First and foremost, to all of you who subscribe to and read our “stuff,” thanks. It is a constant challenge to keep our content fresh and original. The addition of our Over Coffee Video is a great example of working to be relevant to all of you. Next, thanks to our clients, who make our vision of a simple, powerful, and elegant reality come alive. 2016 was one of our best years in the 33-year history of our company! It was a year full of challenges and opportunity. It’s funny how those two seem to go hand in hand! Thanks to all of our clients who are already on our 2017 calendar with projects. It is already shaping up to exceed all of the growth we had this year. Thanks to my team, Colin and his Dallas crew, the invaluable advice from Dr. Jim, and especially Laura, who still puts up with this craziness.
November was a month of very little travel, as we finished year-end client projects that required hard office time, the manuscript for the book was completed and submitted to the wonderful people at Simon and Schuster, and we did our traditional planning process for 2017. In December I hit the road again for our two final 2016 projects.
Lots of new ideas and the launch of a whole suite of Creative Ventures products will make their debut in 2017!
Here is the latest Over Coffee Video. It’s a sketchnote version that Colin has put together!
"We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. "
- Walt Disney
I thought I would do something a little different to end the year. This is about some of the things my brain picked up this year and how you can leverage these experiences into new thinking.
The Art of a Thousand NO’s: It is incredibly hard for an entrepreneurial venture to say no. We live in the need to say yes. We have no guarantees of a paycheck. We get no paid sick days. We get no paid vacations. We operate in what we can generate, and that often makes us think our work cycle must be 24 hours a day and we have to grab EVERYTHING that comes our way. Our success in 2016 was all about our ability to say NO. We had a number of projects that came our way that sounded interesting, but when sketched out on paper simply did not make sense to us and our mission. Oh sure, we could have done them, but they would have taken away from what we consider DEEP work, meaningful work. So, as hard as it is to say no to a revenue-generating project, we have learned that saying no is critical to the success we bring to the right projects.
Modern Travel: I know, I know, all you hear about are the horror stories of travel in the 21st century. No, we don’t have flying cars and the jet packs promised us by the Jetson’s (some of the younger readers might have to look up that reference), and yes, we have to go through what might appear a dehumanizing process to get on a plane, BUT, the reality is that getting from point A to point B today is a miracle. I know this because I do it almost EVERY week. In one four-day period this year, I went from Austin to San Francisco, from San Francisco to Minneapolis, from Minneapolis to St. Louis, and then back home to Austin. All of that in FOUR DAYS! Sure, throughout the year there were cancelled flights, delays, and bad weather that imprisoned me for days in my hotel room, but I didn’t miss one project, not one! The comedian Louis CK does a great routine about hearing a guy complaining to the flight attendant that his inflight internet is slow. Huh? You are in a metal tube weighing 88,000 pounds, traveling 30,000 ft. above the surface of the earth, going 600 MPH, and you will arrive 3,000 miles away in about 2 ½ hours…and you’re bitching about the speed of your airborne internet? Modern travel is a true miracle.
Ahh, the BOOK: I have been writing for a long time. I have written a monthly article for a major business magazine. I have written hundreds of these newsletters. I have written countless blog postings. I have written and designed every idea that has ever been developed at Creative Ventures. I have even written a self-published book that has done surprisingly well, but I have discovered that writing does not make you a writer. When I signed the contract with Simon and Schuster, I was naively unaware of what it takes to write a book. All the other stuff I write are really “one-offs,” really good ideas that have benefited some of the biggest companies on the planet, but are not necessarily coherently connected. A book is about a well thought-out, designed connection of ideas that take a reader on a real journey in how they see things and in how they think. I had to learn how to write like that. I had to create a process that fit my way of working. It was a challenge to carve out time to work like a writer (thanks to Colin for freeing business time and Laura who would release me to the silence of the bat cave – home office-- to write). Walt Disney was right: open new doors and do new things, and you will be amazed at what you can do.
The Simple Path (and sticking to it): We are drawn to the idea of MORE. It seems we are really never satisfied with what we have, both in our stuff and in our way of thinking. We think, “If I can just do more, give more, and learn more, then my path will get bigger.” It’s really more about choosing the right stuff to do (a 1,000 no’s), making sure we don’t try to learn everything but instead focus on small but important things, and applying what WE think is important in our thinking. An idea has only three parts necessary to make it valuable to someone other than its creator. First, you have to make sure other people get it. That they REALLY understand. We are quick to nod our understanding and embarrassed to say we don’t understand. You have to make sure people get it. Second, they have to be able to do it. Most ideas require action. If you can do it, it gains momentum. Third, you have to be able to apply it in context. It has to have some application in what you actually do. If you can apply it in your world, the idea has traction and value. We did a great job on this three-part formula, but are always challenged to stay true to it.
So, what can these lessons do to help you?
