Messy problems can feel like madness.

Here is my method.


Remember the show Dirty Jobs? One of my favorite projects involved working with it’s host, Mike Rowe. Once at a team dinner, I tried to convince him create a  show highlighting strategists. Our jobs are dirty. The challenges that we face are messy. And not everyone can do it. I received a blank stare and no words from someone that usually has all the words. He is still thinking about it. And I am still waiting on an answer.

Whether you are wrestling an alligator, dredging through sewers, or building a strategy — things can get messy. Over time, I have  developed a general approach to my work along with principles and values that guide me. In a sense, I have created a method to address the madness  that we all face in this world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. And I have applied it again and again to different challenges with great success. That way, when I get a call from you (or a call about  the show),  I will be ready!


Closing the Strategy-to-Execution Gap

Because I have been deeply involved with projects from end-to-end  as a leader, strategist, and practitioner — I know what it takes to close the strategy to execution gap. In fact, I have developed a framework called EPIC which I have used repeatedly to help me through through complex challenges and assemble the building blocks of a strategy.  It’s geared toward marketing strategies, but it is flexible enough to be applied to UX, product development and other strategic needs.

I teach this framework in my annual masterclass and often have used it (or parts of it) to develop members of my UX team.


Principles that guide my work

As you may be able to tell by now, I am often reflecting on my work, finding patterns, and building “rules” that can be applied to future situations. No matter what the challenge before me is, the following principles and mindsets guide how I show up and move work forward.

Always apply enterprise thinking.

Value prototypes or live products over deliverables.

Lean into difficult conversations.

Never trust a perfect, unchanging strategy.

Value progress over perfection.

Courageously say: “I don’t know”.

There is no such thing as a user experience without the user.

Work fast, fail faster.

Find the common thread.

Be lean and scrappy.

You are always a change agent FIRST.


Values that shape my life

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time seperating business values from life values. I have learned that when a place doesn’t share your values— things are always off. This is why I always seek clients and employers whose values are aligned with mine.

I used to believe that I needed to go from point A to point B in a straight line to be successful.

Graduate from school, work the same job for decades, retire, then die with lots of money that I could not spend.

Parents, schools, and society teach us this.

But life and unexpected twists and turns has made my perfect plan— my straight line— curvy.

As Oprah said in her “conversation” with me in 2014 (see image), there are a lot of potholes and detours along the way. Sometimes you have to go back in order to move forward.

Rather than be ashamed of these curves (as I once was) I have learned to embrace and celebrate them. There is nothing interesting about a straight line, but a curvy line has character.

In a professional context, the curves that I have encountered are the very reason why I have a wide range of experiences, roles, and skills to pull from at a moments notice. Now, I seek out different experiences that make me a more well-rounded person and a more saavy business woman.

As cancer attacked my father’s body during my senior year in high school, he was determined to impart his wisdom to my sister and I and leave behind his legacy.

He died a few days after I graduated, but in a few short months he shared as many life lessons as he could.

He painted beautiful pictures while in excruciating pain because he did not want to take the heavy morphine that he had been prescribed.

When I asked him about the meaning behind the painting pictured here, he said “the only time that you should ever look down on someone is to help them up.” 

He explained that we have a responsibility to help others  — whether it is a helping hand, encouragement, a listening ear, or something else that they may not even know that they need.  He also explained that sometimes we are the helper and sometimes we are the helped. When we help others will simultaneously unlock their potential and our purpose. 

This is why you will find me helping others — whether in the work or sharing my knowledge.

A friend of mind sent me this quote (see image) which instantly made me tear up.  In part, because I can be a weepy, sentimental cream puff at times. But also because it hit a nerve.

We live in a more “evolved” society, yet many conference tables in corporate America don’t have any seats filled with people of color.  Or women. Or women of color. Those of us that are at the table don’t always feel welcomed – whether it is due to unconscious bias or flat out discrimination.

We sometimes have to: work in overdrive to gain acceptance and prove our value against a higher set of standards;  adjust our style so that our assertiveness, boldness, or passion is not mistaken as aggression; and fight-off double binds that force us to make a choice between being a respected leader and a likable person.

But I made a decision early in my career to not shrink,  dim my light, or play small. In some cases, this has meant sitting at the table and with my very presence, redefining what the table is. In other cases, this has meant building new, more inclusive tables with a new rules.

“Hi everybody!” My daughter greeted her new kindergarten classmates in a  high-pitched, squeaky voice. I gave her a side-eye. Last night, she’d practiced her introduction in front of her stuffed animals and it did not sound like that. Her practice greeting was confident and cool, but that—that was someone who’d lost their confidence and just trying to be cool.

She was just 5 years old, but yet she was already experiencing what we sometimes feel when we try to be too perfect instead of just being ourselves. To many of us second-guess ourselves, believing that we somehow don’t have enough ___FILL IN THE BLANK____  to accomplish whatever is in front of us. Not only does this stop us from being who we authentically are, but it prevents us from reaching our goals.

The belief that we are not enough extends to the business place, causing us to play it safe, not take risks, and fear failure— all things that are like kryptonite to a thriving company. So I try give myself and everyone around me this gentle, but persistent reminder of something that we already know, but sometimes forget:  Who you are,  as you are,  in this moment is good enough, powerful enough, smart enough, capable enough, and perfect enough!

Remember that scene in Avatar where Neytiri looks deep into the eyes of Jack Sully and says, “I see you”?  It gave me goosebumps. What she was  saying was “I see you as a person. And you are connected to me.” Then I learned that Zulu people in South Africa greet each other this way all the time. It’s tradition to say “Sawubona” or “I see you,” which means I see your spirit and I accept you without judgement.  Each time they greet each other, they are making a pact that they will truly see each other.

Isn’t that all we really want as humans? To be seen and accepted as we truly are? For our existence to matter?

This concept has shifted the way that I show up in my personal and business relationships. I do not say, “Sawubona” when I walk into a room (because that would be weird), but whether interacting with leaders, peers, or subordinates, I take the time to: 1)  acknowledge (even if to myself) that they are people first and our success is interconnected;  2) understand what’s happening under the surface because unexpressed needs and viewpoints can interfer with day-to-day work, block personal connections, and create unecessary confusion and 3)  create safe spaces to express different perspectives — even if they are at odds— because that is where best solutions (and richest conversations) happen.

Don’t get me wrong. This has not always been the easiest thing to do. “Seeing” people requires them to see you too and I am still working on vulnerability thing. But it is so worth it because it leads to better solutions, deeper relationships, and stronger teams with a better understanding and appreciation for each other.

Copyright © 2012 - 2018 Ms Tiffany Britt, MBA

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