Making Truth Matter

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

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

an 8 minute talk and an even quicker read

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

3 noteworthy things happened this week.

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

It has been a really busy week for the TRUTH.

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

What is Truth?

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

Human Responses to The Truth

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few of my favorite logical fallacies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What About Reaction to Lies?

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

TRUTH SHOULD MATTER.

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

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

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

So, What Can WE Do?

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

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

about the author

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

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

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

Parks, Progress, and Prosperity-A Lesson in Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

about the author

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

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

Overcoming La La La I Can't Hear You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

about the author

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

His latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Ideas in L’ impossi preneurs that relate to this article include Truth Sculpture, Data Observatory, Propaganda for Good Network, Truth Machine Intelligence Service, Truth Ticker, and more.

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

Innovation Lessons from a Runaway Toddler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

about the author

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

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

Don’t Let Your Organization Become a Lumpy Snowball

Lumpy Snowball of an Organization - delightability

Don’t Let Your Organization Become a Lumpy Snowball

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

More Makers Please and Less Takers
For too long now, many companies have been fixated on the short run. A short-term focus cripples a company, little by little. It is exacerbated when the company’s leadership has an overall attitude of “taking” as opposed to “making”. You witness this mentality in various actions of the corporate playbook including stock buybacks, excessive executive compensation, layoffs timed near earnings reports, tax avoidance, austerity measures, and poorly thought out mergers and acquisitions.

Much of the M&A activity we see is intended to prop up financials as opposed to fundamentally making a stronger innovation culture that can propel the creation of innovative products and services. Value is combined, rearranged, and extracted as opposed to created. Executives and their backers can do extremely well under this scheme, especially in the short run. Employees and society, not so much. Many organizations will eventually suffer in the long run, long after their band of executives have moved on to the next company.

Creating a Culture of Care Within the Organization
Organizations are a bit like human bodies in that you can focus on satisfying short-term cravings, but those decisions often don’t lead to healthy systems or longevity. Companies large and small need to continue to shape and shift their strategies as the business landscape changes,  technology evolves, and customer ecosystems shift.

To survive, they need a longer term focus with short-term actions that don’t harm the organization. To accomplish this, they need engaged employees. They also need customers and communities that care about the company as well as its products and services. When companies are takers and solely focused on the short run, this would-be loyalty can evaporate, if it existed at all.

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

How Would Your Organization Perform in the Logrolling Competition?
Companies wedded to the past lack agility to change their footing quickly. And, that’s bad news since the world outside the organization isn’t static. Imagine a logrolling competition. On one end of the log is a company fixated on the past. On the other side, a more nimble organization, lighter on its feet.

The race begins. As the log spins in the water, both organizations are rolling with it, together. But, then a sudden stop and reversal of direction. The agile opponent responds by shifting their weight, focus, and movement accordingly, whereas the wedded-to-the-past opponent ends up in the water.

The equivalent soaking happens in healthcare, technology, automotive, insurance, financial services, software, food, hospitality, and nearly every industry and sector you can imagine as more nimble startups or even restarts outmaneuver their opponents.

Protecting Yesterday as Though it is Tomorrow
It’s also why you see organizations engage in extreme chest thumping and massive lobbying to protect the enterprise of yesterday. Can you say fossil fuel, cable monopoly, giant food, consumer goods, etc. The giants of industries that become outdated and displaced often have the financial resources to reinvent themselves, if only they had the will.

Unfortunately, their blinders hinder this action. See related post, Don’t Let Your Ideology Blind You to the Facts. The funny thing about the future is that it eventually arrives, whether you’ve prepared for it, or not.

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

Building a More Responsive and Increasingly Relevant Organization
A responsive organization that can shape and shift its course, as the world outside changes, is the best insurance against joining the ranks of companies that have lost their mojo or worse. If you want to avoid the lumbering and desperate “Hail Mary” attempts that will eventually exhaust and break the will of your people, then you’ll need to be more mindful of your audiences, inside and outside the organization. You’ll also need to balance the promises you make and keep across these various stakeholders.

