Simple Can Be Great!

Elizabeth Weber's recent visit to Lowe's provided many insights she's recorded in a great blog on Medium. It's enlightening and eye opening for B2C or B2B2C businesses. Innovation doesn't always have to be grand, expensive and complicated...sometimes, simple is really great.  Think of your business - there are applications and lessons here for anyone

"Lowe’s launched the Lowe’s Innovation Labs in June 2014. The Labs uses a method known as sci-fi prototyping to explore new customer experiences, such as customers walking into a Holoroom to visualize flooring in a virtual replica of their home, or customers talking to OSHbot, the Lowe’s robot assistant to learn where lawn mowers are located in the store. Lowe’s is exploring the technological and UX frontier for retail shopping, and it is incredible.  But are there simpler, and less expensive ways to improve customer experience in our digital age?" read the rest....

 

Elizabeth Weber is a User Experience Designer in San Francisco.  She a Brown '14 graduate where she launched it's first accelerator, Brown Venture Labs as president of the Entrepreneur Program.  She was the Branding Strategist for Speak Your Mind Foundation and served as a Design Researcher and Product Manager to the President of Brown University in the creation and launch of BrownConnect.

Where Do You Stand?

Where we stand, physically, intellectually, and emotionally, affects what we see and how we see it.  Even when it appears we are standing in the same spot, we are in different spots.  Why? Because when we look at anything, it is through the lens of what we’ve already seen, heard, felt, known.  It’s hard to truly look at anything anew, as if we’ve never seen it before.  That’s why it’s critical to have multiple people, with multiple backgrounds, experiences, talents, and histories look at a problem from multiple perspectives.  That’s why it’s important to listen, hear, and respect them.  That’s why it’s imperative to try to see what they see how they see it – not how we want them to see it.

So where do you stand? Where do you let others stand? And do you listen? Really?

Note: I love this painting for obvious reasons and if anyone knows who the artist is, please let me know!

How Do You Calculate ROI?

 

Return on Investment (ROI), or the measurement of how effectively something will pay for itself, is a classic business metric.  The calculation defines gain in financial terms.

In today’s world, financial measures alone are too narrow . Revenue, profit, productivity, etc. are only part of the picture. We need to consider intangible returns - gains in learning, brand authenticity, and cultural improvement, for instance, which make a bigger difference in the long run. 

Never being one for convention, I’ve been experimenting with variations on the ROI theme, namely, the idea of ROImpact  (ROIm).  ROIm is how I decide which projects to take on and which to decline. It is a qualitative and quantitative metric of intangibles and tangibles.

If the cost (ImCost) is the amount of time a project will require, the impact (ImGain) is the assessment of organizational gains in terms of:

  • Culture: an innovative, interdisciplinary, authentic and diverse mindset that encourages solving customers’ pains through experimenting-learning-applying and iterating which, by the way, helps the company attract, develop and retain great talent that views giving back as joyful privilege; resulting in...
  • Customer Value: delighting customers with meaningful solutions that meet real needs within the customers’ contexts and constraints; perhaps even creating new markets and industries.

The result? An increase in revenue and profits without sacrificing culture and values . I have seen this time and time again with my own clients.

Unfortunately, many organizations still believe ROI and ROIare either incompatible or unrelated. This is false. Focusing on ROIm means focusing on outcomes, which results in improved ROI, the outputs. An organization that has maximized its ROIm has a more open and innovative mindset, understands customers’ real needs, gives employees opportunities to experiment, learn, apply, and iterate and is in the best possible position to provide value to customers, create jobs and give back to its community.

The result of combining ROIm with ROI is a virtuous cycle that returns gains in both investment and impact .  What do you think? Am I crazy? Well, of course! But the results sure aren’t. 

STEAM Needs to Spread

 

The Colonel and Deb! General Leadership is hosting a post by Col. Matt Fritz and me on why STEAM is so important - in the military, work, non-profits, and education - starting with education so it permeates our thinking.  I'm so honored to be writing with a very dear friend and courageous leader.

