How to kill an idea

How to kill an ideaYou’ve probably seen this one before. Someone has a great idea. They are really excited about it and think it can have a big impact. They bring the idea forward and the response is: “That sounds like a great idea. Let’s get a committee together (or send it to a specific committee) to see if it is viable.” And then the sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach hits. The death of an idea. The committee.

Don’t get me wrong, committees can be a great thing if done right. They can bring together a bunch of different perspectives to round out ideas and figure out how to make ideas work – if that is the focus. Many times though, committees can get bogged down with no real charter to make progress. As a result, ideas die and people become dis-incentivized. How do you make sure you aren’t killing good ideas in your business through creating structures that aren’t designed to facilitate progress?

Change – it is like driving a manual transmission

change is like driving a stick shiftIt was decades ago, but I remember it like yesterday. I had mastered driving an automatic transmission. It was time to learn how to drive a manual transmission – or as I call it, the stick shift. Down we went to the mall where there was plenty of parking lot to practice. It was flat, there were no obstacles and conducive to starting and stopping without pressure. Things were going well, so it was time to drive home.

Turning into traffic, the lurching began. Letting off the clutch and pressing on the gas the car lurched forward throwing us toward the dash, then back against the seats, then toward the dash, then back again. I finally got the car rolling in a smooth manner. And there it was. The hill. With the stop light at the top. And it was red. Gulp. The pit formed in my stomach. How was I going to get the car up the hill without rolling back into the car behind me? The car rolled back, then stalled. I started it up again, it rolled back, horns blaring, and the dreaded stall. It was clear I wasn’t going to get up the hill, so we changed seats. Defeated for the day, I eventually learned how to drive a stick shift successfully, but there were many more adventures of lurching, rolling back and stalling before I finally got there.

Driving change initiatives in business can be a lot like driving a stick shift if you haven’t done it before. Things can lurch around, throwing people back and forth, stalling and sometimes rolling backward. It’s easy to stop and give up. The trick is learning how to let go of the old ways while accelerating in a coordinated fashion so it is a smooth transmission without lurching around. With practice, you’ll find the right rhythm and eventually the lurching will be gone. And the added bonus – once you figure it out, you can get out of the blocks faster than an automatic transition, giving you the ability to outpace your competition. Have you learned to drive change in your organization like a manual transmission?

Finding delight in the small stuff

finding delight in the small stuffDuring a recent walk with my dog, I came across a family. Mom and dad were strolling slowly in front of the toddler. She was stumbling down the path as little ones do when they are finding their legs. As we approached, she pointed to my dog with glee. She smiled broadly and started giggling. She was having a grand time and the sight of a friendly dog made it all the better. Then just like that, she was on to the next attraction. What a way to go through the day – finding delight in all the small stuff around! How are you finding delight in your day?

Going the extra mile

going the extra mileIt was an afternoon flight. And it was going to be a long week, so I paid a little more to get an upgrade. It was too late for lunch, and too early for dinner, so I didn’t expect anything in the way of food service.   To my surprise, they were serving a salad, garlic bread and a brownie. While I wasn’t hungry, the chocolate caught my attention. With my wheat allergy, I have to be careful, so I asked if it was gluten free. And to my disappointment, it was not. Oh well.

I quickly moved on to an intriguing conversation with my seat mate. About an hour later the flight attendant circled back with two mini chocolate bars – one for me and one for my seat mate. It was a little thing, but she made my day! She didn’t have to, but she went the extra mile to provide excellent customer service. Alaska Airlines prides themselves on their customer service. It is particularly impressive when the stated values align with actions and experiences. And in this case it did. How do you go the extra mile for the folks in and around your business?

p.s. I did write to Alaska about the experience!

Acting Quickly

act quicklyIt was a quick trip to Trader Joe’s to pick up half a dozen items. Walking across the parking lot, plotting my path, there was a wallet with a $20 bill peaking out right in the middle of the walkway. I picked it up thinking how panicked I would be if I lost mine in this day and age. Without opening it, I left it with the front desk thinking the person may still be in the store. Five minutes later, I was at the cashier.   And to my surprise, he asked if I lost my wallet. Wow! They had quickly notified all the cashiers within the space of a few minutes to try to reconnect the person with the wallet. What a great example of quickly adjusting to new circumstances in a way that is not disruptive to the ongoing operations. How are you able to act quickly as circumstances change in your world?

