Design by Committee

It takes a strong project manager (leader) to say to staff and fellow management alike, “I trust (the experts we’ve hired) that we’ll like (benefit from) the results of this project.”

Without a project leader like that, it’s pretty much a cinch that you won’t like the results.

Input is nice to have (sometimes), and (occasionally) quite eye-opening. In addition, being heard makes folks quite nearly as satisfied as seeing their input put to use, so it’s well worth allowing input.



90% of the time


If you’re the owner, the leader, the project manager, you’ve got to be willing to allow, accept and ignore (reject) that input, to get the best results from the project.

… The results that you paid for. From the experts you hired.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

What taboos are holding you back?

I’ll keep this one short and sweet today, for just one reason: I’m not saying anything new.

However, I am wondering if some folks haven’t heard it in all the times they’ve read it or listened to it being said (probably not you, of course…), so here goes.

Imagine you’re my client. We’re going to have a few discussions up front about what your company offers, who you’re talking to, and why you’re the best and the only choice for them. (I’m going to support you some, and undoubtedly I’m going to shoot you down some. Hey. It’s my job.) We may talk about your current numbers (readers/ site visitors/ store visits, inquiries/ leads, sales…), and if your growth isn’t climbing at the rate you want, about how to achieve your goals for growing your business.

Did you catch it?

If your growth isn’t climbing at the rate you want.

That’s it.

I hope that my clients do know their reader/ visitor/ clicks/ leads/ sales numbers. (You do, don’t you?)

I’m more than a little surprised at how many folks have no goals for growing their business, because like I said, this is not news. (You’ve read this in a dozen books, mags, and blog articles, right?) Yet something’s holding you back.

Have you let a taboo about naming your fantasy stop you from dreaming big about your goals?

If you want to double your sales this year, you’re gonna have to say so. Out loud. At least out loud to yourself, folks. If you want to increase leads by 20%, or get to 3,000 readers on your blog, or raise your prices 10% without losing sales… you have to know your current position, think about the destination, and lay out the road map.

It may not happen—but you have to name it to aim for it.

If you haven’t even thought about what you want beyond, “I need more sales,” then you are NOT going to double your sales this year without a miracle.

And “miracle” is not a goal.

Short and sweet: Name your fantasy.

Then at least when I start talking about how you can achieve those goals, we’ll know what goals you’re aiming for.

(I’ll shoot you down later.)


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson


P.S. No taboos here—I’d love to hear about your fantastic goals for your business in the comments!

Do You Want to Buy an Italian Restaurant?

Once there was a brand-new restaurant. An Italian restaurant, whose owners had great recipes and dedicated staff made up of loyal old friends ready to follow their lead, and a plan to deliver awesomeness to the masses.

They’d simplify, they’d proceduralize (oh yes they would no matter how many syllables it took), they’d distill the essence and perfect the methods, they’d run the flagship store tight (like… well, like a ship), and then they’d franchise the concept.

The concept? Upscale food to midscale people. After all, they had the recipes, and the experience, and the franchise know-how. Everybody wanted what they wanted, didn’t they?


The owners picked a location just outside of a large commuter’s city. On the inbound side of the highway—cheaper real estate, they reasoned. That’s a franchisable idea.

So what if you couldn’t easily stop on the way home—a fan will go past and turn around to get back to their favorite place!


Franchisably inexpensive, easily sourced, and blah, using every interior design cliché to convey faux-Italian and faux-upscale ambience. This, it would seem, will make fans of lovers of faux.

Product (The food)

Top-notch but never a flash of brilliance, because flashes of brilliance aren’t franchisable. This is the hardest for me to to critique, because I do believe procedures can help and maybe even save a small business, but procedures can also kill ingenuity and initiative if misused.

Unique Selling Point

Um, no. If you have a certain chain in your mind then you understand what I did—it’s been done. No matter how many times it was explained to me how this was different, I couldn’t see the difference. They wanted to sell themselves to franchisees. That was their customer. The people who have to come in and eat your food… merely visitors to tolerate. Why consider whether you offer them an Ideal Solution to their problem? Eyes on the prize.


