Don’t Mistake Execution for Strategy

By Graham Kenny

A business involved in conducting clinical trials for medical and pharmaceutical companies recently sent me a copy of their strategic plan for review in preparation for a forthcoming strategic planning workshop. I studied the nine pages carefully. But despite its promise to outline the company’s “Mission, Vision, Strategies, and Actions,” the document contained no real strategy.

This is not an unfamiliar experience for me. I come across it all the time because a company’s managers often confuse a strategy’s design with its execution. Recognizing the difference between these two will have a major and positive impact on your organization’s performance.

Strategy design involves detailing positions to take on what I call strategic factors. These are the decision criteria used by key stakeholders, i.e., the criteria used by customers in deciding to buy from a business, or by employees in deciding to work for an organization, or by suppliers in deciding to supply to a company. Strategy design concerns the position that, for instance, Ford or Toyota as a company takes to woo customers on factors such as product range, price, retail locations, product quality and image.

Positioning can be quite subtle and can equate to the different brands of a business. Take, for example, the Accor hotels group. Accor carries a range of brands each catering for a different set of target customers with varying positions on customer service, price, and quality. It has a luxury end (RafflesFairmontSofitel), a premium space (MGalleryPullmanSwissôtel), midscale (NovotelMercureAdagio) and economy (ibishotelF1).

Strategy design must take place at the organization level because each business faces its competitors in the marketplace. They compete, company against company.

The reason executive teams struggle with strategy design is that they don’t adopt organization-level thinking at the start. They rush to execution at a strategy retreat, because they invariably arrive ready to address what they need to do. Unless the doing impulse is switched off, until design is ready, the cart gets put before the horse. This has clients leaving their retreat with a hodgepodge of actions but still no clear idea of where their organization is heading or how it differs from competitors in the marketplace.

I could see this in the clinical trial company’s strategic plan. It had pages of actions and they were fine – up to a point. The problem, as my pre-workshop interviews with members of the executive team exposed, was that the organization is “drowning in things to do” – the words of the CEO. Another executive suggested that the company needed “clarity about where we’re heading.” Yet another proposed that “we need a bigger picture around the strategic stuff” adding that “we get sucked into micro measurement.” Another executive described this abundance of activity as “leaving staff feeling quite lost.”

What the planned workshop had to achieve was clarity on the company’s positioning on the strategic factors for its key stakeholders and a stripping away of non-essential actions leaving only those which clearly drove these positions. To do that I needed to shift the executive team’s thinking away from individual action and up to organizational positioning.

What we concluded at the workshop was that there were two fundamentals that would drive the business’s success over its rivals – lower prices and superior client service. The CEO described the company’s larger competitors as “very expensive.” As work was won from clients on a tender basis, price would be positioned case by case. Where the company stood on service could be stated overall.

To lift the executive team’s thinking to the strategy design level I employed a technique which I’d used in the past to yield dividends. I asked, “As an organization what is your position on client service?” The wording and emphasis are deliberately chosen to shift thinking away from individual action.

The team crafted the following response: “A service tailored to each client’s specific needs involving a unique combination of pre-clinical planning with the avoidance of regulatory hurdles to streamline the product approval process.” Reduced lead times through the approval process allowed clients to commercialize their products sooner, giving them a first-mover advantage in their markets and delivering income flows from their products much earlier.

Lower prices and better service can be a killer combination, and this has proven to be the case. It has given the company a significant competitive edge over its rivals. From a base relatively small compared to its larger competitors, the CEO reports a “28 per cent year-on-year sales growth for the last three years.”

In preparation for your next strategy retreat recognize that underpinning the essential difference between strategy design and execution is level of analysis. While most participants may be unaware of it, it is one of the most important and useful concepts in social science. Strategy design operates at the organization level.Strategy execution operates at the individual level. If you don’t make this distinction, you’ll be committing the error I’ve seen in many clients. You’ll mistake individual action for strategy. And that can be disastrous.

How to Spend Way Less Time on Email Every Day

Digital article from HBR: Link

The average professional spends 28% of the work day reading and answering email, according to a McKinsey analysis. For the average full-time worker in America, that amounts to a staggering 2.6 hours spent and 120 messages received per day.

Most professionals have resorted to one of two extreme coping mechanisms as a last-ditch attempt to survive the unending onslaught: at one end, there are the inbox-zero devotees who compulsively keep their inboxes clear, and, at the other, there are those who have essentially given up. Emails enter their inbox and remain.

In the face of these two extremes, some have advocated for a more moderate approach: simply, check email less often.

The team at Zarvana — a company that teaches research-backed time management practices — set out to see if there is a data-supported way to reduce the 2.6 daily hours spent on email without sacrificing effectiveness. What they found was surprising: they could save more than half of the time spent on email, or one hour and 21 minutes per day.

Here are the five ways:

Over-checking email wastes 21 minutes per day. On average, professionals check their email 15 times per day, or every 37 minutes. Do most people expect a response within that time frame? No. In fact, only 11% of customers/clients and 8% of coworkers expect a response in less than an hour. But about 40% of people expect a response in about an hour. If people checked their email hourly rather than every 37 minutes, they could cut six email checks from their day.

What impact would that have? Some research suggests that it can take people up to 23 minutes and 15 seconds to fully recover after an interruption, such as a break to check email. While we don’t doubt the truth in this finding, for the purposes of calculating time savings, we use the much more conservative results of a Loughborough University study, which found that it takes 64 seconds for people to return to work at the same rate they left it.

Trips to the inbox aren’t the only way people “check” email either. Many also read the notifications that emerge in the corner of their computer screens each time an email comes in, losing several seconds each time.

And these interruptions have added costs. Researcher Sophie Leroy from the University of Washington describes what happens: “As I am still thinking about Task A while trying to do Task B, I don’t have the cognitive capacity to process those two tasks at the same time and do a perfect job on both.”

So, between checking email six times more than needed, letting notifications interrupt us, and taking time to get back on track, we lose 21 minutes per day.

The solution is simple, however. Turn off notifications and schedule time (about 5 to 8 minutes) every hour to check email. For some roles in some professions, this is not viable. And it may feel very uncomfortable to those who are accustomed to being on top of everything that comes in and responding within minutes.  But most who try it find that their rapid response times have been unnecessary.

Full inboxes waste 27 minutes per day. Many have argued that there is no longer a reason to move emails out of the inbox because the search functionality of the common email applications is powerful enough to make finding one message among hundreds or even thousands easy. They’re right, but only in part. Search isthe fastest way to find old emails, but full inboxes cost us time for another reason.

When we check a crowded inbox, we end up re-reading emails over and over again. We can’t help it; if they’re there, we read them. On average, professionals have more than 200 emails in their inbox and receive 120 new ones each day but respond to only 25% of them. Without a conscious clear-out plan, the backlog keeps building. And, if people go to their inboxes 15 times per day and spend just four seconds looking at each email (the time it takes to read the average preview text) and re-reading only 10% of them (an estimate based on the number of messages that fit on average computer screen), they’ll lose 27 minutes each day. For the small portion of people who do no archiving, these savings will be a bit more modest (more like 22 minutes) because they will need to start spending five minutes each day archiving emails in order to clear out their inbox.

In either case, he antidote is the single-touch rule. This means always archiving or deleting emails after reading them the first time. This approach may seem nonsensical for certain messages, like ones that require a delayed response. However, a read email that needs a later response is no longer an email requiring reading; it is a task requiring action. It should be treated as such and moved out of the inbox and onto a to-do list.

Using folders to organize and find emails wastes 14 minutes per day. Because professionals delay replying 37% of the time, finding messages that we’ve already read is a big part of the work of email processing.

Most people deal with this by creating folders for various subjects or people or types of messages and archiving accordingly. On average, people create a new email folder every five days and have 37 on hand. But this approach — clicking on folders to find what you need — is 9% slower than searching with keywords, or 50% slower when compared with searches using common operators (e.g., “”).

Search is one fix. Another is email/to-do list integrations. These work by either providing users with a unique email address they can forward/send emails to for automatic conversion into tasks, or enabling users to add emails to a slimmed down version of the to-do list app embedded in their email application. Taken together, these methods can save users 14 minutes per day.

Archiving emails into many folders using a mouse wastes 11 minutes per day. The 37 folders stacked up on the left-hand side of most users’ email application affects more than just re-finding time. Roughly 10% of the total time people spend on email is spent filing messages they want to keep, a process that involves two phases: deciding where the emails should go and then moving them to the selected folders. The more choices we have, the longer it takes for us to make a decision.

We know that folders aren’t needed for re-finding emails, so how many do we really need? We have found that most people require only two: one for emails that you we read when they hit the inbox but which also require further action (what we call “Archive”) and one for emails that we might want to read at a later date (what we call “Reading”).  Why not have zero folders? We need at least one so we can get emails out of our inboxes.

To calculate the time saved by dropping from 37 to two folders, we use Hick’s Law, a psychological principle that describes the mathematical relationship between the number of choices and decision-making time. It tells us that a 37-choice decision is five times slower than a two-choice decision.

There are also ways to improve the efficiency and accuracy of email filing through the use of automated rules or filters, which help us avoid the risk of dragging and dropping emails into the wrong place, and keyboard shortcuts, which are more than 50% faster than using a mouse. For example, Windows Outlook users can file emails by pressing control + shift + v and then selecting their desired folder from a list (in G Suite, users can just press “v” and then select the desired folder). Outlook users can also create “quick steps” that enable them to move emails to a specific folder with one keyboard sequence, saving even more time.

Reading and processing irrelevant emails costs us 8 minutes per day: According to data from Sanebox62% of all email is not important and can be processed in bulk. But even bulk-processing takes time. The average person opens 20% of “permission mailers” (e.g. newsletters) and spends 15-20 seconds reading each of these emails, consuming more than four minutes per day. Even just deleting an email takes an average of 3.2 seconds, adding up to more than three minutes per day, a small but important reason to unsubscribe and block unwanted emails rather than just deleting them.

To break the habit of processing irrelevant emails individually, use a three-part approach: automated filtering for newsletters you actually use, unsubscribing from those you don’t, and blocking spam and other emails that keep coming after you’ve tried to unsubscribe.

Email has become the bane of the 21st century workers’ existence, but by implementing just these five practices, email can once again become a tool for effective work:

  • Turn off notifications and instead check your email hourly
  • Move every email out of your inbox the first time you read it
  • Use the search functionality with search operators to re-find emails
  • Set up just two email folders and use shortcuts to archive emails there
  • Avoid processing irrelevant or less important emails individually

It’s time to leave our habits and intuition behind and fall in line with what the research shows, so that we can put hours back in our week and finally get our email under control.

Make Sure Everyone on Your Team Sees Learning as Part of Their Job

From HBR

Make Sure Everyone on Your Team Sees Learning as Part of Their Job


by Kristi Hedges

As an executive coach, Kristi Hedges speaks regularly at corporate leadership development programs. During discussions, participants often confess the real reason they’re in the room, and it’s rarely “to grow and learn.” Time and again, the reasons include: they are checking a box on their development plan, their manager told them to come, or they’ve been told that their participation will increase the chance of a promotion.

The reality is that most people are not set up to take advantage of development opportunities. Many organizations view learning as something extra, something to fit in on top of the regular work. But to create a culture that encourages employee growth, managers need to make learning an expectation — not an option.

Learning helps people keep a broad perspective. When we feel expert at something, sociologists have shown, the earned dogmatism effect sets in, causing us to be more close-minded and to disregard new ideas and perspectives. For managers, suggesting that team members go to a training or take an online course isn’t enough; for many professionals, that’s just more work on their plates. Instead, managers need to encourage continual learning with supportive behaviors that, in turn, will shape their company culture.

Be a vocal role model. Managers should frame learning as a growth opportunity, not as a quid pro quo for promotion.

A good starting point is simply to talk about your own development. When managers open up about their personal areas for improvement, it becomes more acceptable for everyone else to do the same. Ask yourself: What skills are you most excited to develop? What areas do you need to grow the most in? What insights have you found helpful in accomplishing these goals? Then share your answers with the rest of your team.

You should come back from every workshop or training with a story about what you learned. Rather than the typical, “It was interesting,” be specific. For example, you might say, “I thought I was a good listener, but I can see that this is a growth area for me. The day showed me new ways to interact with others, and though they aren’t necessarily comfortable for me, I’m going to try them out.”

If you talk about learning as being enjoyable, you set a playful tone that encourages people to be adaptively authentic — and open to trying new behaviors.

Celebrate growth and lean into failure. Carol Dweck and her colleagues at Stanford University recently published research showing that people don’t simply have passions, they develop them. The best way to determine what you enjoy is to try new things, even when those things are challenging or uncomfortable. If you want your team to be excited about and find purpose in their work, encourage them to be curious and experiment.

A successful learning environment celebrates growth for growth’s sake. One way to develop this kind of culture is to recognize employees when they make progress on a new initiative — even if it doesn’t hit the goal — because they have proactively created a learning opportunity for themselves and the company at large. In addition, when you promote team members, do it for their professional development, even if it means you lose them to another division.

You can also support learning by not hiding failures. One technology company I advise began instituting mandatory post-mortems for all of its product releases and major programs, no matter the results. Team members were able to both celebrate successes and illuminate failures as a matter of regular business, creating an environment that encouraged transparency and continuous learning. People felt free to discuss issues without blame, and interdepartmental communication improved.

Make it easy for people. People usually take on development opportunities on top of their regular workload, so the easier you can make it for them to find the right program, the better. A Google search for “management training” will undoubtedly lead you down a rabbit hole for hours. Instead, try asking HR for recommendations. If that doesn’t give you the results you’re looking for, crowdsource what you need. Ask colleagues inside and outside your office what they’ve recommended to their teams. You might end up with a repository of vetted ideas.

When someone is attending a program, lighten their workload to reduce stress and allow them to be present. I’ve heard many employees complain that their boss recommended them for a development program only to email them constantly throughout the session, forcing them to step out to address work issues.

And make it easy for participants to apply the learning. In an attempt to show “value,” managers often require team members to present their takeaways or train others after completing a program. But doing so just creates more work for the participant. It’s more valuable to let people apply what they’ve learned to their own projects first. This gives them the opportunity to determine what lessons are relevant before sharing them with the rest of the team.

Foster new experiences. Research shows that to be inspired, we need to transcend current thought and become aware of new or better possibilities. As the adage goes, if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.

Cross-functional projects, role rotations, and geographic relocations are just a few ways to expose people to new learning experiences. Special assignments that last at least a year will help give your team a chance to “eat their own cooking,” or witness the impact of their decisions. People benefit most and feel empowered when you allow them to weigh in on what learning opportunities are of the greatest interest to them.

New experiences can feel daunting, especially when someone is accomplished in their current role — but that’s exactly why you should foster them. Only by tackling unfamiliar challenges will people get the feedback they need to learn. Your team may not always succeed when faced with challenging situations, and that’s OK. The goal is for them to learn from the task, not necessarily to knock it out of the park.

Companies are investing considerable money and time into developing talent, but without doing the up-front work to ensure that leaders are building a learning culture. Frontline managers have the largest and most immediate influence. If you’re a manager who wants to grow your team, demonstrate that you’re committed to growth yourself.

Having Your Smartphone Nearby Takes a Toll on Your Thinking

 “Put your phone away” has become a commonplace phrase that is just as often dismissed. Despite wanting to be in the moment, we often do everything within our power to the contrary. We take out our phones to take pictures in the middle of festive family meals, and send text messages or update our social media profiles in the middle of a date or while watching a movie. At the same time, we are often interrupted passively by notifications of emails or phone calls. Clearly, interacting with our smartphones affects our experiences. But can our smartphones affect us even when we aren’t interacting with them—when they are simply nearby?
In recent research, we investigated whether merely having one’s own smartphone nearby could influence cognitive abilities. In two lab experiments, nearly 800 people completed tasks designed to measure their cognitive capacity. In one task, participants simultaneously completed math problems and memorized random letters. This tests how well they can keep track of task-relevant information while engaging in a complex cognitive task. In the second task, participants saw a set of images that formed an incomplete pattern, and chose the image that best completed the pattern. This task measures “fluid intelligence,” or people’s ability to reason and solve novel problems. Performance on both of these tasks is affected by individuals’ available mental resources.

Our intervention was simple: before completing these tasks, we asked participants to either place their phones in front of them (face-down on their desks), keep them in their pockets or bags, or leave them in another room. Importantly, all phones had sound alerts and vibration turned off, so the participants couldn’t be interrupted by notifications.

The results were striking: individuals who completed these tasks while their phones were in another room performed the best, followed by those who left their phones in their pockets. In last place were those whose phones were on their desks. We saw similar results when participants’ phones were turned off: people performed worst when their phones were nearby, and best when they were away in a separate room. Thus, merely having their smartphones out on the desk led to a small but statistically significant impairment of individuals’ cognitive capacity—on par with effects of lacking sleep.

This cognitive capacity is critical for helping us learn, reason, and develop creative ideas. In this way, even a small effect on cognitive capacity can have a big impact, considering the billions of smartphone owners who have their devices present at countless moments of their lives. This means that in these moments, the mere presence of our smartphones can adversely affect our ability to think and problem-solve — even when we aren’t using them. Even when we aren’t looking at them. Even when they are face-down. And even when they are powered off altogether.

Why are smart phones so distracting, even when they’re not buzzing or chirping at us? The costs of smartphones are inextricably linked to their benefits. The immense value smartphones provide, as personal hubs connecting us to each other and to virtually all of the world’s collective knowledge, necessarily positions them as important and relevant to myriad aspects of our everyday lives. Research in cognitive psychology shows that humans learn to automatically pay attention to things that are habitually relevant to them, even when they are focused on a different task. For example, even if we are actively engaged in a conversation, we will turn our heads when someone says our name across the room. Similarly, parents automatically attend to the sight or sound of a baby’s cry.

Our research suggests that, in a way, the mere presence of our smartphones is like the sound of our names – they are constantly calling to us, exerting a gravitational pull on our attention. If you have ever felt a “phantom buzz” you inherently know this. Attempts to block or resist this pull takes a toll by impairing our cognitive abilities. In a poignant twist, then, this means that when we are successful at resisting the urge to attend to our smartphones, we may actually be undermining our own cognitive performance.

Are you affected? Most likely. Consider the most recent meeting or lecture you attended: did anyone have their smartphone out on the table? Think about the last time you went to the movies, or went out with friends, read a book, or played a game: was your smartphone close by? In all of these cases, merely having your smartphone present may have impaired your cognitive functioning.

Our data also show that the negative impact of smartphone presence is most pronounced for individuals who rank high on a measure capturing the strength of their connection to their phones—that is, those who strongly agree with statements such as “I would have trouble getting through a normal day without my cell phone” and “It would be painful for me to give up my cell phone for a day.” In a world where people continue to increasingly rely on their phones, it is only logical to expect this effect to become stronger and more universal.

We are clearly not the first to take note of the potential costs of smartphones. Think about the number of fatalities associated with driving while talking on the phone or texting, or of texting while walking. Even hearing your phone ring while you’re busy doing something else can boost your anxiety. Knowing we have missed a text message or call leads our minds to wander, which can impair performance on tasks that require sustained attention and undermine our enjoyment. Beyond these cognitive and health-related consequences, smartphones may impair our social functioning: having your smartphone out can distract you during social experiencesand make them less enjoyable.

With all these costs in mind, however, we must consider the immense value that smartphones provide. In the course of a day, you may use your smartphone to get in touch with friends, family, and coworkers; order products online; check the weather; trade stocks; read HBR; navigate your way to a new address, and more. Evidently, smartphones increase our efficiency, allowing us to save time and money, connect with others, become more productive, and remain entertained.

So how do we resolve this tension between the costs and benefits of our smartphones?

Smartphones have distinct uses. There are situations in which our smartphones provide a key value, such as when they help us get in touch with someone we’re trying to meet, or when we use them to search for information that can help us make better decisions. Those are great moments to have our phones nearby. But, rather than smartphones taking over our lives, we should take back the reigns: when our smartphones aren’t directly necessary, and when being fully cognitively available is important, setting aside a period of time to put them away—in another room—can be quite valuable.

With these findings in mind, students, employees, and CEOs alike may wish to maximize their productivity by defining windows of time during which they plan to be separated from their phones, allowing them to accomplish tasks requiring deeper thought. Moreover, asking employees not to use their phones during meetings may not be enough. Our work suggests that having meetings without phones present can be more effective, boosting focus, function, and the ability to come up with creative solutions. More broadly, we can all become more engaged and cognitively adept in our everyday lives simply by putting our smartphones (far) away.

Ask ‘why’ five times about every matter.

