Thoughtful. Simple. Genuine. In today’s age, dare I say they appear as a nostalgic act of kindness? This gesture doesn’t have to be such expression of nostalgia. A small act really does go a long way. One of our team members had a memorable ecommerce engagement that left her thinking, “Why aren’t more brands doing this?”

Here is a sweet story of a thank you card and how a brand is doing it right.

Know that comfortable feeling you get when you’re with a close friend? That was an unexpected delight when Bigwidesky’s Haley Black received an added bonus in a delivery on her doorstep.

Omaze card

A creative twist on philanthropy.

Instagram scrolling came to a screeching halt when an eye-catching post captured Haley’s attention. Omaze, a humble organization whose philosophy is simply, “Good things happen to those who give,” flirted with her interest.  The organization’s offer is simple-give the gift of experience.

Want a chance to see “Hamilton?” Spend some time in the writers’ room on “Late Night with Seth Meyers?” How about joining a game night hosted by Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard? These dream scenarios can be reality. With Omaze, donating money to some causes can put you in a raffle to win some of these surreal experiences. Other campaigns reciprocate the donation with the option to choose a tangible item, as Haley did in the form of a cool shirt.  The overall concept captures the fine art of creatively motivating world changers. Who are world changers exactly? According to Omaze, “World changers are the charities on the ground, working tirelessly to better people’s lives; the influencers, brands and personalities that use their reach for good; and extraordinary people like you who want to make a difference, and have fun doing it.” Bam. No wonder Haley was sold on this concept.

And she thought she was just getting a shirt…

A genuine, kind-spirited individual at heart, it’s not surprising that Haley is into the act of giving.  In an effort to support Planned Parenthood, a cause she is passionate about, Haley thoughtfully ordered a t-shirt that read, “United We Plan.” Knowing a portion of the proceeds went to the cause, it felt more selfless and giving than simply adding a luxury item to her closet. The shirt was expected. The card, not expected.  The sweet, somehow personal-feeling, quirky, thank you card was a delightful gesture that warmed her heart as much as the tangible tee.

Haley feels the card was “a further expression of the experience they wanted me to have with the shirt.” Branding is essentially how humans feel when they interact with you. Mission accomplished. I had more questions for Haley…

What delighted you the most about this experience?

“The tone of the card sounded like a conversation with a really good friend. It was cute, catchy and just so real.  I was identified and thanked for being part of a community that changes the world.”

How did that action change the way you control with your own brand?

“I learned to have a more comfortable voice in written communication. I want others to engage in our brand and human transaction. I want it to feel like a friend they invited in.“

Omaze card

It’s all about the communication.

“Messaging is everything.  You have to have a website, social media, and make sure that you’re reaching humans on a human level by being your most authentic truthfully self.” Haley continues, “Don’t be scared to be your most authentic, truthful self. When it’s business it feels less natural to really be you.  We’re not cogs.”

Omaze, you amaze us. We’re totally not swooning…

It was likely at some innovation-y conference some years ago that I heard this piece of inventor folklore: Previous to the Wright Brothers’ experience at Kitty Hawk, a group approached the Santa Fe Railway with a proposal for investment. The group who represented Samuel Langley, a well-known inventor and physicist, told the executives about the fact that the next innovation in transportation would be through the air.

According to the fable, the railroad executives took little time to deliberate. “We are a railroad company. That is what we know how to do. Sorry. We don’t fly.” Their decision likely seemed prescient at the time. After all, there was “nothing broke.” The railroad was king at the end of the 19th century. So why would they change? Of course, none of us would be as myopic as the Santa Fe executives in this business fable. Of course not. All of us knew to invest in an internet-based decentralized form of currency in 2012 right? Well, maybe not. But, today, a single Bitcoin is valued at over 7500 US dollars.

Having an openness to innovations is not about having the ability to predict the future or make the right investments. Not at all. It is about an openness or disposition to consider change.

The point is that most of us are like the railroad executives. We do not possess a cultural openness to innovations, the critical component for new growth.

Having an openness to innovations is not about having the ability to predict the future or make the right investments. Not at all. It is about an openness or disposition to consider change. And the edge of a new year is the best time to get the humans in your organization ready for change.

Today, with the rate of innovations and the fact that, one day, Amazon will own your industry (if it does not already), making openness to change a deep value is of critical importance. Disruption feels like the new normal. If you want to better create an attitude of openness in your organization, you can try something we do at Bigwidesky, a Force-Field Analysis.

