Aric Wood is focused on action

If you are a regular listener to this show, you probably make plans for a living. Ever feel like the job stalls out in Google Slides? Like, you work on the thinking but seeing it take flight is never quite right? Aric Wood of XPLANE gets strategies airborne for a living. He wrote a book, called The Strategy Activation Playbook, which Adam dug so much while preparing for this conversation, that he read it a second time. This conversation covers the how and why of this book, which will seem pretty clear, but the level of detail in the book, and Aric’s insightful description is intriguing. Like Adam’s first book, Under Think It, its meant to be a desk reference, flipped open whenever a strategist gets stuck.

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The Strategy Inside Everything is the podcast for people who thinkfor a living. If you have an idea, a question or you want to push back on something you hear in this episode, go to and leave a message or a voicemail for me. The best and most interesting messages will be added to future episodes, and I can’t waitto hear from you. Music for The Strategy Inside Everything is by Sawsquarenoise. Host Adam Pierno is an author, speaker and strategy consultant. Learn more

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Transcript of this conversation:

Adam Pierno 0:02
This is The Strategy Inside Everything. I’m Adam Pierno. The Strategy Inside Everything is the podcast for people who think for a living. If you have an idea, a question or you want to push back on something you hear in this episode, go to and leave a message or a voicemail for me. The best and most interesting messages will be added to future episodes. And I can’t wait to hear from you. All right, welcome back to another episode of the strategy inside everything. I am really looking forward to this conversation. It took us some time to get it scheduled and finalized. But we’re here, and we’re gonna have a great conversation I can already tell. Today’s guest is the CEO of Xplane. It is Aric wood, Aric, how are you?

Aric Wood 0:30
I’m great. Thanks for having me on.

Adam Pierno 0:31
I’m really glad we were able to find this time and make it work. Thank you for rolling with the punches, as we both had tsunamis, hit our calendars. My pleasure. And you’re just off the flight. So I appreciate you. Jumping on the phone

Aric Wood 0:46
I’m glad we’re on tape, because that we know and see the bags under my eyes. But last night, but excited to talk to you this morning.

Adam Pierno 0:53
Well, it’s theater ofthe mind. So now they’re imagining. But just to put us on equal footing, I probably have bags under my eyes, too. You know, it’s been a crazy week. So I want to talk about your excellent book, The Strategy Activation Playbook and the process and the work behind the book. I mean, the book is almost like a totem for that work. But before we get to the book, I want to have you give people a sense of your path to CEO at Xplane.

Aric Wood 1:22
Okay, well, I think starting off with probably five or six beers and Gordon Biersch. Just go with Dave Gray, who was the founder explained, and at the time, Xplane had been been established since 1993. We met in about 2003. And I was at Intuit at the time, doing new business development, products, product management, looking for new opportunities to help support into customers. So either building or buying new products were the Roman needs. And Dave was on my research list. Because we were working on an elearning business. And I really got excited about the idea of visual learner, the idea that people can understand information much more quickly, they can grasp some complexity, much more quickly, using combinations of words and pictures, rather than just reading a statement. And so I wanted to be with David learn a little bit about his thinking about visual thinking and how it could apply to learning and how people can adapt information more quickly. And he proceeded to, to buy a few beers. And after a long conversation said, you know, I’d like you to come over to Xplane and actually helped me grow this. And so that’s how the relationship started.

Adam Pierno 2:36
Was that your intent? Or was it just oh, just hit it off. And the beer was that good.

Aric Wood 2:40
I never thought after I, after a career in software and management consulting knows gonna go back to the small, small consulting firm and do that. But that’s just kind of how it worked out. And I was excited about the opportunity, because actually, it gave me an opportunity to kind of merge a couple of a couple of observations in my life, I’ve always kind of lived at the intersection of business and design. I’ve formal business background, no MBA management consulting experience. But also, I’ve always worked at the intersection of the new, how do we create something new? How do we envision something new? How do we create a new product? Or we launch a new product? What are those unmet needs? And so it was a initial opportunity to actually bring those things together. And with explain, which was very much a hybrid of a design firm and a management consulting firm, I found a I found a home work at work at the intersection of business and design and do really cool stuff.

Adam Pierno 3:32
How do you balance those two elements that the design and the consulting because they sometimes are very simpatico and sometimes they’re at odds? If not, if not corralled in the correct way?

Aric Wood 3:46
Oh, absolutely. You know, it’s interesting because I, prior to, prior to working in, in software, and internet, I was at Bain & Company as a consultant for a short period of time. And, uh, one of the I love working in that environment were just incredibly brilliant people around, and they’re really doing great work. But it’s also frustrating, because when you’re actually working inside of an organization, there’s a lot of creates a lot of creativity, a lot of insights. And there wasn’t really the opportunity in the traditional consulting role to co create, to

Adam Pierno 4:19
create or to or to, I don’t know what the way to bring how to capture the most creative elements those insight, you know, or how to bring, you know, it’s more like, Yeah, but get to the therefore.