The one element that probably could have propped up all the other short-sighted decisions, but staff were treated as placeholders—there to demonstrate how the next store would be run, after the wild success of this one convinced franchisees to jump on board. Devalued as people, and naturally, paid franchisable wages.


Well, close—

Instead, they were out of business in three years.

In many ways, their spectacular failure was a great run for me.

I was their chef, making my steady check by night while building my design business by day. I watched, bored with the real work; I listened to my old friends, the owners, from before the store opened until their last, regret-filled moments; and I soaked up the intentional and the unintended business lessons. More than any mentor could, they showed me how to evaluate an Experience from all sides.

Experience Design: (Not) the Italian Restaurant Way

Know who your customer is.

Your customer does not want what you want. Repeat: Your customer does not want what you want.

Take time defining what’s really remarkable about you. Flash your brilliance.

Put your internal stakeholders—the people who work for you, make the Experience worth raving about, and spread the word themselves if they love the company—FIRST. Always.

Make a plan; go ahead and make a big one. But work on the steps you need today to get to tomorrow, instead of staring at the far-off future and waiting for it to come and get you. If you can’t sell it, it ain’t gonna franchise well.

And, as wise Mamas everywhere will tell you, don’t get too big for your britches too soon.

What prize are your eyes on? You’ll need to focus in pretty close to see the next dollar coming your way, but if you see today’s sales that clearly, your raving fans will lead the way to the Big Dream.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

How do you feel about short-term thinking?

Does it make you shake your head with pity for the poor saps who don’t see the big picture?

Does it make you squirm, imagining the pressure of a looming deadline?

Research suggests that humans accomplish the most with short-term goals. The pressure of the looming deadline (or crisis) works for human beings. Evolutionarily, we look at the mastodon in front of us—we’re hungry, we’re threatened, or both—we don’t do well considering the herd that might be miles away.

If you want to save money, for instance, make a weekly goal, not a yearly one, or you’ll put it off and end up saving less for the year. If you want to quit smoking, think in terms of not having a cigarette this morning; this week will come one morning, one afternoon, one evening’s success at a time.

For your business: What can you DO today, to create changes THIS MONTH? To bring value to your customers and bottom-line growth to your balance sheet, starting NOW? We all know one-year and five-year plans are great, and goodness knows I’m a huge advocate of that larger Vision! But a year, and certainly five, will bring changes you can’t see.

As Seth Godin recently put it, in a wonderful post on Predictions, “… being ready for anything is the only rational strategy.”

So you have a big dream, a master plan, for your business, and you’re ready for anything.

To accomplish your goals, shorten your timeframe.

You’re hungry, you’re threatened—aren’t we all!—and there’s a mastodon in front of you now. How are you going to tackle it?

Wendi Kelly gave me the close for this post, just as I was putting it to bed earlier this week: “What is the one thing you can do today, this hour, this minute to make your plan happen? One Baby Step. Then another. That’s all you need to get the ball rolling.”

When your back’s against the wall, maybe you squirm, but you rock it out, too, right? You do what you’ve got to do. Because it’s NOW. And somehow, that makes it doable.

Embrace short-term thinking as you go forward with the big picture for your business. Once you’ve bagged the mastodon in front of you, you’ll be ready to take on the whole herd.

How do you feel about short-term thinking? Is it part of your business planning now, or do short-term goals scare you to death?


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Data Gathering: 10 Things to Bring With You to the First Real Meeting

Something’s wrong at your place of business. You aren’t growing; maybe there’s even a small, disturbing trend downward in the numbers, and you’re pretty sure something isn’t right. (Just the opposite? Maybe something great has just happened, and you know it’s finally time to put your best foot forward.) Time to make a change in your Customer Experience. You heard about this Experience Designer who can help you find the problems and fix them. You’ve read their website. Let’s face it, you read about five designers’ websites before you found the one whose philosophy jived with yours.

You talked on the phone, or had an initial consultation in person. This is the right firm for you, so you’ve signed on. They want to have a data gathering meeting, what VisionPoints calls our Discovery meeting. How do you get ready?

