everything starts with a story
Looking ahead at what’s to come, then looking back at what happened is a fun-yet-truthful endeavor. It turns out that, along the way, we we have been just where we needed to be for that time. It doesn’t mean we didn’t make mistakes; we made our share. It does mean that each turning point led us to new opportunities and new ways to create value for clients. Here’s a quick insider’s journey…
Like most new firms, Storyminers was born of necessity, opportunity, and desire. After being downsized from my eVisionary role at IBM Global Services, I wanted (and needed) to work. There was a growing demand for better customer experiences and better company operations, given all the digital developments of the dot.com era. Also, I felt an inner urge to see what kind of good I could wreak on the world with new tools that gave voice and volume using my people-centered and outcome-oriented mindset.
It was 20 years ago today (November 29, 2000) that the dot-com bubble burst. After rampant speculation and a NASDAQ gain of 400%, the high-tech market lost 78% of its value by October 2002, thanks to companies that had more bark than bite.
I was unnerved that year, yet I felt heartened. I knew that the tools co-founder Thom Milkovic and I were starting the business with had their roots in creating real value. The kind clients can measure. There was nothing speculative about the approach.
Before going on, I’d like to tell you about Thom. He’s a Renaissance guy born in our age. An artist, photographer, filmmaker, designer, UX expert, and copywriter. Thom has a way of stripping all the BS away from an idea then shaping it into something people want to be with, use, and enjoy. I always feel lucky when I get to work with him.
Thom and I pooled our resources, leads, and thinking, and sold six clients on six calls. We learned that the name, Storyminers, and the story about helping companies find their stories first worked. We were on our way.
Thom and I enjoyed helping several mid-market companies pivot their brands to take advantage of digital. We helped the first:
- pure-play digital insurance brokerage launch in the southeast
- privately-owned digital payment processor in the community banking space to attract additions to its leadership team
- automated linen service for hospitals to expand into new products and markets
- digital film house to circumvent Hollywood’s distribution monopoly
- trial-prep software company to refine its product line-up
Then, we leaned into experience design because I saw what it could do for IBM’s clients and eagerly wanted that success again. It was hard. Clients weren’t ready yet to undertake customer experience and business design work (yet). We had to work extremely hard to earn our position in the customer-experience-with-operational-improvements space.
Next, Thom found love, focused on photography (we continue to collaborate occasionally), and moved to California.
Eventually, the business world woke up to Customer Experience, and Storyminers found itself well-positioned, busy, and with larger clients. With a new, now-signature, teams of specialists, we were asked to:
- update a top-10 travel management company’s brand
- rebrand and introduce new services at professional service firms and tech companies
- evaluate the feasibility of presenting patient charts hands-free in hospitals
- fine-tune the brand and culture at an international contract manufacturer
- develop a signature client experience at a product development consultancy
- launch a new brand, including service and customer experience designs for a print/ship/office franchisor
- improve the customer experience at a national party store franchise
- reimagine the car-buying experience for a multi-brand family automobile dealer group
The results encouraged us—and helped build our reputation. We advanced our methods on each assignment, shortened our delivery times, and brought about better outcomes for clients and their customers.
We practiced innovation internally and developed numerous new techniques to help clients find their next direction, then get there successfully. These include but aren’t limited to:
- See What You Say
- Human Prototyping
- Undercover Tours
- Culture Architecting
- Case Stories
- Sounding Board
- Future Story
It was about half-way through all of this innovative work that we realized what our superpower was:
WE HELP PEOPLE GET COMFORTABLE WITH THE FUTURE.
We realized what our clients already knew. We were in the buy-in business. Clients hire us to help them see which ways they can go, get everyone on the same page, and stay around to ensure that what they build for the business is on-brand and delivers value.
So we got to work on complex and highly impactful customer experience engagements. Organizations’ innovation teams asked us to help them find their ways forward, then make the paths clear. We also supported significant transformations. Company leaders asked us to stay on after the innovation phase to help with adoption. For every big brand we helped, we helped at least a few mid-market and smaller ones. Here are a few from Storyminers 2.0:
- Piedmont Healthcare—elective surgery
- Transitions Optical—retail store of the future
- TELUS—future-state service design
- The University of Phoenix—metro center student center experience
That’s great, but then the world changed again—big time.
As early as 2018, I was getting signals that a bottoming out was occurring within many professional services markets. Larger players began prospecting smaller companies. Prices started to erode, and more freemium business models gave rise to more do-it-yourselfers (even within larger corporations).
In 2020, the pandemic, the election cycle, and weather disruptions to global supply chains made doing business unlike any other year in recorded history. We are all impacted.
The customer experience part of the market wasn’t immune. I started thinking about which way to turn Storyminers. I had my ideas on what would be helpful, profitable, and fun, but I knew I had to turn to clients and future clients to get it right.
So, I started talking with them. Over 18 months, I had over 100 substantial and focused chats to uncover where our clients’ needs were most significant and where we could help the most.
Leaders offered ideas, fears, and advice. They complained. They almost always emphasized how amazing it would be if their teams, partners, suppliers, and future customers could align around their efforts. Coming up with ideas wasn’t the most significant challenge; it was getting their people on the same page.
This notion of helping leaders earn buy-in for the ideas that will mean the most for their companies’ and their employees’ futures was a no-brainer for us. It felt like we could return to that comfortable place where we are relevant in our efforts and rewarded for our work.
All we needed to do was tell a new story. Right?
Yes, but it wasn’t that easy. Being good at helping others develop their stories didn’t teach us to do it for our brand. Like our clients, we needed help. We had no lack of support from clients, specialists, friends, and colleagues. (I’m skipping a big part here because of how not easy this was. Maybe I’ll share in a future blog ;-)
Now, we’re well-poised to face 2021 with a full set of services, new supporting technologies, and a host of affiliate and service partners. We know where to play:
Still, we felt that we were missing one essential piece–a way to deliver on the idea that Storyminers helps people get comfortable with the future. We have already developed several leading-edge ideas to prototype experiences. Now, we needed something to prototype the operations of an entire business.
We knew there was a need to help clients both envision what’s next and relevant AND adapt their operations at the same time to deliver it. So, that’s what we built.
We call it Future Story.
A future story translates business strategy into operations, concrete, and tailored steps to help any company make things happen on-brand and tackle their transformations with success.
Future Story helps clients develop their ideas so they turn heads in seconds. Game-changing-yet-practical ideas that can quickly become reality. Future Story not only gives clients a peek at the future, it gives their customers and experience that’s so remarkable, they want to share it with their friends. Future Story isolates resistance (internally among staff and externally with clients) and builds support for what’s new. Wrapping around existing capabilities, Future Story gives organizations the freedom to think boldly about how those capabilities can be expanded.
What makes Future Story so unique and effective is that it uses a story to express the selected strategy. Whatever the form, written narrative, video, live-action, or animation, everyone can understand where the company is headed and their role in helping it get there. Future Stories have a fixed core but are open-ended to evolve with the journey and allow for employee participation (and buy-in) along the way. Future Stories are profoundly personal, and that’s why they work.