The time is NOW!

If not now, when?

It’s not just a rhetorical question. This question cuts to the core of our ability to take action and not just do what we need to do. We have all have our priorities - family, work, community - and we all make our choices and prioritize our day, weeks, months into how to best achieve our goals and aspirations.

Sometimes those obligations and responsibilities get in the way of acting in our best interests for the long term. Near term real world responsibilities like making a living to feed ourselves and our family take over all of our conscious thought. Maintaining and furthering our careers and must keeping the job we have is daunting enough. So how do you put the future into perspective?

The quick answer is that it’s not easy, not at all.

The longer answer is that we must find a way to fuel our purpose. Finding that purpose can be a quest. It can be long or short, easy or arduous but finding it is key to long term health and happiness.

Look deep, see what others see in you and move into that energy. The purpose is within you and teasing it out into your deliberate thought will give you the energy you need to move into your best life.

Future leaders: Where are you?

As a part time professor teaching in the Design Strategy MBA program at California College of the Arts, a question often arises with our students and fellow faculty - where will the future leaders in business and culture come from?  What will be their training?  How will we know that the approach we are taking in our graduate education programs today will be relevant in a rapidly changing environment in both business and culture?  Are we reading the signals correctly to attract the right talent for instructors and students, alike?

So, future leaders - What do you think you need to succeed as you grow your experience?  Some say that we need to be adaptable to constant change.  But that's really not very new and you certainly can't teach resilience.  Others would argue that we must have ever changing skills to stay current and relevant.  There are many books, papers, articles, and conferences that preach that leaders must be able to listen and distill quickly in order to make decisions in an increasingly sped up and challenging business cycle.   

What does the next generation leader look like?  Traditional MBA programs have focused on specific skills - finance, marketing, organizational behavior, international business, and more.  You get a mix of all these things but you pretty much have to pick your flavor of emphasis and dive in the deep end.  Perfectly acceptable in a world where employees were valued as assets to be groomed and trained and brought up through the ranks.  Today's worker will have a lot of jobs and might change focus several times during their working life.  Some reports claim that the recent college graduates will change careers 8 times in their lifetime.  Not jobs - careers!

So what do YOU need to succeed?  


Designers, musicians, writers, artists, all have the secret sauce to unlocking potential.  They understand how to adapt to changing conditions quickly.  They see the situations and problems as series of choices not static and immovable.  Designers are natural communicators. Designers learn how to understand complex issues and decode them into a series of acceptable choices and not singular solutions.

Design training is now a valuable asset in the C suite and should be part of your tool kit as well.

How will you adapt?  What would your choice of design education?  

As always, I welcome your comments and feedback here.

#designthinking  #design  #cacollegeofarts  #working  #leadership  

What is your impact?

Do you think you could measure your organization's effectiveness?  I'm not talking about moving the needle for the benefit of your company but rather, what contribution has your organization, team, product, service, employees, made to the community.  What effect have your efforts had on others? 

Sure, we are used to measuring efficiencies, earnings before taxes, sales increases, revenue per employee, and on and on... Can you look back on the last 2 years, 5 years, 20 years and track the net effect of your personal contributions, the contributions of your employees and colleagues in context with the greater community.  

Kickstarter has had a profound net effect in its brief history.  Read more here and maybe you can think about how your contributions might add up...

It's common sense really...

When did taking short cuts make anyone's life better, easier, safer, healthier.  When did treating people badly ever work out for anyone in the long run.  Applying common sense, being practical, looking out for many interests and serving people with dignity and respect will win all day, every day.  

The concept of fairness & transparency applies to business models and strategy.  If you design your business around positive outcomes and the best interests of your customers, suppliers, employees and the community.  Sounds simple doesn't it?  But it's not.  It's actually hard to do the right thing when considering many people in the value chain.  Someone has to lose right?  The notion of Win-Win is pretty hard to stomach because someone always wins more.  That's true - life is rarely balanced.  Business is rarely equal.  But does it have to be equal to be fair?  

As a business model strategist & designer, I have seen a lot of models that work for a while and then the market shifts and POOF, the old is gone and the new won't work.  Design in fairness and transparency and you build in longevity.