If it’s worth hiring an Experience Design firm, it’s worth using their time and yours efficiently. Here are the ten things you’ll want on hand:

1.  A good tour guide. Even if we walked through the first time, now we’re beginning to develop a framework for the project. We want to see what we’re dealing with, and we want to walk through with an experienced and very frank member of your team. Someone who’s not afraid to tell it like it is (ouch!).

2.  Your best understanding of the current situation. Designers ask a lot of questions, and you can start them off right if you know what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s got to be fixed urgently.

3.  All the decision-makers. If your spouse has a say, make sure he/she is not left out. If your VP of Marketing has to love the new direction like you do, then have the VP sit in. Miscommunications cause delays, carping, and less-than-enthusiastic participation, none of which move you forward at Maximum speed.

4.  Numbers: Revenues, customer base, profitability, employee retention, web stats… what’s bugging you? Any designer who’s going to help you get numbers up has to know something about the numbers. Once, design of all sorts was “for pretty,” and why it didn’t help you grow was your problem. These days designers of all stripes, but especially multidisciplinary Experience Design firms, want to do fine work that also has real value. Maybe they’ll even tell you your numbers are pretty good, and you can relax a little while you go through the redesign.

5.  Photos, lots of photos of your space, if this meeting can’t take place in person. Send them via email in advance. (Tip: Look up! Good designers want to see your lighting, which is tough to show in a photo.)

6.  All printed materials. From business cards to packaging, from brochures to invoices, gather it all.

7.  We’ve already dug into your Internet presence, to scope you out. (What? You think you’re the only one?) Pretend you don’t know we’ve been lurking, and highlight key points at your website or blog for us.

8.  Your Vision. Don’t be afraid to write something out. A little half-love story, half-rant telling who you are, why you are, and how on earth you (as a company) got to the point you’re at will do fine. Philosophically, strategically, I mean. You got the numbers together for #4.

9.  The best possible outcome. Where, in an ideal world, is the company going? As I said, good designers want to get you there. Increased number of customers, increased sales per customer, decreased costs, better “standing in the community” (warning: hard to measure), stop losing customers to the competition, more Internet sales without decreasing store sales, world domination… ?

10.  What happens if you do nothing? If you’ve never done a Change-Nothing Analysis (#2 on Brian’s list), this is well worth doing before you start an Experience Design project. (The answer, of course, is utter ruination. Even your cat won’t have anything to do with you. Do your own, and you’ll see.)

Discovery meetings are for more than gathering data. They are for gathering attitudes, sticking points, dreams, and goals. They can solidify internal support for Customer Experience initiatives, or show up stakeholders who are not ready for change. That buy-in is crucial, so now is the time to make everyone a cheerleader. The first choices about how this project is going to go are made today.

It’s like going to the doctor’s office: You know what’s wrong, where it hurts, and what outcome you’re hoping for. If you’re a parent, you go with the kid; you don’t try to schedule a follow-up meeting to “get on board.” Nobody wastes time, and you get your solution sooner.

This meeting can take an hour or two, max, or it can become six meetings that take an hour each if you haven’t done your homework before inviting your designer in to start theirs. We have a lot of work to do with you. It’s going to take cooperation and communication, which you can get started now. Your Solution is waiting for you.

Discovery meeting or not, put this list together today, and make a plan to update it quarterly. How does doing your data gathering help you aim for improved Customer Experience?

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Courage can’t see around corners

Courage can’t see around corners,
but goes around them anyway.
—Michael McLaughlin

Your business requires bravery to flourish. Change is the agent of growth—process improvements, change of direction, expansion, and image enhancements of all kinds require the kind of faith in a better future that is bravery.

It does take courage to make changes, but the alternative is stagnation—in business, that is death. If you think you can’t make the right choice, think about this: Not acting is also a choice.

Take one step, today, proactively moving toward growth for your firm. Pretty soon, you’ll round the corner.

Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson

Update: Christine O’Kelly wrote a much more detailed post on this subject a couple of days later. Check out How I Stopped Listening to Experts and Started Making Money. Only, of course, I do advise listening to experts when you can. Just don’t get paralyzed by expertise!