The Business Of Joy With Lisa W. Miller

10 May , 2024 podcasts

The Business Of Joy With Lisa W. Miller

The Coca-Cola Compassion Lab | Lisa Miller | The Business Of Joy


In a world forever changed by the pandemic, finding joy and fostering human connection are more important than ever. Lisa W. Miller, author of the insightful book “The Business of Joy,” explores these themes and more in a series of thought-provoking discussions. She emphasizes the importance of fostering social connections, even in seemingly small ways like eye contact and casual conversation, to pave the way for a more joyful environment. Lisa also delves into the evolving workplace and the need for a work environment that fosters growth and acknowledges the importance of in-person interaction for learning and career advancement. Lisa’s message throughout this conversation is powerful: By prioritizing joy, human connection, and a willingness to adapt, we can build a better future for ourselves, our workplaces, and the world around us. Join Lisa Miller today and understand how she brings joy to the table to make everything better in our lives.

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The Business Of Joy With Lisa W. Miller

Untold Lessons From The Pandemic

It’s been four years since the 2020 pandemic. As in every crisis, we learn and grow, but it takes a closer look to understand the total impact and what questions should we be asking. My guest did that. She had a hypothesis that she was able to measure with some interesting outcomes. She believed that the level of joy was a leading indicator for post-pandemic recovery.

Lisa Miller is a consumer strategist, author, and storyteller. She spent the last many decades translating consumer data into actionable insights that unlock new growth. Before starting her marketing strategy and innovation practice in 2008, she held leadership roles as Vice President of Innovation at Brinker International and Vice president of Insights at Frito-Lay/PepsiCo.

Lisa’s Journey Back to Joy groundbreaking research from over 70,000 consumer interviews became a leading indicator of the economic recovery during the pandemic and continues to do so. She’s been featured nationally in over 200 media interviews, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and Nation’s Restaurant News. She launched her first book called The Business of Joy, and it launched as Amazon’s Top New Seller In Consumer Behavior and Hospitality.

As a follow-up to her book success, she launched a new podcast called Bring More Joy to the Table. Lisa not only provides the numbers to back up her compelling story, but she also models a level of hope and optimism that I found inspirational. I think we can all use more joy, and by bringing that into our lives, we make everything better. Please enjoy the conversation with the very joyful, Lisa Miller.

Lisa, thank you so much for taking the time. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation because I’m intrigued by the journey you’ve been on and the book that you put out. I finished it and it’s amazing and I’m excited to share this with our audience.

I’m excited to be here.

Let’s start where I always do, and it’s the origin story because I think it’s valuable to understand what led you into the work that you’re doing.

A little bit of background, I am one of those consumer researchers where I collect data, and I’ve been doing that for a very long time for big companies, package good companies, and Brinker restaurants. While I love collecting the data, what I love even more is reminding everybody that they’re humans and there are people on the other side of all of that data. How do we turn that data into stories that can help people learn and grow, whether it’s professionally or from a business perspective? At the core, it’s the data, but where my heart is, it’s the stories.

I love how you talk about that because it’s true. I think we look at numbers and we don’t realize that’s you and I. It’s our families, our friends and it’s the people behind these numbers. What was it about your childhood or your upbringing that maybe guided you into this type of work? Was there a certain something that happened that sent you there?

Part of that origin story, a couple of things, is I was one of those curious kids who was constantly asking questions like, “What is this? Why is this? What does that happen?” Interestingly, I grew up a shy kid. I had a dancing background. I was a competitive ice skater. All of this competitive edge, and at the heart, I am a little competitive too, but I think it’s that curiosity that I had from the beginning. I think the other huge thing that influenced me throughout my life is this one saying, and people have heard it forever, but my mom and dad, and I grew up with this, “The answer’s no unless you ask.” I grew up in this household of asking questions, learning, and growing. I was very blessed that my parents were very supportive and all of the things I tried, my successes, my failures, and they were always very supportive. At the end of it, it’s “The answer’s no unless you ask.” That’s how I’ve led my life and my career.

Having a curious mind is at the core of much because it’s not just what we learn, but how we ask the questions because depending on how you ask the question, it can lead you to a different insight and a different story. I’m telling you something that you already live.

The other part of that origin story is I started my career at an advertising agency. That was all about creativity, what to say, and how to say it, then I moved into the packaged goods world where I was in the consumer insights mapping out, “Give me a clean sheet of paper, the never been done before. How do we go figure this out?” I did that for a number of years, and then I moved over to Brinker restaurants, which was all about innovation. That was my role there.

