The Climate and The Seeds

I’ve been beating myself up a bit lately over some work.

I had a client that I was doing some significant work for each month, and it was a long-running engagement. However, with the new year came a new direction, and that working relationship was paused.

I know it was not a reflection on my work. I know that businesses change directions. I know an element of it was beyond my control. But still I am struggling with the shift from a well-oiled machine with significant success one minute, and then a shut door the next minute… and to be honest it makes me doubt that what I had accomplished was special.

I keep thinking of what I could’ve done differently to try to save it. Should I have pronounced the progress more publicly? Should I have found more efficiency within the program? Should I have established more communication points… or maybe less? It’s a difficult feeling to rumble with.

All this leads to Seth Godin’s post today about Skill vs Planning.

Basically, if you’re planting orange trees in Ottawa, they aren’t easy to grow and thrive. So when they die (which they most likely will) you can either beat yourself up, burn yourself out and say “I’m a bad gardener” or you can plant a crop that grows well in Ottawa, or move to a place where oranges do well. Seth closes with this:

“But don’t beat yourself up just because the climate doesn’t match your seeds.”

And that helps.

The legend of Johnny Appleseed says that he traversed America, spreading apple seeds everywhere. Now I’m sure some took root and grew and produced fruit for generations. But I have to believe that some did not. Regardless, it didn’t stop Johnny Appleseed from moving forward, walking on, and planting more seeds.

So that’s what’s next for me. Realize that the climate wasn’t right for the seeds that I was planting, and to keep going forth, and planting more awesome.


Igniting Fire

A match is a great tool for starting a fire, and a fire is something we all want burning inside us. So when we find ourselves frozen in place, whether it’s fear, doubting ourselves, or just feeling stuck, the simple solution is to get some matches. But matches alone won’t fix it.

Matches are your knowledge, skills, and beliefs. They can ignite a roaring blaze inside you. But like other tools, they’re really just taking up space in your house if you aren’t using them. Tools need to be used to be effective.

Matches need something to ignite the end before they can light a fire. There has to be action, specifically friction, to cause a spark. It takes movement and grit for your match to light your fire. It takes a bias towards action.

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

Walt Disney

I always seem to stumble when I am designing a boardgame. The ideas come fast and furious, and I have at least six different games laid out in my notebook. Rules, pieces, gameplay… everything. But I get stuck and the game only lives in my notebook. Unlit logs begging for a fire.

I need to strike my match with some action. I can make myself accountable by sharing my idea with others, or scheduling a playtest date with some friends before the first prototype is built.

By making my action external, I get out of my own way and I’m more likely to follow through since others are anticipating my progress. This is the kind of friction I set up to light my matches.

How do you move from idea to action? From match to lit fire? How do you create productive friction? Let me know in the comments!

Authenticity, Being Awesome, Motivation

Finding Passion

Why do we feel the need to chase passion?

I see it more and more often with life coaches and consultants telling you if your work doesn’t light a fire under you, then you should jump to somewhere warmer. Sure. You could. But why does it have to exist elsewhere, in some field on the other side where the grass is pretty dang green? (Unless you’re on that side, then it doesn’t look as green as you remember.)

We need to be engaged in our work. And our employers want us to be engaged. Engaged people outperform their peers by 147%. (Gallup, 2018) But why can’t we make our own engagement?

I get the draw of going rogue and starting something that is your own, like a food truck. That siren song has called to me too. (mine would be called Let’s Taco ‘Bout It) And it’s tempting because we hear about people who’ve successfully made the jump. We don’t hear about (or listen to) all the ones who jump and don’t make it.

However, it’s not the food truck that is really calling me… it’s the creative control and ability to own some decisions. There’s a root cause, a core mechanic, that makes it attractive.

