Believe in Better

On Saturday evening we went to hear my good friend Lauren Currie speak at the University of Dundee. Lauren is one of the people who’ve inspired me on my journey in the world of design over the last decade, so it’s always a delight to see her.

When she introduces herself on stage she’ll typically say, “I’m Lauren Currie and I believe in better”. It’s a simply phrase, but one that sits at the core of everything she is and does.

Lauren has this ability to make you look at the world in a different way, to see the things that aren’t working, and then to do something about it. All with a focus on social change and making our world better.

It’s become a mantra for me too over the past few years. It’s why I do what I do. Why I get involved in the things that I do. It’s a question I ask of myself each and every day – are you really making things better today?

Let me explain.

My world is the world of business. It’s where I’ve spent the last 30 years of my life. For several years I’ve been trying to find my ‘thing’. Where can I make most impact; how can I help people the most?

It was staring me in the face, and it was my son & business partner Andy who helped me to see it. You see, I’m an accountant. Always have been and always will be. An accountant with an ability to communicate often complex things in an easy to understand way. An accountant who’s embraced the world of design and who believes in better.

That’s why we setup our accounting business last year. We could see that the world of accounting wasn’t delivering what customers needed. Accounting needed to change and we were up for the challenge of leading the way.

We’re now 9 months into the journey and I believe that we’re making a difference. But there’s still lots to be done. We’ve only just scratched the surface of what’s possible.

Do you believe in better? How can you use your skills and experience to make a positive difference? I’d love to hear your thoughts….

Mind your language!

Recently I had the opportunity to spend a day working with two of the world’s best designers. It was an inspirational day, learning from people at the very top of their profession. In sport it would be like being able to spend a day training with Lionel Messi or Eliud Kipchoge (one for the runners!).

During my years of working in and around the design profession, I’ve noticed that with the best designers, everything they do is thoughtfully done. Right down to the words they use.

Designers are more likely to use open questions. Instead of saying, “do you think we could do X?”, they’ll say, “How could we do X?”. It’s a subtle but important difference. The answer to the first question could easily be “No”, whereas the second question invites discussion. Good design is about conversation.

On that day in question, there was a word & phrase that our world class designers kept on using. They were even committed to print on our agenda! What were they? Let me tell you.

The phrase was “How might we…..”. Every question or discussion was prefaced with these three words. How Might We is an actual design technique developed by IDEO to turn challenges or problems into opportunities for design. Each of these words is there for a reason:

  • How invites us to be curious, to be inventive and to imagine
  • Might suggests there could be multiple ways to solve this problem
  • We encourages collaboration

So from now on, whenever you’re faced with a challenge or a problem that needs solving, use these three words. How might we…..

The other word that was used a lot, particularly in the breakout sessions in the afternoon, was Argument. After being set the challenge “How might we…” do something, we were then told to ‘have an argument’ about it within our groups. Not a discussion, but an argument. I’d never seen this approach used before, and will admit that when I run workshops I ask my groups to have a discussion.

I guess the reason for telling us to have an argument, is to encourage people to speak up and have different views. Often a discussion ends up being led by the strongest of the group. I saw this happen at a workshop we did at the University recently – you’re left wondering what ideas weren’t shared and about the possible solutions that never emerged.

However, giving us permission to have an argument, to share our views no matter how diametrically opposed they are, makes sure that we get everything on the table. It was incredibly clever, and I’ll be stealing it for my own workshops. In fact I’ve already tried it a couple of times!

In our busy lives, it might seem inconsequential to spend time thinking about the words we use. However, until the robots take over then we’re designing with and for humans, so using the right language in every situation will make a big difference in the outcomes we achieve.

Do you ask open or closed questions? How might we help you change? Let’s have an argument about words in the comments below!

Be More Human

Yesterday morning I spoke to 80 design students at DJCAD about communication. We talked about the importance of writing or creating content regularly and how the more often you do it, the easier it gets. We spoke about the need to reflect, to think our own ideas, and not just write about what we did.

Kevin Anderson from The StoryEdge joined us for the afternoon, and after some Northern Soul (wait until you see next week’s vlog!), Kevin delivered a spell-binding talk about how to write with confidence. We were all luck to be there.

I’ve just been scrolling through twitter, and the vast majority of what I’m seeing is just soulless content. Content that’s written for SEO benefit, but not to get humans to engage with it! Which is why none of us do.

Mark Schaefer talked about it when he spoke about Content Shock – the sheer volume of content now overwhelms us.

So when you write, do what Kevin says and take your time to plan it. Write that Ugly First Draft. Share your thoughts and feelings, tell your story. Write the piece that you’d want to read.

Be authentic, be honest, be open, and be you.

Be. More. Human.

