Divots

A few weeks ago our family was on vacation – 18th annual trip – to the Canaan Valley, WV.  One of our traditions is to visit the Purple Fiddle in the booming town of Thomas, WV.  While we were walking along the sidewalk, approaching our destination, I noticed the rain rolling off the rooftop above resulting in little divots along the sidewalk.  I’ve walked here dozens of times and never made the connection between the divots and the rainfall.  Not a big moment in history, but it made me think and wonder about the power of consistency.

Those little raindrops, which I’d hardly felt on my own skin, managed to dig holes in cement. Yikes. There’s so little power in a drop of rain, but consistency clearly gives it exponential power.  Holes in cement. Imagine if I stood there for decades…I’d be pretty tired and stiff, and full of holes.

Just look at the Grand Canyon – its depth carved out by the Colorado River, and it’s width by rain and snowmelt. That’s some pretty powerful impact over time.

There’s a business concept often referenced along this thinking called Kaizen.  Wikipedia defines it this way:  Kaizen, Chinese, and Japanese for "'continuous improvement". When used in the business sense and applied to the workplace, kaizen refers to activities that continually improve all functions and involve all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers. It also applies to processes, such as purchasing and logistics that cross organizational boundaries into the supply chain.

Another concept, shared in a book called The Slight Edge, shares something similar.  As in the Kaizen definition, it speaks of “continuous,” but also, “small.” Improvements, actions, or “hits” don’t have to be big or grand; they just have to be consistent and purposeful. 

The major factor here is consistency.

Base hits win games.

Consistent “touches” win sales.

Smiles build relationships.

A mile at a time builds endurance.

A marathon is not 26.2 miles; it’s 1 mile 26 times, plus that nasty little .2! Who added that?!

Chunking

A few days ago I began writing an article dealing with commitment, marriage, and more.  It’s a subject that’s very important and so I really wanted to do a quality job.

So, I went about it…started as I always do – with an idea, a few sentences to lead me in and an open screen.  As I began writing, I was interrupted by something. Doesn’t matter what it was. But it does matter what I did. I let the interruption in.  Then I was on a roll (downhill) and got further distracted by choosing to re-visit a huge billing error with our doctor’s office, while still working on my article.  This issue had been dragging on for a few weeks with many unfulfilled promises of resolution. Very frustrating. I figured I’d be on hold a lot, as I had been in recent weeks. This wouldn’t deter my writing, I thought, because the hold times were usually pretty long.  And so I went forward with multiple hold times, new numbers to call, rinse, repeat, and so on.  This happened for at least an hour, with no resolution even as of now.

Finally, I finished my article, though I had that nagging suspicion it wasn’t my best.  I handed it to my wife for her edits and, most important, her opinion.  When we had an opportunity to discuss it the next day, she said she was confused at some of the content, plus she had a “look.” That was code for – “yeah…this one’s not your best.”  No worries – I immediately read the code and said, “I’ll scrap it and do it again.”  She was right.

To be really honest, that’s the first time one has gotten to Amy that we went and scrapped entirely. First time.  Usually, there are edits, and occasionally the edits are more than grammar, but it’s always gotten to Amy with good enough content to further develop. Not this time.

What went wrong?  You already know.

It was a job done, but not done well. It became about quantity, and not about quality. Where did the quality suffer and transition into quantity? Easy. I never got in the zone because I was multi-tasking while writing. Not a good thing. Plus, while I was not on hold with the billing department and back to writing, was I really writing? Physically, yes; mentally, no. I was carrying the frustration of a lousy customer service experience into my writing. No focus.  Wasn’t really there. And even if the experience was good, it still would have depleted my creativity and focus because they are two completely different actions – requiring different mental and physical elements. Going back and forth kills effectiveness – kind of like highway versus city mileage. 

Chunking is my way of defining and devoting like-minded activities together and not confusing two or more at the same time. Writing is a “zone” activity for me. In order to get it right, I need to be fully dedicated, totally focused, and in “the zone.” One chunk at a time. If you’re selling – sell; don’t write or enter data in CRM or research online. That should be done before or after selling – calling, knocking, asking, and listening. If you’re meeting with your client, your employee, or a family member, same thing – chunk it. Devote your time and attention fully, and you won’t miss something that being out of focus blinds you to. That blind spot can be very costly.

Chunking comes down to this – it’s the difference between getting the job done versus getting the job done right.

End on a Win

My son and I have played a lot of tennis.  At this time, he’s moved on to climbing, so tennis has taken a significant back seat.  

Yet, I remember teaching him a concept that I hope has had a strong effect on his mindset toward sports and life in general. It’s a simple concept that many of you likely know and live.

