The Bee’s Knees

Bees

By: Sandy Swanson

One of the advantages of living close to The Ohio State University are programs like “Science Sundays.” The College of Arts and Sciences offers monthly lectures on interesting topics like the Great Lakes, Neuroscience, and Bees.

I attended the bee lecture on Sunday. The speaker talked about how bees, as well as wasps and ants, have been able to organize themselves, divide labor, and thrive as a species for more than 60 million years. The interesting part of the discussion is not the behaviors themselves, but how these insects know how to do these things.

There are a few takeaways from the lecture that relates nicely to the human species even though we have time clocks  scheduling software, project management tools and staff meetings to organize ourselves and get our work done.

  1. Noise is good – One of the things the researchers found in working with insects is that a little bit of tension is good when executing tasks. When there is a roadblock, they are able to address it and move on. It’s ok that everything does not always go perfectly. In fact, the outcome is better when they have to overcome some obstacle.
  2. Specialists vs. generalists – Insects have to be generalists when they are working solo. It isn’t until there are at least seven of them they can divide up the labor. Once they specialize, the system works best when handoff times are quick. Think of it this way. Let’s say you were part of a team, and someone didn’t complete their handoff. You have two choices. You can wait around for them, or go do it yourself. This is what bees do. Some will stay, and others will go back to being generalists.
  3. Use experience to your advantage – Ants take on easier tasks when they are first hatched, and get more dangerous jobs, like leaving the colony to get food, when they get more experience and approach the end of their life expectancy.
  4. Make your case and then shut up – Bees have an interesting decision-making process. When it’s time to select a new location for a hive, they send out a few scouts. They will come back, a few promoting Location A and a few promoting Location B, ‘dancing’ to make their case and recruit more scouts. After they finish dancing, they become silent and let the next recruits take over. The next round of scouts mimic the same behavior, dancing and then becoming silent. After a few days, the location with the most “buzz” (sorry, I couldn’t resist!), is the location they choose.

So, what are the big takeaways here. Well, first, we should embrace a little conflict in our work or personal lives. In other words, noise is good. If everything always went according to plan, we would never figure out how to improve processes or make new discoveries.

Next, figure out where you can specialize and where you need a generalist approach. If specialization is not working well, perhaps there is a weak link in the process or a person somewhere along the line. Use experience to your advantage. Maybe this approach is intuitive with parents teaching their young, but are you leveraging experienced workers in the workplace?

Finally, a little silence is golden. Make your case, try to get buy-in, and then let the process evolve. We’ve all been in committee meetings when Mary or Joe monopolized the conversation, even though they couldn’t win their argument but refused to let anyone else take a shot.

Who knew bees and other insects were so interesting? I think I’ll make a “bee-line” to my library to check out a few more books on the topic.

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2013

Photo courtesy of the Backyard Bee Hive Blog

Advertisements

It’s Time to Go

By: Clark Swanson

Last week, OrangeBoy duties took me to Kansas City, Missouri, where we work in close contact with Kansas City Public Libraries to help improve literacy services in their community. The trip was expected to last a few days; just down and back. There was a chance of snow in the forecast, but based on meteorological accuracy, I wasn’t exceptionally concerned… Until the storm came early, and I tried to make it out of town before it arrived.

I have seen news footage of such moments, but last week, I found myself living it. As I attempted to make my way to the airport, the I-435 – I-29 split was littered with abandoned and stalled cars. Their drivers, at least those who hadn’t walked way, were at a complete loss. We could see the road ahead was clear. Yet we were frozen, literally and figuratively. There seemed no way out.

Kansas

Then I saw a man, who unlike me and the others was well dressed for the weather. As he walked by my window, I rolled it down, and he asked, “Do you have four-wheel-drive?” The Escape I was driving had all-wheel drive, but it wasn’t the time to debate the point. “If we can clear a few of these people out of the way,” he said, “I think we can get through.”

He went to the mini-van blocking me and asked her to pull in front of me; requiring her to move headlong toward the berm. We formed a “T” at this moment. At the same time, a thought came into my head, “Do you really want to do this? This is how you got here in the first place.” Three hours earlier I had taken a calculated risk. If I could get to the airport before the storm grew to full strength, Southwest promised I might make it home to my wife Sandy. Although I got within eight miles; I lost.