Who Did You Forget in Collaboration? Employees

Thank you Aaron Aders and Inc. including me in this article on collaboration

"..."Successful collaboration isn't just about providing the necessary tools and training for collaboration," she explains, "but also about building trust with employees." She suggests that collaboration develop in an organic way, rather than something being imposed on a team. "Watch how your people collaborate," Mills-Scofield advises. "Then translate that into a tool that will fit as naturally as possible into their day-to-day routine and behavior."

 

 

Managing the 4 Challenges of the Dispersed Workforce

Thank you Vala Afshar and Ryan Needing for including me in the Huffington Post article and the Collaboration & Mobility Assessment tool.  Companies need to get on board if they want to keep their employees on board with mobility and collaboration.  It was great to be a part of this! 

Big Data In Your Shampoo?

Did you wash your hair this morning? Did you know big data probably played a role in the viscosity and aroma? Maybe! This guest post by Amir Golan, VP of Business Development at Signals, shows how important it is to look for the small signals and patterns in big data that are easily lost. 

 

Interminable Growth Pains

Once upon a time, before the era of big data analytics, corporations had similarly routine business growth issues and threats: i.e.: after years of being the market leader in a specific product category, they quickly begin to lose market share, they wanted to introduce their product into a new market. In the case of the former, they typically would want to know why and how could they innovate their current product to regain their position as number one. Back then, they would run focus groups to see what customers liked/didn't like about the product and would check competitors that began to do well. Then, based on the insights drawn from this sample, the company would decide the reason for the recent losses and propose changing a feature to address that specific "pain." While it may have mitigated the clients' losses some of the time, the innovation was inevitably reactive, unscientific, and not robust nor holistic.

The Contemporary Picture and the Role of Big Data

Fast forward to today. While companies' stories start similarly, their approaches to research are completely different. Recently, a large consumer packaged goods company decided they wanted to enter the haircare world and they needed help defining the product opportunity. Through "listening" of social media, they were able to identify a need for a new type of hair product because consumers online (on Twitter, Facebook, forums) were complaining about having to mix hair wax with oil to get the texture they desire. By capturing these discussions, structuring them, and analyzing them, they then determined the size and depth of the “signal” and figured out that the demand for it was strong. By applying similar internet-scraping of competitor websites, articles, patent filings, job postings, and more, they were able to get a picture of what their competition was offering and what they were developing. By cross-analyzing the two, they determined the unmet need-- a real opportunity-- because they found a gap in the market; people wanted a hair product with a specific texture and no other companies sold or were planning to sell it.

They then took it one step further and asked, "How would you find the technology and material to meet this need?" Again, they scraped data from the open web on other industries' IP filings and academic publications providing the key feature they were looking for: a certain texture. After discovering a new material that achieves the same texture in a foot cream, they were able to shorten their time to market by finding and partnering with the leading researcher in developing this ingredient and launching their first hair product successfully. By constantly monitoring all of these data sources, the company was also alerted to new threats entering the product category, so that they could adjust proactively.

It's this sort of product intelligence, capitalizing on the infinite amounts of big data available on the open web paired with the right solutions and tools, that is enabling companies to innovate and launch better more successful products. But what is it exactly?

Product Intelligence: What Is It?

While historically easier said than done, the work this company did to increase certainty and decrease risk in new product development is increasingly feasible. Enter Product Intelligence: a new hybrid intelligence emerging from the smoke and mirrors of the Big Data and innovation jargon, that proves to be a little more practical and actionable. It provides highly targeted, real-time intelligence that serves up insights INSIDE of the new product development process at the exact moment when conclusive, authoritative insight is most needed;  when it’s literally make or break.

The secret is in connecting the analyses and insights derived from Big Data to real NPD and innovation decisions. Product Intelligence makes the stars align, ensuring that the relevant signals (i.e.: the desired hair product texture) from the right types of data (i.e.: millions of conversations on hair products) are connected together to bring the best insights to the right decision maker at the topical moment in the NPD decision process.  

So, how would you prepare for a stage gate meeting that includes a "Go/No-Go" decision on continuing to develop a specific product? Either as a member of the product team or as the "gate keeper," you might make this decision based on a gut feeling, prior experience, a partial understanding of the ecosystem, OR, increasingly, based on Product Intelligence.

