Mike Wittenstein Show Notes
Mike Wittenstein had not acted since his junior high school play. But he decided to take an acting class and it helped him to grow his business. Listen to Mike tell his story of how he discovered a way to improve the customer experience by using the fine art of acting in a whole new way.
Mike grew up in Orlando, FL, on the same land his great grandparents grew oranges and raised dairy cows. He was born with an entrepreneurial streak, having started a woodworking venture at age 13 which paid for his senior year abroad in Brazil.
College included another three semesters overseas (Brazil and the former USSR). The start of Mike’s professional life included stints in travel, banking and real estate.
When Mike was young, his ability to see patterns and opportunities sooner than some others put him on the outside a bit as others found him out of touch with their current reality. Once he learned to slow down and change his language from future state to current state, things got much easier.
And then Mike found his love of story and tech when he co-founded one of the world’s first digital agencies.
Mike’s entrepreneurial skills served him well as IBM’s eVisionary for Global Services where he started three consulting practices, the last one in customer experience design. Next, Mike founded Storyminers in 2002 to continue mastering the art and science of customer experience and to build the business.
Mike currently lives in Marietta, GA, living a life that can serve as an example to others, with his wife Lois and his daughter Hannah. Some weekends, he gets to build furniture in his basement woodworking shop. Mike also has a son Isaac in college at Georgia Tech.
Tweetable Quotes and Mentions
“Do what you love and love what you do and you have a good life.” -Mike Wittenstein Click to Tweet
“Open your mind and relax your thinking and you’ll pick up on patterns.” -Mike Wittenstein Click to Tweet
“When you’re in a service business you’re designing for other people.” -Mike Wittenstein Click to Tweet
“Using empathy you don’t need to have lots of market research.” -Mike Wittenstein Click to Tweet
“Get the noise in your head down to a level where you pay attention to somebody else.” -Mike Wittenstein Click to Tweet
“Measurement has a really strong bias in it.” -Mike Wittenstein Click to Tweet
“A lot of things that matter to customers aren’t things we have measures for yet.” -Mike Wittenstein Click to Tweet
“Your brand can’t be any better than what your customers’ experience.” -Mike Wittenstein Click to Tweet
“You’ve got to design for adoption.” -Mike Wittenstein Click to Tweet
“Experiences are about transforming people or leading them to points of discovery.” -Mike Wittenstein Click to Tweet
“What would you like to learn – it will help you get closer to completing life’s puzzle.” -Mike Wittenstein Click to Tweet
“Shutting down the doors of things you don’t want to do opens opportunities.” -Mike Wittenstein Click to Tweet
“The way the world works has changed dramatically in the last few years.” -Mike Wittenstein Click to Tweet
“In order to be a good speaker you have to first be a good listener.” -Mike Wittenstein Click to Tweet
“Everybody’s got confidence inside them.” -Mike Wittenstein Click to Tweet
“People follow confidence.” -Mike Wittenstein Click to Tweet
Hump to Get Over
Mike Wittenstein had not acted since his junior high school play. But he decided to take an acting class and it helped him to grow his business. Listen to Mike tell his story of how he discovered a way to improve the customer experience by using the fine art of acting in a whole new way.
Advice for others
If you’re looking to make a big change in your life or if you’re just getting started right out of school – pick what you want to learn the most and it will give you a hint of things you’ll like to do.
Holding him back from being an even better leader
Being even more mindful and paying even more attention to those I serve.
Best Leadership Advice Received
- You can’t teach a pig to sing – it doesn’t work and it pisses off the pig; you can’t push change on people.
- Find out what it takes to makes someone else’s job easier and do it for them.
Secret to Success
The ability to see patterns.
Best tools that helps in business or Life
Listening. If you’re not paying attention to them there is no way your message will get through to them.
54 Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Competencies List: Emotional Intelligence has proven to be the right kind of intelligence to have if you want to move onward and upward faster. Get your free list today.
Show Transcript:Click to access edited transcript
Intro: Welcome to the Fast Leader Podcast, where we explore convenient yet effective shortcuts that will help you get ahead and move forward faster by becoming a better leader. And now here’s your host, customer and employee engagement expert and certified emotional intelligence practitioner, Jim Rembach.