The thought didn’t last long. I didn’t even answer it. I put the Ford Escape into reverse, backed-up, and then pulled around the mini-van. I squeezed between a semi and another car, twisting and turning between two others. A small pick-up was the last obstacle. He sat between an abandoned car and another semi. I stopped the Escape, and with the help of four others, the truck was manhandled. We moved it maybe 12 to 18 inches. I got back into the Escape, pointed it toward the gap, and drove through. It didn’t fishtail, drift, or slide.

I plowed through the gap, heading to the open road. The gentleman who started the chain of events waved as I passed through, but I had no intention of stopping or going back.

That evening, as I stared out my hotel window, it came to me that this was the metaphor for our business and the opportunities ahead. When the opportunity presents itself, we have to take it without much thought or fear, regardless of previous failures.

If those three days showed me anything, it’s that a golden gap lies before us. We just need to drive through it. Yes, sometimes it takes a little help from others and a bit of luck, but it’s out there.

It’s time to go. I hope you’ll come along with us.

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2013

Photo from kansascity.com

Opting in to Consumer-Driven Strategy

Image

How Disney Changes the Theme Park Business

By: Nickie Harber-Frankart

A new year brings new opportunities. For our clients, that means a new level of understanding of how consumers’ desires for convenience and personalization continually drive business strategy. A recent New York Times article about Disney’s new MyMagic+ technology is a perfect example of this.

mymagic

MyMagic+ utilizes radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology embedded in rubber bracelets (called MagicBands), which when worn by park visitors simplifies the daunting task of keeping track of paper tickets, fumbling with credit cards, and tracking room keys, while watching small children in a theme park. Customers (at their own discretion) can also encode personal data on the bands which park employees can access. This makes it possible for me or my sister to opt in and personalize my niece’s first visit to Walt Disney World where Minnie Mouse greets her saying, “Nice to meet you, Hailey!”

For a place that brings fairy tales to life, the adoption of MyMagic+ not only delivers convenience and personalization, but also brings Disney one step closer to its mission and brand promise to make “Dreams come true.”

As a consumer and business person, I can appreciate all of the possibilities. Sure, it raises the hot debate about collecting personal data, but it really is a win-win for both the customer and the organization. For instance, it not only enhances the customer experience leading to greater customer satisfaction, but also allows the organization to gain valuable insight into consumption habits to streamline processes and enhance productivity.

I believe 2013 is the year for both consumers and company leaders to truly embrace the opportunities that technology and data bring. There are numerous possibilities to satisfy our convenience-driven culture, and several ways our organizations and customers benefit—one of which is the option to opt out entirely.

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2013

Photo from wired.com

The Glass Half Full

By: Sandy Swanson

Half empty or half full? A classic example used in numerous articles and self-help books asks us to identify how we see the glass. The thought is that if we see the glass half empty, we are pessimists. We have a client, Wadsworth Public Library, who chose to see their financial situation quite the opposite way. With their optimistic attitude and determination, they passed a levy that had failed just eight months earlier. You can also read a related article about the Wadsworth Public Library on the Library Journal blog, The Digital Shift.

Glass half fullOrangeBoy provided the Wadsworth Public Library, located in Medina County, Ohio, analytics about its customers and community to pass a crucial operating levy. This time, armed with optimism, dedicated volunteers, and good data, it worked. Here’s how they did it.

The library is anchored between the Akron and Cleveland metropolitan areas and it serves a community of approximately 25,000. The community had seen steady declines in state library funding since 2001, but it reached a critical point from 2008 through 2010, after sharp cuts to library funding due to the recession. This resulted in immediate budget reductions of $500,000 for the library (nearly 20 percent of its overall budget), and cumulative losses of $2 million over the previous 10 years. These cuts reduced operating hours, staff and programs.

The library went to the voters in March 2012 and attempted to pass a 1.25 mill levy. Despite a valiant effort from community volunteers and the library, the levy did not pass.

A ‘half-empty’ mind-set could have overcome the library and they might have just given up, cutting library services even further. But they didn’t. They decided to re-group and try a different approach. This time, they adjusted the desired levy to 1 mill, formed another dedicated volunteer committee, and hired OrangeBoy to understand the market dynamics at play.

