Author Archives: Howard Tiersky

About Howard Tiersky

Howard Tiersky is an inspiring and passionate speaker, the Founder and CEO of FROM, The Digital Transformation Agency, innovation consultant, serial entrepreneur, and the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance. IDG named him one of the “10 Digital Transformation Influencers to Follow Today”, and Enterprise Management 360 named Howard “One of the Top 10 Digital Transformation Influencers That Will Change Your World.”

How the Customer in 9C Saved Continental Airlines from Bankruptcy

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

When Gordon Bethune took over as CEO of Continental Airlines in 1994, the carrier had just emerged from its second bankruptcy and was headed for their third and potentially final round.

US Department of Transportation statistics from that year show among the ten largest US airlines, Continental ranked dead last in every single key customer service metric.

Against all odds, Bethune was able to turn the company around.

He did it with outstanding leadership, no doubt, but also through the help of one very significant “customer.”

Bethune’s Litmus Test

In his book, From Worst to First, Continental’s Remarkable Comeback, Bethune describes the challenges he faced when he first became CEO of the troubled carrier, including an overwhelming list of problems with the customer experience, on the ground and in the air.

It was too much to tackle all at once, and due to the company’s poor financial performance, money was short.

If the limited resources weren’t used properly, it could mean the end.

Bethune needed a simple method that the executives and managers in his organization could use as a litmus test for what was important when making decisions.

Customer in 9C

Bethune introduced the concept of “The Customer in Seat 9C” — a composite image of their best customer segment —business travelers— who were paying a premium fare and willing to pay more if their experience could be improved in meaningful ways.

Continental analyzed, then pinpointed the key traits, preferences, and concerns of “The Customer in Seat 9C.”

When prioritizing or deciding between different approaches, employees were trained to ask, “What would make a difference for the Customer in Seat 9C? What would make them prefer to fly with us? What would they be willing to pay more for?”

Over the next ten years, with this simple but disciplined focus, Bethune “piloted” Continental out of bankruptcy and to the title of “Fortune’s #1 Most Admired Global Airline.”

Why Your Customers Are Like Snowflakes

Of course, the concept of what “The Customer in Seat 9C” wants is a massive generalization.

On one flight, 9C could be occupied by a 60-year-old bank executive and on the next by a 23-year-old running an organic farming business.

Surely, their needs are not identical.

Like Snowflakes, Every One of Your Customers is a Completely Unique Human Being. But, Also Like Snowflakes, Many Are Extremely Similar

You may very well have noticed this during your customer research.

After listening to 40 contact center interactions with customers calling to order parts, or talking to 15 brides shopping for wedding dresses, or speaking to a dozen owners of luxury cars, while you hear many unique stories, you also start to hear the same themes over and over.

Identifying these patterns is a key part of your customer research.

Once you can analyze and synthesize all of your data, then you get actionable insight that you can use to drive your decision-making.

Personas Are Powerful

Personas are Powerful

That’s why it’s so critical to have customer personas developed for your company that any employee can quickly understand and internalize. It’s great to have decks full of customer data, but a simple, easy to understand vision of who the customer is and what they care first and foremost about makes it actionable to the enterprise.

Your Turn

Do you use customer personas at your company? If so what impact have they had?

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Can You Be TOO Strategic?

Can You Be TOO Strategic?

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

While the lack of a clear strategy can create problems in any business, there is another end of that spectrum.

Having a strategy means having clarity on what you want to achieve and a plan on how to get there. These are good things, but it’s also possible to be too strategic—too focused on a single goal and plan.

When Being TOO Strategic is a Problem

1. You Have an Ineffective Plan

What if you have a plan for reaching your goal but it doesn’t work? You could be putting all your eggs in one basket.

In some cases, you may be able to determine very quickly if your strategy isn’t working. That’s one of the beauties of digital. For example, with ecommerce, you can try a new email subject line and within a few hours (or even minutes) you can see whether people are responding to it.

There are other strategies, however, that demonstrate their effectiveness over time. A program that is designed to build relationships to drive more long-term customer loyalty is an example of a strategy that you won’t be able to determine the success of overnight.

Regardless of whether your plan can be evaluated quickly, if you put all your eggs in one strategic basket, there’s always the possibility that you’re wrong about the method to achieve your goal.

2. You Set the Wrong Goal

There’s also the possibility that you have either the wrong goal or a goal that’s not optimal.

