Episode: 104 |
Michael Brennan:
Human-Centered Design:


Michael Brennan

Human-Centered Design

Show Notes

Michael Brennan is the former CEO of the United Way of Southeastern Michigan, and now the Co-Founder and CEO of Civilla, a Center for Social Innovation rooted in human centered design to help courageous leaders tackle some of the toughest social issues.

Michael decided to devote his energies to fixing a problem in Michigan:

The entry point to Michigan’s public benefit system is an application that is over 40 pages long. With over 1000 questions and more than 18,000 words it is the longest application of its kind in the United States.

That application generated massive headache for residents trying to obtain benefits, many who got overwhelmed by the process and just never applied.

It also generated unnecessary cost for the state to process the massive pile of paperwork.

Michael tells a compelling story with valuable lessons for any consultant working to build alignment across multiple stakeholders.

To communicate their findings and recommendations, Civilla set aside PowerPoint. They build an immersive experience in their office that senior state politicians, journalists, nonprofit leaders, and other could walk through to really feel what applicants for public benefits got through.

Do check out their website, for visuals and to learn more:


One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will: Hello, Michael. It is great to have you on the show.
Michael: Thanks, Will. Glad to be here.
Will: So, Michael, we met several years ago when you were running the United Way there in Southeast Michigan on a project there. Do you want to set the stage there of what that was all about and maybe start with just a quick background of who you are and how you got there and what you’ve been doing since.
Michael: Sure. So, I’m in Detroit, and I had been a 30-year veteran of United Way, and you and I met in 2010 when I was trying to get a better understanding of what the Safety Net was in the State of Michigan, so we started some work on the Safety Net in the State of Michigan, and we reached out to you and a cohort of others who had some expertise to help us assess that, and what we were really looking at was I was in meetings all the time where people talked about the Safety Net, yet there wasn’t a common definition. There wasn’t a common understanding, and so when you mentioned that, I would often think, “Well, who are the players? What is the money flow? Where are the gaps? And that engagement set up a blueprint for the united Way in Southeastern Michigan to begin to look at its strategies as it related it how to move people out of poverty into self-sufficiency. What type of roles, what type of services, what type of support could take place?
Michael: In that particular journey, when we came to the end of it, there were all kinds of recommendations that came forward, but there was a particular artifact that totally captured my imagination that you and others had come upon, which was the public application for benefits in the State of Michigan, and that application ended up being 45 pages long. I remember at the time, we were like, “This is impossible to imagine getting through, and how do we begin to display that when we were trying to lift up and share out with the community recommendations on strategies as well as barriers, and we had converted that particular paper application, 45 pages, and turned it into a scroll, just connected one end of the form to the other, and all of a sudden we had this long roll of paper that went across the floor, and when it got displayed that way, it reframed a problem and a barrier.
Michael: Instead of just seeing 45 pages, you all of a sudden began to see it through a different set of eyes, and a lot of different conversations started taking place. I remember taking that scroll, and I put it in my briefcase. We did some work and obviously carried out some of the recommendations of the report, but I carried that scroll around with me for six years in my briefcase, and when I would go out and give speeches about how we design systems for the institutions, we don’t design it for the individuals that we’re serving, I would often pull that out and unfurl it across the room as just an artifact.
Michael: By the way, the State of Michigan isn’t alone. You could garner just about any state or actually any complex business. They create all kinds of barriers by nature, not necessarily by intent, that hamper people from moving easily through systems, so my time at United Way, I had wrapped up 32 years, and I left that to start an organization called Civilla, and I ended up carrying that artifact with me here.
Michael: We are in a broad stroke. We’re trying to get friction out of systems that do a public good and restore humanity in. That sounds quite aspirational, and it is. We’re a tiny team rooted in human-centered design, and when we started, we ended up just prototyping the organization. A couple of people that I had met when I had spent three months out at Stanford at the d.school, they ended up moving to Detroit, and shortly after I left, we linked arms, and we prototyped this organization called Civilla for four months, and we said, “Let’s just begin to see if we could work with courageous leaders who wanted to effect change, who understood that the toolbox that they were traditionally reaching for wasn’t getting them to where they wanted to go, and maybe we could begin to work with them in a new way that got them focused on a different set of tools that allowed them to understand the user experience, the very person that they’re serving, better, more deeply than they had before.