Aric Wood 4:32
Yeah, exactly. I mean, you know, sort of leave with the answer first, here’s the reports or whatever the wall. This isn’t a this isn’t a critique, necessarily of my of my former employer. I love the work we did. But the frustration I observed was, a lot of times in terms of really making change. You’ve got to work with the people that are going to be responsible and accountable for the change very closely, so they can get their fingerprints on the work and they can feel a sense of ownership of it. And so what was really intriguing about about MERS During design, and consulting, was that design by by its very nature is a discovery based art. It’s a process of going in observing, learning, gathering insights, and then iteratively designers are co creating solutions. And it was a really different way to work. And it was a, it was a way to work that really resulted in, you know, stickier solutions, things that were both probably better ideas, because they’re more integrated with, with the insights of the organization, but also that it wasn’t ours, it was theirs, you know, people, people created it themselves. And so I think that’s really, you know, an interesting trend we’re seeing generally, in, in the consulting space is really this, this question of, you know, the old way of throwing it over the wall versus the new way of really co creating at the sight of your customers or your partners. That’s a real differentiator,

Adam Pierno 5:50
people support what they helped build.

Aric Wood 5:52
I read that somewhere.

Adam Pierno 5:53
Yeah. So it’s, it’s funny that the having just done some been the client on a few consulting projects over the past couple years. Getting the PowerPoint deck is like, okay, cool. You just gave me a, you know, X amount of 1000s of dollars to do lists that I have to go now execute, and now I have to explain it to all these people that have to do it. Yeah, that’s, that’s quite a feeling for the manager that?

Aric Wood 6:19
Absolutely. Here’s, here’s your 150 page PowerPoint. Now go stand up at the town hall meeting and tell everyone where we’re going. Yeah,

Adam Pierno 6:25
the consultants that aren’t here right now told me to tell you guys, that’s here we go. Yeah, got it. Well, what types of clients? Are you working on? Mostly? Or, or more importantly, I think, where are you working on as you were working through the strategy activation playbook.

Aric Wood 6:43
So this book is built on probably last 30 years of kind of our collective wisdom. So you know, I got to put the pen to the paper, but I gotta tell you, they’re just an incredible number of people that really contributed to the work and including our clients and partners. By and large, much of what comes through in this book is coming from the experience of working in large organizations, fortune 500, companies, global organizations, places where there’s a lot of complexity. And the reason that that’s a really interesting place to study this work is that it’s, it’s one of the places, that’s the hardest to get things done, you know, you’re not only trying to shift the entire organization, you’re shifting entire organization in multiple time zones, multiple cultures, multiple languages, different ways of working. So it was a great testbed for learning, for us and for our clients. And then being able to sort of cross pollinate what we learned in each place, and take them to other places really start to sort of build the body of what we will try to share here.

Adam Pierno 7:41
I usually will not talk to an author about their book until I’ve read the book, although I’m guilty of on occasion, skimming it, in your case, I’ve read the entire book twice. Wow. And what I like about it very much is similar to my first book under think it, it is a playbook that I can keep on my desk and circle things and come back to it. And if I’m stuck, I can flip. I feel like I’m going to be using this book to find answers when I’m stuck or new ways to think about it. It is very, it presents a methodology. But you can kind of jump in anywhere just to dislodge. Oh, yeah, right. Okay, I’m stuck here. And here’s a here’s a new way to shift my thinking about or who, oh, I could bring these people in, or I should be thinking about the future state and not be so stuck in where I am right now. Yeah. Yeah. Where do you How did you even start writing it? Because it covers it’s almost broke into two halves. If if, the way I read it, you know, the first half is like, here’s what I’m going to tell you. And here’s why. And then the back half really is a playbook of step by step. This is how it works. How did you attack this book,

Aric Wood 8:52
I love your characterization. And I’m honored to read it twice. And you’ve you’ve definitely nailed it, because what you’ve described is exactly what our intent was. Our intent was, and we use the word playbook very mindfully to say, I don’t want a book, which is gonna sit on a shelf, I want something that’s gonna be a tool, something that people can actually put on their desk and draw from and use on a regular basis. And so it was, it was really designed to be pragmatic. It was designed to really help change makers that are making change in the world, do it, do it better, do it faster, do more effectively. So we we did approach it very specifically to say, Okay, there’s a certain amount of setup we need to do, we need to make a couple of, we need to share a couple of our points of view in the front matter and start to explain why we think traditional change management doesn’t work, why we think organizations get stuck, why strategies fail. And then with that context said, because it is a philosophical shift from where we’ve come from, then introduce, okay, here’s the antidote. Here’s a set of tools. Here’s a toolkit that you can use and draw on it. It’s not a process like a lot of change management.

Adam Pierno 9:55
Yes. And you know, I think I may have buried the lede here, because for the listeners of this particular Show. So much of what we do is that PowerPoint that gets shared in a meeting and it’s a big meeting and everybody gets excited and you leave and you feel great. And then nobody does anything with it or or you’re not sure what to do about it. So let’s, let’s actually talk you mentioned, you know, why does strategies fail? Let’s talk about that. You know, there’s some great background on that in the book. Yeah. Why why is that a recurring theme? Why does strategy hit the wall?

