Is Negative Target Fixation Crushing Your Opportunities?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Office Experiment

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

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

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

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

To Pivot or Persist, That is the Question

image of compass for Gregory Olson blog post Pivot or Persist

When Performance Doesn’t Track Expectations

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

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

Beyond the Pivot

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

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

Variations of Persist

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

The More Drastic Pivot

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

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

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

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

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

about the author

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

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

Small Business Leaders Struggle with the 3-Legged Stool: How to Overcome

Like most entrepreneurs and small business owners, you likely have a long list of things that get shoved off to the back burner waiting for another day or week when there is more time. The trouble is, more time never actually arrives, right?

Today is no different from yesterday and tomorrow will look much the same. You only have 24 hours in a day. When it comes to time, there is no aristocracy of wealth. Genius or laziness is not rewarded or punished with any more time.

The 3-Legged Stool

3-legged-stool of operations - promoting value - delivering value - balanced personal life - Delightability LLC.

Every small business owner struggles with maintaining balance among these areas:

  • Maintaining a smooth operation – invoicing customers, paying expenses, having good procedures in place to prevent business breakdown and wasting resources
  • Delivering value – providing to customers whatever your business does as its core offering, i.e., products, services, and support
  • Promoting value – performing the sales, marketing, and business development functions to ensure 1) prospects know your business exists; 2) customers understand your value and provide you with validation; and 3) employees, partners, and customers stay engaged.

Stop Letting Your Personal Life Suffer

The person sitting atop a well-balanced 3-legged stool has the opportunity for a personal life. Chances are you’re not very good at all three legs of the stool. In a large company you have the benefit of departments to focus on activities related to the different legs of the stool. That probably isn’t the case in your small business where you have to spread your time, talent, and attention across sales, marketing, account payable, human resources, product development, etc. Even if you are good in all areas, you’ll struggle with the limited time available. When the legs of the stool get out of balance or become all-consuming then you and your personal life get sacrificed or worse, topple to the ground. Business performance then also suffers. We’ve all been there.

Five Things to Overcome the Struggle

  1. Recognize the need to slow down: sometimes you need to slow down in order to speed up. It is true when hiking up a steep trail and it’s also true in business. As a now deceased friend has taught me, “Make time to linger.” R.I.P. Donald Marsh.
  2. Revisit your operation: perhaps you need new operating mechanisms that could prevent snags in the business operation that if left unresolved will end up consuming resources. As a start, begin to identify where your time gets wasted. If you don’t know, begin monitoring your own time over the next week or month. Identifying the workarounds could be a place to fix first. If you have employees, they’ll know these rough spots.
  3. Stay on course: your energy spread in too many directions can fatigue you and crush personal and business performance. Be deliberate on your destination and script the critical moves needed to get there. Read the Destination Postcards article for an exercise that can bring discipline to charting a course and then staying true to that course.
  4. Confront reality: mind the uncomfortable gap you have between your current performance and expected performance. Focus on key areas and find acceptable discomfort for what you’ll not work on in the near term.  You cannot do it all, so find some peace in accepting that. See Business Performance Continuums exercise.
  5. Force multiply through others: recognize that you cannot do it alone. It is difficult to involve somebody else in your projects and business, especially if you already feel overwhelmed. But, chances are you’ve wasted more time agonizing over how to start a project that another person would have completed by now, if you engaged them. There is plenty of talent available to help you in whatever your endeavor is. More talent on the team can come in many forms: full-time or part-time, employee or alliance with a service provider. At Delightability, we are a virtual marketing department serving clients’ needs, providing both consulting and creative services. Whether small or large projects, every one of our client engagements involved busy business leaders, like you. But, remember what our clients have now come to realize, namely, that you don’t get the benefits of a strategy not implemented.

Write that down on your wall or whiteboard and revisit it often, “You don’t get the benefits of a strategy not implemented.” Eventually, you’ll do something different to close your uncomfortable gap across the 3 legs of the stool while at the same time getting your personal life to soar.

about the author

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

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

Stuck in Low Gear? Time to Shift.

