What an AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER can teach your small business about JUGGLING MULTIPLE PROJECTS (by BigHeads founder, John Palumbo)
Anyone who owns a business knows that any given day involves juggling multiple projects. Of course, each project comes with its own set of nuances and potential issues, especially when the project needs to be transitioned to an employee, vendor, or associate. Keeping projects organized and those transitions seamless isn’t easy, which leaves entrepreneurs always on the lookout for tools and techniques to help keep all those balls in the air.
With this in mind, I recently spent some time with Derak Perkins, who keeps a different kind of project in the air: airplanes. Perkins is an air traffic controller at Portland International Airport—and his organizational skills just may help you run a more effective business.
SPACE OUT YOUR PROJECTS
One of the core responsibilities of air traffic controllers is to maintain an appropriate and safe distance, or separation, between all the different aircraft under their watch. Obviously, different aircraft fly at different speeds and different altitudes, and have different destinations. Controllers consider these nuances as they position aircraft during flights, and as they place aircraft in an appropriate sequence for takeoffs and landings. That’s why you might notice smaller aircraft taking off before or after larger ones as you taxi down the runway.
While keeping track of all this information might seem daunting, it has become second nature to Perkins. “Over the years, I have become so familiar with the different types of aircraft, I am able to quickly do the calculations in my head and effectively organize them in the most appropriate way,” he explains.
The Lesson: Just like those aircraft, your projects also have specific characteristics, move at different speeds, and even have different deadlines. And, the same way air traffic controllers become familiar with the characteristics of different aircraft, you should begin to understand the complexities of the projects you’re managing over time.
That said, you can leverage this information to better organize your schedule and to-do list. For example, at the start of each day or week, consider the projects you have on tap and use your experience managing each type of project to calculate the time and resources needed to accomplish them. Consider this information as you organize your calendar or to-do list and you’ll end up with a much more manageable and efficient system.
Let’s take the comparison a step further and liken your employees to the pilots of these airplanes. After all, individuals also move at different speeds and react to certain conditions differently. Assessing and calculating this information could help you more effectively transition or delegate projects, especially ones that have hard deadlines.
Air traffic controllers use “flight progress strips” to track each of the aircraft they are responsible for managing. “They are six-inch strips of paper containing standardized codes that instantly provide us with information about our flights, including its identification [flight number], type of aircraft, departure, destination, and the assigned altitude,” Perkins says. The controllers print out these strips and hang them in a holder above their station. They may strategically position the strips in the holder to further organize their flights. For example, Perkins places strips higher or lower in the holder to represent their flight altitudes.
In addition, since flights are managed by numerous controllers as they make their way to their destinations, the strips are handed off from controller to controller with the most updated information, along with additional notes and codes written by the prior controller to convey any special information.
The Lesson: While you might not have a machine that prints six-inch strips for you to hang above your desk, you could still apply this technique to help better organize all the projects you’re in charge of. Consider creating your version of the flight progress strip and develop a system that includes an at-a-glance, visual snapshot of your projects, along with simple codes to represent things such as the client, deadlines, and even the type of project.
If you have the space, print strips of your own and lay them out in your work area or attach them to project folders. If that isn’t possible, create a digital version using a platform like Evernote. Since more than one person might be involved in certain projects, consider standardizing the codes across your organization and incorporating your system into a cloud storage service such as Dropbox. This way each team member can quickly get a snapshot of a project and be brought up to speed more quickly when projects are transitioned their way.
MANAGE THE HANDOFF
Air traffic controllers are constantly handing off flights to and from each other as they enter and leave the airspace under their watch. Another way they ensure flawless handoffs is by creating a set of fixed coordinates for each and every one they execute. “When I hand off an aircraft, the other controller knows every flight will be headed in the same direction, at the same altitude, and traveling at the same speed,” Perkins says. “Every aircraft will be that way, all day, every day.”
Knowing aircraft will come to them with these fixed coordinates allows controllers to make airspace available for these flights among all the others they are managing. It also completely eliminates any need to waste time quizzing the previous controller.
The Lesson: Just like aircraft, the projects you are juggling will most likely need to be handed off to someone else. One way to make your handoffs seamless is to borrow from the approach above and create a set of fixed variables for your transitions. For example, at the beginning of each day or week, make it clear to your team that every project they receive from you will already be “approved” or “discussed with the client.” Overall, it’s an effective way to keep projects moving forward, since the person taking them over will not have to waste time backtracking to get questions answered, enabling them to hit the ground running as soon as it comes their way.
