Surfing, and Making It Better

I spent the evening with an old friend last night, someone who has been like a second father to me. Rick and Jan took me in as a teenager and were instrumental in shaping who I am today. Rick is a remarkable man, he has four undergraduate degrees, two masters and two PHDs, not all of them are in related fields. Among other things, he is a mechanical engineer; we spent years building things together and talking about life. He just recently retired from full-time work and is now making surf boards in his shop. We spent most of last night discussing how we could make his latest invention for body surfing more effective. It’s a buoy that you wear that provides a small plane or fin to stabilize the ride on a big wave. I’ve attached a picture of bodysurfing at Boomers in La Jolla so you get a sense of the size of the waves; it’s my favorite place to bodysurf, and I’ve spent many summers trying to master this break.

Rick is one of those guys who is always searching for ways to do it better. Even if the current model or design is great, he wants to make it better. Rick instilled this idea in me and it has become a part of how I live my life. Even though things are working just fine, I feel compelled to see if we can make it just a little better. I wanted to share this story with you because I know that sometimes it might feel like I am meddling or never satisfied, which isn’t the case, it’s just that I want to make things better.

Tahzoo’s business model is changing and it’s for the better. We’ve been preaching the need for a better customer experience and the market is finally catching up with us. Our customers are asking for help creating and delivering experiences. We spent the first few years working on our technical competencies and now we need to ensure we have the same level of expertise on the experience design side. As with all new systems, we will design it and continue to tweak it until it’s perfect. Most important to me is that we don’t have two sides of Tahzoo, but we are one company that helps our clients deliver fantastic customer experiences. We are being engaged for ideas, our strategy, our creativity and our technology.

I just finished reading the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Biography “The Notorious RBG”. She is an amazing woman, who over time has had a huge impact on all of us. She has been the champion for the right of individuals and the rights of women in our society. As I read her book, there was a clear theme about making consistent, incremental progress towards lasting change. We are going to be making changes and steadily improving the company to take advantage of market opportunity. There was a quote from RBG, “figure out what you want, then go do the work”. That phase has been sitting with me for the last week and has stirred my thinking considerably. We are going to be recognized as the world leader in Experience Design and Delivery. Now that we know what we want, we just need to go do the work.

Wishing you all a relaxing and joyous holiday season. Looking forward to doing the work to make Tahzoo the best it can be.

Let’s go be great!
Brad

Across the Country

I spent the week on the road and saw most of the country. David Sterenberg and I drove from Washington DC to Phoenix about 2000 miles in three days. We were on a southern route through Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico and then to Arizona. Needless to stay there were several BBQ stops. Our first night we stayed in Memphis TN, we ate at Central BBQ; it was serviceable, but not great BBQ. We were really hoping for something great in Tennessee – but alas, it’s hard to find good BBQ. In Texas, we had a great meal with some fellow Tahzooligans at Sammy’s BBQ… Great food and great company!!! On our last day, we ate at Stateline BBQ, famous for their beef ribs. I had eaten there 15 years ago and was happy to visit again. The ribs were great and we enjoyed the ambiance. At the Stateline, you park in Texas but eat in New Mexico… either way great food.

For those of you who don’t know, David was a professional race car driver. He drove for several teams including Porsche and Mazda. I’ll let him tell you his racing stories when you have a chance to visit with him. Needless to say, we pushed our car to the limits, especially through Texas and New Mexico, nothing quite like long straight desert roads to let the car fly. I won’t say exactly how fast we went, but it was faster than I’ve ever traveled before. In case you’re wondering… no speeding tickets of any kind. It was a fun trip.

I spent the day with a potential client today. It was our second meeting and I am excited about the possibilities of working with such an esteemed company. We’ve been invited back to present our thoughts and ideas for improving their customer experience. The company is hitting its stride with all the new opportunity in front of us. Our messaging, creative and critical thinking around improving the customer experience is resonating with world-class brands.

Let’s go be great!
Brad

Innovation

As our Innovation Day (Innovatiedag Herfst 2016) events draw to a close this week, I’m proud to see the strong spirit of innovation clearly evident in our Tahzoo family. I’d like to thank the attendees, presenters, planners and all of the hackathon participants who contributed to this successful event.

