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.

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.

A Culture of Care Begins With YOU!

A Culture of Care Begins With YOU!
When I first began writing this post I was targeting leadership, but then I realized many people with titles of leadership have adopted belief filters that will render this message inert. They’ll never see it and if they did, many will think their circumstances so unique the message doesn’t apply to them. But, you are smarter than this, so read on.

sorrow image - culture of care blog post at delightabilityThis week, 3 noteworthy things happened:

  • The CEO of Volkswagen resigned amid the discovery of emission cheating vehicle software and the subsequent battering of the company stock
  • Turing Pharmaceuticals bowed to public pressure and agreed to reverse an abrupt 5000 percent price hike of the life saving drug Daraprim
  • The former owner of the now defunct Peanut Corporation of America was sentenced to 28 years in prison for his role in a salmonella outbreak that killed 9 people and sickened hundreds

Pope Francis addresses the U.S. Congress
Amid these negative developments Pope Francis addressed members of the U.S. Congress.
I want to focus on a few words that Pope Francis shared, namely “culture of care”. Here they are in context.

“In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (ibid., 231) and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (ibid., 139). “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology” (ibid., 112); “to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power” (ibid., 78); and to put technology “at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.”

Think about the possibilities for those words, “A Culture of Care”.

image for reasonable investor test - culture of care blog post at delightabilityReasonable Investor Test
I want to share a personal story. In 1998, I started a software company. As the founding CEO, it didn’t take long to realize I had two jobs, raising capital and building the organization’s operations. We hired an outside CEO to help and I took the reigns as the Chief Operating Officer. As the company grew I couldn’t be party to every decision, nor could I attend every meeting, though employees continued to seek my approval. I invented a test they could employ on their own, without me in the room. I called it the Reasonable Investor Test.

I explained it to them like this. Imagine yourself presenting your decision to a collection of 16 reasonable investors that politely assembled to hear your story.They are sitting across from you at a large table looking you directly in the eye. You are about to explain to them the decision you plan to make or the action you will take. If you can look them in the eye and justify the decision or expenditure, then it passes the test. If you would not be willing to do this then you probably should not make the decision or take the action you are considering.

I concocted this test after our CEO and VP of Sales decided to prematurely celebrate a customer win by indulging in a lavish and expensive meal for themselves. I begrudgingly approved the expense, but I didn’t think reasonable investors would have appreciated their invested money being spent this way. We never did win that customer and the CEO and VP of Sales never understood or embraced the Reasonable Investor Test. But, again you’re smarter than this, so read on.

Life beyond the spreadsheet or whim
A culture of care, like life, is a bit more complicated than what might initially appear favorable on a spreadsheet or what one might feel like doing at the moment. I’m guessing the former CEO of the Peanut Butter Corporation might today consider more stakeholders. I’m also guessing that the former CEO of Volkswagen might employ some sort of Reasonable Stakeholder Test for employees to use in guiding their own work or that of colleagues. Investors are not the only stakeholders just like spreadsheets are not the only tool. There are many other stakeholders to be considered, customers, employees, the environment. And closer to home, stakeholders might include neighbors, the community and even members of your household.

cooperation image - culture of care blog post at delightabilityFreed from the shackles of inaction
Pope Francis shared great words with Congress. I hope members not only listened, but that they heard him. Imagine if Congress freed themselves of their own proverbial mental shackles and focused forward, to a new era, a “people-first” era that confronts reality, embraces science, respects natural resources, and advances prosperity for all households, even the people who don’t currently have one. Imagine possibilities where members act cooperatively, embracing a culture of care, leading the way the for the nation.

penguin image - culture of care blog post at delightabilityBut, even if they don’t, a culture of care can begin with each of us. At home, in school, in our communities, at work, even in the online community. So what about you? How will you create a culture of care, in your home, in your work, in your community? You’ll likely need a test to go with it. What will be your equivalent Reasonable Investor Test? We really can all do better as individuals, organizations, and the world community. I hope you’ll do your part. Onward.

about the author

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory Olson is a consultant, speaker, and author. His latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow.

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.

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.

The US Presidential Debate of the Future

horse competition - future presidential debate format blog post - DelightabilityThe US Presidential Debate of the Future
The horse race of a republican presidential debate last evening gave us an opportunity to become a little more acquainted with candidates we didn’t know. For some viewers, it may also have been a reminder of what junior high school was like. What it didn’t give us was a sense of what these candidates are actually about. It also didn’t give us real facts.  See Fact Checking the GOP Presidential Debate here or here or here or do your own research. Sure, we heard sound bites of what they didn’t like about each other and what they would promise to undo, obstruct, and de-fund. But, what would they actually do?