So the next time you’re flipping through the in-flight magazine at 35,000 feet, remember that there’s a team of air traffic controllers on the ground using a host of techniques to keep your flight on track. Sure, we’ve all experienced a few delays—and your company surely has, too—but keeping tens of thousands of airplanes organized in the sky every day is no easy task. The techniques they use to do it just might help you keep your own projects in the air.
(Originally published on AmEx OPENFORUM.COM)
What a DATING COACH can teach your small business about NETWORKING (by BigHeads founder, John Palumbo)
Entrepreneurs know that networking can attract new customers, clients, and investors. And while there are countless services, books, and blogs that teach professional networking tips, the tactics from a different sort of networking just might prove even more successful. David Wygant is a Los Angeles-based dating and relationship expert with 20 years of experience who helps singles find their perfect match, using approaches and techniques that can often be applied to your business, helping you to network smarter.
EVERYDAY LIFE WILL DELIVER WHO YOU WANT TO MEET
When it comes to relationships, one of the biggest mistakes singles make in their quest to find their perfect match is going to places where they think they will meet someone, such as bars, singles events, and dating websites. Wygant urges his clients to avoid them all. “Singles go to those places with an agenda,” he says. “And when you have an agenda, you have expectations. When you have expectations, you’re not being yourself. Ultimately, it falls apart right there and nothing comes of it.”
His advice? Meet people where you’re most comfortable, when you’re doing what you enjoy. “I tell my clients who are interested in art to visit galleries and those who are interested in organic food to visit the local farmer’s market,” he says. This way, they are enjoying themselves without any agenda or expectations. Most importantly, they are interested in their surroundings, leading to authentic conversations. “Those are the times when they are comfortable and talking openly and intelligently about a topic. So, when they see someone they’re interested in, they’re not tongue-tied and the conversations aren’t forced and fake like they are in those other places,” he contends.
The Lesson: Business owners have been programmed to believe that there are certain places you must go to network and attract new customers, including industry conferences or networking events. The problem is, everyone in attendance is circling one another like sharks. Everyone has an agenda, and worst of all, everyone sounds like a cheesy salesperson.
So consider Wygant’s approach and forgo that next industry networking event. Instead, visit places you actually enjoy going, where you’ll initiate and hold authentic conversations. Some of those conversations just might turn to the topic of business (“So what do you do for a living?”) and lead to contacts and introductions that will benefit your company. Perhaps not as target-rich an environment as a trade show, but the connections you do wind up making will be that much stronger and more authentic.
BREAK THE ICE BY BEING INQUISITIVE - LIKE CHILDREN DO
“When a child sees something they like—a bracelet or sunglasses—they just blurt it out and let you know it,” Wygant explains. “That’s why I encourage my clients to act like a kid again. If someone is wearing an interesting piece of jewelry, tell them how cool it is. Or if they’re using that new Apple gadget you’re thinking about buying, ask them if it lives up to all the hype.”
According to Wygant, an inquisitive exchange is one of the most powerful ways to break the ice because it’s impulsive and even somewhat innocent, which most people find refreshing, non-threatening, and endearing.
As part of his suggested dating regimen, Wygant encourages his clients to practice these types of exchanges with everyone they encounter. This way the behavior becomes second nature and not a forced effort they only use when they spot someone who sparks their romantic interest.
The Lesson: When you’re at a meeting or even viewing profiles of potential contacts or customers on professional networking sites, take Wygant’s advice and act like a kid again. If you come across a detail that jumps out at you (no matter how small), don’t hesitate to start a conversation around that topic.
For example, you might want to introduce yourself to someone on LinkedIn and notice that they’ve listed a personal hobby or interest that you also share. That’s something you could mention in your private introduction message, which would surely be more memorable than the typical introduction messages they receive. Plus, they’ll probably do something they rarely do—hit the “reply” button and write back.
THE FANTASY NEVER LIVES UP TO REALITY
According to Wygant, many singles become attracted to someone based on their physical appearance or their online profile, and that’s when their imagination takes over. “People see someone or read a profile on a dating site and they begin to fill in the blanks and create this fantasy person before they ever meet,” Wygant says.
Inevitably, this practice leads to disappointment because these people ultimately don’t live up to the fantasy.
In order to help his clients avoid this situation, Wygant trains them to catch themselves when they start creating fantasy versions of people and consciously remind themselves that the person they’re about to create is an illusion and may be no better or worse than anyone else.
