leadership dot #3355: craft fair

Those who worry about the future of brick and mortar stores need only to go to a craft fair to have their fears somewhat allayed. While certainly everything available at a fair is also available online, fairs continue to draw crowds. More importantly, fairs continue to produce sales as people buy things that they did not know existed until they saw them in a booth.

Shopping in person helps people narrow down the vast choices available online and makes it possible to see and inspect things before they buy. I know I am skeptical about internet purchases from unknown vendors and am far more comfortable buying something unique if I can it touch beforehand. Craft fairs also have the added advantage of being face-to-face with the seller (who is often the creator) where you can ask questions or learn the backstory about the items.

While $10 billion of goods were sold through Etsy, don’t discount the value of low-tech delivery methods that may be appropriate for your organization. Sometimes the personal touch — and literal touch — are the best ways to interface with your clientele.

leadership dot #3353: afterglow

I worked at the Field of Dreams last week, and, as you can tell from this week’s dots, the event is still very top of mind. I have spent the week relaying stories, reading articles, looking at pictures, and generally remaining giddy about my participation in this little moment of history.

It has been easy to do so since the news and social media feed are full of game coverage and personal accounts. Talking about it with friends and people who learn that I was there has allowed me to relive the event and helped me feel that the game really was something special. It has created an afterglow that replicates the joy from the evening and magnifies its impact on me.

I don’t think organizations do enough to intentionally cultivate post-event buzz. While the use of a specific hashtag might be promoted, posting usually occurs during the event instead of after it. As part of your planning, consider what you can do to help those involved remember some of the emotions and key moments once they are back home or in their office. Wouldn’t it be nice on the day after (or ride home) to find a message thanking you for coming and sharing some exclusive content or pictures? Conferences could send emails with a special recording or an extra tip from the special guest. You could have participants write a reminder to themselves and mail it later, incentivize people to post their takeaways, or provide a framework to encourage sharing of key content with others. Many events have a professional photographer and you could make some of those pictures available to others.

It’s one thing to host a great event and have participants leave happy but the real magic occurs when they are still happy days or weeks after returning home. Consider the end of your event to be a period after it technically concludes and work as hard on promoting it afterward as you do on promoting it beforehand.

THIS is the ONLY entrance to the MLB field and the only entrance sign! Just like the ballplayers in the movie, everyone walked through the corn to get to the field!

leadership dot #3352: context-setting

The Major League Baseball game at the Field of Dreams revolved around the movie. It was much more than playing at the Field location. There were cutouts of players placed in the corn to appear as if they were walking out of the field. Hidden speakers played the iconic lines that were spoken to Ray in the film. Players wore throwback uniforms and similar players performed as “ghost players” on the original field. The fans and the players all entered the stadium by walking through rows of corn. Signs such as “go the distance” were placed throughout the corn maze. Everyone was quoting: “Is this heaven? No, it’s Iowa.”

The references to the movie were omnipresent. So, the most astonishing thing I heard about the entire production was that several of the Yankee players had never seen the movie. Ever. I can understand why a 1989 movie might not have been on their watch list initially, but to fly from New York to play on the Field of Dreams and not yet watch it — well, that I cannot understand. To me, this is a failure of leadership.

A big part of your role as a leader is to set the context and prepare your team to be successful. This involves more than teaching mechanics and includes helping your members understand norms, protocols, and culture. If I had been part of Yankees leadership, that movie would have played on the plane ride from New York. I believe it would have provided a much richer experience for the players when they understood the references, the sentiments conveyed in the movie and the reason for all the nostalgia.

As a leader, I have played such roles by preparing delegations to attend a conference, helping staff members understand the expected behavior in a board meeting, or teaching new employees the traditions behind signature events. All these context-setting conversations served to help the team members get the most out of their experiences and to avoid unnecessary blunders.

The next time your team is in a big game — whether that takes place on a field or in a meeting room — ensure that they are coached on the environment in addition to the playbook. A deeper understanding leads to a richer appreciation of the moment.

Cutout of a player walking out of the corn

leadership dot #3351: home run

I can’t even begin to conceive the logistical challenges that faced the organizers of the MLB game at the Field of Dreams. While it may have looked like a regular stadium on television, this was a professional-grade, temporary structure built literally in the middle of a cornfield in a town of 4000, over 30 miles from the nearest “big city” of 50,000. There was no electricity, let alone the power necessary for massive outdoor lighting, a press box, Jumbotron, and concessions. There was no water. No restrooms. Heck, there wasn’t even a road to the field beyond a rickety one-lane bridge across the creek.

Yet, last week, 8000 fans watched two major league teams play there on a night that made you forget all of that. And I was lucky enough to be there as one of the workers.

I have been involved in many major events in my career but this one triumphs as the most well-run. They thought of almost every detail: a med-vac helicopter on the grounds in case of a medical emergency, an entire severe weather shelter constructed to protect the crowds if necessary, rows of dump trucks full of wood chips making aisles in the parking lots (aka plowed-under fields) after heavy rain the night before.

Through it all, two people remained at a command base to handle radio requests from staff and deploy the resources necessary to meet the demands that arose. There was no chaos or running around, rather they had people on standby to address whatever came up. The event ran like it was a recurring production in an established facility.

