Being Awesome, Buy In, Going Forth, Innovation, Like a Startup, Theme Park of You, Writing

Your Words Are Your Brand

word (1)For more than 150 years, the National Weather Service has been providing weather updates IN ALL CAPS. Even as weather forecast technology made great leaps and bounds, the National Weather Service was content in sticking with all caps. It’s due to the old limitations of how they communicated their reports. However on May 11th, the National Weather Service will be speaking more softly.

The change is accredited to “changing social norms” around how we talk to each other. Tweets of all caps are taken people talking with VERY LOUD VOICES for a wide range of emotions. I wonder if there isn’t a missed opportunity here.

Two fantastic examples of owning a unique text style are ee cummings, an American poet, and FAKE GRIMLOCK, a giant, robotic dinosaur. ee cummings was famous for using non-traditional capitalization and punctuation as its own poetic device.

“To be nobody-but-yourself – in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you somebody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” ee cummings

FAKE GRIMLOCK proudly makes large exclamations of awesomeness and getting stuff done. He does so with a very direct vocabulary and all caps.

“WHY TALK THIS WAY? BECAUSE AWESOME!” – FAKE GRIMLOCK

This is why I feel the National Weather Service is missing out on something. What if they incorporated ALL CAPS into their brand, instead of abandoning it to fit in with the crowd? They should make no apologies for their loud text. T-shirts would be emblazoned with #PARTYCLOUDY, expressing the irony of a wishy-washy weather system that bombastically declares itself. They could even say “YES. WE BROADCAST IN ALL CAPS. WEATHER IS SERIOUS BUSINESS. WE SHOULD ALL PAY ATTENTION TO THE CLIMATE.” But instead, they chose to fit in; get lost in the sea of status updates.

There is a Scottish proverb that says “You should be the king of your word” and it fits in this case as well. Take pride in the words you choose. They are a reflection of you. Don’t let your words blur the lines between you and the millions of others out there. Supercharge your words to stand out against the grain because that’s when you’ll have a #100%CHANCEOFTHUNDERSTORMS!

Go forth and be linguistically awesome!

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Being Awesome, Diffusion of Innovation, Going Forth, Ideation, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Systems, Tool, Uncategorized

Beyond the Right Tool for the Job

Today I did a few odd errands around the house. A typical Sunday afternoon. I finally went to hang the new tiles with our house number on them. For 30 minutes I bore into the front of my house. I switched screw types and drill bits. The sad truth was I had barely made a dent. The tiles lay on the front lawn mocking me.

powertools
Notice the state of the art powerdrill I was using. And Jebediah was no help at all.

I decided to do some research online and found just what I needed. And thus the standard pilgrimage to the local home improvement store rewarded me with some concrete screws. The tiles went up almost instantly.

I had chosen the correct power tool, my handy dandy drill with screwdriver bits, but I failed to be detailed in how to apply the tool. I was using the wrong screws and all that got me were unhung tiles and two shallow, but noticeable holes in the front of my house.

“We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” – Marshall McLuhn

This can be the bane of the innovator as well. Powerful tools within their grasp, but the details about the application and the context evade them. This has two potentially disastrous outcomes:

  1. Problems remain out of reach, still unsolved.

2. You can cause new problems, like holes in your house.

It is important to invest time in identifying the details behind the tools you use. Even if your innovation toolbox is stocked with the best tools around, it’s the details and the context that can throw you off.

“Stop. Hammer time.” – MC Hammer

The following places have excellent tools for your innovation toolbox, and some supporting details to help you know when to use them.

Stratgeyzer by Alex Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Greg Bernarda, and Alan Smith- Value Proposition Design is always within grasp. I may keep a spare in my glovebox. From learning cards, to testing matrices, Strategyzer’s VPD is a solid foundation for any innovator.

Designing for Growth by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie – This fantastic book has tools and details around the full innovation timeline. From “What is?” to “What if?” to “What wows?” to “What works?” No matter what your question is, Designing for Growth has something for you.

Joe Greaser has a post over on his blog about some tools for detecting weak arguments.

Also, we’ve got stuff right here at Go Forth And Be Awesome!tools

  • New Lenses for finding new ways to look at the world around you.
  • Donkey Dice for rapidly going through lenses with a little bit of chaos.
  • Premortems help you prepare for failure before you test a prototype.

Avoid the frustration and embarrassment of drilling all afternoon with nothing to show for it. Even if you’ve got the right tool, pay attention to the little details too.

