leadership dot #3504: preserve

Our family recently digitized 90 rolls of home movies. These were Super 8 gems not only from my childhood but from Mom and Dad’s dating years and before. Some of them I had never seen before so I spent an afternoon during the holidays watching them all.

Steven Spielberg won’t be optioning them anytime soon but they provided an interesting perspective. It was like someone was on the outside looking in — an unfiltered view of what life was really like. There I was, at about 10 years old, with a pad of paper on Christmas morning writing down all the gifts I received as I opened them. I guess the organization gene is part of the DNA.

While not much has changed with my habits, certainly the environment has evolved. Everyone smoked cigarettes, seemingly all the time. People certainly dressed up far more than they do today, especially at Easter. The kids even had corsages! There were so many people in the movies that were important in our lives at the time but with whom we are no longer in touch today. And don’t get me started on the hairstyles!

The movies froze a moment in time and provided a look back that mere memories could never replicate. While I’m not advocating taking footage of your organization or office, some intentionality around capturing history is important. Even routinely collecting the organizational chart and budget would paint a picture of the way things were. Think of how positions have evolved, let alone the people who hold them, and how budgets have shifted just in technology and benefit allocations.

You’ll appreciate today more if you take an occasional trip down memory lane. Make sure you preserve the ability to do it.

leadership dot #3467: catalog

When we were vintage shopping, I came across a 1976 Montgomery Ward catalog. What a trip down memory lane! The thing was a beast — over 1200 pages — as it displayed not only the lovely polyester leisure suits on the cover but offered for sale all manner of items. There were chain saws, dollhouses, blenders, and underwear. You name it, and it probably was in the catalog.

Over the years, I have heard criticism of Amazon and how it has become this monster selling everything “from A to Z.” I had never really thought about it before, but Sears and Montgomery Ward were doing the same things decades before — just with a different ordering and delivery system. They were the one-stop shop for everything from apparel to tools to appliances — just as Amazon is the go-to retailer for almost anything today.

As you move into the new year looking for new ideas to reinvigorate your business or organization, maybe a starting place is looking back instead of looking forward. Consider who was successful decades ago and see if you can adapt or adopt their essence and modernize it with today’s technology and expectations. The arrival of the catalogs used to be a delight — maybe you can rekindle some nostalgia as you bring a few of the ideas from the past into the present.

leadership dots #3424: instructions

With people taking multiple pills each day, it’s easy to get confused about which drug to take when. Fortunately, prescription bottles have come a long way in providing clarity and ease of use. The bottles from CVS are clearly marked as to how many to take at which time of day, hopefully improving the accuracy of administration and thus the effectiveness of the medicine.

Think of what is the equivalent of a “pill bottle” in your organization. Is there something that often trips people up that you could rework to provide ease of use? Do you have instructions that could be re-designed to become more readable and user-friendly? Perhaps you can incorporate color or symbols to more effectively convey your directions?

We often focus on the product or service, but if people don’t access it correctly all is for naught. Don’t make getting there a hard pill to swallow. Take the time to ensure that your instructions are as helpful as what they are directing people to use.

leadership dot #3408: payment

I’ve recently seen the juxtaposition of old-fashioned payments and the innovative uses of modern ones.

A friend got a new car loan and received a paper coupon book in the mail, presumably to tear off a page to mail with a monthly payment. Other friends receive paper envelopes to make weekly donations to their church — even though they send an annual check. Residents of Hudson, Iowa are lamenting the purchase of their local utility in part because they “won’t be able to walk or bike down the road to pay in person.” All these situations are carryovers from a previous era when the paper check was the primary mode of payment.

Today, more and more vendors are taking advantage of Venmo or Square that allows almost everyone to accept credit. A church in New Mexico had an iPad anchored at the entrance to accept electronic contributions from tourists. Native Americans were selling their handmade crafts from a blanket, but you could pay with a credit card. A farmer with a pumpkin stand on the side of the road listed her Venmo account for payment. Even a man who was begging for money on the street corner had a Venmo address on his cardboard sign!

Consider the temperament and comfort level of your audience. Are you able to give people a choice of payment method (e.g. one church asks parishioners if they want the envelopes before automatically sending them)? Are you able to accommodate both paper and electronic technologies? Have you incorporated enough options to handle the multitude of options available today? As cash fades from everyday use, it may be time to revisit what is king in your payment system.

Thanks, Amy!

leadership dot #3396: shelf

Everyone now has a personal entertainment center in their pocket and the newer planes accommodate for that. In a nod to how prevalent streaming has become, airlines have adapted their planes to provide special shelves to hold phones for that purpose. Gone are the built-in phones and even television screens on the back of the seat, replaced with a simple shelf to allow people to utilize their own equipment.

Has your organization looked at its physical space lately and considered whether modifications need to be made? With most people having a phone are you providing outlets instead of screens, wifi instead of paper forms for check-in, tables for laptops instead of public computers, or phone chargers instead of phone booths?