Decision-makers are reveling over this research approach and solution that systematically provides a stream of evidence-backed insights that support the gate meeting's key questions, therefore reducing uncertainty and risk and optimizing the chance of developing successful products.

How Does This Change the New Product Development Process?

Let’s take it one layer deeper, and try to understand why this brings something novel and different to current approaches to research for new product development, both internal and outsourced 

Technology + Methodology

Some big data folks say “it’s the algorithm” and they are only partially right. Just as crucial is the methodology- asking the right questions from the outset that are relevant to the gate decision. That is, the decision drives the data to be collected and the questions to be asked. Then, Product Intelligence connects those questions to the right analytical models and identifies the most relevant data sources to populate the models. Instead of boiling the "big data ocean," Product Intelligence can identify the exact parameters of the needs, wants, technologies, requirements, and IP supporting a new product and optimizing its success.

Robust + Comprehensive Insights

Another major differentiator is that decision makers can rely on and feel confident with the evidence- the robustness and comprehensiveness of the evidence and insights extracted from big data increases certainty in innovation decisions. In our hair product story, for example, the product team needed a good understanding of their target consumers in order to validate their hair product needs before they progressed to the next phase. You can use traditional research methods and interview 25 people or perhaps create an expensive program and bring 500 people to focus groups. Or you can do what they did and "listen" to 1,000,000 different voices from forums to key opinion lenders and potential consumers and connect the dots between them. The layering of these unstructured voices with other structured data sets (i.e.: polls) creates a holistic and robust view of consumer segments and their needs, both met and unmet.

Reduce Investments of Time + Money

Our CPG product team was also able to dramatically reduce the investment of time and money on irrelevant concepts early on in the process. Instead of deciding to rebrand or develop a different hair product with the same texture, they understood that the texture was the reason for the loss of market share and were able to quickly and easily tweak their existing product to meet the need, provide value to the customer, and regain market share.

Real-Time Ecosystem Monitoring + Topical Decision-Making

Another unique feature of Product Intelligence is the ability to constantly monitor and update these insights in real time, which allows corporations to keep up with their rapidly-evolving ecosystems, know about threats (and opportunities) before it's too late, and strategically and proactively plan to avoid or capitalize on them.

 

Amir Golan is the VP of Business Development at Signals Intelligence Group Ltd. He manages strategic accounts and oversees Signals’s partnership program. Prior to joining Signals, Amir worked at different strategic consulting firms and worked in a variety of intelligence frameworks. Amir served as a member of the Board of Directors and of the Finance committee of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange-listed ISSTA-Lines LTD (ISTA.P) Amir earned his MBA and BA in Political Science and Middle Eastern studies from Ben Gurion University in the Negev. Follow Amir at @golan_amir.

52 Ways to Build Trust

Many thanks to Barbara Kimmel of Trust Across AmericaTM for letting me contribute to Trust Inc.: 52 Weeks of Activities and Inspiriations for Building Worldplace Trust (Vol 3.).  My mantra, Experiment-Learn-Apply-Iterate, is a way to start building trust in one's own capabilities and one's team (pg 29).  Get the book, try out these various ways and you'll be surprised at how it works! (And if you want, buy Vol 1 & 2 as well (ok, i'm in Volume 1 too)).

Death by Data

Data isn’t important in decision-making. What? Shocking! Then why aren’t we shocked when someone says that all decisions must be totally data driven? Perhaps it depends what we mean by data, which is usually something quantitative. 

We need to get out into the world and gather data by watching, observing, listening, asking – qualitative data. We don’t live in a binary world – it’s not either-or, it’s and-both.  We need quantitative and qualitative data. We need to consider both equally valid forms of data.  After all, as the sociologist William Bruce Cameron said (guess Einstein didn’t *),

Not everything that can be counted counts. Not everything that counts can be counted.”