End on a win.

Every time we played, we made sure we both got to have a “winning shot” – usually, that meant playing it out for the shot; but if time was tight, we’d at least set it up.  Come to think of it, we actually started this in baseball.  Whenever we played catch, we made sure that each of us ended with a strong throw and strong catch.  When he was 6 years old, that would often take some time! But it was worth it. 

The goal was always to end on a win. To end with a mental feeling of victory – to come in next time, knowing that last time was a success.   

Let’s take it to business. Have you ever heard of the customer service concept that you are only as good as your last experience?

You have your favorite restaurant. You’ve been there many times experiencing great service, clean atmosphere, and hot food.  Except this last time, the food wasn’t hot. What do you remember? The last time. Even with all the equity built up over the years, that last experience puts a serious damper on things. And might influence where you go next time. Might, and that’s enough to get serious about ending on a win, every time.

Here are a few easy-to-do, yet easy-to-miss ways to end on a win:

  • Leave them smiling or, minimally, leave them seeing you smile
  • Use “Thank you” and “You’re welcome”
  • Walk away only after they do (that way they don’t see you “turn your back on them”)
  • Hang up the phone…after the other person does (you don’t want them hearing you “click” off)

Ultimately, I think Mitchell got it because he’d often be the one stopping us from leaving the court, saying, “Wait, Dad!  We need to end on a win.”  And by then it was usually me that needed the win!

Peripherals

Not too long ago I remember driving on 81 near Carlisle – our hometown.  For a strange, brief moment I didn’t know where I was. Yes, I knew I was on 81 and I lived in Carlisle. But there was something missing, which I’m struggling at this moment to describe. It was as if I had never been where I was – all the familiar parts of the highway and surrounding area were completely unfamiliar. Nothing was resonating with my memory – I couldn’t seem to pull up and match with the peripherals around me. It’s happened many times, though thankfully, the lights come on pretty quickly.  Usually, it takes a couple of seconds and everything is normal again.

Sounds like a medical condition!

But I don’t think so. I think it’s just a mental thing in the moment that, for whatever reason, blocks out all the points of familiarity I’ve accumulated over the years of being on this road.   Makes me appreciate the peripherals I have around me 99.99% of the time.  And makes me think about the peripherals that others don’t have, especially when I’ve treated them under the unconscious assumption that they did.   No wonder there were gaps in their understanding and performance. Perhaps if I understood upfront that others don’t always have my peripherals, I might be more patient, more open-minded, and more empathetic.

The next time we’re giving directions, or training someone, or teaching a concept to one of our kids or one of our colleagues...let’s ask ourselves: “Do they have my peripherals?” If they don’t, you may want to change the way you communicate by having more patience, providing more upfront clarity, gaining more understanding, and being truly empathetic. Speaking of empathy…

We’ve all heard empathy defined as “Walking in someone else’s shoes.” Have you ever said, “If I was in their shoes, I’d …”? That’s not empathy – It’s still YOU in their shoes.

If I’m being truly empathetic, I’m not only in their shoes, I’m in their head, with all their peripherals, and none of mine. Changes everything.

Thank You For Your Smile

Years ago, while I was walking in the mall with a friend, business partner, and mentor, I heard him say to a guy passing by, "Thank you for your smile."  And at the immediate moment, the guy was not smiling. But after being thanked for something he wasn't actually giving, he complied, with a smile.

He did not say it in a condescending, arrogant or even sarcastic manner. He was just confident and friendly, and his comment seemed to always result in a smile that was not originally there.

Of course, I asked him about it. And he told me that people don't like to be complimented for something they haven't actually earned...so they'll usually earn it by giving the smile, even if it's after the fact.  It was kind of corny, maybe, but really stuck with me. I can't say I've made a practice of doing this since then, nor do I believe he did - I think it was just another teaching moment from him to me. Obviously, an effective one since I'm sharing it 25 years later!

This kind of goes with another lesson he shared with me those years ago - treat people into existence.  In a way, he wanted them to be happy, positive and show it with a smile – so, he thanked them. He treated them as he wanted them to be - toward him, maybe, but I think more toward themselves and therefore toward others.

Tricky, manipulative, controlling?  Could be. But few things we do in relation to others could avoid that categorization.  I believe he was authentic in his comment - he really wanted to influence others in a positive way, and this was one way to do that. Plus, he loved to have fun with people, and this certainly accomplished that as well.

Smiling makes a huge difference. It cuts through negativity and dread and, yet, it's easy to do, and perhaps easy to drive others to do as well.

So, thank you for your smile!