Reader: My boss seems to have an over-reliance on brainstorming sessions. He called one last week to generate ideas on what to fill the vending machines with, given the recent proliferation of healthy options. (I think the new HonestTea sports drink put him over the edge.) Is there such a thing as too much brainstorming?
Bobservations: First, my sympathies. It appears your boss is calling brainstorming sessions because he has become addicted to the sickening but strangely compelling odor of DryErase markers commonly used to record ideas on the white board. He is desperate for any excuse to get near these insidious writing instruments—and needs to admit he has a problem.
Try these steps:
Reader: Are there any other reasons for excessive brainstorming?
Bobservations: Yes. One is a lack of decisiveness or direction from your boss’s boss, which causes a “panic spotlight effect” where your boss realizes he has to come up with a solution to something. Another is a rare disorder that leaves victims physically and emotionally unable to withstand the sight of a blank whiteboard.
Reader: Are there situations where brainstorming sessions actually work?
Bobservations: Absolutely! Use them when planning co-workers’ baby showers to decide the details—such as what color the balloons should be and whether to buy the $500 breast pump she registered for or the $99 one you saw at Walgreens. Brainstorming can also be an effective way to determine criteria for who will sit at the boss’s table at the next awards banquet (i.e. 5 points for wittiness, 3 for physical appearance and 1 for table manners).
To All Staff:
We have a gourmet cupcake problem. Recently Finance commissioned a study by McKinsey Consulting on the cost of baked goods being ordered to celebrate various company milestones and celebrations.
According to McKinsey’s findings, there has been a significant and rampant escalation in ordering these lavishly caloric and exorbitantly priced baked treats. In addition to the number of orders, the rapidly escalating per-unit cost of these ottoman-sized treats is now over $5.25. McKinsey’s study also noted that just $5.00 would buy a dozen perfectly tasty generic or supermarket brand cupcakes.
In addition, the report revealed that some of you are having these cupcakes delivered–increasing the average cost to $6.50 each. On top of the out of pocket cost, we have seen signifiant wear and tear on the reception area carpeting due to these frosted monstrosities being carted onto the premises.
As such, effective immediately, anyone who orders one or more cupcakes for consumption on-premise must:
We appreciate your compliance in this matter.
Finance (mostly just Brad)
Please answer the following questions and submit this form to Finance for review and approval. Allow 3 – 5 business days for a response.
1. What is the goal of the cupcakes?
2. Did you consider other more cost-effective baked goods or treats to achieve the goal? (Check all that apply.)
3. List at least three corporate objectives, metrics or values that these cupcakes will help us achieve. (NOTE: If you do not know our objectives, metrics or values then don’t bother requesting approval for cupcakes, as you clearly don’t deserve them.)
a. (i.e. revenue)
b. (i.e. stories per sprint)
c. (i.e. integrity)
4. What other methods did you consider to commemorate the milestone? (Check all that apply.)
July 2, 2016–Seattle, WA Leading online retailer Amazon.com announced today that it’s voice-enabled Amazon Echo device will now include Siggy, an always-on, virtual psychotherapy service that actively listens for conflict in the home and proactively offers personalized counseling, mediation and resolution. Siggy is powered by proprietary artificial intelligence (AI) developed in Amazon.com’s advanced computer science labs.
Launched with great fanfare in 2015, Amazon Echo is a cylindrical home automation appliance that uses an array of internal microphones to “hear” and identify voice commands to perform tasks such as play music, make to-do lists, set alarms and provide weather, traffic and other real time information.
“Conflict is a natural outcome of all relationships, but few people have access to world-class psychotherapy or counseling services,” said Siggy product manager Bryson Stallworthy. “Siggy not only brings these services to the masses but because it’s always listening, can intervene preemptively, before disagreements escalate out of control.”
Siggy’s advanced AI now enables detection of a wide array of emotions, from anger to zeal, to instantly identify discord, disputes and dysfunction. With Siggy’s default settings, the device interjects in a calming voice, “Perhaps we should take time out,” and then proceeds to guide the users through an analysis of their conflict to help identify root causes, negative patterns and even decades-long animus. Siggy then coaches the users on how to empathize with, address and resolve their respective issues.
Because Siggy is always-0n or always-listening, it can also process dreams in real-time by monitoring sleepers’ moans, shouts and gurgles as well as sense air waves caused by thrashing. Upon awakening, users will receive a full analysis of three possible interpretations of their dream.
“Our test data shows that Siggy resolved users’ conflicts 28% faster than non-users,” said Stallworthy. “We are excited about the potential to reduce or even eliminate disharmony in the world, which will make people feel like buying more stuff online.”
Future versions of Siggy will detect and help facilitate resolution of workplace issues.
Have you noticed when using sensor-enabled or so-called “hands free” restroom faucets that what used to be a thick and urgent stream of water has become a shamefully puny nurble of moisture barely sufficient to wet the crevices of your fingerprints?
So diminutive is the water pressure–and so tepid the temperature–in office buildings, sports arenas and restaurants that more than once I’ve lathered up my hands only to find that it takes between 8 and 37 minutes to completely rinse off the soap.