Need a powerful and entertaining way to ignite your next conference, retreat or team-building session? My keynotes don’t include magic but they do have the power to help your attendees take a leap forward by putting emotional intelligence into their employee engagement, customer engagement and customer centric leadership practices. So bring the infotainment creativity the Fast Leader show to your next event and I’ll help your attendees get over the hump now. Go to beyondmorale.com/speaking to learn more.
Okay, Fast Leader Legion I’m looking forward to today’s show because my guest is one of those folks that I look to for inspiration. Mike Wittenstein grew up in Orlando, Florida on the same land his grandparents grew oranges and raised dairy cows. He was born with an entrepreneurial streak having started a woodworking venture at age 13 which paid for his senior year abroad in Brazil. College included another three semesters overseas in Brazil and the former USSR. The start Mike’s professional life included stints and travel, banking and real estate. When Mike was young his ability to see patterns and opportunity sooner than others put them on the outside as others found out of touch with their current reality. Once he learn to slowdown and change his language from future state to current state things got much easier.
And then Mike found his love of story and tech when he co-founded one of the world’s first digital agencies. Mike’s entrepreneurial skills served him well as IBM’s e-visionary for global services where he started three consulting practices the last one in customer experience design. Next Mike founded story miners in 2002 to continue mastering the art and science of customer experience and to build the business. Mike currently lives in Marietta, Georgia living a life that can serve as an example to others with his wife Lois and his daughter Hannah. Some weekends he gets to build furniture in his basement workshop. Mike also has a son in college at Georgia Tech, Isaac. Mike Wittenstein are you ready to help us get over the hump?
Mike Wittenstein: Absolutely, happy hump day.
Jim Rembach: I appreciate you being here with me today. Now I’ve given our listeners a little bit about you but can you tell us what your current passion is so that I can get to know you even better?
Mike Wittenstein: Sure. My uncle told me a long time ago that if you’re happy at what you’re doing, you do what you love and love what you do that you have a good life, and I am so excited to say that I’ve got a good life right now. I do what I love, which is customer experience design that helps businesses with your strategy, frontline people to enjoy their life a lot more serving customers and of course create some value for customers. It’s so much fun as an international speaker to jump around between cultures and to bring stories of one area to another part of the world that was one of the unexpected pleasures for me. We’re not the only innovators in the world in the United States, there are lots of cool things going on around the world and if you open your eyes and your ears you can see things, you can find patterns that can really help things here in this country as well.
Jim Rembach: It’s really interesting that you say that because one of the reasons I wanted to have you on the show is because to me you’re an inspirational example of that whole thing you needn’t necessary use the word exactly but that mindfulness component. And for us I think we get so busy, at least for me, I get so busy that oftentimes I just don’t see some of those small details and those small opportunities that could potentially make a really big impact. And I know you talked about having the ability to see patterns and things like that and that’s also recognizes as one of those big skill sets and values that are needed in individuals and organizations. But it sounds like you actually have gone through some activities in order to be more mindful. What do you do in order to do that?
Mike Wittenstein: I spend some time in between undergraduate and graduate school during the wide variety of different jobs. I was clueless as to what I really wanted to do. When I was in each of those different jobs, sometimes they were fun, sometimes they were frustrating but I remember having a chat with my aunt, my aunt Norma and she told me, Michael don’t worry about it, it’s okay everybody goes through this, that made me feel better. But then she gave me a really good piece of advice, she said, file that stuff away in your head come up with a little way to organize the things that happened to you, the things that you see you’re going through all these different businesses find out what the owners did in the early days and what’s going on now and you’ll start to find that you’ll be able to access all those different experiences as life goes on. So without knowing if that would work or not I tried it and actually it works. So what I did is I paid attention while I walk into a furniture maker.
For example, I loved woodworking, I had a job making dental furniture for a couple months and I look at the condition of the shop and the way the guy treated his employees and what the sales were like and the marketing materials and everything. And I learned about his patterns, I learned about his psyche, his way of treating people, his way of seeing the world. I feel the gap, I started looking at how did he go from thinking about world this way to making that decision? So consulting is a great way to accelerate your learning because you can go in and see what other people’s decisions ended up with. Usually, you have to wait years and look at your own decisions to see what turns out but by working with so many companies that’s where I started to get that feeling of—what did somebody do a long time ago that made the business the way it is today?