Aric Wood 10:29
Yeah, it’s fascinating. You know, there’s been a lot of people that have studied this, universities, Kaplan’s books covers this topic. There’s, there’s a bunch of information out there. And everyone kind of comes to the same conclusion, which is about 80% of major strategy transformations fail. Yeah. Which, when you think about the amount of money that’s spent, and the amount of resources that are invested, like that’s just an immense, immense failure rate. And so we sort of looking at it and trying to understand what is it we’re seeing with our clients that are struggling? And what are where are we seeing successes, what are the bright spots? And what’s consistent with that? Assuming the strategy is good, right, there’s a bunch of other things, assuming the strategy itself is good, which is, which is 5050, which is 5050. Right? But it’s like advertising, which half works. But if we assume all, if you take out all those other factors, market factors, whether the strategy is good or not. And we just look at the people side of the coin, we see a couple of things that are typical, the first one of the biggest one is this sort of what we call line of sight problem, we don’t actually help connect people, individuals in the organization to the big picture, right? We, we might paint the picture of this as our strategy, but it doesn’t really mean anything to me, and I don’t really understand my role, and how my role ladders up to actually creating change in your organization, and how I fit side by side with my peers. So we talked about the need to really paint that picture clearly, for folks to go beyond that 100 Page PowerPoint deck, you know, launch it at the town hall meeting and walk away and really get under the hood of how do we help people see why what they’re doing is important in this big picture. And how it connects? Yeah, how can this, the second one that we call out is, you know, this idea of employee engagement. So again, back to that, that idea that you just shared CEO comes in, says, we got a new strategy, we just worked with this talk to your consultant, I’m going to take you through this 50 Page deck. And it’s announced, and it’s kind of a, it’s kind of a launch, and then nothing behind that, right. We’re not engaging employees and feedback, we’re not engaging them, perhaps even in the process of making that strategy in the first place. And we’re not investing a lot of time downstream to actually help them help us figure out how to execute it. So that employee engagement factor ends up if it doesn’t happen, making it feel like this thing’s just thrown over the wall. And employees know, that isn’t a great way to support adoption. And then the last thing is, and really, it’s the subject of this, this book, when all said and done. We spend a ton of money on strategy on strategy making, but we don’t spend much money or resources in terms of saying, Okay, how are we going to make this stick? How do we just like a marketing campaign, plan, a series, a cadence of touchpoints, with our employees to help make sure that they’re hearing it, that they’re understanding it, we’re supporting their growth and helping them learn new skills, so they can execute it, measuring the progress along the way, reinforcing that right, all the stuff that it takes for humans to actually learn to do something new. We need to make that investment.

Adam Pierno 13:26
Yeah, those that area is not a strength of mine. And so I’m always really quick to be like somebody figuring that part out, but I can’t do it. But it is really the detail you go into in the level of explaining like, why the relationships among the teams and the interrelationship between teams, with other teams and managers, with staff and how it all has to work together. It was really helpful for me to read and be like, Alright, okay, now I understand, like, I think intuitively we understand it’s important to support the teams and let them see how how it all connects. Yeah, but that really making it real. And the way you lay it out in the playbook is is was helpful for me. Well, thanks.

Aric Wood 14:05
You know, and we were I just want to add one thing that we were talking before we started this interview about, about marketing, right? And, and you know, what it takes to actually market an idea and to build an idea and actually have it set in someone’s mind over time. This is the same thing. It’s exactly the same thing. We, you know, strategy activation is really, how do we start to weave a consistent narrative and story about where we’re going and how we’re going to get there? Yeah. And then you can’t just say at once you need to actually build a marketing campaign. And that marketing campaign has to be multifaceted, because ultimately, we’re trying to get 1000s of human beings to move forward in the same direction.

Adam Pierno 14:41
Yeah, and each of them to understand how it impacts them. What’s like, what’s the reason to believe for them to be doing to changing the way they work, to activate this thing that they weren’t a part of, necessarily? Exactly. Yeah, it’s huge. I dog eared a bunch of pages. And what I’m going to do is just start flipping through and find those dogs and Probably have 10 We probably won’t do them all. Alright, but the first one I dog eared, I actually came back the second time I read it. I put a double dog here. Look at this double dog here. Yeah, come on. That’s serious. What page is this? I gotta look, this page. It’s page 88. It’s about the anticipation of system impacts. Oh, yeah. And it’s looking at unforeseen impacts. And you lay out eight dimensions, please don’t miss the eight dimensions. I don’t I don’t think that matters. But but the idea that complexity and model for how you can forecast that and how you can really just think through it in a simple way. Because a lot of times we say, well, yeah, that’s it. Something will happen that we haven’t anticipated. But we have to move forward. It’s like, Yeah, but what if we, what if we just did try to think through? Yeah. And so talk, talk a little bit about that. And I wonder if there’s not a story or two behind? Maybe lessons learned on how you got to this? Yeah, there is,

Aric Wood 15:59
you know, it’s, so the idea that you’re referring to in the book, we have a we have a framework, we call eight dimensions of the ark, it’s just a framework you can use, but the idea is simply this, it’s like a balloon, if you if you make a change, and in an organization, if you press that balloon that airs gotta go somewhere, and it’s gonna probably pop up someplace else, and there’s probably a, an unexpected impact. And so when you make a change in an organization, if you’re trying to drive a transformation of some kind, one of the things that oftentimes torpedoes those, those transformations is maybe the thing you didn’t expect. It’s okay, as an example, I’m working with a health sciences company that’s trying to shift their sales teams to be more consultative, rather than transactive. We want to get them to be working with our clients more actively and engage them in new ways, more customer centric ways, engage them in the process. And we want them to stop thinking about the transaction. But in the process of rolling that change out, maybe they don’t change the incentive plan, right? Maybe their incentives are still lined up the old way, you now got a conflict there? Because it isn’t that the strategy is wrong. It’s that you didn’t think about the entire organization, and what are all the other impacts that are influencing that person’s decision making? Right?

