What do performance continuums reveal about your business?

What are your business performance continuums?
In business and in life sometimes things are good enough and don’t warrant change. At other times we have an uncomfortable gap between our current reality and our desired future.

When I’m working with a client, I like to better understand their current reality as well as their desired future state. We don’t want to wander around in the swamp. So, to make the best use of our time, I use a tool called the business performance continuums. It reveals important areas of the business; areas where the organization has a problem that is worth solving.

Continuums provide guidance for problems worth solving
Whether you are inside the organization or an outside consultant, you want to focus on problems that are of concern. Business performance continuums guide you toward relevant problem areas. You can make a similar tool to use inside your organization. Or, if you are a consultant, to use with your clients. The tool can be a document, a visual, a worksheet or whatever output you’d like. The conversation it represents is more important that the specific output. My own is an active word template with visual cues that I use as part of a strategic sweep, the process I use with clients for building a dynamic strategic plan.

Here are the steps to create your own Business Performance Continuums:

  1. Identify the categories that are important to your business
  2. Describe the high point and low points
  3. Ask the simple question for each category – where are you now on the continuum?
  4. Follow that question with – where do you want to be?
  5. Does the gap between current and desired position cause discomfort?
  6. If you closed the gap what would you notice as different?
  7. Identify and prioritize actions to close the gap(s)

Example: Communications
Below is a deeper look at the communications –  business performance continuum. You are either at the top, the bottom, or somewhere in between. For your organization at this time, it might not matter that you rank near the top. Sometimes good enough is actually toward the bottom of the scale for any given category – that is ok.

Communications - business performance continuums - Gregory Olson - Delightability - 206 356 8811

If there is a small gap (or none) between your current and future states there probably isn’t cause for concern. But, for each continuum where there is a large separation between where you are at, and where you’d like to be, then you’ll want to build a plan to close the gap.

Leaders spark better conversations
If you are part of a leadership team, building performance continuums can be an insightful exercise to reveal the perspective of your colleagues and to communicate your own. The same applies within or across departments. Please note that your answers of course will change over time because the world outside your organization (the business landscape and customers ecosystem) doesn’t sit still. So, good enough today might not be in the future. And, likewise, if you are executing on a plan to close any given gap, you’ll want to re-assess where you’re at in the future. Instead of cause for concern perhaps you’ll have reason to celebrate.

There are no magic tectonic plates at work here; the gap will not close on its own.

The key is to eliminate blind spots that may be limiting the potential of your business. And, if the exercise reveals an uncomfortable gap, then you can choose to do something about it. There are no magic tectonic plates at work here; the gap will not close on its own. Good luck and if you’d like assistance, please contact me. Please also share this article with colleagues to spark a productive conversation.

about the author

Gregory Olson 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 and competence in envisioning better possibilities and then making them come true, whether you are working alone or alongside a team. Chapters in the book that especially pertain to this article include:

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

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

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.

3 Modes of Failure and 10 Reasons You Don't Get Help

3 Modes of Failure and 10 Reasons You Don’t Get Help

Modes of Failure
Failed, failing, and will fail. If you haven’t failed or are in the process right now, your time will come. It’s guaranteed. Here is why…

Failure happens to all of us. We all fail at some point. It is a fact. The frail human body demands it. We are not giant sequoia, the only natural living organism that doesn’t have a natural terminus to its life. Unlike humans, old age just keeps getting older for the giant sequoia. All other plants and animals undergo changes at the cellular level, as they mature and eventually die. A giant sequoia properly supported and shielded from insects, fires, and other damage will literally live forever. Key to their long life is a supportive ecosystem.

image of giant sequoia courtesy of National Park Service - delightability blog
Image of Giant Sequoia Courtesy of National Park Service

A Better Ecosystem
The giant sequoia is at peace within the forest ecosystem and within itself. Every tiny cone, winged needle, water carrying capillary, section of thick spongy bark, all work together toward making the giant healthier. This is true until the day the giant falls. The sequoia does eventually lose its ability to support and sustain itself. If it could reach just the right size or expand its support system as it grew, old age would keep on going. But it does usually fall under its own weight. In life and in business our ecosystems are inferior to that of the giant sequoia; we have much to strive for.

