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Conventional wisdom states that you can never have too much information when solving a problem or executing on a plan.
But we all know that information and data alone won’t get us to where we want to go.
All problem-solving and innovation require us also to imagine a future we can’t yet see. And perhaps harder, to have the courage to act despite what we don’t know.
Knowledge allows us to get our bearings, but it’s imagination and action that give us the forward motion we need to to start and finish.
Image by Gaelle Marcel
Jessica couldn’t believe it had been only three years since she opened the doors to the tiny clothing boutique she’d dreamed of owning one day. She remembered the excitement of finding the shabby little two roomed workshop, choosing colours for the walls and installing makeshift shelving and clothing racks where she could display all her original pieces. She wanted to make clothes that were one offs, the sorts of clothes she would be proud to own, that had a story, things that people would covet and adore.
One by one people found her. They loved the designs only Jess was making and then told their friends. The local newspaper came, did an interview and took photographs and before Jess knew it the Lady Mayor of the town was ordering a whole custom wardrobe. It was too good an opportunity to pass up even if she felt a little uncomfortable about compromising on some of the styles she was required to design. The exposure was incredible! Well healed women came from miles around looking for new wardrobes. They loved the idea of being able to have a big say in the design process and Jessica was so helpful.
Now though Jess was so busy creating stuff that other people wanted her to create she had no time to experiment with her own designs. She didn’t have time for sketching wacky ideas. She no longer had space to dream up designs for beautiful original accessories. She had email enquiries to field and phone calls to return.
On a rare Sunday stroll by the river with a friend Jess realised that she wasn’t looking forward to opening her newly extended shop on Monday. She was dreading having to sit down and work to finish the designs that Allison Joyce the local councillor had commissioned. Somehow she felt that in trying to build a successful business she’d lost a sense of her original purpose and a bit of her soul along the way. She got little joy from the ooohs and aaahs of customers wearing garments she didn’t care she had designed. The money was great but the work was soul destroying. Jess was now left feeling like she’d sold out, she’d traded her passion and her art for a traditional measure of success and that made her uncomfortable. Mostly she was angry at herself for allowing her ego to get in the way of doing what she really loved, what she’d set out to do and be. She realised that what made her a success in the first place was doing what mattered to her.
So on Monday Jess didn’t open the shop. She stopped answering the phone, went for walks and thought long and hard about what it was that made her want to do this job in the first place. Jess took time out to go to the art gallery, the local market and the design museum. It was a tough time and she knew that some people might judge her harshly for making changes. Jess also knew though that change had to happen, that the first step to helping dreams come true was putting a stake in the ground for her own dreams.
So that’s what she did. It meant not just tweaking the model she now had only to be back where she started again in few weeks time. No, Jess made a radical shift and a decision never to take on a custom design again. It just felt like the right thing to do. She had to stop being a shadow of the designer she could be by being the designer she wanted to be.
I’m sure Jess made the right decision. If you get no joy from what you do it begins to show. You can tweak the compromise a little here and there but sometimes what is required is insight and extreme bravery.
Remember why you started not just what you started.
*This is a re-post from some of my earlier work, it’s important and I wanted to share it here with you.*
Image by Steve Rhodes.
It was a slow Wednesday morning, and the smell of freshly baked croissants wafted from the new French bakery. The store was almost empty, as were the display cabinets that should have been teeming with tempting pastries at this hour. The rock music blared. The bakery assistant who wore yesterday’s apron and a half-hearted smile, dropped the croissant she was bagging while remarking to a colleague that running out of croissants was ‘not a good look for a French bakery’. She haphazardly sealed the bag by scrunching the top with her fist. The customer paid $4.90 for the croissant. His coffee was half price because of a special promotion the bakery was running to attract more customers before 9.30am. What should have been a story about an exceptional croissant worth paying almost $5 for was broken because of the mediocre experience.