Being Awesome, Failure, Going Forth, Grit, Motivation, Theme Park of You

In Pursuit of Happy Little Accidents

beingnew (1)I remember watching Bob Ross paint his happy trees and powerful mountains and just being in awe of his calmness and lack of fear of “happy little accidents”. When I painted “accidents” usually involved large splotches of the wrong color paint. They didn’t qualify as “happy” or “little”. Bob Ross just made it seem so easy as he pulled palm tree branches out of a single line of black paint.

Recently I learned the picture he painted on television was not the first time he painted it. Bob regularly painted the scene once before, which was kept off-screen as a reference. Now honestly, the difference in the level of skill between Bob Ross and I was huge, but I was at another disadvantage.

I was comparing my first try to his second. 

There is a ton of learning that happens between tries. Lines become smoother, decisions are easier, and you have better command of the paint on the brush. And this is something we do all the time. We compare our beginnings to the middles of others.

“Sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.” – Jake the Dog

You’ve got to give yourself permission to fail, to not be good at something. At one point, all experts struggled with the basics. There was a time when Albert Einstein didn’t know his ABC’s. As Laozi said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, and often that first step is more of a stumble. And that’s ok. We’re chasing something new, something better. We don’t have to be perfect at it yet; we’re learning.

dunningkrugerAs we learn, we’re a bad judge of our own skill. It starts with the “I can paint that!” bravado of someone who’s never painted, an over-estimation of abilities that is part of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Beyond that peak is a deep valley of doubting your own ability. This is where the Impostor Syndrome lives and it can shake you off the pursuit of learning something new. This is the where most of the beginning to middle comparison happens, and when it is the most damaging.

You have to remember that you are learning and maybe you haven’t mastered it yet. But the key word is “yet“. You determine your own finish line. You can even determine your own starting line. Instead of wishing that you had learned something earlier in life, get started! Now is better than tomorrow.

Just from the act of trying something new we have the ability to practice the beginner’s mind (Shoshin). Without years of practice or knowledge, our eyes are untainted with preconceptions or the “ways things have always been done”. If we let ourselves be openminded, we can see the forest AND the trees, instead of only one in lieu of the other. This is a time when we might find new ways hidden from the experts, when we might challenge even the most foundational tenets, when we might ask “Well why not?”.

Get out there. Start painting trees on your landscape. They may not be the best trees but you’ve got the power of “yet”. And always welcome happy little accidents on your journey to learning something new.

 

Being Awesome, Empathy, Going Forth, Innovation, User Experience

Making Customers Feel Cool

coolCurves are the enemy of fast moving trains. Just ask Denzel Washington and Chris Pine in Unstoppable. Nearly 30 years before the movie, The British Rail Research Team unveiled the APT. The APT was a train that tested out at an amazing top speed of 160mph, and could safely sprint 40% faster than any other train through curves. And it failed.

In 1981, the first public riders traveled aboard the APT and felt motion sick from the uncommon tilting that allowed the train to rip through the bends. Data, speed, and savings aside, the customers did not feel cool while leaning and the train quickly picked up a nickname. The Queasy Rider.

“If people are made to feel uncomfortable in the kitchen, they won’t go in there.”- Giada De Laurentiis

The APT was technically a marvel, doing something that the long, rigid rectangely trains never could before… lean into the curves like a well-trained sprinter. However it was the user experience that lacked the sparkle. It’s hard to argue how neat it is to go 40% faster when the rider is busy holding onto their lunch. The user experience is a major key.

Design thinking encourages us to find the real root problem for customers, and to evaluate what jobs they need a solution to do. Yet if your solution solves the problem at the expense of user experience, then it is doomed to fail. There is a famous quote by Leo McGinneva, while talking about how customers don’t go to the hardware store to buy quarter-inch drill bits. He said, ‘They don’t want quarter-inch bits. They want quarter-inch holes.” It’s easy to abstract this into a postulate:

Customers aren’t buying products, they are buying a version of their life with a problem solved.

People purchase products because they can make life easier, more enjoyable, more rewarding. This is why medicine comes in flavors now. Why choke down an unpalatable tonic when you can get the same benefits with bubblegum flavor?

It is easy for us to focus on the tangible features when developing a prototype. But it is crucial to bring user experience into the equation as early as you can, and for as many steps possible. There needs to be devoted thought to the future user and making them feel like they’re getting ahead of the game by using your product. Fast Company has a great article tackling the marketing angle of this. In it, Belle Beth Cooper (co-founder of Exist) says “A feature is what your product does; a benefit is what the customer can do with your product.”

