Your Best Year Ever

For some, the New Year starts at the stroke of midnight, January 1. It’s full of Old Lang Syne, champagne, kisses and resolutions. For others, like us, the New Year starts the Tuesday after Labour Day. It aligns with the start of school, and fall, and pumpkin spice lattes. For others, it could be the start of a new fiscal year. Regardless of when your New Year (official or otherwise) starts, we can all agree that it tends to be filled with reflection, visioning and plans.

When reading books we often become wary of numbered steps guaranteed to improve anything. You know the types – from weight loss to making money, from unlocking your potential to living a life a happiness. That’s why we approached Michael Hyatt’s “Your Best Year Ever: A 5-Step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals” with mild trepidation. The book’s website boldly proclaims that:

“YOUR BEST YEAR EVER holds the secret to achieving your greatest goals. It’s Hyatt’s proven 5-step plan to finding the clarity, courage, and sustained commitment you need to make 2018 your best year ever.

But, we still took the bait. While not revolutionary, Hyatt’s bite-sized morsels of knowledge are a good reminder of how each of us can move closer to achieving our big dreams. Some takeaways? Don’t dismiss regret. Like gratitude, regret can create opportunities. Hyatt also reminds us that in order to run the big race, you’ve got to start with small steps, get into your stride and make it past the “finish line”. And, finally, the reminder to look at yourself when trying to understand what’s holding you back.

Regardless of when you celebrate it, Happy New Year from all of us at BarnRaising – may you make this your best year ever.

Do you feel what I feel?

Design – be it a product, service or business strategy – works when it’s human-centred. When the designers – graphic, product, marketers or managers – take the time to really understand not only the problem or issue from the customers’ perspectives, but also the solutions.

In an article posted to LinkedIn in the spring, Kate Mills highlights empathy as marketing’s latest buzz word. We push that one step further, and argue that empathy is not only a buzzword, but a best practice for business in general.

So what is empathy? Mills does an excellent time explaining what empathy isn’t. “All too often [empathy] is defined the wrong way. You might think that you are practicing empathy by imagining how you would feel in someone else’s shoes. However, this approach is self-centred and assumes that others feel think, and behave as you do. This is not empathy.”

For example, if you called BarnRaising Associates in to help you with an issue or to capitalize on an opportunity, and we assumed we knew you and your clients and how you felt and what you needed, we wouldn’t be acting from a customer-centric perspective. We wouldn’t be employing empathy.

Mills continues, explaining that “true empathy is realizing that you can’t understand someone else by seeing them through your own colored lenses. Instead, you must find ways to understand them by removing your own lenses and trying on theirs.” In other words, you need to observe your customers using the product/service and record what you see – without making any assumptions about why they are behaving as they are. Next, you need to immerse yourself into your customers culture and experience in order to see things from their perspective.

A man dons an empathy belly to immerse himself into the pregnancy experience.

This is always the first stage of a BarnRaising Associates project. Observing and immersing – both our clients and their customers. We do this to understand:

  • the problems – and avoid solving problems that don’t exist
  • the problem(s) from all perspectives
  • all the people involved
  • how to move forward

    By being open-minded and curious, we’re able to get a better picture of the existing situation and culture, and then enter into the creative process to innovate the necessary solution.


Always go past the “Finish Line”

Sports analogies abound in the business world. From a home run marketing idea to a slam dunk sales pitch, there’s an analogy to get your whole team hyped. Today, we share with you a cautionary analogy – so buckle up!

Car racing is an adrenaline-filled sport. You’ve got people pushing not only cars to their limit, but also themselves. Think about it: what do you naturally do when you go into a corner? Brake! But not these athletes, no, they maintain speed and momentum. Well, usually.

In 2008, after a bizarre set of circumstances, a young racer was half a lap away from securing the coveted checkered flags. The race was ending under a caution – meaning no one could make a pass. The race was his. Until it wasn’t.

Yup – you saw that right. Somehow, the driver exited to pit lane without crossing the finish line first. He believed the race was over, that he was done. And so he stopped without going past the finish line. And lost it all.

In racing – running, biking, cars, you name it – the momentum to get you to the finish line, carries you past it. This is important in business too. It doesn’t matter when you think you’re done, give it one final check or push and carry yourself, your team and your project past the finish line.

Then, let the celebrations begin.

What’s mantra got to do with it?

What’s your mission statement? If we were to hazard a guess, it would be a long thesis statement that is posted on your website and maybe hanging on your office wall. It was something you and your team worked hard on crafting. It probably included an offsite team retreat and includes loads of inspirational words and non-committal statements. It’s completion was celebrated, and it gets pulled out from time-to-time, tacked into a job posting or on an annual report without even a solid dusting. And while you did it and have it, we’d also guess that none of your employees could recite it to us, let alone tell us what it means, both for the business and to them.

While many people talk about the importance of a meaningful organizational vision, it’s Guy Kawasaki who really doesn’t spare any punches. Instead of a mission statement, Guy argues that businesses need to write a mantra.

What’s the difference? Words + meaning.

A great mantra, Guy explains, should be no more than a few words, and easy enough for anyone at your company (be it Trixie or Biff) to both recite and understand. Think Different. Just do it. Be awesome.

To drive the point about mantras home, let’s look at an example.

Change the world.

Three simple words, full of action and inspiration. And it’s how we’re guided each and every day. At BarnRaising Associates our one and only goal is to make the world better.

