Company Name Change

London Euston Train Departures Sign - Company Naming Journey - delightability

Considering a Company Name Change?

You’re about to embark on a journey to a new place. It will be more wonderful if you are prepared. It could go really well and you’ll love the destination. Your journey can be especially rewarding if you have a thoughtful plan. Here are 17 guiding points to consider in creating your plan of action for a company name change.

      1. What is the Problem, Exactly?

        Is it the logo or the company name your are dissatisfied with. Or, do you need a complete brand makeover?  What problem or opportunity are you addressing? Consider a home remodel. It might be that your house is too small for your growing family. Rather than move, you add on. For an enterprise, the current company name might not reflect what the company does, or is about, or wants to be know for.  Is it a company name change you seek or an updated logo or do you wish to tell a new version of the company story? The answer might be one, some, or all of the above.

        This Time It’s Going to Be Different
        The new company name and subsequent logo seeks to make things better. Properly executed it may. But, many a homeowner who has grown tired of their patchy lawn and turned to ready turf, ushers in the next cycle of neglect. Imaginary grass is always greener. Care and feeding of a brand matters. It matters tremendously. See Your Brand Matters and Promise Delivery System.

        Unacceptable Discomfort Spurs Action
        It is important to pinpoint the source of the unacceptable discomfort. Is the company name and logo the cause or the symptom of something else? It is also possible that the unacceptable discomfort doesn’t involve built up angst as much as it is a desire to be opportunistic. This can happen when markets shift, acquisitions are made, a business pivot is in play, etc. Not everybody will see things equally. That’s okay. The key is to decide whether there is enough unacceptable discomfort with the current name and logo, or not. There is? Great, let’s keep reading….

      2. Committed to a Company Name Change

        You’ve decided a company name change is in order. You’ve decided. You have an inspiration, a hunch. You have a domain name or sketch or burning feeling. Any of those are okay. But, unless you are an army of one, you now have to enroll others like any other change effort. If you want to up-skill yourself in change leadership, read Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. It’s one of my favorite business books. That is why I’m telling you now. Okay back to this post.

        This is good news actually that you are committed to a company name change. You have an opportunity to expand the collective thinking. Unless you are a sole proprietor in a startup you probably have other stakeholders. Pull together a team that can represent different viewpoints. Not everybody should be on the team. Here is who should be.

      3. Establish Your Brand Counsel

        Think republic as opposed to direct democracy. It’s perfectly okay that not everybody is on the team. Let others represent. The key is that each person on the brand counsel view the company name change through the lens they represent. Not all lenses will be appropriate for all companies at all stages but here are some to consider along with questions they might explore.

        Visionary – this person must ask, can this new company name endure, can we breath live into this brand, what is the core message? Will we be valid 5 years or 10 years hence? What will we look like as an organization when we really, truly lean into the new company name and logo?

        Regulatory – this person is concerned with trademarks, competitive space, availability of domain name, social platforms, etc. Can we own this company name? Who needs to be notified, Secretary of State, press releases, investors, etc?

        Creative – this person asks what is the concept that needs to sing with the audience? What story is the company telling and what does this and sound like in a name? How does this appear in a logo? Is it typography alone or is there an accompanying mark? What are the explorations that we should pursue as a team? What other ideas, alternatives, and suggestions do people have?

        Executive – this person is responsible for championing change, reinforcing the discipline to persevere through the process, keeping the team focused on an outcome of mutual acceptable discomfort, and then committing to projects and programs to breath life into the new name and logo. You don’t want to arrive at the “bad turf” stage again, right?

        Operational – this person will feel the most ripple effect of a company name change over time. They will sequence the work. You cannot do it all at once unless you are a pure startup just getting started. Collateral, business cards, website, sign on the building, paint on the vehicles. New logo on invoices, envelopes, boxes, tape, etc. The ripple effect.

        Remember to consider partners and other stakeholders. The person with the operational lens will be responsible for leading the implementation and dissemination of the new name and logo across all aspects of the business after the initial project completes. The brand project becomes an evergreen program.

        Even if you don’t have all of these dedicated people that can participate in a company name change journey, you’ll still need to represent each of these lenses. The startup entrepreneur has to walk in all of those shoes unless they have the ability to bring in additional help.

        Brand Counsel for Company Naming Journey
        The Brand Counsel Deliverables
        The brand counsel will work together, deliberate, sometimes pontificate, noodle, brain share, discuss, reflect, observe, lead and follow. They will also gain feedback from others not on the team. That means that work product will have to be packaged up and presented in an effective way so that people who were not in every meeting can provide good feedback.

