This month's issue: The Power of Observation.
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Simple. Powerful. Elegant.

A Newsletter from Creative Ventures

Issue #112

Big News

We are getting ready to launch Over Coffee, our new video series.  We have three short videos ready to go.  The videos are no more than three minutes each, and the idea is that they can be viewed over your morning cup of coffee.   They are short, simple pieces of what we do, how we think and how we work.   They are casual and shot in either the Austin or Dallas office.  Not a lot of post-production, as our goal is to add this value feature “quick and clean.”


Keep your eyes on our social media and web site for the first release.







Do you know the best part about ideas?  Most of them don’t cost a thing.  It’s true, many ideas are just about changes in the way you see things, which in turn can lead to how you think about things, which should lead to  changes in the way you do things.  I’m not talking about the next piece of technology you have to own or the restructuring of dividend payments.  I’m talking about a simple, powerful, and elegant idea…and it isn’t rocket science (though I do dig rocket science).

 What do you see when you look at something?  Is it a casual peek or a quick study?  Does it depend on what you’re looking at?  Is it impacted by what you’re thinking?  Are you influenced by what everyone else is doing?
This is about the idea of observation and how this simple act can launch  a cavalcade of new ideas and opportunities for you, your team, and your company.  With a very small commitment, you can open the door to advantage, and advantage is the battle ground for market share!

The real power of observation is that it is a practice available to everyone and costs virtually nothing. In the discipline of examination are often the keys to taking your business on a journey of separation and differentiation.

Observing is an act of intent. It’s a goal.  You become driven by thinking attached  to seeing. Scientists are trained to do this.  They are pushed by curiosity. They know good observation leads to discovery.  Poets, song writers, bartenders, and comedians are also expert observers. In comedy it’s called “observational humor,” and guys like Jerry Seinfeld have made a career of it.   I love Jimmy Buffett’s story of being in an elevator with a  couple when a beautiful woman gets on and recognizes the man.  They embrace and hold a brief elevator conversation before she gets off on the 10th floor.  The female companion of the guy asks, “Who the hell was that?”  He answers, “She was pre-you.”  Buffett writes that down and it becomes one of my favorite Buffett songs, Pre-You (  Bruce Springsteen is famous for collecting his observations in notebooks that fill shelves in his studio.    They are the font of his creative process.   Galileo looked into the heavens night after night with the intent of seeing something new, and he finally discovered the four largest moons of Jupiter (the Galilean Moons).  You have to be intent on looking to become an observer.

When observation leads to discovery, it often encounters a barrier to battle through from cause to effect.  We notice something.  We see differently through our commitment to observation, and we want to apply it, to see its impact, yet we are met with the time and distance barrier that often separates cause and effect.  As dedicated as Galileo was to discovering something new, it took more than a year from his modification of the telescope to his detecting the four giant moons.  Time is a big player in the art of observation.  

In 2007 a man was sitting in a partially-filled room listening to a yawn- filled presentation by a representative from Nokia showing everyone the new Nokia 6131 NFC flip phone.  A couple of rooms over a huge auditorium was filled to standing room to hear Steve Jobs introduce the iPhone.  The lonely guy back in the Nokia room was taking notes and paying attention.  You see, the NFC part of the phone was the initial introduction of Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, a new chip  built by a secretive project with Phillips and Sony.  Not many people were intent on observing what was happening, but this one guy was.  NFC has now become the single most significant influencer of the financial world since printed currency.  NFC technology enables mobile payment and is ushering the death of the credit card.  Talk about scale! In 2014 there were approximately 2.2 million mobile pay transactions a month.  It is projected that 2015 will reach 32.5 million a month!  It turns out the guy in the sparse NFC audience became one of the people responsible for Apple Pay.  Observation and product were separated by a seven year gap, however, a big distance between cause and effect. 

Observation is also about a structured way of seeing.  Think about this:  before the age of things we gained knowledge only by observing.  Before the spring of 1609, when Galileo stumbled upon the telescope, he had already made discoveries in physics through simple, intentional observation.  How can what you see become what you observe, and how can observation become a business advantage?  This is about the connection between observation and outcome where we think about what we observe, and our thinking creates context.  There was no greater practitioner of connecting an observation to an outcome than legendary detective Sherlock Holmes.  His famous ability to connect observation to evidence to conclusion is what makes him one of the most popular fictional characters in history.  Holmes also knew that WHERE you look had a lot to do with what you discover.    When we teach observation in our BEYOND SERIES, we encourage the WHERE to be somewhere outside your industry.  If you are in the insurance industry, start your observation practice anywhere else.  Look for the highest rated customer service providers in any business around you.  The Fortune 500 list of the best places to work is a great starting point.