This is a perfect time to revisit a note from a while back, which serves as a good reminder about the value of innovation. It focuses on three of my favorite innovators and the lessons we might draw from their experiences that can inform our thinking about our own innovative spirit. You see, I believe that innovation is not a matter of fleeting inspiration, but rather a skill that can be learned, practiced and, most importantly, improved over time. Like taking up a musical instrument, all that is needed to innovate is the right attitude and the receptivity to change ourselves.

For any new company to succeed there has to be innovation—often a lot of it. Apple. Amazon. Uber. Facebook. The examples are easy to come by. The message is pretty simple: to stand out, you have to do things differently than those who went before.

That’s why we talk a lot about innovation here at Tahzoo. We are not in the game of operational efficiency, or of trimming expenses to preserve a razor-thin margins of profit, nor of selling volumes upon volumes of widgets. We are in the marketplace of ideas. Our clients turn to us for our ability to think differently than the herd of consultants out there. We must, therefore, place the highest value on innovation to assure that we always stand head and shoulders above the competition.

The first lesson of innovation is effort. In this, there can be no greater role model than Thomas Edison. The man held at least 1,093 patents when he died—including as you know the incandescent light bulb, the phonograph, and motion pictures. Think about that for a moment. He “held” 1,093 patents, but there were surely numerous ideas the at didn’t pan out. He certainly knew more than his share of failure through all that. This is a lesson in believing in an idea so strongly that one is willing to soldier on in pursuit of the dream, never relenting, never giving up.

Speaking of dreaming, that brings me to another of my favorite inventors, Nikola Tesla, who, it was said, often dreamed of his inventions before he set to inventing them. Tesla bragged of his ability to perform realistic “dream experiments,” while fully awake.

This is a lesson in vision. Innovation often requires one to be able to imagine an ideal state or a solution to a particularly vexing problem in order to make that vision a reality. Interestingly enough, Tesla was such a good dreamer that many of his most interesting and ambitious ideas never came to fruition during his life because they were too ahead of their time. He imagined television and cellphones long before they ever became everyday things. He also dreamed of a way to power electrical devices without wires that is still a largely unrealized ideal today. So, take it from Tesla, if you’re going to dream, dream big!

Lastly, innovation requires perspective. No one but Einstein himself is our role model here. He conceived of his mind-boggling “Theory of Relativity,” while working as a humble patent clerk reviewing closed-loop train switching patterns. Einstein’s breakthrough was in his ability to apply learning from one field to another—of shifting perspective. It’s interesting to me that the lessons of perspective that Einstein imparts are in some ways a distillation of Relativity itself, which held that our perception of time is relative to the speed of light. That is: perception changes as perspective changes.

So, there you have it: innovation in a nutshell. It takes effort. It takes vision. And, it takes perspective. If we all apply these lessons to as many aspects of our personal and our professional lives, we cannot help but develop innovative ways to see and do great things.

Gratitude

As our colleagues in the US prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, I’ve been reflecting upon the impact of gratitude in our day to day lives – both personally and professionally.

Our HR team has a long-standing practice of sharing their ‘weekly gratitudes’ at the end of each week via email. This simple, yet profound gesture encourages a focus upon not only what is going well, but in how challenges became opportunities and struggles became successes. This sharing of stories often provides encouragement to others.

Gratitude is powerful when made part of a regular personal practice, and even more so when we share those observations with colleagues, friends and family. I am grateful for each of you, and for the invaluable opportunities we have to do great things together here at Tahzoo.

Have a great week as you enjoy time with family and friends, reflecting and celebrating.

Conflict Resolution

I’ve been thinking about conflict the past couple of weeks. I thought it would be a good idea to share my perspective and some thoughts around the inevitable conflict that arises when humans work together and how to manage it from my perspective.

I wrote out the company values in an effort to provide some guide posts around how we should decide things, standards that can be applied to specific situations to facilitate quicker outcomes. For example, caring for our customers or our employees is our first value, then simply any decision which puts that value at risk is off the mark. The first step in resolving conflict is to apply our values to the situation and make a determination.