What to Learn From an Old Giant
Building your support structure should be like the ecosystem of the sequoia. A strong base of support can keep the organization healthy as it ages. Relationships should be symbiotic where both parties benefit. Avoid parasitic relationships that can weaken you. At the extreme, a parasite can unwisely kill its host. Healthy forests are comprised of diverse trees at different stages of maturity. Each offers something unique to a healthy environment.

image of child in isolation walking alone - delightability blog postIsolation Limits Perspective.  Each of us can get into the heads-down mode, intently focused on our task at hand. But, focus too long in the same direction and you can lose perspective. It is easy to lose touch with the world that changes around you. Colleagues that share an office or a water cooler often share similar perspectives. As in nature, mono-culture can lead to a lack of diversity and unhealthy cycles where what nature provides to plants and the soil are eliminated. A less time-lapsed version of this limited perspective is the circular death mill, where army ants dutifully follow the scent of the soldier in front of them. Marching forward in a circular pattern together, they slowly grow weary and each of them dies. Their limited perspective never did reveal a clear path forward.

It’s lonely at the top, whether you are the Chief or the Chair or the master of your freelance domain.

Talk of Death is Easier than Failure
Conversations about failing are difficult to have within an organization. You might be searching for solutions, but somebody else might interpret your actions as you giving up. So, many play it safe instead; they don’t speak of failure, failed, or failing. This can lead to feelings of isolation. If you work alone as a freelancer, you already have this isolation built into your business.

If you’ve ever held the hand of a dying person, then you realize that even though you are in the same space with objects common to both of you, your experiences are very different. Of course they are, because your context is different. They are dying and you’ll go on to live another day, R.I.P. Karen and Lavera. It is much the same within and between organizations that work together. People are at all different stages of awareness, acceptance, solution finding, denial, anger, etc. In some ways, it is easier for people to talk with a person physically dying than it is for them to talk to another about their own organization that may be nearing the end. They often put on the “happy face” and pretend.

smiley face for signature - Greg Olson Delightability LLC.Positive Thinking May in Fact be Negative
People fixated purely on positive psychology can mistake a situation problem with a people problem. This can exacerbate the feeling of isolation and prevent people from getting the help they and their organization need. My friend, whose business DID recently fail, did all things right, and still failed. She didn’t attract it. There was no people problem. There was no energy she was exuding other than positive, wonderful, game changing, future making energy with jobs created, services provided and taxes flowing into the community. But, the situation morphed. The external environment changed and made her business illegal, by the stroke of a governor’s pen, backed by a state legislature. It was completely outside of her control. She didn’t even know it was happening, that is until it did. Like a sick patient, a business also needs to confront its reality. She did. Others, do not. See related post: Why Think Positive is So Last Year.

The Timing Goddess
Equally perilous, the timing goddess can be merciless. I saw many would-be good companies disappear during the dot-com bubble because funds available for investment dried up as investors recoiled to inspect their damaged portfolios. Guided by fear and greed, many investors were not good at separating the wheat from the chaff prior to, or following the bust. In fairness, the timing goddess can also bless a company, even one which at a different time would not pass scrutiny. Whether it is physical death or business failure people need comfort, assurance, and when appropriate interventions and remedies that can prevent premature or painful death.

Learning from Success AND Failure
We all love a great success story. There are no shortage of people who wish their brand could be “just a little more like Apple”, etc.  But, success rarely follows a straight up-and-to the-right trajectory and it’s definitely hard to replicate, though many have tried. Most successes, like progress itself, are built on the backs of failed experiments, trial and error, early initiatives, course corrections, and false starts, etc.

I’ve had my own businesses fail. I’ve worked with others who business has failed, too. Some of my failures include ideas that couldn’t get going or those that got going and then fizzled later. I’ve also had projects that failed, campaigns, design approaches, even routes. The route failure was particularly painful because in the end our party hiked 3 times farther than originally planned. We arrived at our vehicle, hungry, cold, blistered, sore, and exhausted at 10:40 pm one dark and dreary fall evening – sorry Shannon and Lisa. All of my failures AND successes have helped to sharpen my approach when reaching for new destinations, whether in the natural or business landscape. But, I also learn from the successes and failure of others.

Expanding Your Village
In a software company that I started I created three levels of advisors. I had my official board of directors, comprised of one outside board member (a VC that extended a loan) and two insiders, one of which was me. This board provided little value to me, or the operation and was even detrimental at times. I also established a formal advisory board and what I referred to as my coffee-table advisors. Upon reflection, I view the latter group as the most beneficial. We’d meet for coffee occasionally to chew through an issue or to catch up and review. Meetings were usually one-to-one or one-to-few. Each of these advisors was experienced, retired, interested in my success, and didn’t need my startup’s stock options, a stipend or even an honorable mention. There was no formal written agreement. Each of them simply wanted to help.

