leadership dot #2084: sidewalk

If my puppy was wearing a Fitbit, hers would have 20,000 steps to my 10K. As I walked down the sidewalk, she walked across it, up in the yards, out on the curb and back again. Continuously.

We both arrived at our final destination at the same time, but her route had much more stimulation and engagement. There are many more sensory treats to explore on the sidelines vs. the sidewalks, and she took full advantage of the opportunities.

I think about the parallels for the workplace. Often senior members stay on the sidewalks and follow the traditional path. Unfortunately, they expect junior colleagues to do the same. Newer employees are like puppies that want to have the freedom to get to the finish line in their own way. They want autonomy and latitude to reach the same goal.

It is impossible to make a puppy stay on the straight and narrow course, just as it is fruitless to mandate that all employees follow narrowly-defined parameters. Let up on the leash and see what treasures your “puppies” can find for your organization.

Also see leadership dot #293: reflections from 1999 for a related concept

leadership dot #2083: blazing

I needed to walk a few blocks after a snowstorm and was grateful that someone had gone before me to create a path…

…until I started walking. It turns out that it is more difficult to walk in someone’s footsteps than it is to traverse on fresh powder. The previous impressions are uneven and spaced at different intervals than my gait, requiring greater effort to move forward compared to walking on the edges where the snow was untouched.

I think it is like that in organizations, too – it is easier to create a new path than to attempt to make progress by remaining in the ruts.

Keep this in mind when you are hesitant to go first. Blazing a trail sounds difficult, but it is actually the worn path that impedes progress.

leadership dot #2082: in conjunction

If you pay attention to the opening credits of movies, you will notice that they are longer than they used to be. Whereas one major studio used to bankroll an entire show, now you will see multiple production companies involved in presenting the film.

I first noticed this when I saw The Greatest Showman, brought to the theatre by three production companies. I thought this may be an anomaly given all the technical aspects of filming a musical, but it is not out of the norm. The Post, a basic drama, required six production companies. Shape of Water and Three Billboards each had three while Jumanji was produced by four different entities.

I think about the competitive nature of the movie industry, yet somehow it has become routine for multiple companies to collaborate instead of compete. They have pooled both fiscal resources and human talents to make something that would not be possible without a joint venture. And it’s not just a few companies; for the five films mentioned above 17 different production firms are involved.

How can you take a lesson from this and find ways to partner with those inside your industry? Your collaboration could become a showstopper for all of you.

The Post: Dreamworks Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Amblin Entertainment, Participant Media, Pascal Pictures, Star Thrower Entertainment

Shape of Water: Bull Productions, Double Dare You, Fox Searchlight Pictures

Three Billboards: Blueprint Pictures, Film 4, Fox Searchlight Pictures

Greatest Showman: Chernin Entertainment, TSG Entertainment, Twentieth Century Fox

Jumanji: Matt Tolmach Productions, Radar Pictures, Seven Bucks Productions, Sony Pictures Entertainment

leadership dot #2081: pancake

When watching the Olympics I wondered what prompted some of the athletes to get their start; what triggers someone to begin bobsledding or luge?

But those sports seem downright ordinary when I compare them to a novelty demonstration that I saw at a recent conference. Daniel Drake is the owner of Dancakes, a company that makes customized pancakes – for parties, celebrities and college programs. It sounds crazy, but he has millions of social media followers, has traveled around the world, been on The Today Show and now has multiple, full-time “pancake artists” spreading his brand around the globe.

How does one become a pancake artist? By doodling with batter in an effort to garner more tips while working at a diner. One thing led to another and now he makes custom pancakes based off a photograph on a phone – and does so in a matter of minutes. People can gather around and watch his art appear – either on the griddle or on the big screen TV screen behind him. The cakes resemble the photograph as much as a caricature drawing would – only they are edible.

Why limit yourself to ordinary jobs? Play around with your creativity and see where your talents lead you. Maybe it’s to the Olympics, or maybe you create your own category and become a pancake artist.

The world wants whatever skill you happen to possess.

leadership dot #2080: outside

If I asked you whether you could recycle instrument strings, contact lenses, Solo cups, pasta packets, energy bar wrappers, cigarette waste, Flonase dispensers, Brita filters or GoGo Squeeze packets my guess is that you would say no. But you can!

Thanks to programs coordinated by TerraCycle, these items and many more are able to stay out of the landfills. TerraCycle is “an innovative recycling company that has become a global leader in hard-to-recycle waste.” They have multiple opportunities for consumers to recycle branded products without cost to them, just by signing up.

Take two lessons from this company:

First, just because your municipality doesn’t recycle something doesn’t mean that it isn’t recyclable. If you frequently use products in one of TerraCycle’s programs, it would be of great benefit to participate in their recycling plan.

Secondly, think of the implications for your organization. There are boutiques and specialists in many industries, but I suspect few have chosen hard-to-recycle consumer products as their niche. How can you think differently about an area in which to focus your efforts? You need not compete with the “big guys” and go head-to-head in common markets.

