Innovation Lessons from a Runaway Toddler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

about the author

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

about the author

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

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

Use Icons Instead of String on Your Finger

Short Term Memory Under Assault

We all need it. We all need improved memories. Our short term memory is sometimes under assault by the pressure of the moment. 15 seconds passes, then 30 and kablooey; the thought you had drifts away into the clouds. Thankfully, in moments like this, pencils, pens, crayons, the whiteboard, paper, sticky notes, or random scraps of paper are there to save us, that is, if we use them.

If we don’t go old school and analogue in these moments of inspiration, we’re likely to find our thought evaporated or morphed into something less stellar by the time we open our digital bookkeeper program du jour. I’m a fan of all things digital but when I need to keep priorities top of mind through the day or I need a scratchpad to jot that new inspiration on I use the Daily Flight Plan.

The Daily Flight Plan

Image of Daily Flight Plan on Gregory Olsons desk - Author of The Experience Design Blueprint - Delightability

I place the Daily Flight Plan under my mousepad and glance at it throughout the day. If I leave for a meeting, I’m likely to take it and place it in my notebook. I can be laptop lid down, phone off, pay attention to others and still have a sightline into my daily priorities and what’s next.

The Daily Flight Plan is a free tool.  Since I have a rolling 3 month calendar with week number on it, I update the Daily Flight Plan periodically. Print one out, use it, and see if your daily grind becomes a little more inspiring and a little less grind. You can read related blog posts on the Daily Flight Plan on the Big Idea Toolkit website.

About the Author

book image of The Experience Design Blueprint from Gregory James Olson - DelightabilityGregory Olson is a consultant, speaker, and author of The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations. The icons at the top of the Daily Flight Plan are models from the book, namely

  1. the 3 legged stool reminds us to balance so that we can maintain a healthy person atop the stool;
  2. the 3 funnels that reminds us that no matter who our audience is our organization must be mindful that that audience is moving across 3 unique funnels and that our actions must help them; and
  3. touchpoints or where the organization interacts with the audience. At these intersections we have opportunities to surprise and delight but also avoid annoyance, reduce harm, improve memory, collect and inform, etc. For more on this read Chapter 7: Improving the Journey to learn how to create and apply filters, lenses, and levers to improve your customers (or members, investors, donors, citizens, etc.) experiences.

If your organization wants to improve its health and innovation culture while creating happier customers, then you owe it to yourself to read this book. Read the full color print edition or on any Kindle Reader App supported device using the free Kindle Reader application. Already read this book? Thank you, now learn more about Delightability or connect with Gregory on social media.

Learn Like a Featherless Crow and You Will be Ready to Fly

crow image painted on wood - The Experience Design BLUEPRINT - DelightabilityThere is a story I share in my book about a couple of tiny featherless crows that were nudged from the nest, probably prematurely. After a few mishaps and related rescues over the course of several days, I finally witnessed some unusual activity in the far corner of my yard. The little, newly feathered crows were hopping up the bank onto progressively higher rocks, and then jumping off the ledge at the top, honing their flying skills as gravity played its part. It was quite a treasure to see the featherless birds mature and eventually turn their clunky sky jumps into masterful flight. There is a lesson for humans here.

Practice Makes Perfect, Not Training

Like baby crows, we need to practice those things we want to become more proficient in. Training alone seldom provides the opportunity for mastery. Imagine a baby crow sitting through the crow equivalent of flight instruction. Without the hours spent flying (or trying) the real world lessons would come slowly, if ever. Every baby crow starts out a failure, but with much potential for flight.

“I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” Abraham Lincoln 16th President of the United States, (1809 to 1865)

Hopefully, as you embark on the 2nd half of the year, you begin practicing like a determined featherless crow. Soon, you’ll be flying about wondering why you took so long to begin.

Blindly Staying the Course When a New Direction Is Needed

The Organizational Schematic

Whether you lead an organization or are the newest kid on the block, you need to know how things work inside the organization. Don’t bother looking at the organizational chart; that isn’t the way work actually gets done or decisions are made. In fact, much of what is decided is undocumented and the workflow invisible. You know when it is done, or in contrast, when it’s not. But, the inbetween state is sometimes really hard to see, especially if you are not looking. There are attributes of a healthy innovation culture that build in safeguards, even when people are not looking. In contrast, all the controls and processes put in place in an unhealthy innovation culture won’t make the organization more innovative any more than an overweight person can think their way to thin.

Bridled and Blind or Agile and Conversant

Is your Organization like a horse with blinders - Delightability llc - The Experience Design BLUEPRINTWhat is the model inside your organization for staying in tune with a changing business landscape and customer ecosystem? Do you have a way to rationalize what you believe inside the organization with the external customer reality? And, how responsive will you be when something changes? How quickly will you notice and which role or department will it be that senses the change? How will each department be informed? Will they respond in a way that is consistent and uniform with smooth handoffs, or will there be ripple effects, balled dropped, cycles burned and ultimately, opportunities lost? Literally, if your organization’s were a horse, how would you describe it? Bridled and controlled by others, marching blind, or ready to shift directions and conversant?

