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

image of Sea Turtle Big Island Hawaii - author Gregory Olson

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

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

an 8 minute talk and an even quicker read

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

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

NATURE IS A REALLY BIG DEAL.

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

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

Bees Have a Healthy Innovation Culture

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

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

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

Imitating Life: The Word for This Is…

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

Solutions Hiding-In-Plain-Sight

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

Clean as a Shark

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

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

Natural Vacuum Cleaner

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

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

Nature: The Original Hacker

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

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

Nature’s Biggest Lesson

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

about the author

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

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

 

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.

Unbroken Experiences: Exactly What We Need At Times

This post has been adapted from CH 6: Aiming for Remarkable, Unbroken, and Generous Design in The Experience Design Blueprint.

elevator imageNo matter your title or role you are involved in customer experience. As a consumer yourself, sometimes you just want things to work. They don’t always need to be remarkable; they do need to be reliable, predictable, dependable, and above all unbroken.

Examples include the checkout line at the grocery store, driving in traffic, filling a glass of water from the tap, sitting down on a chair, walking up steps, riding your bicycle, riding in an elevator, making a phone call, returning a product, getting warranty service, filing an insurance claim, visiting the dentist, starting your car, etc. Unbroken – that is what is needed.

And, if you do work with or for an organization that serves customers then no doubt your organization has provided services to more customers than any one customer has received services from your organization. Organizations simply deal with more customers than the other way around. This is true whether you manufacture shoes, houses, boats or meals or you sell cars, financial services, run a nonprofit, or a government agency.

With this tremendous upper hand of knowledge you have an opportunity to help your future customers prevent mistakes that you’ve witnessed previous customers make. Leveraging this knowledge and helping customers avoid broken experiences can be simple as the example in Figure 6.5 shows.

image of smoothing the journey example - the experience design blueprint book by Gregory Olson

Figure 6.5 Home Furnishings Store Provides Customers with Twine in Loading Area

This home furnishings store recognizes the customer’s experience doesn’t end at the point of sale terminal. They provide twine to those customers in the loading area who may not have thought to bring any, or to those who made an unplanned purchase too large to fit inside their vehicle. The store doesn’t have to provide twine and they probably wouldn’t be frowned upon for not providing it. After all, it is an oversight on the part of the customer. But, why let a broken experience occur with prediction when a little forethought and action can fully prevent it?

Your forethought is an insurance policy against broken experiences that your future customers may have.

map and signs at blue mountain resort for Experience Design Blueprint - DelightabilityYour forethought is an insurance policy against broken experiences that your future customers may have. Treat the situation the same as if your customer were a child wandering toward traffic in a busy intersection. Of course, you’d intervene and help them out.

This example was about twine and purchasing home furnishings, but it could be about any product or service. Other examples that come to mind include business travel, financial services, renovation, construction projects, vacations, trade shows, creating a campaign, fundraising, launching products, and even change initiatives and major projects. And, remember your customers might be external customers or those internal to the organization – other departments, disciplines, or even channel partners.

Recipe #16: Be Smooth
Think about what you might provide your customers (internal and external) at a time that is convenient and appropriate to smooth their journey. Then smile and take solace in knowing you’ve prevented a broken experience they may never even think about. In Chapter 7, we look more at the “smoother filter” that you can apply to customer journeys.

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 and impact investor, Oikocredit International.

 

Arbor Day: Your Chance To Be A Generous Designer

Nature is the Original Hacker

Nature is the original hacker; she’s been at it for a long time, much longer than humans. Does nature ever get it wrong? The follow-up question is, wrong from whose perspective, a human perspective? Or, is it like Leonardo da Vinci said of art, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Perhaps when we think of nature being wrong, whatever we’re observing simply isn’t completed.

Generous Design by Nature

Nature is bountiful and sustainable; it’s also very generous. Trees, for example, are a generous gift from nature. Glorious natural trees are water absorbing, pollution filtering, soil protecting, oxygen giving, and shelter providing. Planting trees is good for the planet as trees absorb carbon dioxide, one of the gases that collect in the atmosphere, trap heat, and warm the planet. Trees are good for people too, with many positive psychological benefits. Being in the presence of swaying trees reduces anxiety, lowers blood pressure and connects us to the natural environment. The soothing rhythmic motion of trees or even grass is not unlike that of mothers who instinctively use gentle swaying motion to comfort their babies. Did you ever notice that you feel better around trees or in a rocking chair?