One mental model to use in accomplishing this is the Promise Delivery System™ from Chapter 8 of my book, The Experience Design Blueprint. Every organization has a Promise Delivery System by which they make and keep promises (or don’t) to their various stakeholders. Make your Promise Delivery System visible for each stakeholder and you’re on track to building a more responsive and increasingly relevant organization.

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

about the author

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

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

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.

Preventing the Next Scandal

image of whistle for prevent the next scandal blog post - delightability

Wells Fargo Joins Seemingly Endless List of Companies with Chief Executives Involved in Scandal

[September 29, 2016 update – Add Wells Fargo and its chief executive, John Stumph, to the seemingly endless list of scandals that could have been prevented. Read on to learn how to prevent the next scandal.]

Preventing the Next Scandal
German prosecutors raided the offices of Volkswagen AG to secure evidence for the investigation of the company in the emission-cheating scandal. Volkswagen stock has plummeted and the CEO has resigned, maintaining the story that he had no involvement in any wrongdoing. Also, the head of Volkswagen’s U.S. business answered questions from a congressional panel. But, somewhere, deep within the organization, is a person or people who knew exactly the genesis of the software cheat. They also likely know how the cheat has been able to persist through the delivery of 11 millions cars to the marketplace. So, where was the whistleblower?

And the Whistleblower is …
The whistleblower is nonexistent. There isn’t one. And, it really isn’t any surprise. Traditionally, there hasn’t been a safety net for would-be whistleblowers. Their lives are often wrecked by the people in governments, agencies, and corporations whose practices they expose. History reveals it is easier to systematically wreck the lives of the whistleblower and demonize them, than it is to make changes to a system that has run amok to the advantage of some. The list of wrongdoers, both people and organizations is long. View “list of whistleblowers” on Wikipedia and you’ll have days of entertainment, albeit in a dreaded, “watching the aftermath of a train crash”, sort of way. You’ll recognize some high-profile companies and organizations, but you may not know the back stories that led up to the moment the whistle blew. The lead up is the most important and often untold story.

Wasted resources
Imagine all of the resources, human and technological, inside and outside VW, that are focused on the emission cheating scandal. Now add to that, the resources involved in the multitude of other scandals and investigations happening. And to that, imagine further adding the resources yet to be consumed for future scandals that will sadly unfold. It’s abhorrent. Surely we can better make use of those resources, not the least of which would be to spend more time with family and friends and in strengthening our communities. It’s time we stop trashing the human race and the environment in the short run and pretending as though there will be no long-term consequences for generations to come. There always are long term consequences. Short term indulgent thinking is like junk food. It might satisfy our immediate hunger, filling us for the moment. But, it lacks nutritional value and substance. And in the long run, it doesn’t work for your waistline or your health.

Short term indulgent thinking is like junk food. It might satisfy our immediate hunger, filling us for the moment. But, it lacks nutritional value and substance.

You wouldn’t have blown the whistle either
Ask yourself, if you were an employee inside Volkswagen and knew about the emission cheating software, would you have said anything? To whom would you tell? How? When? You probably would not have said anything. Who has the courage to do say or do anything differently than toe the line? After all, if you’re livelihood is dependent upon continued ruinous behavior, whether it is emissions cheating or other nefarious activity, you’re not very motivated to change. Especially if you want to continue eating, paying your bills, and getting about in your life. Why disrupt it, especially for abstract things like other people you don’t know, the climate, or the environment. It’s even easier to justify bad behavior when the results of your actions are “at a distance” or you don’t see the immediate impact in the near term.

The time for change is NOW
As a society, we need a rethink, a re-frame. It’s time we pivot our behavior toward human progress, not away from it. Some of our past behaviors have not been stabilizing for any democracy on earth and they have retarded human progress and harmed the environment. Here are three things we can do to prevent the next Volkswagen emission cheating scandal or Enron debacle or Peanut Corporation of America poisoning or [fill in the blank here].