Do you see the risks in your path?

do you know the risks on the road?It was another rainy day, like many at this time of the year. And as you might expect, there were a number of car accidents on the road. This particular point in the highway is a trouble spot. The road inclines and bends to the right to weave around the hills. Given the design, the water flows rapidly across the left lane in a way that causes hydroplaning at times. I drive this path often and know to watch for it. But not everyone does. Today, there was a pretty significant accident in this spot.

In business, there are many risks in the road ahead. Sometimes you know to watch for them, because you have been down the road before. Other times, you may be on a road you have not yet traveled. How are you watching for the risks ahead to make sure you are able to safely navigate them?

Strength and Flexibility

strength and flexibilityThe Oregon Ballet Theater in Portland, Oregon recently just wrapped up a brief run of Romeo and Juliet. It was beautifully done from the costumes to the performance. Given my vantage point, I was able to see the dancers in great detail. The expressions on their faces, the grace in movement, and athleticism – all were extraordinary. What never ceases to amaze me is the combination of strength and flexibility necessary to be a top dancer. It all looks so easy and effortless. And necessary. The fluid movements and grace would not be possible without both elements. Imagine a ballerina perched on one toe, with her other leg pointing toward the ground rather than the heavens. Or the danseur (male dancer) performing a split leap toward the ballerina, but not able to lift her above his head and place her on her toe. The ballet would not be the same without strength and flexibility.

The same elements are necessary in business. Strength gives the business the ability to persevere, and have the knowledge and skills that allow it to gain position against competitors. Flexibility allows the business to adapt and change course quickly, to make decisions rapidly and maintain a cost structure that allows it to be competitive. Both elements are necessary in equal proportion to be highly successful. How well have you built strength and flexibility into your business?

Chasing Squirrels

chasing squirrelsMy dog loves going for walks. The more the better. Being the yellow lab she is, the mere hint of heading out to explore the world gets her doing backflips. The leash appears and her focus is intently on the road ahead. She knows the route and plows ahead. That is until a squirrel appears on a fence, a branch or the ground anywhere in the vicinity. The walk becomes a distant memory and chasing the squirrel is the only thing that matters. If not for me holding her back, she would be way down a different road or in a backyard, completely off the path. Of course, if I trained her better, she would ignore the squirrels all together.

Its funny how squirrels don’t just appear on walks. They appear everywhere in business. They are the little things that start moving around and distract attention from the goal and cause a loss of momentum toward the things that matter. With training and focus, they can be ignored completely. But if not, they can have a significant impact on the results of the company. How do you keep your organization from chasing squirrels?

Are you missing the signs?

missing signsDriving down the road today, an SUV was smashed head on into the guardrail intended to mark the beginning of an exit. Given the direction and position the other vehicles, I couldn’t help but wonder if the vehicle had decided not to exit was and tried to get back into the freeway, missing the mark. I don’t know what actually happened and can only speculate.   The interesting thing about this particular exit is that there are several signs over the prior mile indicating the exit only is approaching. The striping on the road also changes, indicating the lane is exit only. Regularly, there is a last minute shuffle as the opportunity to merge runs out and vehicles attempt to merge with little room. The traffic moves well in this area, so it is not a matter of trying to line jump, it is a matter of not realizing it is time to merge. It always surprises me how frequently people seem to miss the obvious signs on the highway.

This situation is not isolated to driving down the road. It happens frequently in business. There are signs about changes coming in the market, costs in the business, shifting of customer needs, etc. But many times they are missed because the focus is elsewhere. How do you make sure you don’t miss the signs in your business?

Balance – it is all a matter of engaging the core

balance is about engaging the coreBalance has been the topic of conversation over the last few weeks. Through the course of conversations, most of the people say something to the effect that they do not have good balance. They struggle to stand on a BOSU ball, on one leg, etc. without falling over. Years ago, my balance was not good either. I first started working on balance with my personal trainer, Babs. Each time I would start the exercise she would say: “engage your core”, and only then could I balance. Babs later explained that by engaging the core, the muscles support the spine and allow for stabilization of the body. Without engaging the core, balance is nearly impossible. Another instructor talks about the importance of a strong, functioning core. Part of the process of learning balance is also learning how to catch yourself when you stumble, like tripping on a curb, so you don’t fall flat on your face. Having a strong core means you can course correct and recover quickly.

The same is true in business. The core of the business is values, strategy and people. By engaging the core, businesses can become strong and agile. They can find balance and make course corrections quickly when a curve ball is thrown. How are you engaging your core and finding balance in your business?