This three-legged stool of what to say and how to say it from the advertising and the storytelling, and then consumer insights, understanding hopes, wants, and dreams, and then the third part is innovation, which is, “How do you turn it into growth?” Those are the three pillars of my career it’s fascinating. Even when I say it out loud, it’s like, “That is an interesting windy road to get me to where I am today,” then I’ve had my own company for sixteen years.

Isn’t it great when you look back and you see how things connect maybe in unexpected ways to set you up for what you’re doing now and to have much texture to it? You’re not coming at it from one angle. You’re coming at it from all these different experiences that you’ve had, which is great.

It’s been a windy road. One fun fact for your audience out there, I’m a rower. It’s on a lake. It’s not on the rowing machine in the gym that I love. It’s my happy place to be out on a lake at White Rock Lake in Dallas at 6:00 AM, but beautiful sunrises, a beautiful place, and a beautiful way to start the day.

That sounds peaceful and amazing. Kudos to you for doing that. I love it.

I got to be an early bird

Let’s talk about joy. I feel like the luckiest person, my last interview was a conversation about inspiration and now I get to talk about joy. How much better can I get than to talk about such hopeful, positive things that are important parts of the human spirit? What I’d love to start with is the journey that you took into writing your book, which is called The Business of Joy. I think when you first see the title, you may not be aren’t totally sure what exactly is in it, but you tell this wise story about the pandemic, and through your expertise in numbers and understanding the behaviors and attitudes of consumers, what unfolded in that.

The Journey Back To Joy Project

The Coca-Cola Compassion Lab | Lisa Miller | The Business Of Joy

The Business of Joy: Untold Lessons from the Pandemic – What’s Next and How to Prepare

Let me start broadly and then we’ll narrow in. I hear this all the time, certainly in the show, we talk about this idea of how we choose to live. There’s a choice between living through fear and there’s a choice between living through love. I would interchange that with some degree of living through joy. You had something you referenced in the book called The Journey Back to Joy Project. Can you talk a little bit about that?

If you think about March of 2020, I always say, “We want to cringe and we want to forget,” but as a consumer researcher, I always say, “We have to look back before we can look forward to understanding where we are today.” Like many businesses, my business came to a crashing halt back in March 2020, supporting the restaurant and hospitality business. It was crazy and scary because I had huge projects that were already completed and delivered they’re like, “We can’t pay you.”

The good news is everybody caught back up. I became the Bank of Lisa for about six months until about September, but it’s unsettling, to say the least. It’s an unsettling feeling. As a researcher, I started looking at what was going on. I live in Texas. Everything shut down. I always say, “With the stroke of a pen, everything changed.” I encourage everybody to look at your camera roll from March 2020. When I ask people to do that, they say, “We forget what we went through.” What was going on is two things. One is everything was being stripped away. We couldn’t go to church, gym, movies, or restaurants.

Do you remember non-essential? Somebody determined what was non-essential and everything was shut down. All the joy was stripped away. At the same time on the other side, there was much uncertainty every day, we had hospitalizations, ventilators, all of these things that were very scary. What I realized is the third part of that was people started doing Zoom happy hours. People did drive through high school graduations. People were clapping for frontline workers. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. Through all of the fear, we were trying to find ways to find joy.

For me, this little curious researcher, I had this a-ha moment that said, “When joy was greater than fear is when the economic recovery would begin, but while people were still fearful we were going to stay home because we became scared of each other.” Remember walking down a sidewalk where somebody was walking to you and you stepped to the side because we were scared of each other?

The economic recovery would begin if joy is greater than fear. Share on X

When the doors reopened in May or July, depending on where you live, people didn’t come back because we were scared. I started measuring joy in the middle of a global pandemic. It was crazy, but I felt like that was the only way the only path forward was going to be when find our joy.

I love that you went there because that’s not where most people were because fear is a powerful force. As I was reflecting on your book and this whole journey, when you think about the needs of a human, we are built for connection. It’s tribal. You never wanted to get kicked out of the tribe because that meant you didn’t survive. We are wired to be together and all of a sudden, we were in a situation where we were afraid of each other to survive. It was inverted in many ways. If you looked at the numbers, it seems to me that when we were in the 2020 timeframe, as I reflect on my experience and the experiences of my friends, you’re in survival mode so you’re like, “What do we need to do?” You’re not processing it, but then the processing comes later. Is that an accurate statement?