        Not everybody will have the same insights. People will go at different paces. For some this may be easy work. For other, it will feel like trudging uphill with a heavy pack, while wearing wet boots. Other duties will call. But this can be a fun, liberating, collaborative, and rewarding journey. This team will get through the process. No animals will be harmed. In the end, the company will have a new name, a logo, and identity. But, that logo will be an empty vessel. It will still need to be filled.

        Creativity Loves Constraint
        It’s hard to solve a problem that isn’t pinned down or is ever-changing. The best creative professionals love constraint. Clear boundaries and guardrails establish the design playground. Knowing what is in bounds and what is out of bounds not to be considered helps prevent spinning wheels and wasting resources. A good creative brief can go a long way here.

      4. Develop the Creative Brief

        Your Brand Counsel should pull most of the weight even if you hire outside help. Whether or not you work with outside consultants or an agency it is helpful to put your thoughts to paper. I say paper intentionally because you’ll want to print this out circulate it in a tactile way that demands more attention than an email. Things to include in the creative brief:

        Problem Statement: source of unacceptable discomfort

        Scope: company name change, refreshed logo, or complete brand makeover?

        Expected usage: expected places this new company name will live, e.g. website, social media, partner program, collateral, vehicles, building signage, call center. Think physical, auditory, and for some brands touch, taste, and smell. Think T-Mobile jingle or Victoria Secret smell wafting out of the front doors of each retail store.

        Complete a Brand Spectra Questionnaire to help the Brand Counsel get on the same page with respect to the company’s aspired-to brand personality. This might be different than the current company name and brand. Discuss any differences.

        Show word associations. This is a collection of words associated with your brand. If you are doing a brand makeover you might consider having the as-is and to-be versions of this. In the best of worlds you will have completed a brand audit that reveals what stakeholders have said about your brand.

        Create a Visual Landscape of Competitors. As a early starting point consider creating a visual landscape of your competitive space. Look for patterns. Are the names and logos geometric, do they resemble people or animals, or objects, etc. Eventually your logo will be swimming in the competitive ocean among others. Will yours stand out or be lost in the crowd?

        This is a good start. If you get your creative brief this far, creative professionals will be able to further develop the brief and discuss things like brand spectra, tonality, etc.

      5. Follow a Documented Process

        In the end, you’ll follow a process to complete a company name change. It is best to be intentional about that process. You’ll have a better outcome and earn more buy-in from various stakeholders. Unless you have all of the expertise in house get some outside help.

        An outside perspective can bring cross industry experience and also brings objective honesty and discipline that isn’t as concerned about office tensions and other dynamics that can sometimes sink or stifle initiatives. You don’t have to have giant budgets to get outside help. There are large naming agencies, solo consultants, and firms of all sizes in between ready to help you with a company name change project.

        Summary of Company Name Change Process:
        1. Define problem
        2. Commit to change
        3. Establish team
        4. Build create brief
        5. Document process
        6. Determine naming criteria
        7. Expand thinking
        8. Report findings, score, discuss, explore
        9. Work on tandems
        10. Share release candidates – get feedback
        11. Present short list
        12. Create mood boards
        13. Downselect and further refine
        14. Acceptable discomfort
        15. Rollout company name change
        16. Reinforce
        17. Thrive

    Claude Monet Followed Process - Important to Company Name Change

    1. Questions to Ask and Naming Criteria

      A few obvious questions to ask about proposed company names are: is the name already in use; what does a trademark search reveal? Is the domain name or an acceptable variant available and is the name available on social platforms? Is it associated with things we don’t wish the company to be associate with? If there are obstacles, can these obstacles be overcome through negotiation, acquisition, etc?  Is the name in use in other industries? How dominant and well known is that company? Performing some basic internet searches can reveal quite a bit about the space around your proposed name. Other considerations could be:

