One Bowl at a Time

While visiting my daughter and her husband recently, I noticed a bowl in her cupboard that brought back great memories. Painted on the sides are the words, “Serving The World – One Bowl At A Time.” In her role as a public school teacher, these words symbolize her contribution to society. She sees the bigger impact of her work, but executes by focusing on each student individually.

This message reminded me of questions we sometimes hear from attendees of Pragmatic Institute courses: “The Framework has 37 activities! Where do I begin? Can I really expect to succeed?”

Where to begin? We have a saying at Pragmatic Institute: Nothing important happens in the office  (NIHITO). You should focus your energy on the Market Problems box of the Framework by doing NIHITO visits. Can you succeed? You bet: one bowl at a time.

Let’s say that you’ve just begun in your new role on the product team. You’ve got an existing product that isn’t selling the way your company had originally hoped. How can you stimulate increased sales? Should you update the collateral? Do sales training? Go on sales calls? You could do any or all of those things, but your best investment is to interview recent evaluators of your product–both wins and losses–to listen and learn about their experiences. Don’t react to the first interview, or the second or the third. But as you continue to interview, watch for patterns to emerge. These are the indications of what you can change to increase sales. With this data, you are armed with the ipower to do more of what is working and less of what is not.

Several years ago, I worked with an organization that spent considerable marketing dollars on thought leadership, particularly with the Gartner Group. The vice president of marketing wanted to know if these dollars were well spent, so she conducted a series of NIHITO visits with recent evaluators of her product. She asked open-ended questions: What was the catalyst for you to begin looking at products like mine? Once you realized you needed to investigate product like mine, what did you do first? Second? Third?

She interviewed 13 recent evaluators, and 11 told her that their first step was to go to the Gartner Group website and learn which vendors were in the Gartner Magic Quadrant. Those were the only vendors to be evaluated. Clearly, developing a strong relationship with Gartner represented “table stakes” for any deal. She now had the data she needed to support continued budget investments with thought leaders.

Perhaps you are leading a product team, and you and your team have just completed training with Pragmatic. Where should you start then? Absolutely the same way. NIHITO is the core activity to Market Problems, and the data source you need to lead the team.

Start simply, but engage directly. Many adults have a natural resistance to talking with strangers, so sit with your team when they make their first calls or even make some calls yourself, so they can observe and learn. Go with them on interviews; write call reports together. Roll your sleeves up and work side by side with your team. This will help them see that you are just as committed to NIHITO as you say.

You can begin this process through basic role play. One team I worked with sat around a conference-room table and pretended to call each other to set interview appointments. After we’d done two or three role-play calls, we offered each other constructive critiques. This very simple activity gave the team encouragement as we began our market research efforts. Ultimately, we completed more than two dozen face-to-face interviews, reviewed call reports for patterns, validated those patterns in web surveys with statistically valid samples and used that information to drive annual business plans and roadmaps. The team’s credibility with the CEO blossomed–as did many of their careers.

When we are faced with tasks that seem overwhelming, we often say of those projects that they are trying to “solve world hunger.” Here is the good news: We can start to solve such problems, whether they are at work, in our homes, in our communities and even in our countries. Just remember: Serve the world, one bowl at a time.

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