HOW DO I KNOW WHEN TO SAY NO?:The way to the right NO is both simple (lacks complexity) and at the same time difficult. It involves a filter, or a test. We use the three questions test. We have developed these into a filter that all new projects pass through. If they make it through they are a GO, if they hit a barrier and can’t get past one of the filter criteria, it’s a NO. Now maybe the no gets set aside and with time might become a yes. If you are dealing with ideas, remember, no does not mean trash it, it can also mean not now. Here is an example we use:
Can we do it? Is this project something we can REALLY do or is it something outside of our field of expertise? We said no to design a stress management project. We are not experts in stress control. We said no to a project that was clearly an accounting issue. We are not CPAs or economists.
Will it create value? Can we put our finger on the exact value a project will bring both to the client and to us? If we know where the value is, our design will hit the exact target of the client and we become cooperative partners in its success. If we really struggle or start inventing value, it’s a NO.
Will it be fun? I know, what a bunch of subjective fluff. Not so for us. Fun is a main ingredient and if you have ever worked with us you know it to be true. I have regretted every project that had no aspect of fun in it.
Find your three and you will know when the answer is NO.
TIME:While I told you I am not a stress management expert, I can tell you the fastest path to freak-out is the pathway of time. I am amazed at the cut-it-close people and their response to running out of the elusive element of time. I give myself buckets of time when I travel. I get up early and relax on a travel day. I arrive at the airport EARLY, relax, and read a little. I make sure my connections have ample time between flights so I am not sprinting to a gate. I make sure I travel the day before the project. I make sure I have all my confirmation information easily accessible. I confirm hotel reservations and car service reservations. I use time to my advantage. I often hear, “You work for yourself and you can do that, but I have schedules that someone else sets.” Did you ever think to talk about it with the gate-keeper of your time? One simple suggestion: give yourself TIME.
THE JOB WITHIN THE JOB: Everyone has a basic job, and it’s often clearly defined and articulated. Then there comes a project that needs very specific attention. It could be considered within the job description, but it might be pushing it. It becomes the job within the job and requires a different level of work. You are an architect designing a building when the client asks you for a very specific room created that is not really part of the building design. You now have a job within the job. Writing the book was my job within a job. I had to shape my workday to accommodate the extra effort that was needed. I was VERY specific and disciplined about it. The only time it changed was when I was riding a creative wave. Other than that, it had a start and stop time. Projects within a project need very hard starts and stops; otherwise, they will consume the actual job. I even used alarms to make sure I stuck to the schedule. This is the great secret to those assignments. Disciplined, planned time will allow you to manage these types of undertakings, and you’ll be surprised how much you can accomplish.
SALESFORCE HELPS... ALOT! : Since it is the season of giving, and this newsletter is all about how grateful we are, I thought this would be a great opportunity to also shed some light on other companies, their gratitude, and how they give back. Let's start with a big one, SalesForce. This CRM mega-giant is ubiquitous across the sales world. Everyone knows the tools they offer, if used correctly, will lead to more success for your sales team. You know they make a great product, but what you may not know is how awesome they are when it comes to giving back. They dedicate 1% of their resources of people, technology, and assets, to help improve communities around the world. They call this integrated philanthropic approach the 1-1-1 model. What's even better is that they allow their employees to choose when, where, and for what cause they want to volunteer. Pretty cool, right? That's not all, though. They give everyone VTO, or volunteer time off, seven days a year. And to their top 100 volunteers, they offer a $10,000 grant that can be donated to any cause they choose. Talk about empowering your team!
COCA-COLA IS CHANGING IT UP:For philanthropy to be a cultural imperative, a company has to address giving in a way that not only gives back but also interests their employees. Coca-Cola is figuring this out and is shifting their strategy to cater to the largest growing segment of their employees, Millennials. Millennials are pushing companies like Coke to manage social responsibility in new and innovative ways. Unlike previous generations, Millennials prefer skill-based volunteering where they can actually see the benefits of the work they do. To enable this, Coca-Cola a new inclusive philanthropy model aligned with community needs. This is great for Millennials who want a more hands on contribution but, what about those Millennials who don’t want to be too hands on? No need to worry, Coca-Cola still hosts Ping-Pong tournaments and foosball tournaments to drive engagement and contributions. Remember, it's not important how you give back, just that you do. It's great to see Coca-Cola changing to make sure philanthropy is just as accessible to the younger generation as to previous generations.
TANGOTAB: Setting up a foundation for your company and maintaining social initiatives throughout the year is always great to see, but is there anything better than a company who integrates giving back into every transaction? Well, TangoTab does just that. This great company offers dining coupons free through their app to any number of eateries in your area. Download a coupon (for free), enjoy the food at a local restaurant at a discounted price, and enjoy the feeling of giving back. For each coupon used, TangoTab receives a fee from the restaurant in question and uses that money to feed locals who are in need. What's even better is that this company has monthly events where supporters of the company can join hundreds of other users to make meals by the thousands for those in need. Talk about appealing to those who want to be hands-on!
Here's what our clients have to say...
"I thought Steve Harvill was a major hit. He was very insightful and offered excellent anecdotes to situations and ways of growing our business in a simple way. I think everyone commented how relevant it was. I was so excited I couldn't sleep that night and keep thinking of ways to fine-tune the way we do things and to take just One Step. The huddle idea was an excellent suggestion and we have started our sessions each morning, in an informal way."