Jim Rembach: You know that’s a really good point. I often talk about being able to utilize and leverage your core in order to help you move forward. A lot of times what we end up doing is to seek growth, to seek development, to seek advancement, we often go into areas where we have really no shrank, no experiences and we find ourselves at a point failing even faster. So, I think oftentimes we don’t have that inner work, that inner look in identifying those things that really got us to where we are and using those to leverage us forward. So, if you were to say that there was one thing that somebody could do in order to help them with that inward look, what would it be?
Mike Wittenstein: I guess it depends on what age you’re at. Because when you’re in your late 20’s you start to come into this feeling of your own personal power. You realize that people will listen to you, that what you know matters and can create value for other. If you’re in your 30’s you’re learning about your own style and your effect on others. When in your 40’s you’re starting to learn how to wreak positive change on the world, you’re also starting to aggregate different disciplines and thinking from different ways of working in order to create the solutions that you’re a part of. So, the first word that you brought up, mindful is probably the thing that I would recommend to people that are looking for a little bit of direction. Just be a little bit more mindful, pay attention to what’s going around you. Pay attention to how things are making you feel.
In the customer experience world for example, when you go shopping or when you eat out see if you can translate how that digital sign or snapping images at you, does it make you feel more relaxed? Does it make you feel like you want to experiment with a new dish? Does it make you feel aggravated and frustrated because you already get enough commercials when you’re watching your paid cable-TV at home? Can you tell I have an issue with that? So be mindful is a great first step. Once you’ve opened your mind and you’re kind of relaxed you’re thinking a little bit you can start to pick up on some of the patterns. At first, the younger you are that start picking up on patterns that matter to you. As you get older you’ll start to be able to push those aside not just subjugate them but just to temporarily let the patterns that affect other people come to the front, and that when you can become a really good designer cause most designers don’t design for themselves. Some very great artist and architects said, I really didn’t care about my clients, I did it for me, paraphrase. But when you’re in the service businesses you really are designing for other people. So when you learn what that elderly gentleman needs as he’s walking to the threshold of your store or what the lady who just lost her husband needs that she’s being cared for in a hospital. You start to develop an empathy. And using that empathy you don’t need lots and lots of market research. You can just use a unit of one, you can use a human being who’s living and breathing and feeling and caring and start to design for them but you have to be able to remove your own bias, you have to be able to get the noise in your head down to a level where you can pay attention to somebody else.
Jim Rembach: Thank you for sharing that. As you we’re taking I started thinking about a lot of different things and I started going to a place, where for me I have a pretty big background of managing a lot of folks in operation setting, I started thinking about, you know what? What you just described works in an employee engagement and an employee experience perspective as well it’s the same types of core things to be able to be mindful, to focus on them, to help them move forward, and then ultimately they went and so does everybody else the process.
Mike Wittenstein: You know Jim, let me threw something else. One of the things I love about customer experience design is that it’s an integrative discipline. On its own it doesn’t really create that much value but when you tied in with operations and finance and people and call centers and design and technology and retail and whatever your favorite words are it has the ability to let a whole bunch of different ways of thinking and working and doing all collaborate quite nicely. So, you can get some amazing changes to happen by just sharing with people.
What happens in their area has a big impact on other people in other areas that’s one of the hardest aspects of change for us to manage. So when you said employee experience that’s where my migraine went. Because before you have a great customer experience, you’ve got to deliver a really good employee experience.
Jim Rembach: That’s for sure. Now I know when we start how mindfulness, we start talking about inspiration, creativity a lot of things are found when we start talking about quotes and we love them on the show and we want to hear as many as we could possibly get. We have many them on our show notes pages, on our website at fastleader.net for people to quote and we turn a lot of them into graphics, but is there a quote or two that kind of stands out for you that gives you some mindfulness power or inspiration that you can share?
Mike Wittenstein: Yeah. Before I tell you what the quote is I’ll tell you why it’s meaningful to me. In American we tend to measure everything and measurement gives us that comfort that we’re doing the right thing, that we’re hitting our ROI’s but measurement also has a really strong bias in it because you can only measure what you can see and a lot of things that matter to customers aren’t things that we have measures for yet. Like how they feel, what they care about, what they gravitate to, their favorites, those kinds of things. We all are emotional and very human beings. Numbers are the way we all think all the time, you will say, 80 something percent of what we do is subconscious, were not even aware of it.