How do we do that? By giving a shit. We work only with like-minded do-gooders and changemakers. People who are passionate about making even just their one small corner of the world better. We invest ourselves in their projects, instil the strategy they need to keep on doing what they’re doing, then move on to the next gig.

A mantra is a rallying cry. Something that an entire team – not just employees, but clients and customers too – can get behind. So, with that – go after your mantra. Create it. Own it. Live it.

Ah Sh*t

It pains us to think of all the amazing start-ups who didn’t make it. Groups of innovative and driven professionals who’ve created some really cool app, product or service that the world would have really benefited from. To say that they were just ahead of the curve or too innovative to market isn’t a fair assessment.

Think about it like this. You, as an amazing innovator and entrepreneur, have built something cool. Really cool. You love that it makes your life easier. And you know that it will make others’ lives easier too. But, they just don’t seem to be getting that message.

Many start-ups looking to scale-up are facing this harsh reality. They have something that will improve the life of others, but they aren’t getting the message to the right people.

In other words, it isn’t the market’s fault. As much as it pains us to type this, the problem may just be you.

Hold up. Did we just…? Yup. We held up that mirror. What do you see?

Too many amazing start-ups fail because they are forgetting to invite their customers in on the conversation. Instead, they stay too focused on their innovation and product and what it means to them. They talk about the science, research and tech aspects, and neglecting the ever-important “So what? What’s in it for me?” To be successful, a start-up has to sacrifice the science, tech and research, and instead talk to the customer.

So, what’s to be done?

First, you and your leadership team needs to take a step back and ask what problem(s) the innovation solves. This is trickier than it sounds, as you need to think beyond the immediate and obvious reasons you’re using the product, as well as looking past all the cool tech and science where you spend all your time. Instead of the details of what brought you here, think back to the problem you were initially trying to solve. And, if there are applications outside of what you initially created it for, list them too.

Next, your team must consider who might be experiencing these problems. Again, think bigger than the immediate niche. While you never want to cast your net too wide (you can’t be everything to everyone), start-ups still need to be able to identify a target market. You are not your customer. Neither are your friends and family. Go out there and figure out who you’re speaking to – who this innovation is important for – and talk to them.

Finally, your whole team needs to change how you talk about your product. Avoid jargon and hyperbole. Also, don’t adopt a patronizing and condescending tone. You need to identify both the solution the product offers and to whom, now it’s up to your company to open up a dialogue, where you both send information out to customers and…wait for it… receive information back. Yup, you can’t be the only one talking. You’ve got to listen to what your customers are telling you too. And, don’t forget, silence is a very loud response.

At BarnRaising Associates we work with socially-minded businesses, enterprises, not-for-profits and ventures to help them start talking to their customers. Both those they already have, and those who’ve yet been invited into the conversation. We ask the hard questions to get your leadership thinking like a stay-up, and put in the strategies to help make it happen.

Swipe Right

Classified ads. Craigslist. Kijiji. Dating apps. All designed to help you either promote what you have or what it is you’re looking for. Everything, from long walks on the beach to a new-to-you set of summer tires, it’s all there laid out and on display. You just have to choose which direction you want to swipe.

Sure, there are times when someone isn’t 100 per cent truthful in their offerings. Or maybe it’s simply that we all define “like new” slightly differently. Regardless, these tools help many of us in our personal lives. From finding a handyman to your soulmate, apps and sites make sure matches are made every day.

If only it were that easy in the business world.

During times of growth or change, many businesses look outside their fold for expert advice and strategy. Change can be tumultuous, and some companies are confused over not only the help they need, but also the best place to go to get it. Many large consulting firms add confusion by offering a one-size-fits-most approach to their services. Which may seem appealing at first,  but just doesn’t cut it when you get down to it.

When we started BarnRaising Associates we knew that we were different. We weren’t (and had no ambition of becoming) a big four consulting firm with huge offices and soaring overhead to match. We weren’t targeting mega conglomerates focused only on improving their bottom line. We wanted more than that.

If we were to post a consulting match profile it would read something like this:

Since our inception, we’ve been driven by one goal: to change the world. And, to achieve this ambitious aim we knew we could only work with like-minded do-gooders and changemakers who were driven by a passion to make even just one small corner of the world better. In other words, people like you.

Sound something like you? Then, let’s connect.

Rethinking Failure

Failure. A word loaded with emotional baggage. In the moment, many of us fear failure and what it means to us professionally and personally. For most of us, it’s only in reflecting back on the situation that we’re able to gain perspective.

Ed Catmull was a presenter at #TrueNorth18, and during his keynote he stressed the importance of rethinking failures. “We need to rethink failures,” he argued. “There’s danger around failure and it’s deeply ingrained in us. It’s almost impossible to separate them emotionally, and we need to be aware of both. But, if we agree that failure is the necessary consequence of doing something new, then we need to separate learning from failure and the danger around failing.”

Often, clients contact us when they’re feeling the pain of failure. They’re in the weeds still and are having difficulty seeing past the pressing issue or even see the learning moment. So, what do we do? Offer perspective.

When a client reaches out to us, the first thing we do is listen. Then we ask some questions and listen some more. We reach out to the client, their customers and the general public. Why? To gain a broad perspective.

This is key to helping refocus a failure into a learning opportunity. It equips us with the information we need to provide clients with the strategic solutions they’re after. After all, you need to be open to things that don’t work (aka failures) in order to make progress.

As Catmull reminds us, “changing culture is an in the trenches experience.” But, you don’t have to be in the trenches alone. Tell us what failure (or fear of failure) is holding you back, and we’ll help guide you through.