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

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

Reluctant to Change

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

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

Progress Requires Change

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

Impossipreneurs Face Multiple Barriers

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

Backfire Effect Near and Far

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

Competing Narratives

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

Truth Doesn’t Care About Feelings

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

Reaching Our Potential

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

about the author

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

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

Making Truth Matter

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

[This article is from a talk I gave to members of the Olympic Club on May 26, 2016. I’ve added a few links and shared it here for members of the Olympic Club and the broader public. I’ve turned off comments but feel free to reach me on social media.]

an 8 minute talk and an even quicker read

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

3 noteworthy things happened this week.

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

It has been a really busy week for the TRUTH.

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

What is Truth?

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

Human Responses to The Truth

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few of my favorite logical fallacies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What About Reaction to Lies?

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

TRUTH SHOULD MATTER.

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

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

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

So, What Can WE Do?

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

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

about the author

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

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

Gregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and communities, but sometimes we need a little help.

Parks, Progress, and Prosperity-A Lesson in Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

about the author

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

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

Overcoming La La La I Can't Hear You

image of la la la la I can't hear you for blog post - delightability

Overcoming La La La I Can’t Hear You
In any organization (or society) there is an unlabeled group of people that hereafter we will call the “data prevention group.” Their prime motive is to protect the status quo. You know the type – not receptive to your show and tell, no matter how compelling it may be. Though these people may project a professional facade, what you really see is “La la la I can’t hear you.” The disregard for new information might come from a single influential person or it may come from a larger group, perhaps an entire herd. Whichever the case, the outcome is the same. It’s as though you are running the last segment of the Olympic torch relay, looking forward to the moment you touch torch to caldron, sparking the opening ceremony. Finally, your moment has come, you get to tell your story, share your data, and be listened to. But, your progress is halted and the ceremony never begins.

The data prevention group might be well intentioned in safeguarding the status quo. But, in a world that doesn’t sit still this can spell disaster for an organization. The business landscape and customer ecosystem are forever changing. People disregard the reality outside their organization at their own peril. Put simply, if you make soup people no longer purchase its best to find out why. Is it soup? Is it my soup? Crafty marketers might wish to simply refresh labels to shift perception. Maybe even have a soup “spokesperson” deliver messages and ensure others speak on point. But, in an increasingly transparent, connected, and humane world, those efforts will only produce short term gains, if at all.

Truth has a funny way of surfacing, even when you try to suppress it.

Truth has a funny way of surfacing, even when you try to suppress it. Some politicians and “leaders” on the wrong side of history have learned this lesson the hard way. Too many others have not and the list continues to grow, most recently with unsafe drinking water in Flint, Michigan.

The la la la treatment happens within organizations and in the broader community, even the online community. So, what do you do when if you are on the right side of history and too few are listening? Here are a few actionable ideas. If you have any to add, tweet this message and share your addition. Please do the same on Facebook or LinkedIn.

  1. Be critical of statements you hear that are untrue; offer relevant facts in their place
  2. Be supportive of data and facts over opinions and ideology; be vocal about this with the friends, colleagues, family and fellow citizens
  3. Build alliances around the truth, starting with common ground you agree on
  4. Wait for the moment when the data prevention group may be more receptive to hearing your message
  5. Give up, leave, check out (I don’t really recommend this one, but it is an option)
  6. Look for alignment by finding a new path, a campaign or another initiative you can hitch your data to; there may be a natural fit
  7. Build empathy by focusing on the people the data represents (make the audience come alive inside the organization or in the minds of others, whether the issue relates to social justice or the audience the organization serves)
  8. Make data more visual (Vision trumps all other senses as John Medina shares in his book, Brain Rules).
  9. Create soundbites from your data, at least initially to bait the hook. (You can feed the fish later with more data once you have gained the attention of the data prevention group)
  10. Build a story from your data that makes it easy for others to absorb and even retell
  11. Use humor and give people the opportunity to laugh (Thank you, Don Smith of FutureSmith, for this suggested addition)

Whether the data you promulgate represents a social justice issue or a shift in strategy within the organization, it is important to be mindful as opponents transition to becoming proponents. As Desmond Tutu says in his book by a similar title, “Without forgiveness, there’s no future.” You don’t want people to oppose a good idea whose time has come simply because they feel punished or demoralized in shifting their beliefs. So, take a page from the Chinese social playbook and allow others to preserve their dignity and avoid embarrassment (save face). This is increasingly important in the future where more and more people will shift away from harmful consumption and production patterns, behaviors that create conflict and marginalize people, and money stops corrupting politics. I wish you much luck in overcoming “la la la I can’t hear you” wherever your travels and conversations take you.

