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 #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 #2637: roundabouts

We have new roundabouts in the city and I am still trying to get used to them. When I paused to consider why they were challenging to me, I realized it is because roundabouts violate the standard protocols allowing drivers on the right to have precedence. In this case, drivers approaching from the left have the priority.

Right-of-ways work in many situations, but, like with the roundabout, is there a case where “left-of-ways” work more effectively? Maybe your organization needs to rethink one of its processes and reverse the conventional way of doing things. In order to efficiently go with the flow, you may actually have to first go against it.

leadership dot #2629: redux

During some small talk with a loan officer, he asked me what one leadership concept I would share if I only could tell him one. My answer: Indianapolis.

Here’s the concept: more major roads lead to Indianapolis than any other city in the country. The job of the leader is to define “Indianapolis” for their organization and then allow people latitude and freedom to get there in individual ways: going north, southeast, west, etc.; by using interstates, scenic routes or goat paths; and in cars, trucks, buses or bicycles. The “how” becomes far less important than the destination.

So much time is spent – unnecessarily – requiring people to achieve a goal in the same way. You need involvement and buy-in on determining “Indianapolis”, but you can allow so much flexibility in the methods to arrive there. Ultimately, it helps you gain support for the outcome when you don’t limit freedom around the inputs.

I wrote about Indianapolis in one of my earliest dots (see #29) and have used the concept so often that I keep a map of Indiana in my briefcase! It’s a powerful and simple visual to help you and your team stay focused on where you are headed.



leadership dot #2628: preserve and stimulate

There is one consistent theme to the training I am asked to do: change. Whether organizations want to learn how to create it or need assistance in coping with the change already happening, it is clear that not much stands still these days.

One of the tools that I use with organizations is the concept of “Preserve the Core and Stimulate Progress” from Built to Last by Jerry I. Porras and Jim Collins. Although the book is from 1994, many of the concepts, like the visionary companies they studied, continues to endure.

Preserve the Core and Stimulate Progress serve as a yin and yang balance of what successful organizations must achieve. Their example: Disney’s core preserves the “magic” image and “striving to bring happiness to millions” but has stimulated progress by evolving from the Mickey Mouse Club to animated features, theme parks, Broadway shows, television networks and more.

It helps organizations to spend some time articulating the key elements of their core and to realize that many components can be preserved even as the organization evolves. Workgroups, departments and other units can define core values of how they wish to work and the culture that they want to preserve in their area, helping people feel more control over the changes.

Helping people embrace the duality of enduring and changing is a key skill for leaders today.


leadership dot #2612: intermediary

Staples is offering a new Classroom Rewards program where teachers earn reward credits when parents sign up for the program and shop there. It’s an interesting twist on an advertising campaign – appealing to parents’ sense of altruism rather than their own economic gain. (Of course, they also hope it appeals to teachers so they promote Staples to others!)

Rather than rewarding your clients directly, can you copy this marketing logic and entice others to help you recruit business? For example, a local gas station just donated two cents per gallon to the Veteran’s Freedom Center every time people used a designated pump. Pet stores could give a percentage of sales to the humane society for every purchase you make or grocers could donate a canned good for every dollar you spend.

Think about who could serve as an intermediary for you, allowing you to appeal to their goodwill to interact with your organization on behalf of another. You can be the recipient of goodness without asking for it directly.