The Deli Zone

In 1996, shortly after moving to Boulder for graduate school, I met a local artist and graphic designer, Randi Eyre, who introduced me to Susan Fine and Nancy Maresh. Susan and Nancy were co-owners of Creative Learning International, a training and consulting group specializing in creating learning materials, primarily for business clients.

CLI had been commissioned by Verne Harnish, a consultant himself and founding partner of the First Principles Group, to create materials to accompany a series of business dynamics seminars, Master of Business Dynamics (“Education for Emerging Growth Companies”).

The seminars were intended to provide small businesses with access to the work of some top-flight business consultants on important topics like marketing, branding, leadership, and performance management at an affordable price.

First Principles Group recruited the consultants and signed-up the “emerging growth” business clients on the other end. Creative Learning International was contracted as a content provider and I was contracted to adapt the consultants’ materials and write the bulk of the content.

Susan and Nancy wanted to present the consultants’ ideas narratively and dramatically, through the experiences of a group of character running a small business that was facing a problem. The consultants’ ideas and methods would then be applied to help resolve the problem.

The name of the project, inspired by a chain of local sandwich shops, and the main characters were all in place when I came on board, however, Susan and Nancy were thinking no further than a kind of illustrated book, with occasional images of the characters. I introduced the idea of doing this in “graphic story” (comic book) form and I think Randi, knowing my background from our conversations, probably had this thought when she introduced me to Susan and Nancy. The full story illustration treatment was going to have higher initial production costs, but we would gradually build up a library of images, some of which could be reused or adapted in future stories.

In any event, they liked the idea. Randi recruited a local artist, Rob Pudim, to be our illustrator and off we went. I would meet with Nancy and Susan (after a time, only with Susan), who would provide me with a detailed breakdown of the material to be covered. I would then write a full script (page breakdowns with panel descriptions, captions and dialogue for each panel) and Rob and Randi would then turn that into fully rendered pages.

Over the next couple of years, I scripted at six of these booklets, each between forty and fifty pages in length. The later books in the series moved away from full-comic book style and went to a more text-heavy format, with spot illustrations.

  • Business Dynamics at The Deli Zone, based on the work of Verne Harnish and         William Isaacs
  • 1:1 Marketing at The Deli Zone, based on the work of Don Peppers, Martha Rogers, and Bruce Kasanoff
  • Performance Management at The Deli Zone, based on the work of Aubrey Daniels and  Phlip Hurst
  • The Great Game of Business at The Deli Zone, based on the work of Jack Stack and Bill Fotsch
  • Jump Start Your Brain at The Deli Zone, based on the work of Doug Hall and Dr. Jeffrey Stamp
  • The Leadership Challenge at The Deli Zone based on the work of James M. Kouzes and Ronald Crossland

Each “issue” would open with an “Origins of The Deli Zone” page and a “Cast of Characters page:

Each story would begin with The Deli Zone cast in the middle of some catastrophic business challenge that threatened the restaurant’s continued existence.The consultants would then show up and guide Cameron, Matt, Mae and Barb through an analysis of the problem, and provide insights and specific tools they would then use to solve the problem.

The meat of each booklet was the presentation of the consultants’ analysis and problem-solving strategy, but the characters and their situation would provide a human connection. The DZ business-problem-du-jour would naturally bring out some interpersonal conflicts familiar to anyone who has ever held a job, and the solutions provided by the consultants would meet with support or skepticism as the various stakeholders evaluated how implementing the suggested changes would affect them personally — again incorporating  real-life dynamics that would make the situations relatable to the client businesses.

On the other hand, I always used a lot of humor and, because the stories were presented in a very cartoony style, some of that humor was fairly outrageous or silly.

Below are the first eight pages of our second book, 1:1 Marketing at The Deli Zone to provide a sense of the style and content.