“Empathy is about standing in someone else’s shoes, feeling with his or her heart, seeing with his or her eyes.” – Daniel Pink

APT eventually returned in 1984 after some work to shore up the uneasy feeling in the tilt. This time the reviews were much better, but not good enough to save the train. The negative user experience and nickname lingered, and all APT’s were removed from service by 1986.

Think about your project. Is it full of fantastic features but leaving the core customer queasy? Maybe it is time to lean into some user empathy and tilt your solution in a different direction.

After all, our customers shouldn’t just be able to go forth. They also need to be awesome!

Being Awesome, Diffusion of Innovation, Ideation, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Lean, Like a Startup

Your Turn Signal is on… Still

indecisionI’m in the middle lane of a three lane road, on the last leg of my school drop-off delivery. Just one of my kids left to go. A car in front of me has their right turn signal on. Flashing their intention to the world adjacent and slightly behind them. They kept going straight; no merging, no lane changing.

The car immediately next to them was unaware of their directional desires and held their ground. The car in front of me never sped up nor slowed down. Never made any other display of their intention. They just kept their speed, blinker blinking, until at the very last moment they slammed on their brakes in order to slide behind the next-door car and into the lane they wanted.

“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” Lao Tzu

Too often companies use their turn signal towards innovation, yet never adjust their business plans to make it happen. “We want to be innovative industry leaders in X” is heard in more boardrooms than not. But their SUV of a company moves on unfaltering, in the lane they’ve always been in, while still signaling. It’s all about walking the talk.

In order to be innovative, there has to be some change in your current velocity. Physics tells us that acceleration is a change in an object’s speed OR direction. It would make sense that in order to accelerate towards market-leading ideas, an organization (or individual) would have to speed up, slow down, or start fading into the new lane.

  • Speed up the generation, prototyping, and validation of disruptive ideas.
  • Slow down the status quo and start preparing for some change management.
  • Merge into new procedures, culture, and atmospheres.

“Remember: It’s not innovation until it gets built.” Garry Tan

The business superhighway is littered with cars that never managed the merge to innovation. Blockbuster watched Netflix fly by in the fast lane. Xerox had the ability to change lanes thanks to PARC, but never made the move. Borders tried to let Amazon signal the lane change for them, but still kept their steady trajectory.

And as the driver ahead of me was able to finally get in the lane they needed, it wasn’t without last minute, emergency maneuvers. Often, even those are unsuccessful. Because change and innovation aren’t just things you can say you want to do. It takes commitment and dedication, adjustment and planning. You can’t just signal that you’re going to turn and magically end up in the correct lane.

You’ve got to find a space and turn the wheel.

Being Awesome, Going Forth, Grit, Motivation

The Three-Sided Coin

SPOILER ALERT: All coins have three sides.

I learned something that I already knew but never knew when I read the book, “Make the Big Time Where You Are“, by legendary football coach, Frosty Westering. He called attention to the often-overlooked, magical third side of any and all coins.

A coin is nothing more than a squashed cylinder. It has two circular faces we call heads and tails, but it also has some thickness that becomes the third side. THE EDGE! Coach Westering would use the analogy of the coin to explain how the edge is used to go from “doing your best” to “being the best”, but we’re going to borrow it for a slightly different purpose.

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 9.36.41 PMImagine you and your brother are flipping a coin to see who gets the last dinner roll. Picking heads, you’ve predetermined that one side of the coin is success, while the other is embarrassing failure. As it floats in the sky, moving slowly through its parabolic arch, you salivate thinking about the melted butter on that last roll. And in this moment, the coin becomes kind of like Schrödinger’s cat’s coin, existing in a state of heads and tails at the same time. Both success and failure.

But let’s remove more variables here and not flip the coin in the air. You and your brother decide to stand the coin on its edge, and when it falls, whomever’s side is up, they get the roll.

The coin balances on its edge like an Olympic gymnast on the balance beam, and it sits. Here we are, like with the coin flying through the air, perched between success and failure, and it all rests on the edge.

There are all kinds of things you can do when the coin is resting on the edge to encourage it to fall your way. You could blow on it, tap the table, try to create some distinct movement in your favor. But why?

When the coin is on its edge, there is still a chance for victory.

Life, my friends, is a coin on the edge. You are constantly between success and failure everyday and the worst thing we can do is sit idly by and watch others take our dinner rolls.

