Problems, Planes, & Plumbing

April 30, 2024

first class seat on an airplane

Dear Leaders, Entrepreneurs, Dreamers, and Creators of Great Things: I write these Love Letters each month with the hope of bringing you a little encouragement, some marketing help, and a few minutes of joy. Whether we are already friends or have yet to meet, I hope you’ll enjoy my stories from the road and some awesomely random takeaways, tools, tips, and updates.

What is your (actual) problem? 

A couple of weeks ago I did a Profits & Priorities session with a group of sales people. We looked at all the ways we manage our two biggest resources – time and money – and made some changes to our daily habits.

There is an exercise I love to do in these sessions that I want to share with you. See, the thing is that we are all really aware of our pain. So much so that we eventually start feeling like our pain is our problem. But they are not the same.

Start with five post-it notes. Or five pieces of paper. Or a single sheet numbered one to five.
1. Write down your biggest business challenge.
2. Write down why number one is true. Be honest.
3. Write down why number two is true.
4. (You guessed it!) Write down why number three is true.
5. Write why number four is true. This one is going to be the toughest. Dig deep and be honest.For many of you, when you wrote number one, you believed that was your biggest challenge. You believed that was really why your business isn’t at the level you want it to be. But as you continued, you started to realize that numbers one through four are really just symptoms of the real problem. In fact – what you wrote on number one is probably actually your pain… not your problem.

Now, read the list in reverse, from five to one. Do you see what is possible? Can you imagine what your business would be like if you solved number 5? Sometimes we just need to flip the script we tell ourselves in order to get some clarity.

When you are working with clients, remember this exercise. Keep in mind that your clients are very pain aware. They are coming to you saying, “this hurts.” They are experts on their pain… not the problem. You are the doctor who can diagnose the problem and present the solution.

image with the words In the Rearview, lessons learned and stories from the road

Airplanes & the customer experience

The first time I flew in an airplane I was 15 years old and headed for a year of studying in Europe. As a first time flyer, everything was exciting, even the little trays that the meals came on.

These days, I am considered a “frequent flyer,” clocking in over 80 legs a year, on average. I park in the same place at the airport, know how to get through customs and security quickly, and have the packing thing down to a science. I know how to sweet talk the flight attendants into extra Biscoffs and which seats not to book on almost any model of Boeing aircraft. I also know exactly how long it takes to run from Terminal 1, Concourse H to Terminal 3, Concourse C at Chicago O’Hare. (Hint, it takes about 2 minutes longer than you need, and no, they will not hold the door.)

It took about 4 years of this kind of travel before I started receiving the holy grail of travel rewards – the complimentary upgrade. Finally, I was one of those people. You know, the ones you walk past on the way to the back. You avert your eyes and pretend you don’t even care that you are not one of them. You don’t need those comfy blankets or cozy seats. You don’t even care that they are being offered champagne in front of your very eyes, as you struggle to fold yourself like human origami into a seat built for someone without legs. But the truth is, you are seething with white hot envy the entire stinkin’ time.

This upgrade thing has happened often enough that I have a really good understanding of what it’s like. Recently, on a particularly long, early morning flight, I was upgraded to a lie-flat pod. The angels sang, the sun poured down, and everything was new and exciting and fun again, just like that flight when I was 15. And for six hours, I totally loved air travel again. (Yes, I’ll have the salmon, how kind of you to ask. Champagne? Why not?!) And as I sat there, in my little bubble of personal space, I looked out the window and considered a few things.

Imagine if I felt like this all the time? Imagine if my life was full of customer experiences that made me feel like I was in first class? Would it change me? Would I be happier? Would I start to take them for granted? Now, it should be noted that I was not upgraded on the return flight, so it’s safe to say my normal person status is still firmly intact. But I still think back on that flight and I wonder if I’ll ever really feel the same about economy travel again.

The question is, do your customers feel like they have been upgraded? Do they use your services as a benchmark? Every time someone works with you, do they feel as if they are sipping champagne under a comfy blanket? Do they feel as if they are personally attended to and cared about, rather than lumped in with all the others on the same journey? These are questions that could be asked about any industry, really. And it’s not that hard to make people feel special these days, in a world full of self-checkouts and SlyDial. It just takes that little bit of extra personal attention. And y’all, once you get a taste of that kind of service experience, you’ll pay more for it. That is the truth.

image of a record player with words saying rockstars, awesome ideas, people, and tools

This is where I share the good stuff

… the latest websites, books, & tools that are inspiring me, the people who are making me smile, and the stuff I have been writing on sticky notes.

  • Pretty much everywhere, costs are up. Food, housing, clothing… it all feels super expensive. This marketing campaign that IKEA launched in Toronto is so genius. It’s clever, funny, and just crazy enough to make you wonder if it might work. Take a look. 
  • Speaking of housing… I have long been intrigued by the idea of going tiny. This story makes me think that in the right setting, I could totally do it. What about you? How many square feet do you need?
  • Ebooks. Tupperware. Archives. Deepfakes. This newsletter is one of my favorites, and this issue is packed with stories that will make you think about things in a new way. (Especially AI.)
  • Did you know that more than 2 million Americans live without running water and indoor plumbing? I came across this article recently and it took my breath away. It’s hard to imagine in this day and age that people must live this way. This company is doing some amazing things to fix water insecurity issues. If you are looking for a place to donate, please consider them.
  • Have 15 minutes? Want to watch my talk at STORY 2024? You can check it out here. Is leadership messy? Yes. But when it’s done right, we all get to be messy and happy.


Thanks for reading, friends! If you want to get these in your inbox every month, be sure to get on the mailing list. And if you are looking for a speaker who will motivate your organization to get up, get moving, and face change head-on, I would love to chat.