How to Get Your Team to Follow Through After a Meeting

Paul Axtell
March 30, 2017

ny team leader knows that it’s what happens between project meetings that makes or breaks a project. And yet it’s often challenging to keep a team motivated and focused on getting agreed upon tasks done. Ideally you’ve checked that everyone is aligned and agreed on next steps but assigning tasks and deadlines is usually not enough.

After all, once you’ve left the meeting, things come up. Circumstances change. Priorities shift. Most people are working more hours than they want to work and still taking work home. And in many places, it’s generally accepted that people won’t do everything they’ve agreed to in a meeting. People don’t use “my dog ate it” as an excuse, but close to it. Just in the last week, I’ve heard, “My morning got away from me” and “Something else came up.” It’s hard to buck against this kind of culture but it’s possible.

Start by ending the meeting with clear agreements on specific actions and completion dates for each item. I love the phrase: Do thing X by time Y or call. Don’t automatically default to your next meeting date as the completion date for each action item. Choose a date that makes sense to the project and creates a sense of urgency. Remind people that they can negotiate on dates until they feel comfortable being able to deliver as promised.

Then ask people to communicate if one of their action items becomes at risk of non-delivery. This is not about perfection in delivery, it is about perfection in communication. It’s important to deliberately cultivate and coordinate commitmentsif you expect people to follow through.

Get a one-page summary of the meeting out within an hour if possible so the discussion and next steps stay on everyone’s radar. Then assign someone to track and follow up on action items between the meetings. This is not about micromanaging or not trusting — this is simply good project management.

Keep a running tally of which items get done. How many of the agreed-upon action items are completed by the dates agreed upon? This record of your action item completion rate — your say/do ratio — will tell you how you are doing. Set a target. In my experience, a 60% completion rate is about average. Getting to 85% will give your team an incredible sense of accomplishment. But don’t expect perfection — it’s the overall pattern than matters.

Don’t let the tracking turn you into a task master. Be compassionate. Each person on your team has a complex life — much of which is unknown to you. You are not the only person asking for their time. People are usually on multiple teams and often have more than one person to whom they report. By being interested in each of your colleagues, finding time to chat, and working to understand their current reality, you can gain their respect and permission to ask them to do what they say they will do, reliably — almost every time.

Of course, when someone does drop the ball, don’t let non-performance go unchallenged but make it a gentle conversation when you discuss it. You shouldn’t think less of the person because they didn’t keep their word — it’s usually a cultural thing not an individual flaw. Remember that you are establishing a new norm. Role model the desired behavior and continually remind people of what is expected.

If all of the above isn’t working and you’re not hitting a completion rate that you’re comfortable with, you may want to address the issues head-on with your team. An open and honest conversation about keeping the agreed-upon commitments is constructive.

Here are the questions to ask of yourself and your team:

  • Is each action item essential to completion of the project?

  • At the time we commit, do we fully intend to do whatever it takes to deliver?

  • Are we clear about what needs to be done, who will do it, and when it will be done?

  • Do we have the ability to say no or negotiate when we can’t fully commit?

  • Is it OK if someone follows up to check on our progress?

  • Do we have a system to keep track of action items and their completion?

  • Do we have an agreement to communicate if something comes up that might interfere with our completion of the task?

This problem-solving discussion will increase everyone’s level of awareness for making and keeping commitments as well as surface problems that keep them from doing so.

Getting to a higher level of completion on action items leads not only to exponential progress toward goals, but also to a tremendous sense of accomplishment — both personally and for the group.

Sales Reps, Stop Asking Leading Questions

Most executives recognize a need for their sales team to act as consultants and sell “solutions.”  But many CEOs would be shocked at how poorly their sales teams execute on the strategy of consultative selling.  I recently had a conversation about this with the director of purchasing at one of my client companies who told me: “I can always tell when a rep has been through sales training, because instead of launching in to a pitch, they launch into a list of questions.” Too often, sales teams trying to “do” consultative selling don’t move beyond the rudimentary application of solution-sales principles: “Get the team to ask questions, and then match our capabilities to what the client has said.” So the sales force sits down and makes a list of questions designed to extract information from their prospective clients, in a kind of interrogation. I’ve sat through many sales calls like this, and trust me it isn’t pretty.

To maximize the power of consultative selling, we have to move beyond a simplistic view of solution selling. It’s not about grilling the buyer but rather engaging in a give-and-take as the seller and buyer explore the client’s priorities, examine what is in the business’s best interests, and evaluate the seller’s solutions. Asking questions is part of this engagement process, but there’s a right way to do it. Here are some important pitfalls to avoid:

Avoid checklist-style questioning. A few years ago I was working with a financial services firm that hadn’t seen much success in adopting a solution sales approach. When I watched a few meetings it was easy to see why. The sellers I traveled with did a decent job of asking questions and getting answers, but it felt more to me (and to the prospects, based on their responses and disposition) like they were going through a checklist. As a result, their sales calls felt mechanical and staid. While they gleaned some good information about clients’ needs, allowing them to dovetail the products they were selling into the conversation, there was little buy-in from the prospects they were talking to. There was no sense of shared understanding or that the client had confidence that the seller would be able to help them grow their business. I’ve observed this scenario with both beginner and experienced sellers, as well as senior partners in Big Four consulting firms: when they focus solely on asking questions, they rarely get the information they really need.

Avoid asking leading questions. Nothing falls flatter in a sales call than a question that is clearly self-interested, or makes the seller the master of the obvious. I joke about this in speeches using the example: “If I could show you something interesting, would you be interested?” The kind of questions sales professionals are taught to ask typically focus on drawing attention to client problems, pain points, and sources of dissatisfaction, so the client will then view the seller’s offerings as a solution. It can be useful to explore the buyer’s challenges, but when a seller asks a ridiculous question with an obvious answer such as, “What’s the implication of data center failure?” it can backfire. It’s counterproductive to ask patently manipulative questions because buyers immediately put up their defenses and will be skeptical of the seller’s intentions – and intelligence. Instead, ask questions that demonstrate genuine curiosity, empathy, and a desire to understand. Try to go deeper than uncovering a list of problems to be solved: ask what the buyer hopes to achieve with your product or service, and why this is a priority now.

Avoid negative conversational behaviors. When sellers are myopically focused on persuading a prospect or winning a piece of business, it creates a negative vibe in the relationship. In fact, when we look at what happens in the brain during this kind of one-sided selling interaction, we find that buyers may experience that negativity at a chemical level. In her article, “The Neurochemistry of Positive Conversations,” Judith Glaser highlights specific behaviors that contribute to negative chemical, or “cortisol-producing,” and positive chemical “oxytocin-producing” reactions in others. Among the behaviors that create significant negative impacts are being focused on convincing others and behaving like others don’t understand. Precisely the stereotypical behaviors that give sellers a bad name: being too aggressive, not listening, and going on and on about their offerings. Conversely, the behaviors that create a positive chemical impact include being concerned about others, stimulating discussions with genuine curiosity, and painting a picture of mutual success. Masters of the consultative sales approach apply these conversational techniques to their discussions with prospects and clients to create a collaborative dynamic with positive outcomes.

The consultative sales approach may seem simple, but it isn’t easy to execute well. Sales people cannot just go to training for a few days and gain mastery of this skill set, any more than an accountant going to a week-long course can emerge with the skills of a CFO.  Consultative selling is a fundamental business strategy centered on creating value through insight and perspective that paves the way toward long-term relationships and genuine solutions for your customers. When sellers do it right, that strategy comes to life.

Why Typography Matters

From Medium: Link to Original

Why Typography Matters — Especially At The Oscars

Life From A Different Perspective

The difference between making an embarrassing mistake, and recognizing one.

There was a major twist ending and a major snafu at the very end of the 2017 Academy Awards for the category of Best Picture. The wrong winner was declared.If you look back on the footage and analyze it, you could read on Warren Beatty’s face that something was not right just before the Best Picture winner was announced.

Let’s quickly review the second-by-second timeline of what happened:

  1. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway come out to present Best Picture, but were wrongly given the envelope for Best Actress, instead.
  2. Warren reads the card, then stops for a moment to read it again to be sure (which the audience thinks is supposed to be comical). He even checks to see if there’s anything else in the envelope.
  3. He then proceeded to show Faye Dunaway the card with a facial expression that likely reads, “is this right?”
  4. Before he could say anything to her, Faye automatically reads the card (which looks like she didn’t fully read it), and announced the wrong winner.
  5. A mistake happened that has never happened in Oscars’ 88-year history.

I would imagine there are multiple redundancies so that something like this does not happen — especially at the Oscars! But there’s one thing the Academy possibly didn’t consider, or forgot, for this year’s winner cards: typography.

Typography is the art and technique of arranging type to make written language legible, readable, and appealing when displayed” — Wikipedia

Here’s the original screenshot of the Best Picture winner’s card, which breaks a lot of the rules I just quoted:

Original televised screenshot. © ABC

First, it’s legible, you can tell all the letters apart. Second, it’s somewhat readable, but the visual weight of “Moonlight” and the producers are equal and blend together, . Lastly, even though it is just a winner’s card, it’s not visually appealing. I think it’s fair to say it’s objectively bland.

Based on that card design, I’ve reconstructed the card Warren and Faye would’ve seen, the one they received:

That’s horrible typography. I will emphasize horrible again. Horrible. Or to be nicer, not good. Look at it again. Of course, anyone could’ve made the same honest error!

The words “Best Actress” is on there — at the very bottom — in small print!

You are on television with millions of people around the world watching. You are a little nervous, and you have to read a card. You will most likely read it from top to bottom (visual hierarchy) without questioning whether the card is right. That look on Warren’s face was, “This says ‘Emma Stone’ on it.” Faye must’ve skipped that part and was caught up in the excitement and just blurted out, “La La Land.”

I don’t blame Faye or Warren for this. This was the fault of two entities: whoever was in charge of the design of the winning card (Was it really a design? C’mon), and the unfortunate person who handed them the wrong envelope.

A clearly designed card and envelope (don’t even get me started on that gold on red envelope) would’ve prevented this.

Here are the main three things wrong with the winner cards in general:

  1. We all know this is the Oscars, but the logo doesn’t need to be at the top of the card.
  2. The category, “Best Actress,” is on the bottom, in small print.
  3. The winner’s name, the main thing that should be read, is the same size as the second line and given equal weight.

Now, let’s imagine an alternate timeline where the presenters were given this modified version of the wrong card, using the same elements of the original card:

It may not seem like much to a regular person, but changing the sizing, positioning, and weight of the text makes a big difference. A big enough difference that this embarrassing mistake could’ve been prevented.

Let’s analyze the differences between the original card and my modified card with a side-by-side comparison of subtle, yet important changes.

Here’s what should’ve been changed based on the three critiques I just made:

  1. The logo doesn’t need to be at the top of this card. Everyone knows it’s the Oscars. We move the Oscar logo to the bottom where it’s least important in this context.
  2. The award category, “Best Actress,” is moved to the top so that it’s the first thing anyone sees and reads. There is no confusion what the category is because it’s clearly stated first.
  3. Emma Stone’s name is bigger than the title, “La La Land,” because she is the winner of this category. The winner should be the most emphasized thing on the card with all other information, like the film’s title, in a smaller or a less thick font (I understand that the text can only be so big so as to have a consistent look for all the cards, while accommodating longer names).

That’s it. That’s all the designer needed to do. Those three things. I guess hiring a card designer wasn’t in the budget this year.

With a modified card, even if the presenters had gotten the wrong one, none of this would’ve happened because the presenters would’ve looked at it and one of two things would’ve happened: their eyes would’ve read “Best Actress,” or, “Emma Stone.” Reading either of those would indicate that this wasn’t the card for Best Picture, and they would’ve asked Jimmy Kimmel or a producer to the stage to get it corrected.

The card needed to be written and designed in a way that makes it clear to the reader only the essential information.

As a creator, the importance of typography is an absolute skill to know, and people — not just designers, should consider learning it. Typography can be immensely helpful when writing a resume that’s well-structured, creating a report that looks exciting, designing a website with an intuitive hierarchy — and definitely for designing award show winner cards.

And lastly, to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I would like to submit my design template for the 90th Academy Awards winner’s card (my commission fee is more than reasonable, and this is only one of many ideas in my head). The card is clean and easy to read for any presenter, with only relevant information. Even the words, “The Oscars,” don’t need to be on there (fewer words to read). The statue graphic works fine.

And a big congratulations to Moonlight for winning Best Picture!

Oscar Winner Card, front mockup. © benjamin bannister
Oscar Winner Card, back mockup. © benjamin bannister

What Makes People Feel Upbeat at Work


Creating a positive work environment sounds like a noble aspiration for both businesses and the people who work for them. No one ever says that they want to work in a negative environment, after all, or even in a blasé one. And yet, in late April, the National Labor Relations Board issued a ruling against T-Mobile for that very aspiration: the telecommunications company had run afoul of the law by including a provision in its employee handbook requiring workers “to maintain a positive work environment in a manner that is conducive to effective working relationships.”

There was, of course, a perfectly sound legal reason for this seemingly odd decision. The ruling was the culmination of a series of charges that had been brought against the company in the course of several years, during which the N.L.R.B. struck down multiple T-Mobile policies that appeared to hamper union organization and other, more benign efforts to discuss employment practices. The wording in the employee manual regarding the “positive work environment,” the board held, was “ambiguous and vague” enough to have a chilling effect on the right of employees to speak freely and to organize, rights guaranteed under the National Labor Relations Act. Because the “positive work environment” was never explicitly described, workers would have to err on the side of over-sensitivity—steering clear of “potentially controversial but protected communication in the workplace,” as the ruling put it—lest they be punished.

The law has its own imperatives, but if you took the same work-environment mandate and put it through a different intellectual grinder—in this case, social science—would you come up with a different result? If we agree that a positive environment is a worthy goal, we still have to agree on how, exactly, to foster such an environment. Research certainly suggests that people thrive in positive and supportive spaces: they are happy and satisfied; they are motivated and optimistic, setting higher goals and working harder and longer; they are creative; they are less likely to burn out and more likely to stick with a company or project. But can you actually create positivity by mandating it?

“It sounds really nice. It sounds like they’re creating a civil workplace,” Alicia Grandey, an organizational psychologist at Penn State who studies emotional labor, told me when I asked her about positive-environment provisions such as T-Mobile’s. But Grandey cautions that it is incredibly difficult to impose positivity from the top and actually exert a positive effect. “When anything feels forced or externally controlled, it doesn’t tend to be as beneficial as when it’s coming from the self,” she said. “The irony is, when you’re trying to get people to do something positive, you can’t do it. Once it’s required, it’s fake and forced.” What you create instead is a negative backlash. “It feels like Big Brother.”

Worrying about whether or not you’re in violation of a feel-good policy and constantly monitoring yourself for slipups takes a mental toll. More than two decades of research suggests that thought suppression, or trying to stifle your initial impulses in favor of something else, can result in mental strain and may also impair other types of thinking—memoryself-controlproblem solving, motivation, perceptiveness. When we are actively monitoring ourselves, our mental energy for other things suffers. The result is not only a less-than-positive work environment but also workers who are less-than-optimally productive. In other words, it’s bad business.

Illustration by Wren McDonald

Such behavior-limiting regulations may inhibit thinking and sap initiative and drive. In 2004, the psychologists Myeong-Gu Seo, Lisa Feldman Barrett, and Jean Bartunek posited a connection between employees’ emotional experience in the workplace and their resulting levels of motivation. According to their model, our feelings affect behavior along a continuum between, on one end, something they term “generativeness” (that is, how likely you are to explore something that may end up having a good result, if doing so involves risk) and, on the other, “defensiveness” (when you are focussed on avoiding negative outcomes, forgoing opportunities in the process). It’s a concept akin to what the Columbia University psychologist Tory Higgins calls promotion and prevention—that is, the decision to work toward something or to direct your energy toward avoiding something else. When we are constantly monitoring our behavior, we tend to be on guard and act defensively. We tend to prevent rather than to promote.

Even more salient, Grandey argues, is the feeling of inauthenticity that enforced emotional displays create. In her research, she has found that putting on an emotional mask at work—conforming to a certain image that doesn’t necessarily correspond to how you feel or who you are—drains you of energy that can only be replenished if you then have an opportunity to be yourself. “You have to be able to be real,” she told me. “If we’re expecting people to be super happy and positive to people you’re expected to be positive with as part of your job”—to smile and act upbeat with clients and customers—“if you can’t turn around and be real with co-workers, you are amplifying emotional labor. And you have a real problem on your hands.”

Everyone wants a civil workplace, but demanding that your workers be positive may be an uncivil thing to do. It may be especially so when it comes to broad and sweeping pronouncements, as in T-Mobile’s case. Last year, a group of researchers decided to explore whether there were any policies aimed at emotional management in a workplace that would actually succeed. To answer that question, they had three hundred and eighty-two employees, from a number of retail stores, rate the degree of explicitness of the rules governing their emotional behavior at work: on the one end are vague, ambiguous admonitions such as “be positive,” without any guidelines; on the other end are explicit rules that govern when you should smile, what you should say, and the like. The researchers then observed how motivated the employees were and how customers responded to them.

What they found was an inverted-U relationship between rule explicitness and effectiveness: if rules were overly vague or overly prescriptive, they had a demotivating effect. (Customers, too, were disappointed, giving both employees and their shopping experiences lower ratings.) Where the rules generally had their intended effect was in the moderate range: when there were some explicit guidelines, but flexibility in how they were to be implemented. A second study, of a hundred and seventy-five salespeople, found the relationship to hold for sales numbers as well: sales were higher in environments with moderate rules, while environments with too few or too many rules suffered. The highest performers of all were those in a moderately regulated environment who also felt a high degree of autonomy, as determined by their responses to a single statement: “My job permits me to decide on my own how to go about doing the work.” In other words, people want to feel in control. They want to be afforded respect and to determine on their own how to act; it is this autonomy that helps foster emotional positivity. Grandey suggests we are all still a bit like our two-year-old selves: tell a toddler exactly what to do and what not to do, and she balks. Let her figure it out within a certain framework, and she is happy.

So it turns out that enforcing a generalized positivity can create problems in the realm of psychological motivation as well as in the legal realm. The issue of how to encourage workplace positivity raises another problem, which is the possibility of suppressing freedom of expression. In asking for a “positive” environment, you can promote your own agenda and reprimand anyone who doesn’t fit with your concept of positivity at that particular moment. In T-Mobile’s case, enforcing a positive environment might have been a way of preventing a very specific type of speech and action, namely anything that was critical of the employer or trying to promote employee rights. Similar dynamics have arisen in non-corporate settings. In recent years, we’ve seen a trend toward prescribing what someone can or can’t say in order to protect a subjective notion of how it makes someone else feel. This is most obviously happening on college campuses, in the guise of microaggressions, triggers, and their ilk; in some cases, the effects of checking one’s speech can be to reasonably protect members of the community, but in others the fear of offense can create anxiety and can even become a kind of censorship. T-Mobile’s positive-environment clause is, essentially, a grownup version of the “safe space” that is only safe for the people who’ve created it, not for those with contrary opinions.

And yet the ruling itself gives us cause to be truly positive: after all, the N.L.R.B. decided against T-Mobile. One can only hope—positively, optimistically hope—that the decision presages a broader understanding of a deeper truth: we all deserve a positive environment, but that very positivity is at risk when we try to force it rather than fostering it by example.

Calculating the ROI of Customer Engagement

From HBR:

How to Write Email with Military Precision

From HBR:

In the military, a poorly formatted email may be the difference between mission accomplished and mission failure. During my active duty service, I learned how to structure emails to maximize a mission’s chances for success. Since returning from duty, I have applied these lessons to emails that I write for my corporate job, and my missives have consequently become crisper and cleaner, eliciting quicker and higher-quality responses from colleagues and clients. Here are three of the main tips I learned on how to format your emails with military precision:

1. Subjects with keywords. The first thing that your email recipient sees is your name and subject line, so it’s critical that the subject clearly states the purpose of the email, and specifically, what you want them to do with your note. Military personnel use keywords that characterize the nature of the email in the subject. Some of these keywords include:

  • ACTION – Compulsory for the recipient to take some action
  • SIGN – Requires the signature of the recipient
  • INFO – For informational purposes only, and there is no response or action required
  • DECISION – Requires a decision by the recipient
  • REQUEST – Seeks permission or approval by the recipient
  • COORD – Coordination by or with the recipient is needed

The next time you email your direct reports a status update, try using the subject line: INFO – Status Update. And if you need your manager to approve your vacation request, you could write REQUEST – Vacation. If you’re a project manager who requires responses to your weekly implementation report from several people, type ACTION – Weekly Implementation Report. These demarcations might seem obvious or needlessly exclamatory because they are capitalized. But your emails will undoubtedly stand out in your recipient’s inbox, and they won’t have to work out the purpose of your emails. (It also forces you to think about what you really want from someone before you contribute to their inbox clutter.)

2. Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF). Military professionals lead their emails with a short, staccato statement known as the BLUF. (Yes, being the military, there is an acronym for everything.) It declares the purpose of the email and action required. The BLUF should quickly answer the five W’s: who, what, where, when, and why. An effective BLUF distills the most important information for the reader. Here’s an example BLUF from the Air Force Handbook:

BLUF: Effective 29 Oct 13, all Air Force Doctrine Documents (AFDDs) have been rescinded and replaced by core doctrine volumes and doctrine annexes.

The BLUF helps readers quickly digest the announcement, decision, and when the new procedures go into effect. The reader doesn’t necessarily want to know all the background information that led to the decision. He or she likely wants to know “how does this email affect me?” and the BLUF should answer this question every time.

For my corporate job, I don’t use the acronym “BLUF” because it would be unclear to recipients, but I have started leading with “Bottom Line” in bold at the start of my notes. Sometimes, I even highlight the bottom line in yellow so that my point is abundantly clear. Here is an example of a BLUF adapted for corporate use:

Subject: INFO – Working from home


Bottom Line: We will reduce the number of days that employees can work from home from three to one day per week effective December 1st.


  • This is an effort to encourage team morale and foster team collaboration
  • All members of the management committee supported this decision

Shannon knows that no response is required because it was marked INFO. She also quickly grasps the information in the email because of the Bottom Line. Because this is a big change in corporate policy, background details are provided to show that the decision is final, supported by management, and intended to result in positive effects for the company.

3. Be economical. Military personnel know that short emails are more effective than long ones, so they try to fit all content in one pane, so the recipient doesn’t have to scroll. They also eschew the passive voice because it tends to make sentences longer, or as the Air Force manual puts it, “Besides lengthening and twisting sentences, passive verbs often muddy them.” Instead, use active voice, which puts nouns ahead of verbs, so it’s clear who is doing the action. By using active voice, you are making the “verbs do the work for you.” Instead of, “The factory was bombed by an F18,” military professionals would say, “An F18 bombed the factory.”

Even though short emails are usually more effective, long emails abound, even in the military. If an email requires more explanation, you should list background information after the BLUF as bullet points so that recipients can quickly grasp your message, like in the above example.

Lastly, to prevent clogging inboxes, military professionals link to attachments rather than attaching files. This will force the recipient to check the website that has the attachment, which will likely provide the most recent version of a file. Also, the site will verify that the recipient has the right security credentials to see the file, and you don’t inadvertently send a file to someone who isn’t permitted to view it.

Here is an email example for corporate use that uses keywords in the subject, bottom line, background bullets, and active voice:

Subject: INFO – Meeting Change


Bottom Line: We scheduled the weekly update meeting for Thursday at 2 PM CST to accommodate the CFO’s schedule.


  • We searched for other available times, but this is the only time that works, and it’s important that you are on the call, so that you can address your P&L.
  • CFO will be in Boston on Thursday meeting at an offsite with the management committee.
  • He wants to review the financial report that can be found here (insert link) before the call.

By adopting military email etiquette, you will introduce a kernel of clarity to your correspondence and that of your colleagues and clients.

Kabir Sehgal is the author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller Coined: The Rich Life of Money And How Its History Has Shaped Us. He is a US Navy veteran, Lieutenant in the US Navy Reserve, and a recipient of the Defense Meritorious Service Medal. He was a vice president at J.P. Morgan as well as Grammy and Latin Grammy award winning producer. You can follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

This article is about BUSINESS WRITING

Vijay Govindarajan – THREE-BOX SOLUTION



VG customizes his presentation on Three-Box Solution to fit a given audience and situation.

We now live in an era of constant change, driven by the dynamic forces of technology, globalization, the Internet, changing demographics, and shifting customer preferences. As a result, companies find that their strategies need almost constant redefinition—either because the old assumptions are no longer valid, or because the previous strategy has been imitated and neutralized by competitors. Rooted in these premises, the strategic and organizational challenges become:

  • How do we identify the market discontinuities that could transform our industry?
  • How can we create new growth platforms that exploit new market realities?
  • What are our core competencies and how can we leverage them to generate growth?
  • What new core competencies do we need to build?
  • What organizational DNA will allow us to anticipate and respond to changes on a continual basis?
  • How do we execute breakthrough strategies?

Canned Openers

from Exhibitor Magazine

If you were to sum up attendees’ attitudes toward many trade show booths in a song title, it would probably be “Walk on By.” In fact, according to Nancy Drapeau, director of research at the Center for Exhibition Industry Research, nearly 55 percent of attendees like to walk through the show floor and observe without speaking to the staffers representing exhibiting companies. But the importance of making a conversational connection with visitors – who might otherwise zip past your booth – can’t be overstated. Without that connection interrupting their show-floor sprint, many attendees might not ever stop in your exhibit. Consequently, you have little chance of qualifying them as leads or courting them to become customers.Part of the solution, according to Dr. Gary Lewandowski, may lie in the lingua franca of singles bars and Tinder: pickup lines. Lewandowski, who has studied pickup lines for their effectiveness in opening a rapport between people, says exhibitors should use lines that are open-ended questions and relevant to the products or services being displayed.

Han Leenhouts, author of “Peppertalk 2.0,” a collection of questions to initiate conversations with attendees, agrees. But he believes staffers’ opening lines should be tailored to unique situations. So with the help of Leenhouts and a roster of staff training experts, including Susan Brauer of Minneapolis-based Brauer Consulting Group, Barry Siskind of International Training and Management Co., and Anne Trompeter of Live Marketing Inc., here are potential pickup lines perfectly suited to engagements with attendees walking past your booth, watching a presentation, and handling your products.


1. Engaging attendees walking by the booth
The most difficult attendees to corral are the ones zipping past your booth. Inundated by sound, color, and the motion of dozens, if not hundreds or even thousands, of other attendees, they are likely on a mission – even if they have no definitive destination. “This can be tricky because you don’t know anything about these attendees yet,” Leenhouts says. “I suggest staffers start with open-ended questions, such as ‘What’s the most exciting thing you’ve seen at the show?’ so attendees have to give answers that are more elaborate than a mere ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ thus starting a dialogue.”


2. Engaging attendees watching a live presentation, demo, or informational video about your company’s offerings
Once attendees are inside the booth, viewing a presentation or demo, exhibitors’ objectives should shift from attracting them with attention-getting verbal lures to ones stimulating guests into conversations about the exhibit’s content. Siskind proposes staffers look for visitors who express interest or encouraging body language (e.g., nodding their head, leaning in, smiling) during presentations and ask those guests open-ended questions about the product being presented, such as, “What part of the demonstration was most applicable to your needs?” Alternatively, Brauer prefers a closed question along the lines of: “Have you ever used our product or service?” According to her, either answer establishes a baseline that allows the conversation to move forward. “If yes, the staffer can ask them how they use the product or know about it, and then start asking more questions about their company and what they do,” Brauer says. “If no, don’t launch into a sales pitch. Give a brief overview of your company, and then ask one or two qualifying questions to mold your response to their needs.”


3. Engaging attendees handling your product
While attendees handling your physical product may seem identical to those viewing a presentation, this scenario is slightly different: Inspecting your product is a positive action on their part that signals to staffers they’re open to a substantive conversation. Somewhat similar to Brauer’s approach to attendees who are viewing presentations, Trompeter advocates closed-question openers that supply information, such as “Did you know that this is the only eco-friendly widget on the market?” “The answer should lead to some discussion around what you do,” Trompeter says, “and it might even help you qualify the person in some way.”

Polite Ways to Decline a Meeting Invitation

by Liane Davey

There it is in your inbox: a meeting invite to a meeting you really don’t want to attend. Maybe because it’s shoe-horned into one of the few remaining white spaces in your calendar. Or it’s for a time that’s already booked, and now you’re left to decide whom to turn down. Whatever the reason, sometimes you need to decline a meeting invite.

Your first challenge is deciding which meetings to decline. A little discipline goes a long way here. Establish a set of criteria for participation and stick with it.

Start by assessing the value of the meeting. Is the meeting about something important, timely, and worthwhile? Is it set up for success by having a clear purpose and agenda? Is there background information available to inform participants in advance? Are the appropriate people invited so that meaningful progress can be made? If the value of the meeting isn’t clear from the invitation, reply back with a few open-ended questions before making your decision:

  • “Could you please provide some additional information on the agenda?”
  • “What stage of decision making are we at on this topic?”
  • “How should I prepare for the discussion?”

If it’s clear that the meeting is worthwhile, your next question is whether or not you’re the right person to attend. Are the issues within the purview of your role? Do you have the expertise to contribute to the conversation? Are you underqualified or overqualified for the level of decisions on the table? If you’re questioning why you were invited, reach out to the meeting organizer before responding:

  • “What are you looking for me to contribute at this meeting?”
  • “Who else will be there from my department?”
  • “Who will I be representing?”

Finally, if you believe the meeting will be valuable and that you would make a contribution to the discussions, you need to decide whether or not the meeting is a priority for you right now. How central is the meeting topic to your role? Where does the issue fit relative to your other immediate demands? How unique is your contribution and could your seat be better filled by someone else?

If you can’t say yes to any of the three criteria above, then it’s appropriate to decline the meeting, but tread carefully. You want to leave your co-worker feeling that you’re a good team player and a positive contributor, even if you don’t attend her meeting. Consider a few different options:

Can I stop the meeting altogether? If the meeting failed criteria #1 because you don’t believe it’s set up for success, take a moment to talk with the organizer about your concerns. It’s possible the person will dismiss your comments, but it’s possible that you trigger one of two positive outcomes: either the meeting gets better positioned for success or it gets cancelled. Try one of the following approaches:

  • “This is an interesting topic. Based on our current year priorities, I’m not sure we’re ready for a productive conversation yet. Would it be possible to push this meeting back and let the working group make a little more progress before we meet?”
  • “I’m looking forward to making some decisions on this issue. From the meeting invite, it doesn’t look like Production is involved. I would like to wait until someone from Production is willing to join. Otherwise, we won’t be able to make any decisions.”
  • “Based on the information in the invitation, it looks like this meeting is for informational purposes. Would it be possible to get a summary sent out rather than convening a meeting?”

Can I recommend someone else? If the meeting is important, but it failed criteria #2 because you’re not the right person for the job, try recommending someone else. Be sure to invest some effort in finding the right person so you don’t appear to be shirking the responsibility. Try floating these options:

  • “I’m flattered that you are interested in my input. I don’t believe I’m the best qualified on this topic. I did a little digging and it looks like Pat would have the necessary context. Would you be comfortable inviting Pat rather than me?”
  • “Given that this is a decision-making meeting, I think it’s more appropriate to have my manager represent our team.”
  • “Thanks for the invite to this meeting. I don’t think I’m required at this point. If it’s alright with you, I’d like to send Jose as my delegate.”

Can I contribute in advance? If the meeting failed criterion #3 (you determined that it was an important topic on which you could add unique value, but attending the meeting doesn’t fit with your schedule or priorities), you have the opportunity to add value in advance. Take a few minutes to pull together some notes and to brief the chair or a suitable participant. That will be much more efficient than attending the entire meeting. You can respond to the organizer by saying:

  • “This is going to be an important discussion. I’m not able to attend, but I will find some time to share my thoughts so you can include them in the discussion.”
  • “I’m sorry that I can’t attend the meeting. If I prepare you in advance, could I ask that you represent my ideas at the meeting?”

Can I attend for part of the meeting? If one or more agenda items did meet all three of your criteria, whereas others didn’t, you might have the option of attending for part of the meeting. You can respond with one of the following:

  • “Thanks for the invite. I think it’s really important for me to be part of the discussion on rebranding. Given a few other priorities at the moment, I’m going to excuse myself once that item is complete.”
  • “Would it be possible to cover the rebranding discussion as the first agenda item? I can’t stay for the entire meeting but I’d really like to contribute on that one.”

Regardless of which option you choose, you’re trying to do three things. First, model deliberateness about the use of time. Second, share your rationale so that the meeting organizer has some context for why you’re not participating. Third, make an effort to meet the organizer’s needs, even if it’s not in the way they had originally envisioned.

It might be a bit of a culture shock at first, but all the overwhelmed people with 35 hours a week of meetings will quickly admire your discipline. Just remember, you need to afford the same courtesy to the people who decline the invites you send!


Liane Davey is the cofounder of 3COze Inc. She is the author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done and a coauthor of Leadership Solutions: The Pathway to Bridge the Leadership Gap. Follow her on Twitter at @LianeDavey.

How Tate Modern is using digital technology to create new experiences for visitors

from Creative Review

Designed by Herzog and de Meuron, the Switch House is an impressive and imposing building, with raw concrete walls, sweeping staircases and large, bright galleries with exposed ceilings. An open terrace on the top floor offers a panoramic view of London.

On the building’s fourth floor is Living Cities – a collection of artworks which looks at artist responses to urban environments, from a model of an Algerian town made out of couscous by Kader Attia to Marwan Rechmaoui’s intricate rubber map of Beirut.

Living Cities houses one of two new installations created by Labs at Framestore as part of Bloomberg Connects, a partnership between Bloomberg and Tate Modern which funds digital visitor experiences in the gallery. Titled Explore Artists’ Cities, it looks at the relationship between artists and their home cities via a series of short films – in one, Ai Wei discusses life in Beijing in one, while in another, Sheela Gowda reflects on Bangalore. (Only two films have been created so far but more will be added throughout the year and films will also be made available online. Work by both Ai Wei Wei and Gowda is currently on display in Tate Modern and new films will coincide with exhibitions and events).

Films are played out in a small room on a dual-screen display and each one lasts around five minutes. A large map graphic fills the floor of the installation room, which spins around and hones in on the relevant location before each film is played. The graphic is made up of around five hundred thousand squares which Framestore says are rendered in real time.

Explore Artists’ Cities (above and top). Image courtesy of Framestore
Explore Artists’ Cities at Tate Modern

Susan Doyon, head of content (Bloomberg & Special Projects) at Tate Modern says the installation aims to connect visitors with artists in a new way. “Tate has a long running partnership through Bloomberg Connects called Tate Shots where we’re visiting artists and putting out films pretty much every week,” she explains. “There are a lot of artists on display for the first time in this new building that we’ve never got to meet or interview before so it was a chance to go see someone like Sheela Gowda in Bangalore in her space,” she says. “Some of the works [in the Tate] are challenging to a broad audience and we feel that we need to try to provide as much chance for them to understand them as much as possible.”

A second installation on the floor below, titled Explore Performance, looks at three different aspects of performance art – the body, choreography and moving image. Each aspect is explored through a mix of audio, video, text and images from Tate Modern’s archives, which are projected on to the walls of a small gallery space. Projections are triggered by standing under spotlights in the space and footage is generated at random in real time, meaning no two visitors are likely to have exactly the same experience. Directional audio is used to focus sound towards visitors standing in front of the display, while ultra short throw projectors stop passing visitors from casting a shadow over footage while walking around the room.

Explore Performance at Tate Modern
Explore Performance at Tate Modern

Framestore had to create custom hardware and software to produce the installation, which sits alongside a collection of pieces exploring the artist’s role as performer or choreographer, including Helio Oiticica’s Tropicialia 1966-7 and Suzanne Lacy’s The Crystal Quilt. Doyon says the aim was to create an experience triggered by visitors, mimicking the role of the audience in performance art – but there are seating spaces for those who prefer a more passive experience.

“We challenged ourselves to do something where the visitor has to be a bit more active, like the theme of this entire floor – and also it’s quite challenging material, so it’s good for people to have to try and interact and figure out how the room works a little bit,” she says. “We’re going to be tweaking that I think for a few weeks yet, trying to see how people react in user testing, what clues they need to trigger content and realise that if they move away it stops, because we want it to be quite a playful room.”

Creating an installation that can be adapted in response to audience feedback was a priority, says Doyon. A customer experience team will be watching how people use the space and as a result, Doyon says the installation might be adapted – for example, to place less emphasis on audio and more on visuals, or to include more text. New chapters exploring other aspects of performance art will also be added later in the year.

Explore Performance at Tate Modern

“It was a really important part of the project that we didn’t just launch it and leave it – my team will work on this through the year and the following year to keep the content in this space going … we’ll keep working to get it right and then hopefully once we’ve got the technical aspect and the kind of content right,then we’ll introduce more topics,” she explains. “It’s definitely a challenge trying to understand what the user experience is going to be and making something rich for everybody.”

It’s a rare approach – often, digital installations are fairly fixed once they’re complete, leaving little room for change, yet it’s difficult to anticipate how an audience will react to a display until the gallery is filled with visitors.

“I think a lot of projects in galleries and big institutions are like … there’s the budget, there’s the brief, do it and make it and then it’s done, and then no matter how users are using it or not using it, you don’t have any flexibility or resource left to change it,” says Doyon. “It was really important seeing this as a long term project that we could change pretty quickly.”

As the installation was created using custom code, installation director Tom Schwarz says Framestore also has “full control” over the experience. “We can always come back to it and adapt it,” he adds. The installation allows the gallery to display a vast collection of archive material, highlighting its role in supporting contemporary performance art, and over time, Doyon says it can be used to document some of the many performance pieces taking place at the gallery this year.

Labs at Framestore’s Timeline of Modern Art for Tate Modern (2015)

The pieces are the latest in a series of digital projects created as part of Bloomberg Connects – last year, Labs at Framestore created a Timeline of Modern Art for Tate Modern, which presents over 3,500 pieces of art in an interactive touch screen display. Explore Artists’ Cities promises a thought-provoking selection of films while Explore Performance makes clever use of lighting, sound and projection to display a vast collection of content in a small space. Doyon says digital innovation will be a key focus for Tate Modern now the Switch House has opened, with the gallery keen to offer new ways for visitors to experience the art on show and learn more about particular artists and their work.


Switch House, Tate Modern © Iwan Baan
Switch House, Tate Modern © Iwan Baan

“One of our jobs at Tate is to make sure that we’re at the cutting edge of art … when people come to Tate I think they expect a kind of innovative experience, and it feels particularly with the new building like we had to find new exciting ways to show [artwork],” says Doyon. “Now the new building’s open, part of my job will be looking at what should we do next and how can we find space to do it for it to live happily with the art? It was something [that was talked about] for quite a few years, that there would be dedicated interpretation spaces throughout the building and we are trying – as much as budget and time allows – for those to be digitally innovative. People expect that now,” she adds.

Level 2 (south), Switch House Galleries, Tate Modern
Installation view of Between Object and Architecture, Switch House Galleries , Tate Modern. Image courtesy Tate Photography

see for details of events and opening times.

Solve Problems and Test Ideas Faster with Google Ventures’ Design Sprint Framework

From Zapier 

The best ideas always seem to come at the last minute. There’s a project with a crazy deadline, a blank spot in this week’s editorial calendar, or an impromptu speech an hour from now. Somehow, you rise to the occasion and pull something together—something that’s accidentally brilliant.

Constraints work. They force us to try something without overthinking it.

Brainstorming sessions, on the other hand, are purposely set up without restraints. You’ll feel creative and come away with tons of ideas—but how many actually turn into something real?

Not many. At least, not at Alphabet, Inc.’s investment arm, GV (formerly Google Ventures). Design partner Jake Knapp and the rest of the GV team noticed that brainstormed ideas were far less likely to stick than those generated by individuals during their normal work. Crazily enough, the best ideas seem to come from the tightest constraints.

That insight prompted them to recreate the rushed conditions, and make a new form of brainstorm called a Design Sprint—the focus of their new book, Sprint. These sprints helped Google improve Chrome, Gmail, and Google Search, enough that the idea has already spread to Medium, Blue Bottle Coffee and other companies in their portfolio.

It’s a tried-and-tested method that just might be what your next big thing needs.

The GV Design Sprint Week:

  • Day 1: Understand
  • Day 2: Sketch
  • Day 3: Storyboard
  • Day 4: Prototype
  • Day 5: Test

The GV Design Sprint

GV Design Sprint Workflow

Setting arduous due dates on every project will only lead to burnout. So how do you hit the sweet spot, where your team has enough time to come up with ideas and implement them, but not enough time to overthink those concepts?

Knapp and the GV team settled on a five-day, five-step process for design sprints. That structure gives them enough time to answer critical questions, with a dedicated day for each of the following: understandingsketchingstoryboardingprototyping, and testing. You’ll come up with an idea, make something, try it, and see if it works. If so, win; if not, it only took a week.

Maybe a week is more time than your team can afford for a design sprint. That’s fine: The underlying process from a full design sprint can still solve smaller challenges in shorter timeframes.

