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.

Acceptable Discomfort is Better than None

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

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

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

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

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

about the author

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

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

Connect with Greg on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter.

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

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

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

Making a sandwich reveals your biases

Making a Beautiful Tasty Sandwich

So, you’re making a sandwich, a beautiful tasty sandwich. You gather the fresh pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, avocado, cheese, mayo, mustard, fresh ground pepper, etc. Then you reach for the bread. You open the plastic bag and if you are like most people, you automatically skip past the heel, like your looking for an ace in a deck of cards. You go straight to the “good stuff” towards the middle.

Running on Autopilot

Caught you! You’re like a robot or a computer running an algorithm, not even aware you’re running the program. Or rather, the program is running you. Why don’t you like heels? No, really, why? I’m pretty certain you’ve never performed a taste test to compare the crusty exterior with the interior. You’ve probably never examined it for detectable flaws. You likely are completely unaware of why you eschew, the crusty one. Maybe you’ve simply aped mother or father or a sibling. The reason doesn’t really matter. The fact is you have a blind-spot and a bias. It likely isn’t the only one. We all have them. I do, too.

avoiding heels is a bias most of us share - The Experience Design Blueprint - Gregory Olson - Delightability

Biases in the office

Patterns that are codified into the DNA of an organization reside with individuals. Schooling, past experiences, beliefs, and values all shape the biases we bring to work each day. Biases held by individuals and entire departments become woven into the innovation fabric of the enterprise. One classic and common bias is financial. “What is the business case?” “What is the expected ROI?” “Is this a big enough business to matter?” These biases for immediate results or large returns squash budding ideas that really could be the next big thing, if nurtured. Smart people everywhere are upholding these biases and unable to move forward. They are stuck in their own thinking; much like a trained elephant is tethered to the ground with only a small chain and spike that it could easily break free from.

Biases in our lives

Biases come in many forms. For some it is about not eating heals. Sometimes, these biases and blind-spot lead us to act in ways that are intolerant of others, insensitive to our surroundings, suspicious of others motives, and unbelieving of others abilities.

I once had a friend that came home from a job and went on to tell me about the completely incapable, intolerable, irritating new hire that had started that day. Within a couple of weeks the bias had subsided and the two pals were spending time together. What other blind-spots and biases might you have? Ask a friend or colleague to observe your patterns and practices. You might just learn something about your habits.

There you have it, robot. I hope you’ll soon savor the special loaf end, that crusty exterior, whether you slather it with butter and strawberry jam, make bread pudding, or homemade seasoned croutons. And, if you still decide to throw those heals in the compost, then at least you’ll do so with your eyes and mind wide open. Enjoy your sandwich.

about the author

Greg 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.

The chapter in The Experience Design Blueprint that especially pertains to this post is:

  • Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall

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

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