Most organizations don’t have very authentic dialogue around these subjects let alone operating mechanisms or mental models in place to suddenly shift course. This isn’t good for customers, employees, or for the business. In Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall, in my book, The Experience Design BLUEPRINT, I explore these subjects. Readers will gain recipes and tools to have more productive conversations that lead to outcomes beneficial to customers and to the organization.

In that chapter, among other examples, I share how Joe Fugere of Tutta Bella Pizza was able to form a quick response team that seized the opportunity to serve Tutta Bella Neapolitan style pizza to the President of the United States along with 65 other people aboard Air Force One. I also share how a large mobile operator with vastly more resources habitually lets opportunities pass them by. If you want a healthier innovation culture inside your company read the stories, reflect on the recipes, and begin to shift your conversation; Your future stakeholders will be happy you did.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGreg Olson is a business coach to leaders and the author of The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations. Chapters in the book that pertain to this blog post include Chapter 8: The Promise Delivery System and Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall. Read it on Kindle or any device using the free Kindle Reader application.

10 Quotes to Help You Overcome Your Crummy Situation

Deserters and Dead Men Walking
At some point we all find ourselves in a crummy, untenable situation. That can happen at work whether we are the leader, or the follower. The blame game in high tension environments is omnidirectional and if the oxygen is thin (as measured in cash flow), all kinds of seedy characters suddenly appear on the scene. We can get caught up in having the wrong conversations about things that probably don’t matter, especially not to customers, or a greater set of stakeholders. Many give up and move on before they can turn it around. Others stay put, like dead men walking. This happens in the tiniest of companies as well as the behemoths. So, how do you free your mind if you can’t free yourself?

The Time Machine
I want to share with you an inspiring character that if I had a time machine, I’d visit. Better yet, I’d bring him here and get his take on a few things. That character is Ben Franklin. One of the reasons I admire Ben is that he overcame who he was, to become what he could be. If you didn’t know, Ben Franklin was an indentured servant. The 10th child of a family of little means, his father once considered giving him to the church. Instead, Ben’s eldest brother took him on as an apprentice which was really more of a master – slave relationship complete with periodic beatings. Ben, of all people, could have marched on, beaten down by a system larger than him, but thankfully he didn’t. Ben went on to live 84 years and contributed to humanity in many ways including as a prominent author, printer, politician, postmaster, satirist, inventor, musician, and diplomat. He invented bifocals, electricity, and the United States Postal Service among many other things we rely on today. He created the first library in the colonies and Poor Richard’s Almanac. I still pick up a copy of the Farmer’s Almanac most years and I have library books due right now. Thanks for both of those possibilities, Ben!

Getting Free
Ben was a multifaceted success and certainly fought adversity, whether Britain and the Stamp Act, or his own people in the colonies as he promoted what’s next. He was an outspoken critic of drinking beer on the job, a recipe for declined productivity, he argued. I imagine that idea was not popular. Maybe you are a modern day Ben Franklin.  Or, perhaps you harbor a Ben stuck in your organization or even your family. If so, maybe you should set them free to do their best work. I don’t know what quotes Ben Franklin might find inspiring especially while he was in servitude. But, the 10 quotes below, I imagine would have further fueled the fire in Ben’s belly.  Perhaps these quotes can help you find your new freedom, so that you can do your best work, too.

“We can’t become what we need to be by remaining what we are.”
― Oprah Winfrey

“Lightning makes no sound until it strikes.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

“We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.”
― Ronald Reagan

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
― Albert Einstein

“Imagination works so quickly, quietly, and effectively that we are insufficiently skeptical of its products.”
― Daniel Gilbert, Author, Stumbling on Happiness

“Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage.”
― Niccolo Machiavelli, Italian diplomat, political philosopher, musician, poet, playwright (1469-1527)

“We must not say every mistake is a foolish one.”
― Cicero Roman author, orator, & politician (106 BC – 43 BC)

“As the births of living creatures are at first ill shapen, so are all innovations, which are the births of time.”
― Francis Bacon, English philosopher, statesman, spy, Freemason and essayist (1561 – 1626)

“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood — and probably will themselves not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die.”
― Daniel Hudson Burnham, American architect and urban planner (1846 – 1912)

“People go from denial to despair so quickly that they don’t stop right in the middle and do something about it.”
― Al Gore, an Inconvenient Truth

about the author

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

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

If You Want New Outcomes try Changing your Language and Conversation

From Healthcare
The American Medical Association this week voted to declare obesity a disease. This, in a move to change the focus from treating obesity related symptoms, toward prevention. Without the label of disease, insurance companies have largely rejected insurance claims. And, without reimbursements, doctors are reluctant to have conversations about prevention. Prevention, it turns out, has been a big money loser. What has worked is treating the symptoms of obesity – those claims are reimbursed as normal and customary. Sadly, aside from people remaining unhealthy, this practice also increases the costs of an already overburdened healthcare system. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, treatment of obesity-related illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers drives up the nation’s medical bill by more than $150 billion each year.

