#303 peep, peep

I wonder how many people will wake up today to find some PEEPS products in their Easter baskets.  It must be an awful lot, because according to their website, on average “5.5 million PEEPS are born each day!”  

The famous yellow chicks have been around for 60 years and are now joined by countless other colors, shapes and holidays.  What is most remarkable is that they have taken on a life beyond being eaten as candy.  There is an annual eating contest (Peep Off), numerous contests, world record competitions and even official art exhibits that feature Peep displays.  The website features recipes (PEEPS kabobs anyone?), a “PEEPSonality” quiz, and more products and social media feeds than you can shake a chick at.  

Reputable organizations such as the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune host PEEPS contests: where old, hard, stale marshmallows are crafted into a dioramas that draw thousands of on-lookers.  

There are also unauthorized recipes on how to infuse them with vodka, ways to make them at home and scientific experiments to test their alleged indestructibility.  How did this unremarkable treat from Pennsylvania become such a phenomenon?  

It seems to me that they have done a good job of combining an element of tradition with finding ways to create an experience with the concoctions.  The contests, Flickr sites, displays and judging all engage people with the product in a tangible way.  The PEEPS are no longer a generic, interchangeable candy, but a “must-have”: both to make the Easter basket complete and to provide materials for future social events.

What lessons can you take from the Just Born candy company?  How can you take your product/service and capitalize on social media to involve others with new uses of what you offer?  Can you look the other way and embrace the quirky, irreverent ways that people play with what you produce?  Can you do things to actually encourage it?

This Easter, think about the size of the market that can support the making of 5.5 million marshmallow globs each day.  They are doing something right — think of what you can do, and then “hop to it”.  

Happy Easter!

— beth triplett
leadershipdots.blogspot.com
@leadershipdots
leadershipdots@gmail.com




#302 playlists of life

I am like my iPod — comprised of a wide variety of playlists:

> Mostly I like soundtracks — where, like my work, the music serves a purpose and has a sense of intentionality

> I have a fair bit of country — where the music tells stories about life — as I do everyday in my job

> I have some instrumentals — to allow for those moments of reflection that are so important to me

> The rest is soft rock — not flashy, but achieves its purpose in a pleasurable way

> With only one or two hard rock songs — for when those one or two crazy moments hit me.

What do your playlists say about you?  Are there new tunes you should add to your repertoire of skills?  Can you take your existing library and group the individual elements in new ways?  Are you comfortable with “shuffling” or do you follow the same order every time?  

Experimenting with your playlists can be one small way to help you become comfortable with bigger changes (see #292).  Literally or even metaphorically, download a new piece of music into your routine today and see who it helps you become.

— beth triplett
leadershipdots.blogspot.com
@leadershipdots
leadershipdots@gmail.com


#301 unusual suspects

We often constitute committee membership through a historical process: positions are on a committee because they always have been.  Oftentimes these are directors and senior leaders, without any representation from new or mid-level staff.  Instead, I advocate for using committee participation as both a training tool and a form of staff development.  

To accomplish this, you should fill your committee spots with intentionality, not by rote.  I try to achieve a mix of those who mostly “give” and some of those who primarily “get”.  By this I mean that I blend a composition of members with experience who can add to the topic, and those with a fresh perspective who mostly learn from their involvement.

I also try to intentionally add competing voices — as Lincoln did with the “team of rivals” that Doris Kearns Goodwin chronicled in her book of the same name.  For the group who determines how our university allocates financial aid, I have the director and new staff member in the financial aid office (who advocate for funds to go towards need); a senior  level and a new admissions staff member (who want all the awards to go toward merit); the athletics director and a coach (you can guess where they want any largess) and the controller (who would prefer that we didn’t offer aid at all).  The inevitable disagreement often prolongs our decision process, but I also believe it ultimately results in a better outcome.  

Regardless of how we allocate funds, no one will ever think it is enough, but at least those on the committee can understand how the distribution came to pass.  Then peers can assure peers that there was a method to the madness and that their voice was at least heard.  It helps newer staff members truly understand the complexity of issues and gives them great experience to have a seat at the policy table.

The next time you gather a group together, think about who you are inviting.  If it is only the “usual suspects”, I encourage you to broaden your membership to allow your work to accomplish dual purposes.

— beth triplett
leadershipdots.blogspot.com
@leadershipdots
leadershipdots@gmail.com




#300 nice

Do you know of a person or department that works feverishly — they are always busy doing something — yet they do not have productive results to show for it.  Perhaps what is missing is an element of strategy.  They are doing things right, but are they doing the right things?

