Category: Relevance

What problem do you solve?

That is the question.

And, believe me, answering this question is the key to the strength of your project or business.

You can think of this quest as a part of your story, though this chapter won’t be about you. It’s about your clients. The beauty of this story is that it’s being written right now, as you read these words, and soon it will have new and compelling narrative.

My intention is to help you connect to the people that belong to your client population. I know that sometimes this is the most difficult thing to do for any project or business, no matter how excellent the product or service.

Hopefully, after you read this article, something will shift that will help you to make the connection to your potential clients even stronger.

Let’s begin by asking this fundamental question: what problem or need does your client population have that your project or business can help solve?

To be able to answer accurately we first have to do a different kind of thinking.

Continue reading »

The ancient aroma of cutting-edge business strategy

Umbrellas closed and dripping we hastily ducked into the small waiting room leaving the rain and narrow street behind. Immediately, softly, we were wrapped in the ancient scent of burning incense —the aroma of healing.

One of the most wonderful aspects of my line of work as a freelance strategy consultant is precisely this: the opportunity to intimately know, to see, hear and feel people’s projects with all of my senses. I help people to draw a personalized strategic map and plan of action for their idea, business or organization. That’s why a client and I were standing in the cosy waiting room, swathed in the fragrance of sweet wood on that rainy day.

My client will soon open a small business to offer her health services in Barcelona, and she is doing it by herself as the sole creator, investor and worker. I am helping her to draw the map she will need to be successful. She is excited, afraid and full of desire.

Because this the first time she has embarked on this type of venture, I thought it would be helpful for her to talk to someone who has a business similar enough in size and content to invigorate her ideas, but different enough for that person not to worry about us copying their blueprint.

I knew of just the right business a nearby town. Using my network of contacts, I found a close colleague who personally knew the owner and offered to make a call on my behalf, opening the door for me and my client to have a conversation to learn about his experience. He invited us to come to his shop on a Friday afternoon.

And this is where the story begins.

We were greeted at the door by the owner, let’s call him Julian,

Continue reading »

The motorcycle story

While running, I saw it.

Parked next to others, tail outward, resting between two chalky diagonal lines.

I don’t even recall the color of its body because a memory came at me fast and smooth as my eyes swam over the details and took in the word, Ducati.

The memory felt easy. The images that came to mind were familiar; it was the same sequence that unfolded every time I saw a motorcycle with this name.

I remember the way his eyes looked as he explained what he wanted me to know with the simplicity of passion.

Many years ago, my friend and I were walking to work through the backstreets that wound around the neighborhoods close to the college campus; we were both waiters at the same restaurant. He stopped abruptly, got quiet and looked down at a lone red motorcycle parked on the gravel. His face softened and he shook his head for a moment as we stood in silence. Then, he raised his gaze, locked his shining eyes on mine and with excitement in his voice he said: 

Continue reading »

Be innovative. Your public eats cheese.

But not just any kind of cheese.

Thousands of people living in my city of Barcelona are following a particular diet that consists of low carbohydrates, low oil, low fat intake, lots of vegetables and high protein content. Just imagine how many folks in this grand metropolis are happily munching on low fat cheese right this minute as you read this article. It is a growing trend that will probably hit very large numbers within the next few years in Europe and North America.

Yet in this same city, there is not one restaurant that I know of that serves even one specially designed meal that these hungry people can easily identify on the menu, sit back, relax and enjoy with the rest of the restaurant-going population. They are left feeling alienated or must break their diet when dining out. For some, this can bring on tinges of guilt, frustration, as well as altered social relations.

Something is not quite right in this picture. 

Continue reading »

A vision statement in 3 scenarios


Scenario # 1: The island

You are sitting on the cool golden sand of a small beach. Your clothes are wet and tattered but you feel fine. You are not sure how you got there; the last thing you remember is that you were standing on the hull of a large boat looking out over the open sea. You turn around to take in your surroundings; behind you there is thick green jungle and the soft orange of the setting sun. There is no one else in sight. You know somehow that you are alone. This is a deserted island. You feel fine and strangely calm as the light from the sun casts long shadows on the small shells scattered about the beach. You spend time thinking. You think about the people you love, the people that love you. You fantasize about building a hut to live in and eating the fruit from the palm trees. The hours pass, the sky turns a deep apricot, and as you lie down in the soft sand and look up at the sky, you begin to think about your project, your creation, your work.  Your perspective is different, you can see your project from a distance, for the first time. And you begin to see what it gives to the world, how it fits in, how the world will change if you keep going, if you make your project strong. And you feel your face begin to smile at the same time that you have this thought: “the world needs me, the world needs my project”.