Michael: Since we were funding ourselves, this is two-and-a-half years ago, we just started working on projects that was of interest to us, and one of the projects that I walked in that very first week was that 45-page scroll. I came in, and I said to the two others, “Why don’t we just start leaning in on this and seeing where it might take us.” So we set off, and we just started spending time at the kitchen tables of residents that had applied for public benefits and received it, to understand their story. It wasn’t a 20-minute interview, half-hour interview; it often would be two, three, four hours to really understand the context of the life and how the benefits did or didn’t fit to it.
Michael: After about six weeks of going out day after day and spending, ended up being hundreds of hours with residents, we ended up with a point of view that we looked at each other, that we felt like would be worthy to share that with the State of Michigan. They weren’t aware A, that we were in existence; two, that we were working on this, so I reached out to a leader in the state. Didn’t know him. I invited him to drive two hours down to Civilla in Detroit from Lansing, Michigan, our state capital, and he took up that offer. I give him a ton of credit to this day for doing that, and he grabbed his chief deputy, and they came down to Civilla.
Michael: Again, we were just in early-stage startup. We actually started the organization in the storage closet of a building right in Downtown Detroit. It was a large storage closet, and we turned that into a studio with very raw space, and they came walking in that raw space, and we shared with them many of the insights that we had garnered from spending time with residents. That gave us confidence that a new way could get developed.
Will: Tell me about some of those insights that you had uncovered.
Michael: You heard things from residents, like they felt like they were in a muddled cosmic force, that there was no clear path, that they were literally in a maze, and they had no sense of the beginning or the end or where their place was in that journey in the system of trying to apply for a public benefit, that they often felt the system was dehumanizing. Instead of maybe referred to with a name, got referred to as a case number. You had a sense you were part of a very large and just cohort of people versus an individual at a very difficult juncture in life. We heard from residents that as they entered into the system, it felt much more like a fraud-prevention system than a caring system, and what was interesting about that from the state data, they have about two-and-a-half million cases in the State of Michigan, individuals that are accessing public benefit in the State of Michigan, and of that, point six eight of one percent is fraud, less than one percent.
Michael: The whole experience for the resident is it feels like they have to wake up and go prove their innocence every time. A determination has to be made, and it feels like the power is all on one side. It’s a very “us and them” kind of experience, and for a resident, there was no one that we talked to that navigated the system or the application alone. They got help from family, friends, neighbors, the informal network, more so than the formal network to be able to complete it. And we consistently saw those kind of insights, no matter who we talked with.
Will: And it’s not always folks who have an awesome internet connection or working with a great printer at home and have all the records and files. It means people whose lives have been disrupted in some way, moved from house to house … Talk to us about some of the things in that application, some of the questions that people would have to be filling out.
Michael: You have things like, “I fill out the exact same information multiple times. I could be placing address multiple times. I could be placing name multiple times.” There are questions on there that could leave residents often quite confused, things like “Tell us the date of conception of your children.” It’s that kind of thing. There’s a reason why that ended up on there. Right? The issue is the reason never is attached to the question, so that context is never there for the resident. It’s not like the state wakes up to say, “Let’s go make this the hardest, most difficult thing for someone to fill out.”
Michael: People are waking up to try and do a positive good, right? And they’re not looking to inflict pain, but over 30 years, you’ve got this accumulation of an application that was really designed around the institution, around the program, around legal, around policy, not designed around the very users, the residents, and, for us, that also meant spending quite a bit of time with the front-line workers, caseworkers. There’s about 5000 caseworkers in the State of Michigan that service the residents. To really understand their experience and how might that particular application get re-imagined to better serve them as well as the resident.