The Lesson: Creating a fantasy isn’t exclusive to dating. Many business owners and entrepreneurs have a wishlist of people they’d like to meet and customers they’d like to acquire. Just like the singles, they build up a fantasy situation. Of course, if they don’t get a response, find that the person isn’t interested, or lose that new business pitch, they end up discouraged and unmotivated.
Take a lesson from Wygant and learn to catch yourself as you start to turn that customer into the perfect (fantasy) client. Remind yourself that while having that client’s name on your roster might seem like a dream come true, no client relationship is ever perfect. There are always unforeseen obstacles and challenges that might make you wish you never met the person in the first place.
It’s a simple and effective way to keep things in perspective so you don’t find yourself getting unnecessarily disappointed.
So the next time you’re getting set to sign up for that business networking event or you’re on the prowl for new customers, remember that networking isn’t so different from dating and consider taking David Wygant’s advice to… heart.
(originally published on AmEx OPENforum.com)
What a BOUNTY HUNTER can teach your small business about FINDING THE BEST HIRES (by BigHeads founder, John Palumbo)
When it comes to locating and hiring the best employees, few small businesses have access to the big bag of tricks that larger companies do. While job sites and social networks have helped to level the playing field, the fact is that some of the best talent needs to be proactively hunted down, because they are neither out there actively looking for a job, nor are they interested in being found.
Knowing this, I decided to speak to someone who knows a thing or two about hunting down tough-to-find people—renowned bounty hunter (and BigHead) Scott Bernstein. The tactics, tools, and techniques he uses to find fugitives may just help your small business find the right employees.
ESTABLISH A PROFILE
One of the first things Bernstein does when he receives the—often limited—information about a fugitive from the authorities or bail bondsman is to establish a profile. Using his experience and his behavioral expertise, along with some creativity, he tries to put himself into the mindset of the accused. “Let’s say I know you were a drug dealer who lived in a certain area,” Bernstein says. “Right off the bat, that arms me with a wealth of information. For example, I would know you would be out on the street between the hours of 9 at night and 5 in the morning selling drugs.” Ultimately, using this type of role playing exercise allows him to get a better sense of what moves his fugitives might make and the places where he might ultimately find them.
The Lesson:Get in the mindset of the ideal candidate you are looking for. Consider such things as the places they might go during their free time, the hobbies they might be interested in, the websites they might visit, the way they commute to their current job, or where they might have that cocktail after a long day.
Then use that information to your advantage. Post your job listing in those (unorthodox) places and on those websites. Even visit some of those locations and meet the people face-to-face. While this might seem time-consuming at first, once you find the locations that yield the best talent, you will have uncovered a fertile recruiting ground that you can use for future searches and save yourself time.
EXTEND YOUR TEAM
When fugitives are “in the wind” (unable to be found), a bounty hunter needs as many people out there trying to locate them as possible. In some cases, that includes relying on the help of people who intimately know the landscape where the bounty hunter believes the fugitives he seeks might be hiding. “I will approach bouncers and bartenders at local bars or front-desk clerks and cleaning people at local motels and give them a little something to keep their eyes and ears open and call me with any information,” Bernstein says.
The Lesson: By taking a page out of a bounty hunter’s playbook, you can expand your recruiting team even further than your own networks. Zero in on specific regions and identify those places, venues, and businesses where the staff gets to know their patrons, guests, and clientele, such as daycare centers, local watering holes, salons, and health clubs. Then enlist people who work at those places, provide them with a description of the type of person you are looking for, and ask them to act as extra sets of eyes and ears to help you identify potential candidates. You can even offer a small finder’s fee or gift if their information leads to a future hire. And if you’re questioning the caliber of information these people could provide, just think about the amount of information your hairstylist, favorite bartender or personal trainer knows about you.
FIND THE “JUDAS”
When a bounty hunter begins a search, one of the first things he or she will do is try to identify the “Judas”—that one person the accused has confided in who has valuable information about his or her whereabouts. Once they find the Judas, the bounty hunter will get in contact with that person and ask seemingly innocent questions that will provide them with the information they need.
Now, what you need to understand is that this is done in a somewhat deceptive manner. For example, a bounty hunter might contact a parent or significant other under the guise of anyone from a package delivery person to an old friend from high school to put that potential Judas at ease and have them open up.
The Lesson:It’s one thing to find employees, but it’s another thing to evaluate and vet them and make sure they are the right person for the job you have available. Interestingly, the “Judas” approach above could come in handy in those instances, without having to go undercover, of course.
Consider this: when you have identified a potential candidate, their Judas is already sitting right in front of you in the area on their resume that says, “References upon request.” Let’s face it, references are usually the people who will provide you with a glowing report about the candidate. However, you could take a lesson from a bounty hunter and ask seemingly innocent questions that are designed to give you much more information than the reference realizes.
