This month's issue: The Importance of Culture.
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A Newsletter from Creative Ventures

Issue #114

Big News

This year seems to be flying by.  August was another month full of exciting projects and a lot of travel.

Our second video in the Over Coffee Series received a ton of input and convinced Colin and me the idea has real traction.  We have half a dozen videos shot and in the can for distribution. Keep an eye on your inbox for episode three next week!


We launched a new platform that falls under our NEXT LEVEL UNIVERSITY (where all of our education platforms reside):  THE ONE-ON-ONE COLLEGE. 
This is our individual learning program for companies that want a one-on-one experience for their existing and emerging leaders.  We create a customized three-part curriculum based on the specific needs of the individual, open the session with one face to face meeting, use distant learning techniques for a self-paced learning experience, and close with a final face-to-face.  We tested the idea with a client this past spring and now have formalized the process, with students ready to roll.

We continue to work with clients on cultural initiatives and have a strong pipeline of projects beginning to fill up.  
Thanks to all for the incredible support and the help in allowing us to see ideas create real value.




From the Locker Room

to the Board Room


"Round here we always stand up straight. Round here something radiates." 

- Counting Crows

I was making the dreaded drive south down I-35 from the hustle and bustle of the Dallas metroplex to the quiet of our little Austin lakeside community, thinking about the project Colin and I had just worked on for one of our great and long-term clients...  
After 20 plus years of success and with some rapid expansion completed and more heading their way, this particular company decided it was time to strategically look at their culture.  Although they had a strong behavioral pattern that did everything from supporting great service to community involvement, the existing pattern lacked continuity of message and a framework that could be leveraged across internal and external opportunities.  In other words, people kind of understood stuff, but they could not really articulate it so that it created a market advantage.  Our job was to help with that.

I have done a lot of writing about culture, those behavioral patterns that define an organization.  Perhaps it’s because we work on so many of these types of projects, but it is really more about my interest in WHY companies develop a focus on this aspect of their company.  It’s not found on the balance sheet.  You can’t really put it in an Excel format.  It is not tangible enough to be a product or service.  So why spend money, resources, time and effort on something so damned subjective? 
In baseball, team culture is referred to as “clubhouse chemistry,” that mixture of personality, leadership, fun-loving, and talent that does not show up on the statistic-laden box scores.  In a numbers crazy sport like baseball where EVERYTHING is measured, if it can’t be quantified, people have trouble believing in it.  The San Francisco Giants have won three of the last five World Series and although they certainly have great players, they are not the most talented team nor the one with the highest payroll, but they have great chemistry.  In fact, they actually built the team with the intent of creating a culture that would lift their talent to perform beyond the numbers.  People talk about how they can “feel” their clubhouse chemistry.  The Giants know culture drives performance and can raise a team beyond talent.

Richard Branson does not suffer from a lack of press, but a lot of the good things we hear are well-earned.  Take Virgin Air for one.  They offer more leg room and better entertainment, and their planes fly with about a 25% smaller carbon footprint than other airlines’.  All great things for flyers, but what really makes them different is the way they TREAT their passengers, and that is a cultural touchstone.

Always provide you with an unforgettable experience that adds value to your trip.”  Using this statement they build their client experience.  They empower employees to make decisions on the spot.  They value how you feel about Virgin Air, and they are trained with that imperative in mind.
In 2011 Comcast bought NBC Universal, and with all the assets came the Universal theme parks in Southern California and central Florida.  Comcast originally looked for a quick sale of these tourist attractions.  They thought, in effect, “Upkeep, staffing, public safety, new rides…who needs the headache!”  As they dug into their newly-acquired parks, however, Comcast’s leaders discovered something unexpected, a culture that was driving performance.  Always a stepchild to the Disney dominance, it turned out that the people who worked on the theme parks wanted to make a difference.  They were committed to a solid, even over the top, work ethic with a sense of fun, and the combination was working.