Let’s walk through what each step of GV’s five-day process, and adapt it to quickly solving problems with fewer resources. We’ll make our own “mini-design sprint” with adjustments to each day’s schedule, and see how it could help us with a common problem:

Our company wants to engage blog readers through a call to action (CTA) with additional products from our company. The CTA may come in the form of a survey, form, or an alternative solution. Success equals reader action beyond simply reading the blog post.

Let’s dive in.

Day 1: Understand

GV Design Sprint Day 1

To build a solution, you need to understand the problem. That’s why day 1 of the GV design sprint focuses on understanding the issue, not brainstorming fixes. You’ll create a path to follow throughout the week with this five-step process:

  1. Start at the End
  2. Map
  3. Interview the Experts
  4. How Might We?
  5. Target

1. Start at the End

Starting at the end gives you “…a look ahead—to the end of the sprint week and beyond,” says Knapp in the Sprint book. “Staring at the end is like being handed the keys to a time machine. If you could jump ahead to the end of your sprint, what questions would be answered?”

To set your sights on the future, you’ll need to do two things: set a long-term goal, and list the questions that you want your sprint to answer.

Your long-term goal should be ambitious, and potentially overreaching—it’s your moonshot. For our problem, the long-term goal could be to engage every blog reader with an additional product from our company.

Then, write questions for your sprint that balance optimism with questions that uncover assumptions and roadblocks. Potential sprint questions for our problem include What actions could the company take that would turn a reader away? and What might cause someone to stop reading?

2. Map

Once the end goal and the sprint questions are identified, create a basic map for the project. List the actors—those affected by the sprint—on the left side, and the end goal on the right side of the map. In the middle, add boxes, text, and arrows that take the key parties to the desired end goal in around 5 to 15 steps.

For our problem, the blog reader and our company are the key actors, and the end goal is further engagement with the website. For a medical solution, a map like the one below might work:

GV Design Sprint Map

3. Interview the Experts

Now it’s time to get context from experts. Introduce the sprint, share the map, and invite them to share everything they know about the challenge. Ask as many questions as possible, and write everything down.

Who should you interview? You could call professors and industry insiders—but I bet you already have experts on your team. For our sample project, experts include co-workers, stakeholders, and blog readers.

4. How Might We?

To make sure you gather actionable info during expert interviews—and to test the ideas in the map—GV uses the a How Might We method (or HMW for short). This method puts notes in the form of questions to spark creativity.

Write individual HMW questions on sticky notes, always starting with the words How might we. Sticky notes might seem awfully low-tech, but GV found that that they let you leverage spatial learning. You can quickly arrange sticky notes in groups, or simply throw away ideas that don’t seem to fit.

Our example problem, restated in the HMW format, reads: How might we increase blog reader engagement with additional products from our company? Additional HMW questions complement the challenge:

  1. How might we keep readers reading?
  2. How might we increase click through rates of supplemental content?
  3. How might we entice readers to further engage beyond consuming content?
  4. How might we prevent readers from leaving the blog?

Questions like this—listed on their own, individual sticky note—tend to spark creative solutions. As the GV team found:

“When we tried [HMW], we came to appreciate how the open-ended, optimistic phrasing forced us to look for opportunities and challenges, rather than getting bogged down by problems or, almost worse, jumping to solutions too soon. And because every question shares the same format, it’s possible to read, understand, and evaluate a whole wall full of these notes at once.”

5. Target

The final step of day one is to identify the target. GV states:

“Your final task on Monday is to choose a target for your sprint. Who is the most important customer, and what’s the critical moment of that customer’s experience? The rest of the sprint will flow from this decision.”

The most important customer in our problem is the blog reader. The critical moment is when that reader decides to further engage with additional options, or leave the blog.

Day 1 Adjustments

“If you could jump ahead to the end of your sprint, what questions would be answered?”

To achieve all five steps during day 1 of a mini-sprint—or even a full-length sprint—lean on your time constraints. Otherwise, you’ll spend all day on one point. That’s why GV encourages limitations during day 1. In a Fast Company article, Knapp says:

“One day I noticed something about my own design projects. The best work happened in short bursts, when I was under a deadline….But I also didn’t have too much time. I couldn’t afford to overthink things or get caught up in urgent but less important issues, the way I often did on normal workdays.”

Try dedicating 10 minutes of each work hour to the design sprint. Then, work on your normal tasks for the remainder of the hour. A kitchen timer might be your best co-sprinter.

Additionally, the full design sprint requires a sizable, dedicated space for the entire week (e.g. white boards to cover in maps, sticky notes, goals, sprint questions, etc.). You might not have that much space to spare. Instead, you could use a kanban board app such as Trello or LeanKit to mimic the sticky notes on a board.

The goal of a mini-design sprint is to get the benefits of a full sprint without its full requirements. So be creative—you’ll find a happy medium that fits your time and space limits.

Day 2: Sketch

GV Design Sprint Day 2

Now it’s time to find a solution to address the target you found at the end of day 1. To find a solution, GV suggests a two-step process:

  1. Remix and Improve
  2. Sketch

1. Remix and Improve

Grab your research from day 1, and pair it with third-party content to drive towards a solution by the end of the day. GV encourages to:

“…search for existing ideas you can use in the afternoon to inform your solution. It’s like playing with Lego bricks: first gather useful components, then convert them into something original and new.”

In addition to gathering the helpful notes, maps, and ideas from day 1, look within your company for prior attempts to address the issue, and see what other companies have done with similar problems. Looking within the company is straightforward: Simply ask your team Has anyone addressed this before?. Often, great ideas have been pitched in the past—they just never were acted upon.

For our CTA project, consider other industries known for strong call to actions. For example, daily deal sites, car dealerships, and infomercials are all known for effective—and over-the-top—calls to action. While a neon HUGE SALE! sign isn’t the right solution, certain tactics from flashier companies might translate well. For example, car dealerships lean on action verbs, and give you the fear of missing out with a limited time to act.

Note the big ideas, things that could trigger action when sketching out a solution later in the day. GV suggests reviewing up to twenty solutions, then adjust your goal or map if it seems they’re worth exploring.

2. Sketch

Next, it’s time to sketch. Grab paper and pencils, and draw ideas that could turn into a solution. You don’t have to be an artist; GV assures you that:

“Everyone can write words, draw boxes, and express his or her ideas with the same clarity. If you can’t draw (or rather, if you think you can’t draw), don’t freak out. Plenty of people worry about putting pen to paper, but anybody-absolutely anybody-can sketch a great solution.”

The point of the sketch has nothing to do with a pretty picture. Rather, sketching is “the fastest and easiest way to transform abstract ideas into concrete solutions.” GV suggests these four steps for creating your sketch:

  1. Notes
  2. Ideas
  3. Crazy 8’s
  4. Solution Sketch

The Notes of a sketch are the “greatest hits” of everything captured up to this point. The best content from the long term goal, target, questions, maps, third-party solutions, and everything else should be written down for a twenty minute period. Within the “greatest hits” list, circle ideas that stand out.

Then, start drawing in the Ideas section of the sketch. Take another twenty minutes to transform the notes into diagrams, doodles, headlines, or anything that gives structure to the notes. Don’t worry about it looking perfect; just draw whatever comes to mind.

GV Design Sprint sticky notes

With some structured ideas in place, start a game of Crazy 8’s. Here, you’ll sketch eight different solutions to the problem in eight minutes. With only one minute per solution, there’s no time to come up with completely different solutions. Rather, each one is generally the strongest solution, along with a small change that could improve it. For our project, one solution might be a CTA form to fill out at the end of blog posts, while another might be the same form in the middle of posts.

With a foundation of notes, ideas, and eight rough solutions, day 2 ends with a Solution Sketch—the “best idea, put down on paper in detail” as GV describes it. The solution sketch should be drawn in a three-panel storyboard, because:

“…products and services are more like movies than snapshots. Customers don’t just appear in one freeze frame and then disappear in the next. Instead, they move through your solution like actors in a scene. Your solution has to move right along with them.”

In our project, the first frame should introduce the reader to the idea that they will be invited to engage with another product from our company. The second frame should demonstrate the moment when the reader is presented with the option to further engage. The third frame should follow the reader through the desired engagement.

The solution sketch should be self-explanatory. “If no one can understand [the solution] in sketch form, it’s not likely to do any better when it’s polished,” says the GV team. It doesn’t need to be beautiful, per se, but words especially matter. Instead of using placeholders like “lorem ipsum” or “text will go here”, take a little extra time to draft the intended text. Clear, concise, strategic choice of words is key to any solution, and can make or break a user experience.

Day 2 Adjustments

“Anybody-absolutely anybody-can sketch a great solution.”

Similar to day 1, day 2 requires some adjustments for our mini-sprint. For instance, when reviewing third party solutions, GV utilizes lightning demos, three minute tours of attractive third party solutions. During a mini-design sprint, perhaps set a time limit of ten to twenty minutes to review third party solutions, then review the selected solutions for a maximum of three minutes each.

Additionally, day two of a GV design sprint requires some voting to narrow the field of sketches and solutions. In the mini-design sprint, there’s likely a single sketcher: you. To help yourself pick the best idea, leave the solution sketches alone for a bit, and eliminate the solution sketches that don’t measure up. It’s easier to see what’s best when you’ve stepped away.

Day 3: Storyboard

GV Design Sprint Day 3

The goal of day 3 is to create a detailed storyboard: a step-by-step plan that guides the prototype. First, GV suggests narrowing the list of solution sketches from day 2, if you haven’t already. To do that, they have a five-step process:

  1. Art Museum: Line your sketches up in a single row and look at them all at once. Give each sketch equal weight from a visual perspective.
  2. Heat Map: Place dot stickers next to particularly interesting aspects—good ideas will start to stand out as clusters of stickers.
  3. Speed Critique: Spend three minutes with each solution and record promising ideas, with a focus on clusters of dots from the heat map.
  4. Straw Poll: For 10 minutes, vote for solutions with dot stickers. Make sure you can illustrate why you voted for a particular solution.
  5. Supervote: The “decider” gets three votes; they can use all three votes for a single solution, or distribute the votes to multiple solutions.

As the GV team says, this process for evaluating every solution at once is bizarre, but effective.

“Instead of meandering, your team’s conversations will follow a script. The structure is socially awkward, but logical….[If] you feel like Spock from Star Trek, you’re doing it right.”

GV Design Sprint storyboard

Once you’ve narrowed the field to a select few solutions, create a storyboard as a plan for the prototype. It’s similar to the solution sketch, but with perhaps 10 to 15 scenes.

First, draw a simple grid with around 15 empty boxes on a whiteboard. Now, draw the opening scene, where the customer first encounters the solution. As GV describes:

“If you’re prototyping an app, start in the App Store. If you’re prototyping a new cereal box, start on a grocery shelf….The trick is to take one or two steps upstream from the beginning of the actual solution you want to test.”

In our sample problem, the reader most likely meets the solution somewhere within a blog post. Alternatively, you could start one or two steps upstream, where the reader learns of the blog perhaps from a search result or ad.

After drawing the opening scene, it’s time to fill in the details.

“You’ll build out your story, one frame at a time, just like a comic book….Whenever possible, use the sticky notes from your winning sketches and stick them onto the whiteboard.”

When storyboarding, the story should tell itself. If the user must ask “What happens next?”, a frame is missing. Add every step you can imagine, pulling from the ideas you’ve already voted on.

Eventually, you will come to a gap in the story—perhaps you don’t know where a button should lead the reader. That’s ok. When we test the solution later on, the goal is to see whether or not the user fills out the form, not to understand where the user is directed after form completion.

Remember, the prototype does not need to be a fully-functional product. Unless the gap is critical to testing the prototype, don’t stop. There are two ideas GV uses to keep drawing beyond the gaps:

  1. Don’t invent new ideas
  2. Each frame of the storyboard equals one minute during testing

At this point in the design sprint, you have developed, refined, and eliminated a number of ideas. So don’t give in to new ideas that might pop into the your head. Trust the process—only push forward with the ideas you’ve already refined.

And stay succinct. The one-frame-per-minute rule (and a max of 15 frames) will protect you from an endless test the next day. Testing the prototype should take no more than 15 minutes; the rest of the time should be dedicated to feedback, interview questions, and discussion.

When in doubt about where to go next in your storyboard, lean towards risky solutions. GV says:

“Remember that the sprint is great for testing risky solutions that might have a huge payoff. So you’ll have to reverse the way you would normally prioritize….Skip those easy wins in favor of big, bold bets.”

Day 3 Adjustments

“Skip those easy wins in favor of big, bold bets.”

Day 3 of a full design sprint is set up for a group, with voting and detailed sketches. But it can still work for a smaller teams or individuala in a mini-design sprint.

Consider giving yourself more leeway to create and vote on multiple solutions, perhaps coupled with day 2’s tip to step away from ideas and approach them with a fresh mind. Bring a key stakeholder in to narrow the solution sketches, hear your justifications, and give a supervote. An outside perspective can always be helpful.

Day 3 also requires a lot of space to present multiple solution sketches and storyboards in a visually neutral manner. If you don’t have enough space, perhaps use a storyboarding apps. Look at suggestions side-by-side on your computer, or even use your tablet and phone for extra screens to showcase all the ideas at once.

Day 4: Prototype

GV Design Sprint Day 4

It’s finally time to build a prototype—a “fake” model of the final solution. As GV says:

“[Day 4] is about illusion. You’ve got an idea for a great solution. Instead of taking weeks, months, or, heck, even years building that solution, you’re going to fake it. In one day, you’ll make a prototype that appears real….And on [day 5], your customers—like a movie audience—will forget their surrounding and just react.”

“Fake” means more than pretty pictures. GV finds that you can usually build 90% of a solution in a single day. It’s mostly a facade—there’s “no plumbing, no wiring, no structural engineering. Just a facade.”

Try making a demo website—even in a word processor or presentation app, if you need—that showcases your ideas. For our problem, you’ll make a fake CTA design and show how it’d fit into the blog post. Once the reader has clicks the CTA, though, the prototype ends—it’s just a mockup of what the concept would look like.

The prototype day requires you to shift your thinking from the first three days. Don’t think about making everything perfect, just try to make something “good enough” to show off the concept.

The “prototype mindset” includes four principles:

  1. You can prototype anything: Most solutions can be prototyped. GV has run more than 100 sprints, and managed to prototype apps, websites, robots, and medical platforms using the same one-day process.
  2. Prototypes are disposable: While the prototype should be 90% finished, keep in mind that the prototype is disposable. GV says: “…don’t prototype anything you aren’t willing to throw away. Remember: this solution might not work.”
  3. Build just enough to learn, but not more: The purpose of the prototype is to answer questions, not provide a fully functional product.
  4. The prototype must appear real: While a fully functional product is not required, the prototype must appear real—something GV calls Goldilocks quality. The users should not need to use their imaginations during the test to understand the solution. Don’t use placeholder text; make everything look real.

The most important thing you’ll get from the prototype is each user’s reactions. As GV says:

“In [day 5’s] test, customer reactions are solid gold, but their feedback is worth pennies on the dollar.”

Getting the reader’s feedback on how the blog or solution can be improved is not nearly as helpful as seeing an actual reaction. That’s why the prototype must provide an actual experience—it needs to look real, so we can see how people react to it.

Building a prototype sounds daunting, so the GV team has four steps to simplify things:

  1. Pick the Right Tools
  2. Divide and Conquer
  3. Stitch it Together
  4. Do a Trial Run

1. Pick the right tools

For your prototype, don’t use the tools you’d pick for your final product. You want a hammer, not a bulldozer. GV explains:

“The trouble with your team’s regular tools is that they’re too perfect—and too slow. Remember: Your prototype isn’t a real product, it just needs to appearreal. You don’t need to worry about supply chains, brand guidelines, or sales training. You don’t need to make every pixel perfect.”

KeynoteA prototype UI mocked up in Keynote for Mac

Through hundreds of design sprints, GV has found that Keynote (for Mac users) and PowerPoint (for Windows users) are most often the perfect tools to build prototypes. Both are flexible enough to make realistic demos with some functionality—but not too much. That helps you hit the “Goldilocks quality”, as GV describes:

“If the quality is too low, people won’t believe the prototype is a real product. If the quality is too high, you’ll be working all night and you won’t finish. You need Goldilocks quality. Not too high, not too low, but just right.”

Here are some other great presentation apps that might help you mock up your ideas. Or, if you want a high-fidelity prototype for your product, a form with some integrations can make a convincing proof-of-concept.

2. Divide and Conquer

Next, divide and conquer. In a full design sprint, this entails divvying up parts of the prototype to different team members. (For a mini-design sprint, this most likely means you’ll bite off one piece of the prototype build at a time.)

Figure out which tasks fit each person’s skills. There’s icons, writing, asset, scripts for interviews, and more that are needed—not to mention the actual design process in the app. Give everyone their own spot to work, but make sure you’re using the same tool so it’s easy to combine the parts into a finished prototype.

3. Stitch it Together

Now it’s time to pull the pieces together. Combine the assets from each team member, and add any finishing touches like your company’s logo. Check the details—make sure dates, times, and names are consistent throughout the prototype.

There’s one more thing to focus on: your interview script. Make sure every part of the prototype is document into a script, one that flows in a logical manner. You can then use it to learn from the users in the testing day tomorrow.

4. Do a Trial Run

Finally, day 4 ends with a trial run. You’ll test the product on real users tomorrow; today, find someone else to test drive the prototype for a trial run. A co-worker with some knowledge of the subject is a good option, because they will understand the existing environment and what the proposed solution will add or subtract from it.

This is your chance to make final tweaks to the interview script, along with any minor changes the prototype may need. Again, don’t add new ideas or rewrite anything. The main goal of the trial run is to build confidence in the plan, and make sure you’re still on track.

Day 4 Adjustments

“Don’t prototype anything you aren’t willing to throw away. ”

With a full team, you could split up responsibilities to build the prototype. But with a mini-design sprint, you’ll need to fill each of these roles individually (i.e. maker, stitcher, writer, asset collector, and interviewer).

Instead of splitting up roles, during a mini-design sprint you should prioritize each of these exercises. For instance, asset collection and making the prototype should be done first. Stitching, writing, and interviewing will serve as the final touches before moving into the trial run.

Day 5: Test

GV Design Sprint Day 5

It’s time to see exactly how far you’ve come, how far you need to go, and identify next steps. On day 5 you’ll conduct a series of interviews with users as they try your prototype.

All you need to do is find five people to interview. That may seem too few, but GV has found the data learned after five interviews plateaus quickly, both from their experience and that of user research expert Jakob Nielsen‘s work:

“Nielsen analyzed eighty-three of his own product studies. He plotted how many problems were discovered after ten interviews, twenty interviews, and so on. The results were both consistent and surprising: 85% of the problems were observed after just five people.”

Each interview should be one-on-one, and last one hour. One-on-one interviews answer why certain things work or don’t work, as you can directly observe what a user does. And the hour time-limit gives you 15 minutes for the demo, and a generous 45 minutes to talk through your questions with the user.

Interviews don’t have to be difficult. There’s no magic or specialized background required; rather, all the interviewer needs is a “…friendly demeanor, a sense of curiosity, and a willingness to have your assumptions proven wrong.”

GV Design Sprint interview

The GV team divides their test interviews into five acts:

Act one starts with a welcome and small talk, along with asking for permission to record the interview. The non-interviewing team members typically watch the interview in a different room—via a window or camera—and take notes. That way, the interviewer doesn’t need to take notes, and can just focus on the user.

Act two consists of open-ended context questions. Don’t show the prototype yet. Instead, build rapport with the interviewee and learn what they think about your ideas to help understand their reactions and responses. GV suggests:

“A great series of context questions starts with small talk and transitions into personal questions relevant to the sprint. If you do it right, customers won’t realize the interview has started. It will feel just like natural conversation.”

Act three introduces the prototype. You should ask the interviewee, “Would you be willing to look at some prototypes?” That helps the interviewee know they are doing you a favor.

Act four has the interviewer give the interviewee specific tasks designed to trigger a reaction as they engage with the prototype. You want the interviewee to figure out the prototype without your assistance—and want to capture their raw reaction to the prototype. Just give them a general instruction, and see what they do.

In our example project, for instance, the interviewer would simply guide a blog reader to an article. The reader should naturally read through the blog post, encounter the CTA, and make a decision whether or not to engage with the CTA.

You may need to “nudge” the interviewee to help uncover their reaction. Perhaps as the user looks at the blog post, you could ask What is this? and What is this for?What are you looking for next?What would you do next? and Why?. Dig into what they’re thinking, instead of asking for direct feedback.

Act five involves debriefing the interviewee to find their overarching thoughts and impressions. To maintain a neutral position, keep the interviewee talking with responses like “uh-huh” and “mmm”, instead of positive statements like “great!” and “good job”.

