Learning Innovation From Bees

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

Bees have a healthy innovation culture

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

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

Every Organization Has Buried Treasure

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

Recipe #40: Dance Like a Bee

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

About The Author

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

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

The Care and Feeding of Ideas

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

an 8 minute talk and an even quicker read

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

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

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

Idea Mortal Enemy #1 – Lack of Clarity

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

Idea Zone

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

Execution Zone

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

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

Advancing Ideas IS the Challenge

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

Idea Buzz Kill

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

The Conversation Zone – Seeing The Big Picture

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

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

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

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

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

Guiding Principles for the Idea Zone:

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

Guiding Principles for the Conversation Zone:

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

Guiding Principles for the Execution Zone:

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

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

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

Talking About the Movement of Ideas is Empowering

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

In Summary

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

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

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

about the author

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

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

Clouds or Weeds: Where Should Strategy Live?

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

Being More Grounded

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

Guided by Coherent Strategy

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

Beware of Action Junkies

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

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

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

The False Choice

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

Scenario 1: Mapping but Questions Remain

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

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

Scenario 2: Conversation Needed

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

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

A Strategy That Lives

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

about the author

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

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

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.

 

Don't Let Your Organization Become a Lumpy Snowball

Don’t Let Your Organization Become a Lumpy Snowball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

about the author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is your organization making these mistakes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Author

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

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

Connect with Greg on Linkedin, Facebook, or Twitter.

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

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

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

When Your Organization Becomes a Leaky Boat?

Boats in Port of Everett by Greg Olson from DelightabilityWhether you are the chief executive officer or the newest and lowest ranking employee, you’re often faced (like right now) with a leaky boat. You have a choice to make.

If you are the chief, then you can delegate or trust that others will take care of the problem. You can get involved directly. You can ignore the problem, because you have more pressing matters to attend. Or, you can empower your people to take care of this leak and all future leaks. But, do your people even care?

With employee engagement low and sinking lower, employees have choices to make, too. As an employee, you can abandon the boat. You can choose to fix the leak, even though it might not be your job or the responsibility of your department. You can wait for the boat to fix itself or hope that someone else will. This bystander effect has long since been proven in experiments that most people will simply wait for others to take action; the more people present, the more inaction. You may also choose to ask somebody else to fix the leaky boat. But, chances are, as an employee, you probably don’t care all that much since it isn’t really your boat to fix. Simply put, you aren’t that committed to this boat.

In times of natural disaster people from different walks of life can more easily shed their biases, titles, and beliefs in order to cooperate toward mutual survival and comfort. We need to be able to get to the same level of cooperation in the workplace, short of an actual disaster. The world of work has changed. There has been a flight to values. Too high of a percentage of the people I interviewed for my recent book, changed jobs before my book completed. Organizations continue to shed people like dirty gym clothes and employees, conditioned by the new normal, have recognized that the number of people looking out for their interests can be counted on one finger. So, at the first sign of smoother waters elsewhere, they head for another boat.

If you want to increase engagement and build a better innovation neighborhood inside your organization, then you’ll need new mental models and new conversations. You won’t accomplish much with a leaky boat. For far less than the price of your next non-productive meeting you can pick up a copy of my latest book, the Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations.

You can read the The Experience Design BLUEPRINT book by Greg Olson shown across screensKindle formatted book on nearly any screen, even in a browser, using the free Kindle Reader Apps. Even if you cherry picked only a few of the 56 recipes and 25 examples to learn by and apply to your business, you’d be well ahead of where you are today. Learn how to be more like bees, and less like raccoons. Discuss how you can emulate a better neighborhood. Make your Promise Delivery System visible. Intentionally design the experiences of internal customers so that together, you can win the hearts and minds of external customers.

Be courageous and start a new conversation; to benefit yourself, your people, your customers, and ultimately the entire organization. Tomorrow there will be new leaks; I promise you that. I only hope you’ll be prepared to handle them.

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