Yes, and it depends on where you live. Everybody experienced the pandemic differently. If you think about living in Washington state or California versus Texas, or Florida, how do you experience the pandemic? You have to acknowledge that everybody is different. What I would say is this mindset. The reason I started measuring joy is there were people out there who were ready to go, “As soon as the doors open, I want to get back to my normal activity.” That was a pretty small percentage. Only about 20% of Americans were like, “I’m going to go back to things as usual.” At the peak in July, over half of Americans were very scared.

When you lose that social connection, like you were saying, we are as humans designed as social creatures, when you are deprived of that social connectivity. Think about how 21 days create a new behavior, what happens after 1 or 2 years? This social connectivity that is human nature to us, we’re still unwinding it now. If you think about going to a restaurant, even in Texas, even as recently as I was at a restaurant for breakfast and I hear people saying, it’s crazy, “It’s good to see you in person.” Here we are four years later and in Texas people are saying, “It’s good to see you in person,” hugs and all of that.

Think about your own behaviors. Are you going back out with friends and dining out, movies, or social connections going out to lunch? Probably not as frequently as you were before the pandemic. It’s a tragedy. We have to make time to reignite those connections because we’ve gotten comfortable sitting at home in our pajamas or going back to work and the grind of work. We’ve got to reignite those connections.

That was going to be my question. I know I’ve had conversations with people because of the isolation, because we were apart for so long that I’ve talked to some people that say, “I don’t have the social skills that I used to. I get more tired. I get exhausted.” Granted, some of this will be different if you’re introverted or extroverted and how you operate, but did you see some of that in the numbers where people atrophied their ability to be social?

The one thing that’s fun about this data is four years later I have 70,000 consumer surveys that I’ve done, which is a lot. There are many things that I’ve explored in this data, but there are two points that come to mind on that question. One is about 40% or so say they’re completely reassessing their lives as a result of the pandemic. What that means is, “What’s important to you? How do you spend your time? Who do I spend my time with?” With this reflection and pause, we’re still unwinding now. The other sad part, a separate question but a similar outcome, is almost 40% say they’re terrified to go out in public, not because of the pandemic.

They’re fearful to go out in public, not because of the virus, but because of rising violence. When you think of this thesis when joy is greater than fear, economic recovery can happen. From a business perspective, fear of changes, fear of inflation, fear of violence. There are many things to be fearful of. If you live your life through fear, you become isolated even further. I always say, “Find little moments of joy,” whether it’s going on a picnic, going to a movie, or hanging out with friends. Make time for those little moments of joy. That fear still may be there, but if we prioritize joy in our lives, then I think that’s a good thing. It will help not only our personal selves, it is good for our human selves and the economy together.

Find ways to find little moments of joy. Share on X

Your message is important. We always hear that “What we focus on grows.” If we focus on what’s wrong and what could happen or that fear dialogue, it gets bigger. To your point, if we insert moments of joy and look for ways to find that, then that can expand, suddenly the world will be a friendlier place to all of us. We get the challenge between news media and all the ways that our nervous systems are bombarded with fearful messages, we have to combat that. We have to combat that with a more hopeful attitude. How do we do more of that other than what you said? Is there another way to cultivate it?

My mom would be proud. She passed away in 2021. When I was growing up, you asked about that origin story. My mom and dad were one of those people that everybody was their friend. You go to the grocery store or wherever. They were very engaging and talked to people. In my DNA, you’ll find this funny. I’ll tell you a story about what happened recently. I was at Trader Joe’s and I always say to people, regardless of where you shop, don’t go to the self-checkout, engage with somebody. Go through the checkout. Smile at the person at the checkout and ask them how they’re doing.

They want to be seen. They don’t want to be in this robotic mode. Imagine if we as customers could help employees feel. I was at Trader Joe’s and I was talking to this gentleman. My cart was rather full and he said, “Did you find everything.” He looked at my cart and was like, “I guess you did find everything,” because I had a pretty full cart because I had people coming in from out of town. We started talking. I learned a lot about him and how he loved Trader Joe’s. This young woman came and helped sack the groceries. We had a very nice conversation.

Interestingly, this young woman who is probably in her twenties worked at a funeral home and needed something different. Trader Joe’s was perfect for her. These are conversations I have with Lyft drivers, DoorDash drivers, and everybody. This gentleman goes, “We’re allowed to comp something. Nobody has to ask or give us permission. We’re allowed to do that.” I paid my thing and I heard little bits of this. I finished paying. He walked over to the flowers and said, “You made my day.” He gave me flowers.

