leadership dot #2652: special needs

I don’t give much thought to my vehicle tires – but the military gives a great deal of attention to theirs.

Instead of utilizing traditional tires on their transportation, the military uses non-directional tires on combat vehicles. Unlike normal tires that leave an imprint in their tracks which can identify which way the vehicle was moving, these tires have a special tread so that you are unable to tell from which way the vehicle came or went. Others can see the tracks but not learn from them – something that is very handy in tactical situations!

Special circumstances within an organization generate special needs and you do not need to accept standard products as they are to meet your requirements. Coca-Cola designed and trademarked a unique bottle shape for its refreshments. Tiger Woods designed a tailor-made set of clubs with tungsten added to the irons. Tiffany and Co. blended its own shade of blue ink for its iconic packaging. And the military created a new style of tires.

Strategy can manifest itself in the most routine decisions. First, know what you are trying to achieve and then don’t settle for what exists to achieve it.

leadership dot #2651: persevere

It took the Chesters seven years to establish momentum on their farm (see dot #2649) but my experience has been that three years is the sweet spot. When I switched jobs and went to a new campus I was always unsettled until year 3 when I finally knew the majority of people in the hallways and understood the rhythm of events. My time serving on boards is always richer after three years; suddenly I could synthesize the background and context of items and how they related to the future. And with my business, the completion of three full years has marked a turning point of additional business and opportunities.

I believe that the first year of any enterprise is overwhelming; you are flooded with information, still trying to adopt a new identity and you don’t know more than you do know. If you approach the beginning with anything but a learning mentality, you’re doomed. Year One provides knowledge and understanding, but not results.

During the second year, you have your feet underneath you and are able to make some progress but it is still a time of great experimentation. You correct some of the things you messed up in Year One. You try some new things. You begin to build some relationships and plant seeds for future opportunities, but very little blossoms. You begin to wonder if this adventure was a misstep.

In the third year, some of the relationships you cultivated start to become meaningful. Just as I wrote about with the flywheel yesterday (see dot #2650), continual efforts in the same direction produce benefits. You begin to hear some buzz and even referrals. You feel like you know what you’re doing (most of the time). You can focus on the output instead of spending the majority of your time on the infrastructure. After you persist through the three-year curve, synergy starts to happen and the unheralded work of the initial years begins to flourish.

People are used to instant gratification, but creating a sustainable enterprise doesn’t work that way. If the project has enough impact and meaning for you, it’s worth the work to persevere through Year Three.

leadership dot #2650: flywheel

The owner of The Biggest Little Farm (see dot #2649) speaks of a “flywheel in motion” to establish the land’s ecosystem where multiple elements of the farm all support and enhance each other. It reminded me of the flywheel concept in Good to Great, one of my favorite concepts from one of my favorite books.

Jim Collins writes: “The flywheel image captures the overall feel of what it was like inside the companies as they went from good to great. No matter how dramatic the end result, the good-to-great transformations never happened in one fell swoop. There was no single defining action, no grand program, no one killer innovation, no solitary lucky break, no wrenching revolution. Good to great comes about by a cumulative process – step by step, action by action, decision by decision, turn by turn of the flywheel – that adds up to sustained and spectacular results…We have allowed what change looks like from the outside to drive how we think it must feel on the inside, but really it is an organic development process.”


Wouldn’t it be nicer if there was a secret sauce – giving us hope that if we could just find it, we would have the magic elixir to turn our idea into a grand success? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. But if there is a path to greatness, it is paved with consistency, turning the “flywheel” with coherence and intentionality in the same direction toward a sustained goal rather than giving in to the temptation to give up if results aren’t achieved quickly.

Success comes from plodding away with persistence – for longer than we’d like – until the momentum builds in our favor and synergies begin to occur. It’s hardest to make that first turn, still hard to make the second, third and fourth (and twentieth), but eventually a host of actions toward the same goal will allow the flywheel to compound your results.

Don’t trade short-term flash for long-term momentum.

*Good to Great by Jim Collins, 2001


leadership dot #2649: ecosystem

The movie The Biggest Little Farm, documents the experiences of a couple who buys a barren piece of land in California and turns it into a thriving, traditional farm complete with crops, orchards, and animals. Their journey was not easy and for several years the future of the enterprise was questionable but by year seven they were selling 500,000 pounds of food/year.

