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The expert who won't consider other opinions may cease to be the expert.

The expert who won’t consider other opinions may cease to be the expert.

Who doesn’t love to be the expert? You get to draw on all your experience to make sure mistakes you’ve seen don’t get repeated. You get to recommend best practices that you’ve known to work before.

A good expert can help an organization avoid a lot of mistakes.

An expert can also help an organization avoid valuable new learning that could lead to better, more innovative solutions.

An expert might have blind spots that prevent ideas better suited to current circumstances than a previous best practice.

So wear your hat of an expert high and proud—high enough to still see and hear other ideas. Secure enough to consider them before you decide they aren’t a new best practice.

Before you pass your judgment, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What’s different about this organization right now that might require an innovative solution?
  2. What is the context that a colleague might be using to frame a new idea, and what can I learn from that point-of view?
  3. Is the problem we’re trying to solve different than the best practice I would recommend?

Keep an open mind, respect the ideas of others, promote a learning organization, and instead of an expert’s hat, you might find that it’s the mantle of a leader that you’re now wearing.

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When was the last time you talked about a sandwich shop that served toasted sandwiches? Or featured artisan breads? Or delivered freaky fast?

What'sYourMission

Those might make good advertising stories, but not particularly compelling stories to share with friends.

I share my sandwich shop’s story. It’s about a mission to feed each and every person who walks through its doors with dignity regardless of the customer’s means.  I tell of Panera Bread’s community cafes where payment is optional and amount is discretionary.

How do they make money? What a cool company? How does that work? My friends get engaged in this story.

I like the food at Panera, but there are plenty of other good restaurants, choices. I would consider Panera to be a commodity if it weren’t for its mission. Instead, it’s where I go.

It’s the same for employees.  Without a mission that engages them—that gives them a story they’re proud to share with friends—the company they work for is just a commodity until the next better job comes along. Those who feel part of a company’s mission are less likely to leave.

Find your mission, separate from profit, and you’ll attract a fan base that will elevate your company from just a commodity to a brand.

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A Happy and Creative New Year

My first ever sonnet

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Four years ago, when I started GPS Creative, I wasn’t too sure about the name. Would people get the reference to Global Positioning System? Does it really encompass what I do? Does it have staying power? The one thing I did know, is that the URL was open and I was tired of finding all my other options taken. Admittedly, having gpscreative.com available didn’t help my confidence, when much less obvious domain names were already gobbled up.

Now, as I look back at all I’ve learned while helping individuals, teams and organizations plan for their future, I see the name as a lucky accident. Whether I’m taking organizations through strategic planning or brand strategy workshops, or teams through innovation training, or facilitating qualitative research, or as I work with my creative partners to develop marketing campaigns, the name still fits.

The Creative Road Map

It fits because, like GPS technology, the deliberate creative process through which I facilitate all the work I do, is based on understanding three basic elements:

  1. Where you are now
  2. Where you want to go
  3. And the best route for getting there

Now think about how many projects, in which you’ve participated, didn’t have a clear goal. How many failed to explore all the factors of the current situation before the plan was implemented? How many had no defined steps for reaching the goal? How many simply were solving the wrong problem?

Without a deliberate process, these are the detours on which many of us find ourselves.

When I meet new prospects, there are two questions that are important to me above all others: What would you really love to see happen? And, What do you think is stopping you? From this, I can get a sense of where clients might want to go, and what they think their current barriers are to getting there. The map already begins to take shape.

Chance favors the prepared mind.

You might be wondering if deliberate creativity is somehow different from real creativity, which happens intuitively, and in an “ah-ha” moment. The answer is, “ah-ha” moments bubble up from the subconscious after an incubation period. Deliberate creativity doesn’t bypass those moments, it nurtures them. Moreover, with any trip you might take with a GPS device, you will probably encounter and be delighted by unexpected sights and new experiences along the way for which you hadn’t exactly planned. These will often be the stories you remember most vividly. The same applies to GPS Creativity. Along the creative path, you will encounter unexpected insights and new ideas for which you hadn’t planned—the “ah-ha” moments. These are ultimately the drivers of growth and innovation.