Making the ordinary extraordinary

Yesterday I wrote about the fact that opportunities are all around us if we’re prepared to look for them. Today I want to put a little meat on the bones for you with some examples. I’m going to tell you three stories over the next week of people who’ve done just this – made the ordinary extraordinary.

First up is Pam Laird. Pam runs Fin & Co, a hair salon in Carnoustie. Pam’s mission is to banish bad hair days forever! When I first met Pam, she was very clear with me that she wanted to have the best customer experience, of any salon, in the world. Amazing! I love people that think like that.

Over the past year Pam has worked tirelessly towards her goal. The average experience at a hair salon is just that – average. However at Fin & Co, Pam’s been relentlessly focusing on how she can make it better. That’s involved a refit of the salon, training for the team in customer experience, and trips to industry events around the world to learn from the best.

Pam also surveyed her customers this summer, but not in the way that people normally do – where they ask questions that are really designed for marketing purposes. You know the style. No, Pam asked some great questions designed to get feedback that could make the experience better. Questions like, “what should we stop doing?”, and “how could we improve?”.

Over 120 people took part, which was amazing. And as you’d expect, now that you know Pam, she’s already using their feedback to improve the experience. I have absolutely no doubt that Pam will achieve her goal, and her competitors better watch out. One of the fascinating things that came out of the research was where people travel from to get their haircut. Pam’s got people coming from Aberdeenshire, Fife, Edinburgh and beyond.

Now, walk down the High Street of any UK town or city and you’ll see a plethora of hair salons. It’s an incredibly competitive market. But Pam’s proving that if you set out to be the best – to move from ordinary to extraordinary – then you can achieve great things.

Spending time with Pam is inspiring. She’s got great drive and vision. She’s created a salon where you want to go, just to hang out. The atmosphere is so good, so positive and upbeat. It’s what success feels like.

So, how can you make the ordinary extraordinary?

Opportunities all around us

We live in a time when it seems that everyone wants to be an entrepreneur. It’s sexy to be running a startup, working on the next great App. Putting a dent in the world as Steve Jobs so eloquently put it, when he snared John Scully from Pepsi all those years ago.

However, the majority of those startups will fail. Several research studies have been published on this recently, and all of them point to the same thing as the primary cause of failure – no market need. Close in its heels comes no businesss model. Here’s one of those studies from Forbes magazine.

So, no market need and no business model. Both of which would be thoroughly tested in a design-led approach, although very few people take this approach. But I digress.

Everyone’s trying to create the next BIG THING. The next Facebook. However those are extremely rare, and the reality is that you’re more likely to become one of the 99% that don’t make it. I say this from experience, having tried to build a software business a few years back and failed.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate for entrepreneurship, for taking a risk, and trying to make a difference. However, maybe instead of trying to be the next Facebook, we should take a look around us. There are opportunities everywhere.

In our customer experience workshops, we get people to dissect bad experiences. Most of those are in what we’d call ‘traditional’ industries. Car sales, cafes, building companies, IT support, accountants. Every one of those industries is ripe for disruption. Put the customer at the heart of the business and deliver an outstanding service. Take the ordinary and make it extraordinary.

Very few companies are doing this. You can innovate on the business model, and you already know there’s a market need, it’s just that the market is pissed off with the current offerings. 84% of customers now expect to be let down.

There’s the opportunity!

How do you introduce yourself?

You know the scene – you’re at a networking event or maybe at a Christmas party at the neighbours, and someone asks you what you do. Many people give a simple answer, if that’s possible these days – I’m a teacher / lawyer / accountant / nurse. It’s not the kind of answer that makes them intrigued to know more though, is it?

Some of us get tongue-tied and start wittering on, trying to explain what it is that we do. I know that I’ve done that on more than one occasion! Again, you’re often met with a polite smile, then they take a sip of their drink, notice someone across they room they ‘need to say hello to’, and next thing you know, you’re on your own again.

Over the weekend I came across this little video from Simon Sinek. In it, he says that we shouldn’t introduce ourselves by What we do, we should start with Why we do it. So he introduces himself by saying that every day he wakes up to inspire people to do what inspires them. It’s certainly more powerful that talking about his consultancy business and the clients he works with!

I’ve been mulling this over and thinking about how I would introduce myself. I’m not there yet, but it would be something along the lines of, “I wake up every day inspired to help organisations to thrive”. By helping organisations to thrive, we improve the lives of staff, customers, and help to make the world a better place. As I say, it’s not 100% yet, but I prefer that to saying that I run a consultancy business and then blabbing on about design thinking, the kind of clients we work with, etc. That’s what we do, and how we do it, but it doesn’t speak to Why we do it.

How do you introduce yourself? Do you talk about What you do, or Why you do it?