The purpose of a Force-Field Analysis is to expose the systems that are at work around a proposed change. It makes transparent the forces that support and cripple change. And, most importantly, it creates a deep alignment among stakeholders.

forcefield analysis

The best time to use a tool like this is when you have been considering a change — a new department, business process, growth strategy. The detailed process for a Force- Field Analysis is well-outlined in Gamestorming, a most insightful book from Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo. Generally, it works like this:

  1. Decide on the most pertinent change for the organization you would like to examine for 2018. On a whiteboard or large paper, draw the change in the middle of the board. On the left side of the change label the top, “For.” On the right, label the board, “Against.”
  2. Gather a group of your stakeholders, and grab some small sticky notes. Ask them to come up with the forces that would promote the change on one note color. Ask them for forces that would prevent the change on a different color of note.
  3. Gather all of the notes “For” on one surface. And, with the stakeholder group, you can begin to cluster them around themes. Repeat the same process for “Against” cards.
  4. Convert the clustered themes into forces. You can weigh that force on a scale of 1–5 based on how many notes were in that cluster.
  5. Put the forces on the corresponding “For” and “Against” sides of the change drawing.
  6. Quantify the totals “For” and “Against” columns. You should end up with a drawing and some quantifiable idea of what is at play.

You now have a basis for discussing change that is further removed from preconceived notions about change as a concept. The idea is to address the feasibility of innovation on a quantified basis. This framework also allows for you to determine strategies to overcome obstacles should you decide to go through with a change. Using this approach, you can make change feel transparent, natural and human instead of forced and mechanical.

“I want something just like this, but not this,” is one of the phrases most often heard by anyone seeking to design something new. That something could be as simple as a business card or website and as complex as a new city block or business strategy. The phrase is generally uttered by well-meaning people who are attempting to express some outcome that remains inarticulable with current tools.

The trouble is this: The future is a space that is nebulous and abstract. And creating a prototype for the expression of those ideas about the future is largely the job of business visionaries, design thinkers and organizational leaders. That task is, at best, tough.

Here is what we need: A useful way of interpreting and communicating visions of the future that can inspire creativity.

“Every human, by virtue of being human, is capable of vision. Playing a game like this can help you create a framework for articulating vision.”

“There are people we often call ‘visionaries’ who do this work intuitively,” said Jeremy Nulik, evangelist prime at Bigwidesky. “However, every human, by virtue of being human, is capable of vision. Playing a game like this can help you create a framework for articulating vision.”

St. Louis Design Week 2017
Would you like to play a game of futures?

To more involve the design-minded community in taking on widespread crises of vision, Bigwidesky hosted a special lunch and learn (How to Unlock Creative Vision: A workshop on applying design futures thinking to your biggest creative challenges during St. Louis Design Week. The week was an all-too-fitting time to have the conversation since it gathers the best minds in the design, communications, business and entrepreneurial communities.

St. Louis Design Week 2017
The St. Louis design community turned out for the creation of artifacts from the future.

It was standing room only as Jeremy Nulik facilitated a workshop with dozens of business leaders and design thinkers. He outlined why thinking like a futurist can help anyone to articulate vision. The attendees were then set in motion on playing The Thing from the Future — a game based upon the work of renowned futurist and friend of Bigwidesky, Stuart Candy.

St. Louis Design Week 2017
The Gryffindor shirt is not a political statement.

The game is played with four categories of cards:

  • Arc (the backdrop or category of future)
  • Terrain (the domain the artifact comes from)
  • Artifact (the actual thing)
  • Mood (the emotional response that present-day people would have to the artifact).

Participants then create an artifact to represent the scenario.

The goal of The Thing from the Future is to create the muscle memory for how to interpret visions of the future. And it serves as a way to expose the broad possibility space of multiple futures. During the lunch and learn, the attendees were divided into groups and given a scenario based on their four cards.

The Thing from the Future card game
Angela Ortmann provided a tweet fromPOTUS Eminem in 2038 regarding a collapse scenario of the ag industry. The mood produced in the present day should be happiness. Did it work? #makenapagreatagain

If you want to download the cards used during the lunch and learn, you can print and play them from here. Also, you can use the ones developed by Stuart Candy here.

Here’s how the cards can be used to gamify thinking like a futurist:

  1. The number of rounds, players and judges are determined.
  2. The judge draws one card from each category — Arc, Terrain, Artifact, Mood.
  3. The players use a predetermined time to think through their artifact given the constraints. This can be in the form of narrative or visualizations or both.
  4. Artifacts are shared between players and the judge.
  5. The judge declares the most compelling vision and that player is awarded the cards.
  6. One of the players becomes a judge for the next round and play continues.
  7. The player with the most cards at the end of predetermined rounds is declared the best winner.

