leadership dot #3939: ottoman

I have a chair with an ottoman that was hardly ever used. It sat in the corner, functioning more as a holder of decorative pillows than a functional seat. It looked like this:

When my housemate needed to convalesce after surgery, the ottoman moved positions. Someone has sat in that chair every day since. It now looks like this:

A simple rotation made all the difference that was required to make the chair inviting. It never occurred to me that such a simple move would fix a problem I did not know I had, but once it was moved, it made perfect sense, and we’ll never move it back.

Like the ottoman, there are barriers in your organization that you don’t even realize exist. Solicit input from others to gain a new perspective on your world. What’s your organization’s “ottoman” and how can you address it today?

leadership dot #3924: tidbits

Broken pieces of crayons don’t seem like they would amount to much but Crayola found a way to repurpose just that. The company collected 123,000 blue “Lefolas” (aka: leftover crayons) and reformed them into Big Blue — a 1500-pound, 15 feet-long jumbo Crayola that is a unique advertisement for the brand. According to their estimates, you could use it to draw a straight line for 10 miles or color in an entire football field.

Do you have a parallel in your organization where small bits of something don’t seem like much on their own but could amount to something if they were combined or maybe you have waste that could be repurposed? Think about Big Blue the next time you have tidbits and see if you can’t turn a lot of a little into something special.

Thanks Meg and Matt!

The Crayola Experience in Easton, PA

leadership dot #3908: pivotal

One of my mentors, now age 80, is on a mission to document some of his life’s stories for his grandchildren. He bought a laptop for this explicit purpose and is committed to capturing some history and insights that he can share with others.

One of his stories is about “how I found my career.” I love that phrasing because it reflects reality — that a career often finds you, rather than you finding it through assessments, aptitude tests, or well-meaning advice. It also implies that landing on a career is a journey — not something that you magically know upon graduation from college, or heaven forbid, high school.

His story has also inspired me to reflect on how I found my career. I am not an elementary teacher as was my initial thought; I’m not an accountant like the tests recommended I should be, and my career wasn’t even in journalism as my college major suggested. There have been many twists and turns along my path but I think it all began with the “Usherettes” organization in high school — a group reserved for freshmen and sophomore girls who wore long polyester skirts and ushered at the annual school musical. Because of that “experience,” I joined the “Host and Hospitality” committee of the Union Board in college (ushering at events) — and my Union Board involvement led to an eventual graduate assistantship and then a professional position in student activities which kicked off my career in higher education.

Two takeaways from today’s dot: 1) reflect on how you found your career — not just your first job, but the pivotal experience that kickstarted your eventual professional journey; and 2) consider how minor or serendipitous that initial experience really was. For many, it started with a tap on the shoulder and someone suggesting you get involved in something. It wasn’t positioned as the starting point of your career, but rather someone seeing a fit between you and an opportunity. Be that someone for someone else. You may be the catalyst that helps another find their eventual life’s work.

leadership dot #3885: spectrum

All skills can be viewed on a spectrum — on one end, people know only the bare minimum of how to do something and on the other end are true experts that understand both how to perform the skill and the mechanics behind it.

Too often, we view ourselves — or those we supervise — in a binary way, thinking we are good at something or we aren’t. It leads to undue anxiety or imposter syndrome, and probably influences career choices more than we care to admit.

Instead of considering how to master something, think of it in a more gradual approach. Aim to get one step further on the spectrum. Getting better is a less stressful route to getting good.

leadership dot #3874: hay

When the caretaker went to feed the Clydesdales at a traveling exhibit, I noticed two things about the process. First, the bales of hay were smaller than a typical bale — sized in the right proportion to feed the horses. There was no messy process of pitching out straws from a larger bale and leaving it in a pile; these were designed to be the amount that each horse needed.

What I also noticed was that even though the doors to the enclosures were in the rear, each bale was tossed to the front of the stall. In this way, the visitors could see the head of the horse instead of the rear as he ate.

Both of these practices are very small but they speak to the attention Budweiser pays to the Clydesdale experience. Everything about the exhibit was considered, down to the last details.

Have you thought through your experiences through the lens of the end user? Take it straight from the horse’s mouth and listen to Bud on how to master the minutiae and maximize your branding.

leadership dot #3815: ledge

Our family’s Christmas present from my brother and sister-in-law included tickets to the Skydeck of the Willis (Sears) Tower in Chicago. In addition to the spectacular views from the 103rd floor, the main draw for this attraction is The Ledge, an all-glass box that jets out four feet from the building, allowing you to walk out into it for unobstructed views.

At first, I could not fathom stepping out onto 1.5″ of glass which was all that was preventing me from plummeting 1,353 feet down to Wacker Drive. OMG! However, I found that if I did not look down and instead just kept looking straight ahead, it really wasn’t that scary. The surface was at the same level, and it just involved walking a few extra steps that rewarded me with magnificent views.