OrangeBoy helped the library with a comprehensive market analysis. Our study identified where their cardholders lived and displayed geographic trends visually with GIS maps, in addition to identifying other demographic characteristics of their customers and the overall market. We also incorporated voter registration information to add deeper insights about voting patterns in their community.

After presenting our research, the library decided to play to its strength and focus its levy efforts on known supporters. They believed they would have a better chance at passing the levy if they could encourage loyal users to get to the polls. Their strategy worked, and the levy passed with 55 percent of the vote, a nine point swing from the election just eight months earlier.

Our role in this effort is extremely rewarding, but it is their ‘half full’ optimism that inspires me. When I have a day that didn’t go as planned or am greeted with disappointing news, I remember the Wadsworth Public Library and look at that glass a whole new way.

Here’s to an optimistic and rewarding new year.

Leave us your comments or questions below.

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2013

What You Can Learn about Innovation from Apple

By: Nickie Harber-Frankart

In recent news, Apple won a lawsuit against Samsung for infringing on its product patents—demonstrating the power and importance of innovation. Then again, this morning, Apple released the new iPhone 5 that sold out within an hour—proving, yet again, the power of innovation.

We hear stories about the importance of innovation all the time. Yet, the questions I hear most often from clients and prospective clients are, “I want to be like so and so” and “You work with other organizations similar to ours, what do they do to solve XYZ problem?”

My response is always, “Why do you want to be like someone else?”

Your organization, employees, customers and markets are all unique. Create processes that work to engage your customers. Create new products to fulfill your customers’ needs. Design solutions that fit your organizational goals, and above all else, don’t do something because someone or some other company has done it before.

As it turns out, emulating others will not get you very far.

It’s okay to aspire to be like other successful organizations and its leaders. We’d all like to have loyal customers like Apple. But Apple did not get where they are today by following. They got there by leading, taking risks and challenging the status quo.

Former Apple CEO Steve Job said in his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford, “Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.”

Learn from Apple about the power of innovation.

Be creative. Be bold. Be original. And, as we say at OrangeBoy: Stop thinking in black and white. Think in color.

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2012

What Are You Missing?

By: Nickie Harber-Frankart

I recently attended a daylong seminar on organizational leadership that focused on the complexities of relationships. I learned a lot, but there was one thing the instructor said that really stuck with me:

What you pay attention to determines what you miss*

It makes sense. We grind along at work habitually directing our attention to things we feel are important. As a result, we lose focus and fail to stay in touch with the people who matter most in our organizations: employees, customers, and other stakeholders. Take for example the leaders on the hit TV show Undercover Boss. Each episode is about a leader who tries to reconnect with people to figure out what’s happening in his or her organization.

Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch has said, “Not recognizing that you are the last person to know what is going on” is the single most frequent mistake of a CEO.**

So how can you stay connected? Here are a few things to remember.

  • Listen. Probe for feedback often from everyone in your organization, including your employees and customers in formal and informal ways, using one-on-one interviews, focus groups, or surveys. Listen with sincerity and use results to better the organization.
  • Observe. Pay attention to behavior and nonverbal cues to help you learn what is important. You can take the Undercover Boss approach by observing your employees or customers in action, or analyzing other patterns in behavior through data. In addition, pay attention to reactions and gestures in meetings to gain insight.
  • Reflect. Take time to think about what’s important to others. Use knowledge from listening and observing to understand what makes people tick. Put yourself in other people’s shoes and recognize that we all want to do our best. This will help you focus on the positive.
  • Communicate. The quality and quantity of your communication matters. Engage followers and raise awareness through frequent communication. Set expectations and share your vision with employees. Make sure you also offer constructive feedback as often as you offer praise—this conveys attention and care.

Effective leaders consciously direct their attention toward others. They focus on caring for and meeting the needs of their employees and stakeholders (customers, shareholders, etc.) to drive organizational success.

We want to know how you stay focused. Leave us your comments below.

*Rob Abramovitz, Servant Leadership Seminar, Marylhurst University, June 2, 2012.
**Interview with Stuart Varney for the TV series CEO Exchange on PBS (2001).

©OrangeBoy, Inc. 2012