What the US needs most right now is a restored middle class and a path to get there for the 46 million that are experiencing some level of poverty. I don’t expect that these candidates will understand this. They are insiders to a system that has run amok and left behind the majority of the American people. This is why I suggest a format change for presidential debates.

Summary of new presidential debate format

  1. Topics of interest to the American public are crowd-sourced over the internet not by moderators of one television station
  2. Any voter can participate and can vote up topics they’d like to see advanced
  3. Candidates then prepare a video response to the winning topics
  4. Videos are then subjected to edits to enforce behavioral rules and a respect for the truth

Starter topic for every candidate for US President to expound on.

The Scene.
These United States 2015. GDP and Corporate profits are up and to the right. But, real wages have been down. Labor force participation is down. BLS statistics are questionable as to what the real unemployment rate is and underemployment is seemingly unknowable. But, talking with ordinary people, there seems to be much evidence that household prosperity is on the decline with the outlook, not promising. So, with that ….

Topic for Each Candidate’s Video
Middle class prosperity is important to the security and stability of the United States. It is also critical for advancing human progress.
1) What would be your plan for improving prosperity as felt by every household, including those residents that don’t currently have a household?
2) What would be the components of such a plan?
3) Who else do you envision would be involved in making this plan a reality?

Where to Send the Video
Please upload your video to the YouTube election channel where it will then be picked over by the public for rule violations and further scrutiny.

Rules – We Have Some
You cannot make references to other candidates and anything you say in your video will be subject to fact checking. When portions of your video violate either of these rules it will be dubbed over and stamped appropriately as “not true” or “rule violation”.

Reform is welcome

Imagine the promises for such a change. We would most likely have increased civic participation. We could have real discussions in every household, club, and social setting. Voters would get to “see” candidates in a way that addresses issues important to the American public. The candidates would be more factual and probably feel a breath of fresh air knowing that all candidates are playing by the same public rules. No longer would they have to bite their tongue for fear their campaign donors or would be donors might become unhappy. Lastly, perhaps, we could open the field up to candidates that don’t solely have the backing of billionaires. People that might have real solutions to the problems we face as a nation but don’t want to be pranced about in the moments leading up to the final horse race.

See related posts:
A Glimmer of Hope in Your City – Do you know about participatory budgeting?
An Open Letter to City Leaders in the World Community – City Leaders as Designers.
Food for Thought and For Neighbors and the Friends You Will Meet – Food: There is an App for that, and a Mouth.

about the author

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

Gregory Olson is a consultant, speaker, and author. His latest book 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. Exercises and mental models in the book will build your confidence in envisioning better possibilities and your competence in 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. Chapters in The Experience Design Blueprint, that especially pertain to this post include:

  • Chapter 6: Aiming for Remarkable, Unbroken, and Generous Design
  • Chapter 8: The Promise Delivery System
  • Chapter 9: The Neighborhood
  • Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall
  • Chapter 14: The World of Work Has Changed

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.

Robots Don't Kill Jobs But CEOs Do

image of job stealing robot - Robots Don't Kill Jobs But CEOs Do - Delightability blogRobots Don’t Kill Jobs But CEOs Do
This message is especially for CEOs. Please forward to CEOs and board members if you have the courage. There is much talk of robots taking people’s jobs. It is easy to blame a machine, or another abstract like “a rapidly changing market” as Hewlett-Packard’s Whitman recently did as the company announced another cut of 25,000 to 30,000 positions.

But, to date, a robot has never walked a person to the door, not yet. And, markets don’t eliminate jobs either. I’ve yet to hear of market rain droplets falling onto workers, rendering them unemployed. No, the special words, “You’re Fired” or the equivalent actions are still reserved for humans. It is company leadership that kills jobs, not robots.

Yes, technology changes and so do markets. This has always been the case. But, let’s be really clear about what’s happening. Like stock buybacks, M&A activity and other initiatives that preoccupy the minds of board rooms and executive offices, this is about maximizing shareholder value in the short run.

image of hog that can't see - Robots Don't Kill Jobs But CEOs Do - Delightability blogMore plainly, it is about greed. The intent is to move money that would otherwise be paid to workers and redistribute instead to leadership and investors, either directly or indirectly. It is a flawed equation from the onset. History is proving this more and more, if only we would learn. Unfortunately, maximizing shareholder value and its related bad ideas are still perpetuated by business schools, investors of the short run, and the unwitting. There are simply more stakeholders to the equation that are made to be invisible, namely humans and the environment. Smart progressive leaders and companies already realize this. So do the customers that align to those values.