“The symbolism – and the substantive significance – of planting a tree has universal power in every culture and every society on Earth, and it is a way for individual men, women and children to participate in creating solutions for the environmental crisis.”

Albert Arnold “Al” Gore, Jr.
45th Vice President of the United States
Author, environmental activist,
2007 Nobel Peace Prize Winner
(born March 31, 1948)

Trees are a generous gift from nature. Humans can be generous designers as well.

Generous Design by Humans

As I describe in, The Experience Design Blueprint, generous design makes people smile. When an organization exceeds expectations without any pressure to do so, people often take notice. It might mean going beyond what is required by law or code, or even the norm set by competitors. Often the thoughtfulness goes unnoticed, but the design still serves to make things a little easier or a little better.

When you experience generous design firsthand you think to yourself, “Wow, somebody thought of that. How nice!” But, more importantly, you feel that somebody cared and as a result they touched your heart and your mind. Generous design goes beyond expectations, like a dual drinking station for humans and canines alike or a stair rail that extends a little more than required, so that it comfortably greets those about to meet the stairs. Unexpected trees alongside the built environment can be generous gifts that restore the human spirit, cause us to slow down, and even provide healing. We see and feel these in urban areas, parks, boulevards, universities, and even healthcare facilities.

tree lined boulevard as generous design - Delightability

Arbor Day

Arbor Day is the day dedicated annually to public tree-planting in the U.S., Australia, and other countries around the world. You needn’t be an arborist or a landscape designer to plant a tree. Even birds (or other animals) inadvertently plant trees as they eat fruit in one area and defecate in another. Animals do this without even thinking. But, you are human, perhaps even superhuman. You can be a thoughtful, generous designer and plant a tree, if not for yourself for those who will enjoy it 100 years from now.

planting a pine tree

Culture of Care

Though Arbor Day provides you an official day to be thoughtful and generous, you needn’t be gated by such holidays. Opportunities for generous design are all around us. The best thing is you don’t have to be a designer by title or role – a bird isn’t, after all. You can participate at any time, in planting a tree or other thoughtful acts that exceed expectations and turn lips upward. The Culture of Care is afoot. If you’ve already joined – thank you! If not, we hope you’ll join our movement.

about the author

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

Tapping your Inner Designer no Matter Your Title or Role

Human History and Design

image showing early cave painting communications design - Delightability

Humans have been designing objects and systems long before either of those words were uttered. Hunters and gatherers benefited from the weapons and carry systems they designed. Other additions to the design portfolio of humans include the design of communications in the form of art and language, shelters to protect us from the elements, and objects to serve various functions.

image of primitive carry system that has been designed - Delightability

Humans have a long history of design. We’ve even designed systems and schools to help others design. Humans work in concert to make things better through design and that makes us unique compared to other animals in the Animal Kingdom. My book is designed to help you tap your inner designer and to have better conversation so that you can design for good.

image of girl designing sand castle - Delightability

Thinking of yourself as a designer, no matter your title or role in the organization might feel out of place for you, but it shouldn’t. We actually start our creative lives as budding designers. We envision, we draw, we build castles in the sand, we go on to host excellent tea parties, build forts, etc. But, then something happens. As we get a little older, we start to become more rigid.

You Started Out as a Designer

We begin to observe that some people are better singers than we are, some are better musicians, athletes, artists, some are good at math, and others are good at other stuff. Parents, teachers, siblings, etc. all reinforce that. The reminders of what we are good at start early on. Depending on the generation we might get encouraged and rewarded for participating, even if we aren’t that good.

Specialization is Good and Bad at the Same Time

Then, if we take on more education, we begin to specialize. Most people make choices and do something narrow like studying accounting or engineering or biology or physical therapy. We go on to get better at those things and practice medicine, or law or accounting or whatever we set out to do. After all, each field is full of things to learn and master. And, from the early industrial age thinking, we’ve been conditioned to think specialization a la Frederick Taylor, is the path toward improving industrial efficiency.

image showing dentist work is specialized- delightability

Aside from the obvious challenge of remaining relevant in a world that changes around you, specialization doesn’t do much for the human spirit. It leaves us longing for more unless of course we simply drown that fire inside us that yearns to create, design, and build things, systems, and community.