Will: One thing that I think I recall from this work, and maybe you can elaborate, is it has a real impact on the state as well, right? Because a lot of this money would come from the federal government, but because it was so burdensome, I mean harder than college application, that something significantly less than 100% of the residents of Michigan were getting the federal aid they could be getting. Right? So could you talk a little bit about what you found in terms of quantifying the impact of that, and was it 50, 60, 70% of eligible people were activity getting the federal dollars that they could be?
Michael: You know, it’s interesting. The two main federal programs, this is true across the country, is around food and Medicaid. One is run by the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services. The other is run by Food and Nutritional Services. And there’s varying degrees of enrollment in those across the country. Michigan actually has a pretty healthy enrollment rate, but what happens on this is you get a really unnecessary expenditure of effort by the state, and managing the complexity of this kind of form. Right? So you’re spending time unnecessarily on things that actually aren’t adding value when, in fact, you could better apply that to help individuals of the state navigate to a next stage of life.
Michael: What we were finding with residents is just keeping up with this as well as other programs can almost be like a half-time job, because you gotta take two buses … it was not uncommon for us to see someone to get to an office, it was a two-hour exercise, just getting from one location to the other to be able to turn in a document. And it’s true across the country. Every state has an amount of federal money that is available that is not drawn down because of these complexities that rest within these systems. For example, in the State of Michigan, there’s about a billion dollars annually of federal benefits that are available that aren’t tapped that could be tapped, but there are reasons why it ends up being so difficult for a resident to actually navigate that and secure that.
Will: Talk to me a little bit about the types of future state that you envision. Where would you like to get to so that this system works better?
Michael: Well, we imagine one where, in the simplest terms, there’s two things that go on, because really there is around this application, verification and determination, and that’s a fairly mechanical process. So that’s one side of the coin. The other side of the coin is actually that human touch that helps people navigate from one stage of life to the other. Some people call that social work, about creating a pathway, that literally humans are very good at helping one another in doing that. What we have seen in today’s world within the US is often we have people doing what technology can do so much better, and it’s consuming so much time, human capital time of trying to do just data entry. Right?
Michael: You feel like there’s someone works for the State of Michigan as a caseworker can feel like, and this would be true across the country, often that servicing the system, not the person, an eligibility data entry person versus a problem solver. “I can’t do deep work. I can only do shallow work,” because of the volume and complexity which they’re managing. For example, it’s not uncommon in the State of Michigan for one caseworker to have a caseload of over 800 clients, and there’s not much political will in the country to go add more resources to that, so we imagine a time where folks could apply, get verified, and get determination right on their phone in under 10 minutes and get verified in one day versus [inaudible 00:17:44] hours, days, weeks, or months in order to do that.
Michael: The technology is in place in the world that to see that assembled as well as you have most people in America in all socioeconomic levels are carrying a smartphone, because the smartphone is a gateway to access, so it ends up being such a primary tool. Some of them might not have a computer in their home, but they can have a smartphone in their pocket. So we imagine a world where you can get what technology can do well. You get that designed in a user-friendly way where you can get the right access, verification, and determinations made so that the human capital side of the equation, front-line workers aren’t spending their time on this verification category, but they can, in fact, begin to work with individuals to help them move from one stage to the next.
Will: How do the state workers, the caseworkers, react to these ideas? Are they afraid for their jobs if things get automated, or are they more excited about being able to spend more time doing the value-added deep work. What’s their perspective?