board room image - Robots Don't Kill Jobs But CEOs Do - Delightability blogA better world begins with the decisions made at dinner tables and carried through to the office and the board room. CEO decisions don’t live in some special vacuum. When a Hungarian camerawoman decides to trip a man carrying his child as they strive for refuge and a fresh start, the world watches. And, when a CEO chooses to trip a person or family that relied on a paycheck, also on the way to somewhere, the world watches, too. The song of cuts has been played over and over again. In the case of HP, 100,000 jobs cut in the last 10 years. In the case of Microsoft 20,000+ in recent years. For HSBC is was 50,000 jobs recently announced to be cut and Deutsche Bank yesterday announced it will cut 25% of its workforce, or 23,000 human beings. Plenty of other examples abound. It is time to change the music. It’s also time to own up to the decision and stop blaming “things”.

We can pretend that these decisions will be in isolation and there will be no ripple effect or interactions, but that would be delusional. The effects will be long-lasting and far-reaching, inside and outside your organization. As a former CEO shared with me last week, “When there are deep cuts in the organization, it never recovers. Everybody becomes scarred. I can’t say I was unaffected.”

girl on pier looking onward - Robots Don't Kill Jobs But CEOs Do - Delightability blogSelf proclaimed plutocrat Nick Hanauer warns us in his Ted talk, “Beware, fellow plutocrats, the pitchforks are coming.” In that talk he says, “We plutocrats need to get this trickle-down economics thing behind us, this idea that the better we do, the better everyone else will do. It’s not true. How could it be? I earn 1,000 times the median wage, but I do not buy 1,000 times as much stuff, do I? I actually bought two pairs of these pants, what my partner Mike calls my manager pants. I could have bought 2,000 pairs, but what would I do with them? How many haircuts can I get? How often can I go out to dinner? No matter how wealthy a few plutocrats get, we can never drive a great national economy. Only a thriving middle class can do that. ”

Nick realizes that he won’t be purchasing 1000s of computers and phones and haircuts and meals to make up for those workers who will lose their jobs and have to tighten their belts.

image of hope - Robots Don't Kill Jobs But CEOs Do - Delightability blogAs fictional character in The Hobbit, Thorin Oakenshield, said, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But, sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell.” Tolkien’s worlds are make-believe, but ours are not. And, there is no my world, your world, and their world. It is all “our world”. I implore CEOs to make it a better world, not worse.

CEO actions need to make the companies they lead more relevant to more stakeholder and not less so. Let’s admit that the keys to the kingdom have been in the hands of the wrong people, the takers. This “taker” corporate culture has been more about taking, evading, cutting, dodging, buying back, and shifting. Boards of Directors have been complicit in this corrosive behavior. Others have watched from the sidelines cheering it on or in horror. The rabbit hole of greed is very deep. If corporate leaders continue on a destructive “taker” path, they’ll build an organization of diminishing relevance.

imagine mosaic image - Robots Don't Kill Jobs But CEOs Do - Delightability blogHuman progress is overdue. It’s time we return the keys to the makers. Let’s once again make, create, invest. Let’s celebrate progress, collaborate, innovate. Let’s inspire. Let’s be authentic. Let’s be concerned. Let’s invite newcomers to the table. Let’s keep our promises both explicit and implicit. Let’s solve problems of the world. Boards need to support CEO actions in this regard and then hold them to account.

In this re-frame, companies have an opportunity to become more relevant. Relevant to the older worker and the younger worker alike. Relevant to the budding innovator that has yet to graduate. Relevant to the communities and the stores and channels and vendors that work in those communities.

If you are the CEO, ask yourself why should your employees, customers, partners, or other stakeholders be emotionally invested in the business when you are not.

image of journey - Robots Don't Kill Jobs But CEOs Do - Delightability blogThere are plenty of people who can help you re-frame your business, redefine your products and services and build relevance for what’s next. Look for customer experience consultants, service design expertise, innovation consultants or as I prescribe in Ch 14 of my book, create an innovation neighborhood and stock it in part with outside entrepreneurs. Use technology to complement humans not replace them.

Jobs will be eliminated for reasons, some good and some bad. I realize this. But, if you are the human behind the decision to destroy jobs, then you must confront reality. You’ll eventually have to. Because the humans you eliminate will likely build robots and organize a silent revolution that will one day displace you, too.

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 14, the world of work has changed and it’s not coming back as we knew it. The book is available in full-color print or on Kindle.

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 all live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Chapters in L’ impossi preneurs that relate to this article include Chapter 1: Flavors of Entrepreneurship, Chapter 5: Wealth & Economy and Ch 12: World of Work.