This five-act interview should uncover a wealth of raw material. Now, it is time to learn. As GV explains:

“You know this story, but you don’t know how it ends. That’s what [day 5] is all about—finding the end to your sprint story. It’s a chance to put your prototypes in front of real customers, see how they react, answer your sprint questions, and make a plan for what to do next.”

During each interview, the rest of the team should take notes—but you’ll need a unique format to help you draw conclusions from the answers. Make a board with 5 columns— one for each interview—with a single row for each question you want answered. Then, write answers, comments, observations, and reactions on sticky notes, and place them in the corresponding spots in each column.

For our test project, those could be:

  • What made the call to action clear or unclear?
  • Why did you decide to engage, or not engage, with the call to action?
  • What could the blog post have included to better entice the reader to engage with the call to action?

Once the interviews are finished, you’ll start seeing patterns on your board. Compare the patterns to the sprint questions and determine whether or not the questions are answered.

Most often, the next steps you should take will make themselves clear. Each sprint will uncover its own results, and you’ll quickly know whether to turn this prototype into a product, or start over. Regardless, GV suggests:

“Maybe the best part about a sprint is that you can’t lose. If you test your prototype with customers, you’ll win the best prize of all—the chance to learn, in just five days, whether you’re on the right track with your ideas. The results don’t follow a neat template. You can have efficient failures that are good news, flawed successes that need more work, and many other outcomes.”

Day 5 Adjustments

“Put your prototypes in front of real customers, see how they react, answer your sprint questions, and make a plan for what to do next.”

With a full team, interviewing and writing notes separately is easy. You’ll have to adjust for your mini-design sprint. You still need to interview, and you can’t have your head buried in notes the whole time.

Instead, get permission and then record a video of each interview so you can watch the interviewee’s reactions. You can later go back, watch the video, and then make detailed notes.

This stage will take far more time as an individual or small team, but you’ll still get the same actionable feedback—and will know if the project is worth your time after all.

Sprint Your Next Projects

Design sprints help teams at big-name companies like Google, YouTube, Nest, Blue Bottle Coffee, and Foundation Medicine address massive problems in just a week. With a few tweaks, they can be equally useful for smaller teams and individuals, too.

The timeframe and problems can change. Your constant is the design sprint’s effect. As the GV team says:

“…when teams follow the process, it’s transformative. We hope you’ve got the itch to go run your own first sprint—at work, in a volunteer organization, at school, or even to try a change in your personal life.”

It just might be the process that sparks your next moonshot project.

Design Sprint Resources

Ready to start your own Design Sprint? Here are some resources from the GV team to help you get started:

  • Learn more about each day in the design sprint with Sprint Week, a set of articles on Medium from GV about each day in the sprint process.
  • Buy a copy of The Sprint Book for a more in-depth look at design sprints, and the ideas that inspired them.
  • Use the free Sprint Monday Morning Presentation to start your sprint off right.
  • Grab a presentation app to prototype and share ideas.
  • Download a free Sprint Checklist to keep your team on track throughout the process.

Curious about how the Zapier team works? Check out Zapier’s Guide to Remote Working for a detailed look at how our team works together from around the world, then dive into our Project Management 101 Guide to find solutions to keep your projects on track once the design sprint is finished.

Images via the GV Sprint Monday Morning Slide Deck.

5 Reasons Good Deals Get Rejected

By Deepak Malhotra

It’s one thing to lose a deal because you were playing hardball. It’s an entirely different — and more frustrating — situation when the other side is rejecting even your reasonable offers. When genuine attempts at negotiating in good faith are failing, you need a new approach — but it doesn’t mean you have to get aggressive. The key to success is understanding why people will sometimes reject even fair or generous offers.

You didn’t justify it

It’s not enough that you tell them what you want; you have to explain to them why it is a legitimate request. No matter how reasonable your proposal may seem to you, if you fail to justify it, there is a good chance it will be ignored or rejected. I always remind my students and clients: Don’t let your offer speak for itself; tell the story that goes with it. If you want an exclusive negotiating period, why is that appropriate in this case? If you need more time to consider an offer, why should they agree to change the deadline?

You didn’t help them sell it internally

The person on the other side of the table might agree that your offer is reasonable, but they will still reject it if they can’t sell it to others in their organization. You might deserve a higher salary, but how will they explain this exception to others who are not getting one? Your job is not simply to convince the person you’re negotiating with, but to help them be an effective ambassador for you when they are speaking to their boss, their board, their partners, or others who have a say in what happens. Keep an eye on all of the people who can influence the negotiation on their side, and help craft a narrative that will allow them to get the buy-in they need.

You didn’t respect their constraints

They agree that your demands are reasonable. They can convince everyone on their side that you deserve it.  But the answer is still no. Why? Sometimes the problem is that their hands are truly tied on key issues. They would be willing to give you more time to make a decision, but they are facing their own hard deadline. They would be willing to give you more money up front to seal the deal, but they have budget constraints. The key is flexibility: If you give the other side more than one way of improving the offer, it is possible that they will be able to find a way to do it. This is why I remind my students and clients: the more currencies you allow someone to pay you in, the more likely you are to get paid.

You didn’t help them save face

People will often reject even fair and generous offers if accepting them will make them look bad. If the other side has promised their audience (e.g., a boss, the media, their constituents) that they will be able to get a great outcome, and now the best they can deliver is considerably less, they might walk away from the deal even though doing so is costly. The key is to never force people to choose between making smart decisions and saving face. For example, even a symbolic concession on your part that gives them something they would not have otherwise expected can help them declare victory to their side — or at least help them show that all sides had to give in.

You didn’t offer closure

Why should they agree to one of your requests if this will just embolden you to make more? Why improve their offer if you will just shop it around to get other competitive offers? One concern people can have is that even agreeing to your demands will not seal the deal — and this can make them unwilling to expend the time and political capital to make the changes or improvements you are proposing. If it is genuinely the case, it can help you to let them know that “this gets the deal done.” Or, if you still need time, you might be able to at least assuage some concerns by letting them know that “we would accept that as your final offer.” The thing to remember is that you don’t always need to make a substantive concession in exchange for the concession you are asking. If they are worried that you are still shopping around, or that you will continue to pick apart the deal, even an assurance of closure can be traded for substantive concessions.

Performing a Project Premortem

Premortem by Gary Klein

Projects fail at a spectacular rate. One reason is that too many people are reluctant to speak up about their reservations during the all-important planning phase. By making it safe for dissenters who are knowledgeable about the undertaking and worried about its weaknesses to speak up, you can improve a project’s chances of success.

Research conducted in 1989 by Deborah J. Mitchell, of the Wharton School; Jay Russo, of Cornell; and Nancy Pennington, of the University of Colorado, found that prospective hindsight—imagining that an event has already occurred—increases the ability to correctly identify reasons for future outcomes by 30%. We have used prospective hindsight to devise a method called a premortem, which helps project teams identify risks at the outset.

A premortem is the hypothetical opposite of a postmortem. A postmortem in a medical setting allows health professionals and the family to learn what caused a patient’s death. Everyone benefits except, of course, the patient. A premortem in a business setting comes at the beginning of a project rather than the end, so that the project can be improved rather than autopsied. Unlike a typical critiquing session, in which project team members are asked what might go wrong, the premortem operates on the assumption that the “patient” has died, and so asks what did go wrong. The team members’ task is to generate plausible reasons for the project’s failure.

A typical premortem begins after the team has been briefed on the plan. The leader starts the exercise by informing everyone that the project has failed spectacularly. Over the next few minutes those in the room independently write down every reason they can think of for the failure—especially the kinds of things they ordinarily wouldn’t mention as potential problems, for fear of being impolitic. For example, in a session held at one Fortune 50–size company, an executive suggested that a billion-dollar environmental sustainability project had “failed” because interest waned when the CEO retired. Another pinned the failure on a dilution of the business case after a government agency revised its policies.

Next the leader asks each team member, starting with the project manager, to read one reason from his or her list; everyone states a different reason until all have been recorded. After the session is over, the project manager reviews the list, looking for ways to strengthen the plan.

In a session regarding a project to make state-of-the-art computer algorithms available to military air-campaign planners, a team member who had been silent during the previous lengthy kickoff meeting volunteered that one of the algorithms wouldn’t easily fit on certain laptop computers being used in the field. Accordingly, the software would take hours to run when users needed quick results. Unless the team could find a workaround, he argued, the project was impractical. It turned out that the algorithm developers had already created a powerful shortcut, which they had been reluctant to mention. Their shortcut was substituted, and the project went on to be highly successful.

In a session assessing a research project in a different organization, a senior executive suggested that the project’s “failure” occurred because there had been insufficient time to prepare a business case prior to an upcoming corporate review of product initiatives. During the entire 90-minute kickoff meeting, no one had even mentioned any time constraints. The project manager quickly revised the plan to take the corporate decision cycle into account.

Although many project teams engage in prelaunch risk analysis, the premortem’s prospective hindsight approach offers benefits that other methods don’t. Indeed, the premortem doesn’t just help teams to identify potential problems early on. It also reduces the kind of damn-the-torpedoes attitude often assumed by people who are overinvested in a project. Moreover, in describing weaknesses that no one else has mentioned, team members feel valued for their intelligence and experience, and others learn from them. The exercise also sensitizes the team to pick up early signs of trouble once the project gets under way. In the end, a premortem may be the best way to circumvent any need for a painful postmortem.

A version of this article appeared in the September 2007 issue of Harvard Business Review.

Gary Klein ( is the chief scientist of Klein Associates, a division of Applied Research Associates, in Fairborn, Ohio. He is the author of Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions (MIT Press, 1998) and The Power of Intuition (Doubleday, 2004).

Giving Up Is the Enemy of Creativity

by Brian J. Lucas /

What determines whether the ideas we generate are truly creative? Recent research of ours finds that one common factor often gets in the way: we tend to undervalue the benefits of persistence.

In a series of experiments we observed that people consistently underestimated the number of ideas they could generate while solving a creative challenge. In one, we brought 24 university students into the laboratory during the week leading up to Thanksgiving and asked them to spend ten minutes coming up with as many ideas of dishes to serve at Thanksgiving dinner as they could. Then we had them predict how many more ideas they could generate if they persisted on the task for an additional ten minutes. After that, they actually persisted for ten minutes.

On average, the students predicted they would be able to generate around 10 new ideas if they persisted. But we found that they were actually able to generate around 15 new ideas.

Several similar follow-up studies we conducted produced the same result. We asked professional comedians to generate punch lines for a sketch comedy scene; adults to generate advertisement slogans for a product; and people to come up with tactics a charity organization could use to increase donations. In each of these experiments, participants significantly underestimated how many ideas they could generate while persisting with the challenge.

mportantly, after each study we asked a separate group of people to rate the creativity of the participants’ ideas. Across the majority of our studies we found that ideas generated while persisting were, on average, rated to be more creative than ideas generated initially. Not only did participants underestimate their ability to generate ideas while persisting, they underestimated their ability to generate their most creative ideas.

Why do we underestimate the benefits of persistence? It’s because creative challenges feel difficult. People often have the experience of feeling “stuck,” being unsure of how to find a solution, or hitting a wall with one idea and having to start over again.

Trying hard and failing to make progress on a non-creative task, like an advanced physics problem, may appropriately signal that it’s time to stop working. But creative ideas take time. They are often generated after an initial period of thinking deeply about the problem, considering different ways to frame the problem, and exploring different possible solution paths. Consider that Sir James Dyson developed over 5,000 prototypes before he patented his best-selling Dyson vacuum cleaner. Or that Walt Disney animated cartoons for nearly two decades before his first big hit, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

But our work shows that when creative challenges start to feel difficult, most people lower their expectations about the performance benefits of perseverance, and consequently, underestimate their own ability to generate ideas.

It’s important to accurately value persistence because our beliefs powerfully regulate our behavior. If you do not recognize that persistence is valuable for creativity, you will be less likely to persist when you face your own creative challenges.

In another study, we asked participants to work on a creative challenge, and we paid them a small sum of money for each idea they generated. Then we told them they could continue generating ideas (and make more money) if they first paid a small fee to go on. We included the fee to simulate how the decision to persist always has an opportunity cost: persisting on one task means having fewer resources to invest in other tasks. Even though nearly all participants were expected to profit from persisting (based on the results of pretesting), only 54% of participants chose to continue, and as we expected, those who chose not to generated fewer creative ideas and made less money.

Our research suggests that workers typically underestimate the benefits of persistence when it comes to being creative. In other words, some workers may have creative potential that goes untapped when they decide not to persevere with a challenge. Based on our research, we offer two recommendations to avoid this:

  1. Ignore your first instinct to stop. When working on a tough creative challenge, you will likely face a moment when you feel stuck and can’t come up with any more ideas. You’ll first want to quit and spend your time doing something else. Temporarily ignore this instinct, especially if you’re still in the early stages of the work. Try to generate just a few more ideas, or consider just a few more alternatives. You may find that your next creative idea was closer than you imagined.
  1. Remember that creative problems are supposed to feel difficult. Most involve setbacks, failures, and that “stuck” feeling. It’s part of the process. Suppress your instinct to interpret these feelings as a signal that you just aren’t creative or that you’ve run out of good ideas. Reaching your creative potential often takes time, and persistence is critical for seeing a challenge through to the end.

Your Company Culture Shouldn’t Just Be Great—It Should Be Distinctive

by Denise Lee Yohn,

Just as brand differentiation helps attract customers, culture differentiation helps attract the right employees. But while it’s popular to focus on corporate culture, not many companies have a truly distinctive culture. This is the equivalent to a marketing department saying, “We need to have a strong brand”—without articulating what that strength will rest on.

So many corporate values statements include the same words: respect, trust, fun, integrity. Maybe also diversity, work-life balance, and community service. Free snacks and pick-up games are expected at every technology company; nursing mother’s rooms and on-site gyms are increasingly common perks on corporate campuses. This is all great, but if every company seems the same, how are prospective employees to know which companies are really the best fit for them?

Leaders and HR managers can borrow the principles of good marketing to create a culture that’s more distinctive—one that will attract and retain the right people. Leaders should start by identifying the specific cultural dynamics that will produce the results they desire, and then clearly articulate and actively cultivate them. By doing so, they create a powerful edge in the war for talent—one that’s often more powerful than pay, and one that directly drives performance. People thrive in a culture that fits them, creating a self-reinforcing upward cycle.

Companies with clearly defined cultures are also good for customers, because they allow employees to create distinctive customer experiences. For instance, the number one “Family Core Value” at Zappos is “Deliver WOW Through Service.” The company says “We seek to WOW our customers, our co-workers, our vendors, our partners, and in the long run, our investors.” In pursuit of this goal, Zappos recognizes the need to be “a little unconventional and innovative.” Its unique internal practices, including publishing an annual culture book that employees write and allowing employees to decorate their offices however they like, produce a differentiated culture. This culture has, in turn, informed its unique customer experience design—examples include providing surprise shipping upgrades and not tracking the call times of its customer service reps so they can spend as much as needed with customers.

Vanguard has taken a very different approach. The company was able to produce consistent results for its clients through the Internet bubble and the Great Recession because its culture preaches caution. Vanguard operates from a belief and loyalty to the small investor and trains its advisors to forsake short-term gains if they sacrifice long-term stability.

Or consider Amazon, whose culture has been raked over the coals in the media in recent weeks. The culture at Amazon may be ruthless and exacting—even “callous,” despite CEO Jeff Bezos’s denial. But the company’s hard-driving performance culture may be one reasonit has consistently produced breakthrough innovations and consistent growth and continues to attract brilliant, mission-oriented employees.

The disciplines that inform brand differentiation in marketing can apply to culture differentiation as well:

  • Conduct competitive analysis to determine potential advantages and differentiating attributes—or better yet, identify white space where no one is playing.
  • Use segmentation to identify the types of people who share the company’s values and their distinguishing characteristics that can be used to target them.
  • Clearly articulate the value proposition—explain not just what the company does, but why it matters.
  • Don’t be afraid to use personality and take risks to stand out.

An unusual culture—even one that outsiders might criticize— is nothing to apologize for. In fact, it’s an advantage in attracting the right people.

How to Get the Most Out of a Conference

How to Get the Most Out of a Conference
By Rebecca Knight,

“The fact that technology has made it easier to interact with people across great distances and time zones actually makes face-to-face interaction even more valuable.”

Conferences are an overwhelming rush of presentations, conversations, and potential meet-ups, and it can be tough to know where to focus your time. How do you figure out which sessions to attend? Should you skip the keynote to meet an important contact? How many coffee dates are too many? And what should you do if you’re an introvert who hates small talk?

What the Experts Say

Professional conferences are an unavoidable fact of working life. And even if you’re an introvert who dreads the multi-day extravaganza of breakout talks and cocktail-infused networking sessions, you must resist your impulse to stay home, says Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School. “Skipping conferences is problematic because you’re missing out on the benefits of networking,” she says. “Today, probably even more than ever before, networks are a key form of social capital for achieving goals in both your professional and personal lives.” And meeting people at conferences “who likely have the same interests as you and are highly relevant to your work” is a good way to nurture and expand your network, says Dorie Clark, author of Stand Out Networking. “The fact that technology has made it easier to interact with people across great distances and time zones actually makes face-to-face interaction even more valuable.” Here’s how to get the most from the conferences you attend.

Change your mindset

Despite the known benefits of having an extensive and diverse network, many people “shy away from the opportunity to create new connections because networking makes them feel inauthentic and physically dirty,” says Gino. To reduce these feelings, she suggests changing your mindset and motives. You’re not just networking because you should; you’re doing it because it’s good for your career. She says that people who focus on their professional aspirations “network more frequently and experience decreased feelings of dirtiness” compared to those who are focused on merely meeting professional duties and responsibilities. As you’re getting ready for a conference, “try to stay motivated to network professionally for the growth, advancement, and accomplishment” that it will bring.

Pre-introduce yourself

Weeks before the conference starts, “think about the people you would really like to get to know and then carve out time to accomplish that goal,” says Gino. Clark recommends creating a “priority wish list” of people you’d like to meet. Send those people an email introducing yourself; if possible, get an introduction from a mutual friend or colleague. If the person is presenting, tell her that “you’re going to make it a point to come to her session,” says Clark. “There’s a lot of fear when presenting that no one will come to your session so the fact that you’re making the effort will be appreciated.” If the person is not presenting, invite him for coffee. Or inquire “if there’s any session he’s excited about going to, then ask: Can we sit together?”

Be strategic with your time

Consider two things when choosing which sessions to attend. “A session should fulfill either a content goal, meaning the talk will be educational, or it should fulfill an interpersonal goal, meaning you want to meet or support the person who is presenting,” Clark says. The keynote speech is usually skip-able, but because someone famous often delivers it, “it’s fun to go,” she adds. “It’s likely to be entertaining and will give you bragging rights as in: ‘Hey, I heard Elon Musk speak.’” That said, “The keynote doesn’t have much networking value beyond being a conversation starter.”

Network on your terms

If plunging into a crowd makes you uneasy, you’ve got to “take initiative to create a situation where you feel comfortable,” says Clark. Perhaps one-on-one meetings are better for you or small group settings. If so, Clark suggests making a reservation at a local restaurant for about eight people before the conference. Then invite people from your wish list. “You want it to be a mix of people you know and people you would like to get to know better,” says Clark. “Tell them you’re bringing together a group of interesting people and you’d like them to join.” And be sure to tell them why the dinner is of interest. “If she’s a tech entrepreneur, tell her that you’re also inviting venture capitalists,” for example.

Listen more; talk less

When you’re attending a semi-professional, semi-social networking situation — such as a group dinner or conference cocktail reception — your goal is to “allow enough space for others to shine,” says Clark. Harness quiet power by asking thoughtful questions and listening carefully to how others respond. Having conversation starters at the ready can make small talk more palatable. For example, you might ask: “Which work project are you most excited about right now?” or “Which session are you most excited to attend?” If you’ve invited people together, it’s also important that you “exert sufficient control” of the situation. “Make sure people are interacting with and getting to know each other,” she says. Ask people to introduce themselves. Think of commonalities among group members and highlight those when you’re making introductions. “Try to bolster group cohesion rather than letting it be a fragmented experience,” says Clark.

Manage your existing connections

Conferences can be useful venues to solidify your current professional relationships. After all, says Gino, “good networking not only means creating new connections. It also means maintaining and strengthening existing ones.” But don’t spend all of your time with people you already know. That defeats the purpose of going to the conference in the first place. “If you know beforehand that certain colleagues are likely to glom on to you, draw clear boundaries — for both of your sakes,” says Clark. Having existing dinner or lunch plans can be handy. “Say to your colleague: ‘I need to meet new people tonight, but tomorrow I’m going to a session that I think we’ll both find interesting. Would you like to go together?’”

