1. (interj.) an exclamation of surprise, wonder, pleasure, or the like
  2. (v.) to gain an enthusiastic response from; thrill

When was the last time you said, “wow?” I don’t mean when you ate the best popsicle of your life or scored the coolest shirt on sale. I mean the ultimate birthday surprise-Grand Canyon wonder-newborn baby-Disney World-kind-of -“wow.” When was the last time you exclaimed a “wow,” not just out of your mouth but also from the depths of your being? Maybe it was when you stood at the top of a world wonder with a loved one watching the sunrise, or maybe it was simply watching the sunset as you drove home from a mundane Tuesday at the office. It doesn’t necessarily matter when, where, who, or how, right? Because it’s not really the thing that impacts you, it’s the moment that surrounds it.

What if, as entrepreneurs, leaders, and creatives, we were less concerned with how lavish our idea, product, or event was, and instead focused on the experience that encompasses it? After all, as Steven Carse, Co-Founder of King of Pops, shared during Plywood’s Black Box Session, “people like a product, and people love to be a part of something.”

Plywood People is a non-profit in Atlanta that leads a community of start-ups doing good. They provide entrepreneurs, creatives, and leaders with content, curriculum, and community as they launch and sustain. One way they do that is through Black Box Sessions: unplugged, intimate gatherings to learn from experts on a specific subject.

Last week, Plywood People explored this topic of “WOW” during their third Black Box Session of the year at their very own Plywood Place in Cabbagetown, Atlanta. Picture narrow, downtown, neighborhood streets with quaint cafes and friendly pedestrians. Then step into an intimate environment, where there is limited space but numerous chairs. To your left there are King of Pops popsicles, to your right there are Boxed Water cartons, and in front of you the chairs surround a small, lit stage with a backdrop that reads the Plywood motto, Better is Possible. Welcome to the home of the people of Plywood, and venue of the Black Box Session, “WOW” edition.

Open ears are key


First to take the stage was William Warren, Founder and Principal of The Sketch Effect. The vision of their art is to elevate ideas through remarkable visual communication.

“At the Sketch Effect, though we are certainly proud of the artwork, and we invest a lot of time and intentional energy into delivering this with excellence, I would argue that our ‘wow’ is actually not the artwork. I would argue that our ‘wow’ is something much different and much more critical. Our ‘wow’ is not how we sketch; our ‘wow’ is how we listen. Our ‘wow’ is not what we draw; our ‘wow’ is how we capture it.”

Warren emphasized the critical truth that listening is the core of their business. He then illustrated (with words and marker) the four keys of active listening. These include embodying a listening posture, modeling a listening mindset, catching the clues, and synthesizing what you hear. We were reminded that regardless of your field, business, or service, you cannot efficiently create a genuine and memorable customer experience without first choosing to listen.

Invite people into the story


Next up, Steven Carse, Co-Founder of King of Pops, took a seat onstage for an interview by Plywood People Community Manager, Callie Murray. These world-class popsicles are made from natural and local ingredients, and make people all over the south a whole lot happier. The first question in the interview led to an explanation of supplying popsicles for a yoga event originally intended as a benefit for employees. When that event turned into 700 people sharing a shavasana it ignited a new passion in Steven. It was in that moment, a couple years after the start of this seemingly small yoga event, which he adopted the King of Pops purpose of UMoH’s – “Unexpected Moments of Happiness.” He realized he wanted to create that for other people, whether through debuting a new flavor or maybe just by giving someone a free pop.

Given that King of Pops is a brand people love, Callie posed the question, “how do you go from being a brand that people like, to a brand that people love?” As mentioned before, Carse said, “people like a product, and people love to be a part of something. You make a good product as best as you can, and you let people be a part of that story. ” Customers might buy the popsicle, but as a result of intentional vision from the king of popsicles himself, they’re paying for why it exists.

Team care wins


Surprise confetti cannons shot off on each side and all over the room as our Founder and President, Billy Boughey, took the stage. As we do at Elevate, he emphasized the importance of character off the mic versus solely on the mic. “We want the same person that’s behind the scenes having a conversation, to be the same person that’s in front of ten thousand people using the mic to amplify what’s being said.”

Whether it’s speaking bold truth or rapping his story, like he did during the session, when you witness his confidence and energy, it’s obvious Billy knows who he is. In lieu of the reality that it took him a long time to find his voice, Billy challenged the audience to find their voice and relish in the uniqueness of it. When you suppress what you were called to do and the way you were called to do it, everyone ends up losing. But when you know who you are and you find your voice, the microphone’s job is just to amplify.

So how do you win team members that will be the most efficient and authentic people on and off stage? You hire character over skill because only the latter can be taught. If you want your team to thrive, you take care of your team. “I think team care wins. The heart of your team is way more important than the heart of your customer.”

Take time to speak life into your team members – to remind them who they are. When you take care of your people, they will take care of your customers. Billy brought it home with a carousel of celebrity fatheads, including Steve Harvey, Adele, Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey, and Justin Timberlake, quoting some of their most simple but profound pieces of advice. Wisdom such as, knowing who you are, owning your mistakes, and learning from other industries. Just like we can gain from these influencers, we can also grow from intermingling with our friends in various businesses. His closing thought was, “Life is short. We get one shot. So as Eminem says in 8 Mile, ‘you gotta lose yourself in the music, the moment, you own it, you better never let it go. You only get one shot, don’t miss your chance to blow.’” *Drops mic* – but really, he grabbed the mic off the floor as he exited the stage.

What is in you that is not yet in the world?


Lastly, Joy Thigpen, Co-Founder of If I Made, took the stage for more questions with Callie, starting with her initial dream to build a town. When Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy started Pinewood Studios and decided he wanted to build a town across the street to service creatives, Joy’s dream came to life. That bold idea sprung from the heart of a young girl who learned firsthand that farfetched dreams are anything but impossible. As a senior in high-school, her dad asked if she could do absolutely anything that summer, what would she do? Her honest answer was to spend a summer in the Amazon with a tribe without an agenda, but simply to see what it’s really like. Her dad could only think of one family friend who would even possibly have similar connections, and they only talked once or twice a year. Oddly enough, but not by coincidence, when they walked in the door that evening, that exact friend called to propose an idea: to give young people the same opportunity he had growing up…which was to live with a tribe in the Amazon.

With her history of dreaming big, it’s not surprising that when asked for advice in the start of creating something remarkable, Joy answered, “Be really bold in your dreams. What is in you that is not yet in the world? Create things you wish existed. What do you want to do? That matters a lot. Give yourself permission to be really ridiculous in that.”

Her wonder and boldness inspired us to remember that in order to fulfill a big dream, you must first dream big dreams.

The “WOW” Black Box Session could have been memorable because of the popsicles or the confetti cannons alone, but I think (and I’d bet you would too) that it had a lot more to do with the people and the stories behind those elements. I think I can speak for most guests when I say that this wasn’t just an event I attended, but rather an experience that I left differently because of. Isn’t that the whole reason we were here? Some people sketch dreams, some make popsicles, some people even build towns, and some people activate ideas, but the service they all have in common is creating experiences. These speakers came from such different tables but combined they had so much to bring to the table of creating an awe-inspiring customer experience. It was not only an honor for our very own Billy Boughey to speak at such an intimate and impactful experience, but it was a privilege to learn from other amazing creatives as a result.

So how do you “wow” the customer in a world where the word is overused but rarely actually experienced? Rather than starting with flashy Instagram posts and eloquent words, start with open ears and big dreams. Start with strengths rather than weaknesses, the mission rather than the medium, and your team rather than your customers. When you run with your why, your result is a “wow.”