So, my favorite quote is one that actually one of my colleagues developed, I can’t take ownership of this although I do repeat it all the time: No matter how hard you try or how much you stand your brand can’t be any better than what your customers experienced. What that means is at the end of the day you can have all the metrics and all the cool programs, and the best digital signage, and interactive stuff everywhere in your store in your hospital or your hotel, but if it doesn’t make the experience noticeable, memorable, and shareable to the clients, to customers, to the patients, to the guest, it doesn’t matter, you’ve got to design for adoption. That’s one of the beauties of customer experience design in my opinion is that you can work on the change which is usually a combination of process, technology and people you can also make sure that people buy into that so they can authentically deliver it it’s exactly the same process you just have to do it twice, that’s why I love that phrase so much.
Jim Rembach: Thanks for sharing that and also thanks for giving us the reasoning and a little bit more detail. When I put all these together you started talking about the maturation process in your 20’s and 30’s, and the mindfulness, you started talking about paying attention to detail, we’re not there. Some of us aren’t there at our 50 age either and also being in that 20 age group or even at the teenage group, how do you move forward faster and get to those points to where you can gain that wisdom? I always talk about the quote, one of my favorites is that—they unfortunate reality is that the Lord didn’t give us youth and wisdom at the same time so it’s a process we have to mature through it. And the way that we do that, and you I talked about this before we got on the show, is that—men, we make mistakes, that’s how we learn. We have to actually go through some humps in order to come to those learnings and gain that wisdom. Is there a story that you can share with us where you’ve got over the hump and you actually gain a lot of wisdom from it?
Mike Wittenstein: Now, I don’t know if I’ve ever gained a lot of wisdom they used to come in really small pieces overtime. But recently, I’m in my 50’s now so you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, I was doing some random learning, I belong to a number of organizations and one that I don’t belong to is the Southeastern Association of Facilitators but every once in a while I’ll go to a completely new group just for the heck of it to see what I can learn. So, I go to this meeting and they have a facilitation there by a director, a theatre director, and he takes us through some really fun theater games and we have a discussion about how the authenticity of theater can really help bring out the best in conversations and things like that, it’s pretty interesting. But during one of the exercises I actually felt something that I had never felt before I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was but I knew that it was transformative. And because I already knew that experiences were all about transforming people leading them up to the points of discovery where they transform themselves I went in to dig in to it.
So, I called the director up and I invited him out to lunch and we talked a little bit and then he said take a class they gave me a free pass to take a class at the Alliance Theatre so I take an acting class. And I am by no means an actor, I did a junior high school play but that’s my whole career so far, but we dug in to that idea of what is it that can help another person to feel transformed and to make the long story short a year later we introduced a new service called human prototyping which uses human beings, real customers and our clients together with theater actors and directors to create a service design environment where we can work on the human side of things not just on the technical aspects of a software rollout where the voice of customer numbers and all kinds of things like that. So, for me that was a huge epiphany that happened just recently.
Jim Rembach: That sounds fascinating. When I start thinking about the value of that and being perceived, so you mentioned something about understanding your customer being able to have things fit and be of value within their perception, their world, and their environment. How do you have something like that be perceived of value to potential clients?
Mike Wittenstein: Haah. The first couple of times we did it was really, really hard because we had to sell people vapor ware. Are you sure this will work? Well, no, we think it will. So, that that was a big selling job, well it came with a guarantee so that’s a great way to get your ideas tried. So what we found out is that when we did this with a quick service restaurant here in area they actually discover better ways to do their service innovation and they adopted some of our methods. When we did it with a disruptive.com start-up they found out that their messaging was way off base and they needed to make some adjustments both in terms of the order of exposition as well as in some of the ethnic components of the story they were making some big mistakes that they weren’t even aware of. So, ROI, going back to that beginning part of our conversation is usually about figuring out what is my investment going to be worth going forward. Typically it means, is the investment I already made going to be sustained? So, when we take something like human prototyping and say, hey this is going to help your ROI and the client is looking at it in arrears like who might previously made investments makes sense with this, I can’t say that they will. But going forward, it absolutely does help because we help businesses figure out what their change is going to be accurately and we let them make all the mistakes they can while they’re still on the theater stage before they go and roll it out. Like from your background with call centers you might have a new script come out or a whole new series of script or a special offer, you don’t really find out until the hundred or 500 call is made that some things are not working and then it takes another few days and another few thousand calls to go imagine being able to test that stuff out before you go. And I think we should redo this whole section going back to the question of the hump question because this one just went away off to the side.
