The Lucky 100 – How Big Can This Thing Get?

Expanding CircleMaybe you started off as a startup. Or perhaps you joined a venture team in a giant corporation. No matter what kind of founders were in that first circle, if you’ve been successful, you’ve been growing. Congratulations. You’ve surmounted all sorts of challenges by now. So why does it suddenly feel so…difficult?

That exciting, innovative, exploring feeling just doesn’t seem to be there any more. It’s not like the old days, when you could gather all these stakeholders into one small circle (and in fact, some of them were wearing two or more of the hats). Now you can’t seem to get the kind of cohesive idea-making you once did. So maybe you’ve made a few decisions within the inner circle, and you’ve been rewarded with pushback, complaints, or alienation.

Our experience is that the lucky 100 is a time of huge growing pains. Each time you hit that number, whether it’s when your team grows to 100, or your circles total another 100, or you add 100 new customers, something great happens. And yet…you need an adjustment. Not necessarily a reboot, but a new assortment of tools, or how you use the ones you have, to make it easier to learn from each other, communicate, and collaborate.

Fortunately, there are a host of great techniques, tools, and templates that have been developed to make this possible. They work for all sorts of groups, teams, and organizations, be they public, private, or not-for-profit. You’ve heard from us before about how excited we were to be part of making the Conteneo Decision Engine work for Participatory Budgeting. We can put this, and a host of other very useful implements, to work for you as well. As we help you reconnect everyone, you’ll start to recapture that feeling of being on top of it all, when you were still in the small circle. Before you know it, you’ll start to wonder if there’s any limit to just how big the ideas can get.





Never Look Back?

Start of 2015

A lot can happen in a year, and while we’re all for a certain amount of nostalgia, spending too much time looking back can hinder our ability to move forward. Still, a little stock-taking is worth it, before moving on.

Look at that deck. That’s where we were around this time last year. Buried. We were surrounded by beautiful countryside but frankly, the environment was better suited to retirement than the active life we really want. In 12 months, we made a decision to relocate our business, sold a house, bought a condo, and moved halfway across the country. Now, high about ground level, the chances of us having snow up over our windows is pretty remote.

How did we figure out that this was the right move? And moreover, how did we figure out how to get here? We used the same tools we would have used with clients facing the same sort of life and business challenges. From goal-setting to action plans, we thought very carefully about where we wanted to go.

Step one was to establish the future state, or as we sometimes say, “where we wanted to be when we grew up.” Lists and discussions – how do we like to live? What kind of work do we need to do? Where are the clients? What’s our purpose? Having established a picture that included those things, we needed to figure out how to get there. One tool that helped here was to look backwards…sort of. We played a game called “Remember the Future.” Our friend Luke Hohmann came up with it – seeing yourself, your product, or your company in a future state and then working backwards to determine the milestones that will get you there. His company, Conteneo, has a host of great tools that facilitators like us, use to help people and companies navigate the sometimes winding and branching paths to where they need to be.

Before we knew it, we had a roadmap of key tasks that needed to happen. Sell the house. Find a new space. Organize the move. Fit it all around our current commitments. And we did it. Step two: just get started. Put one foot in front of the other and start moving toward the milestones. Some took longer, some were easy, some were a challenge. But here we are. Join us on our journey – and if you or your company need help getting where you want to go, get in touch. It would be our pleasure to help.

Eyes to the future, with nowhere to go but up…

Megann and Steve

225 Sackville Street from the Ground

A few reminders about getting there

  1. Figure out your purpose.
  2. Set a big goal.
  3. Determine a time you want to arrive.
  4. Look back and see the steps it took to get there.
  5. Start moving.

Good luck, and here’s to a purpose-filled, prosperous and productive 2016.


It’s Groundhog Day – Don’t See Your Networking Shadow!

Groundhog Day is the day on which a small rodent is reputed to forecast the end of winter – be it sooner, or later. Whether it’s Shubenacadie Sam, Punxsutawney Phil, or Wiarton Willie in your neck of the woods, the story is that if the groundhog sees his shadow on this day, he goes back in his den to hibernate some more – for six more weeks of winter, to be precise. If you’re a business-owner, a salesperson, or really, anything other than a groundhog, foul weather is no reason to hide out from your contacts. In fact, it’s a tremendous opportunity to build relationships. This month our theme is relationship-building and networking – critical activities no matter what your business, and certainly important if you want to deepen your customer discovery and customer understanding.

So get out there! Snowbound? Pick up the phone. Send an email. Keep a supply of cards to send out – snail mail is becoming so rare that it has real stopping power with some clients. Here are some steps to help you make the most of these activities:

  1. Networking at an event? Research the event and some of the people you’d like to meet there before you go.
  2. Calling? Remember something about your last meeting and ask about it when you reach your contact – they’ll appreciate that you were thinking about them.
  3. Emailing? Craft your subject line carefully for impact. (And if you’re on the receiving end, ask yourself whether “Reply All” is really necessary).
  4. Sending a card or a note? Enclose something thoughtful and useful – like an article your contact might appreciate, or better yet, an invitation to a networking event so they can build their business, too.
  5. Take 5 – Make a list of five of your contacts that you haven’t given enough time to lately – and make today the day to reach out.