Adam Pierno 17:14
You change their SOP, but you didn’t change their incentive plan. So they’re still they’re never gonna follow the new SOP if they get bonused on the old one. Right?

Aric Wood 17:21
Exactly. And, you know, there’s other, there’s lots of other examples that we look at. But you know, whether it’s looking at culture, whether it’s looking at systems and processes, whether it’s looking at supporting technology, one of the things we encourage people to do is to try to, you know, use use design research in your work before you actually build your change program, to anticipate all the barriers to change, you know, why let Why let those things stop and stall your your progress, if you can get if you can do some amount of research upfront, understand and anticipate if I make this change in the organization where the things are going to potentially stall it, and then mitigate that earlier. And so this is a this is where it sort of design comes into the work, because a lot of what we talked about in this book is the importance of that that discovery phase to really go into the organization and uncover those barriers to change in advance. Because you don’t want to get the flat tire when you’re on the journey.

Adam Pierno 18:15
How, how deep into the org, is it is reasonable to do that assessment of, you know, potential impacts, like if you’re Lee, if you’re working with a leadership team, you’re obviously you’re far from the work at that point. And so you might look at that to your example of the health care system. It’s like, okay, well, how do I know what the impact might be for the call center versus the nurses? How deep into the org? Is it reasonable to go? Is there a equation that you use to figure that out? Because I mean, design thinking is great, but you can take it all the way down to the pixel level? And then it’s months and millions of dollars?

Aric Wood 18:54
Yeah, well, this is, you know, this is where human centered design comes in. And so the short answer is we go talk to the humans that are going to be adapted. It sounds obvious, and almost nobody does it. And so this is a huge opportunity. We might apply, we might identify and sit down with the client say, Okay, let’s look at this change. Now. We don’t need to get 100% of the organization on board for this change should be successful. But there’s probably four or five stakeholder groups that are critical to it, you know, we’ve got like the sales teams buy in, you know, maybe we’ve got gotta get the product engineering folks on board, maybe we got to get so and so on board. So we start to talk with folks with the people leading the strategy about who are the most impacted groups. And then we go talk to those groups. And we start to have a frank, you know, whether it’s a focus group, whether it’s a survey, whether it’s just an informational interview, but you know, they’ll tell you where the challenges are, they’ll tell you where I’m not clear why we’re doing this. I’m not clear how this is going to be implemented. And they might say, I’m totally on board with this. However, I don’t have the skills to do it. And is the organization gonna give me that training? Those are all clues for us because those tell us things like, oh, you know, our challenges are going to be Communicating the idea, or maybe the resistance is going to be, we need to invest in some learning and development for the team so that they can actually level up to achieve this goal. And

Adam Pierno 20:09
that gives them the confidence that they will not be replaced, they will be upskilled.

Aric Wood 20:14
Exactly, exactly. And if we know that in advance, then we we don’t cause the fear that oftentimes causes people to switch jobs or go to another place or, or just not not engaged, which is really the most important issue, we’ve got a bunch of people that are kind of crossing their arms and saying, Well, you know, this is the flavor of the month, let’s let it pass, that transformation is not going to happen.

Adam Pierno 20:33
Yeah. And it just digging their heels in there. That’s no good. I think. We don’t talk very much about what it takes to be a client of a consultant. But part of the work of being the client, whether it’s a team or an individual that takes those meetings and deals with the consultant and watches the decks transform and and does the legwork with them, is to make sure that that information is getting shared and make sure it’s getting paid to different people and different groups during the process. So where I’ve seen it fail is, you know, the consultants deliver their final, the executive team all loves it. And then it’s six months of okay, well, now I have to take this deck from them, and transform it into our language and start chopping it. And only then you’re getting the battle testing that you need. Yeah. And you’re like, Well, cool. I had an army of people doing research for me, and now they’re all They’re all paid.

Aric Wood 21:30
Yeah, this

Adam Pierno 21:31
should be there should be a certificate for how to how to hire a consultant. It seems like something that would be very needed in a lot of complicated organizations. Yeah,

Aric Wood 21:40
well, you know, one of the things that we’ve, we’ve sort of observed that really works well there, and particularly if you’re a consultant, and you’re thinking about how to kind of how to do this work and avoid that surprise is, you know, this is another place where sort of co creation along the route along the journey and encouraging people that this is an iterative design is a real thing. You know, I remember the days where, you know, you couldn’t go and talk to a client, unless the deck was perfect. You know, everything was done. It had been had been proof read, it was idealistic, it was just beautiful. And the answer was there, right. And the challenge with that is that doesn’t leave room for dialogue, for exploration, for learning, it doesn’t also allow room for feedback. And so one sort of like, hot tip that we share all the times we try to visualize all the ideas along the route, you know, if you can paint it, if you can draw a one page picture of your vision of where you’re going, but leave it rough, right? Just draw it out, sketch it out, and and then go to those those stakeholders you’re talking about and say, Hey, what do you think, you know, what resonates? What doesn’t resonate? How can you help me make it better? That page as that moves through, the organization gets better and better and better. And all of a sudden, all those people that were engaged in that process, have contributed to it, are enthusiastic about it. And they’re now internal ambassadors who are helping to share it from within. So you’ve started to also create the movement and the process of making the answer.