Attention building owners: If your water isn’t strong and hot enough to remove the soap, can we assume it isn’t removing the dirt and bacteria either?
What’s up with the extreme water controls? Did one too many staffers stuff the drain full of sopping toilet paper and leave the water running–ruining the boss’s Ferragamos? Is the proprietor of the building cafeteria hacking into the water supply to fill the water bottles for sale in his refridgerated display case? Is the rest of the water being diverted to some urgent need elsewhere–like the Sudan?
I’m going to take a wild guess that what’s behind the weak water is the same culprit behind many a public inconvenience: Cost control.
You see, to certain corporate accounting types water is what’s referred to as a “line item.” Any line item that contains a dollar sign is considered a problem and therefore a potential source of savings.
The game played by the accountants might be called, “How Low Can We Drive the Water Bill Before People Complain to Our Boss?” Here’s how it works: The accountant regularly reduces the line item by seemingly insignificant amounts. This in turn forces the building engineer to reprogram the faucets to dispense less and less water at lower and lower temperatures. At some point, enough customers or tenants flag the issue to enough office managers, customer service representatives or suggestion boxes to cause the water pressure and temperature to increase.
In case you’re wondering, by law the accountants are forbidden to consider the impact of their actions on customers or tenants. That responsibility falls to…someone hopefully. Likewise the building engineer is required to mindlessly achieve the line items while constantly grumbling in the stairwell and expressing his concerns only to his local barkeep.
Since there appears to be no solution to the problem of weak water flow, I myself have taken to boycotting buildings with hands-free faucets and patronizing only facilities where the user controls the water. I find it annoying yet gratifying all at once.
Now for the other problem: Hands free paper towel dispensers.
As a CEO or business owner, you can be doing a lot of things right:
Yet there’s still one nagging concern…a vague vulnerability that your employees or advisors can always point to…furtive whispers about something you cannot measure and cannot even see: The Whole Vision Thing.
For the uninitiated, having a corporate Vision means having a clear and documented view regarding:
What will happen.
When it will happen.
What we need to do about it.
When, how and why did Vision become this sort of mystical and annoying concept that pops up when everything’s going just peachy? ANSWER: Hype about corporate vision spiked after the death of visionary Apple CEO and Co-Founder, Steve Jobs. There’s an entire cottage industry dedicated to taking lessons and inspiration from Jobs–and selling those lessons and inspiration to business owners and CEOs.
Well, just admit it. You’re no Steve Jobs. You’re no Steven Spielberg. (And while we’re at it, you’re no Steven Seagall–although you might feel a bit like him after the penultimate fight scene with the nasty villain in…that movie.) No one can teach you to “see what’s not there.” You cannot “know what customers want before they know it themselves.” You will probably never invent “an entirely new product category.”
So you’re not Steve Jobs. That’s OK. Breathe. Just let it go. Having a Vision just isn’t worth all the hand-wringing and Xanax.
Phew–glad we dealt with that.
What’s that? You feel the need to have a defensible answer when someone asks about your vision during the next all-hands meeting?
Here are some suggestions:
Q: Is vision in one’s DNA?
A: That’s impossible and a stupid question.
Q: What is our vision?
A: We considered the need for a Culture and a Vision but only had budget for one, so we picked Culture.
Q: To save money, have you considered delegating, offshoring or crowdsourcing our vision?
A: Yes, but I was afraid people would find out that our vision cost $55 and was developed in Bangalore.
Q: Can vision be learned?
A: It can be taught–for a hefty fee–but it cannot be learned.
Q: Do we need a vision to be successful?
A: Look, I drive a Tesla Monday through Friday and an Audi R8 on the weekends. I own a vacation home (not a rental property) with 3,500 square feet of above-ground living space, a central vacuum system and an unobstructed view of a 9,000 acre lake. I’d say the company is doing fine. (Although the lake is man made, which kind of sucks.)
Q: Should we have an offsite brainstorming/white boarding session?
A: I heard about a Vistage group that had so many white boarding sessions that the Chair got addicted to the smell of Dry-Erase markers. He checked into a white collar rehab clinic where one of his suite mates was a recovering toner junkie.
Q: So what’s our culture?
A: If you don’t know, then you obviously don’t get it. See Julie in HR immediately after this meeting, and bring your ID badge and Blimpies employee discount card.
I hope this advice helps you enjoy the rest of your tenure, now that you’re free from worrying about all that Vision nonsense.
Some brands have come up with cool strategies to leverage topics that are timeline and/or in the news. Oreos made headlines (at least in social media circles) during this year’s Super Bowl power outage by tweeting out a picture of its delicious cookie with a glass of milk, suggesting the blackout was a great time for a snack.
On the other hand, some brands come across as heavy-handed and tone deaf–witness the two (strikingly similar!) examples below from Volkswagen and AshleyMadison.com, playing off of the Yom Kippur theme of “forgiveness.”
(This post is satirical, not real.)