Quantitative data needs to be part of the equation, part, not all.  More and more I see companies defining “data” as purely quantitative, dismissing or minimizing, at their peril, the importance of the qualitative.  Quantitative data can tell us a lot.  It an also tell us little.  Quantitative data has limitations – as does everything. These limitations are because the data usually is…

  • About existing “stuff”. It tells us about our current features, functions, customers and markets.  It tells us what customers are [stuck] using now, not what they really want.  It doesn’t tell us what our “stuff” could become or what new customers, markets and applications are out there;
  • Based in the present or the past.  We don’t have much ‘future’ data: what will, could, should or might be and what we could do to make that happen;
  • A glimpse in time.  It can be a year, five years, ten years, but it’s always piece of the bigger picture;At the Edge (Pemaquid Point, ME)
  • About the what, where, why and maybe even how, but rarely the why. Data usually doesn’t tell us much about fringe factors or trends that impact it.  It’s hard to have data show us the subtle societal, cultural, behavioral “whys” of influence;
  • Used to make things more efficient instead of more effective. Yes, efficiency (or optimization to be more eloquent) still rules for most of business today.  Data helps us figure out to eliminate unnecessary steps, improve productivity, reduce costs, etc.  Data doesn’t necessarily tell us why things need to be improved in the first place or new, different ways of doing, period.

As I like to tell my engineering students, most of today’s wicked problems aren’t optimization problems; they are system and design problems.  Think of the remote controls on your den table! Optimization issues are a symptom, not a root cause.  Data doesn’t necessarily tell us how to make the problem go away because it doesn’t tell us why the problem is there in the first place.  We have to actually get out of the office and look at how the problem is being addressed, not addressed, or not well enough by human beings.  We need to see how things are organized, structured, laid out, used, not used and under what conditions, circumstances and contexts. 

Data can tell us a whole lot about how our sites and stores and companies are working or not working, but data can’t necessarily tell us the whys – why it is or isn’t working, or working well enough. Without getting out and observing reality first-hand with all our five senses, we risk optimizing our organization into extinction. 

* http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/05/26/everything-counts-einstein/

How Uncertainty Can Actually Build Trust

Sometimes using what is ambiguous and unknown can build trust.  By experimenting, learning, applying and iterating we build trust in ourselves and each other.  Give it a try!  Thank you Barbara Kimmel and Trust Across America - Trust Across the World for the opportunity to be part of #TRUSTGiving2014.

"Taking risk requires trust – to discover, try, re-try, be okay with uncertainty, imperfection and even fail.  That’s why learning how to inexpensively and quickly Experiment-Learn-Apply-Iterate is critical to building trust."  Read on....

8 Great Ways to Learn

So honored to host Frank Sonnenberg on my site!!! Wow! His new book, Follow Your ConscienceMake a Difference in Your Life & in the Lives of Others, is just out.  Get it! His wisdom is powerful and practical!
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8 Great Ways to Learn 

Learning requires more than attending lectures and regurgitating what you’ve heard. It requires you to be both teacher and student, to learn from books and personal experiences, and to be able to apply lessons learned to real-world situations. Here are a few ways to learn:

Act like a kid. When we’re young, we continually ask “why?” When we get older, however, we get defensive and feel inadequate if we don’t have all the answers. It’s time to learn like a kid again.

Broaden your world. Surrounding yourself with “yes” people is like talking to yourself. Listen to people with viewpoints other than your own. Try to see their side of the issue instead of living your life with blinders on.

Break out of the rut.  Everyone likes routines. Learn by breaking them. Cover the same ground from different angles. Take a new route. Speak to new people. Get information from different sources.

Request feedback. Are you getting ready for a presentation or an interview? Don’t be shy . . . request feedback from a colleague. Most people would be honored to help you. Remember, it’s a lot better to learn in a non-threatening environment than when it’s “game time.”

Learn from mistakes. Do you have twenty years of experience or one year of experience repeated twenty times? If you’re blind to your weaknesses, you may be repeating mistakes rather than correcting them. Remember, practice makes perfect — unless you’re making the same mistakes over and over again.

Critique your actions. Football teams spend countless hours watching game footage to determine how to improve individual performance and build a winning team. Take the time to reflect on your experiences and learn from them. For example, ask yourself, if you had the opportunity to perform an activity again, how would you do it differently?

