Arbor Day: Your Chance To Be A Generous Designer

Nature is the Original Hacker

Nature is the original hacker; she’s been at it for a long time, much longer than humans. Does nature ever get it wrong? The follow-up question is, wrong from whose perspective, a human perspective? Or, is it like Leonardo da Vinci said of art, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Perhaps when we think of nature being wrong, whatever we’re observing simply isn’t completed.

Generous Design by Nature

Nature is bountiful and sustainable; it’s also very generous. Trees, for example, are a generous gift from nature. Glorious natural trees are water absorbing, pollution filtering, soil protecting, oxygen giving, and shelter providing. Planting trees is good for the planet as trees absorb carbon dioxide, one of the gases that collect in the atmosphere, trap heat, and warm the planet. Trees are good for people too, with many positive psychological benefits. Being in the presence of swaying trees reduces anxiety, lowers blood pressure and connects us to the natural environment. The soothing rhythmic motion of trees or even grass is not unlike that of mothers who instinctively use gentle swaying motion to comfort their babies. Did you ever notice that you feel better around trees or in a rocking chair?

“The symbolism – and the substantive significance – of planting a tree has universal power in every culture and every society on Earth, and it is a way for individual men, women and children to participate in creating solutions for the environmental crisis.”

Albert Arnold “Al” Gore, Jr.
45th Vice President of the United States
Author, environmental activist,
2007 Nobel Peace Prize Winner
(born March 31, 1948)

Trees are a generous gift from nature. Humans can be generous designers as well.

Generous Design by Humans

As I describe in, The Experience Design Blueprint, generous design makes people smile. When an organization exceeds expectations without any pressure to do so, people often take notice. It might mean going beyond what is required by law or code, or even the norm set by competitors. Often the thoughtfulness goes unnoticed, but the design still serves to make things a little easier or a little better.

When you experience generous design firsthand you think to yourself, “Wow, somebody thought of that. How nice!” But, more importantly, you feel that somebody cared and as a result they touched your heart and your mind. Generous design goes beyond expectations, like a dual drinking station for humans and canines alike or a stair rail that extends a little more than required, so that it comfortably greets those about to meet the stairs. Unexpected trees alongside the built environment can be generous gifts that restore the human spirit, cause us to slow down, and even provide healing. We see and feel these in urban areas, parks, boulevards, universities, and even healthcare facilities.

tree lined boulevard as generous design - Delightability

Arbor Day

Arbor Day is the day dedicated annually to public tree-planting in the U.S., Australia, and other countries around the world. You needn’t be an arborist or a landscape designer to plant a tree. Even birds (or other animals) inadvertently plant trees as they eat fruit in one area and defecate in another. Animals do this without even thinking. But, you are human, perhaps even superhuman. You can be a thoughtful, generous designer and plant a tree, if not for yourself for those who will enjoy it 100 years from now.

planting a pine tree

Culture of Care

Though Arbor Day provides you an official day to be thoughtful and generous, you needn’t be gated by such holidays. Opportunities for generous design are all around us. The best thing is you don’t have to be a designer by title or role – a bird isn’t, after all. You can participate at any time, in planting a tree or other thoughtful acts that exceed expectations and turn lips upward. The Culture of Care is afoot. If you’ve already joined – thank you! If not, we hope you’ll join our movement.

about the author

Gregory Olson founded strategy and design firm Delightability, LLC. with the belief that if you delight customers then success will follow. He believes that we all have the potential to do better, as individuals, organizations, and entire nations.
image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGregory 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.

Use the 4 Action Levers to Improve Customer Experiences

Product and Service Village

Products and services don’t invent themselves, not yet anyway. And, their intended audiences rarely self-generate a groundswell of demand. Products and services with even a modicum of complexity require an organization to deliver those products and services over their life cycle. The organization should stand ready to provide assistance to customers from the moment they begin “kicking the tires” to the time they become a customer and hopefully a repeat customer and advocate. Inside the organization, it takes a small village to make all of this come together and to keep it operating smoothly.