Here's an example

Using the Business Model Canvas

I work some amazingly talented people at Zoo Labs (  We were recently features in a blog post by the authors of the book The Business Model Generation Canvas.  You can read the whole discussion here. 

At Zoo Labs, The Business Model Canvas Is Helping To Redefine The Music Industry

Added on September 7, 2015 by Kavi Guppta.

At Strategyzer, we’re always excited to share how large and small companies use our tools to build better value propositions and business models. In this post, Brandt Williams, Head of Strategy at Zoo Labs, explains how the Business Model Canvas is helping musicians redefine the music industry. 

Brandt Williams (center) with Zoo Labs' residents.

Zoo Labs was originally conceived to help musicians understand that they can have a sustainable career in an industry that has just become a playground for new business models and value propositions. The music accelerator's residency program exposes participants to the the guiding principles, disciplines and rigor required to be successful in any venture.  

There are many lessons here for companies large and small. Most importantly, Zoo Labs and the Business Model Canvas empower teams to make high quality products, engage with their customers, and create a sustainable and viable future.

“The typical response of our residents is that the Business Model Canvas makes it easy to see their business in a way they had understood intuitively but never documented.”

Kavi Guppta: How do musicians/music businesses think about strategy? Is this a new area for them?

Brandt Williams: Musicians have historically been subjected to the monopoly of the music industry with little control over their brand, customer acquisition and long term success. Things have changed dramatically and put the shift in power back in the hands of the artist.

Generally speaking, musicians are natural born entrepreneurs and are actually quite good at understanding their craft and their customer. Where Zoo Labs helps is guiding them to understand that business is a craft, much like songwriting or arranging a musical score. There is a language and tempo to strategy. Zoo Labs breaks down what musicians naturally understand and decodes it into a strategic plan that they can execute.

KG: How were you introduced to the Business Model Canvas and other Strategyzer tools?

BW: Zoo Labs leverages some of the very best business minds in the Bay Area. Entrepreneurs, social activists, tech investors, seasoned business leaders and college faculty as mentors in our residency program. The Strategyzer tools are part of their everyday toolkit. Our mentors bring that knowledge and expertise of decoding and demystifying the language of business to our teams. The Strategyzer tools are a huge help in making the translation easier to understand and help our teams get to an effective strategic plan.

KG: How has the Business Model Canvas introduced to residents at Zoo Labs?

BW: In our initial introduction to the canvas, we explain the elements of the canvas by introducing case examples in the music industry and other known products or services. We use comparison case studies to build out a Business Model Canvas of dissimilar businesses and compare them to musicians. For example, we compare the Swatch watch company to a band.  

We then ask the teams a series of leading questions with active participation. We use a LOT of sticky notes and the team members write and post and debate each element of the canvas as we apply the canvas to their goals and success metrics.

This helps them see their project as a company or startup or legacy business and guides them to priorities for success. Because of their natural ability of entrepreneurship, the teams grasp the concept quickly and build canvases as experts in a very short period.

KG: How do new residents react to the Business Model Canvas when you use it in workshops?

BW: There is an AHA! moment when we use the Business Model Canvas. The canvas helps our residents see their current business in a very short period of time. They use the canvas to make decisions and priorities quickly.

The typical response of our residents is that the Business Model Canvas makes it easy to see their business in a way they had understood intuitively but never documented.

The Business Model Canvas process builds a team dynamic as well. Natural leaders come forward and contributors are valued during the Business Model Canvas process. Being able to touch and visualize the business designing process helps reinforce the priorities and create tangible goals.

“Being able to touch and visualize the business designing process helps reinforce the priorities and create tangible goals.”

KG: What are some of the AHAs that have come out of these exercises?

BW: The AHA’s come when the musician realizes that they must focus on each element of the Business Model Canvas to be successful.  

At Zoo Labs we over emphasize the Value Proposition and the Customer Relationship. We use the Empathy Map to illustrate the relationship they have with their customer (audience).

Another AHA comes when participants realize that their customer comes to the music in ways that the musician never anticipated.  

The audience has control of the relationship with musicians. Focusing on the empathy of the audience builds trust, confidence, loyalty, affinity, supporters (and detractors) and must be understood and managed.

KG: What did your residents discover about their business model development as they interacted with the Business Model Canvas?