No matter what group of consumers you choose to target, things can change quickly; it may turn out that you haven’t chosen a good target at all.

For example, think about when COVID-19 first disrupted our world. Consumers’ needs and habits changed because of the pandemic, which caused many companies to adjust their goals because their original goals were no longer going to bring successful outcomes. If you stayed laser focused on the goal of increasing the number of shoppers coming to your store each day amidst the pandemic, you were a little too strategically disciplined.

Even in less extreme cases, there are still situations where leaders fail to see new trends and opportunities for growth.

Blockbuster VideoBlockbuster is a great example of a company that had the wrong goal in mind. They were so hyper focused on putting a video rental store in every neighborhood that they failed to see the potential opportunity in digital streaming services.

Netflix, on the other hand, did an excellent job seeing that opportunity and successfully transformed from the DVD rental by mail service to the popular digital streaming service consumers love today.

There’s always the risk that either you’re pursuing the wrong destination or the wrong means to get there. And what do you do then? You have the opportunity to say, “Maybe I shouldn’t be 100% strategic.”

Often, mistakes and variability promote evolution and growth in a company, so it’s important to determine what percentage of your business should be based on strategy and what percentage should be based on trying new and different things which may not align with the current official strategy.

3. Consider a Balanced Approach

Ideally, find a balance of mostly strategic activities, but carve out some time for non-strategic activity to allow employees to be creative and freely come up with new ideas that just might turn into something great.

An example of a company who does this well and has seen success come out of this strategy is Google. Google offers “20% time,” which allows each employee to spend 20% of their work time on independent projects they feel will benefit Google in the long run without having to justify it to anyone.

This freedom promotes innovation and creativity, making employees feel like their work and input really matters to the company. Many of Google’s widely known products have come out of this non-strategic time, such as Gmail and Google Maps.

Another area of business that often takes a balanced approach to strategy is Research and Development (R&D). R&D teams are typically made up of creative and original thinkers; they may be faced with problems that they’re fascinated by and are trying to solve. It’s not always clear how solving that problem is going to help the company right away, but some of the world’s greatest innovations have come out of R&D departments.

For example, at Bell Labs, the transistor was invented by people who were fascinated by the way materials could be used to control electricity. It wasn’t clear when they were doing that original research exactly how the product would be used; it was much later that the potential was realized for commercial applications such as the microchip

Another example is Steve Jobs in the early days of Apple. When the Apple ][ computer was at its height, it was the main focus of the company and where all the money was coming from. The long term success of the Apple ][ platform was the strategic focus of the company.

At the time, in order to politically sideline him, Jobs was assigned to work on a seemingly non-strategic project, which was the Apple Macintosh, originally intended as a product for the education market. As successful as the Apple ][ was, ultimately, the innovation that came from launching the Macintosh massively eclipsed the Apple ][ and is a key product line to this day. Thank goodness for a non-strategic project.

4. It Might Be Worth It to Pursue a “Moonshot Idea”

It can be beneficial to allow a certain amount of time to work on complete “moonshot ideas”—
ideas that are highly risky but could change the company or the industry as a whole if they’re successful.

While these grand ideas have only proven to be occasionally successful, the payoff can be so huge when they do succeed that they are worth pursuing.

The bottom line is that you want to be good at being strategic, but not get so caught up in being so strategic that you miss out on a great opportunity for growth and success in your company that may not align with your strategy.

Parting Gift

My Wall Street Journal bestselling book, Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance, contains a blueprint for developing a successful strategy for your company as well as practices to aid in identifying new trends and opportunities to explore. You can download the first chapter for free here or purchase the book here.

Image credits: Pixabay and Unsplash

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We Have the U.S. Military to Thank for the Internet and Other Key Technology

Why We Thank the US Military for the Internet

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

From the computers that are used to develop your app to the AI that’s incorporated into your chatbot, many of the technologies that are foundational to our digital world were either massively moved forward or funded by the military. Let’s go over some of those technologies.


The microchips that we know today are composed of millions of transistors which were first developed by Bell Labs in 1949. Through military funding, microchips were further improved and incorporated in airplanes and missiles for complex communication and guidance systems.

Today, microchips are one of the basic building blocks of modern electronics, from calculators and cameras to hearing aids, pacemakers, and spacecraft guidance systems, they’re found almost everywhere electronics exist.