Michael: It’s very interesting. It’s true for any institution that is trying to do change, not just in this case, the state. Any change that arrives inside of a system can be difficult, even the very best ideas, and we’ve all experienced that and seen that in our lives. The thing that was different and why, I believe, this got so well received, and this being we took that 45-page application, and we reduced it by 80% in terms of words and questions, so, for example, the old application had 18,000 words on it, more words than Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It had a thousand questions, 45 pages, and we were able to reduce words and questions by 80%, page by 60%, and meet every federal and state regulation, so we didn’t have to change one regulation, and yet we could get that change made.
Michael: The reason was because we listened deeply to the front-line worker, the caseworker, of how did they word it? What was the information that they absolutely needed? How would they want that to be displayed and brought forward? And then we listened to the resident. Same thing. And that’s what we designed around. And when individuals have their fingerprints on the solutions that arrive, it is a very different thing than when solutions are mandated and just dropped in.
Michael: So we spent six months readying the State of Michigan to receive the new way, and we engaged the front-line workers every step of the way. They did the trainings. They had their fingerprints all over the new design. They helped shape the communication strategies on it, and it was because of that, and there’s always bumps in any kind of changes, but overwhelmingly, it was received very, very well, and I think in a large part was because those that were most impacted by the change could see that their hand was in the solution.
Will: And what’s the status of it now? Has the new version been implemented? Is it in process or …
Michael: So, the state had been wanting to effect change on this for 35 years, this application, and on January 22, 2018, they sun-setted the old application, the one with 45 pages and 18,000 words and 1000 questions, and they launched statewide the new application in over 100 offices across the State of Michigan.
Will: Wow. I almost want to cry here. That is amazing. That’s incredible. What do you see now? What’s the next evolution of this?
Michael: Well, our bias at Civilla is to go deep versus wide, so we actually don’t wake up and say, “How do we go do this and 50 other states do the same thing?” Right? we think there’s so much to this whole category, and if we cracked the code on the application, that might be 40% of the equation. The whole process of going through verifications, how do you turn in bank statements? How do you turn in proof of residency? How do you … All these things that are required on that where we envision work over the coming time period to really get clear about how you might do that in a way that creates better efficiencies for the state and a much, much more humane experience for the resident.
Michael: There’s work on the paper application, in a digital world can seem archaic. It ended up being one of the very, very best things that actually happened, is because we got to understand that system so well, and that paper application touches everything. We are now doing quite a bit of work on what is the intersection of mobile technology as it relates to public benefits. We anticipate in the coming months and years we’ll be doing quite a bit of work in that category.
Will: So, talk to me a little bit about your team that you’ve assembled at Civilla.
Michael: Well, it’s a tiny team but mighty. We are a team of about seven right now. We started as three, and we’ve been very, very intentional about culture. We’re probably more intentional than, I think, any organization could possibly be on the planet around the culture that has emerged here. To give you a sense of some of the individuals, two of the other co-founders, one taught at the d.school at Stanford and worked for a consulting design, the other also out of Stanford did some consulting and practice internationally around human-centered design and the utilization of that tool, so the three of us … they’re 20 years younger than I am, but the three of us joined together, and we just felt like we brought a unique perspective and skill and commitment and values and a common intent of what we wanted to see in the world.
Michael: And then we have just slowly added individuals that have come from just different backgrounds, anthropology, sciences, and things of that nature, but really we’ve looked for people that have very strong EQ, a deep curiosity about them and themselves and the world and have this ability to work in ambiguity and help bring some sense-making out of that. So, it’s a team. In some ways I say that team of seven, it feels to me, it has the impact of a team of 50 or 100, and I’ve been trying to really reflect on why does that happen, and I think because the vast high percentage of time is spent on the work and uncovering the way in which we’re going about the work, and it’s less on managing drama and politics of an institution. That, tending to the culture and the people, has really helped accelerate both the quality and the depth of the work, and the volume of it.
Will: So, you’ve got some real design-thinking experts on the team with folks from the Design School at Stanford. Do you have any stories about ideas that they came up with or approaches that were maybe just not what you might have normally experienced or thought of yourself or have seen from a more straight-up consultant. I’m curious how this design-thinking got infused with the work on the application.
