BL&T No. 163: Delivering First, Worst-Case Mindset, & Sharing Your Secret Sauce

Personal Growth

This post originally appeared in my newsletter, Borrowed, Learned, & Thought. BL&T is sent weekly on Mondays. In every edition, I share lessons learned in agency leadership, life, and e-commerce. This post does not include all the details shared in the newsletter sent via email. Subscribe here.


“In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few."

Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki quoted in the "Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon [Book]

Learned & Thought

When I was thinking about what to focus on today, a few themes from the week were circling in my mind. Instead of honing in on one, I figured I'd share some commentary about each.

Deliver Plus One (And Don't Forget to Deliver)

Imagine going to a restaurant and ordering a steak, cooked medium. You ask if you can substitute the potatoes for a salad. The waitress says they don't allow substitutions normally, but she'll take care of it. You're appreciative and pleasantly surprised. When the meal comes out, the steak is overcooked and hardly edible. The salad looks great, but you didn't come for the salad. Now you're left waiting for the kitchen to correct the steak while everyone else politely waits to eat. You tell them to go on and sit patiently awaiting your food.

In the book, "Raving Fans," authors Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles outline a concept they call Deliver Plus One. It's the idea that once you know what a customer wants, you must deliver on those expectations before you try to over-deliver or exceed them. In other words, if the steak isn't up to snuff, no one cares that you accommodated a potato substitution.

This theme comes up time and time again in agency work. At Barrel, we're currently working on a project where we decided to invest in some 'value-add' work a month ago to help the client with their goals, aka we didn't charge them for it.

Weeks later, the time initially estimated for the comp work has ballooned for several reasons, taking time away from our agreed-upon scope. We're getting close to launching the website, so it's crunch time. What's left to do? Many of the standard tasks that make a website launch successful, like final testing, analytics setup, etc.

If the launch doesn't go well, there's no guarantee the client will remember how we added value beyond the scope.

Luckily, we haven't been in this situation in some time, and I'm confident everything will go as planned. However, it's closer than I'd like! It's a reminder of how slippery a slope it is to promise more without having delivered on the original expectations or re-setting expectations entirely.

Worst-Case Mindset

Something fascinating happens when you put yourself in the mindset of a worst-case scenario. In an agency setting, it could be someone putting in their notice, a client expressing discontent, or the decision to downsize the team.

Whatever the case, none of these situations feel good. We may see them coming, but the reality doesn't set in until we're in the thick of it, navigating our way forward. What happens if we can harness that reality before it becomes real?

I was chatting with a team member last week about a potential worst-case scenario regarding their team. While the outcome is unlikely, I thought it was worthwhile talking through. I encouraged them to put themselves in the mindset of what they would do if faced with this scenario.

It was incredible how valuable our conversation ended up being. The team member walked me through their decision-making, which surfaced other thoughts on their mind that we hadn't discussed. Our discussion became less about the worst-case scenario and more about overlooked issues.

The team member left with some action items. I left thinking about what would have happened if we hadn't chatted.

I'm not suggesting we go every day expecting the worst, but every once in a while, maybe it's worth putting ourselves in the shoes of our future selves dealing with a challenging situation.

  • What decision would we make? Why?
  • What gaps are we overlooking? How can we address them?
  • What can we do to avoid the worst-case scenario?
  • If the worst-case scenario doesn't happen, what actions should we take anyway?

Questions like this may make you realize you should engage a high performer with more challenging work.

Or talk with a client who has been overly accommodating to project delays.

Or have a performance conversation with the team member whom you wouldn't think twice about laying off if faced with the decision.

To Give or Not to Give Your "Secret Sauce"

I had an interesting chat recently with a fellow agency leader who reached out after reading my content. They were interested in jumping on a call to share ideas and connect. Aspects of what their agency does is similar to Barrel, but it's unlikely we're up against each other when submitting proposals for work.

Once we got on the call, I asked how they run engagements, structure their team, collaborate, etc. It quickly became apparent they held these things close to the vest, responding with "I don't want to get into our secret sauce" before responding to my questions.

I remember feeling this way early in my career. Looking back, I think it was a sense that I was still getting my bearings, so sharing the insights I had uncovered would give others an edge. It turns out that the opposite was true—spending more time with these insights through writing and sharing was the best way to keep learning.

When this person did "let me in on a tactic," I talked about how I could tell him, or anyone for that matter, exactly how we run Barrel, and they would never be able to recreate it because their context and experience are unique. In his opinion, you never know what aspects of what you do make you successful. So, if you share all your ideas, you risk losing a competitive advantage by giving away your 'secret sauce.'

I still enjoyed our call and took away some insights, but I left with this question: am I giving away too much?

Then I realized...

If I hadn't committed to "giving away" my thoughts and ideas, I wouldn't have had this interaction or so many others, gaining valuable ideas, insights, and connections along the way.

Onwards we go.


The E-Commerce Corner

Read here: On the Wonderment Blog: How Marketing & CX Teams Can Increase Customer Retention

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