Tag Archives: strategy

The Graphic Gameplan

noun_75258My job is to give clients actionable insight about their customers.

“Actionable insight”—what a dreadful phrase! Can we make it a bit less management speak?

My job is to help clients understand what their customers want so that they can do a better job of giving it to them.

The trouble is that understanding is only the first step. If we stop at understanding we’re likely to do more harm than good. I like to quote Bruce Lee:

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply.

Willing is not enough; we must do.”

Bruce Lee

So how do we turn our knowledge about customers, and our willingness to improve, into action?

You need three things: top-level commitment, buy-in from throughout the business, and ideas. To get them, you’re going to need to go further than simply presenting the results of your customer insight—you need to involve your colleagues in creating an action plan.

That means some kind of workshop. Workshops are great, but they can often be feelgood days that generate loads of ideas and enthusiasm with little in the way of concrete results.

Good workshops require structure. Build exercises to explore and generate ideas, but finish with a converging exercise in order to deliver a clear way forward. ‘Gamestorming’ is a great book I turn to when I need an exercise for a workshop.


One of my favourites for helping people move from insight to action is the “Graphic Gameplan“. The beauty of this exercise is that it forces participants to break ideas for improving the customer experience into specific actions, slotting them into a strategic timeline view. It leaves you with momentum, accountability, and a clear vision of what is happening next.

If you don’t have a gameplan for improving your customer experience, maybe it’s time to organise a workshop?

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A simple test of trust

noun_29932I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about trust recently.

While researching my talk at our client conference this year, I dug deep into different theories and models of trust. The more I dug, the more I became convinced that trust is the single most important underlying factor in almost every aspect of our working lives; as organisations, employees, and customers.

Interesting stuff.

But it’s nice to step back from the detail sometimes, and reduce all of the theory to one simple idea. As he so often does, Seth Godin nailed it, and it’s a frightening thought:

Organisations routinely lie to their customers.

Seth gives the example of “unexpectedly high call volumes”, but we could think of a thousand more. Lies that we tell customers, knowing full well that they know we’re lying.

So why are we surprised that they don’t trust us?



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Are you Sherlock or Alexander?


Cause and effect is tricky.

It’s a natural human instinct to try to understand why things happen.

In fact we can’t help ourselves—psychologists have had fun getting people to ascribe narratives, personalities, and motivations to little animated shapes.

But we also know that we can be easily fooled, and that we don’t always agree about causes.


Experiment versus observation

Scientists have developed clear formal approaches to cause and effect. The randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, trial is the gold standard.

Unfortunately it’s not always possible to use a controlled trial.

Take smoking as an example. There’s no realistic way of testing the impact of smoking on lung cancer in an experiment; but almost everyone now accepts it is a major cause.

Getting there took a lot of work, and sensible use of the “Bradford Hill” criteria for establishing causation from observational data.


Do you need to prove it?

When you use customer insight as a springboard for service design or innovation, you are making assumptions about causes. Customers feel like this because we did that. Customers would feel like this if we did that.

Often that will lead to arguments about what we should or should not do.

Sometimes it’s appropriate to prove your guesses about cause and effect beyond reasonable doubt. That takes careful, patient, detective work.

More often the most effective approach is to take a leaf out of Alexander the Great’s book, and simply cut the knot instead of untangling it.

Either way, stop debating what to do—prove it, or decide.



If the ins and outs of causality interest you, have a look at this two-part article I wrote back when I had hair:

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Too early to tell or too late to change

DonkeyEdward Tufte, the “godfather of information design”, has a really interesting take on how people resist changes.

Products existed only in two states: either too-early-to-tell or too-late-to-change.

Think about some examples from your own experience, and I’m sure you’ll start to see how insightful this is.

Variations on too-late-to-change are:

  • But we’ll lose our tracking data
  • That’s what we’ve said on the website
  • Everyone else does it this way

You might see too-early-to-tell in the guise of:

  • Let’s gather another month of data before we decide
  • We’ll wait until the new director starts next month
  • That’ll be addressed by a project coming down the pipeline

The solution for both is to commit to action, now.

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On copying

Pablo Picasso said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal”.

Copying is how we learn.

It’s true when we’re children, and it stays true right throughout our lives.

As we become more expert, that copying tends to consist less of aping and more of blending diverse influences.

But it’s still fundamentally copying.

Copying allows us to explore process and understand thinking.

It lets us get under the skin of how the people we admire achieve the things they do.

Counter-intuitively, copying is a necessary part of the creative process.

Which is why a rich vein of management books has focused on showcasing successful companies.

We hope to look at what they do well, copy it, and achieve the same results.

But what if we copy the wrong things?

What if we copy how they look, rather than what they do?

That won’t work any more than sitting in a cafe with a MacBook will make you a writer.

Let’s say you want to copy the experience John Lewis creates for its customers.

Not a bad idea.

You could try to copy the partnership model.

Or maybe start calling staff “partners” without even adopting the model.

Chances are it wouldn’t work.

Better to find a way to create an experience that feels like the one they create.

Business books tend to present the one secret to success, so you only need to copy one thing.

It doesn’t really work.

Companies like John Lewis are doing a lot of different things right to create the experience they do.

The only way to understand those things properly is to copy the experiences they create.

Good companies copy, great companies steal.

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