Make time for yourself

Conferences are exhausting, and can be especially so if you’re not an extrovert. “The fundamental truth about being an introvert is that you need to manage your energy differently from other people,” says Clark. “You need to know when you’re on the brink.” And so if you spend five days pushing yourself to attend every luncheon, cocktail party, and networking reception, “you’re going to be worn out and frayed, and you will not be at your best.” Put simply: Skip happy hour. In its place, do something restful or restorative. This is sound advice for both introverts and extroverts. “It’s easy for any professional to lose sight of self-care” because he or she is busy, adds Clark. Eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep are important to our health. Don’t neglect your own wellbeing. One of the most important ways to do this, says Gino, is to try not to be someone else when you’re in social situations. “Focus on being yourself,” she says. “This will help ensure that you don’t stress out too much or get too tired.”

Principles to Remember
Shift your mindset by focusing on how networking is good for your career
When choosing which sessions to attend, consider whether you’ll learn something or meet someone new
Take the initiative to create networking situations where you feel comfortable
Spend all of your time with coworkers you see every day — draw clear boundaries
Burn out — give yourself time to rest and rejuvenate during the conference
Try to be someone you’re not — putting on a false persona is stressful and tiring
Case Study #1: Organize small group gatherings and take time to recharge
Parisa Parsa, the Executive Director of the Public Conversations Project — a Boston-based group that helps workers and organizations create constructive dialog in their professional, civic, and personal lives — attends several conferences a year. “I don’t know if I will ever figure out how to make conferences not exhausting,” says Parisa, a natural introvert, “but I know what I need to do to make them productive.”

Earlier this year, Parisa, who is also a minister, attended the annual Unitarian Universalist Association conference in Portland, Oregon. Before she arrived, Parisa reached out to several people with whom she wanted to connect at the conference and invited them for coffee or a meal. “I do terribly when it comes to chatting with people on the spot, so I tried to set up one-on-one meetings so I could focus my attention and not have to fight for airtime,” she says. “Reaching out to people in advance made sure I was on their radar. They knew they were a priority to me.”

In the past, she has also arranged small group dinners around specific topics. Since most people know her but don’t necessarily know each other, Parisa gets the conversation flowing by asking everyone to introduce themselves and to provide an initial take on the topic at hand. “I like bringing people together for a smaller, structured gathering. Big groups can be overwhelming.”

Parisa also makes sure to not wear herself out by giving herself time to rest and recharge. “I used to feel that I had to be at each and every session, but now I’m more strategic about choosing sessions based on the content.”

During her most recent conference, she went for frequent walks around Portland and nipped into coffee shops to reflect on and write about the presentations she’d seen. “I tried to see little bit of the city,” says Parisa. “It’s really sad when the only part of the city you remember is the inside of convention centers.”

Case Study #2: Offer your assistance in order to be seen as a potential resource
Ron D’Vari, CEO of New York-based advisory firm NewOak Capital, is a self-described “conference junkie” who attends dozens of conferences each year. Conferences, he says, “expose me to new ideas and perspectives and give me a sense of the marketplace and where things are going.”

Earlier this year, after he learned about the upcoming Professional Risk Managers’ International Association (PRMIA) conference in New York, the first thing he did — and what he always does — was call the conference organizer. “I asked if I could help with content — I volunteered to speak or to moderate a panel, and I let them know I could help introduce them to other speakers,” says Ron. “Offering to be a part of the conference provides many more networking opportunities than merely attending the conference.”

Ron won a spot on a panel. Before the conference started, he examined the agenda and looked at the list of speakers and presenters. Whenever he came across a person he wanted to meet, he sent them an introductory email and a request to connect on LinkedIn. “That way, they know who you are,” he says.

Ron attended the conference with several colleagues but he made sure to go to different sessions and networking events. “You can’t stay in a clique with colleagues,” he says. “It’s time to get to know other people.” After all, “conferences are expensive. You’ve got to be able to get your two grand’s worth of connectivity.”

When networking, Ron also makes an effort to do more listening than talking. “My objective is be seen as a resource for people. I want to engage them in a way so that when they have a technical question down the road, they think to pick up the phone and call me.”

At the PRMIA conference Ron made many connections, including a Fed official with whom he is currently writing a paper.

The Vignelli Canon

The famous Italian designer Massimo Vignelli allows us a glimpse of his understanding of good design in this book, its rules and criteria. He uses numerous examples to convey applications in practice – from product design and graphic design to Corporate Design. By doing this he is making an important manual available to young designers that in its clarity both in terms of subject matter and visually is entirely committed to Vignelli’s modern design.

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Quenching Consumers’ Thirst for ‘Authentic’ Brands


Richard Littlewood, the president of G.J. Littlewood & Son, a fiber dye house in Philadelphia, recently welcomed a client, Soraya Darabi, to his plant.
Littlewood colorizes wool and synthetic fibers for products ranging from pea coats for the Navy to N.B.A. mascots, from high-fashion pieces to home-crafting supplies. Mr. Littlewood develops colors and then dyes them onto fibers in the company’s brick-walled plant, which is dominated by giant dye kettles, dryers and bale pressers.
Mr. Littlewood’s great-great-grandfather opened for business in this same factory in 1869. “This is a piece of United States history,” Mr. Littlewood says, “and it’s still in motion, and it’s still supplying things, so we’re proud to be here.”
That kind of provenance matters to Ms. Darabi, a co-founder of the online retailer Zady with her friend Maxine Bédat. Zady, based in New York, sells clothing, household items, jewelry and office supplies from companies that the founders have researched for ethical practices and whose stories they share on the site.
The two women this year created their own clothing label, starting with a wool knit sweater, and they chose Littlewood to dye the fiber. Ms. Darabi was visiting Philadelphia to learn more about the manufacturer’s story.
“We are making it entirely in the U.S.,” Ms. Bédat says of the sweater. “And by make we mean source and make, from the sheep farm in Oregon to the wash house, dye house, processing and knitting. Along the way we’ve met some amazing characters. They really tell the story of the history of the country.”
Stories are important to Zady’s owners. Knowing where their products come from allows them to keep tabs on the way many of their products are made. The narratives also connect consumers to other people and places, adding a personal and experiential component to a tangible good and giving it an aura of authenticity.
For example, Zady sells leashes and collars from Found My Animal, started by a pair of friends who met while walking their rescue Chihuahuas. The products feature “New England marine-grade nautical rope and waxed thread, giving the collars and leashes an authentic look and sturdy design,” according to the Zady website.
Authenticity is a fuzzy concept, but Julie Napoli, a marketing professor at Curtin University, and colleagues recently reported in The Journal of Business Researchthat consumers see three dimensions to brand authenticity: heritage, sincerity and commitment to quality.


A sampling of the products sold by Zady, including a backpack “from a century-old textile factory in Maryland” whose slanted zipper represents “ ‘summiting’ your goals and aspirations,” according to the website. CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Ms. Bédat says people love being a part of an authentic brand because they aren’t just buying into a logo — but also “buying into a set of values.”
Tito’s Handmade Vodka, of Austin, Tex., is another company that emphasizes authenticity in its marketing. Its website tells the life story of Tito Beveridge, the founder, highlighting his commitment to quality while also pushing the heritage angle: The vodka is “made in small batches in an old-fashioned pot still,” using a “time-honored method.” The approach seems to be working: Last year, the company sold 1.3 million cases of vodka, compared with 365,000 in 2010.
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Heritage comes through loud and clear when a company puts down roots and stays there. George E. Newman and Ravi Dhar, professors at the Yale School of Management, reported this year in the Journal of Marketing Research that consumers especially valued products that came from a company’s original factory.
In one study, subjects who read about a pair of jeans made in the Levi Strauss plant built in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake rated it as containing more of the “true essence” of the brand, compared with people who read about Levi jeans from a newer factory. The first group also rated the pants as more “authentic” and were more willing to pay a premium for them.
Another experiment found that original factories also increased the perceived authenticity and value of chocolates and handbags — and that the effect was stronger after subjects read about the spread of laughter or poison ivy, subtly enhancing thoughts of contagion, according to the authors. The Yale authors quote marketing language from several companies that play up a sense of tradition:
■ From Hershey’s: “Hershey, Pa. is where it all started more than 100 years ago, and it’s still where the famous Hershey’s Kisses are made.”
■ From Fuller’s Brewery: “Our brewery’s stood in London, beside the Thames, since 1845.”
■ From New Balance, referring to its factory in Norridgewock, Me.: “Built in 1945, the Depot Street building is the workplace of almost 400 associates. Each pair of shoes they produce is a proud work of craftsmanship that carries a little bit of the long history that is the town and its people.”
The French researchers Delphine Dion and Stéphane Borraz have reported in The Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services that luxury brand managers use myths and rituals to cast historical shops as sacred, which then lends authenticity to the merchandise and the brand. Talking to the researchers about Christian Dior’s first outlet, on the Avenue Montaigne in Paris, one manager said, “It’s a mythical place.” He added: “These stores keep the traces of something that has gone.”
Several studies have shown that authenticity — real or perceived — can affect the bottom line. Brian Wansink, a marketing professor at Cornell University, found that when menu items had geographical or nostalgic labels (“traditional Cajun” red beans with rice, “Grandma’s” zucchini cookies), diners bought them more often and said they tasted better.
A cynic might ask whether Zady itself really needs to tell the brand story of something as ordinary as paper clips. “But these are amazing paper clips!” Ms. Bédat protests. Her site explains that the maker of the paper clips, the Mondial Lus company, has been making office supplies in Saronno, Italy, since 1931, using “time-honored production methods.”


Zady, based in New York, sells clothing, household items, jewelry and office supplies from companies that the founders have researched for ethical practices and whose stories they share on the site. CreditHiroko Masuike/The New York Times

You could argue that these stories are a reaction against goods delivered by container from China, to be bought at Walmart. James H. Gilmore, a marketing consultant and a co-author of the book “Authenticity,” said in an interview that consumers felt a desire for the real “in an increasingly staged, contrived, mediated world.”
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But of course, companies have been known to slap the words “artisanal,” “traditional” and “authentic” on their products without an accompanying story to back up their words.
And then there’s J. Crew, which secured the name and logo of the American workwear company Madewell and began manufacturing much of the clothing overseas after Madewell became a subsidiary less than a decade ago. Dan Nosowitz, whose great-grandfather started Madewell in 1937, recently wrote in an essay for BuzzFeed, “How many corporations are out there rifling through the defunct brands of America’s past like a bin of used records, looking for something, anything, that will give them that soft Edison-bulb glow of authenticity?”
In defense of the new Madewell, its head of design did tell Mr. Nosowitz that the brand’s quality was a reflection of its heritage. “We know this name is a great name and we know this brand is a great brand,” Mr. Nosowitz quoted him as saying.
Another factor that could be affecting consumers’ authenticity-seeking is what Ms. Bédat calls Globalization 2.0, a new awareness of the ethical and environmental costs of consumerism, enabled by technology.
Ms. Bédat and Ms. Darabi look to Patagonia, the outdoor clothing store, for inspiration. Seven years ago, that company started the Footprint Chronicles on its website, documenting its supply chain with videos, articles and an interactive map showing the farms, factories and textile mills it works with.
Jill Dumain, Patagonia’s director of environmental strategy, says that the company’s transparency has led to some criticisms — that it should be using more recycled polyester, for example — but says that it has also forged loyalty among its customers. When Patagonia started the Chronicles, she says, “The reaction I feel like I heard the most was, ‘I trust what you tell me on the good, because you’re willing to tell me about the bad.’ ”
Ms. Dumain says people are now better informed about their purchases. “We get better questions from customers,” she says. “We get deeper questions.”
Or as Ms. Darabi of Zady said: “We’re at a precipice in what people are about to begin questioning, and our brand is there to give them some answers.”
Although Zady did not provide specific revenue figures, its staff has expanded from an initial team of six people in August 2013 to a total of 20 employees now. The first run of its sweater, a batch of 300, sold out in 24 hours, according to the company.
This holiday season, Zady is operating two pop-up shops in New York City, one in SoHo and one at Kennedy International Airport. Staff members at the stores are encouraged to engage customers in conversations about the brands.
“It’s storytelling,” Ms. Bédat says. “It’s people getting to feel that connection and wanting to be part of it.”

Tucson, an Unsung Architectural Oasis

From the


“People tend to come to Tucson to figure something out,” Demion Clinco remarked one cool desert evening, beneath a sky so boundless it made all things seem possible. We were seated on the terrace of the 85-year-old Arizona Inn, drinking anachronistic cocktails. The cocktails produced an optimism of their own.

Pulling on his bourbon old-fashioned, Mr. Clinco, a native Tucsonan and former member of the state House of Representatives, added a fillip, “When they do, they tend to leave.”

That I had come to Tucson to figure something out was evident. It remained to be seen precisely what. I arrived — as snowbirds have for much of the state’s recent history — fleeing a bitter and prolonged East Coast winter, a season during which the blackened mounds of ice blocking city streets and crosswalks, when they finally melted, left behind a tideline of crud.


Somehow that trash felt metaphoric. The varied detritus of urban living also clusters in your psyche: small angers, embedded resentments, everyday slights, the guy looking cross-eyed at you on the E train. Like street trash, this stuff is hard to recycle; I needed, as we all occasionally do, to flee the bedeviling daily issues and light out.

Escape is what led me to Tucson, a fact unlikely to bring joy to the hearts of its civic boosters, who would perhaps prefer visitors to focus on the positive aspects of this midsize Southwestern city. I am, assuredly, mindful of those — aware that Tucson is well situated in a valley basin geologically lofted to an altitude (2,600 feet) that in my mind qualifies it as high desert; that its signal feature is a series of jagged mountain ranges enclosing its flanks like a palisade; that its extravagant skies, particularly at twilight, have a way of vaulting the spirits in a manner I have seldom experienced anyplace else besides Rome.


Tucson is no Rome, however. It is a dusty outpost on the fringes of the Sonoran Desert, a cyclical boomtown that suffered badly in the financial crash of 2008 and that, even beforehand, had in many ways seen better days. It is a grid city of long avenues and abundant strip malls; a place whose largest employers are a university, the military, the government and a maker of missile systems.

It is a mini-metropolis whose proximity to the Mexican border has resulted not only in a shadow economy but also some fairly stark racial and economic bifurcations. It is a blue dot in a red state, a college town whose seasonal population of students and retirees departs this month in a mass migration that leaves tumbleweed vacancies in its wake.

It is also a city whose loopy retail landscape skews heavily toward yoga studios, thrift shops and vape stores. And one of the city’s better-kept secrets is how often these places occupy structures that could easily be counted among the more significant examples of mid-20th century architecture in the country. That is, if anyone were bothering to look.

I had first taken note of this curiosity some years back when attending the annual American Gem Trade Association fair in Tucson. In reality one central fair and an agglomeration of 40 or so satellites, where dealers trade in the countless minerals of which the earth is formed (and also a certain amount of random space flotsam), the fair is the place to be if you are ever in the market for an eight-carat Mozambique ruby, a Brazilian rock crystal carved like a phallus or a fragment of a meteorite.

Increasingly, on what have become annual pilgrimages to the gem fair (including one in February) I’ve found myself straying from the parking lots crammed with geodes, beads and boulders, and venturing out to explore the local architectural treasures. Back home, whenever New York threatens to ruin my day, I follow my thoughts back to my random excursions around Tucson and to memories of its illimitable skies, dry, clear air and its abundant supply of wizened drifters right out of Richard Avedon’s “In the American West.”

I reflect on how deeply I enjoy the ramshackle dispersion of the city and on the fact that I now know which Mexican handicrafts store to visit if I am ever in need of a six-foot ceramic pineapple from Michoacán. I think about a photo gallery I like as much for its location near a funky tattoo parlor as for its adventurous exhibitions, a diner in a movie-ready structure unaltered since the 1960s, and the thrift shops of which Tucson boasts more than it has hipster brunch spots.

I recall, too, the pleasures of ordering a heaping platter of huevos rancheros at my favorite hipster brunch spot, the Five Points Market, situated on an intersection whose other notable landmarks include a florist selling $1 roses and a used-car dealership with the motto “Ugly but Honest.”

By the time Clyde Wanslee came up with that memorable slogan in the 1930s, the old pioneer town of Tucson had already entered a period of unprecedented expansion. Figures compiled by the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation peg Tucson’s 1940 population at 35,000, a figure that by 1960 had soared to 212,000. While it’s not surprising that housing starts flourished along with a rapidly growing city, what strikes a visitor now is how little the accompanying boom owed to structural archetypes then dominating postwar development back East.

While builders on the Eastern Seaboard assembled cookie-cutter colonials by the thousands, Tucson developers instead adapted the austerities of International Style Modernism to their city’s magnificent though challenging terrain. Some preservationists claim Tucson possesses some of the densest concentrations of midcentury Modernist architecture in the Southwest, reluctantly conceding that the finest examples are not nearly as easy to find as similar ones clustered throughout entire midcentury neighborhoods in Phoenix, just two hours away.

Even Mr. Clinco — who was instrumental in resuscitating the drowsy Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation in 2008 — grants that about the only way to eyeball prime Modernist gems by architects like Tom Gist, Anne Rysdale, Robert Swaim or Arthur T. Brown that lie scattered in the foothills or secluded in stands of saguaro is on one of the guided tours his group conducts every autumn during its Tucson Modernism Week. Yet they’re quick to note that plenty of astonishingly individualistic architecture lies scattered throughout the city. All that is needed to find them are wheels and a map.

To guide me I used a slick, informative foldout called “Broadway: Born Modern,” which is one in a series of fine guides the preservationist group has produced to find Tucson’s varied wonders, from its bars and drive-ins to its houses of worship, and also the city’s abundant neon signage (Dirk J. Arnold’s “Gateway Saguaro” on the Miracle Mile being perhaps the most emblematic example).

The specific focus of “Broadway: Born Modern” is a checkerboard assortment of midcentury holdouts still standing lonely but proud amid the big-box stores and stucco strip malls on a stretch of Broadway from Euclid Avenue to Country Club Road. Here, on the two-mile Sunshine Mile — linking what was once the city’s suburban eastern reaches to its historic downtown — desert Modernists evolved a quirky utilitarian vernacular all their own.

Cantilevered roofs canopy glass curtain walls, shading them from the harsh summer sun. Blank fieldstone walls form the facades of cool interior caves. Soaring organic shapes vault sculpturally from the sere landscape like the ramparts of a cathedral consecrated to some wacko progressive religion.


A stark white, cast-concrete structure built as a Valley National Bank is now a Chase. Credit John Burcham for The New York Times
One such structure, created in 1971 by Bernard Friedman and John Whitmire of Friedman and Jobusch Architects, stands sentry at a corner of Broadway and Country Club Road. Directly opposite it on Broadway is the historic Broadway Village, a gentle ensemble of brick hacienda-style structures designed in the 1930s by the Swiss-born Josias Joesler, arguably Tucson’s most celebrated architect. In the contrast between the two can be traced a shift in a city’s ambitions and a radical progression away from Tucson’s pueblo past toward an undefined future in the space age.

The more recent of the two is a stark white, cast-concrete building set back from a broad plaza ornamented with a large sculptural amoeba; it has a high columned overhang, a soaring glazed expressionist frieze to bring in light and overall an air of unassailable exuberance.

Built as a Valley National Bank, it is now a Chase. There are Chase branches all over Tucson, of course, most with drive-through windows to facilitate the American dependence on the internal combustion engine. It pleases me, though, when I’m in Tucson to drive up Broadway and park the rental just to conduct my insignificant banking in a building that seems to frame and elevate the puniest of transactions.

I feel expansive making an A.T.M. withdrawal. And “expansiveness and optimism,” as Andie Zelnio, of the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation, once told me, are signal characteristics of 20th-century boomtowns of the American West.

“Partly what attracted many of us to the West in the first place is that sense of space and possibility,” said Ms. Zelnio, an Illinois native and architect who lived in New York and Los Angeles before relocating to Tucson permanently in 2004. Add to that an unfettered ability to think and design in novel ways, as many architects did when faced with a landscape both wondrous and seemingly inhospitable.

The results of their experiments stud Broadway for most of its length, delightful and largely unremarked. Among my favorites are Ms. Rysdale’s elegantly restrained geometric Haas Building of 1957; Juan Worner y Bas’s quirky 1961 Murphey Building, with its scalloped parapet and terra-cotta statues of philosophers and saints; the adobe brick Broadmoor Medical Center; and the classic open-front facade Mr. Friedman designed in 1954 to house Hirsh’s Shoes.