There are lessons every organization can learn from the game in the corn. 1) pre-planning is golden. They pulled off an MLB game in a field with nary a hitch. The more you can visualize the event, anticipate the needs and address them in advance, the more smoothly the day will run. 2) Having a central person that handles questions, delegates, and triages also contributes to event success. A calm leader can transfer that confidence to the entire staff and tend to the issues without adding any additional drama. 3) Ambiance changes everything. It’s worth investing to create a unique environment and it’s possible to accomplish just about anywhere.

The mantra of the Field of Dreams movie applied to MLB: “If you build it, they will come” but the real trick is building it in such a way that they want to come again. Follow these three lessons to make your next event a home run.

leadership dot #3350: solved

I started my car and was greeted by a warning indicator: “Emission system problem.” That is never good. The service advisor checked the warning codes and asked me if I had been anywhere particularly dusty lately. (Yes!) He then put my car through their carwash and viola — the problem was fixed!

Oftentimes, simple solutions are the most effective. How many times have you rebooted your phone or computer and it has corrected the problem? A nap or few hours of sleep can be restorative to your mood and your health. Walking can provide as beneficial exercise as a fancy gym.

The next time something isn’t going right for you, attempt to first address it in the least complicated way possible. The easiest answer is often the best solution.

leadership dot #3349: memaw

Two out of every five grandparents have had a grandchild born during the pandemic! I was shocked at that statistic, and even more surprised that I learned it on a Motel 6 radio ad. In a brilliant positioning move, the chain is targeting the “memaws” who are dying to hold the little loves they have only seen on Zoom. Over 4 million babies were born in the U.S. during COVID, creating an opportunity for all kinds of introductions as pandemic restrictions are relaxed.

No matter what business you are in, consider whether there is a way for you to leverage the pent-up desire for parents and grandparents to show off their babies. Online galleries for alumni grandparents or parents to post photos with their newest child? Introduction parties with your staff to meet the newest members of your team’s families? A post-COVID baby shower to provide toddler resources instead of the baby gifts the new parents missed out on?

As you craft plans for reconnecting your team, remember the losses but also the births that have occurred since you last gathered in person.

leadership dot #3348: fun-draiser

Taped to the community mailbox were flyers advertising a kickball tournament to benefit cancer. These were obviously handmade and promoted the “Fun-draiser” to Kick Cancer.

I was impressed with the overall initiative and the detail that went into their planning. Flyers were up weeks ahead. It listed details such as when to be there and reminded people to bring chairs. Work went into writing out all the information and drawing the pink ribbons.

It reminded me that good deeds don’t need to be lofty. Some neighborhood kids had the idea, got out a pencil and highlighter, and created a fundraiser. How can you use your resources to do something good today?

leadership dot #3347: wrinkle

When I order clothes online I expect them to come with some creases that set in during shipping but my latest package exceeded my expectations — and not in a good way. The blouse was so crammed into a tiny envelope that it looks like I slept in it.

Does the manufacturer know their product arrives in such condition? Does the seller know that their efforts to reduce packaging result in such an outcome? Do they care?

Laundering the blouse hopefully will rectify the problem but it highlights once again that you are responsible for your service or product through the whole experience, even if you don’t control all the pieces. If the mail is late or the blouse comes smushed, it reflects on you. Be your own stealth consumer and see if you are happy with the end result. Don’t let a wrinkle in your delivery chain crumple your customer’s satisfaction.

leadership dot #3346: hype

When you are involved in planning or executing a major event, it is natural to evaluate the program at its conclusion. Undoubtedly, there are Lessons Learned meetings that make note of all the logistical elements to keep or improve. But one component that is often overlooked is whether the anticipation lived up to its hype.

When we are engaged in something big, there is a natural sense of expectation as the launch draws near. Simply asking the question of whether the reality aligned with the vision we had in our mind can provide valuable information to shape future planning. Did we cause people to expect more than they received, or could we have created additional buzz by sharing more of what was planned?

I reflect on this question not only with events but when engaging in anything new. Did the campus visit appear as I expected from the promotional materials? Does the new job align with the position announcement and interview? Does the restaurant match the reviews?

If you think not only about “what is” but also consider “what is expected” you may glean nuanced insights to help you exceed the anticipation in the future.

Thanks, Curt!

leadership dot #3345: grazing field

If you’ve ever been to a petting zoo, you know the goats jump all over you, either to eat the food you purchased or to nibble on whatever else you may have with you. Mostly, they are obnoxious. But when I was on the goat trek where the animals were free to roam in the woods, they acted more like docile dogs. If I could have taken one home as a pet, I would have welcomed it.

My experience reminded me of the quote from Zen Master ShunryĆ« Suzuki: “The best way to control cow and sheep is to give them a big grazing field.”

It works for people as well. If you feel constrained, whether from too little time or autonomy, too little money, or any other factor, things begin to close in on you, and the constraint becomes an additional negative factor to contend with. You feel the original pressure and now the weight of being under the gun. Under stress, you often (metaphorically) jump all over people.

We do our best work when we have the equivalent of a “big grazing field.” Intentionally try to create one for yourself and your staff. Allow ample time to complete projects. Build in buffers. Be conservative in setting deadlines and delivery expectations. Create free time in your personal schedule to recharge and reduce some of the pressures. Don’t overschedule weekends and vacations.

Creating space may feel like a luxury but in reality, it provides the freedom to be your best self.