A habit I learned a long time ago, which I borrowed from Stephen Covey is seek first to understand and then to be understood. Most conflict arises when two sides are advocating their perspective but not listening to one another. This does mean you won’t disagree with each other but at least you’ll be able to acknowledge the things that you agree upon so you can focus on the differences. While I was at Nordstrom, I managed a lot of customer complaints, more often than not people just want to be heard, their issue to be understood and then real meaningful resolution can begin.

No matter how mad I might be… that email I wanted to send in the heated moment never, I mean never is the right thing to do after I’ve had time to think it through. My drafts folder is full of emails that I wrote and never sent. There is something cathartic about writing out your thoughts and feeling but better to have never pushed the send button. Additionally, I’ve found that email is about the worst medium for resolving issue possible, only text messages might be worse… so don’t do it. Pick up the phone and call someone, talk it through and exchange energy and ideas. Emailing is a cowardly way to conduct a disagreement.

What are you fighting for? When I get mad I have another habit which kicks in, I ask myself why and I mad? Who and what am I fighting for? It’s tough especially in the heat of the moment, but when I recognize that my issue is about me or how I feel or how I think things should be… I am usually off base. My best energy is spend furthering the big ideas and focusing on the desired outcome. If we agree on the high level goal or objective the we can have a discussion about how to best achieve our goal rather than argue about a way of working.

Quantitative decision making, reviewing the numbers and the measurable outcomes is a great way to remove emotional discourse. As I’ve mentioned in the past one of the downsides of qualitative decision making is that it lends itself to a gut feeling which isn’t easily shared. When you want to change the system or a way of working look for some numbers facts or figures that you can use to justify the work and level of effort required for change.

My last piece of advice on this subject is to remind everyone that by and large people are well intentioned. They may have a different approach or see the world differently than you but they are working hard, just like you. When I assume that someone is well intentioned then it’s hard to not treat them like valued colleague or friend. My mom used to tell a story about the word “respect”, if you respect someone then you’d “re-look” at them. You’d make sure that your underlying assumptions about them were still valid and if they’d had changed, you would change your perspective too. It’s all too easy to see someone as categorically one way or part of one group when really they are just like you and trying hard in some cases desperately to make things better. We are part of groups but we are individuals. We share a common vision and a common goal… So next time you feel conflict brewing, take a moment of pause and remember you are all on the same team.

Persistence

I’ve just finished a wonderful book called Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg. He spends most of the book articulating how to be more efficient and effective in your life. The book details the psychology and cognitive science around motivation and achievement. Many of the techniques and mental models that are described are habits that I’ve unwittingly cultivated over the years.

As a young salesman I learned that success in sales was primarily a function of persistence. Dedicating oneself to a big goal and then breaking down the individual steps required to achieve that goal and not giving up no matter how hard things get. Some people say that you’re limited by the size of your dreams, my belief is that is only partially true, you also have to have the ability to commit to a path and stick with it.

We recently achieved some great results because we set a big goal but then broke down the steps into manageable and achievable sub tasks on a daily and weekly basis. As I’ve learned from my colleague Tom in the Agile development process, if you can’t describe how you’re going to accomplish your task within a week or two of work then you’re likely guessing at what needs to be done or how long it will take.

We’ve had some great results in a short period of time, which I chalk up to persistence and consistency in our approach. The Desk of Brad, which I write weekly for our team, is another example of persistence. I encourage each of you to set an aggressive big goal and then break it down into digestible parts… If it works for you let me know how you’re doing and how I can help.

The Culture of Experience

The culture of customer experience is upon us… although very nascent, while there have been a few companies grounded in customer service over the last 20 years they are outliers and not the norm. Most large companies are organized to serve themselves while providing a service or product to the market. Typically, one part of the organization is dedicated to the customer in the context of sales or marketing.