Increase your expectations. If you want to become a better tennis player, play with someone better than yourself. The same is true in other areas of your life. You’re not going to improve if you don’t accept challenges and learn from them. Step out of your comfort zone to “up” your game.

Success is a journey, not a destination.  Winning is not a black-and-white experience in which losers explore ways to improve and winners receive a bye. Even winners should identify ways to improve on their performance.

This is adapted from Follow Your Conscience: Make a Difference in Your Life & in the Lives of Others By Frank Sonnenberg © 2014 Frank Sonnenberg. All rights reserved.

 

Frank is an award-winning author. He has written five books and over 300 articles. Frank was recently named one of  “America's Top 100 Thought Leaders” and nominated as one of “America’s Most Influential Small Business Experts.” Frank has served on several boards and has consulted to some of the largest and most respected companies in the world. Additionally, FrankSonnenbergOnline was named among the “Best 21st Century Leadership Blogs.” Frank’s new book, Follow Your Conscience, will be released November 2014. © 2014 Frank Sonnenberg. All rights reserved.

 

“Goodbye Mr. Jones”: The End of the Dow as an American Index

Is the concept of national corporations and financial indices outdated? Perhaps! Charles Hensley's perspective about tax inversion challenges us to think about 'national' status, incentives, and the constraints of 20th C thinking. This is taken from The Intercollegiate Finance Journal (IFJ) is an undergraduate student-run journal about how current finance, economics, business and technology issues affect students' lives.  Please consider supporting the IFJ to ensure that our youth's voices are heard and heeded. 
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Pfizer, America’s largest pharmaceutical company and a member of the Dow Jones Index, made a bid to acquire its British competitor AstraZeneca this past May. The acquisition would have allowed Pfizer to perform a tax inversion by moving its headquarters from the United States, which has the highest corporate tax rate of any rich nation, to Great Britain, which has one of the lowest.

American and British lawmakers alike were up in arms over the deal, which AstraZeneca eventually rejected. American lawmakers denounced the potential loss of corporate tax revenue and of Pfizer as an American company – even though none of its assets held in America would invert. It would simply have been unpatriotic. The Dow has long been considered the showcase of American corporate power and the loss of one of its 30 members to the British would have been a huge blow to America’s corporate hegemony. The British similarly decried the potential loss of one of their most prestigious corporations to foreigners.

The corporations themselves do not take patriotic pride into consideration, however, and see tax inversion simply as a sound business plan.
Corporate Mythology

Decrying tax inversion as unpatriotic misses the point. The idea of an “American” corporation is increasingly becoming a myth.

Pfizer’s CEO, for example, is British. According to The Economist, Pfizer’s domestic density index, which measures a company’s domestic business compared to its international side, is 49 percent. AstraZeneca’s CEO is French and it has a domestic density rating of only 12 percent. Even Coca-Cola has less than half of its sales and staff in the United States, though, like Pfizer, a majority of its shareholders are American. America’s corporations are not really as “American” as we might like to think.

This is the case for much of the Dow and corporate America in general. Medtronic, one of the world’s largest medical device makers, is currently in the process of inverting from Minnesota to Ireland; Burger King plans to send the King himself to Canada; and Chiquita – the only Banana company anyone has heard of – is moving to Ireland. This is all bad news for American corporate tax lawyers because, with their official headquarters overseas, companies will no longer be subject to American’s convoluted corporate tax code.

Officially, the US corporate tax rate is 35 percent, but it is so fraught with loopholes and tax breaks that companies rarely foot the whole bill. Moreover, corporations headquartered in the United States are supposed to pay taxes on revenue generated all over the world but are only required to pay taxes on the money that they actually bring home. Consequently, companies have stopped bringing foreign revenue home: U.S. corporations have around $2 trillion on foreign balance sheets.
 

