Thriveal just finished up our annual learning gathering. It was called Deeper Weekend – and, boy, did we go deep!
My take-away from the learning gathering is that we are not only leaders of CPA firms, we are Creative Directors. That is, we are directors of the creativity that flows through our firms. This ‘flow of creativity’ is something to recognize, manage, enhance and ultimately sell to our customers. This creativity that we all have is something accountants often suppress. But we attempted to tap into it at this event. I think we got there for so many. It was exciting to see people challenged to enter into an unknown world of being creative, working toward the goal of changing the lives of their customers. It was uncomfortable, compelling and changing.
The first night, we focused on the new Big Ideas Journal. See the presentation by clicking this link. This is a journaling system I created after a few experiences in life that lead me to create this method of noticing the world and experiences around me, planning a life around allowing new creative experiences to happen (called ‘Planned Thinking’), and capturing all of this in a bound journal. Have you ever been to Barnes and Noble and seen some beautiful leather- bound journals? Have you ever bought one, intent on putting your thoughts into it every day for the rest of your life? If you are like me… you’ve failed. So, the Big Ideas Journal is about creating the system, telling users exactly what to do with it, exactly what to write in the journal and how to plan your life around creating content that goes in your journal. To do this, we sourced the Big Ideas Journal from around the world. These journals ship all the way from Thailand and our provider hand punched all of the holes, and hand stitched all of the paper into the journal herself. She even hand cut the leather for each journal. Then we have beautifully engraved the new Thriveal logo right on the front cover of the journal:
The Big Ideas Journal is a big experiment, and we are asking the attendees of the Deeper Weekend Learning Gathering to use the journal for one year until next year’s Learning Gathering (which we have already begun planning). Since this is an experiment, there are 4 hypotheses that we want to test in using the journals:
1. “Your ideas, not your hands, are what will generate your future influence and increase your future income.”
2. “Your Big Ideas are limitless.”
3. “Those who strategically prune unnecessary thoughts, people, activities and work from their lives will make room for Big Ideas.”
4. “Those who spend more time in ‘Planned Thinking’ will get more done and increase their income more than those who do not.”
We have developed these hypotheses because we believe they drive creativity; but they all seem counter intuitive. For example, if we want to get things done, we often just get to work, when thinking is often a better option. And we all feel like big ideas are hard to come by, though they are actually without limit. We often pile up our work plates with so much, thinking the result will be getting more done when cutting things out of our lives could result in getting more done. ‘Planned Thinking’ must happen strategically, done methodically and documented slowly over time. We are planning time in next year’s learning gathering already to allow participants to teach us what they’ve learned about their firms, their lives and their world by using the Big Ideas Journal consistently for one year. We have a few Big Ideas Journals left, so let us know and we’ll send you one so you can participate in this experiment too. They are $50/each for Thriveal members (there are only 8 journals left, but we will make more if there is a demand for them).
Wednesday of our learning gathering involved studying the disciplines of Design Thinking, or Service Design, as it is often called. We focused on these two books, which contain a multitude of tools: Designing for Growth and This is Service Design Thinking. We learned how to creatively solve problems for the customers we serve and love. During the event, we let 5 real life customers (all were business owners) come into our life during the event, we learned everything we could about them and then prototyped a brand new service for them before the day was over. This was a creative experience that made some CPAs uncomfortable because it was such an unknown experience. But I think everyone did great with the support of their team that day. The customer’s feedback was amazing, learning so much from the questioning and the final brand new services that were prototyped. Here was the specific process of Design Thinking that we learned on Wednesday:
First, you Define the Problem – This is actually the tricky part of our Design Thinking process. We often don’t know the problem we are trying to solve, and neither do our customers. That is why co-creation (creating with the customer at the center of our solution, and participating in our design) is so important in Design Thinking. Properly defining the problem often means we begin with the right question. So our goal in this first step is to come up with the best question, representing the problem we are trying to solve.
Second, you perform Needfinding – This is our research phase. We go on the hunt for the needs to match to our solutions. Again, we do this with co-creation, keeping the customer at the forefront of our search. This may involve questioning the customer, visiting the customer, living in the world of our customer, or any other creative way we can use to dive into the customer’s world. We are seeking out the needs the customer has that they don’t even recognize themselves. The Customer Journey Map we used helped us to understand what the customer’s feel and experience when they work with our companies.
Third, you go through Ideation – This is the brainstorming functions we go through to start working towards a solution. Proper ideation takes a group of committed team members intent on throwing all possible ideas on the table, and seeking to move the group toward one real solution. This process could be frustrating to most – one idea or question usually only leads to another question. This is an iterative process, going around and around until we have a solution we can believe in, and want to prototype. We may even leave this area of the design process and go back to define the problem, or even needfinding.
Fourth, you Prototype – This is where you stand behind one solution to the customer’s problem. This is something you believe in, so it’s time to go live with the prototype to the customers to see what they think. Will it help them? Will it be what they anticipate? Don’t be scared to stand behind something, throw it out to a customer and ask for real feedback. Iterate back through the above steps if you must. But continue the process of prototyping until you have a solid service or product you can test.
Last, you Test – This is the last phase that proves the business model and the customer solution. Here you will find out if you can make money solving people’s problems. And you won’t know until you try it. You must go live with a service and test it. We were unable to test our prototypes with customers from our day long workshop. But that was just due to the lack of time.
I’m a newbie to Design Thinking and using its principles, but I’ve seen it already ‘unblock’ customer’s brains, bring amazing clarity to problems and pave a clear path of the future for companies. The principles and tools of Design Thinking allow us to go to our customers, sell them a valuable service and let them experience life change with us (the CPAs!) at the helm of the experience. The tool we used was to take each customer through a Customer Journey Map. The result is deep trust and a greater relationship with our customers when we are done with this type of consulting. We finished the Design Thinking day with takeaways, and everyone seemed to learn so much. Though the end result of the experiment was a benefit, the creative process itself was the teacher! I was proud of how everyone dove into this experiment and was committed to learning.
At the end of the day, my challenge to the CPAs was to sell this Design Thinking service (or creative process) to their customers. Our customers often struggle, and we can be the creative discipline that brings new clarity to business, ‘unstucks’ brains and paves a clearer road into the future. We are Creative Directors.