In the customer experience economy, the entire organization needs to be designed to serve customers and deliver a shareable experience. It must be understood throughout the organization the real value of a consumer spending their money and time interacting with a brand. I used to say that all companies are becoming publishers whether they wanted to or not, because the competition and the way that all purchasing has become considered sales cycle was going to force the issue. However, I think that we are now seeing with the proliferation of connections between people and the speed of communication through technology that all companies are now experience providers.

For many years the experience, the interaction, was managed by a division within a Fortune 500 company who looked at the in store or in branch or in restaurant experience and created something that was visually appealing, memorable, pleasant and efficient. The design, well executed, helped consumers know where to stand in line, where to get help or look for specific products. It was staffed with friendly people who could naturally fill in the missing details or connections but most importantly provide a personalized experience or build a personal rapport with the consumer. They made the intuitively inefficient and efficient experience; if the design wasn’t quite right the personal connection filled the gaps.

As technology has replaced many of these branches, stores and human touch points, in part because it’s more cost effective, in part because the speed of the transaction or the convenience for the consumer held sway. Large companies have inarticulately made an effort to increase the number of touch points or tackle the gaps in service as a series of technology and marketing projects. As with all transformations, a serialized and interstitial set of projects never provide the harmony and richness of the experience a consumer demands. Often times when I hear large companies speak about their digital transformation or customer experience projects they feel like how a symphony would be written by series of committees each focused on the instrument they play.

It is the whole experience, in all its dimensions that need to be addressed. For a large company this is an almost achievable amount of organizational alignment required in a short period of time. Most companies have been built over decades and the organizational division, operating principals and culture cannot be rewired overnight. As with most disruption triggered by technology, the initial innovation is obtuse but with great promise. So while the value is well understood, the adoption model follows standard distribution curve, the early adopters take a leap of faith and when the point of leverage to value is understood the majority steps in. In some cases, the adoption curve can be accelerated when “killer” applications can be applied.

In the case of digital transformation, the killer application is personalization. Delivering experience in context, that is relevant and personalized is the key to moving an organization forward. In the case of customer experience and within the experience economy, the accelerant is the ability of large organization to deliver personalized or in contextualized experiences. While it may take a decade or more for a Fortune 500 company to reorganize, we can deliver value today through a more personalized experience.

As expected the organizational changes that will take time to work their way through a company that spent decades building for and organizing around 20th century models can recognize immediate value by through technology recreating the front line staff that helped clients find what they needed, answered questions and most importantly build a sense of intimacy between a consumer and brand.

Decision-Making Theory

As you know I’ve been writing from time to time on how to improve our decision-making processes within Tahzoo. We are good qualitative decision makers and I’d like to see us add some quantitative competency to our process. One technique is using probabilistic modeling to improve prediction. In a business setting we need to make the best decision based on an expected outcome, however; more often than not there are several possible outcomes that need to be considered.

One of the challenges of qualitative thinking, thinking from the gut, is that we are often told to trust our gut and the weighting is done at an emotional level. We evaluate the outcome we feel strongest about and often the one that we’re most hopeful will happen and then decide on a course of action. This is a great strategy for matters of the heart or in situations where the information is extremely limited.

At Tahzoo, we are often faced with multiple possible outcomes, for example, how long will it take us to fill a critical role in the business, and how does that impact projects and revenue? Is the multiple-year lease for the new office we are about to sign going to be large enough to support the number of people we expect to hire based on our growth projections?

With each of these questions, you need to make an estimate of the likelihood or probability of something so you can plan for the next steps. What do you do when there are multiple possibilities, how do you chose a path? Over the years I’ve developed a technique in which I try to consider all of the possible outcomes. I spend my idle thinking time thinking about people’s motivations, or alignment of interests, I gather data when possible, I ask people what they think will happen and why. Then lastly and probably most importantly I try to remember situations that are similar and my prediction was wrong and why.

After I’ve had time to think the issue through, (sometimes I wish I had more time but that is the way it goes at Tahzoo) I pick what I think are the three most likely outcomes. So for the sake of example, let’s take the lease situation… after much consideration, I believe our compound growth will require us to hire 100, 150 or 300 people over the next 7 years. When I weigh these possibilities to do my best to give them a percentage likelihood of happening base on all the available information.