Where did the bakery go wrong and how could they tell a better brand story? The biggest problem is the disconnect between their desire to pitch their product as a premium offering and supporting that story with nothing more than quality ingredients and high prices. The service design and delivery tells a different story. The empty display cabinets, discounting, poorly trained and presented staff and music that doesn’t enhance the mood, create a disconnect.
Our brand stories are not merely a way to get customers to come through the door and hand over cash—we want them to feel glad that they did. Every choice we make and everything we do must align with the story we want our brand to embody. Our actions have to support the message we want customers to believe.
The product, environment, service, and design each play a part in taking our customers on a journey we hope they’ll want to repeat. It’s our job to make sure the story is consistent from start to finish. We do that by being clear about exactly what our brand stands for and by making deliberate decisions that align with and support that vision.
Image by Emanuele Toscano.
I like my insurance company, or should I say I like the people who work for my insurance company. I’ve been with them almost ten years and have no intention of switching. Their call centre team is well trained and they really go out of their way to be helpful and make the customer feel understood. This company’s people are definitely their greatest asset. The process of getting through to the people who do all the heavy lifting in the claims department is another matter.
It’s not easy to sit for 31 minutes listening to a recording that repeatedly tells you one thing while your current reality demonstrates otherwise. I finally gave up listening to how valuable my time was and then out of curiosity called back to see how long it would take to get to a salesperson, by following the phone prompts to the new policy sales department. The answer was 70 seconds from start to finish. Two rings from the final automated prompt and a cheery salesperson picked up.
On the day that I called there were 113 people in the claims queue, which equates to a 40 minute wait. The guy in sales told me that he thought there had been a recent natural disaster in another state—hence the high call volume. He had never seen that many people in the claims queue.
Of course my first instinct was to ask why they don’t just add more people to the claims line. We all know that even with excellent data and planning it’s not always possible to redirect resources at short notice. Sometimes you can’t deliver the service that meets a customer’s expectations. If you can’t do that the next best thing is to manage her expectations. Often the best solution doesn’t mean fixing the actual problem.
What’s worse than a 40 minute wait—is a 40 minute wait without information. What we detest more than the wait is the feeling of uncertainty. There was an opportunity to change the story I was replaying in my head while I was on hold and to create the minimum viable experience (MVE) by simply tweaking the recording.
In customer service the minimum viable experience (MVE) is the experience with the highest return on customer satisfaction versus resources.
There is always an opportunity to create value at the point before the product or service is delivered. Uber has built a business valued at $40 billion by doing just that. They recognised the pain of that uncertainty and took it away, thus creating intangible value and massive emotional benefits for their customers.
When a customer orders a taxi to take her to the airport she wants to get to the airport, but the service starts before the actual journey, with a step that creates certainty in the moment—knowing that she will arrive on time is priceless.
When an Apple evangelist goes to the Genius Bar with a problem he wants his device back up and running, but the step before that is believing that the ‘Genius’ can and will help him. The Genius is trained to deliver a minimum viable experience by telling the customer exactly what he’s doing every step of the way. The phrase “don’t worry I’m here to help, we’re going to sort this problem out for you,” works like magic and best of all it costs nothing.
When we think about delivering the optimum customer experience we strive to create a scenario that meets the customer’s wants, often forgetting that what the customer wants is more than a cab that takes her from A to B, a computer that works, or a human being that picks up the phone right away. There are so many opportunities to create intangible value and subtle expectations that we can fulfil by being more empathetic and without spending a cent.
There is always a way to leave the customer feeling better. It’s up to us to find it.
Image by JF Gornet.
Bread Society is a beautiful artisan bakery in Singapore (the website doesn’t do it justice). At the back of the store the bakers roll, and knead and prove in full view, whilst just in front an assistant packages delectable breads. Self serve cabinets filled with Chocolate Melon Brioche, Honey Lemon Danish and Sundried Tomato Bagels are lit from above by glass chandeliers. It’s an experience from start to finish and a story we want to tell.