I am reminded of a saying from one of my dearest colleagues.  Michael used to preach to us:  “Nice is nice, if what you need is nice.”  If what you need is change, action, accountability, results or something else, then “nice” may not be the best option for you.

Without strategic direction, committees meet, without real purpose or accomplishment. Academic departments work hard at doing things that do not directly influence recruitment.  Admissions counselors spend time on those not likely to enroll. Meetings happen, because people don’t want to decline requests, even though their time may be much better spent elsewhere.

Think about what you need before you allocate your next hour.  If nice is your goal, then there are many ways to achieve it.  If you have a more specific outcome in mind, you may need to opt for a more pointed strategy to get you there.

— beth triplett
leadershipdots.blogspot.com
@leadershipdots
leadershipdots@gmail.com

Missing you Michael Miller!

#299 details

I am one of those people who is hard-wired to pay attention to details. Most of my training, and certainly the leanings of my temperament, has me thinking of the logistics, planning and specifics of projects or events.

But I also like to think that I know when enough is enough. It is hard for me to encounter people who spend a seemingly inordinate amount of time on trivial details that are inconsequential to the outcome. They banter about and fret about options that do not impact the goal, and then become stressed about all the decisions that have to be made.

When you find yourself contemplating yet another layer of decisions, ask yourself if it is truly warranted. Does what you are dealing with matter to the essence of what you are trying to achieve?

Focusing on the obscure, minute or non-essential details of a project is like cooking a gourmet dinner and worrying if the spice rack is alphabetized. Don’t lose sight of the main course.

— beth triplett
leadershipdots.blogspot.com
@leadershipdots
leadershipdots@gmail.com


#298 whip it

Have you ever seen a line of figure skaters perform what is known as the “whip line”?  The women’s arms are linked together as they form a straight line and then try to rotate the line around the skater at one end who acts as a pivot, with the line “whipping” around her.  It is synchronized skating, where everyone on the team depends on everyone else for safety and performance.

The skater acting as the pivot rotates almost in the same location as the other skaters whip around her in an ever growing radius.  The skater on the end is the one who is whipped the most, as she must skate the fastest and furthest to create the effect.  One slip for her is the most dangerous, as she easily could get run over (and sliced) by the blades of other skaters continuing in the rotation.

Creating change in an organization is a lot like creating a whip line.  Those in the center of the change, the ones who start it, oftentimes have the least impact.  They rotate, but are not affected by the tumultuous conditions on the outside.  The further you go down the line, the more impact the skaters feel — as is often the case with those in organizations.  That great policy that the top leaders suggested — it is the one at the end of the line that feels the greatest implications when implementing it.  Those in the center don’t always feel the speed and magnitude of the change like those on the ends do.

When initiating a change in your organization, you may do well to keep the image of the whip line in mind.  Think of the impact of the last one in the row, rather than just feeling the small impact in your own position.

— beth triplett
leadershipdots.blogspot.com
@leadershipdots
leadershipdots@gmail.com

Thanks to Dan Larson for the idea.


#297 that tree

Photographer Mark Hirsch had previously taken a few photos of a large, intricate tree and posted them on Facebook.  A friend wrote, “Dude.  What is it with you and that tree?” and challenged Hirsch to take a photo a day of it for the next year.  Thus the “That Tree” project was born.  Saturday was Day #365.

Over the weekend, I was one of about 300 people who slogged through the mud and snow to stand in the cold for a hour in middle of a cornfield in rural Wisconsin.  The occasion was the final photograph and the public was invited to join in.  It looked like the last scene in the Field of Dreams movie with cars lined along the road as far as you could see.

One of the things that struck me most about this project is that Hirsch took all the photos, including the one on Saturday, with nothing but his iPhone 4S.  Many of the people at the final shot had the same phone, but they didn’t have Mark’s eye — or his stick-to-it-iveness.

For many, a similar project could engender many excuses.  “I don’t have the right equipment.”  “I can’t do something every single day.”  “It’s raining.”  “It’s snowing.”  “The fields are full of mud.”  (trust me, they are!)  There are as many excuses as there are days.

But he stuck with it, and soon will have a book that chronicles his project.  He has also been featured on NBC News, The Sierra Club and the (UK) Daily Mail.  Not bad for a Facebook dare!

It is another example of how little things add up to something significant.  When he took the first photo, he had nothing more in mind.  Now, he not only has a book, but a sense of accomplishment for having completed what he set out to do — without excuses.

How can you start something big today — just by doing something little?

— beth triplett
leadershipdots.blogspot.com
@leadershipdots
leadershipdots@gmail.com



Article with quote in Telegraph Herald 3-14-13 by Megan Gloss
See photos at http://www.thattree.net