If you play using Bigwidesky cards, you are encouraged to post your artifacts to Twitter or Instagram and tag them with #bigwidesky.

PRO TIP: Do not be concerned with playing the game perfectly. The point of the game is to develop the muscle memory for evaluating the possibility space of the future and for unlocking creative vision. By creating rituals or games that seek to “play futures,” organizations and individuals can become more agile and intelligent thinkers. They can also create visions of the future that have depth and weight — two ingredients that increase the likelihood that others will align with the vision. (If you think your organization would benefit from playing the game, send an email to Angela.)

Dear Diary,
Today was a good day. I feel like I’m floating. He just gets me. It was like he was talking directly to me. Never mind that packed auditorium, I swear a connection happened. It was real. I felt it.

We all felt it. BW Institute, you spoke to us.

On Monday 9/11/17, I had the pleasure of attending the People Centric Project Preview at Washington University. Impeccably groomed fields were surrounded by buildings that looked like a façade from the backlot of a film set. Am I supposed to walk across this gorgeous greenery? For time’s sake I did. Then I saw the other kids doing it so felt assured it was okay. I was also secretly hoping I would get mistaken as a college student…

With a promotional postcard like this, I was immediately into it. Isn’t this a dreamy to-do list?

BW Institute is nailing it in leadership.

This empowering event attracted some of the city’s most inspiring leaders to share stories. Not to lecture you with the guidance of an all-too-text-heavy-it’s-way-too-early-for-anything-without-pictures-presentation, but rather an interactive day featuring storytelling. Here are a few highlights of this half day event.

The first session speaker was legendary Teri Griege. I’ve heard about Teri but to hear her speak in real time and share her honest, truthful, story that should be made into a movie was quite the way to kick off the morning. This woman is fearless, an Iron(wo)man and genuine beyond belief. To say that she’s active is an understatement. After a devastating cancer diagnosis, Teri channeled her inner badass and continued training for her next Ironman adventure, while undergoing chemotherapy. This woman is unstoppable. Here’s a tidbit from her talk, “You’re never too old or young to accomplish your dreams. You’re never alone. Never ever give up.” I’ve thought about her on multiple occasions when I need to check myself, with personal reminders like: 1) This thing is not as bad as I think it is, or 2) I am in control. I got this.

The next feature was a dynamic panel of powerhouses talking all things leadership. Lisa Nichols (Technology Partners), Stan Pauls (Décor Cabinets), Kurt Dirks (Washington University Professor), and Matt Whiat (of BW Leadership Institute) consumed the hot seats. Here are some quotable takeaways:

Kurt Dirks on Shaping Future Leaders:

“Build confidence and character build sustainable heathy organization. Think about values. Sometimes it takes adversity to find values.”

Lisa Nichols on Building Culture:

“Put people first. That’s the only way to lead, even before processes and profits. If you don’t focus on culture, you’ll have a hard time retaining talent. Listen to your team. They are the ones on the frontline.”

Matt Whiat on Inclusion and Purpose:

“If you make one group more important, where does your team sit? We are very focused and deliberate. Articulate the purpose deeper. Find your spot in the world and find what biologically inspires us.”

Stan Pauls on Walking the Walk:

“I don’t want to coast. I don’t want our people to coast. We live our mission statement.”

Last but not least (and worth repeating the keynote speaker…)

Teri Griege on the Hope Foundation Mission:

“We help ordinary people endure.”

Dear Diary,

Me again. WOW, what a day! I felt so alive and inspired and all things empowering that I seriously felt like I could have danced across that dreamy green field towards my car. Instead, my ego was slightly crushed as a too-cool-for-school student that looked like she walked off the cover of Vogue, stops, looks down at me, and asks me if I was lost. Her tone wasn’t even genuine, but rather annoyed and inferior. Ummm, no, I was stopping to take some photos for Instagram. Isn’t that what the kids do? I did get my photos, and learned a heck of a lot that day.

Many decades ago, an artist and deep-pocketed co-conspirators thought it wise to erect an homage to some of their characters in the middle of a Florida swamp. The stated motivation for this effort was to create a place where anyone could find inspiration. Visitors unlock imagination and have a great time.

Today, the Walt Disney Corporation is in the business of making family fun (and a great deal of profits via a diversified portfolio).