BW: Specifically, the musicians themselves are in control of their business model. They really don’t have to rely on the industry standard practices. The discipline of music and the discipline of business are joined at the hip and cannot be separated.

Musicians must understand the business side. For example, audiences have choices that are not music related (staying at home and watching TV, reading a book or going out with friends for dinner). Going to a show or buying competes with these other behaviors, and so it’s not enough to think that other musicians are the competition.

In this way, the Business Model Canvas helps to create a level of separation from a musician’s craft to a connection with their mission, purpose, and their customers.


Managing with scarce resources: Article

I was recently interviewed for an article published at  The topic of the article was how do you manage projects, productivity and effectiveness when resources are scarce.  In the tech world we often take for granted that resources will be available.  In high growth companies you do what you need to do and make the most of your time and your resources with speed and agility (hopefully). Stable and mature companies in stable and mature industries manage their bottom line by cutting expenses to protect their profit margins.  Not for Profit entities pour resources into projects for maximum effectiveness no matter how productive or unproductive they operate.  

Let's face it, we are all resource constrained - cash, people, partners, revenue, materials - no one or no organization is perfectly aligned.

How do you best manage your business with limited resources?

Read the entire article here:



Sometimes inspiration can arrive at the strangest times and come from the most mundane of circumstances.  Waiting for inspiration, like a lightning bolt from the sky, rarely happens and it isn't something you can count on.  Finding the time to get inspired and scheduling inspiration time on your calendar is a bit too forced.  So how do you get inspired?  Is it reading a book?  Does exercising bring foster inspiration?  Can you talk inspiration to your consciousness?  Does taking notes trigger inspiration?  

For me it comes in waves.  Motivation and Inspiration or two sides of the same coin.  And I know that once an idea is sparked I need to move it to an action quickly in order to validate.  The action can be a discussion with a colleague, or making a list, or a drawing a picture or diagram on a white board - some action is needed, some kinetic behavior that helps flesh out the details to determine if it is worthy of more thought or something that simply gets tossed into short term memory to be forgotten.  

Inspiration and Motivation work together.  Create action, build something useful and move.  

Inspiration will come with action.

Reading the River or Understanding your Customer

The first rule of fishing is finding the fish.  Every fisherman attempts to read the river so you can understand where the fish like to hang out.  We have a saying, “fish where the fish are.”  Every river is different, ever riffle has a character, every kind of fish has it’s preferred spot, even the size/age of the fish will determine where a fish will live, eat and breed.  The river temperature, the ambient temperature, the time of the day or year - so many variables to consider when you are trying to find the fish.  Finding fish is just the first step in actually catching fish.

Once you have determined where the fish might be living and eating the next logical step is working on strategies to catch the fish.  Catching fish is all about convincing a fish to eat the imitation food that you deliver to them.  The lure a fly fisherman uses is simply an imitation insect crafted on a hook to look like something food that a fish might see in their habitat. What bug is fish food depends upon what insect is hatching at that particular moment in time in that particular habitat. 

If the artificial bug is convincing enough, the fish will bite.  If not, the fish will simply ignore the fly you deliver.  No matter how many times you cast the fly and drift the fly past the fish’s face - if the fish is not convinced that the fly you deliver is worthy of their attention, then there is nothing you can do to make the fish eat that fly.

So, the fly fisherman carries a wide variety of artificial bugs in tidy little boxes.  If the fish aren’t biting one fly, we try another, and another and another… until hopefully one of the flies is something that the fish will want to eat.

Is this so different than trying to find new customers?  We use marketing, salespeople, advertising, websites, social media, testimonials, rebates & coupons, discounts, direct mail, robo calling, sky writing, bill boards, you name it - with one goal, to convince a prospective customer to buy what we are selling.

In fishing, when a fly fisherman chooses the correct fly to entice the fish to eat, we call it Matching the Hatch.

In business we call it Product-Market Fit.

Fishing not catching...

There is a reason it's called fishing and not catching.  More often than not the fish can't be seen.  More often than not they are hungry.  Their basic limbic brains are simply trying to survive - eat and not be eaten.  That's about it for a fish.  So why are they so hard to catch sometimes and other times they seem to jump into your net.

Today's business environment is much the same.  In the next post we will explore how to look at the river and find the fish.