In the distance, faintly at first, the sound of a ship’s horn can be heard over the gentle lapping of the waves.

Scenario # 2: The woman

You are in a spacious office with polished wooden floors; there is just you and a woman dressed in a finely tailored suit made of light brown linen. You are sitting across from each other, comfortably, in wide beige upholstered chairs; there is no desk between you. You are in the middle of pitching your project to her; she has the ability to offer you the economic and logistic support you have dreamt of. The woman is listening carefully and attentively to your words as you masterfully describe your project. You stop for a moment, take in a deep breath, center yourself and wait for any question or sign of interest. Your sole audience looks at you with a smile in her eyes, and after a moment of silence she respectfully says, “I like it. I just have one question before I give you my full support: What is your project trying to accomplish in the world?”

Scenario # 3: The circle

You have been invited to a meeting. You walk into a large room with lots of chairs arranged in a wide circle. There are many people there and they begin to each take a seat, casually without haste. As you look around, you begin to recognize many of the faces, and suddenly the realization hits you: you are in a meeting with the world’s most important visionaries, leaders, thinkers and great teachers of all times. There are people of all possible skin tones; they are tall, short, large and small; they are men and women of all different ages. You are sure that some of these leaders could not possibly still be alive, yet here they are together in this room—as if time had no relevance here. And there you are, standing among them; “there must have been a mix-up in the invitations”, you mutter uncomfortably to yourself feeling awkward and out of place.

Following the gestures of the others in the room, you take a seat in the large circle of chairs and sit, very quietly, waiting. Spontaneously and quite naturally, the men and women in the room begin to speak, one by one, taking turns, with all the others listening in silence with great attention and patience. Each person tells briefly and simply his or her vision of how they would like the world to be and how their particular work is striving to achieve that. You begin to feel nervous and fluttery in your stomach; you don’t like this type of exercise. However, as you sit quietly and listen, you come to sense that no one looks uncomfortable or as if groping for ideas or words. And no one looks as thought they would disapprove of anything the others say; they seem to truly accept all that is being said. It seems that the most important element is quite simply that the words come from the heart, and this way of speaking seems to relax the mood in the room, and you begin to feel a little less nervous, a little more alert. And curious.

Meanwhile, the speaking continues, slowly making its way around the circle, person by person, vision by vision. There are about five or six people before it’s your turn to speak.

Continue reading »

Three values important to you

This is not easy to write. And I am not entirely sure why.

One reason could be the deceptive levity of the word ‘values’ compared to the depth of influence the word has in our world, and in our every day lives.

What, then, are values? A question that philosophers, writers, poets, politicians, creators and common folk have contemplated since the concept came to life a very, very long time ago.

Wikipedia says: personal values provide an internal reference for what is good, beneficial, important, useful, beautiful, desirable, constructive, etc. Values generate behavior [...] and provide answers to questions of why people do what they do and in what order they choose to do them.

But we don’t really need those definitions, do we. Because we inherently know what values are. We feel what they are much more clearly than we can probably describe them. Values reside in a place deep inside us. Deep inside the individual and the collective self.

I think the reason this post was not easy to write is because of the very nature of values themselves —of their deep seated place within ourselves and within in our society. And reaching into ourselves and wrapping language around what we find, can sometimes be, well, challenging.

When I put myself and a few colleagues to the task of naming three of the most important values for us, I was met with silence, smiles, pursed lips, searching eyes and groping for words. Everyone eventually came up with three, but the effort it took intrigued me. I wanted to know more.

So, I hit the streets of Barcelona on a weekend afternoon with a digital recorder wanting to hear what people’s most important values were —people I had never met, randomly chosen. The question was not easy to construct, nor was the answer easy to convey, though, interestingly, every single person I approached seemed sincere in their desire to answer, everyone took the question very seriously. The basic question I asked was this: What are three values, important to you, that you look for in others or in society?