This culture turned a quick sale into a growth engine.  Investments into the billions of dollars are being poured into both Orlando and Southern California.  Attendance is up over 10% and growing.  The first half of 2015 has revenues up 49%.  Culture can make a difference.
What really makes someone want to go to work?  What makes a person engage a problem until well after closing time?  What makes someone change the tire on the car of a customer who had a flat in the company’s parking lot?  What makes someone care beyond the paycheck, beyond the product or service?  It’s something more.  It’s the culture, and study after study shows it to be true.
So, with overwhelming data around the significant difference a real strategic focus on culture can bring to your market position, is it worth an investment on your part?  Here is a filter to help you with that decision:


Do This!


We always recommend non-direct business gatherings.  We have structured “LIKE” meetings for the simple fact that no one does major business with people they don’t like, so defining what is likable in your business model is actually strategic.  TOMORROW MEETINGS borrow from the same unorthodox methodologies.  This is best done as a pizza meeting.  Bring some of your folks together, order a couple of pizzas, and ask everyone one question:  How do you see this company in three years?  During the conversation determine if you have the environment to make some of the generated ideas happen.  Many of the projections will lie outside of the product and will be centered on the culture. You might discover a few cultural changes that need to be made to start your tomorrow happening today.  By the way, when the pizza is gone, the meeting is over. 


WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? -  There is really something important about what everyone at the company is talking about.  The idea of informal and formal communication being part of a thriving, growing, and adapting culture is a big deal.  70% to 80% of workday conversations are on what Jimmy Buffett calls “The Coconut Telegraph,” that casual level of just talking.  Cultures that support involvement actually nurture this type of communication.  One of our clients added glass panels to cover walls in key gathering spots to allow the wall to become a whiteboard for doodling and sketching out ideas.  Stop, chat, and think awhile.  Almost every corporate culture has this type of communication.  Stop and listen for a while!

Fashion retailer Nordstrom is world famous for their service model.  In fact, their service banner is “We expect you to use your best judgment in all situations.”  What a shout of empowerment!  Of course, to build that idea of “best judgment” you have to build a strong model.  The Nordstrom model is:  HIRE carefully,  TRAIN to standards,  EMPOWER based on the entire model.  So, does your culture training provide the tools necessary for everyone “to use their best judgment?”  Do you provide strong foundations for outcome?  On a white board or flipchart, draw up your training and skill enhancement programs.  Do a check up.  Does your culture provide, through new skills development, the ability for people to grow?





Here is a surprise (not!):  traffic sucks in many places in the U.S.!  If you live in Washington D.C., Los Angeles, or San Francisco you are in an epicenter of wasted car time averaging 80 hours a year sitting in an exhaust-filled limbo trying to get home.  Drivers are losing seven billion hours a year to traffic and burning 3 billion gallons of fuel.  Yuck!  But, since we all know we will be stuck in rush hour, let’s not waste our time.  Try listening to some podcasts, these little bits of interesting information.  Here are a few: 

The goal is to take surf competition to a mainstream audience.   Turn a bro-cast into a broadcast.  Enter ZoSea Media Holdings and ex-NFL executive Paul Speaker.  They have taken an old idea, a series of disconnected surf competitions, and placed them under an umbrella called The World Surf League.  Create a professional broadcast with sand-side reporters and post-heat interviews.  Mix in a little public education, centralize the media, add a huge social media push, and they might have a winning formula.  There are approximately 120 million surf fans with another 130 million potential Gidgets and Goofy Footers who at least bought a Quicksilver t-shirt to tap into the mood.  ESPN and ABC are in.  The 2014 Pipe Masters event had 6.2 million viewers, more than the average audience for the Stanley Cup Finals (though both take place on the same compound, H2O!).  Maybe the surf IS up!

It is that weird time again.  The annual Burning Man Festival is Nevada-desert bound.  It is really hard to describe this annual ritual of the free-spirited.  For a week the constructed center piece, Black Rock City, becomes the 6th largest city in Nevada.  Everything from music, art, and the annual topless bicycle parade make up the experience.  Burning Man has a gift-based economy with little or no money exchanging hands.  There is no wi-fi, no cell coverage, no connection to the world outside the Burning Man’s desert confines.  Freed from the shackles of modern life, the attendees sink to a kind of primal social level and THEY LOVE IT.  Check out the whole idea:

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