leadership dot #3138: patio

In a nod to the circumstances they face, our local Culver’s appears to be breaking up their new patio area and replacing it with a second drive-thru lane. They also added an all-weather hut to shield their staff from the elements as they manage the traffic and pick-up orders.

It reminded me of the Stockdale Paradox referenced in Jim Collins’ Good to Great: “Confront the most brutal facts of your current reality AND retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties.” Culver’s is acknowledging that they need to invest more into the business, despite the fact that they recently renovated the inside dining room and added that patio, AND they obviously believe their changes will pay off. It would be easy to lament the disruptions brought upon by COVID but instead, they have instituted an approach that moves them forward.

Maybe it’s time to break up the equivalent of your new patio, too.


leadership dot #3137: extrapolate

If you want a peek into the future, just use your imagination and extrapolate what is novel in the present. When I was a kid (many years ago), one of the great treats of going to the zoo was the ability to put money in a machine and watch it form a plastic animal. When I returned there a few decades later, I realized that the Mold-a-Rama was really a precursor to current day 3D printing. Now, in MakerSpaces across the country kids can not only make their own creatures, but they can design them.

Think about what else was that once seemed fascinating but has now become commonplace. Home computers that allow you to edit videos, record music or create professional designs. Online banking. Customizable everything. Delivery services. Ridesharing. Gluten-free food options. Phones with quality cameras.

What’s on the horizon that will soon become ordinary instead of notable? Cars that drive themselves. Travel to Mars. A cashless society. Remote education and permanent work-from-home. Telemedicine. Virtual or Augmented Reality. Insurgent group protests in the U.S. Continued virtual events. Plant-based meats. Enhanced data mining. The list is long. Find one item that aligns with your organization and prepare now to incorporate its use in your future.


leadership dot #3136: vary

My Octopus Teacher (see dot 3135) taught me more about the mollusk than I could have imagined but what fascinated me most was its ability to camouflage. The very intelligent creature “has spent millions of years learning to be impossible to find” and has become quite good at it. Octopuses can change their color, texture, or pattern to blend into the environment and allude predators. They also use their 2000 suckers to adhere shells and other objects (see picture) and configure themselves into an unrecognizable addition on the ocean floor.

We can all learn from the octopus and vary our methods of achieving the desired end. It’s not enough to use the same strategy over and over, rather we must craft various options to utilize as the situation warrants. Too often we make slight changes to our actions – the equivalent of altering colors – but never even think to expand into entirely new ways of addressing a problem – the human version of covering ourselves in 100 shells. You may not have a million years to perfect your skills but inject more creativity into those you do.

An octopus in hiding – covered in suctioned shells to disguise itself


leadership dot #3135: clues

I recently watched My Octopus Teacher, a fascinating documentary about a photographer who dives into the same spot each day for over a year to observe the actions of an octopus. People asked Craig Foster why he went back to that location rather than exploring elsewhere, and he replied that it gave him the opportunity to notice subtle differences that he would otherwise miss.

“Subtle” was also a theme of how he got interested in this quest. Foster had been a photographer in the Serengeti, aided by native animal trackers who followed minute differences as clues to lead them to the big game. He applied the same principle in his work underwater to discover where the octopus was living and where it had recently been.

Too often we gloss over small differences and render them insignificant when, over time, these subtle variations can reveal great value. You likely are not searching for an octopus or lion, but you can adopt the method of consistent observation to track trends, see initial signs of changed behavior, monitor shifts in response, or be the first to spot a divergence that could indicate the start of something significant. Pay attention to the small stuff long enough to ascertain the clues it can provide you.

leadership dot #3134: returns

During the holiday season, many people took advantage of the ease of online shopping but now they are discovering the downside: trying to do returns. The process is complicated by the lack of paperwork, packaging, or receipts which leave in-store clerks helpless to return products they do not physically stock.

Walmart has ventured into third-party selling (as Amazon has long done) which is great for them on the revenue side but has caused untold delays in their stores. I had the misfortune of waiting behind several people trying to return an online order from a third-party and they were told they needed to have it boxed and ready to ship before the clerk could process it. There were miscommunications. Clerks didn’t know how to print shipping labels. For everyone involved, it was a nightmare.