As a good, ten-minute thought experiment, sit down with a passion you feel calling you; telling you to jump. Ask yourself the five whys, and answer with candor, to get to the core mechanic of that passion. Then plan small action steps to make that passion where you are. It may have to start tiny with side projects or little bits and pieces here and there, but this is an opportunity to make where you are better. This is where innovation comes from! Plus you get to take control and ownership of your experience instead of relying on other people to engage you.

You love boardgames. You are inspired by writing poetry. Your heart is full when you are baking. Whatever it is, there are elements you can bring to any job. You just have to take ownership of being the one who brings it.

Stop hunting for passion in the green grass on the other side, and start planting it where you are.

Authenticity, Being Awesome, Persona, Understanding the Customer

Marching to the Beat of Your Own Drummers

Knowing your audience has long been touted as a key to success. Yet time after time, we find ourselves trying to speak with too broad of an audience, or making a product that tries to please everyone. In the end, it pleases no one.

There is no better example of knowing your audience than Fred Armisen.

Image result for fred armisen standup for drummers

Fred Armisen created Portlandia with Carrie Brownstein. This is a show rooted in making light of the quirky and free culture in Portland, Oregon.

Fred Armisen created Documentary Now with Bill Hader and Seth Meyers. This is a show that parodies the nuances of various documentary styles and tropes.

Fred Armisen recently released a Netflix comedy special, Standup for Drummers. This is a whole comedy special with inside jokes aimed at, you guessed it… drummers.

It’s not that Armisen finds a narrow audience that is desperate for attention. It’s that he finds HIS audience. The projects Armisen chooses to pursue are things that interest him; places he loves, skills he admires, and experiences he shares. Watching him interact with his narrow audience is the realest kind of real. And you can feel it.

Because his real audience is himself.

“There’s something that I can’t describe about the city [Portland] that I really love – just physically – how it feels to walk around there, and have coffee there. Also, the way that it’s a little overcast sometimes. Something about Portland just really resonated with me.” – Fred Armisen

You don’t have to be part of the inner circle. I encourage you to watch Standup for Drummers. Even though you may not get every joke (I didn’t), you get lured in by Armisen’s passion, his prose, his charisma talking about the funny-to-him aspects of something he appreciates.

But what I really want to challenge you with is this.

Don’t try to make the next extremely profitable thing. Don’t attempt to create the next disruptive to the industry thing. Don’t go make the thing you think everyone will want.

Make something that is important to you, on the deep down soul level. Make something about another thing you love. And then… share it with people just like you.

Your realness. Your soul. Your connection with the topic and the people who share the same connection. It will all shine.






The problem with Innovation isn’t innovation

(takes a sip of water)… Let me explain.

The problem with Innovation is that the people who decide the direction of the company, don’t always get innovation. And you can’t blame them. There are two different versions.

There is “capital I” Innovation. This is the buzzwordy big brother. The one that gets five minutes in stakeholder meetings and thrown around in boardrooms as a checklist item. “Are we Innovating?” “Oh certainly. I put it right here in the vision doc. Be an innovative leader in the market.”

And there is “lowercase i” innovation. This version is mindsets and action. This is prototypes and hypotheses. This is out-on-a-limb gambles based on user empathy that the normal production evolution would never take us to.

Authentic innovation doesn’t fit neatly into scorecards or forecasting metrics. But Innovation does.

I’ve written this blog post a couple times now and it just doesn’t come out right. So we’re going to try something a little different, and I’m just going to open my mind and let it tumble out.

Look, Innovation is crap. It’s a buzzword, it’s a checklist item. “Did we tell them to Innovate?” “Yes, we added it to the vision doc that we want to be an innovative leader in the market.” The problem with that type of Innovation is that it is cheap and hollow, like the giant chocolate bunnies or Santas that look impressive, but when you bite into them you realize it was made of a sixteenth of an inch of chocolate… and filled with stale factory air. “Mmmm… it has a chalky mouthfeel, with a hint of … warehouse?”