And here is what a few people said:

So, if you were to take a moment to answer that same question, what would you say? What are three values, important to you, that you look for in others or in society?

1._____________
2._____________
3._____________

Now let’s turn to your project, organization or business. Are any of the three values you have just named clearly reflected there? In the mission statement? In the objectives? In the relationship with your public? Do they guide you in your daily management?

They could be reflected in your project in a number of different ways. Why?

Continue reading »

Your mission: A story well told

This is a story with a happy ending. It’s about communicating the missions of our projects. It’s also a story about fish.

First, before we get started, we should clear up the difference between mission and vision:

Classically, a mission statement tells you the fundamental purpose of the organization; it is about now.

A vision statement tells you what the project wants to be, or how it wants the world to be if the mission is achieved; it concentrates on the future.

It is commonly accepted though to see a mix of the terms values, mission, vision, philosophy or credo to refer to an organization’s statement of purpose.

And second, we should let history add a bit of context to our story. The origin of the word “mission” is from the mid 16th century and referred to the sending of the Holy Spirit into the world, derived from the Latin word “mittre”, meaning “send”. Today, five centuries later, we can pencil the word’s definition as: a strongly felt aim, ambition, or calling.

That sets things up rather nicely, doesn’t it.

The beginning

In the beginning there was a project.

But before the project became a reality, it was first an idea. An idea with a notion to create, change, effect or produce something. When this idea matures into a project with a clear purpose, then it needs a plan to achieve its particular aim, or, in other words, to achieve its ‘mission’.

In the formulation of any plan, the statement of mission should be the second item scribed, be it on parchment or an iPad, right after the name of the project, organization or business. It should clearly and boldly state what a project does and what it intends to achieve ­­— its mission or reason for existing.

All people that come into contact with any project should know what its mission is.

The goal is to

Continue reading »

The trumpet player and the president

A brief tale about focus groups.

There were once two men with talent; one was a gifted musician and the other an elected president of a beautiful country. The musician played his trumpet every evening for change from passersby in a long underground passageway that connected two lines of the city’s metro. The other delivered very important speeches that sought to explain the country’s difficult economic situation to his constituents. The musician played his music quite well, but he played his instrument so loud that people hurried past, and some even slightly turned away, shielding themselves from the blare of the trumpet which produced a painful sensation as they neared. Not far away from there, the president, who was an intelligent man and competent orator, looked squarely into the television camera and endlessly put forth complex data and technical vocabulary while the citizens listened in their homes with confusion and impatience.

Neither of these talented men was engaging their public. Both had missed their mark. They desperately needed feedback from their targeted listeners. A small focus group would have easily told the trumpet player that he was playing too loud and the president that his discourse did not help them to understand their country’s very real problems.

For the musician, this meant that no people stopped to put money in his hat. For the president it meant that thousands of people grew frustrated and distrustful.

Think for a moment about your talent and your project. Do you know how your public engages, how they feel, and if your art is making the impact you desire? If not, find out. Run a focus group.

It could mean the difference between your success and going home with an empty hat.

The cartography of economies

Let’s take a very common term and expand it a bit. Economy. Let’s define “economy” as the wealth and resources of a specific thematic or geographic area, in reference to the production, use and availability to people of material things or ideas. Ok, that’s good.

Now let’s use this definition to frame today’s world – easily conceived as a construction of an increasing number of different, autonomous yet interconnected economies. Let’s define just a few: well, there’s the global economy that we all participate in by default, then there is an individual country’s economy, then a city’s. But within this basic cartography of economies, what other areas can we draw lines around to then form a more defined community or tribe of relations?

The economy of technology, the economy of health, the economy of human relations, the economy of communication, the economy of culture, the economy of architecture, the economy of food, the economy of story telling, of craftsmanship, of music, of leisure, of beauty, of consciousness, of justice, of education, of talent, of knowledge, of nature, and, why not, the economy of the soul.

These economies overlap and fold over each other; the lines we draw around them are soft and fluid. Yet, if we take a look at the world using this map, it could help us to see more clearly the contours of our areas of influence and contribution, and to visualize and plan the movement of our projects with greater awareness.

And I’m guessing that if you actually do take a moment to see the fuller picture of what you are helping to create, shape and expand in this world, it will give you a particularly nice feeling.