living knowledge

The other day I took a taxi from Pittsburgh International Airport to a meeting downtown.  I had an important meeting, and my assistant, Rachel, wanted to be sure I got there on time, so she pre-arranged ride through “Richie’s Cab Service.”  As I walked through the terminal, I dialed and Richie himself answered.  He’d be there in ten seconds.  And he was.  I’m not kidding.  Within 20 minutes, I arrived at the Omni Penn Hotel.  The only rub, I thought, would be payment. A sign was taped to the credit card machine – out of service. “Do you take credit cards?,” I asked.  “Oh, sure!” he responded as he whipped out his mobile phone equipped with the new Square device.  He deftly took the card, swiped it and handed it back.  “Email receipt?” he asked. “Absolutely!” I responded.

Jack Dorsey, founder of Square (and co-founder of Twitter, about to go public), is, no doubt, a genius.  These Squares are popping up everywhere.  Innovators like Dorsey are somehow able to look at available platforms, connect them with what people want, and create something brilliant.  And, they’re also able to assemble a team of people to do it because they’re able to communicate the idea to others.

In our office, we call this “living knowledge.”  It’s a way of helping people picture it, and live it, usually through a story.  The best way to help a customer is to put yourself in their shoes, to know how they do things, use things, and live with things.  Recently I saw an interview with Dorsey where he talked about how at Square they share “user narratives” with everyone in the organization.  These are the stories of how customers use their product, from the time they get up in the morning until they go to bed at night.  It allows them to visualize how their customers live and work.

There is nothing as compelling or memorable as a story.  When people can “see it” in their mind's eye, it ignites their imagination, energizing them to think.  Stories cement “living knowledge” and become a catalyst for creativity and problem solving.   One member of my team, Margie Myers, who used to be an executive in retail, says the user narrative is really an evolution of the profiles they used to create to help people understand what to buy and how to sell to their typical customers.  The evolution is that with a user narrative, you can picture being in your customer’s shoes.

At our firm, our staff has done a great job employing “living knowledge” just for our internal purposes.  To me, it’s fabulous.  Take my trip to Pittsburgh.  Rachel found a car service - “I’ll be there in 10 seconds Richie” – because she pictured my trip, knew it was an important meeting, and wasn’t going to leave transportation to chance.  She made a smart decision that helped me get where I needed to go.    

It would be an interesting question to ask yourself – how can you employ more living knowledge in your organization?  How can you tell the story that ignites creativity and encourages problem solving?

Topics: Driving Growth



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