The Trials of Tax Reform

Tax inversion is not unpatriotic, but it is nonetheless a problem. The United States loses more than half of total corporate tax income to loopholes. Inversions will only compound this problem and siphon off more tax income. Congress is moving to change the laws governing inversion, which currently allows inversions as long as stockholders who were not holders of the U.S. company hold at least 20 percent of the merged company. The Stop Corporate Inversions Act of 2014 introduced by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) aims to raise the level of ownership to 50 percent among other stipulations. Congressional Democrats claim that their legislation will keep $19.5 billion per year in the United States.

The Treasury Department has also stepped up regulation in the face of the spate of recent inversions. New regulations proposed by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew would cut down on “spinversions,” which are a form of inversion where a company splits off one of its parts and turns it into a separate corporate entity backed by the original company and governed by the original company’s shareholders. Secretary Lew also aims to regulate “hopscotch,” which allows companies to access their foreign cash reserves without paying taxes. However, new regulations will not affect the Burger King deal or many others in their final stages of inversion.

Tax inversions are a symptom of a larger problem: America’s bloated corporate tax code. Substantive tax reform is one of the most politically poisonous issues to grapple with in Washington D.C. and corporate tax debates arouse great rancor from politicians and interest groups. In light of these hurdles, these new measures are stopgap at best. Tax inversions themselves do not need to be legislated away, if that is even possible in the face of an army of corporate tax lawyers. Instead, the corporate tax code needs to be streamlined and the tax rate lowered to be on par with that of other developed nations.

Economics is the study of incentives, so a good economist knows that to change the corporate system, you have to change corporate incentives.

Incremental regulation has failed in the past and will continue to fail as long as other nations have comparatively advantageous tax codes in the eyes of corporations. The idea of corporate patriotism is not enough to keep corporations in the United States. Politicians and regulators must accept this fact and work to alter the incentives so that corporate taxes for work done in the United States go to the United States.

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Charles Hensley is a junior at Brown University concentrating in Philosophy and Economics.  IFJ is a rapidly expanding student-run publication that seeks to educate the undergraduate community about topics in finance, economics, business and technology. The IFJ blends sophistication and accessibility to provide relevant, informative and entertaining financial content. We pride ourselves on having “an article for everyone”. Comprised of students from Brown, University of Chicago, Columbia, NYU and MIT and is expanding to other schools. Please support this organization to let our youth's voices be heard!  The IFJ can be found on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

Why Art Matters as much as Technology

STEM to STEAM - the "A" in STEAM stands for Art/Design...and Afghanistan Air Force.  So thrilled to write this with my amazing friend Col. Matt Fritz about how STEAM was critical to re-inventing the Afghan Air Force! Yes, some parts of our military are design thinkers!  Thank you Matt & Switch and Shift.

"We don’t think of the military as a STEAMy organization, but parts of it are. As Deb described STEAM and its role in for/not-for-profit businesses, B2B and B2C, Matt realized that much of his work in his recent deployment to Afghanistan depended on STEAM. Building a new and resurgent Afghan Air Force from the ground up, while simultaneously flying it and using it in the fight, is no typical task. It is a combination of the complex, complicated and dynamic, to put it mildly."

5 Lessons from an Office on the Edge

Kris Ansin is the executive director of Mali Health Organizing Project - an amazing company increasing access to primary maternal and child healthcare in Mali.  This past year, Mali repelled an Islamic coup and had it's first case of Ebola, hopefully contained.  To say Kris lives in a complex and complicated world is an understatement. This is his story of what he's learned living and working at the edge.
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I have a passion for exploring the world’s corners – those places far away from a Wall St, Main St, or any another familiar boulevard. These corners have been the places and times where I’ve learned the most about the world and myself. For the last three years, I have satiated this string of my DNA with an unconventional job – as Executive Director of a small NGO addressing maternal and child survival in slums of Mali, West Africa, where health outcomes are among the lowest in the world. Despite this unconventional “corner” office, the lessons I’ve learned (or in some cases, those imposed by necessity) have been profound, and many seem applicable in myriad professional settings.

More and more offices exist at the corner, situated in the messy confluences of cultures and technologies and in the borderlands of traditional disciplines.  As a millennial leader, I see the ways our generation’s coming of age in the workforce has prepared us to lead from these spaces, to support a more inclusive and empathetic framework, and to embrace failure as an inevitable process towards achievement.