But the company doesn’t want us to share it. When one of my boys tried to take a photo he was politely informed that photography wasn’t allowed. We’d missed the sign in the window.
Why go to all the trouble of telling a great story, and creating a fantastic experience only to stop the best marketing you could ever dream of from filtering out?
If you’ve created a brand story worth sharing why worry about the competition?
A secret sauce is worthless without people who care about what you do and why you do it. Your mission then isn’t to prevent your idea being copied or stolen, it’s to find a way to matter.
The bigger concern for any business now is not the competition, it’s obscurity.
Image by Robyn Lee.
So a customer walks into an artisan bakery and says…
“Hey your bread looks great and smells divine, but do you know how hard it is to make a sandwich for my kid’s lunch using those unevenly shaped unsliced loaves? Why don’t you make them in square loaf pans like everyone else?”
But since you bake free formed loaves (no pan required), that take up to three days to make from start to finish you understand the virtues of the unsliced loaf. And you make a stand. You choose to tell the story to the people who want to hear it. You decide to make the best loaves, not the squarest loaves.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re a butcher, baker or candlestick maker, what you won’t compromise on and what you don’t do could just be your most priceless asset.
It’s your story and only you can decide how to tell it.
Image by Andrea Kirkby.
Your mountain is waiting.
So… Get on your way. ~ Dr Suess
2. Be ready to capture ideas anywhere.
J.K. Rowling tells the story of how Harry Potter “fell into her head” on a train journey.
3. Step away from the computer.
Pick up a pen, doodle, mindmap, take photos. Use both sides of your brain.
4. Understand your creative process.
Be aware of what drives you. Reflect on how you make things happen.
5. Use tools that inspire you.
Leather journals, coloured pens, scrapbooks, green ink….
6. Be on a mission.
Why does the idea excite you? Why this idea, why now? What difference will it make in the world?
7. Begin with the end in mind.
Visualise the end product, the colour of the book cover, the texture of the paper, the graphics on the packaging.
8. Stand in the shoes of the people you want to impact.
Now create the thing that makes the biggest difference to them.
9. Set goals.
Have milestones you can reach. A launch date. Write them down, then stick to them.
10. Don’t set goals.
11. Follow hunches.
Trust your gut. Act on your wildest dreams.
12. Find quiet space.
Meditation, walks, getting closer to nature, time to journal. What works for you?
13. Plan meticulously.
Map out desired outcomes, skill sets, milestones, resources.
14. Work quickly.
Start to finish in a day.
15. Practice blue sky thinking.
Ask what if.
16. Resource and outsource.
Play to your strengths. Learn the skills you need to execute and get help when you need it.
17. Try and fail.
Today’s mistakes are the foundation for tomorrow’s successes.
19. Do the work.
Hit publish, press send, hang the picture or launch the website. An idea without execution is just an idea, it has no impact on the world.
20. Do what it feels good to do.
Ideas that get you up early and keep you up late are the ones that live.
21. Remember that You Are The Map Maker.
Don’t let fear stop you from doing the things that matter.
How do you nurture your ideas? Over to you in the comments.
Image by Bethan.
filed in Storytelling
Start with the truth.
Identify the worldview of the people you need to reach.
Describe the truth through their worldview.
~ Seth Godin
What picture are you painting of your business? Are you trying too hard to sound more professional, bigger, slick, more polished than the competition? Is your story riddled with jargon instead of illuminated by truth? Does it make customers feel something?
Jargon puts your clients to sleep, kills the conversation dead,
and sucks the soul out of ideas
Think of your business story as the first date. As a way to start establishing the kind of relationship that leaves people wanting more. Your story doesn’t need to give all of the information, it simply needs to foster the next conversation.
Here’s some inspiration for you;
”Skype is software that enables the world’s conversations. Millions of individuals and businesses use Skype to make free video and voice calls, send instant messages and share files with other Skype users. Everyday, people also use Skype to make low-cost calls to landlines and mobiles.”