As someone who has worked in the creative side for many years, I still rely heavily on my intuition, a flash of insight, a new connection—but I’m also reassured that when I’m feeling lost, there is a map, when I need it.

And, I’m feeling better about the company name.

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What do you do for a living?

That’s the question a marketing friend of mine asks when he explains his approach to storytelling. Most of us would reply with a job title. I’m an account executive. I’m an insurance broker. I’m a teacher. Painter. Social worker. Nurse.

He would reply, “I help businesses make more money—that’s what I do for a living. So every morning, I wake up excited to discover some new story that will help a client make more money, because I know when I help clients grow, it means a new person might be hired, and that person might have a family, and he or she might be able to send a child to college or take a wonderful vacation. And who wouldn’t want to be part of making that happen? I help businesses make more money by helping them find their story…” By this time, you’re hooked on Greg Noack’s personal story and the story of his company, Fountainhead Communications (fountainheadcommunications.com). And Greg has many wonderful stories about how his company has helped clients find their stories and make more money.

I write about Greg’s story for three reasons:

  1. A lot of people talk about the importance of story in branding, but few people, or brands for that matter, really know how to tell a good one.
  2. Telling a good story is a surefire way to spark an emotional connection with your audiences. And that’s how you gain loyalty and develop long-term relationships.
  3. Everyone has a good story to tell.

What’s your gift?

I often ask my clients about gift, as in what gift do you give to those who you expect to sell or influence? A gift is on a higher plane than a benefit, because everyone expects a benefit. The gift is something unexpected and meaningful.

For example, I may call myself a strategic planning facilitator, an innovation trainer, a brand strategist or a creative director, and you will have your ideas about what benefit I might offer and whether it’s worth it to you. My guess is you’ll frame the benefit in terms of activities or deliverables, like an effective plan or insightful strategy or an engaging ad campaign or a dynamic training program. But that’s not my gift. That’s my job. My gift is helping you connect to your creativity to do great and satisfying things. Most of my clients aren’t expecting that connection to their creativity and are delighted, and a bit surprised, by it. This is the source of my stories: how, as a Creative Director, I came to study creativity…how I was transformed by what I learned…how others have reported back to me their individual and their organization’s transformation after practicing some of the processes, tools and cultural drivers of creativity that I share with them. This unsolicited feedback is their affirming gift back to me.

Greg is also the person who introduced me to the quote, “Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions,” by Oliver Wendell Holmes. Greg’s approach to story has stretched my mind—his gift to me.

So, while it’s not my birthday, I’d love the gift of hearing your story.

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Recently, we were invited to present our branding capabilities to a team of marketing/branding executives at a prospective client. Even before we got through introductions, it was easy to see how little they understood—not just about their brand—but what it takes to even be a brand.

To be completely fair in this tale, we were invited to present our capabilities at the request of someone who was leaving the organization’s marketing department. We had no opportunity for direct communications with this group before the meeting other than to hear that they wanted a capabilities presentation. As such, the branding services we were “selling” might not have been a good match with the services they wanted to buy.

The Meeting

After keeping us waiting for 20 minutes, we began the meeting with introductions. Each member of our team provided a brief and enthusiastic description of his or her background; they merely told us their names. After further deliberate probing we were able to coax from each of them their job titles and how long they had been with the organization. Nothing else. This early sign of non-engagement was reinforced when the top executive furtively checked her phone for emails throughout the presentation.

We presented our perspective as strategic partners on brand strategy and our approach to establishing and maintaining a consistent look, voice and actions of a brand; they were interested in our ability as vendors to follow graphic standards and work on tight budgets. Fair enough. This is why it would have been helpful if they were available to give us some input before our meeting.

And that sets up my point.