Adam Pierno 23:05
Yeah. And so part of what you’re taught, so the book is full of those kind of map frameworks that for each step, there’s a different kind of map. And I don’t think every step has a map. But there’s a lot of sketch tools for sketching ideas and tools for sketching the intended outcomes in progress, which I think are really valuable. So I’m looking at the vision map at the moment, and I think what you’re describing is a great way to to engage those people at the Super earliest stage in a way that makes them not only have ownership of it, but makes it turns it from a binary yes or no. Which is what the old, which is what the old model that I think of when you see something really polished. Yeah, you’re kind of Cisco anywhere at that point. It’s thumbs up or thumbs down. Right, exactly. But here, it’s like, no, get your Sharpie out. Let’s go help me help me craft this. And if you want to change the shape of the map, I really don’t care. You want it to be vertical, great. Better. Like we don’t care about that part. We just want to make it we want to get the story of straight. So it’s going to be effective,

Aric Wood 24:09
then you’re having a what if conversation? What if we did it this way? What if we did it that way? That gets better? And so yeah, this totally resonates out. Because I came back. As I mentioned, I was working with clients yesterday, we’re working with the University in Boston, where we were doing exactly that. Just yesterday, they were bringing together a new department pieces and parts of different departments in the organization. And they were trying to figure out, okay, what are we gonna do? Where are we going to go? What are we going to build, and we use that exact vision map that you’re referring to as the core exercise where we had every individual in that room throughout their picture, their vision of where they thought the organization could go, then they shared it out. And it’s sort of like that parable of five blind men and an elephant. Everybody saw a different parts are a different control. But when all 10 of them shared with one another, we saw a whole picture. And then we iterated that to a common picture of a vision that was holistic and it Everyone’s sort of voice was in it. And by the end of the day, there was a really clear pathway for what was going to get built in 2023.

Adam Pierno 25:07
And that’s through the conversation and debate over the various parts of the elephant that each person sketched out.

Aric Wood 25:12
Yeah, and especially when you make a visual, it’s, you know, when you put words on a page, or struggle over a vision statement, or a mission statement, you know, words are very nuanced, but you actually draw, and for your listeners who don’t know that, I’m serious, you know, we we, you know, explained is very focused on trying to use visual learning, even in our process. But if you can sketch out a picture or sketch out a framework, show somebody this is what I’m thinking, what do you think just like a napkin sketch, right? Napkin sketches, Dan Rome, our friend of ours wrote a great book called back of the napkin. And it was so successful, because it was that idea of, you know, writing an idea on the back of a napkin helps people see what you see. And that makes it also better, it makes it easier for them to critique what they see and give you feedback. It’s actually actionable. We’re helping you create something new.

Adam Pierno 26:00
Yeah, that’s really cool. That’s really cool. How long does that process take in a roomful of people that can’t draw?

Aric Wood 26:07
I can’t draw? Well, I shouldn’t say that. Actually, my my creative team would kick me for that. Everyone can draw, right? We are all artists, we we’ve been drawing pictures since we were young. I don’t have the same talent that some of the incredibly talented designers that explain have, but I think I’m a great person to walk into a room of other executives, because when they see me draw, and I’m still doing it, they they feel more confident. And so you know, see figures, frameworks, dots, it doesn’t matter. The idea is to sketch your concept and try to make it as clear as possible. When you start sketching a strategic plan that’s got 12 pillars, it looks like a snake pit, because it has 12 pillars, right? You visually see, oh, we have to we have to simplify this. So you’re really trying to get from complexity to simplicity. And drawing really, actually accelerates?

Adam Pierno 26:59
Yeah, and it removes, you could lose three hours if you’re trying to get everybody to agree on a vision statement. And they’re debating over and or Yeah, or comma, or semicolon. And that’s, there’s nothing worse than that. There’s literally nothing worse than that.

Aric Wood 27:13
Yeah, I call it Frank envisioning. You’re putting a piece of this on a piece of that, and everybody ultimately feels ownership over a particular word. So it’s all lumped together. But

Adam Pierno 27:25
you think people do that, like the CFO is going to like see that? That’s the third word from the end. I did that. That’s my Yeah. Yeah, it happens.

Aric Wood 27:32
It’s shareholder value.

Adam Pierno 27:33
I added that. Yeah. I want to talk about a word that I think is become a little bit overused. But the way you explain it, the way you’re using it is a little different. But the word is empathy. So it’s taken on a life of its own over the past year and a half, in my very narrow view. But the empathy map that you create in this, this kind of Charlie Brown figure that’s in the middle of it, is really valuable because of the questions that you ask around it. So you could strike the word empathy. The map itself is the looks like six questions, seven questions, really brings logic to it. And a framework that even just doing the empathy map, I could see for each department leader would be really, really valuable, probably annually, even if there’s no change management.