“37 Signals ~ Goodbye to bloat. Simple, focused software that does just what you need and nothing you don’t.”
And you don’t have to be one of the big boys to do this either, tiny businesses are doing this too.
”At Sherbet we keep it simple; freshly baked goods handmade on site in small batches, using the best quality ingredients- Madagascan vanilla beans, French Valrhona chocolate, free range eggs, and fresh seasonal fruit. Inspired by the cupcake bakeries of New York city. Welcome to Sherbet.”
”Future Shelter products are designed by Adam Coffey and Jane King. We are driven by the need to create new and interesting products that are not mass produced but carefully hand crafted and locally made. It matters to us that our products experience a happy life from start to finish. We produce them lovingly in our workshop with care and attention to detail. We like to choose environmentally friendly ingredients (either recycled materials or reclaimed from local businesses) but we also consider the life of the product too. We want our products to last and be passed down through future generations.” [retired copy]
”Ristretto Perth’s Coffee and Espresso Specialists. Source, Roast, Share. Doing good things to good coffee in the Perth CBD.”
“The gifted people at Rochelle Adonis create a decadent feast of cakes and confections that will close your eyes and widen your smile.”
Does your business story make your best people breathe a deep sigh of relief, as they whisper;
“Thank God I’ve found her, where do I click, how do I book, when can I buy?”
Image by digitalexpress.
Any occurrence requiring undivided attention will be accompanied by a compelling distraction ~ Robert Bloch
There is a shiny new toy in the social networking sand box and you can’t wait to get stuck into it. It’s only natural to want a piece of the action, to see what the 10 million early adopters of Google Plus are raving about and to understand how circling is better than adding. Why? Because following is easier than leading and belonging is magnetic to the human condition.
Being in the Google Plus loop might be fun, it may even become a useful tool to leverage in your business down the track. But tools are just tactics. Tactics can become distractions and tactics alone don’t build your business, or make your idea a success.
You need to act on your own great ideas before you get distracted by someone else’s
So what could you do instead of getting distracted by Google Plus, (unless you’re Robert Scoble)?
Here’s a start, feel free to add your own:
1. Schedule time in the day to do uninterrupted work that supports your goals.
2. Start a blog. If you have one write a guest post.
3. Write a digital guide and give it away for free.
4. Notice things in the real world that aren’t working and think about ways to fix them.
5. Read books from start to finish.
6. Map out your objectives for the next year.
7. Start implementing strategies that will support them.
8. Design a product.
9. Build a twelve month launch calendar.
10. Look for unfulfilled worldviews and think about how to fulfil them.
11. Give a talk.
12. Write a newsletter and earn the right to connect with your audience.
13. Plan ways to make a difference, not just to be popular.
14. Skype a mentor.
15. Call a client.
16. Spend 30 minutes doing one thing without interruption.
17. Start a movement.
18. Take a day off.
19. Spend time offline, with people who matter to you.
20. Go outside, walk on the beach, by the river, or in the park.
*Full disclosure. Yes I do have a Google Plus account by kind invitation from a friend. So far I’ve added my profile picture.*
Image by rikulu.
When I was a teenager, I joined the local athletic club. I’d never been much of a runner, but since I went to an all-girls school, the draw of the athletic club where boys hung out was abundantly clear. It was time to dust off my running shoes.
The worst thing about contemplating long-distance running wasn’t starting—it was not knowing if I had the stamina to finish. I was never sure if a stitch or a cramp would stop me from completing the requisite number of laps around the track. So, I opted-out and choose to take part in the distances and events I knew I could at least safely complete.
On the one hand, that sounds like a decent strategy. No sense in starting something if you’re not sure you can succeed when there are other, safer options open to you. But if we only did the things we were sure would work, we’d end up limiting our potential and stifling our growth.
No matter what project we’re embarking on, it’s tempting to lower the bar so we can be certain of a successful outcome before we begin. Alternatively, we can choose to find joy in the effort of exceeding our expectations.
Image by Markus Spiske