You Are Here

I love the malls. My biggest enjoyment in these massive places is people watching. You can learn so much about how we humans interact and react. Also, there is great inspiration in these shopping meccas. One inspiration I use came from a sign that almost all shoppers have see, read and referred. It’s a sign predominately display for all to see.. I am referring to the mall map. The sign that plots out all the shops by place and group of services or goods.

The mall map tells us so much about our environment. However, this sign in its entirety was not the source of my inspiration, rather the simple red dot icon and three words accompanying it. “You Are Here.” As a statement to anyone planning strategy, this hits home quickly and strongly. In order to plan, we need to know where we are on this very spot and in this current time. We need to know where “You Are Here” is.

Here is a visual exercise that I challenge anyone who is planning to move forward to answer ‘Who’ and ‘What’ holds you bank and drives you forward.

Hold Back Move Forward


Before you can move forward you need to know your “You Are Here.”


Taking Action

An associate of mine and I were discussing a project he was undertaking over drinks. He explained to me some of the most complex issues and connections associated with a single project I have ever heard. So many moving parts that even the flow chart he created to “simplify” the decision-making process was overwhelming. I was constantly getting lost in the “What if’s” that I even couldn’t keep track of where I was along the plan. The worst part was neither could he as he tried to explain all the paths, conditions and consequences.

Time for a simpler view…


I sketch this to explain a simple process. We make three possible decisions when presented with an issue. Either we agree and move forward, block and reject the idea or wait for something else to make that decision. In my experience, option three means giving up any power over the outcome unless the condition is in flux and you are waiting to take the first or second action.

After the sketch and a bit of conversation, I asked if he could highlight at each major point in the process where this image would come into play for him. After a bit of review, he realized that his need for making critical decisions was not as many as he anticipated, nor would the smaller decisions, which he could delegate, greatly alter the course of the project. He also added an extension to the first decision of holding a torch or passing it on representing self-ownership or delegation.

I truly believe we live in a self-created world of over complexity and confusion due to lack of focus, vision and prioritization. We all need to simplify the process in order for us to live, work and play efficiently and affectively. Using visual thinking and design thinking processes can help us create focus and clarity even to the most complex problems.

Here is my advice, if you’re confronted with a dilemma that appears more than a simple ‘Yes or No’ decision, stop, take a breath and do a quick sketch like the one above. Now add the effect/answer alongside each of these decisions to get better clarity and focus. See how your response will play out before you take action. Then, determine the best course of action before sharing your decision. The power of visual thinking is seeing a solution before acting on it and not the reverse.

Visual Storytelling

Storytelling 01

I have noticed over the past year that more and more clients I work with are focused on business storytelling. Many companies are reconnecting with the power of having and telling their story, because of this, more companies are hiring graphic recorders and visual translators to help capture these elements and connections. In fact, they have begun to use the visual language tool to help develop their verbal storytelling scripts.

So, why are graphic recording and visual translators becoming popular as a key tool in the creation of business stories? One answer could be that we have been programmed to identify with visuals as an essential part of our storytelling experience. In many ways this is true and yet it goes even deeper.

Storytelling 02At a high level as children growing up, our first frameworks to communication and learning were tied heavily to visuals. Many of the books we grew up with were composed of few words and lots of images. Mother Goose, Dr. Seuss and Dick and Jane books all used visuals to support the words.  We were developing visual clues and associations to the words. We were learning through visuals and storytelling.

Storytelling 03Let’s back up the clock a bit further, 40,000 years further. Cave walls are filled with images of animals, hunters and even heavenly bodies. All to communicate their surroundings, important events or to catalog area life. What is most amazing about these paintings and charcoal renderings is that they tell stories, stories that are still understandable  40,000 years later.

The popular explanation is that what we see as images is processed much differently than what we read or hear. Images and visuals are processed at a higher rate with greater memory sourcing without the mechanics of deciphering, organizing and association that the written or spoken word is required for processing. Just reading this post uses more thinking processes around just reading that of a visual which taps deeper and creates better connection to other ideas. We think better with visuals. It’s part of psychology as well as our physiology. We are wired to learn visually. (at least 90% are)

So, back to business storytelling and the use of graphic recorders and visual translators. Okay, I think you know where I am going with this, but allow me to add one more dimension with visuals as it applies to business, and group understanding. Visual translations and graphic recordings allow, not just the conveyor of information, but everyone seeing the information to understand the idea or ideas being expressed.

As I always say ‘the best plan or idea is the one seen by all.’ Just as the caveman painted his story of hunts,tribal life and the changes in his environment which we still can comprehend 40,000 years later, companies are utilizing the talents of visual translators and graphic recorders to help visualize their stories and ideas to unify and better communicate their story.

Map, Model, Plan

Before I continue with the phases of the Empathetic Business Model, I want to take a moment to post about development tools and their place in the sequence of business development. The key words here are development and sequence.

When I began working on the research for the creation of the Empathetic Business Model, the intent was not to replace a business plan nor the business development process that helps create a business plan. The intent was to create a model that touch on the emotional side of business. A side that few explore and fewer employ.