Jim Rembach: No, no this is really helpful and insightful and I’m actually kind of put you on the spot a little bit Mike because you’re one of those folks that shares openly and without any type of expectation of getting anything in return and I’m sure that in itself has given you quite abundance in your life. But I know also that we often as folks we have patterns and some of those patterns are in the advice that we get, right? So we find ourselves kind of giving some of the same advice because it’s been so powerful and impactful on us and hopefully will be on others. So, if you were to say a piece of advice that you have given to folks that you find yourself giving moreover that seems to have value, what is it?
Mike Wittenstein: It’s very easy to answer that question. If you’re looking to make a big change in your life or if you’re just getting started like right out of school you have a lot of different options. People tend to try to do what they think your quotes should do. Going back to what my Uncle Sam told me about finding what you love and loving what you do, I found that if you pick what you want to learn the most it’s one of the smartest things that you can do. So think mindfully about what you would like to learn next that’s going to give you a hint about the things that you like and it will also get you closer to completing life’s puzzle. Now, you’ll never finish that puzzle but the closer you get to finishing it the better you feel about the work that you do the more the desk and give you a hint about the things that you like and you will also get you closer to completing life supposedly never finished that puzzle but the closer you get to finishing it the better you feel about work that you do the more of a magnet you become for other people and the more influence you can wheel. So there’s more responsibility with that and you’ve got to get smarter, you got to get better, you’ve got a get better at things that aren’t in your wheelhouse so that you connect what you know to others. So, ratchet that back and it’s all about know what you want to learn next and then go with your heart in that direction and you’ll open up all kinds of opportunities. So, shutting down the doors of the things that you don’t want to do creates all kinds of opportunity and abundance in your time, in your thinking ability, in your openness, to try a new and do new things. Can I add one more thing?
Jim Rembach: Absolutely.
Mike Wittenstein: If you know that you want to learn something, like I learn this when I was 14 or 15 I was really working on my tennis game, one of our neighbors said, “Mike if you want to get better at tennis you have to play with people who are better than you and that shortens your game.” Now convincing them to play with you I learn it was a whole different skill set but after I learn that that made me a little bit stronger too and playing with better tennis player made me a better tennis player, so that’s part of the thing behind learning. One last thing if you don’t mind, it also works with our vendors and our clients. Every time I hire a contractor and every time I work with a client, I do this religiously, we have a conversation you might call it exparte if you’re an attorney but outside of the contractual terms we have an agreement about what the client wants to learn and what they want their people to learn and we both make adjustments from our individual sides to make sure that that learning happens. That way there’s more than just a service provided and a check at the end of the day, people are strengthen and capabilities are adjusted and improved and people feel really good about what they’ve done.
Jim Rembach: You know when you think about a lot of the things that you’ve had experience with, the things that you want to learn in order to continue your growth as well as those that are important to you, when you think about all of that what are some of your goals?
Mike Wittenstein: You know my goals right now are honestly a little bit fuzzy I know that I’d like to diversify the business that I do so that it can be even more successful financially. I realize I have a duty or responsibility to those that I work with do a really good job. And I’m also quite aware that the way the world works has changed dramatically in the last few years. I feel like a brand new doing business because all the rules have changed and it’s not an uncomfortable it’s not an unfamiliar feeling for me because when I travel overseas as an exchange student to Brazil and to Russia all my cultural props were just kick up from under me it’s like a guy on crutches and he has no crutches or canes to walk with you just kind of left to your own devices, what you do? You’ve got to makes sense of the language, the culture, the patterns, the eating, the food, the questions and you got to figure all that out from scratch. It’s kind of how I feel right now with all of the change that’s going on with social media, and influence, and trust, and referrals, and where this business come from and a lot of people are ready to take your check and offer you service but they’re more concerned about making money than they are making you money. So, it’s very confusing right now for so many people that I talk to, to find that right next of things to do. So, I’m taking my own advice, I’m being mindful and listening. I’m hanging out with people that are smarter than me and I’m trying a bunch of different things. Try not to create so much change that it’s confusing for people who already know me, that’s the honest answer to the question right now is that figuring out how the world works so I can you remain relevant and I enjoy that brand that I dote for so long.