One of the biggest lessons the farmers learned along the way was to embrace the ecosystem instead of fighting it. They learned to harness the negative aspect of each plant/animal and turn it into something positive for the whole.

For example, they discovered:

  • Ducks love to eat snails and would happily devour the infestation of them on the fruit trees
  • Goats love to eat grass, so could not only tend the cover crops on uneven land, but their waste from so much eating served as fertilizer for the main crops that were planted there the following year
  • Cow manure attracted maggots which became food for the chickens and decreased the fly population
  • The burrows of gophers aerate the soil – but they also eat the roots – so the coyote which is a menace to chickens can be a resource to keep the gopher population in check

“Observation followed by creativity is becoming our greatest ally,” said owner John Chester. “With every new problem that came up, we first take a step back and watch it.” It was through this observation that they realized how the ecosystem could support and enhance each other and generate synergy that would allow the farm itself to contribute to the output from the land.

How can you model this pattern of observation followed by creativity to find new uses for what already exists in your organization? People who have liabilities in one aspect of their job could be reassigned and placed in a role that capitalizes on the strengths they do possess. Excess product or production remnants may be repurposed into a new use. The timing of tasks may be restructured to create capacity among some personnel.

The Biggest Little Farm is a story about creating a system to reap exponential benefits from the interrelationships that occur within the system. Isn’t that what we’d all like to do within our organization?

leadership dot #2648: referral

Sometimes it makes good business sense to refer your customers to another, similar business. I was recently in a boutique market that sells coffee in beans and she sent customers looking for brewed coffee across the street. But rarely do you see one business advertise for another offering a very similar service.

Such is the case at the Celebrity Car Wash in Oakville, MO. At the end of their wash bay, they have a sign advertising another car wash less than a mile away. At their core, they are the same business providing the same service, but Celebrity uses this advertisement to highlight the distinctions between the two operations. Those seeing the sign should register that if they want a normal outside wash, Celebrity is the right place; if they want the inside down or detailing, then AutoSpa down the street should be their choice.

Celebrity uses the sign to gain advertising revenue and differentiate themselves from others. It owns its traditional express service model and is happy to refer those who want more than just an outside wash to go elsewhere. How may you be as confident about who you are – and aren’t?

Thanks, Brian!

leadership dot #2647: safe deposit

A group of friends started talking about area banks vs. credit unions and the pros/cons of using one over the other. One of my hesitations to fully transfer all my business to the credit union is the availability of a safe deposit box at the bank. I was the only one at the table who had one.

Apparently, the safe deposit box is going to be yet another relic of days gone by. Instead of keeping titles, important papers and the family jewels in an off-site location the Millennials I was dining with keep them all at home in a firebox, a lockbox or personal-size safe. Like everything else, it gives them instantaneous 24/7 access to whatever they need, whenever they want it.

My family has had a safe deposit box for my entire life. I never even thought twice about not having one but I’ll admit they have me questioning that choice. For the equivalent of a few years of rent I could own a safe – ostensibly to protect from fire or flood as much to keep the bad guys away. And maybe if I had easy access, I would wear the heirloom jewelry instead of only looking at it every year or so!

Some things are so much a part of our fabric that we don’t even think about them, and for me, renting a safe deposit box was one of those things. Look around your house or organization with new eyes and see if there is an expenditure on automatic pilot that would be safe to discontinue.


leadership dot #2646: in your head

There are so many situations where we have the ideas in our head but don’t create the time to write them down. Tomorrow’s blog has not been started. My class for Tuesday is ready, but good luck to you if I’m unable to prep for the following week because there is no concrete plan that will make sense to anyone else. People plan to write down their passwords and dying wishes but too often leave this Earth with information only they know. Organizational history, precedents, protocols and nuances often walk out the door with exiting employees.

In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott encourages people to put something down on paper every day. It’s great advice. What you write may turn into bits of a story, a legacy for your executor, a how-to manual for the next person to have your job or a brain dump to use on your next assignment. “In your head” leaves little margin for the unexpected and makes it difficult for your idea to live on without your direct involvement. Commit to committing something “out of your head” each day.