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.  As discussed in Chapter 8 of The Experience Design Blueprint, every organization has a Promise Delivery System. That is the invisible system by which an organization makes and keeps promises (or doesn’t). One component of the Promise Delivery System is Insights and Validation. Another is Apply Learning. When “La la la I can’t hear you” is alive and well inside an organization, the organization’s Promise Delivery System is breaking down – those two components in particular – stop working effectively. Left uncorrected the organization may end up building a lumpy snowball of an organization and lose relevance over time.

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. Ideas in L’ impossi preneurs that relate to this article include Truth Sculpture, Data Observatory, Propaganda for Good Network, Truth Machine Intelligence Service, Truth Ticker, and more.

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.

10 Ways Climate Change and Customer Experiences Are Alike

image of concerned baby for blog post about climate change and customer experienceIgnoring Climate Change and Customer Experience can result in diminished human potential and destroyed companies, brands, property, and lives. The good news is that amid deniers of Climate Change or those that don’t think the Customer Experience matters, there are many people who do care and are actively engaging others to care, too.

10 ways in which Climate Change and Customer Experience are alike:

  1. Detection Informs Design. For Climate Change and Customer Experience we can detect changes that can inform smarter design; smarter design of products, services, spaces, and organizations. We can design and deliver better Customer Experiences and we can design more thoughtful organizations, institutions, and policies to create a more sustainable and inclusive future for all. We can even design systems to protect people from the effects of Climate Change. Of course being informed is one thing; we still have to decide to actually do something differently if we expect to have different outcomes. Progress is pesky that way; we have to invest in it. Rarely does it advance on its own.
  1. Pioneers Face Resistance. There are conferences and summits that deal directly with Climate Change and Customer Experience. People attend these conference and summits; gain ideas for improvements, then return to their daily lives to face resistance, opposition, and even misdirection. These pioneers of Customer Experience and of Climate Change push headlong against social, cultural, and political opponents who would rather keep things as they are. Some of these pioneers (entrepreneurs pursuing the seemingly impossible) persevere and we eventually come to know their innovations and perhaps even their names.
  1. Little Things Together Have a Big Impact. Customer Experience and Climate Change involve many different factors that when working together make a big difference. With Customer Experience, all of the interactions across touchpoints over time in customers’ journeys work to ensure that a brand has staying power; those interactions can also spell disaster for a brand that cumulatively leaves a poor brand aftertaste in the minds of prospective and current customers. Similarly, recycling, industrial composting, production practices, and individual purchase and consumption habits, etc., don’t look like much in isolation. But, taken together they make a big impact on social, environmental, and economic systems. Things are more connected than we often realize.
  1. Policy Must Connect With Humans. Climate Change and Customer Experience solutions require holistic solutions that benefit when top-down policy direction is informed by bottom-up data and actions. Returns processing, online purchase behavior, communications, etc., are all better solutions for customers when the top and bottom meet somewhere in the middle, at the customer’s reality. When it comes to climate change, proposed policies and agreements that factor in the real world experiences of displaced (or soon to be) climate refugees, are more humane, meaningful, and long-lasting.
  1. Meaningful Metrics Needed. Customer Experience and Climate Change both suffer at the hands of operators who internalize profits while externalizing costs to customers, society, and sometimes to workers. Landfills are filled with junk products that are designed to be profitable so long as customers accept the notion they are buying disposable, nonrenewable, non-repairable, and many times nonreturnable products. People that may be marginalized in the process are invisible to most consumers. Save for the consumer that looks for Cradle to Cradle certification, Fair Trade certification, Organic, or other inherently sustainable labels, most consumers are in the dark; They serve as unwitting pawns that contribute to harming the earth and its inhabitants while the puppet masters that exploit the seemingly limitless earth’s resources and marginalize people do extremely well for themselves and their allies. Metrics that go beyond profits and include social and environmental factors are increasingly important to global citizens that share a common planet.