Delegation

Every time I have assigned someone a task, rather than taking it on myself, the net effect – short-term, long-term, or both – is decidedly positive. As my grandfather, my own mentor in management, would remind me, “delegate, but don’t abdicate.” Far from the desertion of tedious tasks or monotonous busywork, this means giving team members control and independence, and constantly cleaning the edges of my own plate that, almost by definition of the role, will constantly overflow. Identifying the right person for the right job at the right time is not always obvious and itself merits deliberate thought.  This process feels more like the conducting of an orchestra than the delivery of orders or obligation. Effective distribution of accountability and responsibility, then, leads to better musicians, increased practice, more time in the spotlight, and most important, harmony.

The Danger of Assumptions

So often dissonance, disappointment, or disaster is a result of poor communications. In this job, it’s necessary to navigate differences in language, culture, and distance. It is easy for messages to be lost or distorted with such obvious traps. The recipient of a message, for completely legitimate reasons, understands in a wholly difference context than its original intention.

Assumptions, conscious or not, frequently contribute to poor communications, and I’ve tried to make that admission to myself in my interactions – often, I have no idea what another person is thinking. I have to ask, and I have to make time for the answers, and both steps are equally important. The difference between interest and position (thank you, Getting to Yes) is often clouded, but if you ask enough and listen more, the way forward can also become clear.  Last, if possible, I save important conversations for when there is no computer screen separating me from others. Despite technology’s accomplishments, there is no substitute for physically being in the same space.

Motivation

I can’t outcompete anyone, or nearly anyone, when it comes to employee compensation. It’s a troublesome and common trend in nonprofits but particularly in a small organization with a startup attitude. What I’ve found, however, is traditional views of compensation don’t reflect how people behave in – or towards – this organization. Other factors, like meaningful work, a wide degree of autonomy, and strategic recognition (both internal and external) seem to be more powerful drivers.  The ability to offer an environment replete with these conditions have nullified, or at least mitigated, what would commonly be seen as an Achilles heel. We have to pay something, and expect compensation levels to reach more equitable levels as we grow, but more meaningful forms of motivation have boded well for this organization. Interns are given real responsibilities (with real results), staff are trusted and given their own budgets to plan and manage, and a mission-driven attitude is permeable when staff members collaborate, focusing on a shared pursuit. Employee of the Month, annual Family Days, professional development stipends, the distribution of meat to field staff at the end of Ramadan, and FedEx Days are all ways we have built this culture of compensation beyond bottom line.

All of me

Professional roles in Mali are rigid. Structure and formality are common in the professional context, and if I were graded based on this rubric, I’d fail. Just ask my staff. Rather, during my extended stays in our field office, the traditional divide between work and life blurs. For me, this is a positive development. Bosses in any culture hold a degree of power and can encourage interactions that are artificial or soul-sucking (One NYT Sunday Review article just cited the fact that in a typical day, spending time with one’s boss is the #1 unhappiest activity one can perform).  Allowing my staff see a more personal side of me has led to a more intimate and productive office.  They can laugh, and appreciate, when I stammer through local languages, and helping me to navigate unfamiliar moors provides space for them to lead. They come to know me better when I share personal experience, or spend time with them in an informal setting. And in turn, they can be more of themselves, and bring more of themselves, to our shared cause.

The F-word

Addressing child survival is no small undertaking. If progress were easy, this challenge, and the many like it, would undoubtedly have been solved. But behind a simple problem are often complex influencers that necessitate sophisticated solutions. Which carries greater risk. In the nonprofit sector, results are often necessary within a calendar year, and in a business setting, quarterly earnings often inform value and success. Real progress however, is more messy and less linear. We have to innovate, test, fail, and try again, in order to ensure a true impact on such a societal problem.  Yes, evaluation is important and progress is our goal, but failure is an important part of the process, and too often swept under the rug. In traditional contexts, failure is the opposite of success; instead, failure must serve as a tool that helps achieve a goal, a course-correction that must be recognized and understood, not reduced and forgotten. The challenges of today require a redefinition of failure, and young leaders are poised to carry that torch. Having lived in a short time in the context of incredible forces of progress and regression, we realize both the consequences and the opportunities. Both are great. To find success, we have to fail.