Michael: It’s interesting, because we’re deeply rooted in design, design-thinking, and we also feel like we’re learning beyond that. It has some gaps in it, and we’re learning beyond that, but if I were to say specifically here, probably one of the key things that we made an early decision on was when we thought about those that were trying to serve and the leaders that we’re trying to work with, we actually had to move both the head and the heart. I learned from 30 years of doing change work, you rarely got significant change through data and just getting the intellect right, and you could reach the heart, but that alone wasn’t … you needed both, and, generally speaking, you don’t get there through a Power Point.
Michael: The vast majority of change work gets lifted up in institutions and foundations and units of government or in conference rooms with Power Points and data and best practice, and we made a strategic decision very early on. We’re a group of seven, and we occupy 10,000 sq ft, and we took that on when we had no money. It’s not maybe the wisest decision, but it ended up being the best for us. What we’ve done is we’ve taken half of our space, and we’ve converted it to create a user experience of story, so you’ll never come in here and get a slide deck to talk about a project. Literally, when the state leaders came in here, we walked them through a story, and it was a story of an installation that we had created that had a 100-ft journey map scrolled across the floor of what it was like for a resident to navigate the system.
Michael: We had very large-scale photos and documents that were hung from the ceiling that we began to navigate a story to walk leaders through so that they could begin to understand it. We have over the past 24 months taken 3000 people through that story, and what I’ve come to learn after 30 years of trying to get people to take action and change is this has ended up being one of the most powerful things I’ve ever experienced in 30 years, of helping people grow context, see a problem in a new way, and start to imagine a different solution and how their role might play in carrying that out. And that would have never occurred if it was just me. It only occurred because there was a group of creatives that have this orientation to the user to say, “If we really want to effect a change, we actually have to walk them into an experience.”
Will: I have never seen anything like this. Could you walk our listeners through a portion of that journey? Give is a sense of what we would be experiencing if we were in your offices.
Michael: I can tell you the story of what I did when top four state leaders came back at the end of our prototype at the start of the organization. We are on the second floor of a building in Downtown Detroit. We took the hall away, and we converted it into a Department of Health and Human Services office. We had chairs up and down the whole hallway, and we had people sitting in those chairs, and we had recorded background noise of an office playing, and as they came off the elevator, I welcomed them to the DHS office at Tech Town building here. I said, “I’m glad you’re here. If you could have a seat, that would be great,” and these top leaders went and found a seat.
Michael: I walked up to them, and I handed them a 45-page application that two-and-a-half million residents get every year. I said, “If you could fill that out, I’d appreciate it,” and they started spending time working on that. We gave them 15 minutes, and they got to question like Date of Conception or where they had to start writing in the same information over and over again. After that, we said, “Let’s assume that you completed that.” I said, “What I’d like to do is show you what actually happens to that form,” and I walked them into our 5000 sq ft storage closet, very raw space, cement floor, high ceilings, strung-up lights, almost like Tiki lights in there. I said, “If you could come up here,” and on the floor was this 100-ft long piece of white paper, and it was hand sketched out, and it was the story of a resident applying for food stamps in the State of Michigan.
Michael: I started to walk them along that, things like, if something happens in your life, you have a child, you lost your job, you had an accident, friends and family say go to the Department of Health and Human Services. And I just started walking them along this 100-ft scroll of paper that is across the floor that is a hand-sketched-out drawings of a person going through that system. When they got to the end of that, they saw for the first time something that they had never seen before, and that was the very system that they oversee through the eyes of the resident and their employee navigating the difficult system. And at the end of that, I said, “I want to step you into a set of insights,” and I took them over to an area that we had all these strings hanging from the ceiling, and we had foam core boards up with very large photos.
