Who Do You Think You Are?

This is part five of 13 in the Experience Design 101 series. For links to all the articles in this series, click here.

Pete in Real Life

Ever since he was in his twenties, Pete had been thinking of a career in hospitality. A computer engineer working in government communications, his work had once been incredibly creative. Pete had a hand in shaping technology’s role for the government. As the dawn of technology came to a close, Pete slogged through rounds of forms, meetings, occasional approvals, and more frequent defeats, wishing for a destiny he was in charge of. For years as jumping through government hoops and engineering itself became more monotonous and less creative, he imagined another life, and let new ideas swirl. A great restaurant experience could get him thinking of owning a bistro or a pizza place; a restless desire to be someplace else made him dream out loud of owning a bed & breakfast or an out-of-the-way inn.

Finally, an opportunity presented itself and Pete dove in. Today, five years later, the computer is used only for accounting and for booking guests, and he and his wife Roxann live the dream, the owners of the Panorama Motel in Hampton, New York.

From all about communications systems to all about communicating with guests is a huge leap, but it wasn’t made without years of envisioning his true career priorities: creative freedom, contact with end-users, the gratification of projects that wrap up in a night (like a meal or a stay) rather than the tedium of open-ended, unclear, micromanaged tech projects. Pete knew what was wrong and what would fix it with absolute clarity before he took the leap.

Who Do You Think You Are?

In her excellent book, Wildly Sophisticated, Nicole Williams tells the of the moment she knew she had to define herself. Unlike Pete’s long road, she had been challenged to define a Purpose all at once. She shaped her personal direction, and her company’s, with the simple question, Who Do You Think You Are?

Don’t think you know who you are? If you’re a small-to-medium-business owner, you got into your business with a Vision. Maybe you think you stumbled upon it, but I disagree. Whether it was a lifelong itch like Pete’s or just an undefined drive to do what you do like Nicole’s, your Vision is there.

Your firm’s Purpose should be an extension of your Vision, and if not I expect you are banging your head as Pete did in engineering. Discover the Vision you bring to your firm and get your goals in line.

Four essential questions:

  • What got you into this business?
  • What is it you hope to share with your customers? Is it great food, or timesaving methods, a way to save money, a memorable evening, a hobby?

  • If I cornered you at a party, what would you love to talk my ear off about?
  • How does it connect to your business? Maybe caring for iguanas in your off-time has a lot to do with caring for clients at your retirement village. Or maybe, you’re ready to sell the village and open a pet store. Think about it.

  • How do you know when you’ve found an employee who’s really special?
  • Does he or she have a particular skill, or knowledge base, or is it their attitude, their presentation? Imagining your ideal employee will tell you loads about your goals for your firm. Whether the candidate who gets you thinking about possibilities is a number-cruncher, a storyteller, or a Harvard MBA, is directly related to where you want your firm to go.

  • What do you spend most of your time doing on an ideal day? Is it the same as it was when you began?
  • Like the ideal candidate, the ideal day should get you thinking about what you value about your business. Pay particular attention to changes over time. If a day when sales are racing in (ideal) now leaves you mired in paperwork (not necessarily ideal), when originally it would mean you were deep in design, or sales, or customer service, do you need to rein something in? Or do you prefer the paperwork to the presentations?

The Broad View of Possibilities

Use these questions as a jumping-off point for more well-directed research. Vision is not for the faint of heart. To really define it you need to Dream Big. Bring all of your optimism. Vision is about the broad view of possibilities, not about roadblocks. Think long-term: your firm’s Purpose will not be implemented in a day, so envision the future—in six months, a year, three years, where do you want to go? Craft a Vision statement for your company using this research.


Take the time to really look at how you are utilizing your Vision. Consider all aspects of your Customer Experience: Does your customer service communicate the Vision? Your website? How about your marketing methods? If your Vision is of personalized services, can banner ads ever communicate that? If you envision being a friendly, quickservice leader, are all your interactions aiming for that? If your products say high-end, but your representatives’ attitudes and attire say careless, don’t expect maximum growth.

So, who do you think you are? Do you think staff and customers buy in to your Vision? With a well-directed Purpose followed consistently, your Vision and theirs will soon be aligned, creating growth opportunities to power your firm forward.

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


Next up in the series: Part Six: The long, winding road to the top (of the mind)

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