Selfishly, to create accountability for myself and catapult that imagineering time back up the charts, I launched G+A’s Friday Fast Takes series. On the first Friday of each month, I share musings from each area of our XD focus (events, digital, space, culture, and people) that I’m toying with. Topics range from real-world observations of XD in action to hypothetical challenges to long-standing beliefs and whether they should remain standing. Some of my musings may evolve into long-form posts, and some may not. Heck, I may discontinue the series entirely because I determine it, in and of itself, no longer stand up. For now, though, I’m making my creative time a very public priority. Happy Reading!
Event XD: Tell a New Story + Make it One You Want to Read
Recently some awesome clients of ours, who shall remain nameless, took that bold leap from defining a new dream for their event to designing it. After discussing a series of recommendations we proposed, they ventured beyond the boundary waters of a written report into the open sea of actually doing what the report said. Understandably, the water started to feel very, very deep, scary, and full of proverbial sharks waiting to eat them up at the first opportunity.
Goofy nautical metaphors aside (I really seem to like them), one of the project-leads shared with me that several folks were eager to begin making changes but uncertain of where precisely to begin. Anticipating a hundred forms of well-intended, unintentional, yet detrimental hesitations should they make the ‘wrong’ moves or move too quickly, she continued to share with me that in her new role, she felt unprepared and underskilled to guide the team through the impending transformation, having only recently assumed responsibility for the project herself. “I’d love your reaction and any input you have on the direction we’re moving in currently,” she quipped.
With a big, I mean, ridiculously HUGE grin spread across my face, I dove in.
“First, I said, let’s begin with the story you’re telling yourself about yourself! You aren’t giving yourself nearly the credit you’re due for the skills you bring to the project. The fact that you haven’t produced this specific event experience for the past 100 years is not only not a problem; it’s an invaluable solution. A new perspective on the project means you’re not bringing a slew of ‘we’ve always done it that way’ to the design process! Further, there are innumerable parallels between the work you’ve done designing digital learning experiences and what you can contribute to design real-world ones. Your awareness of beginning with an orientation towards outcomes rather than a definition of the avenues by which you must get to them will serve the team exceptionally well.”
“Okay,” she cautiously agreed, “I guess that’s true.”
“Guess, or don’t. It’s true,” I replied. “So begin by telling yourself a new story And then continue by allowing everyone else to tell themselves a new story about the event experience you’re Designing.”
“Rather than forcing the team to commit to specific, tactical changes, start generally and open the floor to all the ways in which you can rewrite the narrative. Using the vivid description we created, share with the team that their only to-do for now is to look at the things that already exist and determine whether they can make simple changes to more strongly evoke the tone and sentiment you’re aiming to convey. This could take the form of something as basic as revising your internal team meeting agendas to be written in a fun, exciting voice rather than as stale, bulleted lists. It could manifest as an update to the type of imagery you use in digital promotions or the tone of email marketing copy. It might take shape as simply beginning to reply to third party vendor emails by saying, ‘We’re really pleased you’re our partner and that you’re working with us to proactively address issues that would otherwise arise onsite.’”
“Individually,” I assured her, “none of these new tiny touchpoints may appear to be driving any notable change. However, in the aggregate, they’re not only bringing your big dream to life but also subtly yet powerfully altering the team’s thought approach. You\’re allowing them to replace an aversion-based thinking pattern (i.e., we can’t do that because) with a desire-based one (i.e., “yeah, I guess I could do that”), and it feels easy because you\’re allowing it to be easy.
As we concluded the call, I reminded her that no matter what story she aimed to create, the most important idea was to make it a story she wanted to read. If it became a story she would read, then that was the book she wouldn’t put down no matter how long it took to get to the end.