By contrast, each of my formal advisory board members did have a written agreement that spelled out the number of stock options (warrants actually) they were to receive; there was no cash compensation or stipend. Each adviser provided something valuable and tangible to the business. In one case that was “starter” code that helped showcase our first prototype, the predecessor to our minimally viable product. Advisors also provided perspective, guidance, and feedback to less experienced personnel. In one case, an advisor provided access to their personnel and even some office space within their business. The strategic, technical, and financial advice we received was beneficial to me personally, as well as the business. All of my advisors provided access to their network, which was valuable and appreciated. None of what I’m sharing ever appeared on an organization chart and much of it remains unknown today, to the people involved in the company. In life and in business, it really does take a village. And that village isn’t always visible.

Failure, While Certain for Humans is Not for Business
While our own body’s ecosystem is prone to failure, our businesses don’t have to be. Like the giant sequoia, with proper care businesses can outlive their earlier human contributors. There is no natural death cycle for a business, even though some refer to the life cycle of a business. Tell that to Zildjian, a company that continues to reinvent itself. It’s leadership has persisted through revolution, changes in technology, movement across counties and continents, and even fire that gutted the factory. The company has persisted since 1623. You can be sure the company leadership from its inception to today, received much help from a broad village of support.

image of child reaching for help - delightability blog10 Reasons We Don’t Ask for Help
In some cases, the barrier that prevents us from getting help is the monoculture already mentioned. It has us seeking counsel inside the organization, reflecting what we want to hear. After all, outsiders might tell us something uncomfortable. Other reasons we don’t ask for help include:

  1. We wait too long and convince ourselves that it’s too late to effect change. Feelings of hopelessness and even depression can accompany this.
  2. We are too proud to ask for help. Leaders are accustomed to leading and not the best people to ask others to help them.
  3. We don’t know where to begin. Things are not well, but we don’t have a question to ask or project to pursue. There is no clear path forward.
  4. We are distrustful of strangers especially outsiders to our business. We may lose control.
  5. We have a blind spot that we are failing and that others could possibly see more potential for our business.
  6. We lack the knowledge of the type of help we need; there doesn’t appear to be a company doctor to ease or prevent our type of pain.
  7. We believe our situation so unique that nobody could possibly understand or help.
  8. We believe our business and current situation are too complex or dynamic. They are not stable enough; they change too quickly to immerse anybody. FYI – this can also prevent people from hiring new employees.
  9. It is expected that I seek a self-help solution. The cultural drive for self-help can be strong and there could be stigma associated with getting help.
  10. We have no budget for this type of this. Getting help outside of established patterns is rarely a budgeted expense anymore than one budgets for a healthcare emergency. Nobody plans for a chipped tooth (that happened to me in the recent past). But, sometimes an investment in your health or professional development is warranted (I feel much better with my restored tooth).

You can’t avoid death in life, but you can in business.

Summary
You can’t avoid death in life but you can in business. Notice that none of the ten answers was “because help was not available.” Like a patient that seeks medical care there is plenty of help available. There are general and specialized consultants to address challenges and opportunities for all sizes and types of organizations. But, you have to seek it out. Just like you establish care with a medical practitioner ahead of when you need it, it is a good idea to have some “go-to” people for your business health, too. If you do, perhaps you should let them know how you are feeling. They might have just the medicine you need. And, like a good doctor, each has a network of other resources standing by for referral. Cheers to your continued health and kudos to you for overcoming these 10 barriers when the time comes that you too, need some help.

about the author

Gregory Olson’s latest book is L’ impossi preneurs: A Hopeful Journey Through Tomorrow, a light-hearted and deadly serious book about a brighter future where we live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Greg also authored The Experience Design Blueprint, a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true. The models in the Experience Design BLUEPRINT are equally relevant to organizations of all types and sizes including start-up entrepreneurs, nonprofits, for-profits, and government.

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

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.

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.

5 Lessons: Picking Up Passengers on the Train of Progress

Here is the situation. You’ve got some place you’d like to be; a destination yet to be realized. Progress, a big change initiative, the launch of a product or service. Whether you’re the chair, the chief, the executive director, product manager, board member, or some other concerned change maker, you acknowledge you’re not going to get everybody to the destination all by yourself. You’ll need other people to get on board and participate.