Increasing Complexity Breaks Experiences

image showing cockpit complexity - delightabilitySpecialization, amid all of the technological advances, has created an atmosphere where as consumers we expect thoughtful, holistic experiences that understand us and fit our needs and desires. Specialization breeds increased depth. And, complexity builds as there is more demand for the various pieces of an experience to all fit seamlessly together. This is true whether the subject of design is vacation or travel, healthcare, car sharing, education, streaming music, financing a home, etc.

Unless an organization has a very narrow offering, then any single person in the organization, from the CEO on down the line, is not capable or empowered to deliver an entire experience; there are simply too many moving parts and most lie outside of one’s purview or specialty. The result is that experiences are relegated to the specialists in call centers or those that create the website, etc. There isn’t even widespread agreement on what an experience is. Don’t believe me ? Define it, then turn to your colleague and have them define it. See, I told you so.

Experience and Innovation Literacy

We live in a world full of broken experiences. But, I believe we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and even communities . I am hopeful that there are rich possibilities that can be made to come to life as people like you become empowered. My book aims to increase your competence and confidence in intentionally designing better experiences and building healthy innovation cultures that can actually deliver them.

image of boy challening you to design better - DelightabilityThese are the subjects of my book, The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations.  The book is chock full of 78 images, 56 recipes that you can apply to your own situation, and 25 inspiring examples. These examples range from tiny organizations that are inventing new women’s sports to multi-national coops that are lifting people out of poverty while at the same time giving investors a financial and social return. The book is available on the Kindle publishing platform, but your reading experience doesn’t have to include a Kindle device. There is a free Kindle reader application available for Mac, Windows, Browser, iPhone, iPad, and Android devices.

Will You be a More Thoughtful Contributor to Humanity?

The world needs more thoughtfulness around our experiences. That begins with you. I’ve done my part by writing the book, to demystify things that were previously invisible. Now, it is time for you to do your part. Invest the equivalent of a couple of cups of coffee, purchase the book and awaken your inner designer. The world is waiting.

About the Author

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

For more guidance and self-help read my book or reach out if you’d like some help. We’d love to help you build an enduring brand that matters. If you’d like to talk further please reach out.
Greg Olson is the author of The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations. See the Book and Author Summary PDF or find the book on Amazon. He is also the Managing Director of Delightability, LLC., a consultancy that believes if you delight customers, then success will follow.

Why Leaders Everywhere Continue to Provide Broken Experiences and How to Turn the Tide

Most experiences have evolved and are not intentionally designed. As an example, our experiences getting through security at an airport often requires 3, 4, maybe even 5 bins to get our jackets, electronics, shoes, and other items securely examined by x-ray equipment and TSA personnel. There hasn’t been any increase in capacity for the system to accommodate those bins, if we are pulled aside our items are at personnel risk, and there isn’t a smooth exit as we are reacquainted with our shoes, much like cattle being pushed through a gate.  Read the article where the CEO of the Airline Trade Group is begging for a meaningful security overhaul that doesn’t disgruntle travelers.

We live in a world of specialists but, most cannot afford to hire the specialist needed to create smooth experiences. When we do, we have trouble herding them toward a successful outcome or making a case to retain them in changing business conditions. Not everybody can afford a complete service design overall like Alaska Airlines did to the tune of  twenty-eight million dollars.  But, they did prevent having to spend the estimated five-hundred million to build a new terminal.

In our world of “right now” we don’t make time to listen intently or think deeply. We then race to a quick understanding by dumbing things down so that we can make sense of complicated, interconnected things. What if we all stopped listening to children that struggle to put together their words?

We don’t understand change and human psychology. We still operate under the illusion that saying it is so, makes it so and people will follow the leader. This is especially a problem in a low trust environment where employees view themselves as free agents employed for the moment by the firm that just recently let others go.

There is low employee engagement and it is diminishing. In many environments it is increasingly hard to find the rock star employee that will go the extra mile to own a problem to resolution. More often we cite policy, throw our hands in the air, and rush you to the next person in the chain, or worse we “rush you to the door.”