Some of the “impossible” ideas of Chapter 5 include Universal Unconditional Basic Income, an Innovation Clearinghouse, Participatory Budgeting, The Make Meaning Department, Empathy Builder, Building a Truth Sculpture, a Safety Net for Entrepreneurs, Household Prosperity Index, and revisiting the Corporation.

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.

Acceptable Discomfort is Better than None

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

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

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

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

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

about the author

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

Gregory Olson is a consultant, speaker, and author. His latest book project is l’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow.

Connect with Greg on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.

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

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

See a book summary. Read the book reviews on Amazon. Read The Experience Design Blueprint on Kindle or any device using the free Kindle Reader application or read the full color print edition.

Grocery Clerks Help You Become a Better Storyteller

Move over elevator pitch. Make room for 10 items or less.

elevator pitch - the experience design blueprint - gregory olson - delightabilityIn business and in life, most people don’t have time to listen to your elevator pitch. We’ve all experienced the following situation. We responded to the question “How is it going?” At the most extreme, the person had already passed us by. Our response was in the wind. It might be ok for an uncaring question like how is it going. But, what about when the subject is far more important?

Most people are running some version of the “busy” program. It is a sad testament to life in the 21st century.

running the busy program - the experience design blueprint - gregory olson - delightabilitySo, the next time you are pitching an idea or telling a story, I want you to try something different. Sure, go ahead and practice your elevator pitch, but have an even shorter version on hand. One that you could tell the grocery clerk in the 10 items or less line, while they are distracted and half paying attention. Have it be so memorable that the next time you appear in that person’s line, they want to continue the conversation.

Here is how to do it. Make sure your 10 items or less pitch has “transfer” and “absorption” value.

Transfer and Absorption Value

  • Transfer Value – is it so simple that it can be retold without you in the room? Like the idea of telling a story within 10 items or less.
  • Absorption Value – can somebody dive into the subject without you? Headlines and soundbites have absorption value as people recall something they’ve heard, then later explore it when they have access to a phone, computer, or person.

You might have plenty to say and much of it good. There are times and formats when you can share more. But, most people will not take the time to walk and talk with you. You miss the opportunity for your message be heard and shared if you can’t be brief. Grocery clerks everywhere are standing by to unwittingly help you perfect your story. And, while it might be tempting to take a cart full of items into the express checkout, to be most effective, keep your initial story short, 10 items or less.

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

Learn more and connect with Greg on Linkedin, Facebook, or Twitter.

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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 10: Bees and Raccoons
  • Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall
  • Chapter 12: The Three Psychological Zones
  • Chapter 13: Taking Flight
  • Chapter 14: The World of Work Has Changed
  • Chapter 15: From Argh to Aha!

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

 

Why Your Brain Resists the New

image of highway hypnosis for brain resistance blog post - DelightabilityWe’ve all been there, driving down the highway, listening to music, not really paying attention as our mental autopilot seems to be in control. After we awake from our highway hypnosis, we barely recall the minutes that have passed us by and don’t recognize the distance traveled.

This phenomena happens to us more often than when we are driving. Our brains are resistant to change and want to quickly return to a steady comfortable state. They like to “keep it real” by not accepting too much new information that feels wrong or incompatible. When we receive new information we like to treat it like the familiar and force it to fit our established patterns and ways of thinking, like driving on a familiar road. This isn’t diabolical or manipulative, it is simply part of being an imperfect human.

image of fitting to existing patters for brain resistance post - DelightabilityIt turns out this brain behavior is self preserving. Imagine that we didn’t complete patterns and we had to slow down and think about every single l e t t e r that we typed or r e a d. Imagine that we had to re-learn how to walk each day and to tie our shoes and even how to put those shoes on. Or, that we had to consult our mental checklist for everything we came across to assess its potential threat. Of course everyday life would become daunting with the sheer volume of things we encounter and decisions we face as we go about living, working, and recreating.

But, most of us are blind to this brain truth.
And this is unfortunate, because this same phenomenon can also blind us to opportunity or new learning. It can numb us to the problems others face or even that we all face together. Think climate change, the changing world of work, the shortcomings of capitalism, decaying faith, inequality, corruption, security threats, racism, police brutality, idle capital, corporate short-termism, homelessness, marriage equality, sustainable energy, etc. With each of those subjects you have some familiarity or don’t. You’ve either fit those to existing patterns or cast the unfamiliar ones out as irrelevant. This brain’s inner workings don’t discriminate. This phenomenon equally disadvantages leaders as well as those they would expect to follow them.

image of girl looking out window thinking about new ideas for brain resistance post - DelightabilityThink of how long it takes you to accept the new. Think of your struggle with and opposition to new ideas and initiatives. This same pattern making behavior your brain habitually engages in every day is also the reason why you drink the same coffee, listen to the same radio station, visit the same stores, wear the same brand shoes, and everything else that forms your consumer habits.