      • Distinctiveness – will our company name be easily distinguishable in a crowded marketplace?
      • Brevity – should our company name get to the point without too many letters, symbolism or marks?
      • Empty vessel – does the name give us freedom to build the brand or are does the name invoke preconceived notions about the company and its products and services?
      • Sound – do we want hard consonants in our company name as in Kodak, Kodiak, or IKEA. Or, do we want softer sounds like the “H” or “S” in Sherwin Williams and Hilton Hotels & Resorts.
      • To vowel or not to vowel – should we have vowels or drop the vowels? Think Google versus Flckr.
      • How many words? – people will shorten a name if it is too long. Consider the shorter version from the start. Bank of America gets shortened to BofA, #bofa on twitter. Harley-Davidson Motor Company gets shorted to Harley.
      • How many syllables? – generally, fewer is better. Too many syllables and your audiences will shorten the name. You might not like what customers end up calling you.
      • Acronyms – is there a good reason to hide behind the obscurity of an acronym? I’m guessing not, but that is for your team to decide.
      • Appropriateness – is this a good name for a company of our business type in our industry?
      • Fitness – does the name mesh with our company’s brand personality and culture? If not, can we aspire to it? Will products and services under than company name ring true with customers?
      • Multicultural – If I ask you if beem-a-ling or boom-a-loom refer to #1 or #2  in a bio-break you’ll guess correctly. Every English speaker in every country I’ve ever asked, has. Will the new company name be so universal? Need it be?
      • Translation – how does the name appear to people who speak different languages?
      • Easy spelling and pronunciation – is the name mistake proof? If it’s not you have more to manage. Will people be able to pronounce it to others?
      • Storytelling – Does the name tell a story? How big of a story should it tell?
      • Likability – does it feel good? Is the name friendly? Should it be?
      • Rhythm – does it roll off the tongue and linger on the brain?
      • Architecture – does the name have to fit a family of companies or products and services?
      • Playfulness – is this important to our audience and company personality we wish to communicate? For Southwest Airlines the answer would be yes. Note playfulness doesn’t come across in their logo but it does in their operations. If you’ve flown SW then you have experienced this firsthand.
      • Extendability – can the company name and logo be extended across campaigns and channels. Consider McDonald’s. The iconic “M” shape is even used as a handle to the Happy Meal box.
      • Misspelling – is a misspelled word for our company name acceptable?
      • Protectable – are we concerned about protecting our company name, regionally, nationally, internationally?
      • Memorable – will people remember our company name after hearing it? Will they be able to spell it correctly after hearing it?
      • Origin and Etymology – from where does the company name originate, or is it simply made up?
      • Longevity – will the name outlive the founders, partners, products/services being offered today, etc? Is it necessary?

Bollard in Square in Liverpool - delightability

    1. Expand Thinking to Grow List of Names

      Each of the relevant naming criterion from step 6 can be used as a source of inspiration. For example, if longevity is important, then brainstorm on things that have long lives, that endure for millennia, etc. Maybe that was behind the name of Sequoia Capital. Or, it might have simply been what they saw in nature.

      You’ll need to expand your thinking. You’ll need more creativity and more brains and eyes and ears on the task. Names can be inspired by many things. Sources of inspiration might be animals, songs, objects, sounds, textures, the dictionary, word origins, deities, pictures, random letters, translations, etc.

      Work on this individually and then come together to riff on one another’s ideas. There truly is no limit to this creative pursuit. But at some point you’ll want to reign in the creative kingdom and present potential winners. You don’t want to present e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

    2. Report Findings, Discuss, Return to Explore

      Emotions rule but we need to be objective. Some names will spark feelings of puppy love with some people. It’s cute but not really what’s needed. You’ll need to create a spreadsheet. List your criteria for the new company name. Score each proposed name against the predetermined criteria. Don’t name your company Sequoia Capital even if you provide financial services to timber products companies for the green economy. The shoe might fit, but if it’s already worn by others you should keep looking.

      Have a Calibration Meeting
      Self score your possible company names on your own. You’ll eliminate some darlings but you might spark new possibilities, too. Come together for a short comparison meeting early in the process so that you can keep people oriented, working on the same project using the same criteria.

      Schedule time to share findings and ideas but avoid having these meetings devolve into groupthink. I suggest that coming up with potential company names is at first an individual creative activity. This way the group will benefit by a more diverse range of input when they do come together.

      Shortlist and Iterate
      Your eventual winning name will not likely be present in the first round, maybe not even the second or third. You’ll keep getting more inspiration and you’ll eliminate names on purpose. You’re getting more in tune with your own developing brand. You know what doesn’t fit.

    3. Your Brand Counsel Should Consider Tandems

      If this is a complete brand overhaul in addition to a company name change then revisit the company values, vision, and positioning statement. Think of your audiences past, present, and future. Your audience will ultimately judge your brand; think of them from the start. If you have developed personas for your various audiences then imagine your brand through each of their hearts and minds. What will they think and feel about the name change?

    4. Share Release Candidates and Gain Feedback

      You cannot possibility present every name considered and the reason for its rejection to all stakeholders. That would be disruptive to business operations. If you broaden the audience from whom you are getting feedback make certain they understand the context for the feedback. Ask them to score the company name and logo direction against a downselected list of the most relevant criteria.

    5. Present Short List

      What the Brand Counsel should present is a short list of those company names who rank high against the criteria. If the stakeholder feedback warrants further exploration or sparks new ideas go back to steps 8 and 9. If you short list is “good enough” then present to your stakeholder group. This group is defined by you, but could be department heads, other executives, could include partners, customers, investors or anybody you’d like to have an early look. They may validate your team’s work or provide redirection. If things are a go, then begin developing the visual identity of this short list at the same time. Do this through the use of mood boards.