If anybody wants to see that, it’s on my LinkedIn. It’s these moments that are human. Every day, if I’m traveling, I talk to the Lyft drivers and they are grateful for people appreciating them. It’s this human kindness that takes zero effort, it costs nothing to engage with a human on a very genuine level to see how they’re doing. I can’t even imagine if 1% of Americans did that, what a difference it could make.

The Coca-Cola Compassion Lab | Lisa Miller | The Business Of Joy

The Business Of Joy: It costs nothing to engage genuinely with a human.


I appreciate what you’re saying. I have had many great conversations with Lyft drivers and I learned something. You’re right, it’s that little piece of human connection. There’s so much power here because I think often people are like, “I want to change the world. I want things to be this way or that way.” Change your day. Change the people that you interact with, it’s amazing. There’s a contrast to this. I shouldn’t even tell this story publicly, but it was a long time ago and I have since revised my ways. One day I was having that hectic, crazy busy day. It was too much. I ran through Starbucks and I’m on the phone. Do you know how they write your name on the cup? My cup said Cell Phone, that was my name. It was like a walk of shame. I’m like, “I’m selfish.”

That’s a great story because it is such a good contrast. I try to live my day through a filter of joy, but it’s not always a bed of roses. We’re going to have those moments. It’s a good contrast. Another fun story is to try to, on DoorDash or any of those Uber Eats, check the box where you say hello to them, That blows their mind. We’re becoming robotic and transactional. From a work environment or a human standpoint, if we become transactional and robotic, it’s going to be tragic. We have to change the trajectory because that’s where things are going.

As we do that for others, it lifts us up. I want to talk a little bit about the mental health dynamic and how COVID has shaped what you’re seeing in the numbers, even in the workplace, because there was a mental health crisis before COVID hit. It was not like everyone was cruising around happy-go-lucky here. It brought it to the forefront when we went through these collective traumas because it wasn’t just the pandemic. There was racial unrest, economic, and many layers. I always talk about it like a Jenga Tower, just another thing on top.

People are on a thin line. One of the reasons we started the Compassion Lab was to more openly and overtly address how people were feeling mentally and how they were building resilience because this is all real. What have you seen through the numbers? We heard about The Great Resignation. People have gone through a lot of dark nights of the soul. What have you seen change in the workplace and in general?

The Coca-Cola Compassion Lab | Lisa Miller | The Business Of Joy

The Business Of Joy: If we become transactional and robotic, it will be tragic in the work environment.


The Mythical Leisure Time

We could do a whole episode just on that one topic. There’s so much going on. Let me hit a couple of highlights. A couple of things, as we know, loneliness is a huge issue across the country, and it was exacerbated by the pandemic. There’s about 24% of Americans that report being lonely across all age groups. For Gen Z, it’s 40% report being lonely. It’s tragic.

For the generation that is highly connected, they’re very disconnected. If you think about the fact that May 2024 is the first high school class that is graduating that started high school in the middle of the pandemic. 2020 was their freshman year, same for college. The way they experienced all these very informative years of making friends and the social awkwardness, we all remember what it was like to be a teenager in high school, but many of those normal growth opportunities were taken away because people sat at home.

Depending on where you lived, it was very different. You mentioned at the beginning of our discussion Generation Z’s social skills. They don’t know what they don’t know relative to social connection. That’s a huge problem. What’s happening in the workforce is going to have to bridge some of these gaps for Gen Z. With mental health programs, with employee wellbeing programs, and it’s not just a bonus to have those, it’s going to be an ante to help the generation succeed in the workplace. I have a whole other project coming called Youth in America. In my mythical leisure time, I’m working on that.

Let me know if you need help with that. I would love to help in any way only because what you’re saying is personal to me. My twins are graduating high school this year and began an all-boys school during the pandemic of which year one was about bonding with your class and that did not happen. I have seen the impact on their high school experience from that. It’s a combination of that plus technology and all the time that they spend online and on the phone, that takes away from learning those interactions. I see it.

I’ve been talking to employers and if you think about people coming out of college or even coming out of MBA programs, simple things like eye contact and the ability to chit chat. When you think about you meet new people, it’s this idea of how you do small talk. Nowadays, you’re not learning small talk because you’re texting. It’s a whole different world. One of the biggest implications from a work standpoint, and I’ve talked to a lot of young people over the last four years and then a lot of employers, is this whole notion that if I was an introvert then, the pandemic was a godsend. It was awesome.