Michael: I just started telling them a story about a single resident and how they ended up on public benefits and why that happened and what were those insights, and as they started walking through this journey, they kept walking through all these strings that were hanging down of all different colors, shapes, sizes, widths, and I’m walking them to a little set area that has a large photo and an insight and a large photo and an insight, and eventually I come to share with them that all those strings that they just navigated through actually represent a single client. There’s 845 strings, and every string is a client of a caseworker, and they just walked through 845 strings. That seems really kind of like maybe trite, but it’s amazing when even for top leaders when you can change the lived experience. I’m not listening. I’m walking through. Right?
Michael: I’m actually touching things as I’m going through. Photos aren’t the size of a 4 x 6, but they’re actually almost life-size, and when you can begin to use symbolism, things like strings to represent the complexity of the number of clients, right, you start tapping into leaders’ imagination and different parts of their mind that often they don’t get to use in the day-to-day work, but it’s very linear, very data-driven. You can begin to open up a conversation that you never would have been able to do with a slide deck.
Will: What an amazing story. What an incredible way to show and not tell. That’s incredible.
Michael: Yeah, and in that 5000 sq ft, we now have three separate installations and stories. There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t have leaders in here. We’re walking them through all the time. In fact, people come from all over the world just to come and see that, because we’ve lost the art of story and effecting change. We’ve gotten to a lust for certainty that has driven towards the use of data and over-reliance on data. Data’s certainly important, but it always gets viewed as king, and we think there’s this really art and science balance between the quantitative and qualitative work and research that goes on, and we believe that the real power in the movement comes out of this qualitative. The affirmation can come from some of the quantitative that can be backing it up. But in my view, we are too quantitative in today’s world, and that’s why we tend to get incremental change. We don’t get jump and leap kind of changes.
Will: It’s stories that move us, and that sounds like that entire experience that you created, very different from typical consultant output of Power Point that people page through and start to check their watch and check their phone. Tell me just a little bit about the ideation process that you went through to conceive that.
Michael: We actually were reflecting on that the other day, and like so many things at Civilla, it was much more organic than this really highly-structured thing. We knew we had a key group of leaders at the state coming down. These four key leaders were coming down. We knew it needed to be something experiential, and we literally on a whiteboard that we built out of a garment rack just sketched out what was the story that we wanted to tell, and we just sketched that out on a whiteboard, and then we brought two individuals that were volunteering with us at the time, because we were in early-stage startup, and we were by and large getting the work done through citizen-led volunteers, and we said, “This is the story. We have some initial ideas on maybe some` the artifacts that could be used for this, but we have to bring it to life, and we need to bring it to life in a scale that is human, not a scale that is digital and efficient.”
Michael: Then we did a quick prototype of that in a space with just sketched-out pieces of paper that we just put up on the walls around. We did a walk-through and said, “Does this begin to hang together and how could we bring this particular phrase to life, or this insight. How could we begin to demonstrate it in different ways?” And that ultimately led to hand-drawn 100-foot journey maps, strings hanging from the ceiling, life-size photos, yeah, all kinds of different artifacts that were both literal and symbolic that helped illustrate the story.
Will: Michael, I’m curious about you personally. Could you talk about some of your own practices, either ones that you’ve done for a long time or recently adopted that you find improve your own personal effectiveness or productivity?
Michael: You know, it’s interesting. Over 30 years, I’ve had the change to work with some amazing people all over the world, amazing leaders all over the world, and you know when you’re in the presence of someone and you just know that there’s something special about them? And that is from an achievement standpoint, but just inside of them, they’re carrying a spirit that you can just feel, and you just realize that you’re in their presence. The thing I’ve come to learn from them is they always have a daily practice. They might never call it that, but they always have a daily practice, and daily means daily. They’re clear about what their number one thing is, and then the rest of the world has got to organize around that. We hear things like that. The difference between hearing it and doing it for an episode versus doing it over 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 years where you get that cumulative effect, there’s a world of difference.
