers are not created equally. And, not all of the stakeholders to your organization are either. The women in car number 27 might need a little extra assistance. Same with employee X or customer Y or supplier Z. When we create average experiences for everybody we are destined to be supplanted by somebody more thoughtful to individuals needs and context. Case in point, would you like to wait for a yellow cab or message Uber?

Whether your train of progress is literal or figurative you can go further and reach your destination if you pay attention to these 5 lessons for implementing change. Ignore them and you may might find yourself navigating the journey alone or more likely stuck in a train that never leaves the station.

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.

Chapters in The Experience Design Blueprint that especially pertain to this post include:

  • Chapter 7: Improving the Journey
  • Chapter 8: The Promise Delivery Systems
  • Chapter 12: The Three Psychological Zones

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.

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.