    6. What the Heck are Mood Boards?

      A mood board is a creative exploration that captures the tone and personality of a brand. It can include images, shapes, descriptive words, and colors. It is used to set the direction for other creative pursuits like websites, collateral, photography, video, even letterhead and business cards, and the shirts worn at events.

      Mood boards are not seen by the end customer, these are internal creative explorations only. Mood boards are a great place to explore and present color psychology that communicates the proposed company name and brand.

    7. Downselect and Further Refine

      You’ll want to further reduce the names, word associations and visual directions down to a shortlist. It is possible that at this point your brand counsel is working with 5 distinct mood boards with some degree of overlap between them. Or, if you are only revising the company name and logo you might have 5 distinct areas of exploration.

      Within each exploration you may have multiple logo variations. Some people might like a particular combination of typography and name while others may gravitate toward a particular shape or color in a logo design. It can be helpful to view black and white versions of names to remove early color bias.

    8. Arriving at Acceptable Discomfort

      Now I’m talking to your future self. Remember when you started the company name change project and you had unacceptable discomfort? That is what we’re trying to alleviate. Not every member of the brand counsel will agree on every aspect of the company name, logo, and brand identity. It is important to reconcile any unacceptable discomfort. If no names and logos are measuring up then keep creating.

      Resolve that while you might not love every aspect of the new brand identity you may still able to support it. If this is the case then you have reached acceptable discomfort. This is a bit like arriving at a crowded train station, say London Euston railway station pictured above. At first you might be confused, disoriented and overwhelmed with information. But, you have the courage trust the process and the professionals and get on with your journey. You eventually find comfort.

      Perfection is the Enemy of Good Enough
      It might be that adjustments can be made going forward that make the name and logo even more appealing to you. If you don’t envision that possibility then you need to speak up. Your brand counsel needs to respect your concerns. Articulate your concerns well. Remember, perfection is the enemy of good enough.

      It is very likely that at this stage you have the makings of a winning company name and logo. Now you can begin to lean into that new brand. You can change external brand perceptions through positioning. Remember the position is what others say of your brand. It is their perception, not your company’s. Positioning is the activity your organization undertakes in attempt to shift that perception.

Rolling Out the Company Brand Name Change - Handholding Required

    1. Rollout the Company Name Change

      Once the company name change is complete it is time to roll out the brand identity across all aspect of the organization. This is internal and external. Readiness is key here or else you might alienate some stakeholders and that could leave an unpleasant brand aftertaste. Avoid this by improving your organizational readiness, just as a first responder anticipates future scenarios and prepare to meet them.

Brand Is What You Say and Do - Delightability

  1. Reinforce the Brand

    The brand counsel may disband at the project completion or stay together and recast themselves with a new project, namely, brand reinforcement. It is also possible to assign a new collective of people for this task. It will be helpful to have some level of sponsorship or access to at least one member of the brand counsel. The person wearing the operational role is organizationally suited for this role in most organizations. Whoever this reinforcement team is going forward they are responsible for making the new brand live after the initial project completes.

    Welcome to the Brand Police
    Every new piece of collateral, new company presentation, video, commercial, press release, product release, partner or channel program, etc. will be judged in the eyes of this brand police force. This duty to brand will eventually become habit for all employees. This should be part of employee development. Publishing brand style guide, talking points, FAQs, fact sheets, etc. will help employees, vendors, and partners to keep on brand.

    Your Brand Promise
    Your brand is a promise to customers of specific benefits, quality, and value. Your brand is what THEY say it is. You’ll need to measure this over time. If there is a gap, you’ll need to close the gap through positioning. If you don’t you run the risk of becoming a Lumpy Snowball of an Organization.

  2. Thrive in the Brand Promised Land

    In the end, no matter which company name you choose, you’ll have to satisfy customers better than the competition in the long run and not run out of cash in the short run. If you do, you’ll be a going concern. If you don’t, well the Annals of Business Failures is not yet fully written. The list of dead companies is long and growing. Some of them had good company names. Whatever company name your brand counsel finalizes, it will not be sufficient unto itself. No matter how keen your insights, wondrous your process, and generous your budget, ultimately, you’ll need to breath life into your brand so that it can blossom and reach it’s full potential.

    Customers, employees, investors, partners, and other stakeholders are the ultimate judge of your new company name and brand. Their hearts and minds will be moved by a brand that consistently closes or exceeds the gap between what the company says and does and what stakeholders think and feel.

    Suggestion: A year following the company name change, perform a brand audit with stakeholders to determine your position.