Here are 5 lessons to master so that you can all reach the desired destination together.

  1. high speed train in germany - gregory olson - delightabilityOnboarding is Essential

Assuming you all know the destination (that is another article) you’ll be picking up passengers (employees, vendors, partners, members, volunteers, etc.) at various stops. Be mindful that not everyone will be at the same level of awareness. Slow down and help people get on board. The recently boarded are not as familiar. Take time to show them around. You want to avoid cognitive overload, the proverbial drinking from the firehouse, where little is retained. Provide people with communication tools that allow them to slowly get immersed. See the related blog post about transfer and absorption value as key to better storytelling.

be smooth like a washing machine spin cycle - gregory olson - delightability

  1. Maintain Smooth

As you journey together toward your destination, pace and rhythm are key. You don’t want passengers to get thrown off as you approach a corner too fast. You also don’t want a sputtering, inefficient engine. Emulate the smoothness of your washing machine’s spin cycle. In your organization you can establish operating mechanisms to keep things running more smoothly. Like the garbage service or doing laundry at home, operating mechanisms create a regular cycle to keep things from piling up or from being neglected. You’ll retain more passengers on your journey if you avoid abrupt changes, extremes, and neglect. Even a comprehensive strategy pivot can be smooth when thoughtfully handled.

  1. the playground is where ideas live - gregory olson - delightabilityKeep Synchronized

Some people will want to go faster. Others will think the journey is far too slow. Listen to both concerns. Consider ideas can come from anywhere, even the newest passenger. Inviting others to share ideas could shift your perspective for the better. Create a space for that conversation to happen. I call this the playground and it represents the idea zone. Read more about the 3 psychological zones in Ch 12. Remember, ideas are not judged in the playground and not all ideas will advance. But, it is still important for people to have a voice, be respected, listened to, and for their ideas to be considered at an appropriate time. Establish an operating mechanism to screen and advance ideas.

  1. tornadoDon’t Ignore Conditions

There may be cattle on the tracks, a bridge out ahead or another hazard. Trains encounter changing conditions and hazards; so does your organization. Establishing “sensors in the ground” (see Ch 8) can serve as your early warning system, like seismometers that detect shifts in the earth’s tectonic plates. The journey will be smoother for all aboard if you confront reality and don’t pretend your passengers will be unaffected.

  1. diversity as seen through shoes - gregory olson - delightabilityBe Mindful of the Audience

All passengers are not created equally. And, not all of the stakeholders to your organization are either. The women in car number 27 might need a little extra assistance. Same with employee X or customer Y or supplier Z. When we create average experiences for everybody we are destined to be supplanted by somebody more thoughtful to individuals needs and context. Case in point, would you like to wait for a yellow cab or message Uber?

Whether your train of progress is literal or figurative you can go further and reach your destination if you pay attention to these 5 lessons for implementing change. Ignore them and you may might find yourself navigating the journey alone or more likely stuck in a train that never leaves the station.

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.

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

  • Chapter 7: Improving the Journey
  • Chapter 8: The Promise Delivery Systems
  • Chapter 12: The Three Psychological Zones

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.

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.

An Open Letter to City Leaders in the World Community

image of Delightability visiting Toronto - all rights reserved - Gregory Olson

Dear Leader,

Image of City for Open Letter to City - The Experience Design BLUEPRINT by Gregory Olson

As a Mayor, City Manager, or member of City Council you have a special duty that you’re likely ill prepared for. It isn’t running a campaign, debating hot topics like climate change and minimum wage, or being a good partner to those managing city departments and resources. No, those are traditional and evergreen requirements, necessary but, insufficient to meet the needs of an increasingly demanding public.

Image of Crosswalk for Open Letter to City - The Experience Design BLUEPRINT by Gregory Olson

You see, you’re not so much as managing and governing what is these days as you are expected to be concerned with the future of the city. This means innovation. This means growth. It means economic prosperity for every household. This means a safety net for those that need it, whether their home is ablaze, they are a victim of crime, a super storm, or temporarily rendered irrelevant by a divided economy that puts corporate profits ahead of people and the community you govern. It means anticipating what’s next and being proactive, even if you won’t be the direct beneficiary or in office at the time of implementation.