Just observing something is not enough, however.  The idea of being aware of the value of observation does not create the impact you are looking for.  So here are three things to do to make the art of observation a valuable business tool.


Do This!


The first and most important step in the value-based observation strategy is to capture what you see.  This requires something I have talked about for years, your idea journal.  Time and time again I have told you that the observed idea unrecorded slips away in your crowded memory.  There are lots of types of note books out there for you to choose the best to serve as your repository of observation.  By recording your observations you create a foundation to stimulate your thinking and the thinking of your team.  This is such a crucial step, I am constantly on the lookout for better notebooks.  By committing to a notebook you are saying observation is worthy of my time.  Despite all your daily business responsibilities, having and using a notebook for observation gives you permission to give time to this process.  

FIELD TRIPS -  Remember how excited you were when you got to go on field trip?  We use this idea for clients involved in our BEYOND SERIES.  We choose local businesses that excel in whatever they do (we have visited bakeries, car dealerships, and restaurants) and set up visits specifically to observe their approaches to their commitment to excellence.  We take notes and look for how we can leverage their ideas to fit the specific business field of our client.  Everyone brings their observation notebook.  These field trips generate excitement, allow the practice of observation skills, and most importantly yield new ideas.  A recent field trip led our clients to develop a new value add service to their elite clients that immediately produced a measurable level of retention!  Get out of the damn office and go discover something new

This is an idea that will cost you only a few bucks.  Pick a small Observation Attack Team of five members.  Buy each a subscription to a cutting edge idea magazine like Fast Company or Wired.  Next put together the Team Kit, which consists of colored highlighters, sticky tag arrows, and a notebook (they should already have a notebook!).  This will cost about $20 a person.  The team meets monthly for no more than one hour.  At each meeting the team members report on what topics they found in the magazine they consider good ideas adaptable to what you do.  These teams begin to see things differently and their observations grow into knowledge.  They become strategic observers.  So, what is the commitment?  About $100 plus subscriptions, six hours meeting time (five members plus you for one hour makes six), and their commitment to read each magazine.  A small price to commit to the advantage of new ideas!



Golf is declining in popularity.  In 2014 there were 2% fewer rounds of golf played than in 2013.  Seems like a small amount, but golfers are each playing six less rounds per year than in 2000.  They are basically playing the same number of rounds as they did in 1990.  Country clubs are closing at an alarming rate.  Since the golf boom of 1990, 185 country clubs have closed.  But Club Corp, the largest owner- operator of golf clubs in America, is flourishing.  Their stock is up and they do it by a three part formula.  First, buy distressed properties.  Next, they pool all their clubs into a buying group to create large saving opportunities.  Finally, they apply the savings to improve the properties by adding pools and fitness facilities.  For those who are observing, there are always opportunities, even in shrinking markets.


I’m a music guy, yes, and a movie guy.  I am always noticing (observing) what’s going on around unique approaches to leveraging music and movies, and in my journey I have discovered Playing for Change, a not-for-profit group that is trying to use music to bridge cultural differences around the world.  Now, I know the skepticism that is abundant in these types of ideas, but I dig their approach.  They created a mobile recording studio, filmed musicians from around the world playing the same song, and spliced it into a seamless rendition of the song.  This is based on the idea that music can help bring people together, and though physics may be the language of the universe, music seems to have a way of communicating through cultural barriers.  Here is an example of the idea.

Daniel Haarburger is a smart young man.  He had an idea, created a prototype, and went to crowdfunding to get some capital and make it real.  His idea was a simple mounting bracket that allows you to attach your smart phone to your bicycle handlebars.  In the blink of an internet eye, he had over $32,000 to get going, but the value of the crowdsourcing didn’t stop at investment money.  Daniel recognized there was additional leverage in sending his idea out to the world, and he was right.  Soon after the money came in, he received unsolicited ideas for modifying his device for motorcycles.  Someone even sent in a design.   Daniel discovered he had become connected with a community of volunteer expertise.  He had contacts from people willing to help with marketing and packaging.  He even received an introduction to a former Apple executive who offered to advise and coach him.  There is often more than meets the eye in opportunity, if you know how to “see” it! 

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