Why Villages Need a Chief

Human history has taught us that villages want chiefs. What villagers really seek is a way to resolve disputes, a point person to make and enforce rules, and a source of wisdom. The chief is the supreme leader and organizer that hopefully keeps everybody safe, healthy, and prospering, even amid change and conflict. The chief is the one person accountable for everything, good and bad.

Product Manager as Chief
In many organizations, the product or brand manager is made to be the de facto chief of the product or service village. Think of the arrangement to be more of a central hub in a hub and spoke arrangement that keeps the business flowing around that product or brand. In smaller companies or startups the founder is often this chief.

Worry Might be the Chief’s Biggest Product

image of hub and spoke arrangement for Delightability blog postBut, talk to any product manager in those sorts of arrangements (if you are able to) and you’ll discover that they’re running the busy program and don’t have much time for anything, let alone your conversation. They simply have to worry about everything and everywhere. In many innovation cultures they are also expected to be thought leaders as well as the protective visionary that understands all of the nuances and continuous changes in the business landscape and customer ecosystem. It’s daunting and exhausting, rife with employee burnout, outright failure, and lost potential for employees, organization, and customer alike. If you have been a product manager or worked closely with one, you know what I’m talking about. The to-do list always exceeds the to-done list by a factor of 10 or more. And, worse, few seem to understand or care because they too are running some version of the busy program. In Switch vernacular, this isn’t so much of a people problem as it is a situation problem. The good news is that this is a solvable problem.

It’s time to spark a new conversation

If you’d like to change this, you need to spark a new conversation in your organization. Here is some thinking to accompany you. Any improvement you make to a customer’s experience can be force fit into one of four categories as shown in the figure at the top of this article, namely:

  • more relevant communications
  • improved customer thinking
  • organizational readiness
  • better product and service interactions

If you have my book, The Experience Design Blueprint, reference Figure 7.9 in Ch 7: Improving the Journey. So, your organization needs to build competencies in each of these areas. Expecting all of this to fall on the shoulders of one person is wishful thinking, but chances are it isn’t producing very good results.

Benefits of distributed leadership

Formalizing leadership across the 4 competencies will improve the performance of your product manager. It will increase the firms absorptive capacity, improve the organization’s overall performance, empower employees, and enable the organization and brand to better connect with its intended audiences.

But, that isn’t the only power of the levers. They also serve as a system of checks and balances. After all, you can’t have more relevant communications or better product and service interactions if you don’t have improved customer thinking. And, if your organization isn’t ready or up to the task, then better product and service interactions or more relevant communications will never actually materialize.

The 4 Action Levers give you a way to do mental bookkeeping for making improvements in the areas of more relevant communications, improved customer thinking, organizational readiness, and better product and service interactions.

Compare this to the act of cleaning a four room house by moving all of the mess into one of the rooms. You’ve only shifted the problem temporarily. If you visit the affected room, you’ll notice the problem straight away. If you know classical physics then you also know Newton’s third law states that for every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. That is an axiom that applies here. If you invest in activities behind one of the action levers then realize the other levers will be affected, too.

image of lever to gain mechanical advantage - Delightability blog postWhy the Metaphor of Lever
Lever is an intentionally chosen word because with a lever, you amplify a small input force to produce a larger output force. It is a simple machine to gain mechanical advantage. With customer experiences, we can invest small actions into better understanding customers and gain a greater output of Improved Customer Thinking.

Use the 4 Action Levers to identify projects and programs that aim to improve the organization’s ability to deliver more remarkable products and services, build more authentic relationships, and communicate more effectively with intended audiences.

  • Improved Customer Thinking –  Who are the audiences you are concerned with today and in the near future? What do you want them to think, feel, do and remember? Remember audiences can be internal or external to the organization. See related post Customer Schmustomer: Audience Schmaudience. See Project Ideas.
  • More Relevant Communications – What are the communications requirements across initiatives, time, and channels to authentically connect with your intended audiences? Remember that communications also includes internal communications. See Project Ideas.
  • Better Product & Service Interactions –  What are the intended experiences you want your audiences to have over time when dealing with your organization? See Project Ideas.
  • Organizational Readiness – Customer experiences and journeys don’t happen in a vacuum. Organizations must be ready to interact with customers and also be mindful of the behind the scenes operational requirements. What will be needed to get and keep others ready inside and beyond the organization? See Project Ideas.

image of zen stacked rocks for balance and good luck and leading the way - Delightability blog postConcentrate improvements in any one area and you have the potential to make incremental improvements.  But, synchronize improvements in each area and you have the potential to engage employees, create remarkable customer experiences, and smooth your operation. Do this correctly and you’ll still have time to leave early on Fridays, or work less each day as companies in Sweden have recently elected to do.