Your city thrives when all people do better. It is up to you to put people and communities first.  This will take courage, loads of courage, especially if people with an alternative agenda helped put you in office. Part of your job is managing multiple stakeholders that don’t have goal congruence. You’ll need to manage expectations between competing stakeholders. Getting it right will take more conversations with more people and continued learning on your part.

Image of German City for Open Letter to City - The Experience Design BLUEPRINT by Gregory Olson

You need to think and act like a designer, a futurist, and a humanist. You’ll need to adopt new mental models and abandon thinking that trapped your predecessors in a bridled past. But, unfortunately it is likely that you’re poorly trained for these new roles. You might be thinking at this point, “I didn’t sign up for this. I’m busy. That is not my job.” If this is what you think, then you would be wrong.

Rise to the occasion, adopt your new badge of courage, and let’s get to work. There is much potential for your city and I have the confidence that you can do good things, you simply need a little help. I’m going to provide some help, some encouragement, and inspiration. There are plenty of people in your own city that can help, too. They are your co-designers, the people that can help write the story history will one day retell. You’ll need to tap into their energy, capacity, and willingness to get involved in civic matters. That is a challenge we’ll come back to later.

Image of German City for Open Letter to City - The Experience Design BLUEPRINT by Gregory Olson

I’ve written The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations. It’s a book about designing better experiences and then making them come true. There are people working, living, recreating, and passing through your city right now. You and your colleagues have a large task at hand, namely designing better experiences for these people. But, most likely you aren’t even on the same page when it comes to defining an experience, let alone making them come true.

This is the first letter you’ve received from me, but it won’t be the last. I’ll be sharing more. You can get a head start by reading my book. I’m happy to speak with you and members of your extended team. All reasonable people want vibrant, sustainable cities full of happy people. Let’s make that happen.

With sincerity and optimism,
Gregory Olson (reach me on twitter at @fordoers)

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 to spark conversations among global citizens.  In a brighter future, we all live more meaningful lives, governments invest in people and sustainable progress, and technology serves humans. Visit Press-Kit to learn 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.

Blindly Staying the Course When a New Direction Is Needed

The Organizational Schematic

Whether you lead an organization or are the newest kid on the block, you need to know how things work inside the organization. Don’t bother looking at the organizational chart; that isn’t the way work actually gets done or decisions are made. In fact, much of what is decided is undocumented and the workflow invisible. You know when it is done, or in contrast, when it’s not. But, the inbetween state is sometimes really hard to see, especially if you are not looking. There are attributes of a healthy innovation culture that build in safeguards, even when people are not looking. In contrast, all the controls and processes put in place in an unhealthy innovation culture won’t make the organization more innovative any more than an overweight person can think their way to thin.

Bridled and Blind or Agile and Conversant

Is your Organization like a horse with blinders - Delightability llc - The Experience Design BLUEPRINTWhat is the model inside your organization for staying in tune with a changing business landscape and customer ecosystem? Do you have a way to rationalize what you believe inside the organization with the external customer reality? And, how responsive will you be when something changes? How quickly will you notice and which role or department will it be that senses the change? How will each department be informed? Will they respond in a way that is consistent and uniform with smooth handoffs, or will there be ripple effects, balled dropped, cycles burned and ultimately, opportunities lost? Literally, if your organization’s were a horse, how would you describe it? Bridled and controlled by others, marching blind, or ready to shift directions and conversant?

Most organizations don’t have very authentic dialogue around these subjects let alone operating mechanisms or mental models in place to suddenly shift course. This isn’t good for customers, employees, or for the business. In Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall, in my book, The Experience Design BLUEPRINT, I explore these subjects. Readers will gain recipes and tools to have more productive conversations that lead to outcomes beneficial to customers and to the organization.

In that chapter, among other examples, I share how Joe Fugere of Tutta Bella Pizza was able to form a quick response team that seized the opportunity to serve Tutta Bella Neapolitan style pizza to the President of the United States along with 65 other people aboard Air Force One. I also share how a large mobile operator with vastly more resources habitually lets opportunities pass them by. If you want a healthier innovation culture inside your company read the stories, reflect on the recipes, and begin to shift your conversation; Your future stakeholders will be happy you did.

image of Greg-Olson-Managing Director of Delightability and author of Experience Design BLUEPRINTGreg Olson is a business coach to leaders and the author of The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations. Chapters in the book that pertain to this blog post include Chapter 8: The Promise Delivery System and Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall. Read it on Kindle or any device using the free Kindle Reader application.