The underlying current though is it wasn’t awesome. Let me tell you why from a work standpoint. I know some people might not like this, but I’m going to say it anyway. When you’re in the workplace, if you’re an introvert, you learn by watching others, in meetings, even hallway conversations, and being present, even if you are introverted and maybe less likely, you are still observing, learning, and growing. If you’re sitting behind a desk on a Zoom call and you’re not having that opportunity to learn, even though you’re not maybe participating, how do you make that up? You can’t.

I always tell people that if you want more responsibility from a promotion and growth standpoint, sometimes you need more visibility. It’s not on a screen. It’s being there because I don’t think people understand how much you learn and grow,” not just put the business stuff aside, the team interactions and all that. Individually we learn and grow from being around people. You could watch people of things you don’t like. If you have a leader that you don’t like a particular way they do that, then great, you’ve learned. If you’re sitting behind a computer and not interacting, then those skills are lost.

If you want more responsibility from a promotion and growth standpoint, sometimes you need more visibility, and it's not on a screen. It's being there. Share on X

My mind is going in a million places as you’re talking because it’s like we’ve lost our ability to relate to each other in a way that we can properly evolve and grow individually and together. Whether it’s how we treat each other during the day or our ability to speak what we need, speak our truth, and speak our values. It’s a whole new muscle we have to build again.

The Muscle Memory Of Joy

That’s where I’ve talked about the idea of whether there is muscle memory for joy. I’ll talk to brands and I’ll say consumers have forgotten about brands. People will say, “When are my customers coming back?” I go, “They’re never coming back.” I get an eyebrow like, “What? They’re never coming back.” I’m like, “No, they’ve moved forward.” You have to remind them, particularly, of dine-in restaurants, people have to remember why is it good and what is the experience. The value equation now is upside down, but for brands that figure it out of that comradery, that breaking bread at a table, not sitting in front of a TV, or being on your phone, the community and the soul come from when you are around other people. Dining rooms across America at home and in restaurants are where those interactions happen.

We have to look at what happened to create the world we want to be in, but like we’re relearning how to be social, we’re also relearning what’s important to us. During the pandemic, there was a lot of contemplation. There was a lot of stillness, the ability to revisit your life and what you want, which is what drove things like The Great Resignation. I think you even have some feelings about what that was all about.

I’d love to meet those people who came up with language like Quiet Quitting and Great Resignation, but the data that I showed wasn’t that people were leaving resignation. It was reassessing. I would call it more The Great Reassessment of what’s important to people’s lives and how you want to spend the time. Keep in mind, across the board, there are people whose hair was on fire during the pandemic. If you were a restaurant worker, once the doors reopened, if you’re a healthcare worker, there were a lot of people whose hair was on fire and they were exhausted during the pandemic.

There were companies that had to completely reinvent how to survive because they had to keep the lights on. There was all of this turmoil about to get things done. The positive out of that is innovation happened at record speed. Things that never thought people were going to be able to get done, got done in very short order. That made people reassess, “How much work is infringing too much on my personal time?” All of these things made us say, “How do I have a more fulfilled life?” The unintended consequence is that means people are sitting at home watching Netflix. I’m nothing against Netflix. I have my subscription, but we need to get out more.

The other part of it is I get a lot of questions about what’s going on with hybrid working and whether it is here to stay. One of the things I wanted to bring up from the data perspective is even the idea of retention. The word retention has been an HR training word for decades. It’s how you measure your turnover. If you look up the word retention or retain, it is to constrain or hold somebody back. You put a retaining wall around something. You retain it. You hold it back. It’s such a wrong word for today’s day and age about holding somebody back.

If you look at the opposite of retention, it’s freedom. If you think about freedom, how do we provide opportunities for growth for employees and let them achieve their goals? I wish I could have some copywriter help me come up with some new snappy words for retention. We can’t contain people like a retaining wall. It’s not the right word. Even the old tools and the old questions don’t apply anymore.

Provide opportunities for growth for employees and let them achieve their goals. Share on X

I can say that as I’ve looked at the conversations within Coca-Cola over the last few years, all of our developmental programs have been, “We want you to grow and learn and develop no matter what you do, whether you stay here and build your career or move on.” There’s been an acceptance even though we have incredible tenure at our company, that people are going to move and grow. Let’s create an environment that is rich with opportunities. If you do that, they might decide to stay because it’s rich with opportunity.