“In 1954 we stood alone,” read a tagline in an advertisement for Hirsh’s Shoes I came across in a program printed to accompany Tucson Modernism Week. “Sixty years later, we still stand alone.”

Happily for Hirsh’s Shoes and other imperiled local landmarks, that is not altogether the case. Since being restarted, the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation has committed passionately to identifying, recording and conserving unsung local treasures, from a historic courtyard motel to a refined and much degraded center city park by the landscape architect Garrett Eckbo.

“The first thing people want to know when they come here is, ‘Where is the historic area?’ That’s what they want to see,” said Hannah Glasston, a preservationist and director of the estimable Etherton Gallery, whose inventory includes both contemporary photography and vintage works by photographers as disparate as Weegee, Edward Sheriff Curtis and Ansel Adams.

When she first came to Tucson from upstate New York to attend college in the 1970s, “I was attracted to obvious historic buildings,” Ms. Glasston said, referring to guidebook destinations like the Cathedral of St. Augustine, a stupefying encrusted monument to the Mexican Baroque. “But then I started to see stuff that made me think, ‘What are these things?’ ” Once her eye adjusted to the determined quiddities of her adopted hometown, she said, “Even weird cinder-block strange things from the 1950s started to look fabulous.”

Though on recent trips I’ve made it a modest goal to seek out some of Tucson’s more oddball Modernist structures, I tend to lodge at one of its gentler traditional ones. Built in 1930 by Isabella Greenway, Arizona’s first congresswoman and a lifelong friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, the Arizona Inn was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988 and is now run by Will Conroy, Ms. Greenway’s grandson.

Like much of the city, the Arizona Inn was hit hard by the 2008 crash, which obliged Mr. Conroy to lay off more than a third of his staff. Despite that, this unlikely hotelier (a Brooklyn-born screenwriter, he is the son of the novelist Frank Conroy) has somehow found the means and contrived a way to preserve the civilizing dimensions of this 14-acre oasis, with its manicured lawns, walled patios, book-filled guest rooms, beds of heirloom roses and an overall air of assiduously maintained gentility.

Whether most contemporary visitors find time to use the folding card tables tucked into each commodious guest room closet, their presence conjures up an era when people arrived at the inn by rail each winter, their trunks filled with the many costume changes required for daily rubbers of bridge, croquet matches or afternoon teas.


Dirk J. Arnold’s “Gateway Saguaro,” on the Miracle Mile is among the neon signage in the city. Credit John Burcham for The New York Times

With little to impinge on the fantasy of living like Gary and Rocky Cooper or the East Coast swells who routinely lodged at the Inn, I slow down there and fall into lazy routine. Yet while most guests tend to venture only rarely from the hotel’s seductive confines, I head out routinely on daily excursions to check out an eccentric city I’ve increasingly come to love.

I get my daily breakfast of poached eggs and bacon at Chaffin’s Family Restaurant — little changed except in name since it was erected in the Googie architecture style in 1964 as Sambo’s Pancake House — or else at another venerable greasy spoon called Bobo’s.

At Bobo’s, the clientele seems about evenly divided between solid middle-class locals, pajama-clad University of Arizona students soaking up last night’s toxins with cartwheel-size banana pancakes and heavily inked characters who look as if they had scraped up just enough change for a cup of Joe after posting bail.

I stop in at Bon, a boutique that the mother-and-daughter team of Bonnie and Crystal Flynt operate at the historic Five Points intersection to check out an always-evolving selection of design objects that meet their quirkily refined tastes. I troll the city’s many thrift stores, following the advice of my pal Laura Wills, a part-time Tucsonan whose Screaming Mimi’s vintage store in Manhattan is a way station in the life of 1960s satin sheaths or pearl-snap cowboy shirts unearthed at a Tucson Goodwill store and heading next to Burning Man. I stop into Tom’s Fine Furniture and Collectables, an antiques mall whispered about by midcentury furniture dealers all over the country, who threaten those who reveal their secret source with bodily harm.

Come lunchtime, I drive beneath Interstate 10 to the arid west side of the city, where hillsides are spiked with saguaros and where I once spotted a man at a roadside stand advertising his wares with a sign reading “Honey & Knives.”

My destination is Teresa’s Mosaic Cafe, a Mexican restaurant unpromisingly set behind a McDonald’s parking lot. Although, as Stephen Paul, the founder of Whiskey Del Bac, an award-winning mesquite-smoked single-malt distilled in Tucson, once authoritatively pointed out, “the best Mexican food in the country” is to be found on the city’s largely Latino south side, I remain a Teresa’s loyalist.

The reasons are simple. Despite its unpromising location this 31-year-old restaurant offers surprising vistas from the windows of the circular structure it occupies and serves huevos rancheros good enough that Bobby Flay once chose the place for a Food Network throw-down.

I prefer it at lunch, though, because by then Dora Robles has set up at a griddle near the center of the restaurant and begun patting and toasting the 500 or so tortillas she makes fresh daily: delicious wheat or corn wraps that provide packaging for Teresa’s brightly spiced enchiladas, the most efficient lunch-delivery system ever devised.

Heading out afterward, I often turn west onto Oracle Drive toward the Oro Valley and Tohono Chul Park, a small botanical garden on a patch of desert bought in the ’60s by Jean and Richard Wilson (a Yale-trained geologist) and later established as a nonprofit to save the land from mall developers. Not the least of the things I like about this ingeniously designed garden of arid zone flora are the rattlesnake warnings posted along its paths. Yet the real reason I visit is the center’s exhibition space, partly to check one of its fine and constantly changing art installations, but more candidly to pretend the Santa Fe-style adobe structure housing it is mine.

Given the limited number of fellow visitors I’ve encountered in a place built in 1937 for the memorably named John T. de Blois Wack, this delusion is not as hard to sustain as it may seem. From within its nobly proportioned parlor, where tall picture windows are set in walls of 18-inch-thick adobe, the view of saguaros framing wide skies is nothing shy of deluxe. “For about seven months a year,” Mr. Paul once told me, “Tucson is filled with the most spectacular, soulful light.”

I see no reason to dispute his estimation. Parking myself on a deep leather sofa at Tohono Chul not long ago, I gazed at the cloud armadas sailing above the largest desert in North America and suddenly recalled something Ms. Glasston, the Etherton Gallery director, had said.

“Why do people come to places like Tucson?” she asked, before offering a reply that struck me as central to any understanding of the American Southwest’s enduring allure. “When you come down to it, it’s pretty simple. We don’t like to be shoehorned into categories.” When you come down to it, neither do I.


The geometric Haas Building of 1957 with other structures on Sunshine Mile. Credit John Burcham for The New York Times
If You Go

Where to Stay

Except during the annual American Gem Trade Association fair, hotels at all price levels are abundant and easy to book in Tucson. Come February everything is block-booked, tariffs skyrocket and you’d be lucky to find a vacant storm drain.

With its 91 rooms set amid 14 manicured and walled acres, theArizona Innhas proved irresistible to patrons of many decades and, increasingly, an international clientele that includes the jeweler Ted Muehling, the London art dealer Maureen Paley and Francesca Amfitheatrof, the design director of Tiffany & Company.

The town is quiet, drowsy and distinctly on sale in the off-season. A suite recently listed on the inn’s website offered garden views, a king bed, a sitting room and an array of customary amenities (Wi-Fi, newspapers, CDs from the inn’s library and ice cream sundaes every afternoon by the pool, all free) for $149.

Where to Eat

The menu at the landmark Hotel Congress (311 East Congress Street, 520-622-8848) is solidly if blandly confined to American standards whereas Maynards Market & Kitchen (400 North Toole Avenue, 520-545-0557), in the old train station, favors American cooking and locally sourced ingredients inflected with a French accent.

Five Points Market & Restaurant (756 South Stone Avenue, 520-623-3888) is like a bit of Williamsburg dropped into a historic intersection in a funky but fast-developing part of town.

When Bobby Flay decided to stage a huevos rancheros throwdown for the Food Network, he chose Teresa’s Mosaic Cafe(2455 North Silverbell Road — behind McDonald’s — 520-624-4512) on the city’s arid west side. Super fresh and brightly spiced, the fare here is consistently tasty if not destined to set the culinary world on fire. In addition, Dora Robles stands at an exposed griddle set in the middle of the place, patting out and toasting 500 fresh tortillas by hand every day.

The Arizona Inn also has a restaurant, bar and terrace where it serves uncontroversial if uninspiring country-club type fare.

What to Do

A prominent fixture on the international art scene and one of the pre-eminent art and photo galleries in the Southwest, the Etherton Gallery(135 South Sixth Avenue, 520-624-7370) shows works of fine art photographers, paintings, prints, sculpture and mixed media by local and regional artists, and offers a wide selection of works by masters of photography like Ansel Adams, Edward Sheriff Curtis and Weegee.

At Bon, (760 South Stone Avenue, 520-795-2272, adjacent to the Five Points Market & Restaurant) the mother-and-daughter team of Bonnie and Crystal Flynt offer what their website calls a “selection of our favorite things,” including a well-edited array of clothes and candles and vintage textiles and greeting cards that could easily enough become your favorite things, as well.

The Coolest Thing About 1 World Trade Center’s New Observatory Isn’t The View

source:Fast Co Design Blog


No tourist heading to the 100th floor of 1 World Trade Center—the 1,776-foot-tall skyscraper that stands as the spiritual successor to the Twin Towers—is going there strictly for the view, but it’s nice to protect the skyline, anyway.

That’s the underlying philosophy behind City Pulse, a new installation by Local Projects—the same media studio behind the coolest features of the revamped Smithsonian Design Museum and the National September 11th Memorial & Museum—at the One World Observatory. The original idea was to mount a series of infographic-laden screens that would block the 45-mile views from 1 WTC. Local Projects instead created into a pair of 14-foot rings each built from 10 overlapping LCD screens that can respond to the gestures of an accompanying tour guide to offer real-time snapshots of city information.

Why rings? Well, you can look through a ring. And they’ve been aligned with support beams specifically to interfere with 1WTC’s views as little as possible. Local Projects even went so far as to code a custom algorithm that could analyze various elements of the ring—like how many screens were used, how large the screens would be, the angle at which the ring would sit—to geometrically optimize the view.

There’s another benefit, too. The rings are what Local Projects principal Jake Barton calls “human-computer storytelling hybrids.” Because the experience is meant to be lighthearted, a comedian will stand inside each ring and interact with the audience. Thanks to a gesture-controlled arm band, the comedian can point to 10 positions around the circle to pull up topics that visitors might be interested in (like food and dining, arts and culture, or New York history). Once they point to a topic, 10 potential storylines under that topic appear. One might be a top-10 list of good restaurants; another might pull real-time Instagram images of Yankee Stadium. City Pulse becomes a literal frame around human storytelling, formalizing an improvised conversation through media.

“The capacity to make this deep, custom connection with each group of visitors is really powerful,” Barton says. Indeed, because once you strip away the striking Stargate ring, City Pulse is basically a very knowledgable, entertaining local Googling things for you.

“I often say to prospective clients, nothing will age faster than your hardware. Even the thinnest touch screen will look like a toaster oven in a number of years,” Barton says. “As long as your storytelling, and emotional depth are intact, that’s what people will focus on.”

A nice view doesn’t hurt, either.

City Pulse opens with the One World Observatory on May 29.

Why Do We Experience Awe? (from NY Times)

HERE’S a curious fact about goose bumps. In many nonhuman mammals, goose bumps — that physiological reaction in which the muscles surrounding hair follicles contract — occur when individuals, along with other members of their species, face a threat. We humans, by contrast, can get goose bumps when we experience awe, that often-positive feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world.

Why do humans experience awe? Years ago, one of us, Professor Keltner, argued(along with the psychologist Jonathan Haidt) that awe is the ultimate “collective” emotion, for it motivates people to do things that enhance the greater good. Through many activities that give us goose bumps — collective rituals, celebration, music and dance, religious gatherings and worship — awe might help shift our focus from our narrow self-interest to the interests of the group to which we belong.

Now, recent research of ours, to be published in next month’s issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, provides strong empirical support for this claim. We found that awe helps bind us to others, motivating us to act in collaborative ways that enable strong groups and cohesive communities.

For example, in one study we asked more than 1,500 individuals across the United States a series of questions to assess how much awe, among other emotions, they experienced on a regular basis. In an ostensibly unrelated part of the study, we gave each person 10 lottery tickets that would be entered in his (or her) name for a cash prize drawing. We told each person that the tickets were his to keep, but that if he wanted to, he could share a portion of them with another unidentified individual in the study who had not received any tickets.

We found that participants who reported experiencing more awe in their lives, who felt more regular wonder and beauty in the world around them, were more generous to the stranger. They gave approximately 40 percent more of their tickets away than did participants who were awe-deprived.

Some of this research was conducted on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley, which has a spectacular grove of Tasmanian blue gum eucalyptus trees, some with heights exceeding 200 feet — a potent source of everyday awe for anyone who walks by. So we took participants there and had them either look up into the trees or look at the facade of a nearby science building, for one minute. Then, a minor “accident” occurred (actually a planned part of the experiment): A person stumbled and dropped a handful of pens. Participants who had spent the minute looking up at the tall trees — not long, but long enough, we found, to be filled with awe — picked up more pens to help the other person.

In other experiments, we evoked feelings of awe in the lab, for example by having participants recall and write about a past experience of awe or watch a five-minute video of sublime scenes of nature. Participants experiencing awe, more so than those participants experiencing emotions like pride or amusement, cooperated more, shared more resources and sacrificed more for others — all of which are behaviors necessary for our collective life.

In still other studies, we have sought to understand why awe arouses altruism of different kinds. One answer is that awe imbues people with a different sense of themselves, one that is smaller, more humble and part of something larger. Our research finds that even brief experiences of awe, such as being amid beautiful tall trees, lead people to feel less narcissistic and entitled and more attuned to the common humanity people share with one another. In the great balancing act of our social lives, between the gratification of self-interest and a concern for others, fleeting experiences of awe redefine the self in terms of the collective, and orient our actions toward the needs of those around us.

You could make the case that our culture today is awe-deprived. Adults spend more and more time working and commuting and less time outdoors and with other people. Camping trips, picnics and midnight skies are forgone in favor of working weekends and late at night. Attendance at arts events — live music, theater, museums and galleries — has dropped over the years. This goes for children, too: Arts and music programs in schools are being dismantled in lieu of programs better suited to standardized testing; time outdoors and for novel, unbounded exploration are sacrificed for résumé-building activities.

We believe that awe deprivation has had a hand in a broad societal shift that has been widely observed over the past 50 years: People have become more individualistic, more self-focused, more materialistic and less connected to others. To reverse this trend, we suggest that people insist on experiencing more everyday awe, to actively seek out what gives them goose bumps, be it in looking at trees, night skies, patterns of wind on water or the quotidian nobility of others — the teenage punk who gives up his seat on public transportation, the young child who explores the world in a state of wonder, the person who presses on against all odds.

All of us will be better off for it.

Even Google Can’t Compete with Real-World Experience (from

by Giordano Poloni

 In our modern age of Google, we have immediate access to any information we could possibly desire. Unfortunately, this can cause our minds to become lazy. We excuse ourselves from learning because we always have the option to look it up. But when we constantly have to stop what we are doing to look something up, we interrupt our flow of thoughts and our inspiration is halted.

Marc Hare, British shoe designer of Mr Hare, knows that the best way to fuel inspiration is through knowledge, and that knowledge is best gained through experience. In an interview for The Creative Class, Hare explains the difference between really knowing and experiencing a subject versus simply relying on available knowledge:

You can panic. When you are trying to find out about something, you might skim through something and I think there are a lot of people out there who might have read just a Wikipedia page and constitute that as knowledge on the subject. It really isn’t. Art is a really good example of that. You can read through the history of an artist and you can see examples of their work but until you go and stand in the gallery in front of that piece of work and actually immerse yourself in it, and bath in the colors, understand the scale and see historically why it’s relevant, you don’t really know about it.

Hare encourages us to get offline and so do numerous researchers. While access to online material proves to be convenient, it doesn’t take hold in your mind. Human development author Joseph Chilton Pearce estimates that the average learner only remembers 3% of a standard 45 minute lecture. That’s just over a minute. This is because verbal presentations only stimulate 5% to 20% of the neurons responsible for long-term memory. However, if we learn something through experience, we stimulate 95% of those same memory forming neurons.

As Hare suggests, one way to learn is by actively going and doing. Instead of simply reading about an artist’s work, travel to see it in person. Instead of watching an online video about a painting technique, join a workshop and try it for yourself.

If there is no feasible way to experience your desired information in person, professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas Art Markman has a trick to internalize it. Once you have finished reading or listening to the information, explain it back to yourself so that you fully understand the topic. Just because you read it online, doesn’t mean that you will remember it. As Hare reminds us that the internet “…doesn’t teach you everything, it just gives you access to everything.”

Original Article

A List of Goals Is Not a Strategy (HBR) by Graham Kenny

Let’s say you’re getting together with other managers and employees to develop your organization’s or unit’s strategy. No matter how much discussion and enthusiasm you bring to the task, you’re likely to emerge with a list that looks like this:
  • Growth
  • Superior operational outcomes through efficient work practices
  • Becoming competitive in an existing market
  • Increasing product sales to take market leadership
  • Expanding into other regions
  • Optimizing ROI
  • Developing a service delivery model that incorporates tactical projects

When you’re done, you might scratch your head and reflect: I think this looks OK. It doesn’t. It contains what might be called goals, objectives, actions, and vague statements of intent — but alas, no strategies.

So how do you really create strategy, rather than end up with a hodgepodge list like this? By following these steps:

Identify which stakeholders you depend on for success. It might seem obvious that you’d need to start here. But most managers, even at the world’s largest companies, don’t take this basic step. Instead, they focus on a narrow set of key performance indicators and wade right into developing solutions that feed those metrics, burrowing deeper and deeper into the details. Very quickly they lose their “helicopter view” and get stuck in fix-it mode. Suggestions come one after another: Engage sales outlets. Devise an advertising program. Attract, retain, and develop capable people. Good stuff, perhaps, but how would you know if you haven’t defined a context for success?

Your organization or unit is completely dependent on others outside it for its good fortune. Without the support of stakeholders such as customers, suppliers, employees, and shareholders, for example, you have no organization. But you have to identify those who are key to the long-term survival and prosperity of your organization — and then satisfy them.

Here, we should take a lesson from John Mackey, co-founder and co-CEO of Whole Foods Market. His company has annual sales of $9 billion and more than 300 stores. It dominates U.S. natural-foods retailing and has become an iconic brand.  In a Harvard Business Review interview, Mackey describes what has brought success to Whole Foods. “Customers, employees, investors, suppliers, larger communities, and the environment are all interdependent,” he explains. “Management’s job at Whole Foods is to make sure that we hire good people, that they are well trained, and that they flourish in the workplace, because we found that when people are really happy in their jobs, they provide much higher degrees of service to the customers.  Happy team members result in happy customers.  Happy customers do more business with you.  They become advocates for your enterprise, which results in happy investors.  That is a win, win, win, win strategy.”

Recognize what you want from your stakeholders. Because most management teams don’t identify key stakeholders, they don’t even get to this point. And those that do often launch right into what they need to do for customers, for employees, and so on, without thinking first about what they want from them.

Why is sorting out the from so important? What an organization wants from each group of key stakeholders translates neatly into its objectives. For instance, sales and revenue growth will come from customers, productivity and innovation from employees, and quality goods and services at the right price from suppliers. What’s more, company law requires that boards, CEOs, and senior executives act in the best interests of the company. All decision making should stem from that mandate.  Of course, this doesn’t preclude looking after customers’ and other stakeholders’ interests en route.

Although objectives and clear targets aren’t a substitute for strategy, you do need to design them, stakeholder group by stakeholder group, before you can develop a smart strategy for each group. Otherwise, any old strategy will do. Unfortunately, strategies are often created in a vacuum. They won’t be meaningful if you haven’t decided what you want them to achieve.

Recognize what your stakeholders want from you. When management teams delve too quickly into problem-solving, they make assumptions. They think they already know what’s good for their stakeholders. As a result, their companies end up with products and services that don’t sell.

When you articulate what key stakeholders want, you’re defining what I call “strategic factors.” (They’re not the same as “critical success factors” — a term you might already use. Those are generated by your management team, whereas strategic factors come from your stakeholders.) Strategic factors bring an external perspective. They are those few things that you must excel at if you are to achieve a competitive advantage and, simultaneously, meet your corporate objectives.