Aric Wood 28:27
Absolutely. Yeah, it’s, um, you know, essentially, the empathy map was developed to explain by Dave Gray, and Scott Matthews, and a couple of other folks. And it’s really become a great tool that a lot of people use and service and experience to design. But I think the reason it’s successful is that at the end of the day, what it’s really doing is teaching us to think about the people in the process. Yeah, that’s, that’s the goal of it. It’s to say, a process isn’t a bunch of boxes and lines and diamonds on a chart, a process is a human being connected to another human being connected to another human being. And each one of those people have feelings and have thoughts and perspectives, right. And so the idea of the empathy map is, it’s just to make a stop and pause and say, let me try to get inside your head. Let me try to understand what this person is going to think about this change and how that might impact them. And going around that exercise of saying, what are they thinking about it? What are they feeling about it? What are they not saying? What are the questions that they may have? is a really great accelerant to understanding. And you can work in 1000 ways you mentioned, you know, you could just see is using the tool, I actually look at the empathy map before I even have a call with the client and try to understand, you know, what, what are they thinking right now? And what are their concerns and what are their issues and maybe I should prepare myself to address those in advance. So it just it really is a it’s a powerful tool to really start to anchor us in. There’s a human being behind everything we do, and we need to connect to them

Adam Pierno 29:52
to people. Do you ever get pushback from people on trying to map this out just from like, inertia perspective of Have thinking through it, or do people intuitively get it.

Aric Wood 30:03
You know, when we first introduced this, this exercise, it feels fluffy to people. And as soon as we’re about 10 minutes into it, there’s all these aha moments going off. And that’s what’s really powerful. Because when people start to recognize that, oh, this, this person might be actually threatened by this change, and they hadn’t thought about that, you know, it seems so obvious, because I’ve done this so much. But oftentimes, there’s, there’s these epiphanies that come. And I know, by and large, the organizations where, where this has been introduced, it’s stuck. People use it in lots of different ways. But at the end of the day, it’s just, it’s just the foundation of human centered design. You know, it’s the idea that we’re designing solutions for humans. So we need to engage in the process. And Step one is to understand,

Adam Pierno 30:44
let’s, let me ask you about an area that I’ve struggled in, which is governance. Not the sexiest word in the world. But dealing with, you know, big change management projects, or or change projects. Governance is always a thing where it’s like, well, who has the authority to even decide those questions of you know, how this rolls out? Or who does? What? Where do you? Where do you start? When it comes to that, like, in the framework of the work you do in our activation plan? Do you talk about it sooner, so that it can be addressed? Or is it? What’s kind of in the nuts and bolts of activation?

Aric Wood 31:27
We kind of talked about it philosophically as course correction. And so the idea we tried to set up, in fact, I even I debated whether I was even gonna include a section of governance in the book. So glad you did, though. Yeah, it sounds kind of old timey and manage, it’s not

Adam Pierno 31:42
referred, you refer to it as it may sound archaic, but I was like, no, no, I need I need exactly this page.

Aric Wood 31:48
Yeah. Well, you know, the thing is that what we’re trying to do is redefine governance to become iterative design. Right? What we’re, what we want to do is normalize the fact that, you know, we’re going to make a plan, and we’re going to, we’re going to, we’re going to chart a course, from point A to point B, and it’s going to be a straight line on the chart, when we’re done with that course, it’s not going to be a straight line, it’s going to be a very wavy, you know, the winds gonna blow us offshore, and we’re gonna get some wind in our sails. And so no course ever looks like that straight line on the chart. Why don’t we just accept that right? Why do we have to say that this plan is rigid, and it’s fixed? And so the idea that we talked about in governance is just build a simple model that clarifies, who has the authority to make course corrections? What are the signals that you’re going to follow to learn when something’s working or not working? And what’s your process to actually make that first correction, so you can keep it on track. And, you know, it sounds obvious, but I can’t tell you how often that doesn’t happen, that maybe something’s going off track. And somebody’s just been tasked to do a thing. And no one has actually given them permission or empowerment to say, you can shift know, if you learn something, you can do it differently. So we talked about it in the execution phase, in the book, as one of the key things that we need to build in is that flexibility and that agility, and that understanding that things are going to shift, we’re gonna get surprised. We’re not gonna anticipate everything. So let’s make it part of our process to learn and iterate. Since response.

Adam Pierno 33:16
Why are we always surprised by that?

Aric Wood 33:18
I don’t know. I mean, I every time I’m

Adam Pierno 33:21
like, Oh, we got to change. I’ve been doing this a while you would think by now I would know. But even I’m still surprised that I have to change course or adjust. And I have to go ask permission, like, okay, yeah, it was gonna be x, but it’s y. So I need to do Z.

Aric Wood 33:34
And then you multiply that by 10,000 empowered individuals, and organization, and you understand why it’s hard to get things done.