  1. Create a safety net for would-be whistleblowers
    As I’ve written about previously, we need a culture of care from the board room to the dining room. We also need a safety net for people that can sound the alarm when they see an innovation culture gone awry, whether it is involved in financial engineering, food production, emission scandals, government abuse, healthcare fraud, military wrongdoing, or some other area of society. We need a safety net for the people who have the courage to stand up and declare a system breakdown. But, we know most people won’t tell stories or reveal that bad things are happening unless they feel safe. So, let’s create a safety net for people to tell us when bad things are happening. If a whistleblower advances an accusation and then subsequently gets fired as a result of it, instead of having to crowdfund their way back to financial health they can draw against the safety net aka Whistleblower Insurance Fund. Fund the safety net through fees paid by the perpetrators of past egregious behaviors. In that sense, it is an insurance policy organizations pay into, triggered by their past bad behavior. It could be corrective in that people will feel safer to sound the alarm early, possibly preventing later disastrous and more costly circumstances. So, who would fund such an insurance scheme today? For starters, the banks that engaged in financial engineering that brought about the global financial crisis, automotive makers who delayed recalls that knowingly killed unwitting vehicle occupants, oil companies that have ruined ecosystems, etc.
  2. Create an Early Warning System. Probably the best innovation for policymakers in government and industry would be to collaborate on a system that prevents the need for whistleblowers in the first place. Alongside the notion of “ideas can come from anywhere” organizations also need to instill the notion of warning flags and that anybody can invoke them. As in automotive racing, a black flag means disqualification and a return to the pits. Nobody shoots the messenger, the flagger is safe to be the flagger in future racing events. We need to revere the person that waves the proverbial “unsportsmanlike-conduct” flag. When a rogue engineer, or accountant, or marketer, or whomever, does something that doesn’t appear to advance an agenda that favors humans and the environment or worse outright harms it and subsequently the organization, then we need to make this visible. And, we need this to be made visible long before the train is off the track and things cannot be easily corrected. 11 million cars is the current tally for VW cars affected, along with a 40% slide in stock price, a six billion dollar set aside for fixes (and climbing), halted sales, diminished resale values, and a tarnished brand. An early warning flagging system would be much less expensive.
  3. Declare a Stop. As a species, we originally create industries to do useful things for humanity. It makes us unique from other animals on the planet. And, when industries and institutions stop doing useful things for humanity we need to unwind them, divert them, correct them, check them, and even revoke corporate charters. I’m not suggesting that Volkswagen should go away; I don’t think they should. I think there are many good and innovative people that can do tremendous good for themselves, their country, and for a global community. But, when their culture or leadership prevents them from doing this or their harm exceeds their good, then they need to be stopped.

Conclusion
It is important that preventative measures be taken ahead of more ruin to humans and the environment. Government regulation is necessary but insufficient. We need a more holistic and inclusive system that isn’t reserved for trial lawyers and the judicial system to work on behalf of things already dead or harmed. A free market without any oversight is like the pudgy little kid at mom’s party that takes more cookies when guests are not looking. Pretty soon the cookies are gone and mom’s friend Marge never got one. It’s not immediately obvious why. Thankfully, in our increasingly global community, people are looking. You should be, too.

This article is a call to leadership in all industries, government, and academia to consider that as a human species we ought to be sunsetting wasteful, deceptive, and harmful practices that manufacture financial crises, harm people and the environment, waste human potential, and then remedy it later through courts. Let’s put that nonsense in a museum. But, this article is also a call to action for every member of civil society to engage leadership in that conversation and hold them to a higher account. We can and must do better.

Rather than attack whistleblowers, let’s create a safer environment where we can learn from them, confront our collective reality, correct our behaviors going forward, and move on to creating a better world with more nutritious cookies for mom, Marge, and all. These are conversations worth having inside your organization, with elected officials, among elected officials, and at your dinner table. Or, we can continue to talk about the next scandal over our collective spilled milk.

about the author

Gregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. In Chapter 8: Social of the book Gregory provides historical perspective around whistleblowers as well as promotes ideas that would help make society more civil with respect for truth, increased accountability, and transparency. This is good for nations and good for investors in companies who get caught up in scandal.

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

Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true. Chapter 8: Promise Delivery System in The Experience Design Blueprint especially pertains to this article. The promise delivery system is a mental model for making and keeping promises to an organization’s various stakeholders. It is technology agnostic. Any organization can operationalize a promise delivery system using whatever technology and personnel it has at its disposal.