Well not today buster. 

learnThis is just like the prototype that we want to test with our early adopters. Every prototype (no matter how ugly, how duct-taped together, or how functionality barren) has a chance of success. You’re setting your success metrics early and you know if you epically fail, at least you’re failing forward and learning. You let your prototypes live on the edge of the coin, why not you?

If you felt you had control over your success, wouldn’t you tap the table, scoot your chair, do anything you could to create enough movement to have the coin fall in your favor? Yes you would. So stop feeling like success or failure is written in the stars, or the deal of a deck of cards. Life is a coin on the edge, and you have to power to make it fall your way.

Go forth and be edgy!

Being Awesome, Going Forth, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Lean, Lenses

Charging Up the Wrong Hill

I was enjoying a morning run while listening to an excellent game design podcast, Ludology. In episode 113, Geoff Engelstein discussed the Sunk Cost Fallacy. It works like this:

You’ve played a boardgame for a little while with your friends when you realize no one is having any fun. You turn to your friends and say “Well, we’ve gone this far lads. Might as well see it to the end.” Then you proceed to spend an evening trudging through a less-than-enjoyable experience, just because you did not want to waste the time you had already sunk into it. Instead of stopping after wasting one hour on something, you decide to spend another hour on it just to finish it, essentially spending twice as much for no reward.

It seems silly here, but it happens often in innovation.

Ed Catmull uses a model of two hills in his book, Creativity, Inc.

“People need to be wrong as fast as they can. In a battle, if you’re faced with two hills and you’re unsure which one to attack, the right course of action is to hurry up and choose. If you find out it’s the wrong hill, turn around and attack the other one.” – Ed Catmull

He goes on to say that the only wrong attack, is to go between the hills. The Sunk Cost Fallacy would have your squad start attacking one hill, realize the enemy is on the other hill, but continue to charge up this hill because they already made it part of the way up. “We don’t want to waste that initial charge, sarge.”

The Sunk Cost Fallacy is the enemy to innovation. To understand how to defeat it, well use the Lean Startup principle, the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop, as a lens.

Build

This is the phase that lets you minimize your sunk cost. Keeping costs low helps you mitigate the opportunities for you to say “We’ve spent so much already on this… we should push forward.” A great way to minimize sunk cost is to prototype as minimally as possible. What are you testing? What’s the cheapest way to validate it? Maybe there is a way to build a Paper Prototype or to smokescreen your prototype? Do not splurge on additional features, functionality, or looks. You just need what is minimally viable.

Measure

Numbers never lie, but we tend to bend their truths from time to time. Set the success metrics for your prototype as early as you can. Do not budge on these numbers and be honest with yourself. If you set a goal of a 5% conversion rate, your test may be successful, but are you really reaching for where you need to go? Be wary of vanity metrics. Focus on the stuff that is going to matter.

For a great model of this, look to baseball and the rise of Sabermetrics. Some statistics are easy to calculate in baseball; like batting average or earned runs average. However, some people started to look at new statistics, ones that really highlighted the value of the player towards creating a winning team. Sabermetrics includes stats like runs created or wins above replacement. You need to find the mechanic or action that your prototype needs to accomplish now, and build a statistic tied directly to that, in its most simplistic form.

Learn

Charging up the wrong hill is ok, as long as when you realize it is the wrong hill, you don't keep charging up because that's what you've always done. Time to find the next hill.
Charging up the wrong hill is ok, as long as when you realize it is the wrong hill, you don’t keep charging up because that’s what you’ve always done. Time to find the next hill.

At this point you’ve tested your prototype, collected your success metric data, and your hypothesis has either succeeded (in which case, ignore me) or it has failed (read on, dear reader!). This is the exciting part. You’ve proven, with numbers, that you’ve charged up the wrong hill and it is time to face facts. Now you get to pivot! This might mean you need to spend more time understanding and building empathy for your customer. This might mean you need to evaluate the constraints of your test. Perhaps your solution has driven too far from the problem. There is a world of opportunity and learning at a pivot point… AS LONG AS YOU DONT KEEP CHARGING UP THE HILL!

But I mean, why would you? You kept your costs low by building a minimally functioning prototype, you set your success metrics early, and you failed/learned. This is a great moment! Celebrate as you get out your tactical map, cross the hill off with a red marker, and proclaim “Time to charge up that other hill!”

Challenge

Has there ever been a time when you charged up a hill even after you new it was the wrong hill?

How did the second half of that charge feel?

What are ways to minimize your sunk cost?