leadership dot #3613: relegated

I always feel a twinge of sadness when I walk by the bargain book section in a bookstore or, worse, see titles on the shelf at the dollar store. I can only imagine what went into publishing that content — and the thrill of the author to see the finished product — just to have it remanded and sent to where unpopular books go to die.

I’ve noticed a similar trend with obscure movies that now occupy the catalogs on streaming services. The delight of all those involved in the production has been forgotten as have their dreams of fame and fortune that existed when the film was made. Now the shows are relegated to the furthest pages of the scroll, allowing the host to proclaim “hundreds of movies” even though you have never heard of most of them.

These books and movies were not an early commercial success and it is doubtful they will find glory via their current distribution vehicle. But I am still glad that they were made. These were stories that made the creator better off by telling them, providing an outlet for expression, and giving a forum to their voice. Sharing yourself through creative content is a risky, mostly unrewarding, time-consuming effort — yet in its purest form, it truly is about the process, not the outcome. Keep contributing!

leadership dot #3609: architect

In Boston, the first two floors of the former Sears catalog offices have been transformed into a food hall. It’s spacious and open with two-story high ceilings — thanks to an architect who had the vision to literally cut out the second floor and only leave the pillar supports.

I think of all the others who passed on this space in a very desirable district because they only saw it as an office or retail space with traditional ceilings and access. The beautiful building even sat vacant for several years before becoming the multi-use hub that it is today.

You don’t have to be a building architect to envision what could be instead of what is. Stretch your creative thinking muscles and become an idea architect who asks “what isn’t?” or “how might we?” instead of focusing on the limitations your current reality presents. Maybe what you need is right in front of you — if you only have the foresight for subtraction.

leadership dot #3606: chalk

An icebreaker on a recent Zoom call asked participants to share one thing they wished their parents told them. My answer: “to keep practicing at art.” I was never good at drawing — but always enjoyed it. I didn’t have the education or encouragement to continue long enough to become good and so I dropped it — but I still look with envy at those who have mastered the craft.

Art seems to be on my mind lately, not only from this icebreaker but from Crayola which has extended its brand and now offers an entire pallet of sidewalk chalk for those budding artists who want to deploy their creative skills outdoors instead of inside with crayons. Just the sight of the box is inspirational — there’s nothing like a new box of [chalk/pencils/crayons/Sharpies] to tantalize a wanna-be artist.

Nearly every nice day, my neighbor kids are out drawing with chalk, creating rainbows, dragons, and hearts among other designs. I want to cheer them on and encourage those little Picassos…

… or maybe I will join them. This weekend, pledge to pay attention to the child inside of you and do something that brings that little kid joy.

leadership dot #3603: on hand

Monopoly was created during the Great Depression and to save costs, the game did not come with tokens to indicate your space on the board. People were encouraged to use small objects that they had at home — buttons, pennies, earrings, and yes, a thimble. The thimble has become one of the prized tokens in the iconic game.

In another case of relying on what is on hand, Hewlett-Packard’s Golden Banana award is modeled after a real banana which was all a manager had to give immediate recognition to an engineer who had solved a vexing problem. It is now a corporate symbol and engineering’s most coveted award.

Anyone who has seen a child open presents knows that the box is often the most popular “gift,” and many summer days have been spent creating forts or spaceships out of boxes that were laying around the house. This desirability helped the lowly cardboard box to be enshrined in the Toy Hall of Fame.

Too often, we use our lack of something as an excuse to delay. The next time you don’t have exactly what you need, think of the thimble, banana, and box and see if improvising with something on hand doesn’t get the job done just as well.

leadership dot #3599: vials

There is much talk about work/life balance but I think the goal should be work/life integration…finding ways to be your authentic self in all settings and even combining different areas of your life into one holistic experience. A Michigan nurse anesthetist, Donna Dzialo, managed this by combining art with reflection on her Covid experience at work.

Dzialo collected 6,000 drug vial caps in over 400 varieties to create a “COVID Time CAPSule” work of art. She relied on contributions from others throughout the hospital to make her sculpture and reflect on the myriad ways that her work and the pandemic intersected. I’m sure the creation was good therapy in these trying times.

You may not be inclined to the arts but I hope you find a way to merge what’s good for your soul with the activities you need to do. Inspiration is all around you…be like Dzialo and CAPitalize on it.

Thanks, Colleen!

