This is an original post by Jack Quarles and it does not appear anywhere else.
We can buy almost anything these days, but it wasn’t always that way. Here’s a brief history of buying:
History of Buying
Back in the cave, no one bought anything. No socks, no taco kits, no iPads. You couldn’t buy anything if you wanted to.
Fast forward to the American Revolution, 1776. There was currency and a marketplace. But still, many people might go weeks or longer without buying anything, as it was commonplace to make your own houses, clothes, and food.
Some people bought socks, and some made their own. Still no taco kits.
Over the following 200 years, of course, things changed quite a bit.
In 1976, everyone buys socks, all kinds of socks. In fact, no one doesn’t buy socks. It’s a consumer society, and you have to buy to get by. This is relatively new for humans.
It’s now been 40 years since the ‘70s. We buy socks, we buy iPads, and we buy taco kits, which lead to taco night.
Taco Night, Circa 1977
Here’s what happened on Taco Night in the 1970s: older kids chopped lettuce and tomatoes, and the younger kids shredded cheese. That was either cruelty or poor design, because the aluminum box shredder was a torture device. One slice too many, and your knuckles never forgot.
Some of you remember that pain, which also almost certainly means you are over 40. Those wounds today are as rare as polio, because of the mass-produced miracle called shredded cheese.
Pre-shredded cheese was not available at the 1970s supermarkets. Maybe grated parmesan in a shaker bottle, but that was it. You couldn’t send someone to the market and say “pick up some shredded cheese” because they didn’t have it.
Taco Night, Present Day
You still can’t place a simple order to “pick up some shredded cheese,” but for a different reason. You have to provide much more specific guidance. There are now – at my local market – over 50 varieties of pre-shredded cheese. Here are a few of the options:
- Finely shredded or regular shredding
- Low-moisture or regular moisture
- Whole fat, Low-fat, 1%, Non-fat
- New York Cheddar or mild cheddar or sharp cheddar or extra sharp cheddar
- Triple cheddar, Four-cheese Mexican blend, Gourmet sharp blend
- Store brand or multiple national brands
Any one of these permutations could make taco night delicious and far less dangerous than the razor-box grater and a cheddar block. Here’s the point: a simple activity from my childhood has now been replaced with fifty different buying options.
An Explosion of Options
The cheese is a low-tech example, on purpose. How much more have our buying options exploded in entertainment, shopping, travelling, advertising, and so on…?
Is this progress? As someone who still can’t look at a cheese grater without tensing up, I certainly think so. But it also presents some challenges. We are swimming in a sea of consumer choice, awash in options, and it takes effort to stay afloat. Too many buying options can paralyze us and distract us.
The New Skill
We need ways to manage our decisions without surrendering to them. It serves us to recognize that buying is a life skill of increasing importance. Our ancestors didn’t need that skill. They just had to be able to kill bears, knit socks, and grate cheese.
To get better at buying, we can first acknowledge the skill. The next step might seem counter-intuitive: reducing our options in order to make better decisions.
Jack Quarles is a speaker, trainer, consultant, and author of Amazon #1 bestsellers How Smart Companies Save Money and Same Side Selling, as well as the upcoming Expensive Sentences. He has saved companies tens of millions of dollars over two decades in the field of expense management. Jack has co-founded several companies, serves on two non-profit boards, and received degrees from Yale and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Business. Connect with Jack on LinkedIn or Twitter (@JackQuarlesJQ).
Think about it, because perhaps you heard or have given a different message in a different meeting when the leader, or you, told the team, “Everyone must help get this done. We all must own this.” So, as leaders, what is the right message or best practice? I would argue, we must do both.
This past weekend at one of our task force meetings we got into a lengthy discussion about this paradox. While we know that it is the most efficient thing to have everyone in their own lane, we know that somtimes this just doesn’t work. Here are reasons it doesn’t always eke to stay in our own lanes:
- Individuals have not been trained properly to do the work of his lane.
- Individuals do not have the resources to do the scope of the work of her lane.
- Individuals do not have team to do the work of her lane.
- Individuals become overly concerned with everyone else’s position, you may jeopardize playing well in your own lane.
- Individualized become overly dependent on others to the point that they do your work for you. Then, you are not serving the whole well.
I believe we must own our own areas, including your realm of responsibility. If you are a leader, you have been given responsibility for a team, and no one should outpace you in passion or concern for the area you lead and steward. If we want to lead the whole, we first lead and be a steward of our lane exceedingly well. Then we will have the respect and be invited into other lanes.
But, let’s not forget the paradox, a great team pulls together in the same direction and shoulders these initiatives together. Therefore, the answer here is to spend most of our time in our own lane, but when needed we can visit other lanes. For this to work, though, we need to make sure our team members are trained properly, have the skills necessary, and understand the nuances of working in other lanes.
Do you and your team understand how to navigate the paradox of staying in your lane?
I believe widening our circle of stakeholder/community involvement is crucial to informing our most important decisions. We must identify all the participants who need to be a part of our circle for creation. By using a diverse mix of people, we can create a “maximum mix” of ideas.