The crux of the issue is that great ideas at the corporate level never got translated into effective training and implementation at the front-line level. The clerks at customer service were not equipped to effectively handle all the minute logistical details of what is essentially an entirely new business and everyone in-store has to pay the price.

If you create a process or system change in your organization, follow the path of implementation all the way through to the end. It’s not just getting the order there that matters, but how you handle getting it back.

leadership dot #3133: distinct

For those of you non-Midwesterners unfamiliar with the Fannie Mae Meltaways, the candies are tiny cubes of melt-in-your-mouth chocolate mint deliciousness that come in two colors: brown and green. For reasons unknown to me, I have always only eaten the brown ones. I asked my sister if they tasted the same as the green and her answer was that she has only ever had the green ones. This called for an experiment!

In case you are curious, both brown and green Meltaways taste exactly the same. Why they make two colors is a mystery to me, most likely it is simply for merchandising and visual appeal. But the experiment served as another reminder that we all carry unconscious biases around. We make contrasts and value one over another when there is no rational reason to do so and no differences actually exist.

Be cautious in applying the label of “better” to anything before you understand whether it actually merits a distinction.

leadership dot #3132: glasses

I recently bought new eyeglasses – one of my least favorite things to do. This is a purchase that I will use daily for the next several years and that costs a significant amount of money and yet I can’t see without mine on in order to select a new pair. Thus, I need to rely on the opinion of a stranger to determine how they look on me – all while wearing a mask. It’s hard to imagine it turning out well.

So, what happens is that I end up with a pair that is eerily similar to the ones I already had. I have worn the new specs for a week without comment from anyone.

I think they are a metaphor for change. As the risk goes up (cost, longevity) our propensity for taking a risk goes down. Firms like Warby Parker have tried to minimize that risk by allowing you to try on things at home where you can get the opinion of people who know you without the time pressure of being in a store (and by reducing the cost). Or if they were cheap “cheaters” it would be easy to go out on a limb and try a new color or shape, but for 700 bucks I want to be pretty sure it’s something I like.

The next time you are initiating a change effort at work, remember the experience of buying glasses. How can you mitigate some of the risk if you want people to make big leaps in innovation? Without some adjustment of risk/reward, you’re likely to get an incremental change that others may not even notice.

leadership dot #3131: crumbs

In a savvy merchandising move, Dot’s Pretzels has now converted the crumbs of its signature product into a new item instead of disposing of it as waste. The company sells “Crumble” as an accent that you can use to enhance pork, fish, chicken, or to create pie crusts. How have we lived so long without it?!

There is likely some “crumble” in your organization – content that can be repurposed for additional uses, resources that can be packaged into something new, or even people who can function in different roles to create new value. Others have already seen the obvious innovations. Look around for the crumbs to leverage what has not yet been discovered.

leadership dot #3130: school

It has been fascinating to me to see how the market has adjusted to changing demand due to COVID. I’ve written before about the plethora of masks, sanitizers, and new tools that are now everywhere but a new crop of products is catching my attention: that of homeschooling aids.

I have seen store displays of curriculum guides and workbooks to help the parent thrust into the new role of teacher. I received a sign-of-the-times mailing with the headline: “Do you feel your child is falling behind? We offer free developmental screenings…” Tutoring services seem to be popping up everywhere.

Think about whether your organization can help fulfill some of this new demand. Can you offer learning guides about your group that could serve as a case study or exercise for a piece of the curriculum? Is there a way you can share existing resources for parents to use to teach one of the standard subjects? Or could you offer a video chat to serve as a resource and engage the students in a visual experience instead of a field trip?

You may find yourself gaining new insights as well as delivering them for it is through teaching that we learn.

leadership dot #3129: appeal

Another lesson from The Trial of the Chicago 7 is the danger of concentrating too much power in one person’s hands. The judge in the original trial – Julius Hoffman – was obviously agitated with the defendants and showed “significant prejudice” against them and their attorney. Overall, he issued 175 contempt charges during the trial, all of which were reversed upon appeal.

The concept of checks and balances is a valuable one – not just for the government but for all organizations. It may occur formally as with the appeal option in the courts, or it may be more informal through trusted and truthful advisors who are in a position to speak truth to power. Regardless of the format, creating a system to allow other perspectives to be heard (and often, more rational thoughts to prevail) is a good practice to institutionalize. Don’t let your emotions have undue weight in your decision-making.