Jim Rembach: And the Fast Leader Legion wishes you the very best. Now before we move on let’s get a quick word from our sponsor.
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Jim Rembach: Alright here we go Fast Leader listeners it’s time for the Hump Day Hoedown. Okay Mike, the Hump Day Hoedown is the part of our show where you give us good insights fast. So I’m going to ask you several questions and your job is to give us robust yet rapid responses that are going to help us move onward and upward faster. Mike Wittenstein, are you ready to hoedown?
Mike Wittenstein: I am ready. Let’s go.
Jim Rembach: Alright. So what do you think is holding you back from being an even better leader today?
Mike Wittenstein: I think being even more mindful and paying even more attention to those that I serve.
Jim Rembach: What is the best leadership advice you have ever received?
Mike Wittenstein: That one’s easy. I was working at Martin Marietta one summer and a woman named Marge Bell was my manager she gave me two lessons that I’ve never forgotten and I’ve often repeated on stage. The first one is you can’t teach a pig to sing, now you’ve heard that before but she added this phrase, it doesn’t work and pisses off the pig. And coming from a large corporate environment I got a chance to see that you can’t push change on people that they don’t want you’ve got to learn enough about them to introduce it the right way. Everything that Marge Bell taught me was to find out what it takes to make somebody else’s job easier and then to do it for them without them asking. And she was a big corporate politician kind of a person she got so much done from the very low level director that she at working all the way up the organization by applying that principle. So, I got a chance to see that and I really like that advice.
Jim Rembach: What is one of your secrets that you believe contributes to your success?
Mike Wittenstein: I think it’s the ability to see patterns. People look to me for you what’s coming, they want the comfort of knowing what’s around the corner. And because I just see the world a little differently I think that’s one of the things I count for them.
Jim Rembach: What do you feel is one of your best tools that helps you lead in business or life?
Mike Wittenstein: Best tool is probably listening. I’m a professional speaker I’ve worked in 25 something countries now. And in order to be a good speaker you really have to first, be a good listener. Because you’re not talking at people or two people you’re talking with people and hopefully for them. If you don’t pay attention to who they are and where they’re coming from there’s no way your message is going to get through effectively.
Jim Rembach: What would be one book, and it could be from any genre, that you’d recommend to our listeners?
Mike Wittenstein: The book that had the biggest impact on me when I was in my late 30’s was recommended and written by guide IDM name Stephan Haeckel, the name of the book is Adaptive Enterprise and it taught me how to look at a business as a system. It made a big difference in the way I work.
Jim Rembach: Okay Fast Leader listeners, you can find links to that and other bonus information from today’s show by going to fastleader.net/Mike Wittenstein. Okay Mike, this is my last Hump Day Hoedown question: Imagine you were given the opportunity to go back to the age of 25 and you been given the opportunity to take the knowledge and skills that you have now back with you but you can’t take everything you can only choose one, so what skills or piece of knowledge you would you take back with you and why?
Mike Wittenstein: I would take that confidence. It takes people a wide variety of years to figure out they are confident. Truth of the matter is everybody’s got confidence inside of them and the sooner you find it the more you can have a positive influence on others. So, that’s what I would like to have first because people follow confidence.
Jim Rembach: Mike it was an honor to spend time with you today, can you please share with the Fast Leader Legion how they can connect with you?
Mike Wittenstein: Sure. Please visit me on our website for lots of great information and contact as well, the address is www.storyminers.com. And Jim it has been absolutely amazing being on the show with you. Thank you so much.
Jim Rembach: Mike Wittenstein thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom, the Fast Leader legion honors you and thanks you for helping us get over the hump.
Thank you for joining me on the Fast Leader show today. For recaps, links from every show, special offers and access to download and subscribe, if you haven’t already, head on over the fastleader.net so we can help you move onward and upward faster.
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