“It isn’t so much that you think about these things as much as the fact that you don’t.”

It isn’t so much that you think about these things as much as the fact that you don’t. This is bad news for the shopkeeper in your neighborhood that will never gain your business or the bright kid down the street whose promising idea is denied relevance from the outset. But, its also bad new for you. You could deny yourself enriching experiences and participation in making the world or your own neighborhood and community a better place. And, you might unwittingly shut down and discourage others that are trying to do the same.

image of favorite food for brain resistance blog post - DelightabilityAgain you have something new to think about. I recognize this is dangerous and might not fit your existing patterns. While your protective brain might want to discard this fact I urge you to read on.

Think of your favorite food for just a moment. Visualize eating this favorite food. OK, good I still have you. Hopefully inside that brilliant brain of yours, I’ve successfully linked this article with your favorite food. Now, every time you eat your favorite food, I want you to recall this article about your brain behavior when it is confronted with something new.

This idea of brain resistance isn’t actually a new idea, it’s always been here. Maybe you are now only becoming aware. Machiavelli captured the essence of what I’m saying several centuries ago in this quote,

And it ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.

Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them.

Thus it happens that whenever those who are hostile have the opportunity to attack they do it like partisans, whilst the others defend lukewarmly….

Niccolò Machiavelli – Italian Diplomat, Political Philosopher, Musician, Poet, and Playwright (1469-1527)

image of high speed train leaving the station for brain resistance blog post - DelightabilityMachiavelli might not have had neuroscience on his side, but he was a keen observer of human behavior. His quote captures well, the barriers that new ideas face. I believe in the resilient of the human spirit. I also believe in the power of collective intelligence. I’m optimistic that good changes are afoot. A more sustainable and more inclusive world is arriving. I look forward to new thinking and the systems and institutions to follow that will put in motion the idle capital and talent that the familiar patterns have sidelined. We needn’t marginalize many of the earths population and create artificial scarcity when we live in such an abundant world. So, give in. Stop resisting a better world. The train of human progress is leaving the station. Please get on board. Humanity needs you.

Guaranteed this will be a better journey than the highway hypnosis that might have you travel to a destination where you’d rather not be. And, remember on this journey, bring along your favorite food; perhaps you’ll share it with a neighbor while discussing that new idea.

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

Learn more and connect with Greg on Linkedin, Facebook, or Twitter.

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

  • Chapter 8: The Promise Delivery System
  • Chapter 9: The Neighborhood
  • Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall

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

Entrepreneurship is like dessert

image of cake on entrepreneurs are like dessert blog at DelightabilityEntrepreneurship is a bit like dessert. There are many different kinds and the flavor varies, depending on who you ask. If I asked you, would you like dessert? You’ll likely respond with, “What are you serving for dessert?” And, if I offered you a fruit plate versus cake, your answer might be different.

Like dessert, you might find some versions of entrepreneurship more flavorful than others.

Before I share the various types of preneurs, let’s make sure we start with the same basic understanding. The classic definition of an entrepreneur is a person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money.

A bit of history about the term entrepreneur.

The term entrepreneur is Old French, from entreprendre (ahn tra pron) and means to undertake (begin or initiate). Though people have been starting things since people have been around, the term entrepreneur wasn’t actually used until 1723.

From Wikipedia…. Credit for coining the term entrepreneur goes to Irish-French economist Richard Cantillon who defined it first in a book written in 1730, and is considered the first complete treatise on economics. In this book Cantillon conceives of the notion of the entrepreneur as a risk-bearer.

Like many words the meaning shifts to suit the time. Today the term entrepreneur implies qualities of leadership, initiative, and innovation in business. But that is again a bit like calling Tiramisu and fruit plate simply dessert. I think a big more description is needed.

So, let me tell you about the many flavors of entrepreneurs. You might recognize yourself in one of the types, whether in the past, present, or in your future.

