Every entry filed under "Foundations"

Isn’t she rather small and flat?

Bike art

There’s a story of a train passenger recognising he’s travelling with Pablo Picasso. Leaning over, he asks why Picasso doesn’t paint people “the way they really are.” When Picasso asks what he means, the man takes out his wallet and shows a photograph of this wife to the artist.

And Picasso says,

Isn’t she rather small and flat?

We are fellow travellers. The same evidence and artefacts, different interpretation and stories. A bicycle is a toy, transport, income, art.

It’s not what you see, it’s what you think.

Skippy Strategy: What things do you see “the way they really are?” Look again as a child, customer, supplier, investor, colleague, sister. Obstacle or opportunity?

Neatly filed under Foundations on May 3, 2015

Its larger context


Eliel Saarinen (1873–1950), a leading architect and sometime collaborator with Charles and Ray Eames, is now perhaps best remembered for a single quote:

Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.

As for chairs and rooms and houses and environments … so for every design.

New products should not just be possible, they have to make sense in use. Less, can we build it, more, will they want to use it when they come?

Skippy Strategy: Next time you start out on a new project, venture, product, service – how will it be used? What is it’s larger context? Does it make sense?

Neatly filed under Foundations on April 26, 2015

Getting snug


Working together for a common cause can make life easier, or way harder.

Organisations are built on the principle that we can achieve more together than we can apart. Collecting people and assets behind one idea, resources are directed at a shared plan that’s only made possible by their cohesion. It takes a decent plan and some management to get the benefit, but it’s relatively easy to sort.

Partnerships between people or organisations are supposed to work the same way. We get together because we’ll be faster, smarter, leaner, better if we share resources and risks. Contracting and governance can suck time and attention, and it’s easy for one party or another to get greedy.

Alliances are looser. Less integrated but focused on a single benefit like joint marketing, reducing selling costs, bolt on expertise. Not so tight. Flags of convenience.

Loosest of all relationships are with suppliers whose products or services get built inside their customers’ products or services.

Get these relationships right – working with people and organisations who believe that everyone wins when they all make life better for each other – and huge leaps can be made very quickly.

Anytime you feel the conversation’s a bit dalek-ish, retrieve the situation or start looking for new friends.

Good partners make life better for each other. When you find them, snuggle in.

Skippy Strategy: Review your key relationships. Which need praise, which need work, and which need replacing? How will you do it?

Neatly filed under Foundations on April 14, 2015

Transparancy at Pret a Manger

Prets Passion Boards

A while back I talked about using icons to teach what you stand for. How about just saying it out loud to everyone who’ll listen?

Say it Loud, Say it Proud

That’s what sandwich makers Pret a Manger do. In the very small seating area of their Piccadilly store where I took this picture the other day, every wall had at least one board like these, each telling the story of Pret’s passion for food. You probably can’t read the words under the pictures so here’s the text from the top left board:

Pot Pourri — Made from delicate muslin material, our tea bags are fashioned into little purse-like pyramids, filled with organic whole leaves, hand picked in the Tea Gardens of Sri Lanka.

Ask a Pret team member to show you one — we think the Calming Camomile is particularly beautiful. A lucky coincidence really — what they’re designed to do (and do extremely well) is make a cracking cup of tea.

And it’s labelled Passion Fact No.72. The other two boards in the picture are about in-store baking and looking after basil leaves. I saw more, and I know they’ve been at it for years.

The message? Pret stands for quality, freshness, and care.

Commitment + Transparency = Accountability

Here’s the question … are all those little pictures aimed at the consumer, the staff or the management?

Visible commitments like these play well with customers who like to know what they’re getting, but transparency is even more powerful for the staff and management. With such a public commitment to quality, can anyone inside the company — whether a sandwich maker, food buyer or senior executive — be in any doubt about what’s expected of them every day? About choosing quality over price? About decisions over storage, or packaging, or recruitment or any other operational detail?

This isn’t about top down management. It’s about accountability.

Public declarations make everyone responsible, not only for living up to the commitment itself but to call out inappropriate behaviours too. Seeing this on the wall, what team member wouldn’t argue against reducing quality to save a penny a tea bag?

We don’t all deal in freshness or food, but we can all make our intentions clear, and ask everyone around to help us live up to them.

What boards would you hang on the wall? What else can you do to make your commitments transparent and to hold each other accountable for living up to them?

Neatly filed under Foundations,Making Promises on September 28, 2010

Use icons to teach what you stand for

Gene Kranz's waistcoat

Every organisation has a story

Every organisation has a story. Why it was started, who were the founders, the first product, key characters and occasions along the way, adversities overcome, game changing meetings. Every day adds a few more paragraphs. But when you’re involved in the tale, it’s easy to get buried in day-to-day detail and lose the thread.

Highlighting and celebrating iconic stories that stand for your spirit brings everyone together and teaches them how to act — who hasn’t learned the importance of resourcefulness, determination and creativity through Edison’s famous story of 1,000s of failures on the way to incandescent success.

Some of the sharpest stories are wrapped around a tangible icon.

The worlds most famous waistcoat

For instance, the picture above is of the worlds most famous waistcoat, worn by Gene Kranz throughout the failed Apollo 13 Moon mission in 1970. The Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, in Washington DC, displays it with this explanation:

Eugene F. “Gene” Kranz, Chief of NASA’s Flight Control Division, wore this suit vest during Apollo 13, the third planned lunar landing mission. While the spacecraft was going to the Moon, an explosion occurred in its service module. Mission Control aborted the Moon landing and worked with the ground support team of astronauts, technical experts, and aerospace contractors to solve several key problems and to bring the crew back safely.

As the leader of Mission Control’s “white team,” Kranz wore a different white suit vest for each mission from Gemini 9 in 1966 through Apollo 17 in 1972. He wore plain vests, like this one, during the missions; he reserved fancier versions for celebrating mission completions. All were hand sewn by his wife.

Although Kranz’s trademark vests were well known at the time, his portrayal by actor Ed Harris in the blockbuster 1995 film Apollo 13 made this particular vest iconic.

As was the custom in Mission Control, “white” was retired from flight team colors after Kranz’s retirement.

Gift of Eugene F. Kranz Family

My favourite scene in Ron Howard’s movie is a meeting called to work out how to keep Apollo 13’s crew alive and return them safely to earth. Kranz lays out the problem with a picture and asks the room for ideas. Everyone starts talking at once, opinions are flying, each person shouting over the other.

Kranz stands in the middle of all this chaos wearing his pure white waistcoat like a beacon of order, discipline and possibility. He keeps bringing the team back to the problem, pushing for answers, being decisive and demanding in turn. This “failure is not an option” scene happened for real and is a model of teamwork and leadership under pressure.

Icons are shorthand

Everything I know about the spirit of NASA is symbolised by that white waistcoat. Hearing the story, even the rawest of recruits can’t fail to learn the keys to success: high motivation, discipline, goal orientation, whatever-it-takes attitude, trust in the team, collaboration, demanding leadership.

Whilst not every team is playing for the same stakes as Apollo 13’s Mission Control, and few leaders are blessed with Kranz’s feeling for symbols or occasion, with a little bit of thought every company can find its icons.

What are yours?

You can hang them in reception, name company awards after them, tell the stories at all-hands events, use them to induct new staff.

An old waistcoat may not be the most common example, but stories wrapped around iconic visual aids are the quickest and most effective way of getting everybody pointed in the same direction and acting together.

What about you?

What icons does, or could, your company use? What have you seen other companies using?

Or, is this wrong headed, pandering to yesterday when it’s only today that matters?

Neatly filed under Foundations on October 28, 2009