Digital XD: Stop Liking, Start Loving
Sitting at a red light recently, I hastily began scrolling through G+A’s recently launched IG profile (@gaexperiences), reviewing posts and related likes and comments. Our account is young, our followers in the dozens, and our likes per post countable on two hands (and maybe one foot) generally speaking. While I know that will evolve, I couldn\’t help fixating on the fact that we just don\’t have enough activity yet. While I did my best to check traffic around me before accelerating when the light change, trying to mask that I was the person at the light too busy checking her phone to realize it was green, a gentle thought popped into my head. “Mal, there are mountains in front of you, the sun is above you, and the sweet sounds of a Tribe Called Quest are all around you. But you’re desperately reviewing your IG account at every pause in your drive, hoping you’ve hit on the magical formula that will skyrocket your follower count and LPPs since the last time you checked 120 seconds ago. You’re missing the point, my dear. You’re missing all the fun.”
As I made left onto the freeway and began cruising in earnest, I decided it was time to double down on the digital fun. Why wouldn’t we? What real win would it be to gain followers galore, if G+A’s digital experience turned into a real-life version of Black Mirror’s famous Season 3 Nosedive episode? Of course, it would be disingenuous to act as if I don’t want to achieve social media success. It’s an excellent way to share our message with the world and to bring in new business, but if it ain’t a real representation of who we are, what we do, and how we do it, then what message would we actually be sharing and how many new clients could we attract who wanted what we were really selling?
I\’m aware that I’m not the first, nor will I be the last to grapple with (and document) the wholly pedestrian revelation that authenticity (insert obligatory overused word cringe) is the path to sustainable success. Nonetheless, it was the epiphany I needed to permit myself to post things like National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day and tag @NordicWare bundt pans, because two days earlier I’d cleaned out my fridge to bake a bundt in one of their pans. Or, post a picture of my superfly cousin and send her a birthday shout out because she’s excellent and I wanted to and it\’s my company\’s IG account and why the hell not?!
Perhaps social media experts will one day seize on this post as the epitome of how not to create a winning digital experience. But if they do, our account will probably go viral, and then we’ll have successfully achieved social media infamy by being our weird, wonderful, and completely authentic (barf a little again) selves! 😉
Space XD: Hallmark Movies + Holiday Magic
In 2018, I was on the road from August through December. For four and a half months, I moved from place to place, never spending more than ten days in a single city. While that meant a lot of wonderful adventures, beautiful experiences, and unexpected delights, it didn’t leave time to decorate for the holidays… what would I have decorated anyhow? (I’d moved out of my home before hitting the road.)
A month ago, I hosted my niece, Nola, for our annual birthday sleepover. She’s six; It’s a big deal, and there’s only one rule: we get to do whatever Nola wants. Last year, that meant strolling through the Bellagio at midnight in our pajamas because when she asked me to take a night walk and I tried to nix the idea, she turned, looked me squarely in the eyes and said with the wisdom only a small child putting a grown adult in their place can muster, “Aunt Mal, you said anything. I thought that was the one rule.”
You can’t argue with your own words boomeranging on you. Well, you can, but you look like an even more colossal fool, so off we went. (To anyone who may have seen me last November, no, I wasn’t the worst parent ever. I was, in fact, the best aunt ever! And to the security team at Bellagio\’s Hyde nightclub who played along pretending they were going to let her in when we asked, an especially big thank you!)
Anyhow, during the 2019 installment of our annual ritual, Nollie opted for love movies, lots of them. And because, as previously mentioned, I am the best aunt ever, I thought it appropriate to introduce her to the joy of the Christmas romance movie, and specifically Netflix’s “The Spirit of Christmas.” While we watched Kate, a workaholic lawyer, check-in and haggle with a Christmas spirit so that she could get a haunted bed and breakfast appraised before Christmas, thus cementing her superstar status at work*, a lightbulb went on.
“Eureka!” I thought, “I just need to go to a haunted New England B&B, and I’ll finally meet the man of my undead dreams!” Oh, wait, no, I actually thought, “Hey, I can decorate for the holidays again this year.”
A week ago, I shared that revelation with someone who said, “But aren’t you going out of town for a good chunk of December making decorating a waste of time and money?”
I laughed out loud. Would taking time to beautify the space I live in day-in and day-out be a waste of time and money? Not to me.