Here’s a list of strategic factors from a company that manages a port and aims to attract as many ship operators as possible:
  • Port capability (suitability for a ship’s size and freight)
  • Freight availability (to pick up on the return leg)
  • Congestion (speed of unloading and turnaround time in the port)
  • Location (which affects “steaming time,” or time between destinations)
  • Price (port charges for docking and remaining moored)

Note how these are defined from a stakeholder’s point of view, not from management’s. If you’re not sure of them (that’s the norm), interview your stakeholders to better understand their stories and needs.

If you’ve been struggling to develop strategy and write your strategic plan, what you may have been missing up till now is a method. These steps will help. Toyota doesn’t produce defect-free cars day after day without a system. Surgeons don’t operate on hearts and brains without clear procedures. You shouldn’t expect to design effective strategy without a process, either.

Original article

Are Some Fonts More Believable Than Others?

Are some fonts more believable than others? A curious experiment by documentary filmmaker Errol Morris suggests as much. After polling approximately 45,000 unsuspecting readers on, Morris discovered that subjects were more likely to believe a statement when it was written in Baskerville than when it was written in Computer Modern, Georgia, Helvetica, Trebuchet, or Comic Sans. Baskerville: truth’s favorite typeface?

Let’s look at how Morris got here: A frequent contributor to the New York Times’s Opinionator blog, Morris encouraged readers to peruse a passage from The Beginning of Infinity, by physicist David Deutsch, on the unlikelihood that Earth will be destroyed by an asteroid. Then, he asked them to take a survey on whether they thought Deutsch’s statement was true, and how confident they felt in that conclusion. “Are You an Optimist or a Pessimist?” the post’s headline read.

But the poll was a cover—a ruse to get at the real question, how does typography influence our perception of truth? Morris tapped animator Benjamin Berman to develop a program that altered the typeface of the Deutsch passage, such that it appeared to each reader in one of the six randomly assigned typefaces mentioned above. Cornell psychology professor David Dunning helped design the test.

The results: For every 1,000 respondents, almost five more people agreed with Deutsch’s statement when it was written in Baskerville than they did when it was written in Helvetica. That might not seem terribly impressive, but Dunning assures us that this so-called Baskerville Effect is indeed statistically significant:

It’s small, but it’s about a 1% to 2% difference — 1.5% to be exact, which may seem small but to me is rather large. You are collecting these data in an uncontrolled environment (who knows, for example just how each person’s computer is rendering each font, how large the font is, is it on an iPad or iPhone, laptop or desktop), are their kids breaking furniture in the background, etc. So to see any difference is impressive. Many online marketers would kill for a 2% advantage either in more clicks or more clicks leading to sales.

What makes Baskerville so convincing? Your guess is as good as mine. Maybe the typeface has, as Morris wonders, a sort of “religious pull” that tugs at something fundamental within us. Or maybe we’re just trained to accept some typefaces as more authoritative than others; perhaps Baskerville was the favored typeface of our childhood textbooks. Whatever the answer, Morris worries about the power of type’s invisible hand:

Truth is not typeface dependent, but a typeface can subtly influence us to believe that a sentence is true. Could it swing an election? Induce us to buy a new dinette set? Change some of our most deeply held and cherished beliefs? Indeed, we may be at the mercy of typefaces in ways that we are only dimly beginning to recognize. An effect — subtle, almost indiscernible, but irrefutably there. (“Mommy, Mommy, the typeface made me do it.”)

It’d be fascinating for researchers to repeat the experiment on a larger scale, enlisting all the major fonts scattered around media today. Who knows how Baskerville would compare with Verdana or Times New Roman? It’s time we get to know our fonts better. Baskerville, stentorian and soberminded Baskerville, is a grave-faced TV anchor reading the news. Comic Sans is our gossipy idiot cousin. Morris has zeroed in on something we all implicitly knew: Typefaces have personality.

City Museum

Description from This Is Colossal

A 10-Story Former Shoe Factory Transformed into the Ultimate Urban Playground by  – written by Christopher Jobson on June 2, 2015










Housed in the former home of the 10-story International Shoe Company, the sprawling 600,000 square-foot City Museum in St. Louis is quite possibly the ultimate urban playground ever constructed. The museum is the brainchild of artist and sculptor Bob Cassilly who opened the space in 1997 after years of renovation and construction. Although Cassilly passed away in 2011, the museum is perpetually under construction as new features are added or improved thanks to a ragtag group of 20 artists known affectionately as the Cassilly Crew.

So what can you find at the City Museum? How about a sky-high jungle gym making use of two repurposed airplanes, two towering 10-story slides and numerous multi-floor slides, a rooftop Ferris wheel and a cantilevered school bus that juts out from the roof, subterranean caves, a pipe organ, hundreds of feet of tunnels that traverse from floor to floor, an aquarium, ball pits, a shoe lace factory, a circus arts facility, restaurants, and even a bar… because why not? All the materials used to build the museum including salvaged bridges, old chimneys, construction cranes, and miles of tile are sourced locally, making the entire endeavor a massive recycling project.

NO DICKHEADS! A Guide To Building Happy, Healthy, and Creative Teams. Rhys Newman and Luke Johnson

Originally from Medium: link to the original


There is a perpetuated myth within the design community, that a single visionary is required to build great products. Rubbish. Great teams build great products; moreover, in my experience, the greatest teams prioritize and nurture a healthy and positive internal culture because they understand it is critical to the design process itself.
In 20 years of leading design studios and teams, ranging from a small boutique consultancy to several in global corporations, I have become obsessed with the differences between a successful studio and a merely effective one. Inevitably what makes or breaks a studio depends on its ability to evolve skills and competencies while remaining fastidiously creative. However, simple adaptability is not enough. In an ever-changing hyper-competitive landscape, what I’ve found to be even more important is the value of laughter, empathy, a collective responsibility and a distinct lack of ego.
My measure of success — beyond incredible products — has been creating studios and a studio culture where the creative capacity of the collective team is palpable; where designers love to come to work, and visitors remark how positive and creative it feels.
The following, is an attempt to create a guide for the (often-overlooked, humanist leaning) behaviors that make a studio happy, functional and sustainable. I believe there is a straight line between how the studio feels, how we as designers treat each other, and the innovative impact of the team. The value of articulating the characteristics of an effective studio will hopefully make each team member a more conscientious contributor. Of course, these characteristics will ebb and flow to varying degrees and should not be considered concrete rules. Rather, these behaviors serve as a guideline for creating a consistently positive, and as a result, a consistently more creative place to work.


I know it sounds a bit crap, but politeness dictates that when you walk into a room that you say “Hello” and when you leave say “Goodbye.” It’s not that complicated. But this common courtesy is as important and plays functional role in a studio.
Because design work is naturally collaborative there needs to be some type of announcement that declares, “Here I am. I am going to contribute.” As someone who leads/listens to a team, I often use the way in which somebody says “Good morning” as a barometer of their mood. It tells me how they are feeling without me having to ask.
Alternatively, it is important that we end the day with “Goodnight, I am leaving.” Practically speaking it is good to know when someone leaves because you don’t know…if they will return the next morning. Seriously though, “Goodnight” is something we tell our children, our domestic partners and our parents. Invoking a ‘goodnight’ upon departure subliminally colors the studio with a similar familial spirit.
I also think it’s important to shake hands before business trips. I know this sounds weird, but it’s both a powerful and intimate gesture. People going on these trips often take work that represents the entire team; It’s an opportunity to look in one another’s eyes and say, “Godspeed and I hope it goes well.”
And when they return, it’s a moment of celebration. We are a team, so when people are away from the team, they are missed. When they return, the collective team is restored. It’s good. Let’s celebrate it.
While it may appear trivial, the act of observing (and even encouraging) these subtle cultural rituals increases a studio’s functionality by making it more personal.


Designers know that great design requires constant iteration. Iteration means failure and repeated failure. The challenge then becomes, “How do you deal with repeated failure during the design process? ”
Design, through a humanist’s lens, sees optimism as a choice and creativity as an optimistic act. Therefore, constant optimism is a key ingredient to iteration. It fuels the persistence and tenacity necessary for sustaining the creative process, especially during challenging times. For example, the difficulty of innovating within a large corporation reflects a work environment where people often say, “No” or “I don’t understand” because change in corporate culture is often uncomfortable and slow. As a result, negativity must be confronted and countered — not just in a brainstorming session or during a proposal — but on a daily basis.
The role of laughter in an effective studio also cannot be understated. Laughter can be exclusive or inclusive: how one defines the role of laughter within the studio defines the studio itself. If we cannot laugh at and laugh with, then we cannot function.
Laughter deflates conflict when a moment becomes too serious.
Laughter invites participation and draws a team closer together.
Laughter offers a rallying cry (“Laughing in the face of adversity’), especially when “The Business” asks the team to “do more with less.”
Laughter leads to creativity.
Laughter is serious business.


What applies to a family often applies to a studio. I was raised in a household that believes, “A family that eats together stays together.” There is something so natural and primitive about coming together to eat. People (even overly serious, so-called managers) let their guard down when they eat — and that’s a good thing. History supports this observation. Great bands, movements and many great ventures have all started around a kitchen table — invariably with wine — but we’ll save “The Value of Alcohol” for another essay.
Lunchtime marks a natural pause in the day and becomes a great opportunity for conversation and ultimately creativity. Eating at your desk or in one’s cubicle seems so awful to me and far too solitary for a culture tied so closely to collaboration. Instead, find a table so that members of the team can eat together as a group — doing so will bring a team together. Therefore, a studio should prioritize eating together. You are bound to learn something about your colleagues or yourself.
But it’s worth going one step further so let me tell you a quick story…
Team events within a big corporation are set up to facilitate these informal conversations but often do the opposite: you go to a nice restaurant, everyone orders expensive food and lots of wine, they drink until they get drunk, and you go back to your hotel room. One year, our budget ran low so we thought, “What if we did the opposite? Go to the wilderness, buy food, and cook for each other.”
What happened next was amazing! Somebody invariably took responsibility for cooking, another for preparing food, and someone else for laying the table. Without much discussion the whole team was buzzing around the kitchen, like a hive working towards a common goal. There’s something inherently vulnerable about cooking together and for each other. It’s humbling to serve and to be served.


It is important when you walk into any studio that you feel as much as see what is being built — the studio should crackle with creative energy. Specifically, I believe you can determine the health of any design studio simply by looking at its walls.
The benefit of getting work up and out of your computer and onto the walls of a studio are as follows:
Increases Visibility: Walls move work from the virtual to the physical world, allowing it to become even more visible, interactive, tangible, and environmental.
Facilitate Conversations: Walls facilitate conversation and informal reviews because people naturally gather in front of them.
Grows Collective Ownership: Walls create a culture of collective ownership because they invite people to literally build upon the ideas of others.
Facilitates Iteration: Walls with heavy layering reflect healthy projects because they show that there have been several iterations to the work.
Clarifies Ideas: When Walls get too complicated they can be torn down and re-built again. What sticks, sticks.
Creates Connections: Walls also allow people to draw connections in non-linear ways because they allow you to see areas of tension, synergy, and overlap that you might not see otherwise. They allow you to see the whole picture through its individual elements.
Simplifies Thinking: Other times, out of the seemingly visual complexity of images, the wall flips and a singular vision emerges.
Inspires: When people are trying to envision new things they draw from the well of what they know. Often times ideas blossoms from our immediate environment such as walls or the bric-a-brac on desks.
A studio’s walls are living walls. Their viability depends on gardening and nurturing to foster creativity and productivity. This analogy extends to both their creation and destruction — both tilling and harvesting.
Read more about our Wall in a joint research project conducted by Stanford University and Helsinki University of Technology here.


Books add to the overall feel of a studio’s environment. A studio filled with books gives the impression that its designers are thoughtful, intelligent, and resourceful — so at the very least they give the studio an intellectual appearance, ha!
It seems that every design studio feels compelled to line its shelves with how to be more creative, how to be a design hero, how everyone else does everything better than us, and that is fine. However, I offer an alternative take.
As designers we are often asking people to take a leap of faith and to picture a world that doesn’t quite exist. We are, at our essence, doing nothing more than creating fiction and telling good stories — an essential part of human communication. Wouldn’t it then make sense to, at the very least, invite fiction into the studio or at the most encourage it to flourish?
Storytelling is a craft. It’s emotional and it’s part of the design process. We should therefore read and study fiction.


There’s one very simple rule when innovating: design the process to fit the project.
In the world of consulting, customizing the design process is easy because every project is different. But in big corporations every project can be more or less the same — you are essentially designing another product very similar to the last one. Design within big corporations needs, therefore, to behave a little like it is consulting.
Regardless of where you work, the challenge becomes how to modify the design process. That process begins by designing a metaphoric window, frame, or filter for people to see the world the way you see it: which requires designing itself.
If people can understand your vision of the project through this lens, then empower them to be experts of it — allowing them to apply this view to various parts of a project. If you can do this, a project has enormous potential.


I believe creative people want “to make”. In corporations or complex projects, the products we make often take an inordinate amount of time. As a result, I assume that most designers (myself included) work on fringe projects — creative projects made outside of the studio.
What’s interesting is that many of these fringe projects are regularly the complete antithesis of what we do internally. These projects exemplify raw creativity and are quicker, usually made by hand, and very personal in nature. People often pick fringe projects that fill a gap in a skill that they’ve lost, forgotten, or simply don’t possess. Examples of fringe projects in our studio included birdhouses, brewing beer and complete custom bike frames, to name a few.
To be clear, this isn’t a “Fun Friday” or a 20% approach where fringe projects eventually become studio projects. I believe that 100% of people’s time should be focused on product and program work.
But instead of fighting or formalizing these, we celebrated our fringe projects by publishing them, whether they were in our quarterly magazine or simply by talking about them openly. Much like the aforementioned studio walls, fringe projects became part of the fabric of studio and made us sharper. And I think the fact that they are so different added that color and richness, that vibrancy, to compliment and enhance what was going on in the studio.


Language defines the territory of projects. It is therefore important to constantly check that people share the same understanding of a word, phrase or name. Ideally at the outset of the project you should define the language, almost to the point of giving each person on the team a list: when we say this, this is what ‘this’ means. This pedantic approach is particularly important in multicultural studios where a diverse language encourages multiple, sometimes volatile, interpretations
Language also comes out of projects. Sometime you need to invent words to communicate the needs of a project. Other times, you need to be acutely aware how words, and their meanings, evolve during the design process. In our studio, we documented language in two ways. ‘Talk of the Studio,’ a weekly email, included overheard quotes in and around the studio. We also published a list of a project’s words, and their meanings, in the lexicon section of our quarterly magazine.
Finally, I think language is as revealing as body language. The repeated words and phrases are as significant as open shoulders or a furrowed brow. I am very sensitive to how people say things and why they say them because it reveals a lot about their mindset and motivations.


There are very few highly confidential things in an effective studio, so why go in a room and close the door? Instead, move most conversations out in the open. They will be better as a result.
Conversations in the open allow others to tune in, tune out or overhear what is going on. Sometimes people, not initially part of the conversation, will spontaneously jump in, taking the conversation in a new and more interesting direction.
Moreover, if there are difficult things that people need to say, maybe they will pick their words a little more carefully if conversations take place out in the open. The potential for damage and offense is much greater behind closed doors, than out in the open.


I don’t believe you should bind line management with creative leadership. If you do, a team will quickly become subservient and will design only what they are instructed to design.
This style of management also contradicts the very nature of creative projects, which at their heart are amorphous, tangible, evolving things. They are physical (I always do this funny, bowl shape hand gesture about a project). You can shape them and deflect them and nudge them in the right direction. They need to be “fed, watered and nurtured.” Sometimes they are weak and sometimes they are robust, but they always need love.
At any point everyone should feel the responsibility, or the opportunity, to lead. It is so important to be collectively responsible. No one person can lead these dynamic projects effectively in a studio because they are never two-dimensional.
This also creates collective accountability, generating a feeling that at least one piece of a project belongs to an individual. Thus, at any moment a member of the team should be able to point to the project as say, “We made this. I did that.”


Designing products for people requires that you get inside their minds, feelings, motivations and values. To do so, a smart designer must invert their own worldview and see the world through someone else’s eyes in order to empathize with them. This ability to empathize with others, a very humanist behavior, is perhaps the most important capability and characteristic of both a studio and a designer.


Competition motivates a team, that’s a given. But betting on shit seems to be galvanizing and brings a team together.
Successful office pools that maintain clear rules and occur regularly and quickly generate excitement. Most importantly, they should feel inclusive, allowing everyone a fair shot at winning regardless of the bet.
Besides setting the stakes, establishing deadlines and collecting money, a good office bookie is a good communicator. This includes regular, engaging emails that summarize the competition and the betting. Most importantly, the office bookie maintains enthusiasm and keeps the betting friendly.
From personal experience, the sheer prospect of winning something is thrilling. After winning the only bet I have ever won in the studio I went out a bought a pair of sunglasses, something I couldn’t have gotten away with normally, but it was 100 dollars cash and my wife was none the wiser. Ha!
Examples bets include The Super Bowl, NCAA basketball tournament, the name (and gender) of the royal baby, the World Cup, and the sale date of the company.


We spend most of our time with our colleagues at work rather than with our partners or families. So whether we like it or not, we are all going through this life together. We should embrace that fact.
Yes, I understand people value privacy and you must respect that boundary. But the reality of the modern studio is that boundaries often blur. In fact, I think it is good that they are blurred. Children, pets, and hobbies — shared human connections and interests — promote this intimacy.
For example, my job at Nokia demanded I regularly go to Finland to see my guv’nor, Marko. Personally, it was important that my family knew who Marko was because my job demanded I leave them for another person. When Marko visited I invited him over for dinner so my wife and children could get to know him. My world became smaller.
I go somewhere everyday; they go somewhere everyday. I ask them about their friends; they ask about mine. By putting a face with a name, what I do becomes more relevant to them.
This relationship cuts both ways. For the studio it is important for the team to know my family as well: when you get me, you get the family. There are all these management books that say, “You should be the first one in and the last one to leave.”
I often had to leave earlier as my son had a football match. Basically, it’s important the team knows what is important to me and I know what is important to the team.


My definition of a dickhead is a person whose ambition for themselves or their own career is greater than their ambition for the project or team.
If you have a Dickhead in the studio then the entire environment, the productivity, the creativity, and the product decisions themselves skew away from the product or team goals. As a result, the product is a vehicle for their ego, and it should be the inverse.
I also don’t believe that you have to be a Dickhead to lead people, studios, and projects. Some of the most brilliant people I’ve worked with are also some of the most open, generous, and humane people — people who have the ability to draw creativity out of others and who listen more than they talk.
I believe it is a perpetuated myth that great products are built by a single visionary. Often the people who think they are visionaries are just egomaniacal Dickheads. I honestly believe that great teams build great products and that careers are made by people that prioritize great products first, not their own ambition. End of rant.


The studio mirror is a distinct role and a job title. In our studio Luke’s role was to archive our work and reflect it back to the team in a unique way, much like the documentation of these principles. Pursued with persistence and the eye of a journalist, the Studio Mirror should capture not only WHAT is being made but HOW and by WHOM. This isn’t simply dumping files on a server but rather curating the content in a way that is compelling and consumable for the team. For example, our studio created a quarterly magazine. You can read ADQ2.1: The Launch Issue here.
There are many reasons to identify a single person to own the documentation process. First and foremost, the details of a project are easy to forget, especially when projects last several years. Archiving work is both productive and functional; a reflective studio believes that the work can always be done a little better. Finally, a well-documented project also makes it easier for new studio members to enter a project quickly and efficiently.
But perhaps the most important value for persistently documenting the collective work of a studio is that it is a sound investment in the future. The longer I work the more I have come to appreciate how people behave throughout the entire design process. Thus, the story of the product is not only how the product itself evolves, but also how the individuals and team grew while making it.
In a world which demands so much in the present, I value that at some point in the future I can look back through our quarterly magazines with a glass of whiskey in my hand, examining the process of what was made and how we made it, and think, “That was a good place to work, I learned something and we made great things.”


Rhys Newman is a designer, artist, cyclist, and founder of OMATA Inc. He was VP of Everyday Adventure for HERE, a Nokia Company, and was previously responsible for building Nokia’s Advanced Design team. He is also a designer in residence at several tech companies, where he helps build happy and motivated studios where designers want to work, creativity is the priority and innovation happens. He is also co-writing and illustrating the Universal Truths of Cycling.
Luke Johnson is an Internal Communications Strategist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Before that, he worked as a design researcher and principle designer on HERE’s Everyday Adventure’s design team with Rhys. He was also the team’s Studio Mirror. Luke’s embedded approach to design produces tangle artifacts that visualize and communicate internal culture, builds community and celebrates how individuals and teams add value to organizations.


We are happy to talk and share more of our philosophy, and we are equally interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences. Please feel free to drop us a line: &