leadership dot #3454: nail

A neighborhood game involves pounding nails into a tree stump — which sounds easy until you learn that you have to use the skinny side of the hammer instead of the side that is designed for the task. Suddenly, it becomes much more challenging when you see it from another perspective.

This is the case with many other things in life. We think we are all using the same hammer to pound in the nails but others have very different circumstances that make something that is easy for us difficult for them.

If you believe you’ve hit the nail on the head with your argument, pause to consider which head you were able to use to achieve that conclusion. The nails may be the same, but the tools are not.

leadership dot #3453: parrot

When you look at this beautiful planter what do you see?

Buchan’s Blueberry Farm, Old Mission Peninsula Michigan

Most people only see a parrot and plant — but if you look more closely you can tell that the bird is made from old tires!

It would have been easy to discard the tire and to think it had no value, but fortunately a creative artist gave it new life. Keep the parrot in mind the next time you’re set to discount someone or think that someone/something had no worth. There is the potential for beauty inside everyone.

Thanks Lucy!

leadership dot #3452: not now

In a simple yet clever way, the dressing room in Marshall’s sets the expectation that you are going to make a purchase. Instead of just plain hooks on the walls, they are labeled: Definitely, Possibly, and Tomorrow — inferring that if you don’t buy today you can always come back. There is no option for “no.”

What subtle change can you make to your forms or your signage to help nudge your customers toward the desired action? For example, our credit union runs ads that say “if you’re not yet a member…” and online games offer downloads that offer a choice of now or “maybe later.”

Plant the idea in your customer’s minds that their options remain open. Tomorrow will be here in a day and they may be ready to act then.

leadership dot #3451: frustrations

Today as many Americans head out for Black Friday, frustrations are sure to abound. It’s crazy in a normal year, but this year with supply chain challenges and short supplies, the crowd could get restless.

In addition to walking out with your credit card and holiday shopping list, pack an extra dose of patience today. It’s not the cashier who ran out of your must-have purchase. It’s not even the store manager who ordered it but didn’t receive it.

Keep those frustrations in check and remember the wise words from Dr. Seuss’ Grinch: “Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

leadership dot #3450: pie

When you think of pies on Thanksgiving, two kinds come to mind almost immediately: pumpkin and pecan. If you were in the pie business, you may consider them the clear winner and give up rather than compete against them. And if you only considered this holiday, you probably would be right.

But if you took a broader view, you would see that apple is the preferred pie for most of the nation and so you could reap bounty by offering that on the other 364 days. Or you could develop a niche and leave the “big three” to others, focusing instead on such delicacies as spaghetti squash pie, crawfish pie, Saskatoon rhubarb pie, or ricotta pie — just to name a few.

The point is not to focus on what you don’t have, but on this holiday to be thankful for the piece of the pie you do. Gratitude is the elixir against angst from comparison.

Happy Thanksgiving!

leadership dot #3449: smorgasbord

When I was growing up, smorgasbords were all the rage in the restaurant world. Whether it was an all-you-can-eat, a giant salad bar, or an all-out buffet, dining establishments that thrived provided not just quantity, but choice. The few fast food outlets there were served their fare in a standard format — there was none of the personalization that is so common in facilities today — so many restaurants offered dining options via the big buffet.

Today’s version of the smorgasbord is the food hall where many restaurants occupy the same building. It’s an upscale, modern version of the mall food court which morphed from the smorgasbord format. Both allow diners to pick which restaurant suits their pallet or dietary needs, and they can still enjoy the companionship of others who may have different tastes. Choosing a food hall is easier than the hassle of coming to an agreement on one place with a limited menu. so people go where there are options.

People have always liked options for their food but they like choices for other things as well. Can you offer your services in a food hall-type format combining your business with other similar businesses under the same roof to generate a larger audience? A wedding hall with all the planning services together? A baby hall with everything new parents need to get started? A new home hall with decorators and contractors working side-by-side?

Similar organizations aren’t always competition.

Prospect Park, Minneapolis

leadership dot #3448: gas

If you fill your car with gas, you can empty the tank by going on a significant journey like a road trip — or you can deplete your fuel by running errands for a few days. Either way, eventually you’ll be on empty.

A similar pattern happens with time — each day your allotment is on “full” and you can do something meaningful or memorable with it, or you can piddle it away in small increments that don’t amount to much. Either way, the day ends and your “tank” goes back to zero.

It’s up to you how you use your energy — the petroleum or the physical kind. Don’t run out of either kind of gas without anything to show for it.

leadership dot #3447: diversion

As you exit the interstate heading onto St. Louis University, there is a giant billboard depicting a scene of their beautiful campus. It’s very eye-catching and for the few moments you’re on the exit ramp, it’s really all you pay attention to — which is their point. If you look more closely, you’ll see that the sign is affixed to a dilapidated building with broken or boarded-up windows — not exactly the impression that fits with their brand.

I’m sure there are good reasons why they haven’t purchased the building, fixed it up, or torn it down, so for now, they have opted for diversion.

At least you can see what they are trying to cover up — which is not always the case with more manipulative marketers, media conglomerates, or social media influencers. Just like magicians, more people are mastering the art of diversion — causing you to believe one thing when it really is just a sleight of hand.

It’s a good practice to get in the habit of looking beyond the metaphorical billboards to see the broken windows next to them. That which is designed to grab our attention is intentionally diverting it away from something else.

leadership dot #3446: writers

How can you use physical space to tell a story? Well, if you’re the Iowa Department of Transportation, you use rest areas to help travelers gain a sense of place while highlighting some of the state’s unique features.

One facility along I-80 showcases the Iowa Writer’s Workshop — a renowned creative writing program that has produced many best-selling authors, Pulitzer Prize winners, and National Book Awards — and Iowa’s role as “the center of writing in America”. The rest area greets visitors with a multi-story pen to symbolize the physical act of writing, and then features quotes from Iowa authors in various displays both inside and outside the facility. It’s like a mini-museum along your route.

It would have been easier, and probably cheaper, to make a generic restroom with some picnic tables and vending machines — and it would have also forfeited the opportunity to entertain and educate the thousands who stopped there. Iowa had the “write” idea. Take a lesson from them and use your space wisely as a way to share your story.

leadership dot #3445: solve

Think of all the products that have been developed specifically in response to Covid. Every day I see something new that wasn’t there “before”: single-serve silverware dispensers, key-like tools to avoid touching, pens that suppress bacteria growth, Microban trays at the airport, and even color-coded wristbands to indicate your comfort with hugging.

In my innovation class, we’re reminded that most change that is successfully implemented starts with picking the right problem to solve. The companies and entrepreneurs who made the above products — and many more — began with filling a need created by the pandemic. They saw a bad situation and turned it into a good one (for them) by supplying items to address new issues.

Every downside has an upside for someone. Become that person who finds opportunity in what everyone else sees as a problem.