Now there are a number of other techniques that I use, but I thought this one would be good to start with. So next time you have a decision that includes predicting the future or several possible outcomes try this method and let me know what you think.

For those of you who in enjoy math, send me a note and let’s get into probabilistic modeling, it is the future of our programming strategies for personalization. I am also a big fan of Monte Carlo simulations and Bayesian decision-making theory and computation.

Client Partner and Delivery Lead

I am asked from time to time to better define the role of Client Partner and the Delivery Lead. As part of a project kick off, I spent a few moments outlining the basic working relationship in an effort to ensure a successful engagement. The following is an excerpt from the letter that I wrote to the team…

Not unlike a pilot and a co-pilot, (the client partner and the delivery lead) they are responsible to fly the plane. It’s hard to imagine any circumstances in which they are not locked at the hip working through strategies and solutions to ensure the best possible experience for our client. As a team they need to ensure that we have the right people on the job, that we are delivering a level of quality that makes us all proud to be a part of Tahzoo, and thirdly that we are building our business within the account. While the division of labor between the two may change based on the client and individual expertise, the entire company needs to be operating in support of the pilot and the co-pilot. It is their plane; their account they are accountable no exceptions. There is no delivery view and sales view of the world that is acceptable to me. Tahzoo is not a hierarchical company… we are all here to serve the client or serve people who are serving the client. If you are in a position of leadership or expertise or administration you are at Tahzoo to give the team what they think they need to be successful.

The first deliverable from this team should be a vision statement/document that details what success looks like for this account. Keep in mind that we are a CX agency – our view should include the entirety of our client’s customer experience. We need a north star so that everyone who works on this account knows what we are aiming for and what are the major success milestones. I would expect this deliverable to be a page or so and a must read for everyone involved.

We’re in the Relationship Business

When I think about the skills required to execute our mission, not only does it include a high level of expertise in the areas of marketing and thought leadership, it also means that we are excellent at building and maintain great relationships with our clients.

If you were asked what does Tahzoo do? Would your answer be; we build great relationships with our customer so we can help them change? Or would it be something like we do digital marketing? Or we’re a customer experience agency?

We are in the relationship business. It just so happens that the primary value add of Tahzoo is we work on customer experience problems. Here are my thoughts on developing a great relationship with your client.

You care for your clients –
Caring is not defined by how you feel, but by how you act. I’d go on to say that it’s a commitment. A commitment to your client’s success, to treat them with respect and to care enough to do your best work on their behalf. If you truly care about your client, you are obligated to find a higher purpose in your relationship with them.

You’re a servant –
You put the client before yourself, before the company and before profit. With a servant’s heart you assist your client in any way necessary to ensure their success. Zig Ziglar, a famous sales trainer used to say “you get what you want by helping others get what they want”.

You’re honest –
Honesty requires courage. Good consultants have opinions and in a respectful way they share their perspective and experience. If the primary goal is to ensure the clients success, then they need to hear from you what you really think. The better the communication, the stronger the relationship; build the trust and have the confidence to engage your customer in the marketplace of ideas.

You make friends –
I make friends with my clients. Many of my clients from my Microsoft days are still friends. Your work is important but a friendship creates a basis for trust. We are a company full of smart and happy people… share your happiness, be friendly and get to know your client.

You’re patient –
The work we do is hard… we are agents of change. Our clients built tremendously successful business over a long period of time and although technology and consumer expectations are changing rapidly, they need time to catch up. Be patient, take the time to explain things and don’t be afraid to stick with your client while they work through the internal challenges of managing change.

You’re loyal –
Trust is a function of consistency over time. The client needs to know that you’ll be with them through and through.

You check in regularly –
If you have a great relationship with your client, then you’re be continuously checking in to ensure that you share a common vision of success. Working together, building together, failing and succeeding together (all while pursuing a common definition of success) is what great relationships are made of.

You have fun –
Find the joy in your work and share it. Enthusiasm is infectious and sometimes your client will need your energy. All great relationships have an element of fun. Smile, laugh and find reasons to celebrate.