I have seen that paradigm shift happen. I am curious, we’ve had a lot of debate internally about hybrid because we have been asking people to come back to the office. We don’t have offices in every city so it doesn’t apply to everybody, but we’ve had a real mixed bag. We’ve had people who have been all about it because they want to be together and other people who got used to the freedom that they could juggle their life and their kids, school pets, and everything else from home. What are the numbers telling you about this story?

It’s a mixed bag. There’s no single answer to that question. I think what you have to figure out for each individual company is what matters most for your employees and then how do you make that work relative to the business goals? The one other story I have to tell you along this line. Going back to this Youth in America Project. I always say, “What people say they want may not be what they need.” That sounds like Big Brother or something like that, but let me tell you an example. If you ask a young person going to college, a lot of students will say, “I would love to have 100% online.” You take it one step further and they love the idea of having a class where you could turn in all of your work the very last week.

That’s zero accountability. If I had that option, I probably could be one of those that, “I do very well under pressure. I might’ve waited maybe the last week until it was due.” At the end of the day, they say they want online and they want that flexibility to be able to get it all done the last week and turn it all in at the end, then you say, “How do you learn better?” They acknowledge they learn better in person, they learn better when they have weekly deadlines, not all at once.

You said this at the beginning. We have to be careful of how we ask questions because what people say they want may be different than what they need. If they need to have that social connectivity, if they need to be able to learn and grow, then maybe being in the office is the better way. They might say they want to be at home, but they need to grow. We have to be very careful of how to ask those questions.

The Coca-Cola Compassion Lab | Lisa Miller | The Business Of Joy

The Business Of Joy: We should be careful of how we ask questions because what people say they want may be different from what they need.


It’s very interesting because I feel that it’s easy to say we want the safer, easier route, which would be maybe that online and turn it in the last week, but when we grow is when we get a little uncomfortable and we have to keep putting ourselves in new environments. That’s when we grow.

Being uncomfortable, writing a book for myself, and doing a podcast. Had you asked me years ago before the pandemic, would I have done any of that? I would’ve laughed out loud. It has been awkward, humbling, messy and all those things, but I’m glad I did it. It’s scary to try new things.

It’s going to be messy, but you look back and be like, “Look what I did.” That’s the super cool part of pushing yourself into these new arenas, which is awesome.

One quick other point is I always have this idea that as managers and leaders, you have to give somebody the confidence to try, but then give them the tools to succeed, then they can fly and they might fly away to another company. They might fly and grow within your organization, but at the root of all of this growth is the confidence to try.

I think so much about the environments that we create within the company. We’ve talked a lot about having an environment of risk and safety where it’s like, “You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to have it all figured out. Let’s move forward with new ideas and innovation.” Sometimes it’s going to work and sometimes it’s not. How do we create those environments?

I am enjoying this conversation so much. I’ve taken you down all these rabbit trails. Before I move into the last part of our conversation, I want to go back to the book. I want to go back to some of the stories and I would encourage you to go out there to pick up Lisa’s book, The Business Of Joy, because it’s fascinating after having walked through this all of us together to see what happened. One of my questions is how did you measure joy when you were in this process?

There were two things. I had an idea that the pandemic recovery would look like an innovation curve. The innovation curve would be who is going to be the people that lead it, and then how is it going to be the mainstream? Who are the people that are going to stay behind like a bell curve? I came up with this question that was, “How anxious or excited are you to go back out to your normal activities?” That was one of the key measures that ended up being a leading indicator of restaurant and retail recovery. It was measuring that simple idea of an innovation curve. That was part one.

The other part of it was everybody was asking, “How likely are you going to go to a restaurant in the next 30 days?” In the middle of a global pandemic, how do you even answer that question because you don’t know what tomorrow is going to hold? I did ask those types of questions, but I added a very important one, “Out of 30 activities, what are the top three that bring you the most joy?” They were things like going to church, getting your hair done, going shopping, going to movies, going to concerts or restaurants. It was a wide list of items, all the things that were deemed non-essential.

My hypothesis was those activities that gave us joy would be the ones that we would return to first. A fun story, in the early days, back before the pandemic, it’s probably not surprising now, but getting your hair done for women was a very joyful thing. Everybody remembers back all of the DIY disasters of hair color.

We all look like barmaids. Our hair was down here.