BIO:  Kris Ansin is the Executive Director of the Mali Health Organizing Project, increasing access to quality primary care in peri-urban communities, the world's fastest growing populace. Through health saving and financing initiatives, strengthened systems between communities and clinics, and quality improvement programs at local health centers, Mali Health is developing a sustainable and participatory model of healthcare delivery in resource-strained environments. Kris grew up in Massachusetts, holds a Masters of Public Health in International Health and Development from Tulane University in New Orleans, and has worked with a number of large and small organizations in Africa and South Asia. As Executive Director, he is responsible for crafting Mali Health’s strategic vision, communications, programs, financing, and fundraising. He divides his time between the US and Bamako, Mali.

A version of this was originally published in Switch and Shift.

No Compelling Value Proposition? No Business Needed!

Alex Osterwalder & team have created the definitive easy-to/must-uses guide on how to create a compelling value proposition - Value Proposition Design.  Yes, definitive.   Any business is first and foremost about the customer, even though it seems so many have forgotten that.  If you don’t have a compelling value proposition, you don’t need a business model because you won’t have a business. 

Value Proposition Design (#VPDesign) clearly teaches how to discover customers’ real needs – the needs they have for and by themselves, not the needs we want them to have or the needs we want to solve…even if they aren’t really the customers’.  The VPDesign toolkit – which is easy to follow, use and adopt – makes it difficult to retain your own biases and see reality.

It’s not just the words. The fabulous visual and symbolic style of the book makes it easy to follow, to use as a handbook and daily tool for prototyping, testing, iterating and creating meaningful and valuable solutions for customers. The icons are memorable and can become part of your team’s lexicon for thinking about customers. Just as in Business Model Generation, this book is a tool to use daily to think about your business – internally and externally. I’ve used the VPDesign extensively with entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs and for customers outside the organization and inside the organization.

So, you MUST get this book (and Business Model Generation) and start using it.  It will change how you view your business, your customers – for the better, in ways you can’t even begin to imagine.

In full disclosure, I helped co-create Alex & Yves’ first book, Business Model Generation, was a pre-reader for Value Proposition Design book and is a friend of Alex's.  And that's why I know, first-hand, how incredible and necessary these books are! Get them!!

 

Tree Cause Analysis!

Thank you Irene Becker for sharing your blog with me! What if we started doing Tree Cause Analysis

"Root Cause Analysis (RCA) – sounds like a blast doesn’t it? We can all agree it’s important and should be a habit we adopt in our organizations, but few of us do it. Why? It takes time, self-reflection (personal and organizational), analysis and…. it’s focused on the negative, what didn’t work, what didn’t go well. Makes you wonder if Root Cause Analysis isn’t an oxymoron." Read on....


What Gives You Hope?

Summer is ending, leaves are changing and we know what is coming, and I'm so filled with Hope!  Yup! InBIF10 Top Row L-R Marlea Brown, Andrew Kaplan, Nicha Ratana; Bottom Row L-R: Faisal Khurshid, Isby Lubin, Fiora MacPherson, Sarah Kandath, Me  what, in Whom do you Hope? Hope is a powerful force in life.  It is based in what is both possible and probable, not in hallucination. That's why September is Hope Month for me...because of BIF10 

BIF is the most amazing gathering of humans from all over the world sharing stories about perseverance, innovation, impact…and Hope! Every year we wonder how can the next be better and it always is.  Because of HopeHope in what the human spirit is capable of achieving:

I urge you to look at the videos, photos, and posts…. And sign up for next year!!

Does HR Need a New Business Model?

Innovation requires rethinking how we do business. My guest post on ZDNet (Thank you, Michael Krigsman!), shares an approach for HR to re-examine how it serves the needs of Millennial workers, using the Business Model & Value Proposition Canvases

"...HR is in desperate need of a new business model. The combination of boomers retiring, Millennials expanding their presence in the workplace, intense competition for top talent, confusing and changing regulations, and new technology make HR ripe for change." Read on here.