Technology — and its users — are continually evolving. Your space needs to change too in order to stay relevant. What was convenient even a few years ago now may be outdated.

leadership dot #3389: telepoem

In a creative use of an old phone booth, people can now visit our “Telepoem booth” and dial a designated number on the traditional rotary phone to hear a poem read to them. There is a directory of choices, fastened to the booth with a wire as phone books used to be, offering a whole selection of poems by Iowa artists. The directory gives you the poem category, length of the reading and the number to dial, just as it was in the dark ages of White Pages.

Our local arts organization worked with the state humanities group to bring the Telepoem installation here for a year and I found it to be great fun. It’s free to use, so I listened to several readings — but I’ll admit I received as much enjoyment just from using the rotary dial and hearing that long-ago sound of the wheel spinning around as I did from the poems. It’s a sound that is all but lost with today’s push-button or digital calling.

Vintage everything is so popular right now — and the Telepoem booth fits right into both the arts vibe of our downtown and the trend toward nostalgia. It’s a creative marrying of the two elements that provide a novel activity for people to enjoy.

What do you have from days gone by that you can repurpose into something appealing today?

leadership dot #3377: hammer

Hammers have been around in essentially the same format for an estimated 3 million years. If they’ve made it this long, why tinker with them?

But hammers are another example of a product evolving to meet the needs of its users. To the uninitiated (me), all hammers are pretty much alike. But to professionals, weight is an essential element that drives the functionality of the tool.

As contractors age, they still require the power of a heavier hammer but have a harder time yielding one on a repetitive basis. Manufacturers have noticed the change in demographics and demand and are now utilizing different materials to create lighter hammers with the strike of a heavier tool.

Even products with centuries of longevity need to change to stay relevant. Don’t assume your “hammer” will always be able to hit the nail on the head if you don’t retool and adapt to contemporary needs.

Thanks Curt!

leadership dot #3331: retromania

I spent the day thrift shopping with my 13-year-old niece and had flashbacks to my high school days. The clothing that excited her was very reminiscent of apparel that I wore in my teens while anything I picked out for her to try was deemed undesirable. I learned that skinny jeans are out and wide-leg pants are hip again. She was ecstatic over the leather jacket that was still hanging in my closet from the 1990s but had no interest in anything that looked like it was designed in this decade!

It reminded me of the concept of retromania where we fall in love with things from the past — often things that we did not like that much at the time. But now that they are old, they suddenly gain a fondness because of their age. Often, when I go to flea markets I see specific items that were once in my mother’s kitchen — things we threw away when selling the house — that now garner a premium as “vintage.”

Everything from vinyl records to bell-bottoms are popular again. That should be a clue for you to dig out relics from your archives and give them a new life in 2021. Reprint old t-shirts. Repurpose your original logo. Put your current message on a tie-dye shirt or a patch that can be sewn onto a denim jacket. The older you can make something seem, the more desirable it will become today.

leadership dot #3256: controlled

As if your smartphone did not already serve as the hub for so many functions, there is now another feature you can control with an app: the temperature of the beverage in your mug. The Ember company makes mugs that keep your drink hot (135 degrees plus) and allows you to adjust the temperature from your phone. Do we really need this?

The “smart mug” is not cheap ($129) nor is the travel mug ($179) and more discouraging than the price is the weight. Both are chock-full of electronics and could be used as exercise equipment if the fascination of controlling the temperature wore off.

But what this latest gadget signals to me is that apps are becoming more central to almost everything out there. It widens the gap between those who can afford a smartphone and those who can’t and also creates a chasm between those who are technologically savvy and others who are not as comfortable with this way of operating. Seeing yet one more item controlled via phone says to me that organizations should be investing in a first-rate app rather than treating it as an afterthought or optional.

leadership dot #3230: polarized

It is fascinating to me how the staffing in grocery stores has become polarized on two ends of a spectrum. Whereas it used to be the only choice for people to do their own shopping and clerks to check them out, today there are fewer and fewer lanes where this distribution of labor occurs. Instead, we see the growth of self-check lanes where you do you own ringing and bagging — as well as expansion of curbside pickup and delivery where you do neither, allowing the store to shop for you.

I wonder about the economics of this shift and whether those who used to serve as checkers are now functioning as shoppers instead (doubtful). I wonder if people buy more or less when they shop online for groceries. I wonder if the increase in curbside will continue post-COVID or whether it has become part of the routine that will be hard to give up.

I thought of all this when walking into Aldi and seeing their designated curbside spots. It seems to be off-brand for the economical leader to offer premium high-cost services, even if they do charge a nominal fee for it. Aldi is Aldi precisely because they have foregone the bakery, deli, Starbucks, et al that most grocery chains have added. I doubt they will be as successful if they straddle both sides of the low-cost/high-touch line.

The takeaways for you: a) pay attention to shifts in what becomes normalized and b) to how brands position themselves. It may highlight an opportunity for you to fill the space that has slowly been vacated or it may point to a new opening where you are able to thrive.