So often, we convince ourselves that investing in the design of our spaces, whether ephemerally as in the case of holiday decorating or more enduringly in the case of redesigning homes, offices, and the like, is a waste. “It’s fine the way it is,” we say. “There’s not enough time,” we gripe. “For the money I’d spend, I could go to Chipotle 200 more times,” we posit.
As it turns out, most of those rationalizations and justifications generally point back to a few underlying stories we’ve all gotten really good at telling ourselves: it’s easier (and better) to avoid the discomfort of uncertainty inherent in undertaking an endeavor, the outcome of which we can\’t foretell, by scrapping it before we even begin; and that investing in something like designing a space experience solely because it will make our lives more pleasurable is somehow wrong or irresponsible. As you might imagine, I disagree.
It is not only marvelous to allow something to unfold before your eyes but also entirely the right attitude to do things that create recurring instances of feel-good-feelings. Each time I walk into a well-designed space, it puts a smile on my face. Each time I see beautiful holiday decor, whether at home or in the world at large, I feel lighter and happier, and you can bet that that levity and joy carry themselves into all of my affairs.
So go ahead, get in the spirit, turn on “The Spirit of Christmas,” (or Die Hard or Love Actually – whatever means holiday cheer to you) and permit yourself to invest in creating merry and bright spaces for yourself this year.
*Yes, that is the real plot with the added bonus that Kate inevitably falls in love with the extremely handsome ghost, who is trying to solve his own 100-year old murder during the 12 days before Christmas. He ultimately comes back to life reanimated by his deep love for Kate. Did I mention what an excellent Aunt I am?
Culture XD: The Most Wonderful Time of Year… or Is It?
In our last blog post, I shared my philosophy about closing our offices completely the week of Thanksgiving and the final two weeks of the year. So, in this month’s fastest take of all, I’ll again propose that closing down your offices over certain stretches of the final six weeks of each year merits real consideration. If you’re the one who can make that call, i.e. the head honcho, I encourage you to seriously evaluate whether requiring staff to choose between showing up to alternate between watching YouTube videos and rereading-and-not-responding-to the same one email they receive every 6 hours or using PTO to take time off is really is the dream culture you’ve aspired to design. If you’re not the one who makes that call, consider whether you can take time off or, if you absolutely have to work, use it do what’s suggested directly below in People XD.
Be bold, believe in holiday miracles, and watch what happens when you just stop working! Who knows? Instead of disaster, it may turn out to be the most wonderful time of the year after all.
In the spirit of getting in the spirit, this month’s people XD fast take centers around a simple question: who can you make smile today? Sure, the obvious answers count (myself, my partner, my kids, my friends), but what about the less obvious ones?
Let’s say you’re in the same coffee shop each day or just about. Do you know any of the baristas’ names? When was the last time you noticed something nice about one of them and complimented them on it? Could saying something as simple as, “Thank you for putting the pep in my step this morning!” be the thing that makes Thor’s day, today? (Yes, in this hypothetical scenario, your barista is a hammer-wielding superhuman Norweigan or you\’re in deep Brooklyn. Either way, just go with it.)
Alright, so you’ve taken “being a decent human” steps one and two: be nice to the people you live with (or like a whole lot or both) and be nice to the people you interact with daily. But are you ready for step three? Yep, you sure are. I believe in you, so there’s no way you can fail!
Make someone smile who you don’t know at all. This could be a customer (obviously I’ve got to tie this back to business at least once) or a passerby on the street, or a person, who despite being every bit as human as you or me, we often actively avoid acknowledging – a housekeeping professional at your hotel, the gentlemen asking for spare change on the corner, office building security staff. Guess what? It turns out that each of them is equally susceptible to the mood-boosting powers of an unexpected grin, especially when paired with a cheerful and genuine “good morning/afternoon/evening.”
So, could you brighten the lives of people you come in contact with today with a simple smile? No matter who they are? No matter what they do? If the answer is anything other than a resounding, “Yes!” perhaps the person to begin with is the one reading these words?
Happy Weekend + Happy St. Nicholas’ Day, Everyone,
*If you’ve never heard of St. Nicholas’ Day, click here for a little holiday history lesson courtesy of SoftStar shoemakers!