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.

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.

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.

Feedback

Giving people feedback is one of the most important things we can do in our lives.

One of my favorite books is called The Last Lecture, written by Randy Pausch. For those of you who don’t know the story, after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis, Randy gives a lecture to his class which is a summary of his life lessons.

I want to share a quote from the book on the importance of feedback. The set up for the quote is that Randy had a very difficult coach and was recounting a conversation he had with an assistant coach…

“Coach Graham rode you pretty hard, didn’t he?” he said. I could barely muster a “yeah.” That’s a good thing,” the assistant told me. When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, it means they’ve given up on you.”

Shortly after I founded the company we started the voice of the culture survey. It was and is an import way to give feedback to me and others within the company. We publish the positive comments every week in the desk of Brad, so that peer recognition remains a pillar of our culture. I review the feedback every week as part of my standard routine.

Internally we also have the thrive review process, monthly one on ones with your manager, Kudos alias and the soon to be rolled out delivery lead feedback system. Externally, for customers and partners we have the customer satisfaction survey, however most customers vote with their wallet and either the business is growing or declining.

If you care about your customer and you care about your employees, you’ll have a company worth caring about. As the first value of our company, this is the definition of success for me. If we do those two things well, the rest will take care of itself. I designed and implemented the feedback loops so I could understand how well we were doing toward our most important goal.

My feedback to you is that not enough people are participating in the voice of the culture survey. If you care about Tahzoo and you want to make the company a better place, then you’ll take the time to give feedback. Consistent and constructive feedback is one of the most important aspects of your job. The only way Tahzoo will be great is if each of us participates in making it great… so next time I say to ‘let’s go be great’, let me and your teammates know what we need to do to get there.

Selling Tahzoo

Imagine you’re talking with a potential Client of Tahzoo’s and they ask you what does Tahzoo do? You could say we are a customer experience agency that helps our clients deliver personalized customer experiences at scale… then comes the awkward pause from the Client during which they decide to either say “that’s cool” or admit they have no idea about what Tahzoo does and then proceed to ask you more questions.

Or you could say to the Client… “We help our clients build deeper relationships with their customers. For example, for one of our clients we increased traffic to their site by 50%, with the visitors spending almost 38 thousand hours on high value content since we launched their new website”.

“We create happy customers and measure the results for our clients in lots of ways, number of pages being viewed per visit, increase in conversion rates and less time being spent on the home page… for all of our clients we help them achieve meaningful results for their business”.

Our Client is now excited about what we can do for them. A conversation ensues about their business goals… all the while we are sharing examples of results that we’ve delivered for similar clients. The dialogue is a give and take around their goals and our work. The Client becomes more confident we can help them and we talk openly about working together.

We don’t talk about practice areas, geographical distribution or the commercials and rates. We talk about solving business problems and as such our capabilities are implied by example. As we discuss their goals we begin to shape an approach for working together, during this phase of our conversation I am looking for objections and concerns that may prevent us from getting a deal done. I ask a lot of questions about the decision making process within the company and I am acutely aware of our clients’ body language and truthfulness.

I seek to resolve any objections or obstacles right then and there… better to get the hard stuff out of the way early then to spend a bunch of time on a deal that can’t or won’t get done… Everyone is happy and now we have a new multiyear multi million dollar account.

This is how I sell Tahzoo… by reference and by asking questions. There is an old saying that goes people don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care. The great thing about questions is they create interaction… there is another old saying that goes being interested in someone makes you interesting… and finally to quote my grandfather, “there is a reason God gave you two ears and one mouth”. Great consultants like great sales people take the time to know their clients and they use questions to create energy and change.

Process and Procedure Is No Substitute for a Great Relationship

I thought I’d share with you some of the pictures from my holiday in Washington state this week. Like most Americans, it’s a working vacation but none the less it’s been an enjoyable and thoughtful time. I have a sense of renewal and focused determination coming back from holiday. One of the best things about being away for a few days is the opportunity to think about the big things. I’ve been reading a biography of President Roosevelt who led the US through the great depression and World War II. What has been remarkable to me was how much of his life’s work boiled down to key moments, decisions and most importantly how his temperament guided the arc of his life.

