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People Want Places, Not Platforms


Do you see all those people who whipping their smartphones out as soon as they get on the train or stand in a queue? They’re not just avoiding boredom, they’re searching—but not only for information, or laughs, or updates. They are searching for a feeling of connection.

We want places to go and places to be. Places to kill time and places that make us feel a little less lonely in the moment. Places to learn. Places to share. Places that make us feel safe, or smart, or welcomed, or funny, or hopeful for the future. But most of all, we want places to belong and places where we feel like we matter.

Those places used to be our family homes, our dinner tables at 6 pm, or football games with friends on Saturday afternoons. Increasingly they are digital spaces.

Whatever you’re building, think beyond features, functionality and design and think first about how the person you serve wants to feel when she arrives at the place you’ve built.

Image by Hugh Han

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Growing Small


I remember landing my first ‘real’ job like it was yesterday.

One of the big British supermarket chains was opening a huge store not far from where I lived in Dublin. It was good news for the hundreds of people who would be employed there—more jobs, more choice for consumers—a win-win.

At fifteen, I thought I would get a weekend job on the checkouts, but instead, I was given the title, Stock Control Assistant, a navy blue uniform, and a clipboard. My job was to ‘assist’ the stock controller—a man wearing a red blazer, with a bigger clipboard, to record how much produce had been sold in the past week. The Stock Control Assistants met at eight o’clock every Saturday in the draughty warehouse before being assigned a section to record. The unlucky ones were assigned to frozen foods—not much fun in Dublin winters.

By nine, I’d find myself scaling shelves in the warehouse, crawling over pallets of baked beans and instant soups, counting every single packet and can. After lunch, we’d move into the store to count the items on the shelves. We were under strict instructions to stay on task and not to ‘serve’ customers while we were on the shop floor. That was somebody else’s job.

I’d kneel on the floor in front of the macaroni cheese so I could see right to the back of the shelf, making sure I was recording the right number. Then a shopper would reach over me, take a can, and pop it in his basket.

Two weeks in I realised our job was futile. However accurate we tried to be, we’d never get the numbers right. But the part of the job that mystified me more was the instructions about leaving customers to their own devices. How could we ignore the elderly lady who was struggling to reach a jar of beetroot on the top shelf? Surely well-stocked shelves and low prices weren’t enough to keep customers coming back?

What I’d witnessed about how to build a business growing up in the suburbs was the opposite of this. My mother’s butcher knew her by name and her order by heart. The grocer stopped and chatted to her for what seemed like an eternity to us kids waiting to pay and get home to play. The baker would make sure he only sold her the freshest bread. None of these small business owners won by having the most stock. They won by taking the most care.

As you’ve probably guessed, I didn’t last long in the giant supermarket. The salary and subsidised lunches weren’t enough to keep me there. They didn’t feed my soul.

The big store lives on today. But it’s not as popular as it was in those early days when it first opened. And the supermarket chain is changing its strategy. Like many retailers, they are opening smaller, local stores to cut costs. Going small is the new growth strategy. It looks like we are circling back to a time of more care and connection. I believe that’s what our customers (and we) want.

Image by Johann Walter Bantz

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Looking For Someone


One day, maybe today—you will get an email enquiry or a call from a person who says they are ‘looking for someone’ who does what you do, to help them to achieve their goals.

You will be tasked with convincing this person you are the right ‘someone’ for the job.

You will need to find the right words and price to make them pick you above the other options they are considering.

Imagine how much better your story and your work would be if you weren’t aiming to convince everyone.

How can you become the one for the people you want to matter to?

Image by Brandon Lopez

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The Stories We Live And Leave


We care about finding our voice, our advantage, our unique value proposition.

We work hard to tell that story—never more so than in our digital world.

How much consideration do we give to the stories we live and leave?

In the end, all that will be left of us is the stories other people share about us.

How can we make those stories worth telling?

Image by NeonBrand

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Like The Weather


The weather is a favourite preoccupation of many people in the city where I was born.

‘Lovely day!’ Someone might say.
‘Looks like it might rain later, though.’ Comes the reply.

We’re all guilty of obsessing over the one thing we can’t control.
We can always blame the weather if the gathering we’d planned doesn’t go as we’d hoped.