I took my first-ever trip to Walt Disney World just a few months ago. Their creative investment in making fun is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. However, not every visitor to “The Most Magical Place on Earth” feels the same.

Upon entering the Magic Kingdom, we were slowly moseying through a makeshift Main Street America. Costumed Imagineers roamed among filigreed buildings. The kettle corn and stuffed animals rounded out a county fair feel. In the distance, the minarets of Cinderella’s Castle became visible. Instantly, I was transported into a state of childhood wonder.

“All right you two, smile! This is supposed to be the ‘Happiest Place on Earth.’ C’mon. This is for Facebook,” said the phone-wielding woman backing away from her two boys. I had not seen her reverse approach toward me. She had stepped on my feet, and I nearly fell. Her boys had clearly been crying. It was the beginning of the day, and it seemed to me they had already had all the fun they were going to have.

This scene was a microcosm of something I had witnessed repeatedly in the park. Despite the investment in manufactured fun, there are lots of slow-moving people and strollers in tight areas. There is the Florida heat. This setting exposes the nerves of 20 years worth of backlogged family drama. And it is played out for every Mickey-painted face to witness.

This is how well deep investment performs at making happy. And how many times do we try to create Disney-like fun experiences in our companies? And how fair is it to expect we will be more successful sans deep-pocketed investors?

If you think about the most meaningful moments in your life, they were rarely characterized by just happiness. They were full of fear, sadness, anticipation and challenge.

Workplace experts have clogged conference schedules with happiness seminars. While the intentions are righteous, there is little evidence to support manufactured happiness is effective for increasing productivity. Recent studies cited in the Harvard Business Review have found that happiness doesn’t increase productivity. It can be exhausting and damage your relationships with your team. It can even make you appear selfish.

The reasons for the focus on workplace happiness — despite this evidence — are largely aesthetic. No conscientious leader wants to create an unhappy environment. So, in reaction, most companies will do their utmost to make happy. These efforts fall flat. Why? If you think about the most meaningful moments in your life, they were rarely characterized by just happiness. They were full of fear, sadness, anticipation and challenge. Requiring that people be happy is essentially asking them to not be humans.

Here is what you can do instead: Focus on fulfillment.

Amazing customer experience and an aligned workforce have been shown to create more productivity and profits. If those sound appealing, then offer your people the chance to be challenged and to grow. It is likely this will not make everyone happy. That’s okay. If you put the focus on accomplishing something great together, you unlock the potential for spontaneous joy and fulfillment. You allow people to be more human.

Try this: Gather your team, and share your vision for where you want your business to be in 20 years (Note: That means you have to craft a vision first). Allow them to create personal challenges that will allow them to make a difference in your team to get there. And then provide them the needed resources for them to accomplish their challenges.

It took serious self-control to resist channeling my inner red-carpet host, asking guests who they were wearing.

The sold-out event attracted a multitude of artists. What was taking place in the heart of our city that night was more than fashion, networking, and humans appearing as if they walked off the pages of Vogue into the venue. It was where creativity met community, complemented with an eccentric edge.

It was natural that a conversation between a restaurant powerhouse (Vicia) and branding and design company (Toky) kicked off this event. After all, this is St. Louis, a Midwest playground of willing organizations that play well together. We work together. We need each other. The relationships behind powerful brands mesh the experts in marketing and messaging with the outward brand itself. Eric Thoelke, President and Executive Creative Director at Toky Branding + Design, chatted up Tara Gallina, co-founder and General Manager of Vicia. Through this conversation, Eric unveiled their process with marketing the restaurant’s unique concept. The approach was simple and plant-based (stay with me), “Stay grounded during the branding discovery phase. Plants don’t begin at the soil; they start with the roots.” That’s deep. I especially love how this mindset embraces Vicia’s “vegetable-forward” vision.

The statement, “Have that natural curiosity,” spoke to our hearts and our mission.

Everything about this collaborative effort exuded being human. Now we’re cooking. Humanizing the process behind creating the art struck a major chord with Team Bigwidesky. The statement, “Have that natural curiosity,” spoke to our hearts and our mission.

One of the artists, Jacob Berkowtiz, shared his personal process. See our own Haley Black, displaying a piece Berkowitz was kind enough to distribute among the crowd.

Creative Process at St. Louis Fashion Fund

On his vision:

“I found an interesting connection between myself and my art. It’s about the movement and motion, balanced with being rooted. Every time I make a piece, I learn something about myself.”