Did you know that the very first computer was funded by the US Military? The ENIAC, built between 1943 and 1945, was the first large-scale computer to run at electronic speed without being slowed by any mechanical parts. It enabled the military to calculate complex wartime ballistic tables, decryption, etc.

Apart from our phones and laptops, computers can be found in our cars, washing machines, manufacturing companies, 3D printers, power plants, banks, and more.

Cellular Technology

The original versions of cellular phone technology were heavily backed by the military for point-to-point soldier communication on the battlefield since they were more beneficial and secure than conventional radio technology.

Today, 80% of the US population owns a smartphone, and our ability to text, call, and video chat with others is a direct result of improved cellular technology.

The Internet

What we know as the internet today started out as the ARPANET. Backed by the US Military, it was initially used for military and academic communication for joint development projects and as a means of communication in the event of a nuclear attack.

As of 2020, 4.66 billion people around the world are internet users. This interconnectivity gave rise to our digital world and serves as the backbone behind almost all digital transformation initiatives today.


Originally developed for the military to help them navigate terrain and develop weapon targeting systems, the first 20 satellites launched for GPS were funded and driven by the military.

Without GPS technology, we wouldn’t have Google Maps, Waze, or Uber. Depending on your business, there are many ways you can incorporate GPS technology to streamline processes and collect data.

Digital Cameras

The digital sensors used by cameras were developed by the military because of their need to capture and send images wirelessly from satellites in space for terrain mapping and espionage operations.

DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, product advertisements, and face recognition technology all came as a direct result of these digital sensors.


While there are a lot of non-military applications for drones today, the development of drones was initially funded by the US military to avoid any risk to pilots, fly undetected, and provide real-time footage of an area.

A common use for drones is to help farmers scatter seeds, deliver goods to customers, and collect photos or videos of different places, but there are plenty of other ways we can incorporate them into media, architecture, construction, and emergency response.

Artificial Intelligence

The defense sector is projected to spend about $2 billion in Artificial Intelligence this year. The ability to play out simulations, analyze and understand satellite communications, and improve disaster preparedness are just a few of the many ways AI can be utilized by the military.

Commercially, we see AI in digital assistants like Siri, Bixby, and Google Assistant; chatbots on websites and messaging apps; disease mapping; automated financial investing; virtual booking; and social media monitoring.

So the next time you use your smartphone, Alexa, computer, or GPS, remember to say thank you to a soldier!

In my Wall Street Journal bestselling book, Winning Digital Customers: The Antidote to Irrelevance, I walk you through a simple five-step process to successful digital transformation. This methodology is proven and has worked for many companies that I’ve helped in the past. You can access the first chapter for free here or purchase the hard copy here.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

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10 Clever Ways to Stop Ideation Bullies from Hogging Your Brainstorming Sessions

10 Clever Ways to Stop Ideation Bullies from Hogging Your Brainstorming Sessions

GUEST POST from Howard Tiersky

Whether you’re responsible for digital transformation or just trying to improve a product, process or marketing program, coming up with ideas is almost always an important part of success.

And one way you can create ideas is by bringing everyone together in some sort of brainstorming activity.

But sometimes you find that you’ve invited someone who’s not going to let anyone else talk — someone who is so certain they have the right answers that they take all the oxygen in the room — the ideation bully.

The Ideation Bully has an idea of how “it” should be done and they are so insistent about it that it’s almost not worth having a session because nobody has the energy or the desire to fight with this person.

Fortunately, there are certain tactics that you can use to diffuse the problem and prevent those troublemakers from throwing a monkey wrench into everything you’re trying to do.

Here are 10 ways to Handle Ideation Bullies

1. Choose your Brainstormers

One option is to simply not invite somebody who is known to be a troublemaker if you predict that that person is going to tank the effort to bring people together and generate ideas.

If their ideas are important, there’s always an opportunity to give them input in another way, such as asking them to send you a list of their ideas.

But there can be downsides to this as your primary approach. If that person is politically very important, then excluding them may not be wise.

Additionally, that individual may actually have good ideas to contribute, it’s just that they have a habit of “over-contributing.”

And lastly, sometimes you don’t know in advance who will show up as an “ideation bully.”
Someone who is otherwise quite reasonable and collaborative may get “triggered” by a given topic and transform into a problem.

2. Align on the Goals of the Meeting

Sometimes people who are trying to throw out ideas and who are behaving like bullies aren’t on the same page of what you’re there to ideate about.