To Homelessness
The Executive Director of a nonprofit that serves women experiencing homelessness once shared with me a story about a woman that visited her as her last stop in getting help. The women said, “Why do I have to lose everything in order to get any help.” Think about it for a moment, there are homeless and housed. What about those in transition from being homeowners to homeless. Our limited language here also limits our thinking and creative solutions that might be beneficial for all involved. I can imagine an organization that would maintain payments for this person while they sell their home, possibly rebuilding a new life from the equity. Without such an organization, the home is returned to bank and the person loses their equity and a new beginning. This is a situation where everybody loses.

To Developing Nations
The former CEO of World Bicycle Relief shared with me that in Zambia, one place where they sell their rugged bicycles (trucks), there is no word for maintenance. Imagine what that means. If there is no word, then the concept doesn’t exist. Not surprisingly, many broken down and abandoned bicycles litter the landscape. One of his organization’s aims was to not only introduce bicycles as a path to improving lives, but also introduce the idea and provide training for bicycle mechanics and inventory. This is life changing for many.

And in Your Business Too.
We also need new language and better conversations between business leaders, creatives, and customer facing roles, so that we can create and deliver more remarkable experiences to those being served by the organization. We also need to understand better, how and where our big ideas and decisions fit into improving the health of the organization. For this we need new eyes, new thinking, and new conversations.  I’m doing my part – I’ve written The Experience Design Blueprint: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations. If you want to get past boring experiences and sputtering performance and get to remarkable and sustainable, you might want to read it. Please share with other like minded individuals that want to do their part to make this world a little better for those that inhabit it today and in the future.

About The Author

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

Chapters in The Experience Design Blueprint that especially pertain to this post are those chapters in Section 2 – Making  a Bigger Imprint:

  • Chapter 9: The Neighborhood
  • 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 investor and financial institution, Oikocredit International.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

about the author

Gregory Olson authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true. See a book summary. Read the book reviews on Amazon. Read The Experience Design Blueprint on Kindle or any device using the free Kindle Reader application or read the full color print edition.

Gregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans.

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

Please Step Aside and Make Way for the Great Idea

Imagine your having a lovely family dinner outside and your 11 year old daughter suddenly says, “We should throw a surprise birthday party for Grandma.” Seems like a good enough idea, right? As a parent, would you shut her down? Would you ask her to prove that the idea is worthwhile? Would she have to go through proper channels? Would her bosses’ boss have to present it at the semiannual gathering of spirit crushers? What if Grandma had a stroke or required emergency treatment? Same channels, same chain of command, same response? Do you treat an emergency message from grandma differently than a suggestion from your daughter?

If this is sounding a bit like life within your organization then it is time for some changes.

First, ideas can come from anywhere, even an 11 year old. Get used to it, enable it. Don’t fight it, you’ll lose. They’ll eventually outlive you and then they will be dancing on your grave.

Secondly, democratize ideas in your organization. Keep them moving forward and remove obstacles. You are not the idea police. If you have a police force mentality in your organization then ask yourself why is that. Are the people not trustworthy? Not smart enough? I suspect if you get out of the way, more than you get in the way, more magic will happen inside your organization. Start by establishing an idea PlayGround. Then let conversations organically happen around those ideas. Encourage others to take risks, run experiments and embrace others ideas.

Lastly, get clear on who is the who.  Exactly who you are trying to make happy?  Is it the equivalent of your daughter or Grandma or the cake maker or the grocery store or somebody else?  Get crystal clear on the who that you serve and the who that serves them.  Make both of them happy and the organization will be better able to sing along together.  And that will be a celebration worth having.

Want to know more about creating happier customers and healthier organizations? Read The Experience Design BLUEPRINT. 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.

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.

 

Abandoned Shopping Carts Litter the Landscape in Anytown USA

Here are a few photos of abandoned shopping carts seen around town.  This urban blight was in the Seattle area but this could be Anytown, USA or beyond. Kroger, QFC, Safeway, Bartells – no one store is immune and the problem is worsening. Bus stops, apartment homes, retirement homes, sidewalks, bike trails, parking lots, and dumpster areas seem to be the favorite dropping off stations.

See the related post: When Metric Fail: It is Time to Change the Conversation

about the author

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

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