  1. Entrepreneur – This is the traditional risk taker that sees the path their forging as less risky than working for somebody else doing something that isn’t interesting, isn’t rewarding, or may conflict with their values.
  2. Intrapreneur – The employee entrepreneur has many of the risk elements of an entrepreneur, but is insulated from the brutal reality of having to manufacture their own paycheck. I once had the luxury of starting a business within a mature business and didn’t have to worry about making money. That was a nice luxury compared to when I started a software company and had to worry about creating a paycheck for myself and my employees. Most people you’ve worked with in your past are probably not intrapreneurs. They are:
  3. Loyalpreneurs – These are employees dedicated to carrying out the orders of those they work for in exchange for a paycheck. In essence, trading hours for dollars.
  4. Solopreneur – This is an entrepreneur acting in isolation without the support of others in the same organization. Jay Sorenson, the inventor of the Java Jacket, is a good example. He started alone solving a nagging problem. He went through a coffee drive thru and spilled the coffee in his lap because the paper cup was too hot. The obvious solution was an insulated sleeve. What started in the back of a car and in the family home is now a thriving family business that is all consuming. Jay told me that he doesn’t have time to pursue additional ideas right now, but some do, and they are called:
  5. Multipreneurs -These are entrepreneurs that pursue multiple interests at the same time. They may have to pursue multiple interests, in order to make ends meet, or because it is part of a portfolio strategy to see which plays out the best. Or, they may simply have the capacity to do more than one venture. Multipreneurs are sometimes confused with:
  6. Serial Entrepreneurs – The difference from the multipreneur is that serial entrepreneurs usually pursue one idea at a time, getting their idea mature enough to hand the day to day operations over to somebody else, before they move on to what’s next.

Recognize yourself as one of these type of entrepreneurs yet? Well, read on….

  1. Wannapreneur – This person wants to start something but doesn’t yet know what. They might be lured by the glamour of high profile companies like Google, Amazon, Dell, or Facebook. But they may lack a solid idea. They may be laying in wait for that great idea.
  2. A special type of preneur is the Socialpreneur. This is a socially conscious individual who creates a business to remedy a problem in society while still making a profit. An example of a socialpreneur might be the person that improves the lives of families by turning an abandoned parking lot into a community garden. Other good examples include founders of social investor and financial cooperative, Oikocredit International.
  3. The Dreamapreneur – These people dream of pursuing a new passion, but never commit to action. It is simply more fun for these folks to fantasize. Perhaps they lack a clear path forward, the conviction to start, or don’t want to abandon the comfort of the easy chair. Dreamapreneurship is easy but not as rewarding as the real thing. Some people have a very valid reason to not get started. They may be:
  4. Impossipreneurs -These are the folks that have imagined something far beyond current technology and practice. But, the world changes and these visions may become practical one day, like a phone in every pocket now is or the light bulb. The barriers might not be purely technical, they may be political or cultural. Water for everybody fits this category. An economic system that prevents poverty. Redistributing body fat on command is also in this category. Nikala Tesla, Marconi, Edison and others were impossipreneurs that persisted and eventually things changed and became possible. Hopefully, that happens with poverty, too.
  5. Elderpreneur – These people have decided to take their wealth of experience, network, and skills, then package them up into a credible story told with authority and conviction that might be lacking in a younger entrepreneur. One such Elderpreneur is Harland David Sanders (Colonel Sanders) who in his earlier years was many of the other types of entrepreneurs as well. At one point he started a company that made acetylene lights, but that venture flamed out when Delco introduced an electric lamp that they sold on credit. The Colonel didn’t franchise his first Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant until the age of 62. Colonel Sanders franchised his first restaurant and pursued that concept in earnest until 65 when the international expansion began to overwhelm him. He sold for $2M and then took a salaried position with the acquiring investment company and subsequently became the Kentucky Fried Chicken brand ambassador – the role most of us recognize him in. Learn more about Colonel Sanders on Wikipedia.
  6. Another type of preneur you may have seen in the workplace is the Adventurepreneur – This is the person that works only to play. These folks might literally have a sign on their door, “Gone Fishing”. I once worked with a young woman that job hopped to support her climbing addiction.
  7. Then there is the Addictipreneur  This person relentlessly pursues the next shiny new idea and then abandons it before the fledgling idea fully takes flight. So the business never matures before the addictipreneur moves on to their next venture. It is hard to support this type of entrepreneur.
  8. But, some people only care about providing support. They are Philanthropreneurs – This is somebody that supports other people’s projects and ventures often times without concern for any payback. Some people that are philanthropreneurs use crowdfunding platforms like gofundme or Kickstarter. I have friend who is a single mother with a special needs child in a wheelchair. She needed a new (used van) with a wheelchair lift. Philanthropreneurs fully funded a campaign to buy her a new used van. And the best thing is she didn’t even create the campaign, her sister did, initially without her knowledge. Way to go Philanthropreneurs and caring sister!
  9. And then there is the Luckypreneur – that is the fortunate person who has a job that allows them to make a big impact, make a good living, and make a difference in the world.

