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Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Volume 16 | # 374
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A fool with a plan will beat a genius without one every time." » John Walton

A Sensible Position

One of my longtime favorite columnists is ESPN's Bill Simmons. Recently, I read an archived column of his that made me smile. In it, he suggested that sports leagues establish Vice Presidents of Common Sense.

These folks' jobs would be to step in and kill dumb ideas and moves.

His hypothetical position would be held by "regular guys" not involved in the day-to-day operations of an organization. He reasons that insulated managers too often make the same moves time and again – regardless of what history should have taught them.

While Simmons plays this topic for laughs and sticks to sports, I couldn't help thinking that his advice would have more than a touch of merit in most businesses.

When I repeatedly hear about certain sales practices that employees hate, I ask the same question. Do you have the wrong strategies or the wrong people? It's been my experience that folks don't hate practices that work.

People typically don't complain about working hard. They complain about having to do things that prove to be unproductive or even counter-productive.

But when a nonproductive practice is questioned, managers often reason that it has worked before or must have worked somewhere else… right?

A VP of Common Sense would step in and say that one of three things has to happen. Either: 1) A strategy or tactic is flawed (or outdated) and should change, 2) People are in the wrong jobs and need to be replaced, or 3) Someone needs to do a better job of explaining the strategy and/or tactics.

Option 3 is almost always the first choice. It's quicker and requires less change. And if Option 3 fails, most folks… well, take Option 3 again.

It seems safer to keep doing what's always been done. And folks figure they're more likely to be punished for trying something new and failing than for doing what they've always done… and failing.

Of course, that feeling of safety is illusory. As our industry and our customers' expectations evolve (one usually slower than the other), change is not the enemy. It's the key to survival and prosperity.

Changing tactics for the sake of change isn't good. But neither is doubling-down on strategies and tactics that aren't producing results anymore.

Resolve in the New Year to be your own VP of Common Sense and identify which ones need to go.

Neighborly Advice

Last weekend, I found myself reflecting on business practices in an unexpected place. That place was a Christmas party at the home of Scott and Angie. They're our new neighbors.

We've been in our current home for a bit over 7 years, and I figured we knew the neighborhood pretty well.

When we originally moved in, my wife went door-to-door handing out invitations to a house warming party. She handed out fliers at every house we could see from our own.

Through the years, we've become familiar with almost all of our closest neighbors and friends with a few. Only one has moved during the past 7 years.

Scott and Angie now live one block over from us, out of direct view of our home. While I guess I've always been aware of that house, I didn't know the previous owner.

But Scott and Angie have a 12-year-old daughter who made a point to meet every kid in her new neighborhood. (Kids aren't big on sticking to one block.) So, we've been pulled into their circle.

What struck me as we chatted with other guests at the party was that I didn't recognize 75% of them - even though I drive, jog, or walk past many of their homes several times a week. There were no cars parked outside, but 70 people were in the house.

It was funny to have 10 different conversations that included, "Where do you live? Oh, that's you!  What kind of dog is that in your yard? How old are your kids? How long have you lived here?"

I had to laugh after we returned home and my wife said, "I think I like this neighborhood. Those were nice people we met tonight." I kidded, "And it only took us seven years to meet them."

We both agreed how odd it was that our daily routines and our "social circles" had become so closed that we had never met people living just over 100 yards from us in seven years. I found myself thinking that we should take more walks off our regular paths now and then.

I gained "neighbors" without any new homes going up. All it took was someone making those introductions happen. It's natural to think you know everyone in your store, your office building, your neighborhood… heck, even your town.

But there are almost always opportunities to find interesting folks and relationship opportunities (literally) just around the corner.

How neighborly will you be this week?

The best way to escape from a problem is to solve it. » Alan Saporta

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