Recipe #28: Find the Critical to Executions

Reflect on your current and past execution gaps that prevented your organization from being ready to deliver remarkable experiences. As you go forward intentionally designing customer journeys, note what will be required in order to close the execution gaps. These comprise your list of CTEs: critical to execution. As you explore new projects and programs make CTEs part of your organization’s customer experience vernacular.

about the author

Gregory Olson is a consultant, speaker, and author. He 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.

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

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

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.

Focus Focus or Hocus Pocus

From Chapter 10: Bees and Raccoons in, The Experience Design Blueprint: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations.

Focus Focus or Hocus Pocus

copyright bee image from The Experience Design Blueprint by Gregory OlsonAn illusion leaders often face is that people will heroically do the impossible while under continued pressure. The schedule never relaxes and more is piled on until finally bodies give out and minds fatigue. Bees are industrious, attentive animals but you won’t see a bee pulling an all-nighter. They work and then they rest. I’m not sure if they recreate like cats and crows, but it’s interesting to ponder what that might look like. The point is that nature always eventually wins. If you doubt that revisit the section on the wheel of life.

A balanced life doesn’t solely benefit the individuals concerned with maintaining a work life balance; it helps the organization, too. A healthy balance in the organization provides the capacity to:

  • consider and pursue strategic alternatives
  • form and then nurture effective partnerships
  • recruit and cultivate talent
  • research new capabilities
  • explore new opportunities
  • solve nagging old problems
  • develop and then support products and services
  • provide customers with remarkable experiences
  • be thoughtful in making and keeping promises to the various stakeholders

Similar to an individual, if your organization pursues too much with too little, performance suffers. The signs become apparent if you look for them. Execution gaps appear, conversations are not held, scheduled dates slip, personnel leave in search of better neighborhoods, customers defect, etc.

“One cannot manage too many affairs: like pumpkins in the water, one pops up while you try to hold down the other.” Chinese Proverb

If you’ve ever returned from a tradeshow, event, customer visit or vacation to find everybody too busy to hear what you’ve learned, then your firm probably lacks absorptive capacity. Simply put, the mental gas tank is full and cannot take in or effectively make use of additional information, no matter its significance. This is sad and all too common.

Slow Down in Order to Speed Up

Sometimes you need to slow down in order to speed up. Bees returning to the colony to perform their waggle dance are not ignored, cast aside because of an imminent release, upcoming event, or looming earnings call. People in your organization should not be ignored either, but they are routinely set aside, held up, marginalized, or encouraged to remain silent. This isn’t likely to be formalized, but recognize that it occurs.

No matter if your organization has 10, 100, 1000, 10,000, or 100,000 people, imagine the potential for all of those people to perform better together, always leaving a little time for an informative and effective bee disco.

Recipe #42: Practice Self Reflection

Reflect on your own style. Ask yourself if you are more like the conjurer that chants, “hocus pocus” before you pile more on the organization, or if you’re mindful of results and can be heard chanting, though sometimes silently, “focus, focus.” So, why do we struggle so much when all of this seems to be making sense? For that, let’s turn to Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall.

About the Author

book image of The Experience Design Blueprint from Gregory James Olson - DelightabilityGregory Olson is a consultant, speaker, and author of The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations. This excerpt is part of Chapter 10: Bees and Raccoons. If your organization wants to improve its innovation culture and empower high performing teams, then you owe it to yourself to read this chapter. Read the full color print edition or on any Kindle Reader App supported device using the free Kindle Reader application. Already read this book? Thank you, now learn more about Delightability or connect with Gregory on social media.