Chapter 2: Glimpse beyond the veil
A Being Entrepreneur pays close attention to the moments when life is in flow. At first these peak experiences may seem random but when looking deeper we realize they are simply a result of fully living into our true self.
On my journey of self-realization, I have learnt that we can only see what we are ready to see at any given point in time. These “glimpses” serve as clues to show us the next step on our path. It’s easy to write them off as random “peak experiences”, and nothing more. However, I am discovering that they are all key pieces of a much larger puzzle.
One of the responsibilities we have as Being Entrepreneurs is to assemble these different pieces so that eventually we can start seeing the bigger picture of our life. The moment it “clicks” is the moment we connect the dots of seemingly random peak experiences into a more holistic plan. It’s also the moment our life is infused with a deep sense of meaning and purpose. From this place we can access all the energy and inspiration we need to realize our greatest potential. Are you ready to step on the path of a Being Entrepreneur and realize your full creative potential?
In this chapter I will share some of the more significant “glimpses” that I experienced along the way. Some of them happened during my time in business and others long before.
Back in the early 90’s, after a long day at university, my roommate and childhood friend would pick me up and drive us to the fringes of the city. Our “spot” was always a quiet, secluded place with a view so we could watch the city come to rest from a distance. As it slowed down, so did we and inevitably amazing conversations would unfold. For years we would do this, often many nights per week. In these moments we consistently experienced a profound immersion into our true selves.
At the time we did not talk about it in this way, we could simply feel the grace of these moments where we shared openly and vulnerably about all aspects of our life. We experienced deep listening and connection with nature, sometimes sitting for long periods of time in complete silence. Inevitably profound new insights would emerge that helped us see new ways forward whenever we felt stuck. We would often come to clear conclusions, make choices, and commit to actions that took our lives into significantly new directions. Even though our friends and family did not really know what we were up to, they often benefited from the new clarity and heightened awareness that we brought back into our day-to-day lives. We were showing up with greater perspective and therefore could engage others in more thoughtful and compassionate ways.
These late-night escapades carried on throughout the 90’s, long before I had ever heard of the concept of coaching - long before I could even imagine creating a business and making a living from this. It seems so clear now but back then I could only see what I was ready to see. I could only know what I was ready to know.
The next story takes place around the same time. I was in the middle of my bachelor’s degree in Commerce and living in Vancouver. One day a university classmate invited me to join him for a creative writing class. After an initial pushback, I eventually showed up for the first class curious, but doubtful, if I would be able to produce anything of value.
The very first exercise was to write about a childhood memory and be as descriptive as possible within a 10-minute limit. Having this time constraint was a great way to switch off the mind and the critical voice. It forced us to write without censoring or over-thinking. We then spent the rest of the class reading out what we wrote and listening to each other’s stories. There was no critical feedback or advice offered. Simply a deep acknowledgment of the unique experiences we each brought to the class. This went way beyond what I expected the class to be. It was as much, or more, about our personal growth as it was about perfecting our writing skills. I felt completely at home in this space and was already looking forward to the next assignment. A few classes later, I was fully in the grove. When asked to write a short story, what emerged would have implications way beyond the class.
I started writing about a young man (more or less my age) who was preparing the last bits and pieces before flying to Tucson Arizona to visit an old girlfriend from high school. They hadn’t seen or heard from each other for many years. However, there were still loose ends that hadn’t been addressed before going their separate ways. Seeking closure, but not knowing at all what would happen when he arrived, this young man decided to step into the unknown.
Of course, the young man represented me, the only difference was that I had no intention to embark on this adventure to Arizona, at least not when I started writing. As the story unfolded, I started to embody the adventurous spirit of the young man I was describing. Slowly it became clear this was a trip I had to make and discover for myself what would unfold rather than imagining it through a character.
There ended up being three parts to this story. The first one was fictional where I simply imagined what somebody would feel before going on such a trip. The second part was a real account of what happened during my days in Arizona and the third one was a reflection on all the lessons learned once I was back home.
In writing up this story and sharing it with my friends, I was surprised by the extent to which it inspired them. My boss at the time recognized a lot of himself in the story. He was so moved by the adventure and all the lessons learned that he decided to pay for my flight to Arizona and not count my days away as holidays.
I was starting to see the impact my writing and actions could have on others. It felt great but there was an element of randomness to it. In these peak moments I was unaware that I was in fact expressing my true authentic self and living into my full potential. These constructs were unknown to me at the time therefore it was easy to write them off as one-time events - a stroke of genius if you like. I did not have a framework yet to understand what was happening and why I was feeling such fulfillment in those moments. Without this it is very difficult to replicate and sustainably create a life with such intensity and meaning.
In the subsequent chapters these building blocks will become clear but before that, one more story that has proven to be a critical step along the way.
This takes place in 2005 about halfway into my consumer researcher career. I was working on the European Laundry business which meant I would spend a considerable amount of time immersed in the day-to-day lives of consumers to deeply understand how they felt about the laundry product and all the different (little) ways in which it was improving their life. I would then work closely with the brand manager to translate these insights into new product or communication ideas.
What was unique about this brand manager compared to the others I had worked with is that he didn’t see me as just the “insights guy”. On the surface it might not seem significantly different but in fact it made all the difference. As a function, marketing (i.e. brand managers) were in charge of crafting new ideas and driving them forward in the organization. Insights people like myself were an important contributor to that process but at the end of the day we were not expected (and often not encouraged) to make the leap from insight to idea. There was a clear hierarchy in the system that should be respected.