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

A Tiny Comparison of Two Giants: Amazon and Microsoft

A Tiny Comparison of Two Giants
While I’m working on my next book, I sometimes refer to my last one. Not because they are related, they are not. But, because as a self-published author and consultant, I need to let people know I exist. So, here is the funny juxtaposition I see. Two giants were birthed in my proverbial back yard, namely Microsoft and Amazon. And, while each of these companies boasts legacy, scale, and reach that most other companies will never know, the two titans are very different. I want to share a tiny comparison from my point of view as a customer of both.

Amazon is mindful of my experience
It’s true. Amazon IS mindful of my experience. It began a long time ago with one-click before most dot-coms imploded in the first internet bubble and long before iPhone or Android devices ever reached the market. But, Amazon didn’t let their foot off the accelerator. They’ve continued to expand products and services, seemingly with the customer top of mind. They even purchased Zappos, a notoriously customer-centric company. And, then they did the right thing. They left Zappos alone, letting them run as a wholly owned subsidiary. But, it’s not just the big bets I’m talking about that has Amazon mindful of customer experiences.  It’s the little things, too.

screen shot of amazon sync to furthest location for blog post - delightability

Little things have a cumulative effect in winning hearts and minds
Case in point. When I read my book (or any book) on my Kindle Fire HD or Kindle Application on PC or Android, then at a later time open the same book on a different device, I get a very thoughtful prompt. The prompt asks me if I want to continue reading from the last read location. Little things like this have a cumulative effect in winning the hearts and minds of customers. This is true whether it is an application like the Kindle Reading App or your own personal relationships. If you don’t believe it, then ask your partner.

Kudos to Amazon
Kudos to the Amazon engineers and others that made this little thoughtful feature a reality. It is a tiny thing in the grand scheme of the Kindle Platform, but it is very much appreciated. It is customer centric and as a customer, albeit a tiny one, I truly feel it.

Contrast this with my experience with Microsoft
I probably have tens of 1000’s of hours invested in using Microsoft products. One such product is Microsoft Word. My current book project is intended to be around 225 pages completed. I’m currently at 323 in the rough (with notes) and about 149 completed, pre-edit pages.  I’ll eventually strip out the notes and get it fully tuned to reach my goal of 225 pages, within a scosche. Of course along my writing journey I’ve spawned many other ideas for books, companies, apps, services, talks, blog posts, etc. I don’t have huge expectations that Microsoft would accommodate the organization, linking, revision control, and a host of other ideas that could make Word more powerful and relevant to my writer’s journey. After all, a product engineer might argue that there are many types of personas using Word and they can’t cater to the nuances of each of them.  Again, I wouldn’t expect that.

However, what I would expect is that autosave doesn’t make my computer go non-responding. Chock that up to an older version of Word? Perhaps. I’m granting that you have “Instant Autosave with Multitask” on the newer version. You do, right?

Be careful of the brand baggage you bestow on customers
Autosave isn’t my pet peeve here. Every day, I reenter my 323-page manuscript (and growing) with the intent of continuing work from where I was last working. This is understandable. Much like preparing a meal in a kitchen or creating a building on a construction site, when you return to the site, you want to begin where you last ended. A lengthy document isn’t any different. It could be my book, a technical manual, even your own strategy document or go-to-market product plan. While Amazon gives me the friendly thoughtful prompt, from Microsoft I get nothing. When I open my lengthy manuscript I expect to see [return to last known edit?], but instead, I receive the very first page, every time. Little things like this annoy, rob customers of time, disrespect, and over time, the negative brand aftertaste builds our brand baggage. Then negative word-of-mouth sets in.

Pretty please Microsoft
It’s not too late. There is hope. Problems like this are knowable and solvable, that is if you listen to customers and become obsessed with serving them. I’ll know that you really care about customers, even tiny ones like me, when you take care of little things like this. I want to believe you can do this. Microsoft, you are a product of my own back yard. I’ve done an internship there. I’ve been a consultant there. I’ve used many of your products and have had some good experiences, too. But, it’s time you become newly OBSESSED with customers. After all, they are the reason you have a business today and in the future. Little things do matter, even for giants like you.

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about the author

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

Greg also authored, The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true. The models in the Experience Design BLUEPRINT are equally relevant to organizations of all types and sizes including start-up entrepreneurs, nonprofits, for-profits, and government.

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