Would You Have the Courage to Sound the Alarm at Pearl Harbor or in Your Organization?

Would You Have the Courage to Sound the Alarm?
Did you feel that? Something just changed. There it is again. You see it that time? OK, so you missed it this time, but will you sense it next time? And, if you do, will you do anything about it?

Sometimes a failure to confront reality has no impact. Time innocently advances and things seem to go on as normal. After all, you don’t see the thing that you’re not looking for. And, if it isn’t noisy or disturbing enough, it doesn’t punish you for not noticing.

Lessons from Pearl Harbor
This wasn’t the case on the morning of December 7, 1941 at Opana Point, Hawaii. Here at 7:02 in the morning, privates Joseph L. Lockard and George Elliot had been monitoring the mobile radar unit and noticed a large blip, more like a curtain, on the radar screen. When George reported what they believed to be approaching aircraft, to the information center at Fort Shafter, the United States Army Pacific headquarters, they were assured “not to worry.” The large blip on the new radar was reasoned by the commanding officer, lieutenant Kermit Tyler, to be Army B-17 Flying Fortress bombers that were scheduled to arrive that morning. But, Tyler’s prediction was deathly wrong as Pearl Harbor was under siege less than one hour later.

Some of the lessons of the Attack on Pearl Harbor are resoundingly clear:

  • Early warning systems can alert you to trouble, but only if you trust what you are are sensing
  • The chain of command can sometimes prevent the truth from surfacing
  • Consequences of inaction can be debilitating and devastating

You don’t have to be in the military for these lessons to apply.

Is your organization making these mistakes?

  • Your organization ignores warning signs and stories shared by employees, customers, and partners. Some people may be labeled as “alarmists”.
  • Your culture restricts or retards the flow of information across functional areas as well as up and down levels of the organization
  • Decisions made are protected and unable to be changed or even informed
  • As the world outside your organization continues to morph, your company further solidifies its inside-out viewpoint; the strategy drifts from a marketplace reality

Signs of decay within the organization
An organization that makes these mistakes can lose market share to more courageous and thoughtful brands that listen and attempt to understand customers. When customers defect it’s rarely about price. People give allegiance to brands that better understand them and deliver customer experiences aimed to win hearts and minds not just profits. But, perhaps as bad, when leadership and the culture within a company commit these offenses the organization becomes crippled and is unable to effectively collaborate across the silos it has created. Information even if it is seen is not absorbed into the knowledge of the organization. There is no rally around the truth. Competitive attacks occur and with greater frequency and intensity and employees further disengage. Problems seem too big to solve and outside of their domain or department. The cycle seems to get worse with each new plan, new launch and new initiative. Customers and employees suffer, but so does the overall health of the organization. When this happens you’ve built a lumpy snowball.

The Curse of the Lumpy Snowball applies to you whether you are an army of 10 or 10,000 or more. No organization is immune, not the government, small or large business, non-profit, budding entrepreneur or neighborhood association in your community.

In my book, The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations, I introduce the Promise Delivery System, a visible closed loop system that revolves around an intended audience and includes four major components:

  1. Develop Strategy
  2. Produce & Deliver
  3. Insights & Validation
  4. Apply Learning

Among other things, the promise delivery system shows how to adjust your strategy based on changing conditions, so your organization’s promises can meet and exceed your audiences’ expectations. Making the organization’s promise delivery system visible helps people to collectively stay on track, employees to be more engaged and know how ideas fit, and to understand how to improve the organization, its offerings, and how it communicates.

With a fully functioning promise delivery system all of the organizations’s stakeholders become the collective everyday intelligence that prevents the need to sound the alarm or declare a state of emergency.

About the Author

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

Gregory Olson is a consultant, speaker, and author of The Experience Design BLUEPRINT: Recipes for Creating Happier Customers and Healthier Organizations.

Connect with Greg on Linkedin, Facebook, or Twitter.

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Exercises and mental models in the book will build your confidence and competence in envisioning better possibilities and then making them come true, whether you are working alone or alongside a team. Chapters in the book that especially pertain to this post include:

  • Chapter 1: What Makes and Experience?
  • Chapter 6: Aiming for Remarkable, Unbroken, and Generous Design
  • Chapter 8: The Promise Delivery System
  • Chapter 11: Barriers to Innovation and Overcoming the Wall

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