Adam Pierno 33:42
Well, well, let me ask you this question. Which is worse. If if you get to that point at that inflection point, and nobody’s empowered to do anything. So the whole thing stalls, or everybody’s empowered. So it moves exponentially in weird directions, but people trying to move it forward, which which do you think is the bigger problem? And that’s

Aric Wood 34:01
the million dollar question. I think, second ones, the easier one to solve. I think if you have a culture in an organization that isn’t empowered and can’t can’t make those those decisions is empowered to make decisions, you’re never going to be able to respond quickly enough to change. If you have these to have an organization where there is empowerment, and people have the ability to make shifts. There’s a couple of quick things you can do by clarifying who is who is accountable to making this decision? Who is the person receiving the signal and what’s our process? And we can agree on a process upfront in terms of how we’re going to decide which change to make.

Adam Pierno 34:37
And how do you how, how descriptive do you get with that governance or even you refer to agility? Yeah. Is that is that through the design process with the team to figure out what their what their tolerances and what the level of flexibility and sort of the scale at the decision making level is?

Aric Wood 34:57
Yeah, we we quite literally, in fact, we built in the book, a worksheet for exactly this problem where we get very specific, we put names on the page, who is accountable for doing this? When are we going to meet? What is our agenda? What are the decisions that we can make versus the decisions we need to recommend? And we really work we do in the practice, we work with our teams before we launch up an activation campaign to iron that out, because a lot of times it’s, it’s, it’s just assumed that somebody’s in charge. And the reality is that, you know, we need to at least have one person who sees the breadth of what’s going on, and is at least empowered to say we need to make a call here. So we built right into the process.

Adam Pierno 35:40
That’s awesome. Yeah, someone is nominally in charge. But that’s, that takes me back to the the other dog you’re here on on 64, about social movements. And so you can, like you said, you know, an org isn’t just boxes and lines. And you can technically have someone that is in charge. But when you get an organization that’s at scale, it’s 1000s of people, or even hundreds of people, or sometimes dozens, it doesn’t really work that way, especially over the past five years, that top down thing is really not that’s broken down quite a bit. And amen. But tell me about how you’ve, you guys have studied social movements, and then you know how that work applies to the to the process that you’ve that you’ve been working?

Aric Wood 36:27
Well, so yeah, so when I think a clarification, you highlighted, there’s a big difference between in charge and accountable. Right. And so one thing that this happened even in the session, we were referring to yesterday, where, at the end of the day, all these initiatives we were describing the person that was written down as accountable was the head of the department. And we know that that that senior leader is actually not in the day to day doesn’t have that visibility. So what we try to do is get it as close as possible to the source, right. So in a social movement, you know, what, what’s happening is we’re really activating the grassroots, right, we’re getting people on the ground to get aligned around a common purpose or a common vision, and move forward together. A lot of our greatest socialist social movements don’t actually have a clear leader, we don’t see that there’s a hierarchical structure, you know, there’s, is there a clear leader too, you can think of two or three major social movements that we’ve experienced in the last many years in particular, on the social justice movement, there’s not necessarily an infrastructure there, it’s a it’s an idea. So you need to find those ideas, you need to find those things that are motivating this is where that line of sight thing comes in as well. Because you need to have everybody sort of see clearly where we’re going and why. And then you need to identify for certain aspects of what’s going on, who’s accountable, who’s accountable to raise their hand and say, Hey, we need to pivot. That accountability doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve got the right to actually drive the entire organization in new place. It does mean that they’re part of the sensing mechanism. And they’re raising their hand and they’re talking to their peers and saying, I think we need to make a shift.

Adam Pierno 37:59
And you’re making that into the activation. Yes, that people know, like, oh, okay, I have I have that sensitivity, you know, it’s my job to be paying attention to those cues and calling out that I think this is we need to think about a new direction, or the plan is needs to change because it’s not getting

Aric Wood 38:16
us I mean, you know, the air traffic controller that’s watching all the planes flying around in the sky doesn’t actually have the ability to shift those planes, but that person can see something before others do. And that’s what we want to get. We want to get people to see things before others do. And then share that information as quickly as they can.

Adam Pierno 38:32
Do you think which which is more compelling, and this may change over over a time continuum, the current state, or the problem we’re running away from or where change we’re evolving away from is probably a better way to say it. For the future state, you know, this, this vision that we have, which is more compelling, like we have to move away from this, that is going to be detrimental or is not our way to win. Or like we need to get to that mountaintop, because that’s our that’s our winning location.

Aric Wood 39:06
Both are equally effective. Do it today, the truth in our experience, it’s kind of like a carrot and stick thing. But it’s a balance, because ultimately, to get movement, there has to be enough of a compelling reason to shift, right? And so the compelling reason to shift might be that the current state sucks. We want to escape this and get to a better place. That might be right. Like I’ve been trying to get out of 2020 for two years. But the other thing is there’s I work with a lot of organizations that are doing great work, and they’re they’re on top and sometimes their biggest challenge is that because they’re so successful, there’s like no motivation to go to the next place. And so then what has to happen is that that future vision has to be so exciting and compelling. That wakes people up and says, Oh, we could do something even bigger, right? So it’s about having enough momentum to generate a shift. Whether it’s because you’re scaring me and I’m running away or it’s something I want to run towards

Adam Pierno 40:00
But if things are going well, it’s more about figuring out how to convince them that they could be going even better. Yeah,