Start Your Company Name Change

Hopefully, I’ve provided you with enough perspective that you can make the most informed and prepared decision to pursue a company name change. I’ve attempted to encapsulate in one article what I’ve experienced in naming or rebranding companies, products and services and creating brand identities for startups and decades old enterprises.

Establishing a brand counsel that can own the initiative inside a company, even if outsiders are ultimately doing much of the work, is essential. Good luck in your company naming journey. May you and your stakeholders enjoy the journey and your destination.

about the author

image of author and consultant Gregory OlsonGreg is a virtual chief marketing officer to small and medium sized businesses. He founded Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers success will follow.  Greg  authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences. The second half of that book is concerned with building a healthy innovation culture  so that once you design better experience you can more easily make them come to life. Gregory Olson’s also authored 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.

Better Capitalism Requires 3 Reforms

image of Market Street in Paris France - Delightability Rick Steves Tour

[This article is from a talk I gave to members of the Olympic Club on May 10, 2018, A Better Capitalism. The current economic and political framework (capitalism) is failing too many stakeholders. Evidence abounds and isn’t the subject of the talk. With 3 simple policy reforms we are on our way to a better capitalism. This may seem impossible at first. But, so was putting in place policies that enabled the building of massive towers of wealth while doing harm to people, communities, and the environment. I’ve turned off comments but feel free to reach me directly or comment and share on social media.

A Better Capitalism  – an 8 minute talk and an even quicker read

I’m a pragmatist. I believe we can all do better, as individuals, organizations, even the world community. So, I’m optimistic. But, I also live in the real world. In my world view, I see things as connected. They don’t sit artificially isolated from one another. Here are the connections that I see:

  • Growth in the city and tents in the parks and spaces in-between
  • Record corporate profits and the unpaid shadow work each of us perform
  • Globalization, offshore profits, flattening wages, and boomerang kids
  • Hollowed out communities and politicians desperate to remake them
  • Indebted consumers addicted to things and stuff to distract them
  • Marginalized and outraged citizens and the tone-deaf politicians elected to represent
  • Registered voters not participating in a country divided with scapegoats aplenty

We can have lawful, dignified, respectable capitalism or we can have unbridled greed, wanton destruction, and divisive crony capitalism with fewer winners supported at the expense of the public and the environment.

I’d like a better capitalism where we get the spoils of competition, continuous innovation and benefits for the many. I love that our trade and industry are privately owned and operated for profit.

I love capitalism. But, I’d love a better capitalism, even better.

What might that look like? That’s what I’ve been pondering. That’s what I want to tell you. I only have time to tell you about 3 big ideas. Here they are.

Big idea #1 – We need to decouple healthcare and employment.

Here is why. The world of work has changed. There is more and more automation. Companies are paring down employment. They use on-demand help, independent contractors, and are pushing more people to part-time to avoid the full costs of employees.

Uber and Lyft have declared themselves platforms, not transportation companies, even though their main business is providing transportation services. It’s innovative, but make no mistake this is about internalizing gains while externalizing costs to the public.

Imagine instead of fighting innovation, we embraced more of it. Free the innovators. Embrace the gig economy but don’t further cripple labor in the process. We need to decouple healthcare and employment to give 99% of the people a little bit more.

Imagine US businesses were free to focus on their core purpose and could compete more effectively with other developed nations, nations where employees already enjoy national healthcare.

Free businesses from providing healthcare and watch innovation flourish and entrepreneurship soar. American businesses will be more competitive and without adding a single tariff. What this likely means is a #MedicareForAll #SinglePayer system. That is the least expensive healthcare program we have in this country with the best health outcomes. It would also be focused on healthcare as opposed to for-profit sickcare. Get used to hearing that idea. It will come back again and again until it finally arrives.

Big Idea #2 – We need a Parasitic Index.

For too long people have been duped into believing maximizing corporate profits is synonymous with increasing shareholder value. It isn’t the same thing. You can do massive harm to customers, employees, and the environment in the name of short-term profits but you’ll have destroyed shareholder value. Just ask Volkswagen. Ask the CEO of the now defunct Peanut Butter Corporation of America who sits in a jail cell. Ask the former makers of Asbestos.

Maximizing shareholder value should mean providing reasonable returns to shareholders while acting in harmony with the environment, communities, customers, and employees. You balance stakeholders not pit one against the other.

A Parasitic Index would show how much a corporation leeches off society’s infrastructure and labor force – while killing its host in the process. Is the corporation a partner to the community or merely a beneficiary?

Imagine a world in which corporations didn’t extort cities and states for unneeded tax breaks but instead became partners in building stronger communities, improving the environment, and creating more stable democracies. Capitalism that serves is a better breed of capitalism than the unbridled greed varietal.

