Lessons From California

I just come back from a trip made with a team of 15 persons from a large French retail company. We went there from May, 23 to May, 29 2011 and visited companies like Whole Foods Markets, Lowe’s, Ideo, Cisco, Google, Crushpadwine, but also places like the Delancey Street Foundation, the Brower Center or the Stanford Design School. We also met some experts like D. Piotet from Rebellion Lab and young Silicon Valley entrepreneurs (classroom.tv). In this post I’d like to share a first set of thoughts about this journey, mainly business insights.

Believe in your concept

Maybe one of the first impression in this journey has been to discover the power of a business concept. This was particularly clear in three restaurants we were in : one  copied the atmosphere of the 50’s,  another one was entirely dedicated to Forrest Gump and the third one presented a whole experience of a Japanese food made by a chef under your eyes. Whatever the main theme, all the settings, dressings, decorations, menus,… converged towards a specific customer experience. This focus allowed a very unique atmosphere. In our businesses, do we really believe in the power of our value proposition ? Aren’t we always tempted to compromise and to mix our business stand with many other unnecessary features ? Customers want clarity. A specific concept fully developed in each and every detail is what will give them enchantment.

Make your processes explicit

On day 1, just after jumping from the plane, we biked the Golden Gate Bridge. I was struck by the little bike renting company. In an apparently simple business, these people managed to build a very coherent experience through their process. Key moments were very well defined (departure, difficult orientation choices, return of bicycles). For example, before leaving, a crew member would give us the bike, adjust the saddle in front of us and explain the use of the padlock. Another one would give us a bottle of water and encourage us before leaving. All this process would be done one by one, as if every person was absolutely unique. Again, how often do we assume that our customer understands all our procedures or rules just because they are so obvious… to us ? How often is a customer experience limited because we just did not care to detail our processes till the end ? This attention to details is of course very linked to the clarity and coherence of a concept. One could easily say that if your concept is vague, so will your processes and vice versa.

Dramatize the customer experience

I just mentioned the power of your business concept and the necessity to make your processes explicit. These two elements are very linked to a third one : life is theater and theater is life. In two occasions, we have been introduced to our visit in theater rooms (Delancey Street Foundation and Brower Center). This was no accident : in both cases, this was a way to set the scene and have us understand that 1) we were treated like V.I.P. and 2) the people we were to meet were like important actors. At Lowe’s (DIY leader), we have been welcomed in the store also like in Cannes festival, with no less than eight persons in line, in their uniform, greeting us individually. Setting the scene is a key activity any leader (or marketing person) has to do again and again. This is the way our daily operations or conversations don’t fail into triviality or automatic behaviours. Muhammad Yunus used to say to his bankworkers at Grameen Bank : “You’re an artist, not a machine !”.

Pay attention to the place (Bâ)

If life is a stage, then you have to take care of the place where you play. This is like your home. During this week in California, I have been very impressed by several places that really expressed without words the intention of its creators. One is particularly obvious : the Hasso Plattner Design School of Stanford, where innovation is stimulated by open spaces, flexible offices, creative materials at hand, trendy  furniture, big white boards, etc. But this consistency of a building and its purpose was also very visible at the Brower Center. All the design and decoration of this building expose the latest technologies in green construction, but also a new way of living a healthy worklife. At a certain point, Google premises where we had the chance to spend a couple of hours also demonstrate some of the company deepest beliefs (like the necessity to take care of employees).

The question that these places raise is very simple : do our building or our offices truly reflect our vision of work ? our vision of the world that our products or services tend to create ? The concept of Bâ proposed by Japanese philosopher Nishida has been described by knowledge-creation specialist Nonaka like this : “Bâ can be thought of as a shared space for emerging relationships.” Isn’t it what our workplaces are (or should become) ?

California is inspiring. Now, let’s apply these insights !!!

This entry was posted in California, Creativity, design thinking, Innovation, Learning, Learning expedition, Management 3.0, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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