Focus on what you want to accomplish and make sure everyone understands what the definition of victory is.

Set some ground rules so that if people start to pull you off topic, you can call them out while still being respectful of the point that they’re making.

3. Leave Rank at the Door

It’s best if the most senior person in the room lets everybody know that we really want everyone’s ideas and definitely doesn’t use their rank to influence the discussion (once all the ideas are on the table they can always later use their position of authority to determine which ideas will be implemented).

In fact, we have a fun acronym we use to highlight this challenge: HIPPO (Highest Paid Person On-hand).

Of course, not just because you’re the highest paid person doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bully.

But you can be if you come in there and prevent your team from generating a lot of ideas.

It’s a good idea if the HIPPO speaks last because once they’ve spoken, it can be hard for people to feel like they should contradict.

Another strategy is to have the senior person wait for everyone to finish the session and then just bring them the results of the meeting to assess.

4. Insight Before Ideas

You want to seed people with information beforehand.

One way that people bully during ideation is they come in with supposedly their own set of facts, which may or may not really be facts.

It’s very easy to bully people with fake facts when others don’t have them.

You’re not going to have every insight, every piece of information, but nevertheless thinking about what’s the key information that the group should be fed in advance will help neutralize the ideation bullies.

5. Define the Goal of Generating a Set Number of Ideas

Acknowledge that your goal is to create a whole bunch of different ideas so that you can later assess them.

So when the ideation bully comes, they won’t be able to drown out everybody else because you are compelled to keep going until you get your target number of ideas.

You can always assure the bully that if their ideas are really the best, then you’ll probably wind up picking it.

6. The Possibility Frame

You can always say to somebody, is it possible there’s another idea?

Is it possible there’s a better idea?

Is it possible there’s a way of improving on this idea?

And it’s very difficult even for a bully to say absolutely not.

They just have to basically be willing to down-and-out insult every single person in the room if they want to say there’s no one there that could possibly come up with an idea that’s better than that.

Usually in most corporate environments, someone is not going to go that far.

When you can acknowledge that it’s always possible that there’s another idea, a better idea, or a way of improving the idea, then you have diffused the bully’s ability to crowd out other ideas.

7. The Hypothesis Frame

Any idea is just a hypothesis. It’s just a theory that it might be the solution to a problem.

So whatever idea you have, you don’t know for sure that it’s going to work until you test it through some kind of market research.

When you accept the hypothesis frame, the bully will not be able to shut down other ideas without presenting informational points that suggest their own idea is the best solution.

8. Evidence Quantity per Idea

Identify all the data and see how much evidence we have for each idea.

Sometimes the bully has a strong opinion that their idea is the right answer even when they have no data to support that claim.

We have a fun acronym for those sub variety of ideation bullies as well. We call them the ZEBRAs (Zero Evidence But Really Arrogant).

We want to give ZEBRAs the opportunity to present their facts but also do the same for other ideas.

This helps you prioritize and evaluate the ideas that your team generates.

9. Use Breakouts to Avoid Filibusters

When you have 10, 15, 20 or even more people that are ideating, it can be good to break them into teams and let each team brainstorm separately.

They can later come back together and each team can share what they’ve come up with.

That can be a healthy way of ideating if you have somebody who tries to bully everybody not follow the rules.

At least if you put them in breakouts, they can only do that with part of the group.

It may not solve the problem 100%, but at least then you have groups which don’t have that person and therefore can be productive.

Hopefully, some of these other strategies will help manage that person in the breakout that they’re in.

10. Create Structures with Timing and Turns

Instead of just having a freewheeling conversation, there’s this structure where everyone waits their turn and has their say.
But then there’s a process of making sure that that’s timeboxed and we move on to the next person.

That’s another way of making sure that each person gets their time and that the person who otherwise would want to take over and dominate will find it harder to bully everybody because there are rules.

You don’t need all of those tactics. You can pick just a few, even depending on your situation.

And I’m confident that you will find that you can master handling ideation bullies so that they can potentially still have their say, but it doesn’t disrupt everything you’re trying to do in terms of coming up with great ideas.

Check out my Wall Street Journal bestselling book, Winning Digital Customers, where I go into great length on a wide range of ideation practices in the context of product development and the creation of great customer experiences. It will show you the step-by-step process for coming up with ideas that lead to successful products in the market. You can download the first chapter for free by clicking this link

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