I just returned from a trip to central and Eastern Oregon. One of the cities I drove through was Prineville. That’s where Les Schwab founded and grew his $1B dollar tire retail chain. His motto was Doing the Right Thing Since 1952. If Jeff Bezos embraced that motto Amazon might look different and they probably wouldn’t have halted downtown development in light of the city council’s proposed “Head Tax.”

Image of Living Wage Sign in Dashi Sushi Coffee Shop Window - Bath England - better capitalism needed
Companies Who Pay a Living Wage Would Score Lower on the Parasitic Index Whereas Companies with Massive CEO-to-Worker Pay Ratios Would Score Higher
image of WPA Plaque Main Entrance Timberline Lodge Mt Hood Oregon - better capitalism needed
When Capitalism Fails Government Steps in to Alleviate Suffering as it did with the Federal Emergency Relief Act which brought economic livelihood and meaning for people with the WPA and CCC

Big Idea #3 – We need Congress to give federal prosecutors the ability to revoke a state-granted corporate charter.

You might need a little background here. The federal government doesn’t provide any mechanism to form a corporation. That is left up to the secretaries of state within each state.

Corporations have long figured out they can abuse employees, customers, and communities with impunity, to maximize profits. They can do so because if the state attorney general where they are incorporated were to harm them, the corporation can simply threaten to move to another “friendlier” state. So, companies based in Delaware, for example, are seldom sued by the State Attorney General of Delaware.

Without the ability to revoke a state-granted corporate charter, bad actors simply pay federal fines if caught in a misdeed and chalk it up to the cost of doing business. Wells Fargo recently paid a hefty federal fine but it was still tiny compared to its quarterly profit. Facebook has a long history of apologies. Losing their right to exist as a corporation would be a much stronger deterrent.

In Summary:

In society, there will always be bad actors because as Mr. Burnham points out there are people involved. Modern capitalism isn’t living up to its potential – maybe that’s because it’s not yet ruled by robots and artificial intelligence. There are still too many greedy humans in the mix.

The 3 ideas I shared will create a better capitalism. A better breed of capitalism for the good of the many, not the few. Let’s confront reality. There are too many forces leading us to a gig economy. Let’s not fight it. Let’s embrace it and flourish in its presence. People need healthcare, let’s make that a priority.

There will always be bad actors. Let’s make it more transparent and unpopular to be one. Like the #MeToo movement did for individual accountability amid sexual abuse a better capitalism includes a parasitic index to shine a light on corporate accountability in a sea of economic abuse.

And let’s give the most egregious organizations a death sentence when warranted. The ability to revoke corporate charters will allow our representatives to protect all of us from some of us.

It not cruel. It’s not personal. It’s just business AND it’s better capitalism.

about the author

image of author and consultant Gregory OlsonGregory 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.

Greg is a virtual chief marketing officer to small and medium sized businesses. He founded Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers success will follow.

Teachers Guns and Kids – Oh My

image of interesting architecture seen in Liverpool England - Gregory Olson - Author

[This article is from a talk I gave to members of the Olympic Club on February 22, 2018, Experiences Part II . The talk ties together the Experience Halo and the emotional scars that remain after school shootings. I’ve added a few links and shared it here for members of the Olympic Club and the broader public. I’ve turned off comments but feel free to reach me directly or comment and share on social media. My February 1, 2018 talk on Experiences while referenced here is not yet online.}

an 8 minute talk and an even quicker read

It was a beautiful spring day in 2003. Exams were over. Commencement was around the corner. It was a quiet Friday afternoon.

Then the sound of smashing glass and automatic gunfire broke the calm. tatt tatt tatt tatt tatt – tatt tatt tatt tatt tatt

Professor Susan Helper came face to face with the shooter. She slammed her office door just as he fired his gun, directly at her. The bullet came through the door, hit her in the chest, bounced off her collar-bone and onto the floor.

She was lucky. She was eventually rescued by police 4 hours later.
That was Case Western University.

School Shootings Continue

Since 2013, there’s been an average of 1 school shooting per week in the U.S.

Following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida last week, Professor Helper spoke out. It’s been 15 years since she was shot. Physically, she healed long ago. But, every time there is another school shooting her emotional healing cycle starts again.

She knows it’s completely irrational to feel affected by a shooting that happens across the country. But, she still fears for her safety and feels powerless.

image of filmstrip that plays in mind includes experiences and stories heard of school shootings - The Experience Halo from book Experience Design Blueprint - Gregory Olson 
 
A few weeks ago, I gave a talk about experiences. In that talk I introduced The Experience Hoop. I also mentioned that much of our experiences is all in our heads. And that requires another mental model, the Experience Halo.