Going out on The Ledge provides an apt metaphor to start the new year. We shouldn’t let fear hold us back from doing things, and instead, we should overcome it by taking one small step toward what scares us. In the end, the benefit is likely greater than the trepidation.

leadership dot #3809: boxes

Back in the day, department stores used to provide free gift boxes with all your purchases. Boxes were so plentiful that we tossed them after each holiday, secure in the assumption that we could get another supply next year.

Today, the handy white paper gift box has disappeared, along with many of the department stores that dispensed them. Instead, we are inundated with cardboard boxes from Amazon, USPS, and many other retailers whose holiday tidings are delivered to our doors. The corrugated containers are great for shipping but lack something in the presentation area, even with tissue and wrapping. So, I hunt for my remaining gift boxes and lament the pile of boxes to recycle.

I also have boxes on my mind from reading The Christmas Box holiday tale. Richard Paul Evans writes about how the lowly box plays a significant role in our stories:

“From the inlaid jade-and-coral jewelry boxes of the Orient to the utilitarian salt boxes of the Pennsylvania Dutch, the allure of the box has transcended all cultural and geographical boundaries of the world. The cigar box, the snuff box, the cash box, jewelry boxes more ornate than the treasure they hold, the ice box and the candle box…The human life cycle no less than evolves around a box; from the open topped box called a bassinet, to the pine box we call a coffin, the box is our past and, just as assuredly, our future.”

I’m sure you have a holiday memory that revolves around a box: Dragging the box of ornaments down from the attic, the little box that held an engagement ring, the box Fed Ex delivered on Christmas Eve to rescue Santa the next morning, the box full of parts to be assembled in the wee hours, the box that entertained the toddler more than their gifts, or the box that held the special candy treat reserved only for this occasion.

As you prepare to open more boxes in the coming days, take a moment to reflect on the role they play. We are always wiser when we appreciate the underlying infrastructure instead of taking it for granted.

The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans, 1993, pages 33-34

leadership dot #3808: wonderful

Over the weekend, I saw It’s a Wonderful Life in the theater. I’ve seen the film countless times but there is always something, well, wonderful, about seeing a movie on the silver screen.

Because it was a classic film presentation there was a special introduction with some trivia and tidbits about the movie. I learned that the film is based on a short story, The Greatest Gift, written by Philip Van Doren Stern. He had tried to sell rights to his tale, and when unsuccessful, self-published a 24-page pamphlet and sent it to 200 friends as his Christmas card in 1943. The story found its way to Cary Grant’s agent and through a circuitous path, to Frank Capra who bought the rights to adapt it. The movie premiered in December 1946.

Not only do I love the story itself, but its origins serve as an encouragement to put your work out into the world. No one wanted to buy Van Doren Stern’s story but he shared it anyway. You don’t need money or a huge audience to use your voice. Keep creating!

It’s a Wonderful Life George Bailey (James Stewart), Mary Bailey (Donna Reed), and their youngest daughter Zuzu (Karolyn Grimes)

leadership dot #3797: congruity

Most leaders know that it is important to communicate information in several ways and in different formats — but that’s where the complexity comes in. The more ways you share, the more opportunities for misalignment or differing messages which ruin the validity of all the communication.

This frequently happened at Sam’s gas stations where the large message board inside the store displayed a different price than what was actually charged at the pump. Not only was this particular discrepancy illegal, but it was also quite frustrating. When they repainted the store, the interior sign disappeared — impeding communication, but increasing accuracy.

A similar situation happened with the revised Weather Channel app. This service already had serious internal consistency issues — such as stating the high temperature of X in the daily forecast, but a temperature of Y in the hourly chart — but now they are posting conflicting information about when and how much precipitation may occur. In one place it reports “rain and snow tomorrow night” while in another it says “0% precipitation” until 48 hours from now. Which to believe?

If you are sharing facts, it is incumbent upon you to monitor and ensure the correctness of information — even across multiple media. If you want congruity and message integrity, you can only achieve it through message diligence.

leadership dot #3728: donate

When is a parking meter a vehicle for change? Just ask the people in New Haven, Connecticut where meters have been repurposed into on-the-spot donation centers. Their locations make it convenient to drop in a coin or two, or the meters still accept credit cards if someone is feeling especially generous. It’s the technology equivalent to someone with a red kettle during the holidays — based on the theory that a little change adds up to a significant contribution.

Think about how your organization could adopt this fundraising idea. A meter by your cash register where people can put their change? One near a playground where children might entice parents to contribute so they have the novelty of putting money in the meter? One next to a real meter — where people may be more likely to have change handy?

The Sisters of Mercy’s founder Mother McAuley famously said “no money, no mission.” Think about repurposing a meter to get change to create change in your organization.