We lack a common mental model to even understand what comprises an experience. If you don’t’ believe me, ask a colleague to coffee and compare notes. When you are done go for the advanced topic, explain how innovation works inside your organization.

We are unable to get past our biases. We still think abandoned shopping carts is a homeless problem. Never mind that it may be a transportation problem faced by seniors and bus stop moms with children in tow.  We really don’t even want to have the conversation, it’s too messy and not in my purview.  What conversations are you blind to in your organization?

We react to possible dangers while we avoid addressing dangers that lurk everyday.  The threat of terror has creating bad experiences like the TSA agent at SeaTac airport that treated an elderly woman as a terrorist as she struggled to explain her artificial knees.  At the same time Brian Fairbrother, Seattle resident, rode his bicycle down a blind set of stairs on a Seattle sidewalk and died as a results of his injuries. Disaster here was predictable and preventable with thoughtful design.  Everyday neglect by the city played a direct hand in killing one of its own.  No crime board at the local precinct and action taken too slowly.  Where does one report the lurking danger in your city?  Will anybody listen? 

We average the experiences for all audiences. Average is unremarkable for most and outright broken for some.  I recently saw an interactive climbable section of the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland permanently closed because it was not wheelchair accessible. Hopefully, this doesn’t spell danger for bicycles and hiking trails? Not all customers are created equal.  Let’s embrace that we are all differently enabled, not diminish our uniqueness by creating an artificial average. If some can jump higher, raise the bar. If others cannot, then help them.

Most leaders are busy running the business and never slow down enough to work on the business. We mostly don’t know what it is like to be a customer. That is why I like the television program “Undercover Boss.” Sometimes we have to slow down, in order to speed up.

We lack empathy for our customers’ real situations, desires, and challenges. Many organizations have forgotten that they serve customers not shareholders. And, as leaders we often lack the courage to do what is right and change the conversation when it’s not.

Many employees really don’t care about others experiences. We are simply are too focused inwardly, struggling with our own problems, sometimes working multiple jobs to make ends meet. When our own experiences with our employers are broken it makes it hard to compassionately serve others.

Most don’t feel that they are really citizens of the state. With the outsourcing of most everything the original care and feeding of customers doesn’t necessarily translate. We are ill equipped, unwilling, or unable to get ready others to serve.

Experiences are largely invisible. Customers don’t have a way to make visible, their poor experiences except for begging for attention in social media and review sites. Imagine if Customer Relationship Management (CRM)  software actually provided a view for the customer to see. That might be a little scary because customers might then calculate the lost time in dealing with organizations that erode their experiences and rob them of their precious time.  Would you be willing to give your customers a view?

Experiences seldom blend well across channels.  Most things digital are handled by the “digital” department instead of being integrated across channels and into the company’s sales, marketing, and operations.  A visit to the United State Postal Service will quickly reveal that most workers don’t know the capabilities of their own USPS website. They treat it like another company.  This is why I applaud the Citibank’s North America Head of Consumer Marketing, Vanessa Colella’s recent decision to eliminate the digital marketing department citing that we should all be digital, that “digital”  isn’t a department. Read the article here.

We want to have a metric for everything as opposed for some things and do more things right in spite of difficult or nonexistent metrics.  Do you love your puppy?  Well then, show me the metric.  Sometimes you have the courage to do the right thing, even if your big data doesn’t show it.  I applaud Puma and the story of the little red box.  With no clear metric or obvious path to completion or payoff, they had the courage to proceed on a project to eliminate the shoe box and tissue that ships with every pair of shoes sold.  Check out the video at this blog post.

If an employee has a good idea to improve an experience they are often stymied. We don’t have healthy innovation cultures that tolerate and advance ideas that can come from anywhere.  And it seems that the more connected we become, the more we lack the recipe and know how for advancing ideas to reality.  If we work for a really big company then we must really make the case that what we’re proposing is the next great thing, typically measured in billions.  But, most big ventures start as little ventures and we need more ventures of all sizes to make a healthy economy.

We simply lack recipes for making things better for the customer, or for the organization. And… that is exactly why I’m writing the Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations. (update: The book is now completed and available in digital or full-color print.)

about the author

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

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.

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.