Think outside the landfill at home and for your organization!

leadership dot #2079: re-recruiting

Organizations and companies invest significant resources in trying to recruit their customers and new employees. Some even invest time in trying to retain them, but those who do often dedicate minimal effort, certainly nothing to what they expend on the front end of the process.

But what if we looked at retention as re-recruiting.

My real estate broker from St. Louis continues to send me postcards quarterly, even though I have not lived there for ten years. He doesn’t rely on just retaining my relationship; he actively tries to re-recruit me several times a year.

How would you treat your employees if you sought to re-recruit them? Maybe you would do more paying attention to fit, aligning their skills, offering perks and benefits, talking about opportunities for advancement. Colleges who try to re-recruit their students continue to provide academic and co-curricular experiences that engage the students and prepare them for their future. Companies that wish to re-recruit customers continue to listen, provide new products in response to that feedback and offer samples or deals to entice people to say with them.

Retention can be passive whereas re-recruiting implies action and effort.

How will you approach the relationships you are in?


leadership dot #2078: risky

Many people who eat out at restaurants frequent the same place and order the same menu items. While this can be a comforting thing for the consumer, it likely means fewer return visits due to the monotony.

California Pizza Kitchen has adopted a novel way to inspire customers to try something different by offering a Menu Adventure Guarantee. “We encourage the spirit of adventure, especially when it comes to tasting new flavors,” their menu reads. “So try something new – if it doesn’t thrill you, we’ll replace it with your regular favorite.”

My dining companion was comforted enough by their offer to try the Citrus Adobo pizza for the first time. The waitress even came back to check whether he wished to exchange it (he did not).

The Menu Adventure Guarantee is a low-risk way to encourage others to take a risk that could pay off for you in the end. Think of how you can model this formula for your organization: offering a refund on a new service, allowing for a trial period, enclosing a sample of something new in a routine order, or making it easy for customers to have a do-over for the experience.

The biggest risk you are taking may the one that you aren’t acting upon.


leadership dot #2077: little

I had a client who was lamenting the fact that she never seemed to have time to work on strategy development or the big issues that her department faced. Where could she find the time to do so?

The notion of “found” time is a misnomer; there are only so many hours in a day. instead of finding ways to add strategic time to her schedule, I suggested that she focus instead on cutting out a few of the little things that were consuming her minutes. It is less overwhelming to stop doing a few things – through elimination, delegation, or efficiency – than it is to feel daunted by the task of finding a few solid blocks of time.

And basic math would tell you that if you stop doing little things there will, in fact, be more disposable time. The trick is to bundle those minutes into something meaningful instead of letting them be frittered away by other little tasks in their stead.

It may seem like a mind game, but managing some small things is always a good start to getting control of the bigger things – with time, weight, emails and just about any cumulative task.

A bunch of little things equals a big thing – but the little side of the equation is easier to impact.

leadership dot #2076: it’s your freedom

In an article about the future of ridesharing, a Lyft leader was asked about the impact of autonomous vehicles. She said that autonomous cars could not be everywhere and that companies like Lyft would still want clients to schedule their rides in advance. “If you’re going to use a car 4 percent of the time and it’s autonomous and could be used the other 96 percent of the time, that feels less likely that the model will be true personal ownership.”

Maybe decades from now when you can be guaranteed have a car come get you instantly, people won’t feel the need to possess a vehicle. But her comments reminded me of an old Mr. Goodwrench commercial slogan that has always stuck with me: “It’s not just a car, it’s your freedom.”

Sure, I could schedule times when I need a car, but I think of all the other times where I drove places unexpectedly. I “ran out” to pick something up when a need suddenly occurred. I went to another store spontaneously after I finished my first planned errand. I decided to go out for dinner instead of eating at home. There are countless times that I was glad I could just jump in my car and go.

Most people place a high value on freedom and autonomy. The more you require scheduling, the more you impose constrictions that eventually take their toll, not just with car-sharing, but with other limits and forced boundaries.

Try to give people as much latitude and choice as you can. It’s not just their ___ (task, menu, clothing, fill-in-the-blank), it’s their freedom.

Source: Insider Q&A: What’s next for ride-hailing? Interview with Tali Rapaport, Vice president of product at Lyft, interviewed by Tom Krisher, Telegraph Herald, February 4, 2018, p. 5D.

leadership dot #2075: subtraction

I came across an ice sculpting display and saw the parallels to how it connected to my class lesson on visioning. The artists saw something beyond what was initially there and worked to make it tangible.

There was a lot of trial and error involved as the artists worked to sand, grind and shape their vision into reality. They started with a small-scale model of their design then used it to transform an 8x8x6 block of ice into a sculpture, just as others take a seed of an idea and morph it into something grand.

One of the sculptures was carved by a group of college art students. In talking with their professor I discovered that the point of this assignment was to learn how to create via subtraction. Instead of usual artistic methods where the material is added to the piece, ice sculpting involves removing pieces of ice to shape the blocks into a design. It occurred to me that removal of what exists is often overlooked as a strategy for visioning, but may be a more powerful alternative in some cases.

Think of the kind of artist you need to be when developing your vision. Maybe you can take a lesson from the ice sculptors and focus on subtraction to find a gem hiding within.