Previously in this blog, I’ve talked about the disconnect many organizations have between their Mission, Vision, Values and Purpose, and their Brand. Check out the values of this organization:

Integrity, Compassion, Accountability, Respect, Excellence

Note how the first letters of each value spells out I CARE. Well this executive team acted like it couldn’t care less about our meeting.

So the question is, if the organization/brand has values of compassion and respect, does that just apply to its customers? Shouldn’t it also apply to employees, strategic partners and even potential vendors? Think about the person who is exceedingly compassionate and respectful to people with whom s/he does business, but treats the waiter like dirt: is that person authentically compassionate and respectful? And if you don’t hold yourself accountable for living the organization’s values, where is the integrity in that? Or the excellence?

Most marketing and branding departments own their responsibility to manage the brand look and message to “customers.” But how many think to own the responsibility of acting the brand values to all stakeholders—internal and external? Even vendors? I once heard that it takes 10 positive comments to counter one negative comment. Imagine how many negative comments are generated in the community when a vendor is treated poorly? (Note: The purpose of this post is not to call out a particular organization; rather, to use the experience as a learning moment for me and my readers. I do, however, admit to feeling differently about this organization and its leadership than I did before the meeting.)

So, after all my ranting, what is the true cost of behaving badly in a meeting? Is it a marketing and branding team’s responsibility to set the example for how a brand should act? Or is this too much to ask, and is it enough to just manage the brand’s look and message?

What do you think?

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How does curiosity get piqued? What is the value of being curious? And, most importantly, what can you do to become more curious?

Wondering why I ask these questions? It’s because I’ve noticed a paradox in my work facilitating innovation and change leadership: Professionals who are considered experts, are naturally evaluated by what they already know. The prevailing thought is, “Experts get paid a lot of money to know, so it might look bad for them to question their own knowledge.” Perhaps they consider questions the sign of a novice; or worse yet, something over which children obsess. Expertise and knowledge, then, can be a barrier to curiosity; yet, curiosity is what built the knowledge and expertise in the first place.

Here is what I mean by curiosity being at the root of knowledge and expertise, as well as the driver of innovation and change leadership:

1. Curiosity drives active learning.

As a way to illustrate the potential power of curiosity on our proclivity to learn, I can imagine this difference between a naturally curious person—or active learner—and myself in my usual reactive learner mode:

ME: I touch a hot stove and I learn to never do that again. It hurts!

NATURALLY CURIOUS PERSON: Learns the same thing I did when touching a hot stove, but then asks, what makes the stove hot? How do people feel pain from heat? How does the skin heal itself? What are the common factors that make people touch hot stoves? And on and on! These questions could lead to learning about physics, medicine, psychology, risk management—curiosity naturally opens up new avenues to knowledge. Because of curiosity, maybe someone will invent a stove top that cooks food without being hot to the touch. Maybe we’ll get an instant burn-healing ointment—or some sort of smart-alarm that senses when a cook gets too close to the burner.

Active learning drives innovation.

The point is, innovation, itself, is a learning exercise. In other words, innovation doesn’t come from knowing, it comes from asking. There’s a risk to this when you have to ask, “Have I been defining the right goal? Have I been solving the right problem? Do I understand the nuance of context? Are there motivations I haven’t yet considered? All of these are hard questions for an expert to ask. Still, you must be curious and open to exploring all the uncharted paths on which your questions take you—even if (and here’s your second risk) you have no assurance it will lead you to the promise land of innovation. Albert Einstein is a great endorsement for following curiosity’s many paths. When asked about his work process, he said, “How do I work? I grope.”

Curiosity drives engagement (which drives change).

Here’s something else I’ve noticed: When I’m naturally curious, I  become naturally more engaged. Sometimes it’s a desire to fill gaps in my knowledge. Other times, my curiosity is piqued by a problem to be solved…something to figure out. So now, if I’m not feeling engaged in something that I know I should be, I try to become curious. What is the one question I can ask that will invest me in a meeting, in a task, in a conversation? How can I use my curiosity to engage in and lead change?

This all leads me back to one of my initial questions: What can you do to become more curious? I know I could do better, so I’m just asking…

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