The Experience Halo

The Experience Halo is that filmstrip that plays in your head. It’s shaped in part by your context, but also by your past experiences, brand baggage, and stories heard.

Our Experience Halo remembers. It reminds us of the brands we love and those we hate. Our halo recalls past experiences both good and bad. And, it also remembers stories, EVEN if those stories didn’t involve us, directly.

For example, if we hear of a potential investment opportunity – our Halo might conjure up warnings of Bernie Madoff Ponzi schemes or Enron – even though we may never have been affected by either one.

Happily, our Experience Halo also reminds us of good stories. Case in point: Mr. Burnham shared a wonderful story where as a boy he hit up his father for money to purchase a kite. His father refused and helped him build a kite instead. That story is now in our own Experience Halo. It didn’t happen to us, but if a kid in your life hits you up for money to buy a kite, you just might recall that story – even if you ultimately give them money.

With each new school shooting, Professor Helper’s Experience Halo AWAKENS.

I want to bring this a little closer to home.

image of open door and vulnerability from teacher who experienced a school shooting - the Experience Design Blueprint 

School Shooting Club – Not the Club You Wish to Join

My friend Dana is a Biology Teacher at Marysville Pilchuck High School.

On October 24, 2014, Dana joined the School Shooting Club. On that day, a 15-year-old assassin shot five students in the school cafeteria before killing himself.

She hasn’t gotten over it. She can’t. Like Susan Helper her Experience Halo gets stoked with every new school shooting. I want to share with you what Dana recently said:

Two thoughts occurred to me this year that most people do not have to think about at work:

First, I was sitting in my desk in my empty classroom working on my computer during my prep period. I suddenly was conscious that my door was unlocked and I started to imagine a gunman coming in to kill me. Do you ever think about that at work? When I do, I imagine begging him to let me live because I have kids who need their mother. What would you beg?

Second, when my students cleared out after the last class, there was a lone backpack left behind. As I picked it up to find out who it belonged to, I suddenly felt panicked that it might be a bomb. I began to rush it to the door to throw it outside (I’m not trained in handling bombs, clearly) and then the student came back in to claim it. I laughed it off, but thought, “What the hell is wrong with me?”

Do you ever wonder if you might have a backpack bomb at your work? Obviously, you might if you are in law enforcement or the TSA, but I AM A BIOLOGY TEACHER.

I think about saving children from being shot at school when I am not thinking about teaching them, counseling them, making sure they are fed and safe, planning their futures, and just getting them to turn in their homework.

People are coming up with terrible reasons not to keep me safe. Not to keep children safe. I’ll always be on the side of kids, and, at this point, I’m listening to them for answers.

Reasonable People Agree Yet Inaction on Gun Reform Persists

Most Americans and politicians agree that a kid that can’t buy beer shouldn’t be able to buy an assault rifle. Or, that if you are deemed dangerous enough to put on the no-fly list then you ought to be put on the “can’t buy an assault rifle list”, too.

Sadly, that list doesn’t exist. Most other lists related to guns or gun deaths doesn’t exist either. You can thank the NRA and the members of congress they purchased for that.

But, this school shooting may have finally sparked a change.

High School Students Are Leading the Change

Surviving students of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting are forcing a new conversation. They’ve started movements such as #StudentsStandup, #NeverAgain, and #MarchForOurLives, a nationwide march on the 24th of next month.

image of March For Our Lives Banner from student leader who survived school shooting 
 
It IS possible to support the 2nd amendment AND also support sensible gun reform.

In this movement, politicians will be shamed for inaction on sensible gun reforms while they continue to take money from the gun lobby.

If there is one group that is even better than cats or Russian trolls at hijacking the emotions of adults, its kids. After all, they aren’t buying their own Lucky Charms.

Our teachers are not bodyguards or first responders. They are educators trained to get other people to think.

And, it looks like now it’s the kids who are getting us to think. I only hope our lawmakers will listen, learn, and act.

Board Free for Now

I recently completed service terms on two boards. On the first board, a University department, I was an inaugural board member who had served long past my term-limits.  My second board position was for a social investor and international financial cooperative where I served two consecutive 3-year terms.

Benefits Galore

Each board experience broadened my perspective, provided me with opportunities to meet interesting people from other countries and expand my professional and leadership skills.  Of course, I also cared about the organizations and their respective missions.

Culture of Care

While the University department is primarily concerned with preparing students for tomorrows STEM careers, the social investor is investing in people and organizations working in agricultural, renewable energy, and a plethora of social enterprises across 70 countries. In working with them, I gained a better understanding of how the world’s poorest people are most affected by climate change and extreme weather events. Both organizations are deeply empathetic and represent a #CultureOfCare, a concept I’d like to see expanded and normalized across the general population.