Brad Summer Pic

I know that you’re expecting a paragraph on my insight or plan for the company or what I think are the big decisions that need to be made. We’ll get to that another day. I would like to tell you, I am grateful to work every day with a bunch of smart and happy people. Of course we have lots of work to do, plenty of big decisions to make but the future of the company is in the strength and quality of the relationships that we build at Tahzoo. They will carry us forward today and in the future.

One of the first events I attended at the Delft office included two nice women who were handing out written compliments to all of the guests. One of them spoke with me for a few minutes and then wrote out my compliment, even from a stranger I was touched. So imagine a working world where we took the time to say thank you more and share what we appreciate about one another? Imagine what that would do for our relationships. So if you’re on holiday or just coming back, take a moment to share some compliments and your appreciation… make someone’s day… it really does make a difference.

brad-summer-1

I am grateful to have such brilliant and talented people that I get to work with each day, thank you all for everything you do to make Tahzoo something so remarkable.

brad-summer-3

Optimism… Nature or Nurture

Some people say I am optimistic, others say I’m too optimistic. I am certain the second group says this only because they don’t want me to get my hopes up and then be disappointed. Either way I am optimistic by nature, but what does that really mean?

I am currently reading The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. It is an annual rite for me. Mostly, it is a great reminder of all the things I need to do better. In his book, there is a turn of phrase that goes … “A knowledge worker’s growth is directly related to how much they challenge themselves,” which led me to recall a story I often tell that, if I don’t go to work every day a little bit scared, I’m not pushing myself enough. I guarantee you that I go to work every day with butterflies in my stomach.

I came across a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” As with optimism, I have been told that I have a strong will. Some people say that I am stubborn. Either way, when I am on a path it’s hard to get me to take another one and I often tell my team we just need to “will it happen”.

I learned the good habit of confronting the hard stuff head-on while working at Microsoft. My mentor Jason had an uncanny talent for rooting out the fear that keeps you stuck. Over the years, I have internalized those lessons and come to understand that real problems never get better with time. You must do something about them. So, I challenge myself every day to confront the things that worry me the most.

The answer to the questions is that I stay optimistic because I have some habits that I’ve learned over the years and they keep me going. I know what I want. I’m willing to take on big challenges. I am committed to a path. And I confront the obstacles in my way.

That brings me back full circle to my original question: Do these habits make me an optimist, or am I overly optimistic? The answer to the question is, simply, that I am an optimist. With such good habits, I have no other choice.

My challenge for you, then, is to ask yourself: What’s preventing you from being optimistic?

The answer just might be: It’s time for some new habits.

Why Tahzoo

I spent the week driving across the United States visiting BBQ restaurants and meeting people. I am always fascinated to hear the stories about how the restaurant was started and to feel the passion of the pit master. One thing strikes me about BBQ, nobody gets into the business for the money, maybe the fame but usually because it’s a family tradition. Inevitably, we have a discussion about recipes and techniques for making the best BBQ, there is a life time of debate to enjoy. But that conversation is about the How and I am most fascinated about the Why.

I was visiting the Richmond office last week, and Ari Ugwu who is a long time Tahzoo employee, one of the first 20 in the company, made a comment about how much he appreciates that we are spending more time talking about the Why instead of the How (full credit to Ari for pointing this out..thank you).

Simon Sinek wrote a great book called “Start with Why”. On these road trips I get time to think and maybe more importantly I get extended periods of time to contemplate an issue and consider all of the possibilities. I’ve spent a lot of time on this trip asking myself… Why?

Tahzoo exists to improve the customer experience, that is our Why. That experience is delivered by how we help our clients take care of their customers and in the way in which we treat our clients. Not unlike the BBQ enthusiasts I met this week, I developed my passion at an early age but rather than being handed down through my family, I was taught by working with the Nordstrom family. It is an ideal that has driven me for my entire adult life… That is my Why.

You are part of the Why… You are Tahzoo. Every day in big ways and small ways you make the company great. It’s important that you know your why. You are part of something that aspires to change the world. Your contribution is unique and you have every opportunity to be a part of the Why. I am so proud to be a part of this great company, to visit each of the offices and feel the passion from each of you. On the best days and the worst days, remember why you are here.

Inspiring Innovation

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.

Marketplace of Ideas

I write this as I am preparing to visit The Netherlands next week for Innovation Day. It’s both timely to look at 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.

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, motion pictures and many more. 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 new 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.

Believe in your ideas

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 Albert 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.