Michael: So, for me, I have really worked hard at this daily practice, and the foundation for it, for me, is actually walking. I wake up in the morning. The first thing I do is I put on my shoes and get my dog, my wife and I, and we go out for a walk. And by the end of the day, I say, “It’s gotta be 10,000 steps worth,” and the thing that I have found through that just practice of walking is what do you do when you walk with someone? You talk. And so my spouse [inaudible 00:42:45] relationship in my life. That’s a daily practice for us that has deepened our relationship in ways I can’t even describe, and when you walk by yourself, you’re able to reflect, and you’re able to process. We operate in a world that has a reflection-deficit disorder, in my view, and we need real practice how might we reflect.
Michael: So, that’s the number one. It’s like, “I’m going to do that each and every day of my life, and I augment that with a daily reflection that I’ve incorporated now over the past year, and I’m prototyping it for a body. I’m not sure where it’s going to go, but I spend time just visiting three questions quietly. Those questions are: Why am I here, where am I from, and how might I love myself and the world better. Between the rhythm of a daily practice of walking, the deepened relationships and reflect and to take time on what I think are three fundamental questions worth visiting each day. I find when I get that done, I’m able to arrive in my work and in my relationships more with my full self than if I had not done it.
Will: Can you elaborate on question number two? Why am I here, I get, and how might I love myself and the world better, I get. Talk to me about where am I from.
Michael: I have found just in vising that that there is a lot of texture to that. We can think about our genealogy, and we can think about people. We can think about experiences. We can actually think about geographies. You know, what are the geographies that are 1000 years older than me? Right? What are the kind of relationships that existed over hundred of years that ultimately I’m now part of that. I have just found, for me, that a very helpful question, because we tend to get over-occupied with the urgent and the now in which we’re in or the future that’s coming, and just to pause and say, “Where am I from? What? How are those fingerprints upon me today and how might I honor that more? Or What might I need to let go of?”
Will: Any books, Michael, that you have either gifted or that have meant a lot to you? I’d love to hear about that.
Michael: I’d give you a ton of books, but two that I think are really worthwhile. One is StrengthsFinder by, I think, it’s Tom or Tim Rath, StrengthsFinder 2.0. It’s done by Gallup and I’m just a big believer you get farther in life, you get farther in organizations, you get farther in families if you focus on your strength and each other’s strengths than your weaknesses and each other’s weaknesses. And we don’t live in a world that really gives language and texture to those strengths so that you can grow your awareness and lean into them more and understand what’s the shadow of that and how might I augment it with other strengths that I don’t carry in terms of the people around me. We are deeply rooted in Strengths at Civilla, and I always, always recommend it and give it away to people.
Michael: The other is a gentleman that’s had a lot of influence on me, particularly over the past year as I’ve gotten to know him. It’s a book called One From Many. Not a well-known book at all. You could find it, though, on like Amazon or that, written by a gentleman by the name of Dee Hock. D-E-E H-O-C-K. Dee is one of the few people on the planet that did something that no one else did, and he was the guy who created VISA that you carry in your wallet. He’s the architect, he’s the founder of VISA, and the way and the story of how he went about that is in the book One From Many as well as his philosophy, and, yeah, he did something, I think, as big as Steve Jobs, or bigger. It’s something that now does 10 trillion dollars in volume. It’s ubiquitous. It’s known. I always like to say, “Who’s the CEO of VISA? Where is Visa headquartered?” It’s become more of a public company and a traditional company, but in its early days, 15 years, early creation, just an amazing design that was rooted on the principles of nature. How do you take something that both cooperates and competes fiercely? Dee is a one-in-a-billion thinker and worth the read.
Will: Amazing. Michael, before we close, could you spell out the website for people who want to learn more about Civilla.
Michael: Yeah, right. Civilla. C-I-V-I-L-L-A dot com. Civilla.com. And you’ll come right to our website.
Will: There’ll be a link in the show notes. Michael, thank you. This has been an extraordinary discussion, and I can’t thank you enough.
Michael: Glad to spend time with you, Will.

Related Episodes


Nicolai Chen Nielsen, Advisor, Author, & Entrepreneur

Nicolai Chen Nielsen, Advisor, Author, & Entrepreneur


Tom Critchlow, Writer and Strategy Consultant

Tom Critchlow


Author of The 2-Hour Cocktail Party

Nick Gray


President and COO of Bunkerlabs

Joe "Hark" Herold