Perhaps There is Board Service in Your Future

If you lean forward a little and take initiative most people are happy to let you lead. If you haven’t served as a volunteer board member you might consider it. There are plenty of organizations who would benefit from more heads, hearts, and hands at the table. But, the organization isn’t the only one to benefit. Your service to others will forever change you, for good.

Your Brand Matters

Your-Brand-Matters-Greg-Olson-Delightability

“Brand Matters” is a double entendre in case you missed that subtlety. One interpretation of brand matters is in the verb sense for the word matters. Your brand matters, meaning your brand is important and has significance. Another interpretation uses the word matters as a noun. There is a great deal of work under the topic of brand, or matters related to brand, or brand matters. And so it is with your brand, nuance. There is different interpretation depending upon context, understanding, and perspective. But, how much variation exists?

Confront Unacceptable Discomfort

Brands become out of step with changing teams and times. When there is unacceptable discomfort with your brand among your company’s leadership, then there exists a tension that clouds your operation and impedes progress. Employees feel it, partners feel it, and your customers feel it. When this happens, a new conversation is warranted.

The Goal is Acceptable Discomfort

The goal in reestablishing your brand is to get all of your stakeholders to at place of comfort so that together you can assert your brand across the operation and fully activate it in the marketplace. Once you do this, the velocity of initiatives that rely on it go faster and much more smoothly. Remember, consistency before momentum! Your company’s leadership team doesn’t need to agree on every nuance of the brand, but they do need to find a level of acceptable discomfort. If there is ongoing tension your work is incomplete.

Start a Your Brand Matters Conversation

Your Brand Matters - delightability
Click to Download Full-Size PDF. (Opens in New Window) Please share with others.

I’ve assembled a “Brand Matters” one page resource for you to reflect on and use in your conversations with your leadership team. Most of the terminology is generic and easily researched for more detail and understanding. At a high level it includes:

  • Brand definition
  • Guardrails
  • Positioning & message platform
  • Identity
  • Assessment & tools
  • Actions
  • Brand leverage
  • Potential payoff

Taking Action to Close the Gap

Your brand matters. Act like it. Whichever way you think of brand, I simply want you to do just that – think. And, if you do have a gap between what your company says and does and what customers think and feel, then I do hope that you will spark a productive conversation within your organization and among your team. Your customers deserve this. Your employees deserve it, and your company won’t be relevant forever, without closing that gap. See Lumpy Snowball of an Organization.

Once you close the gap you’ll be in a great position to go even further by creating a living brand that never gets lost, while at the same time delivering more remarkable experiences for your customers, partners, and employees. But, I’ll leave those subjects for future articles.

about the author

image of author and consultant Gregory OlsonGregory 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.

Greg 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 USA, a national support association for impact investor, Oikocredit International.

Is Negative Target Fixation Crushing Your Opportunities?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Office Experiment

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

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

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

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

To Pivot or Persist, That is the Question

image of compass for Gregory Olson blog post Pivot or Persist

When Performance Doesn’t Track Expectations

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

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

Beyond the Pivot

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

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

Variations of Persist

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

The More Drastic Pivot

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

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

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

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

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

about the author

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

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

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

image of Sea Turtle Big Island Hawaii - author Gregory Olson

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

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

an 8 minute talk and an even quicker read

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

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

NATURE IS A REALLY BIG DEAL.

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

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

Bees Have a Healthy Innovation Culture

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

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

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

Imitating Life: The Word for This Is…

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

Solutions Hiding-In-Plain-Sight

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

Clean as a Shark

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

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

Natural Vacuum Cleaner

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

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

Nature: The Original Hacker

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

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

Nature’s Biggest Lesson

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

about the author

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

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

 

Learning Innovation From Bees

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

Bees have a healthy innovation culture

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

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

Every Organization Has Buried Treasure

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

Recipe #40: Dance Like a Bee

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

About The Author

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

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

The Care and Feeding of Ideas

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

an 8 minute talk and an even quicker read

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

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

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

Idea Mortal Enemy #1 – Lack of Clarity

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

Idea Zone

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

Execution Zone

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

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

Advancing Ideas IS the Challenge

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

Idea Buzz Kill

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

The Conversation Zone – Seeing The Big Picture

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

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

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

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

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

Guiding Principles for the Idea Zone:

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

Guiding Principles for the Conversation Zone:

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

Guiding Principles for the Execution Zone:

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

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

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

Talking About the Movement of Ideas is Empowering

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

In Summary

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

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

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

about the author

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

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