But often the thing we can’t control distracts us, getting in the way of the things we can affect or change.

We can choose to be wet and miserable or we can wear wellies and pack an umbrella.

Image by Neon Brand

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Nurturing Growth


Most companies are founded to change something for the better. From Nike to Moo and Patagonia to Starbucks, the founding principle was grounded in service to a community of people with an unmet need—whether that was athletes, entrepreneurs, outdoor types or people who needed a place to get together over coffee.

It’s virtually impossible to think of building a successful business (or life), without having the intention to grow. But sometimes growth for growth’s sake can be a trap. What if instead of thinking about growing our businesses, our expertise or our influence, we considered how we could nurture them instead?

When we begin to think in terms of nurturing (protecting something while it grows), we are compelled to be more intentional about how we grow—and focusing on how makes all the difference.

Questions For You

1. Why is it necessary for your business to grow?
2. How does it need to grow?
3. What does sustainable growth look like for you?
4. What are you unwilling to compromise on to achieve growth?
5. What else should you consider before making your next move?

Every journey begins with two decisions.
We must figure out where we want to end up, but also and how we want to get there.

Image by Michał Parzuchowski

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Showing Value


Did you know that on average, a buyer spends less than half an hour in a property before deciding to buy it?

How the property is styled influences the price people pay, as much, if not more than valuations and comparable sales data. A good property stylist leaves room for prospective buyers to imagine themselves in the space—making them feel like it could become their place.

When we’re in the business of serving or selling, we are regularly required to demonstrate the value we deliver.

We need to help customers experience what buying from or working with us will feel like, often before a transaction has taken place.

We often do this with reason and logic alone, by competing on price, speed or some other hard metric. But it turns out that people don’t just want to know how much something costs. They want a sense of how their lives will be changed by our product or service.

We can all benefit from learning to show, not just explain the value we create. Marketing and sales appeal to the imagination, they are about showing and telling.

Image by Roberto Nickson

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On Finding The Right Customers


Building a sustainable and fulfilling business isn’t just about finding enough customers—it’s about finding enough of the right customers.

Here are ten questions you can ask yourself to guide your thinking about what kind of customers will enable you to do your best work.

10 Questions For Finding The Right Customers

1. If you could only work with a handful of customers, which would you choose?

2. Why are these customers ideal for you?

3. What do your ideal customers want from a service provider?

4. What do you want from your customers?

5. What story will you tell customers about why you are the best fit for them?

6. What story will you tell customers about why they are the best fit for you?

7. How will you price your products and services to attract only those ideal clients?

8. How many of these ‘right customers’ do you need to build a viable business?

9. Where will you find your ideal customers?

10. How will your ideal customers find you?

Customer-company fit is underrated.

Image by Cristina

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The Lost Art Of Storytelling


Your great-grandmother couldn’t send a text or an email, but she had dozens of life skills we don’t often use today.

She knew how to build a fire. She could knit and sew her clothes. She likely grew and preserved food. And she would have been a better storyteller than you and I put together.

Our ancestors needed to tell stories to gain the trust and cooperation of others. But not only that, they told stories to make sense of their world and to share that understanding.

We still need stories and story skills in the present, more than we realise.

I was at an event last weekend where two Australian authors were in conversation. They shared a lot of wisdom, but the things I remember today are the stories.

The story about being stuck on a lonely train platform after dark and the one about witnessing the giant branch of a tree crash to the ground, almost killing someone.

What stories will you tell today and why will they matter to the people who hear them?

Image by Les Anderson

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Only Human


Today you and I will pay $4 for a coffee when we could have paid a dollar.

We will take vitamins it’s claimed will improve our health, even though we have no definitive proof that they do.

We will eat too much and exercise too little.

We will distract ourselves with non-urgent tasks and fail to do the one thing we promised ourselves we’d get done.

All because we are only human—beings, who as neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor says, are feeling creatures that think, not the thinking creatures who feel, we like to believe we are.

Despite knowing this, we will still try to convince our kids, our colleagues or our customers to change their minds with facts and rational arguments alone.

We need to constantly remind ourselves that we are neither all head or all heart and act accordingly.

Image by Shane Rounce

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