There you have it, dessert is served. You likely have been one or more of these types of entrepreneurs or perhaps you will be.

Whether you are tinkering in your garage or in you mind, perhaps this article will spark YOU to action. No matter what form of entrepreneurship you might take OR support, I do believe that pursuing a passion is a valuable journey unto itself.

  • You could manufacture your own luck
  • You might meet some very interesting people that enrich your life
  • You’ll definitely not be bored

And, you might make the world a little better for people. Just like Jay did with this little Java Jacket that has now sold over four billion units and makes the dessert in your cup a little safer to drink.

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 14 , the world of work has changed and it’s not coming back as we knew it.

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. Chapters in L’ impossi preneurs that relate to this article include Chapter 1: Flavors of Entrepreneurship, Chapter 5: Wealth & Economy and Ch 12: World of Work.

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.

The Real Skills Gap

Telesope Seeing the Invisible - DelightabilityThere is a pervasive issue that plagues our economy yet it is mostly invisible, unless we look for it. I’m going to help you to see it. It is the Skills Gap.

We’ve all heard media, politicians, and pundits refer to the skills gap in this country. It’s true we do have a skills gap. But it isn’t the one they’ve been referring to, where people are trained for the wrong jobs, lack technical skills or a college education. All of that is simply not true in a universal sense. It isn’t anymore true than the statements all dogs are ferocious or all email is spam.

Each of us knows family, friends, and colleagues whose personal economy has suffered in spite of their college education, skills, and experiences. You probably also know people that are super-employed by greedy corporations that work their employees tirelessly, refuse to hire more people, while stockpiling more and more cash.

No, this skills gap is of a different sort. As a society, we’re becoming less empathetic to those not like us. This is making us less human. This is our real skills deficit.

The decline in empathy is all around us. It is a fact. You can find studies that show the decline over the last 40 years. But, you don’t need to. You need only reflect on your own experiences.

Examples of Empathy in Decline

Over Labor Day weekend I experienced a lack of empathy when I re-entered the U.S. at the Canadian border. I had my keys taken away and my car searched. I guess I look like a smuggler or terrorist or my backpacking story triggered some false instinct. Of course I did nothing wrong. It’s just that we are at war with ourselves. I think I would have felt more empathy from a bear encounter than I did from the border agent interaction.

If you’ve traveled aboard a commercial airliner in recent years, you’ve no doubt been treated as a dangerous object by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). Even, in our own communities, we’re ruled by red light cameras.

When the police outfit themselves in combat gear and appear as robocops they look and behave less human. They also further insulate themselves from the communities they are supposed to protect and serve. The events in Ferguson displayed a lack of empathy in all directions.

Some municipalities have gone so far as to outlaw homelessness. Police and firefighters have been ordered to destroy the donated tents of people experiencing homelessness. They didn’t merely dismantle the tents, they actually destroyed them with box cutters. What a horrible misuse of power by the mayor and what a horrible thing to have to do as a public servant. The lack of empathy in all directions can be witnessed by reading the comments on the video posted on YouTube, St. Petersburg Police cut tops off homeless people tents. The war against people “not like us” rages on.

We have systematically been reducing our own empathy.

We are communal by nature yet when we don ear buds and bury ourselves in front of screens of all sizes we avoid real discussion and face to face interaction. We no longer visit video stores or interact with bank tellers. We buy online and pay at the pump. We are having less and less human interactions.

Think of your own conversations and those you hear around you. How many of these conversations actually matter on a human level. Too many would be meaningful conversations are not happening.

We are increasingly isolated. We have technology that connects us to each other more than at any point in human history, yet we are connected in less authentic ways. It is much easier to ignore or exit a conversation that is only online. Internet and social media bullying are sadly commonplace. Unfriending and the “conversations” that precede that act are inflammatory and lack components of a healthy dialogue. Few would have the courage to act this way face-to-face.

So, yes, we have a skills gap. We are forgetting how to be human. We are becoming less empathetic. Technology and our busy states of mind are our allies for ignoring what’s wrong in our communities and in the world.

We Pay Homage to Things that Don’t Matter

Newspaper Showing World Closing Prices - Delightability Blog PostMaking matters worse, as a society, we are paying attention to the wrong things. These things further harden us and make us even less empathetic.

I think each of us does want a more humane and just world, where people are genuinely peaceful and happy. But, those things are hard to measure and don’t carry headlines, so instead we measure things like GDP, the DOW, and the S&P 500. We measure things that tell a story that media and politicians want retold – and we in turn, pay attention. Even American Public Media’s Marketplace that purports to present news on business, economics, and money for the rest of us, chants the numbers as though they mean something to main street America. Imagine if we were listening instead to, “HumanPlace” or “ProsperityPlace” or the like.