For example, your organization might be very lean and require someone who is a self-starter who doesn’t need a lot of hand-holding. When you’re speaking to the reference, you could ask a question such as, “What kind of environment do you think she is best suited for? One that’s very hands-on where she will receive a lot of direction, or one that’s more entrepreneurial where she can jump in and figure things out on her own?” If the answer doesn’t match your culture, you know the candidate is not the right fit.
As you can see, when it comes to finding employees you don’t need to have a fully-staffed HR department or retain an expensive executive recruiter. Instead, you can take some cues from a bounty hunter and apply those tactics and techniques to quickly and effectively hunt down great talent. Happy hunting!
(Originally published on AmEx OPENFORUM.COM)
Pitching BIG Ideas to senior management or clients? Bring in an IDEA REFEREE!!!
If you lookup the definition of a “referee,” you’ll come across things such as "an official who watches a game or match closely to ensure that the rules are adhered to and (in some sports) to arbitrate on matters arising from the play."
Interestingly, in the next couple weeks members of the BigHeads senior management team will be taking on the role of…IDEA-REFS! Basically, we will be “officiating” at meetings where one side is PRESENTING ideas and the other side is EVALUATING/BUYING them.
Of course anyone who works in the innovation space knows there is a need for someone to sometimes call bullshit on the presenters…as well as to sometimes push the other side to open their minds, see the bigger picture and give unorthodox ideas a shot.
We’ll be IDEA-REFFING an internal session next week where an innovation team is presenting new product concepts to their senior management team…and then another session the week after where an agency will be presenting their “BIG ideas” to a brand team.
We’ll let you know how it goes…but in the meantime, maybe you should start thinking about bringing in some REFS for your next pitch meeting!
A new study supports the approach we use here at BigHeads and finds that DIVERSITY DRIVES INNOVATION!
Read about it HERE
h-Mag interview with BigHeads founder, John Palumbo
WHEN PANTIES BORROWED FROM PACKAGED GOODS (by BigHeads founder, John Palumbo)
Cross-pollination is a term we use at BigHeads to describe the innovation practice of “borrowing” (some might say, “stealing”) ideas, techniques and tools from outside (and often unexpected) industries/sources and applying them to your own. And there’s nothing I enjoy more than talking to fellow innovators who have embraced cross-pollination as part of their process and hearing their stories about when it worked.
One such innovator is Jill Beraud. Jill is currently CEO of Living Proof, a privately-held beauty company in Cambridge, MA. Prior to that, Jill was President of Starbucks & Lipton Joint Ventures and Global Chief Marketing Officer at PepsiCo. Before PepsiCo, Jill spent 13 years at Limited Brands in various roles, including chief marketing officer of Victoria’s Secret.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jill about her experience “cross-pollinating” and one of her favorite examples using the approach.
JP: These days the practice of cross-pollination is becoming more prevalent, especially as companies and brands continue to adopt open innovation and crowdsourcing initiatives to drive innovation. Tell me about your experience with cross-pollination.
JB: I have used cross pollination to create innovative programs for many years. Having built brands and businesses across multiple categories, from food & beverage to fashion & beauty, I have utilized ideas from each of those categories and applied it to the other.
JP: Can you give me an example of a time when you used it successfully?
JB: One of the most successful examples is how I used a very common idea from the food, beverage and beauty category and applied it in an unexpected way to the fashion/lingerie category.
While at Victoria’s Secret, one of the key insights we identified about our consumers’ shopping behavior was that 50% of our customers where buying our bras but not our panties. Clearly that was a huge opportunity for us to drive incremental business and trial.
In 1996, I created a direct mail “panty sampling” program which targeted all of our consumers that had not purchased a panty to come into our store for a “free cotton panty.” Not only did this drive significant incremental and highly profitable traffic to our stores and tremendous trial/repeat of our panties, but it helped to build the panty business into a $500MM+ business as well as increase the overall bra business.
JP: And this had never been done before?
JB: While sampling is a very common methodology to get trial in beauty, food and beverage, it had never been employed in the fashion/lingerie business to drive trial/repeat and as well as create profitable traffic in retail.
This “free panty sampling” program has continued to this day, 17 years later, to drive profitable business to Victoria’s Secret and has since been copied at other specialty retailers.
So, the takeaway for YOU is simple – always consider approaches and techniques from OUTSIDE industries to inspire innovations and solutions for your own.