Most companies, start-ups and want-to-be entrepreneurs I have listen to in group discussions over the past few years begin with a name for a business and some rough details about the business. Initially, this is a good thing. Yet I liken it to a writer who starts with a title of the book and not the story inside. Keeping with this analogy of a story, a writer friend once told me that to write a great story you need to work in a defined sequence. First a writer must have a unique idea or dynamic conflict. Then they must sketch out this conflict in a world somewhere, add your cast of characters and then, develop their relationships, characteristics and their roles. 

As he stated, a writer creates a situation and then imagines how various characters would interact around the situation and with each other. This is the emotional or empathetic phase of writing. It defines why the story exists. Now comes the plot or scheme. He defines the facts around the situation.  The facts are established about who will do what, when, where and how. How will the characters respond? The writer brings the story to life by writing it out. Finally the story is packaged into a book and the publisher adds a sellable title.


What can we learn from book creation? It’s very similar to start-up business development. For a business opportunity we need a conflict we can be resolved either by resolving an existing issue or creating a demand for something new. This is our plot or idea for a business. Now we begin to write the story or concept by setting all the emotional pieces into place. To do this we begin by understanding the customer through empathy. What do they see, feel or want? Create the dynamics of the relationship between you and those you will serve. Design the map of the customer/provider journey. This I call the Empathetic Business Model.

Now begin organizing and building the story of business model. Organize the sequence of events and how things will play out. Define the resources, movement and structure. This is business modeling. A great source for modeling can be found in The Business Model Generation.

Finally, bring everything together in your business plan. Your story for a successful business venture. A name is placed around the framework of your business concept that will appeal to the target market.

The best advice from my friend, act like a writer and follow the sequence writers do to create a sellable book and forget the title, it will come later.

Frosty Business Advice

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost put it so eloquently when he penned these words. From this prose we can find great advice in business. Go where others have not or few have dared.

I have posted before that going where others have not is one of the best ways to differentiate yourself from the crowd. Frost speaks of two paths, the easy well-traveled path which many have traveled and many more will follow and the path that creates a difference in the traveler. Traveling the lesser path is a great metaphor for creating something new for yourself and the customer.

As in life, business has its paths also. These paths are a bit more diverse than just two options. Joseph Pine and James Gilmore write in the book “The Experience Economy” that there are five paths a provider can take when delivering their offering to customers. They describe these as “The Progression of Economic Value.”

Unlike where to travel, these progressions are more about how to deliver. I am not saying it is not important when establishing a unique offering to go where others rarely travel, but it is just as important is method you choose to deliver your offering. The chart below is a thINKing Canvas of this progression.


The more advanced your method of delivery comes a greater challenge in the delivery, yet also the greater value and return from that method. I would suggest, as do the authors write, to move past traditional methods such “Services” and design your offering around creating an experience that customers find greater value and with greater value comes an increase in price. Customers will pay a higher price for a unique experience than a traditional service where may others exist. We are back to Robert Frost’s advice to take the path less traveled to make all the difference.

My advice, follow the word of Robert Frost and walk where few have traveled or create a whole new path that others may follow. The journey defines you, not the destination.

Until next time, keep a strong vision in your mind, but always draw it out so others can see.

Get More Customers

From the Mantel

One of the best ways to find new prospects is by finding similar people to your current customers. I used this metaphor of ‘Photos on the Mantel’ with many people and on a earlier post. The process is very straight forward, but does need a bit of control when profiling.

1. Start with your best 5 -10 repeat customers. If you don’t have repeat customers, this could be your first issue, but that is for a later conversation.

2. Create a unique and clear profile of a customer type and not a specific customer. Examples: Stay at Home Moms, Active Couples, Retired Sportsman or Young Parents.

3. Interview your 5 -10 top customers to uncover why they work with or buy from you.  Define their needs, wants and how they were fulfilled.

4. Establish some basic character traits. Try to uncover favorite hobbies, times when they buy, general shopping preferences and even the type car they drive. These are all signs of spending habits and possible social influence.

4. Ask how they found you initially. Was it by print, a friend, radio, internet or social media? Know where each type found you. Everyone does not use the same methods.

5. Product or service types they obtain from you.


Now that you have your basic profiles, label your current customers into these profile types. You should start seeing patterns, if not, you may want to adjust or refine your profiles or customer choice. Some customers may fit into a few multiple profiles. If you start seeing most of your customers fitting in multiple profiles, refine your profiles yet again. Try to be as unique as possible. See profile example chart.

Now, finding new customers can come from current customers that have similar characteristics and needs. Use their associate network.

The second method is use these profiles to find places that various types of your people would be located, such as shopping areas, meeting groups, hobby shows and even online social groups. Similar profile types usually have similar spending, socializing and work habits. Again the key is similarity.

I hope these visual thinking sketches help you grow and prosper.

Until next time, see your path and stay the course. Without a map, you can’t see where you’re going, nor how far you’ve come.