Unfortunately, the larger human story is going untold. We do have a prosperous nation, if you measure it by GDP and the DOW. But, we have poverty in this prosperous nation. We also have droves of educated but unemployed and underemployed people. And, of those that are working, most are largely disengaged.

These things are not part of our national dialogue or priority, but they should be. Instead what is heard is, “If you don’t have a job, it is your fault. Skills gap, remember. If you don’t have enough work, get more education. If you are suffering from poverty, again, it must be your fault. If you are a college educated fast food worker, just try harder. Pick yourself by your bootstraps and just do it.”

This is all hogwash and only serves to polarize and distract all of us. So, what can we do?

Platform for Human Progress

I imagine a Platform for Human Progress. The platform would be about two things: 1) We’d relearn empathy – we’d systematically restore empathy in schools, in police departments, in the workplace and dare I say it, online; and 2) we’d develop human potential – we’d have a people first agenda.

What would a Platform for Human Progress look like? Technology would be involved.  So would forums and events. Institutions of all types and sizes, and of course government. In fact, the employment security department would morph. It would become less about policing benefits and more about helping people to reach their potential, irrespective of education, experience level or industry. No longer would people automatically become invisible or be labeled as discouraged workers, no longer looking for work, simply because their unemployment  benefits were exhausted. A human centric side project of Delightability that has debunked both the skills gap and the notion of discouraged workers is Please Count Me. This website gives Americans the opportunity to self report their employment status no matter if they are unemployed, under-employed, fully-employed, or super-employed.

We’d want the Platform for Human Progress to scale while at the same time being careful not to concentrate more wealth and control into the hands of a greedy few. Maybe we’d embrace small as the new big.

There is No Innovation or Progress Without People

I think investing in people should be a national priority. There is too much idle wealth and talent on the sidelines in the U.S. and in the world. Yet, there are many problems to solve and opportunities to explore. There’s no innovation or progress without people. This is important work for all of us.

Let’s return the keys to the kingdom to the makers and remove them from the takers, speculators, and manipulators. 

If we can build vaccines for diseases we cannot see, and build fabric winged airplanes that can carry us to other continents can’t we also build systems that help humans that are negatively affected by public policy, technology changes, and corporate greed? Of course we can. If we did, we’d be a real superpower, not simply a military superpower. Maybe, as a country the U.S. would then rank as high, or surpass Norway or Denmark as having the most prosperous and happy people.

In all that we do, we need to start asking the question, “What about the people.” Repeat that 100 times, “What about the people.”

We need to measure the success of the platform and our nation in terms of: Can individuals secure food and a future? Are they achieving their potential?

Maybe we can learn from the work of the Grameen Foundation’s Progress Out of Poverty Index. Hopefully, we’d replace it with Prosperity Index; the Legatum Index might be a good place to start. The Legatum Prosperity Index™ is an annual ranking, developed by the Legatum Institute, of 142 countries. The ranking is based on a variety of factors including wealth, economic growth and quality of life. In 2013, the U.S. dropped out of the top 20 for the Economy sub-index.

We collectively need metrics that matter to human progress and prosperity. We need to communicate these metrics and hold ourselves and others accountable to improving them. This would be a shift much like John F. Kennedy’s Man on the Moon speech that sparked a nation to action.

In Conclusion

Humanity is a big subject and even though each of us play a tiny, time limited role, each of us can make a bigger impact with our conversations and the challenges we put on others. I challenge every reader of this article to be more human, more empathetic, and to hold others to a higher, human standard. Maybe pose the question, “Is that helping or hurting humans?”

A New Conversation

I don’t have all of the answers. I think the answers are spread across all of us. But, we’ll need better conversations to draw them out. I hope you’ll share this message with others so that we can close the most important skills gaps we face, being human.

I’m going to leave you with a little quote from the universe.

“When you understand, that what most people really, really want is simply to feel good about themselves, and when you realize that with just a few well-chosen words you can help virtually anyone on the planet instantly achieve this, you begin to realize just how simple life is, how powerful you are, and that love is the key.”

Fly little bird,
The Universe (Sign up for Mike Dooley’s Notes from the Universe)

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

Learn more and connect with Greg on Linkedin, Facebook, or Twitter.

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

  • Chapter 6: Aiming for Remarkable, Unbroken, and Generous Design
  • Chapter 8: The Promise Delivery System
  • Chapter 14: The World of Work Has Changed

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.