Reaching out for six more weeks – and beyond,

Megann and Steve

It’s not your customer’s job to solve their own problem. It’s yours.

…and your problem isn’t their problem, either.

At this time of year, as companies revisit their strategies with an eye to a reboot in the New Year, they frequently reach out to customers and stakeholders, trying to get them to identify with a problem the supplier has. Then they ask them how to solve it. Usually it’s a question like, “What can we do that the other guy isn’t doing, that will differentiate it and this make you buy more from us?”

The answer is to stop getting the customer to solve your problem. Ask them how they’re doing with your product (or the competitor’s). Watch them in action as they access or use your service. Listen to their complaints or challenges, on social media, or through more traditional channels. Then get your thinking caps on.

This holiday season, their problem is your opportunity.

Carpe Diem!

Megann & Steve

Say It, Write It, Live It!

We had a fantastic conversation yesterday with Paul Kent of the Greater Halifax Partnership, about growing our innovation ecosystem in Atlantic Canada. Part of that for us, is taking #myHFXpledge. (Which we did!) Despite plenty of doom and gloom stories, we’re seeing a real change in attitude in Halifax. Here’s the pledge:

I am joining a unified community of people who share a common goal of social and economic prosperity and a belief in a collaborative and innovative culture. I am open to meeting anyone in this community. I will dream, listen, experiment, and persist.

The rules of the innovation ecosystem, according to the Pledge, are as follows:

Be bold
Trust and be trusted
Challenge active pessimism
Experiment together
Be a Champion
Celebrate success

Why pledge? Because there’s value in saying out loud what you want to achieve. And power in writing it down. Success and leadership gurus from Napoleon Hill to Stephen Covey have spread this message – putting pen to paper (or keyboard to internet) makes a difference. It makes your intentions real and visible. It feels like a contract. And it strengthens our commitment. 

We think these are some pretty great rules to live by, wherever you live, and whatever you want to accomplish. So let’s get out there – say it out loud, write it down, and make it happen

Continued success,

Megann and Steve

Sons (and Daughters) of the Pioneers

Last week at Canada’s Business Model Competition, Megann had an exciting side conversation with Deloitte Canada’s Louise Upton, and Mike Goldsby, from Ball State University. We were discussing what seems to be a common problem in many towns and cities, all over North America – the lack of desire to move or migrate when industries or resources collapse. Why, in the face of chronic unemployment, do people stay in their towns or cities, favouring locational loyalty to what seem to be better opportunities to provide for their families?

For many, it seems their identity is bound up in the place they’re from. Whether they are coal miners or cutters, lumberjacks, fishers, or farmers, there are generations of families who are tightly connected to the work they do and the land where it’s done. Even subsequent generations, who have left the farm, the mine, the woods or the sea to sell real estate, develop software, or make their money in investment banking, seem to have a part of themselves that can’t or won’t let go of “that place”, wherever it is. Yet for the vast majority of the North American population, we’ve originally come from somewhere else. Even if we’ve been here for five, six, or more generations like Megann’s family, at some point, we were pioneers. So when did we lose the courage to be pioneers? Or did we?

We’d like to think that the pioneer spirit is still “in there”. What makes one able to leave family and relations behind, sail across an ocean to what may be an unexplored, inhospitable land, and still put down roots? It’s qualities like self-reliance, inventiveness, courage, optimism, creativity, and hope that kept our forebears going. Pride in a job well done and the ability to surmount daunting odds gave them a sense of control, expertise, or even mastery. And the narrative of “we’re farmers” or “we’re fishers” or “we’re cutters” stitched the story together.

These same attributes exist in most entrepreneurs. So then the question becomes, can we re-ignite that pioneer spirit? Instead of moving our selves and our homes, can we tap into those dormant strengths and find new ways to use them? We’re betting we can – and that a new wave of pioneers is on the rise – inventing, building, and creating an independent, innovative future.

Forging ahead into our own unknown,

Megann and Steve

Why Customer Development is important to your business

There’s a tremendous amount of positive energy in start-up communities around the globe regarding the Lean Canvas. ..for good reason.  When executed properly it’s a very powerful approach to developing and documenting your Business Model.

We can’t explain it any better than Ash Maurya or Steve Blank or many others, so won’t even try.  What we want to talk about is why Customer Development, as espoused by Blank is important to your development.  The practice of creating hypotheses regarding your business model, then getting out of the building to talk with those you think might be your customers, potential partners, and other who could THEORETICALLY play a role in you developing a successful business model.

The reason we feel this is an important part of developing your business model has both a short-term and, hopefully, a long-term influence on your business success.

In the short-term, if you do Customer Development properly, you get out and ask people about their situations, their businesses, and their pain.  You are not going out pitching or selling!  You are starting with their broad perspective, then focusing down to where you  can ask them “Given what you’ve told me, if you had This Thing™, how would that change your life/business/way of doing things?”

The discipline it takes to sit down and really listen to people is a life skill that not enough of us get to develop.  So the more you do it, the more natural it will become