No haircuts. No highlights. For those of you who might be a little older, maybe a little gray. On the other side, teenagers or young consumers were experimenting with purple, pink, and all this stuff. Getting your hair done was a very joyful thing that we all missed, then going to church was also another big one that was very joyful. Those two things were the attitude around being excited or anxious. I was asking which activities gave people the most joy.

There was a lot of pent-up demand. There’s so much in the book, but what were some of the most surprising things that you learned as you were going through this and watched how the numbers turned into what was happening in the market?

One insight was the retail recovery happened faster than restaurants because restaurants are a very joyful place. What happened was, in the restaurant world, it’s hard to remember, when you only had 10% or 25% capacity, how was the experience? It was foreign. You might come in. Everybody’s masked up. People had gloves on. People had plastic silverware or single-use, everything menus. It was not the same experience a lot of times when you came back into a restaurant, and then people were fearful.

If you go shopping at a mall, if you’re nervous, you step away. You move away from somebody. You’re in control and can move around in your own space wherever you go shopping. In a restaurant, it was different. The other part of it was from a branding perspective. Think of those emails or the TV commercials. It was like, “We’re here for you through these times.” Remember all those commercials that were crazy and those messages that were like, “We have all these safety protocols?” The emails come in. Do you remember we had a plexiglass?

These things that we did.

If you advertise that in an email, like saying in your email, “These are our safety protocols,” guess what happened, you reminded the people who were fearful like, “I shouldn’t even go out.” You reminded them of that. If you’re looking for joy, you’re like, “That doesn’t sound very fun. I don’t want to go there.” We completely miss the marketing messaging opportunities. We reinforce the fear, unfortunately. When the doors reopened, it’s no wonder people didn’t come because we were scaring people with everything. There are a lot of interesting things about what not to do. Hopefully, we’ll never have it again, but I always say, “Lead with joy and reassure with safety.”

Lead with joy. Reassure with safety. Share on X

You talk to many business leaders and it’s true. There are times when you bring up the pandemic, you’ve gotten this, people are like, “It’s over. It’s done. I don’t want to talk about it.” It’s like, “Let’s pretend it didn’t happen. Let’s move it to the back of my mind.” We do need to learn from our past because maybe it’s not a pandemic. Maybe it’s something else. Humanity over time has encountered various levels of crisis. I think it’s important that we do take the learning. What else would you say if you’re guiding leaders to move forward of how they need to take the valuable lessons from this time in our history?


Thank you for mentioning that because people sometimes will say, “Why do I want to read a book about the pandemic?” There are many lessons, and let me give you one of them. I mentioned it earlier where innovation happened at record speed. It was because we had to innovate. There was a sense of urgency. What happened today, I’ll ask many leaders and they’ll say, “We can’t do things as fast as we did during the pandemic. Why can’t we do it as fast as we did before?” It’s that sense of urgency. We don’t want to create that fear of survival mode.

What’s happening is let’s say there’s an innovation stage-gate model. Innovation is 5 or 10 steps, or whatever your company is. I’m making that up. What people are doing today is taking that same stage gate model and trying to make it faster. That is a recipe for burnout because it’s the same number of steps, but you’re asking it in a compressed time. What happened during the pandemic, all of those stage gate models went out the window. We just did it. We didn’t have to go through five million steps. It just happened.

That is one lesson learned that would help improve innovation and productivity. It would reduce probably burnout because people would be excited about it. How we survived the pandemic is a lesson that I encourage all leaders and all business people to think about. How we did it is what’s scalable. Sadly, we’re back to our old behaviors, which is unfortunate.

The Coca-Cola Compassion Lab | Lisa Miller | The Business Of Joy

The Business Of Joy: How we survived the pandemic is a lesson.


We sometimes do snap back into old habits. I hope that your book will generate some awareness of what you brought forth from your work and some lessons that we might need to remember moving forward. I do want to ask you this before, but I have a couple of fun ending questions for you. I want to make sure people know how to find you if they might want to book you as a speaker or get more information about your work. How can they find you?

If you want to find me on LinkedIn, it’s Lisa W. Miller, and then #JourneyBackToJoy, and that will take you to all the content, my website, and my LinkedIn page. I post pretty regularly all of this data. If people want to find out custom ways to work with me, reach out via my website.

I love the Journey Back to Joy. That makes me feel happy to hear that.

You can get the book, The Business Of Joy on Amazon.

Do you have time for a couple of fun for rapid fire at the end?