CROSS POLLINATION EXPLORATION
You might not immediately see how a paint-blending tool used by a car restoration specialist could lead to a new product for a cosmetics company…or how analyzing the marching behavior of ants could help a major airline develop a more efficient boarding process…or how techniques used by a bounty hunter could help a fortune 500 company find the best employees to hire…but innovation often results from industry “CROSS POLLINATION.”
With this in mind, we designed an approach that accelerates these types of unexpected connections. It’s a turnkey process where we collaborate with unexpected bright minds and experts (BIgHeads) from OUTSIDE industries to uncover tools, techniques and ideas from other disciplines that we can use as inspiration to create disruptive ideas and solutions that meet your objective.
Step 1 – Deep Dive: The BigHeads leadership team meets with you to review and solidify the project objective, key considerations and final deliverables. As appropriate, additional information such as target information, category research, competitive analysis, etc., may also be reviewed.
Step 2 – Stepping Back (Reframing the Problem): Once we know your objective/problem we step back and view it through a broader lens to develop a project thematic or topic that will interest our diverse BigHeads and allow them to make connections to their lives and experiences. Simply put, we convert your objective from internal speak…to human speak.
Step 3 – BigHeads ID: We will methodically scour our network of 1,000 bright minds, experts and problem-solvers and identify 5-10 BigHeads who “connect” with your objective in unique and unexpected ways. For example:
A brand focused on finding new and unique ways to LAUNCH a new product could expect to learn from unexpected BigHeads who “launch” things in OUTSIDE industries such as musicians who launch albums, reality TV producers who launch shows, designers who launch boutique hotels, etc.
A company interested in finding ways to make areas of their business more EFFICIENT could expect to learn from unexpected BigHeads who are experts in efficiency such as a beekeeper (bees are extremely efficient), an air traffic controller, etc.
Step 4 – Interviews: Our team holds comprehensive interviews (phone and/or in-person) with each of the participating BigHeads to gain a complete understanding of the approaches, techniques, tactics, tools, etc. they use in their industry.
Step 5 – Cross-Pollination: Once the interviews are complete, our internal team begins the cross pollination process by making connections (connecting-the-dots) between the information we received during the interviews and your overall objective to develop our final ideas and recommendations.
Step 6 – The Report: You receive project report, which includes transcripts of our interviews with the BigHeads, along with a collection of ideas and breakthrough innovations, inspired by the approaches, techniques, tactics, tools, etc. the participating BigHeads use in their industry. The key findings from the report are presented to your team during an engaging work session.
Inno-Visits (OPTIONAL STEP): If you’d like to be more involved in the process, we will schedule half-day “visits” and give members of your team the unique opportunity to “shadow” the participating BigHeads so they can gain a “hands-on” understanding of the approaches, techniques, tactics, tools, etc. they use in their industry. Following the visits, each member of your team will be challenged to make connections between the overall objective/goal and the information collected during their visits to create new ideas and breakthrough innovations inspired by their unlikely source. We will include each team member’s ideas and recommendations in the final report.
Carlyn Kelly, EVP of Strategy and Innovation
Special thank you to Albie and Chris Manzo for the interview…
Searching for the Right CONTENT for Your Brand’s “Content Marketing” Initiative? BOOK A BIGHEAD!!!
These days, it seems as if every brand is looking to execute a powerful and engaging CONTENT MARKETING approach, and that means TWO things:
1. You gotta finding the RIGHT CONTENT – meaning, content that brings-to-life your brand equities, which is never as easy as it sounds
2. You need to develop that content to be EPISODIC – meaning, it needs to be crafted like a great TV show…one where people become invested…look forward to seeing what will happen next…and find themselves talking about it, when they don’t even realize it (we call that “buzz”)
With this in mind, you might want to consider giving us a call, because the BigHeads Network is made up of interesting people doing interesting things who can create (or may already be creating) COMPELLING CONTENT you can leverage to bring-to-life your brand equities. They are chefs, artists, musicians, decorators, inventors, dating experts, bloggers, comedians, fashion designers, educators, sustainability experts, mixologists, super moms, entrepreneurs, etc.
And when it comes to ensuring your content is designed to be EPISODIC and ENGAGING, you’re covered on those fronts too, since our network includes “episodic experts,” such as filmmakers, reality TV producers, authors, sitcom writers, photographers, video game developers, etc. who you also can collaborate with.
If you’d like to “audit” our network of BigHeads to identify members who can help develop RELEVANT and EPISODIC CONTENT for your brand, please contact Carlyn Kelly at email@example.com.