On his personal connection to work:

“Architecture is huge: I think about it a lot. I feel like I can get away with architecture as a painter. Execution is so beautiful and poetic.“

On emotions and humanizing art:

“I spend several weeks stressed out. I establish how it’s going to go, but know it’s going to turn out differently. I get post-project blues. I feel like I’ve gone thru a harsh breakup.”

This is some quality insight. Now for some new perspective: Joanna Wolf, Social Media Manager at the St. Louis Fashion Fund, shares her views on the intention of the collaborative artistic community St. Louis offers.

On the purpose of the Creative Process events:

“The objective is to celebrate and foster cross-disciplinary collaborations. From fashion, art and design to music, dance and performance, to literature and poetry, to food and mixology, we’re bringing innovative minds together to connect, learn, and share local resources.”

Our goal to bring the community together in ways they wouldn’t normally connect.

On the mission of The Fashion Fund:

The goal is to not only bring back the business of fashion to St. Louis, but to also foster cross-disciplinary collaborations. The reason why events such as the Creative Process series are so important is our goal to bring the community together in ways they wouldn’t normally connect. We want to stimulate local interest in the industry and build awareness to the talent that is already here in St. Louis.

To further explain the boom in St. Louis as a home-base for artists of all backgrounds, Digital Marketing Strategist, Marisa Lather, offers this insight on the rise of creativity in our city.

On St. Louis Attracting New Talent:

Many designers choose to be based in St. Louis because of the affordability, and overall benefits of living. The materials shipping costs are less, since we’re in the Midwest, versus shipping from coast to coast. That leaves more spend on marketing.

The moral of the story is our city is bootstrap-friendly (but only the most stylish boots). Desirable geography lends itself to an artistic explosion. If anything about this revs your engines, there’s no time like the present to get connected, absorb art, and make things happen. Welcome to St. Louis, the city where your ideas evolve from concept to creation.

In this, the first episode of the first season of More Human — the podcast of the Be Human Project — host Jeremy Nulik interviews Dutch author and business leader, Jurgen Appelo, about his book, ‘Managing For Happiness.’

Dan Goods captured the crowd at the latest bizSESSION presented by COCA STL, whose mission is appropriately, “to enrich lives and build community through the arts.” That was certainly achieved in Dan’s, “Making Room for Creative Thinking,” With a title like that, I was ready to soak up the inspiration.

Here’s the scoop on this tremendous down to earth human: Dan Goods’ day job? Visual Strategist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Yeah, NASA. The guy really is from another planet. He’s rocked a TED Talk. Oh, and he was named “Most Interesting Person in LA.” As a former LA resident, I’ll say there are a LOT of people there and they are all wildly interesting, so to be a standout is wonderfully rare. It is, after all, where Jennifer Lawrence and John Stamos live.

Here are my takeaways from his presentation in 3…2…1…

Explore the playful wonderment of possibilities.

A resume mailed in an oversize envelope (there’s a story with that) led to him landing the role of Visual Strategist at NASA’s JPL. This world was the intersection of his brilliant mind, knack for design, and flair for thinking outside the box. He embraces life’s breathtaking moments and creates an atmosphere for them to exist. His “Museum of Awe” is in the works, and I am not making that up.

Have no fear.

Don’t know how to do things? Here’s a secret; just know how to ask the right people. He strategically surrounds himself with a rockstar tribe of unique thinkers and invites collaboration. There is literally a brainstorm room built at NASA called, “Left Field.” I liked Dan’s approachability because he’s one of those super sharp people that talks with the audience, not at the audience. Dan humbly shared that the smartest, wisest people ask the most basic questions, and he included himself in that statement.

How to provide a safe space?

Goods shared the story about the world’s first large, space-based optical telescope, Hubble. However, Hubble was constructed with a minor mirror impairment; the telescope display was blurry.While this visual issue seemed ironically microscopic (less than 1/50 the width of a strand of human hair) this imperfection needed immediate attention. Following the Challenger accident, no imperfection would fly. Solution? Put glasses on it. Corrective spectacles were designed and all was well. And now I picture Hubble as Mr. Potato Head, simply in need of an important optical accessory. Dan also mentioned you cannot be so focused on the engineering element that you forget about the soul of the project. Data visualization merged with the project’s purpose equals the art of humanization. What a powerful mashup.

An extra shoutout to the fine folks at Mueller Prost, proud sponsor of the event, for generously providing our tickets. Without them, I would not have that inspiration and this article.

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