That’s very joyful. I’m happy for that.

The first one, you somewhat answered it in the beginning with rowing, but maybe there’ll be something else you want to add. What would surprise people about you?

The rowing is usually a good one, but being a competitive ice skater then the third is, I can still do the splits. It’s a good party trick.

That is crazy. When I was a kid, I used to want to be an Olympic ice skater. I grew up in Florida. I don’t even know how to ice skate. You need to teach me. You have this fascinating career of all these different things that you’ve done, but if you were doing something entirely different, what do you think it would be?

Without a doubt, I would be some type of teacher or professor working with kids. I try to volunteer and do a lot with that, but that’s an easy one. That’s totally what I would do.

It’s very tangential to what you’re teaching us. What makes you feel most alive or I should say, what brings you the most joy?

I’m very fortunate. I have an amazing husband, my kids, and all of that. Those things, out of the gate, are the things that bring me joy in my life, being able to spend time with family. It sounds a little sappy, but I love sharing the message of joy with anybody who will listen because I feel like it’s such a desperately needed message. Beyond the family and that, I genuinely wish everybody to live their lives through that filter of joy.

It’s not sappy at all. It’s exactly what we need to hear and what we need to do. Thank you for doing that. What was the last book that opened your mind and gave you some good a-has?

I love me some Brené Brown, Atlas Of The Heart. I love that book. The other incredible book I’ve listened to, I have the book and I’ve listened to it on audible, is Unreasonable Hospitality by Will Guidara. I had the unbelievable good fortune to meet him in person as a guest at the XM conference. I love that book. It’s a great book.

So many fun stories. We have been talking about that a lot at work and how we work with our customers. We talked a lot about joy and being alive. What brings you peace?

One thing that’s not surprising and hard for me is that I feel like I am that Energizer bunny. It’s hard for me to be still and do nothing and be peaceful and still, but I will say rowing is that place where I feel like I can pause. The reason is if you think about rowing, there’s this hypnotic trance of the sound of the oars hitting the water, and you’re in a boat with eight other people. When it’s quiet, peaceful and it’s working, it’s like meditating, and then having a beautiful sunrise happen. It’s hard work. It’s the hardest thing ever. It’s a very intense workout, but it clears your mind. That’s a place where my mind can slow down.

I can see it in my mind’s eye. I’m relaxed listening to you talk about it.

It is the sounds of the oar going in and out of the water. They all click at the same time and you go in at the same time. It is like a heartbeat. It’s truly like the sound of a heartbeat then you hear the bubbles running under the boat. It’s pretty cool.

That’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. The last question I think you’ve answered, but I’ll ask it anyway in case you have something else to add. Definition of a life well lived.

I live my life through that filter of joy, and I hope that is the life that I intend. Hopefully, we won’t get all teary about this, but my husband’s aunt had passed away and the cousin asked if he could use my book during the eulogy, which I was like, “What?” The reason I say this is the way he talked about it is his mom was 90 years old. 90 years times 365 days was 32,850 days of joy that his mom brought to this world. That’s what I would be.

I can’t think of a more perfect way to end this conversation. I want to say thank you. It has been such an honor to speak with you, to read the book, and to see the work that you’re doing because we need to know about joy and hope. As each one of us adopts that mindset, it becomes contagious. More of us see what’s possible and we start creating what’s possible. Before you know it, we’re living in a very different world.

Joy is the most shareable moment there is.

It truly is. Thank you so much for being with me. I’m very grateful.

Thank you so much for the opportunity. I appreciate it.


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About Lisa Miller

The Coca-Cola Compassion Lab | Lisa Miller | The Business Of JoyLisa has spent the last three decades translating consumer data into actionable insights that unlock growth. Before starting her marketing, strategy, and innovation practice in 2008, she held leadership roles as Vice President of Innovation at Brinker International and Vice President of Insights at Frito Lay/PepsiCo.

Lisa’s Journey Back to Joy groundbreaking research from over 70,000 consumer interviews became a leading indicator of the economic recovery during the pandemic and continues to do so today. Lisa has been featured nationally in over 200 media interviews including NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and Nation’s Restaurant News.

Lisa launched her first book, The Business of Joy: Untold Lessons From the Pandemic – What’s Next and How to Prepare, which launched Amazon’s top new seller in Consumer Behavior and in Hospitality. As a follow-on to her book success, Lisa recently launched a new podcast: Bring More Joy To The Table.


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