What was different about this brand manager is not that he couldn’t come up with good ideas himself, he simply understood that good ideas could come from anywhere in the organization. So rather than limit people to their functional expertise, he saw us in our wholeness. Recognizing that I was the kind of person who loved to ideate, he actively encouraged and invited me into strategic brand building meetings (normally off limits for somebody in my role).
What was also special about this person is that he would always make sure that my contributions would be visible to the higher levels of management. He would proactively showcase my unique value add. This was quite uncommon in a highly competitive work environment but in fact it made a lot of sense. Not only did I feel valued and inspired to stretch my contribution even further, but the brand manager became known as one of the best leaders and team builders in the company. He embodied an abundant mindset and deeply believed that by helping me shine, he would inevitably shine as well. To this day it is still one of the most fulfilling work experiences I have ever had. I knew something magical was happening but again couldn’t yet explain why and didn’t know how to replicate it in a sustainable way.
The following is an example of peak creativity shining through when I would spontaneously step beyond the narrow confines of my job description and think expansively about the opportunities for the business.
Laundry insights from Ryanair flight 88
This summer I took my first Ryanair flight. It was from Brussels to Carcassonne. Actually, to be more precise, it was from Brussels South (otherwise known as Charleroi) to Carcassonne. The 29.99 euros I paid seemed like a great deal but after the hour drive to Charleroi, then the 15 min shuttle bus from the parking lot to the airport, then the long lines at the check-in counter and then finally the uncomfortable wait in a small room just off the tarmac, I wondered if this was not all a big mistake.
As we took off, I forgot about the little hassles, settled in and started to ask myself what made this experience so unique and why everyone around me was so excited. I couldn't help but feel this incredible buzz in the airplane, the kind that only happens when the people, and the environment they are in, are completely in sync. So, although I did not connect with the environment, Ryanair had created the perfect atmosphere and experience for their target consumer. I was intrigued and decided to dedicate the next one and a half hours to uncover this magic formula. The trip had turned into a mini research project, one that I hope will provide deeper insights into the low tier laundry consumers and offer ideas on how we can better appeal to them with our laundry brands in the future.
Here are the 5 key insights that I believe are just as relevant for our Brands as they are for Ryanair
No fuss about comfort, safety and food, just get me there: Everything about the Ryanair experience is basic. It’s almost as simple as taking a bus: you buy a ticket, wait for a while and then push your way in so you can find yourself a good seat. Although it is basic, it is not just about low cost. It’s also about getting you there in time and making sure your luggage doesn’t get lost. Sounds pretty straightforward but their overall performance on these attributes is best in class and they take every opportunity to tell people about it (for example on the overhead bin doors).
Entertain me: They play young, energetic music to get the adrenaline flowing before take off. Then once in the air, a happy steward announces that they will be coming by to sell you everything you could ever dream of: from food and duty free to packaged tours and tombola tickets. The amazing thing is that for once you see people actually buying all this “useless stuff”. I am not sure if it is the good mood that they are in, or the feeling that they have saved so much on the ticket price that is triggering this impulse behavior. Whatever it is, Ryanair is making up for the low ticket prices. After all the sales commotion, there’s a little quiet time to sit back and browse through the Ryanair magazine which features entertaining articles about the cities they fly to as well as fun, quirky facts that you just need to know (like the number of nudist tourists that visited Croatia in 2004).
Give me peace of mind once I arrive in this foreign place: Not knowing where to stay and what exactly to do when arriving in these foreign cities, where the people speak a different language, is a big barrier to travel for the Ryanair customer. Therefore Ryanair does everything to make the planning of the trip as easy as possible. On their website you can book cars, hotels and tours. You can buy insurance, travel guides and money. And if you are really new to travelling you can even find out why one would want to travel in the first place under “the reasons to travel section”. Not surprisingly, football is one of the key ones.
Make me feel like I am getting a good deal: Ryanair doesn’t actually want to get you from A to B in the cheapest possible way. They just want to create the impression that you are getting the best deal. I am convinced that once you factor in all the little extras purchased on the plane as well the parking fees (it cost me more to park my car in some field 10km away from the airport than to fly back and forth to Carcassone) you end up paying almost as much as you would with Lufthansa.
Talk to me in a way that I understand: To sum it all up, Ryanair deeply understands their target traveler. Everything they do is meticulously designed to create the right atmosphere and experience. Everything they communicate is said in a way that connects and makes their traveler feel understood.
Implications for our low-tier laundry Brands:
Superior basic benefits: Are there any basic category benefits (similar to most punctual) that we can claim superiority on? For example: clothes look new longest (due to lower cleaning performance / cheaper formula)
Entertain: What more can we do to entertain beyond crazy scent experiences? How about a promotion where we offer Ryanair miles for every purchase? This could be a great way to drive both trial and loyalty. Or what about a print campaign that gives tips on how to have more fun while doing the laundry, or quirky facts about laundry?
Peace of mind: We need to make the laundry as hassle free as possible. Can we create a product that would allow mixing of colors and whites in a risk free way? Or one that helps clothes dry faster?
Improve the value perception without being the cheapest: What font types communicate value? Do bright obnoxious colors mean something must be cheap? How about communicating everyday low price on our packs?
Talk their language when and where they are most receptive: How can we be more light hearted and fun? Can we use even simpler and clearer language / demos in our concepts and advertising? Can we use other media (as Ryanair does with the overhead bins) to reach our target in a cheaper and more effective way?