COVID Time CAPSule by Donna Dzialo

leadership dot #3596: talented

The windows at a restaurant play area were beautifully painted with an array of flowers and spring designs. The space had previously caught my eye when it was adorned with intricate snowflakes to create a winter scene. It turns out that employees at the fast-food chain did both paintings.

I’ve heard of other examples lately where organizations take advantage of the talents of their staff — even though those skills have nothing to do with their actual job. State legislative staff form a choir and provide musical entertainment at ceremonies in the capital. The skills of someone with an interior design degree are utilized to create a holiday experience in the reception area. Other organizations deploy those with photography, graphic design, or floral arranging talents even though they are far from their official responsibilities.

Before you hire someone from the outside to provide you with creative talents or specialized skills, first do an inventory of those inside your organization. You may be surprised (and delighted) to discover the varied interests and contributions that your existing team can make.

leadership dot #3578: wash & dry

If you’ve ever paid attention while in a public restroom, you’ve likely seen the dribbles of water as people make their way from the sink to the towel dispenser. In several settings, that could be across the room or far enough away that water on the floor becomes a problem.

Dyson has attempted to solve this problem with dryers that are built into the faucet. Whether to prevent dripping, to increase sanitation, or just for pure convenience they have combined handwashing and drying all in one device. Love it!

I’ve washed my hands thousands of times but never considered treating it as one step. Maybe there is a lesson there to pay attention to other multi-step processes to see if there is an opportunity to combine them. It doesn’t have to be a physical product — think of the driver’s license renewal that also serves as organ donation registration — but a way to add convenience to all involved. You’re all wet if you think everything must be done separately.

leadership dot #3572: backstory

Even people who aren’t from Boston know some of the city’s icons: Faneuil Hall and the Freedom Trail, its rich history of sports, or their great educational institutions like Harvard or MIT. So, it was smart that a display at Logan Airport helped to shed some light on something many people didn’t know had Massachusetts ties: children’s book authors.

From Dr. Seuss to Curious George, Clifford the Big Red Dog, the Pigeon who wanted to drive the bus, Make Way for Ducklings, Judy Moody, The Dot, The Donut Chef, and Rotten Ralph — all have authors with ties to the Bay State. Logan airport features them in colorful murals as part of a children’s play area but they also use it to plant the economic development seed in future authors’ minds: “Massachusetts is home to some of the world’s most beloved children’s book characters…They’ve all come to life in Massachusetts, a place where poets, writers, illustrators, and authors thrive.”

Before your next speech, article, or display do some research to uncover a unique connection or backstory that makes your message more interesting. It’s easy to focus on the things that everyone knows but the magic happens when you put a new twist on things people never knew were connected.

leadership dot #3547: narrowing

Author Malcolm Gladwell lamented that he receives lots of ideas but most often they are just topics and not stories. “You need a story to take it somewhere,” Gladwell said. I know I face the same challenge with this blog: I have notebooks of topics but turning them into a dot is something else.

But it’s not just with writing that what seems plentiful on one hand also seems like “nothing.” My just-graduated nephew lamented that he has ingredients but doesn’t know what “goes together” so he has no meals. We often look into a full closet and only see clothes, not outfits. We have hundreds of channels on television but have a hard time turning them into the evening’s entertainment.

Practice taking that extra step to transform variety into a theme, whether that be into a meal, an outfit, or a blog. In this age of excessive information, massaging abundance into something focused and meaningful may be the most creative skill of all.

leadership dot #3537: mystery

We’ve all heard the expression “Don’t judge a book by its cover” but our librarians gave the saying a new spin. They took several books and covered them in plain paper, hiding the cover but sharing a few details about the story inside. Examples included:

  • Psychological fiction: complex, sympathetic, thought-provoking
  • Historical fiction: intricately plotted, suspenseful, richly detailed
  • Literary fiction: mystery, coming-of-age
  • History: non-fiction that reads like fiction — compelling, well-researched, life stories

The library display encouraged people to “go on a blind date with a book” by taking a chance on something without seeing the cover or knowing the author. What an appropriate theme for the month.

The display took some time and effort on the part of the staff but had minimal other costs. Could your organization (or family) take advantage of the mystery theme and package tasks in a grab bag format where everyone takes one task to do (e.g. clean the office refrigerator, take inventory of supplies)? Could you anonymously assign people to have lunch or a Zoom chat together to foster relationships? What about a blind date with an assortment of reports that need to be read and synthesized?

Don’t judge a library by its stodgy reputation. There are many things to learn from today’s library — including how to make content appealing.