What you drool over are the solid chocolate versions. The ones that are pure 100% innovation with every bite. Solid but smooth. Satisfying and makes the pains go away. The real problem with Innovation is that it’s hollow. Whereas the innovation it emulates is rich and every bite has meaning.

So why are there two different versions? Innovation and innovation? Because Innovation is easy, and innovation is hard.


Culture, Lenses, Systems, Uncategorized

Game Design for Culture Design

The average age of a “gamer” is rising. Current research puts it around 34 years old. That means there is an increasing chance that any team you are part of is made up of self-identifying gamers. They’ve trekked across Skyrim. They’ve launched a blue shell in Mario Kart. They’ve flung an Angry Bird or two.

If this engages them, gets them in the flow state, and keeps them coming back… why would we not look towards game design when designing our team culture? Cody Royle, in his book Where Others Won’t, posits that we can borrow talent acquisition strategies from sports.

“A well-designed game is a guided missle to the motivational heart of the human psyche.” – Kevin Werbach

MDA Framework

We’re going to keep this simple for our analogy. For deep details on the MDA Framework, there are loads of articles on it. But here’s the basics:

90823As you can see, the game designer and the game player approach the game differently.

The designer can only control the mechanics so they build their game by creating mechanics, which impacts the dynamics, which influences the aesthetics.

The player comes at the game in the reverse order. The game is chosen because of the aesthetics they want (looking for “fun”), which they get from the dynamics, which is created by the rules. You never pick up a game because of a rule. You buy, play, and keep playing because of the feeling.

“Many of the traits, habits, beliefs and actions that teenagers and young adults pick up playing electronic games and working with handheld gadgets will help them as they enter the ever-changing global workforce.” – Karl Kapp

As a Lens for Culture

Like the game designer, we can really only control the mechanics of our culture. Mechanics are not your mission statement or your vision, but they are part of it. It’s more the rituals and operationalized mission. But instead of establishing rules we like and force the aesthetics we want, why not start with an end in mind?

We can think of culture design as game design, with a design thinking twist. Backwards by design. We’re going to start in the endzone, and figure out how to get there.

Granted, there are organizations that try to establish culture at the aesthetic level first. But they are trying to control the aesthetics as designers, which can’t be done. This will run in opposition with the established mechanics or clash with the personal narratives of the staff.

We can’t control the end, but we need to start there. If we work backwards, we can increase the likelihood of the aesthetic we want in our culture.

  • What feelings do we want our team to have?
    • Not only when they are “playing the game”, but also when they are at home or in their community.
  • What interactions can our team have to promote these feelings?
    • Interactions within the team, with the work, with the clients. All the interactions.
  • What rules of play can we establish to encourage those interactions?
    • These mechanics need to have boundaries that allow a little wiggle room but includes the interactions.





Seeing How the Sausage is Made

They say you should not see how laws or sausages are made. But what if you hope to make your own sausages? What if you’re a butcher’s apprentice and you know how to make sausage is going to be on the local butcher certification exam?

Then you better damn well see how sausages are made. Sorry, Otto von Bismarck.

The point of Go Forth and Be Awesome was to share knowledge. Frameworks, models, and methods I learned through practicing and researching innovation. Assuming that’s why you’re here, then boy do I have a Sausage-Making 101 course for you.

I have some people I am lucky to call friends, and we like to solve problems together. So much so that we thought we should make a regular thing out of it. And so we formed Kawe, our little group dedicated to solving a problem every three months. It’s nighttime hangouts and weekend work sessions. And it’s all going to be shared here, raw and unfiltered. Full transparency. We’ll share what we learn about the problems and process with you, to hopefully inspire your own problem-solving. It will also make us better at what we do. It’s a win-win.

I will bring you regular updates on our progress as Joe Greaser, Mike Jarrell, and myself tackle a new problem and take it through our process. It may blow up in our face, it may unexpectedly succeed, but we are going to push fast, fearlessly, and forward.

To see more of our progress, click here.

Go forth and solve problems!

– TD