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Awesome, Meh, Awesome But…

Published: February 03, 2018

Here’s a quick team activity. It is a slight variation on Design the Box, and The Future, Backwards (and a host similar team activities).

The activity hinges on creating a salient scenario — presenting to your whole company, and using “real human” testimonial quotes — to help set powerful initiative goals, and limit scope. The team brainstorms quotes that might appear in that presentation, and decides if those quotes are Awesome, Meh, or Awesome, But…

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The activity hinges on some things humans are reasonably good at:

  • Sensing coherence issues (e.g. competing goals/objectives)
  • Sensing when something feels actionable (with the fear/anxiety-based corollary…sensing when something does not feel actionable)
  • Sensing what good news looks and feels like
  • Having diverse perspectives
  • Thinking in terms of impactful stories, words, and reactions I find this activity most valuable after some initial discovery, when you’re trying to narrow scope and get to the “essence” of the initiative. At this stage, there are still multiple “versions” of the initiative floating around (especially if you’ve just added people to a “small group”). It’s time to converge on a small set of solid goals, and perhaps even more importantly explain what you AREN’T going to tackle.

There’s a bit of voodoo magic here…impersonating people, playing the devil’s advocate, and generating purposefully “bad” ideas. So stick with me.

How to Facilitate

I’ve facilitated this in many different ways depending on the group. I’m hesitant to provide one “way”, but the format follows the typical diverge/converge model…starting with individuals, then small groups, and then the whole team. Divergence IS IMPORTANT…you don’t want to stamp our individual perspectives. And discussions/conversations are important. Words really matter, and the team should be encouraged to stay in the room until the output feels right.

The end-goal is as follows:

  • <4 quotes describing **Awesome. **You’ll put these quotes up on your wall. This is what you’re shooting for. Your goal is to elicit these quotes with the team’s work.
  • As many quotes as possible describing Meh and Awesome, But… By describing what you aren’t shooting for (in detail)…you are narrowing scope. Below is the Setup Story, and some tips/guides for the various quote types. Good luck!

Setup Story

Note: For the purpose of these examples I’ve used “1–2 months” for the initiative timeframe. It seems to work in many cases, but may not work in your setting.


It is a month or two from now. The company is holding an all-hands. The team has been invited to present on initiative X (the current initiatives). There’s a huge screen, and the whole company is paying rapt attention. One by one, team members stroll up to the front of the room.

After some minor technical difficulties (and a joke about whether there are any engineers in the room), the presentation starts! Two slides in, you present a slide with actual quotes from customers, users, internal team members, press, etc.

I’m going to ask you to imagine three types of quotes that might appear on this slide:

  • Amazing: coherent, engaging, realistic, detailed. These will make you proud of a job well done.
  • Meh: incoherent, too general, lacking rigor, unrealistic. These will NOT make you proud. They’re…meh.
  • Amazing, But…: amazing, but not “in scope” or relevant for this initiative. These are cool, but something is off about them. I’ll describe these types in more detail below, but first an important note. It is vital, when brainstorming quotes, that you use the names of real people whenever possible, and use realistic language.

The Quotes

Awesome Quotes!

Imagine quotes that absolutely floor people and leave you and the team super proud.

Example quotes:

OMG. This is awesome! We’ve been able to cut down on annoying account reconciliation busy work by 75%, and see far fewer sync errors. What used to take multiple people a combined 12 — 18hrs, now takes under 3 hours! We love Team Acme! — SOME CUSTOMEROr

We had no idea whether customers even cared about importing activity data into the app. It was a big question mark. But with Team X’s work, I can now confidently say we have a potential revenue stream here. 82 customers imported one-billion activities into the system. And most importantly, they were willing to pay for it. We added $180,000 in MRR in the last 30d, and closed 40% of beta group participants. This is a big day here at Acme. — SOME CEOImagine that these quotes are authentic, engaging, and powerful, and (this is important) feasible given a 1 — 2 month time horizon. Note how we’re talking primarily about outcomes, not output.

Picture (and play) that crotchety skeptic in the back of the room — the person who calls BS on things constantly (often rightfully) — and she is nodding. Picture the data scientists puzzling over the validity of the claim, and smiling. Picture someone in customer support who deals with customers every day…and he’s clapping already! Sales? They’ve left to do calls!

You get the idea: the story needs to resonate, be coherent, and be within the realm of possibility…for EVERYONE. Actually presenting this slide is a distinct possibility.

Meh Quotes

Now, imagine quotes that would elicit a tepid response (from one or more people in the audience). In bold I’ve added some imaginary responses to give you a better sense of the type of quote we’re looking for. Remember…just write the quote.

Example quotes and responses (for reference, inspiration):

Customers really love this! — SOME SUPPORT REPRESENTATIVEBut why? How do we know? Meh.

We migrated the data to Chumpbase — SOME TEAM MEMBERWhat did that let us do? Why Chumpbase? Did we rule out other options? How did our customers benefit? Meh.

The rapid-find feature is now in production! — SOME TEAM MEMBERIs it working? How about quick-find, the other option? We really wanted to try that option, but somehow we went with rapid-find? Meh.

Thanks for delivering rapid-find. In the next staff meeting I’ll let everyone know about it, and we’ll give you some feedback — SOME CUSTOMERIs that it? The good news is that they’ll try it? We have to do better than that. Meh.

The idea here is to focus in on what would fall flat. Things fall flat for various reasons. Maybe there’s a political backstory. Maybe you’ve provided no data. Maybe the story simply isn’t all that compelling, and leaves the audience wondering “is this really the best way to spend our money?” Put on your skeptics hat for a bit. And then put on your empathetic hat.

What will leave people thinking….meh?

Awesome, But… Quotes

Finally, imagine some quotes that would be AMAZING…but just feel out scope, or impossible given other goals. Perhaps they are a better fit for another initiative, or maybe they just feel too big, or can only happen down the road? You’ll note that in the first quote type (The Awesome Slide), we imposed some sense of feasibility. The purpose of this section is to “frame” that feasibility with counter-examples.

To explain this further, I’ll provide some examples of RESPONSES to the quotes. Your goal is to write the quotes that would elicit these types of responses:

  • Yeah, that’s cool. But there’s no way we’ll hear THAT and THIS. They’re conflicting.
  • That’s cool, but given other Awesome Slide quotes, I doubt we can do ALL of that.
  • That’s cool, but there’s no way we’ll hear that in the next 1 — 2 months It’s harder to provide an example here without knowing your context, but an example might be:

We’ve revolutionized accounting by flipping the industry on its head, and stealing 50% market share.Probably not going to happen.

How this exercise plays out. You’re on the right track if you’re

  • Hearing diverse perspectives (even if they are in conflict).
  • Having meaningful conversations.
  • Moving Awesome quotes to Awesome, But…
  • Making Awesome quotes more coherent, specific, and believable (such that they can stay Awesome).
  • Noting when two Awesome quotes are in conflict.
  • Churning out lots of Meh quotes…these help narrow the focus.
  • Churning out lots of Awesome, But… quotes. Same deal.
  • The team feels confident with the Awesome quotes.
  • The Awesome quotes are easy to turn into actual goals. Have fun. Let me know how it goes.