  1. Leadership Must Adapt. Both Customer Experience and Climate Change create victims while at the same time producing those who do extremely well under the “old system,” at least until the day they don’t. Imagine building your empire based on vast fossil fuel reserves or a particular product or technology only to find that over time it has become irrelevant as the world moved on. I wouldn’t want to be manufacturing typewriters, selling palm oil that contributes to deforestation, or base my entire country’s economy on fossil fuel production. It’s important to pay attention to and respond to the changing mood of people. Organizations and governments would do well to build more responsive organizations that balance the needs of many stakeholders. Use The Promise Delivery System of Chapter 8 in The Experience Design Blueprint to build a more responsive organization. Any organization can operationalize a promise delivery system using whatever technology and personnel it has at its disposal.
  1. Myriad Factors Are Involved. Customer service is to Customer Experience as habitat protection is to Climate Change. Either one is but one factor in a compilation of interrelated issues – necessary, but insufficient. As described in The Experience Design Blueprint, an experience is a contextual interaction between people, objects, services, and spaces. Customer service is only a small, albeit important, component of the overall Customer Experience. Likewise, there are many factors involved in Climate Change including the water cycle, the natural environment and built environment, agricultural practices, trade policy, economic empowerment, production practices, individual consumption patterns, etc. Not every factor can be controlled by any individual or organization. But, that doesn’t absolve any individual or organization from its own inaction.
  1. Opponents Think It Too Expensive. Opponents may say investing in progress whether it is Customer Experience or Climate Change is too expensive. It’s true that short-term indulgent thinking might satisfy our immediate hunger, but it’s a satisfaction like junk food satisfies. It is filling for the moment, but it lacks nutritional value and substance. And in the long run, it doesn’t work for your waistline or your health. The VW Emission Cheating Scandal may have looked like a good idea in the short run but in the long run, it’s harmful to the environment, owners of vehicles, owners of the company stock, and ultimately to the affected brands. Gimmicks to prop up earnings in the short run are too often heralded while long-term investments in employee training, organizational performance, and customer empowerment are deemed to be unwarranted expenditures.
  1. Lack of Systems Thinking. Customer Experience or Climate Change? That is somebody else’s problem to solve (or the worry of another agency or department). There is a lack of systems thinking, holistic solutions are lacking, and conversations are too small. We confuse causation with correlation. Our biases, ideologies, and patterns of behavior get in the way; so do our means of livelihood. “My tailpipe emission didn’t cause that. Leaving the light on doesn’t matter, my extra trip, extra purchase, my upgrade, my tossing that compostable product in the trash. What difference does it really make?”  Often times, in organizations, we face back office and top office decisions that undermine the remarkable actions of front-line personnel that actually strive to do the right thing for customers and the organization.
  1. What do you think? I’m sure you have ideas on how Climate Change and Customer Experience are alike, face the same challenges, are improving, etc. I’ve closed comments on this post but please do share your ideas with me and others on social media.

Things Are Connected

Things are more connected than they first appear to be. Delivering great Customer Experiences and having sustainable production and consumption patterns that don’t contribute to anthropogenic (human-caused) Climate Change are both issues that require we confront our common reality, engage in new thinking, new conversations, and that collectively we invest in progress. Good global citizens are increasingly paying attention to matters of Customer Experience and Climate Change. Brands (including governments) that embrace great customer experiences and that live up to their changing duties as the climate continues to wreak havoc on people and property, will do better in the future than deniers or bad actors that stick to outdated modes of thinking.

The Future is Better than the Past

To escape the present and explore a brighter future where we all live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans read L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow.

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 6: Remarkable, Unbroken and Generous Design
  • 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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

about the author

Gregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true. The models in the Experience Design BLUEPRINT are equally relevant to organizations of all types and sizes including start-up entrepreneurs, nonprofits, for-profits, and government.

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

Don't Let Your Organization Become a Lumpy Snowball

Don’t Let Your Organization Become a Lumpy Snowball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

about the author

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

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