Aric Wood 40:08
absolutely. I mean, there’s organizations that we’ve worked with that, you know, that are, they’re hitting their numbers, they’re hitting their targets, they’re really not motivated to make change. And, you know, this is even a place where in the engagement process provisioning sometimes, sometimes the reason that strategy activation fails is because people don’t actually see the reason to change, you know, they this exact case, hey, we’re on the top of our industry right now. And so there’s a, there’s an exercise that that you know, is required to either paint a really clear vision of a better future state that you could great, or start to be a futurist and start to anticipate where the future of the world is going to be, and how you’re going to need to evolve to that new place before your competitor, it’s harder for you to stay on top. And so we also try to bring a lot of visualization into this work for that reason, we might be spending time working with an organization to start to do some scenario planning. You know, what happens if this happens, this happens, this happens three 510 years from now, what should we do them. And by getting people into that imagination, space, sometimes you can get them, you can shake them out of their current state enough to recognize, oh, we still need to be thinking about shifts in the future, because that could happen, that possible future is out there.

Adam Pierno 41:23
And is that more external looking at at suppliers or competitors or environmental shifts? Or is that more internal? Like, what if this person leaves or what if demand stops for this product line, or Yes to all,

Aric Wood 41:38
it’s all the above, and I’ll give you a great example. at a smaller scale, we’re working with a large nonprofit organization that’s in Southern Oregon, and their performance based organization, they, they they they bring people together for for theater performances, at a pretty large scale, in strategic planning process with them, is we’re talking about risk analysis. And some of the challenges that they’re having one of the things that popped to the top was wildfire smoke, we’re seeing so many fires because of climate change, that it actually be starting to become dangerous in this particular region. And it’s actually requiring them to shut down a lot of their performances. And so, you know, we’re seeing risks or things that, you know, are emerging that sometimes we’re never in the business plan. But we need to actually sort of start to think about and anticipate these things. And they can actually, if we start thinking through the future, okay, what’s this going to look like in the future? Is it going to get worse? In five years? Are we in a completely different environment? Should we be shifting our entire program to digital platforms? Should we move? Right? There’s all these critical questions that come about, as a result about thinking about possible futures. And so we’re, we’re huge advocates for really getting people into some of those. You know, we talked about it in terms of elevation. So many meetings that we have with people are sort of at the ground level, they’re talking about the weeds, they’re talking about what they’re feeling today, there’s so much insight that comes from taking people up to 100,000 feet, facilitating a conversation where we give them permission to dream a little Yes. And really imagine at a much higher level. And those those imaginations can can fill those scenarios and in ways that really shift our thinking,

Adam Pierno 43:22
but but remaining elastic so that you can get back down to the ground level once once you’ve figured out Oh, right here, you arrive at the vision that we all agree on that is compelling. And then we need to get back to ground level to figure out how to activate it, because that’s where the slideshow lives is up at that high level. Yeah.

Aric Wood 43:42
And you know, and you need to you need to give them the helicopter, right? Yeah, you

Adam Pierno 43:45
got to help them get up. But then you have to make sure they come back down with you to make sure it’s gonna get activated, because,

Aric Wood 43:50
well, that’s what that connective tissue comes in. And they’ll in the line of sight conversation we started with write that, we need to understand that it’s not sufficient just to have that high level picture. Yeah, we need to show the vision and where we’re going, we also need to show the strategy of how we’re going to get there, which is still a big picture, right? It’s still our overall strategy is 123, then we need to break that strategy down into a roadmap, because not everybody is going to take that entire journey. Maybe my only my department is going to touch segment one. And then we need to link that yet again to the roadmap, my individual, my individual role, and this is my contribution. Only then does an individual have true line of sight of where they connect on the ground to that big picture in the sky.

Adam Pierno 44:31
Yeah, that’s really cool. I’m really glad I get to read this book. And Eric, I’m really glad I got a chance to talk to you about it. Thank you for making time. Where can people where’s the best place for people to order this? I’ll link to it obviously in the show notes.

Aric Wood 44:44
Oh, thanks. Well, you know, so you can get it at our website Or you can get it from most most book retailers, Amazon. It’s, it’s distributed pretty broadly. So whether it’s online and with us or whether it’s online with your favorite bookseller Are, hopefully you’ll be able to find it.

Adam Pierno 45:02
Yeah. Awesome. And where can people find you online for more, more conversation with you?

Aric Wood 45:07
You can reach reach us through the explaining website, dub dub dub And I’m also also out there in the social, so find me on LinkedIn. And I’d be I’d be happy to have a job. Awesome.

Adam Pierno 45:19
Well, thank you very much for making time. And I’m glad we were able to connect. And thank you for putting this book out there. It’s amazing.

Aric Wood 45:25
It’s been an honor. Thanks, Adam. Really appreciate the conversation.

Adam Pierno 45:28
The Strategy Inside Everything is produced by me, Adam Pierno If you like what you’ve heard, leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts. Actually, I have no idea if that helps, or if it’s ever done anybody any good. If you really want to help the show, and you liked what you heard, share it with someone else who you think will dig it. That’s the best way to help the show and keep the conversation growing. New Music for the strategy inside everything is by Sawsquarenoise. If you have an idea, a question or want to push back on something you hear here, go to and leave a message or a voicemail for me. If you want more information on your host Adam Pierno you can find it on and learn about my books, speaking and consulting practice. Thanks so much for listening.

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