Diversity of thought yields richer insights and discoveries. Collective insight evolves from:
- Honoring unique contributions.
- Connecting ideas.
- Noticing deeper patterns and questions.
If we widen our circle and invite a diverse group to collaborate, the knowledge and wisdom we need will already be present and accessible. Intelligence emerges as the system connects itself in creative ways. Encourage everyone to share their ideas and perspectives freely, and acknowledge that some people’s special contribution may be their presence as attentive listeners.
Another advantage of widening the circle is the ability to surface differences of opinion and understanding; this is part of their ability to generate new insights. I believe differences can foster either energy and excitement. A critical task of leadership is to protect space for the expression of people’s differences. When differences in opinion are truly valued, they become the object of genuine curiosity.
Is your circle wide enough?
Yesterday our Focused Leader Academy (FLA), aspiring teacher leaders, came into our commons area to find tables coevered in butcher paper with crayons (we’ll cover that in another post) and marshmallow manufacturing machines. Also on the tables were marshmallows, liquid chocolate, liquid caramel, strawberry sauce, chocolate sprinkles, chocolate chips, and sugar sprinkles. The title of our agenda for the day was “Building S’more Leadership.” The through line for the day was, of course, marshmallows.
In normal fashion, we circled our chairs and shared out upon completion of the creations. I was struck by the trust and openness we have developed in this community. Here are a couple of their stories that we live tweeted during the sharing:
So, here is a generalization of what happened: They spent the first few minutes with someone establishing the leadership role, dominance, or trying really hard to be super collaborative. In a few teams’ cases one emergee as a leader. The next few minutes were devoted to planning. Construction began, usually with less than eight minutes left on the clock. Then, with about a minute to go, someone placed the marshmallow on top of the beautiful tower, and….it collapsed – failure.
Kindergarteners and engineers do the best on this activity (see graph above). We decided that the kindergarteners win because kids don’t vacillate; they simply try something, and if it doesn’t work, they try again, and again, and again. Think about it… young children love to iterate. They are very curious.
We concluded, in our post-challenge discussion (see picture for our Mike Fleisch graphic of the discussion), that engineers are good a this because they plan, build things, and are resourceful every day. In other words, engineers are quicker to understand how the spaghetti, tape, string, and marshmallow become a system together.
The big takeaway from our teams yesterday, however, was the idea of “failing quickly.” We are all familiar with the phrase “fail fast”, but what does that really mean? And how do you put it into practice? Failing fast isn’t about the big issues, it’s about the little ones. It’s an approach development and creation that embraces lots of little experiments and iterations with the mindset that some will work and grow and others will fail and die. And, that’s okay.
Isn’t it funny how obvious and oblivious are so close? — Author unknown
Sometimes leaders lose perspective on how they are performing and engaging with members of their team. In these instances, my work with leaders can involve inviting the leader’s direct reports to purposely kick him or her in the keister.
One of the most effective ways of doing this is having the leader go through a 360-degree feedback process, where the people they are leading rate the leader’s style and performance. The raters often include the leader him- or herself, as well as the leader’s boss(es), peers, and direct reports— hence a “360-degree” view.
The feedback uses an anonymous survey consisting of quantitative data and qualitative (open-ended) questions. The idea is that people are likely to give more honest answers if they don’t feel threatened that the leader will retaliate against them for their honesty.
“A leader’s self-perception can be quite biased, so involving the broader perspective of others can be a useful development tool.” ~ Bill Treasurer
While 360-degree surveys aren’t perfect, having administered hundreds of them over the years, I’ve seen them result in positive leadership change. Sometimes dramatically so.
To be sure, it takes courage to subject oneself to a leadership 360. The feedback can be raw and hurtful. In rare instances, raters will use the process as a way to get back at a leader they don’t like. But mostly the feedback is helpful, because it allows the leader to illuminate blind spots that may be blocking his or her effectiveness.
To make this exercise successful, leader have to loosen the grip on their need to be right or perfect and admit that they are the main source of their problems and ineffectiveness. This is the courage of capitulation, disarmament, and surrender. Your old ways have lost, and unless you adopt new ways of leading, you will continue to lose over and over again.
“What makes an ass kicking so painful (and useful) is that it shines a red-hot light on the parts of yourself that are holding you back and legitimately need development, often the aspects of yourself that you’d rather avoid or didn’t even know existed.” ~ Bill Treasurer
Think back to the last time you learned a lesson the hard way. How did you react? Did you make changes to become better and stronger? Or did you entrench yourself in the conviction of your rightness?
The journey to the center of one’s self is the most important voyage you’ll ever take. It’s how you become a whole person, truly knowing the full dimensions of your talents, idiosyncrasies, and deepest desires.
It is said a global citizen is someone who identifies with being part of an emerging world community and whose actions contribute to building this community’s values and practices. We are going to have to learn to be effective change agents of a global future. We will need to create our own future, rather than trying to predict the outcome of all these global forces. Today the forces of global engagement are helping some people identify themselves as global citizens, meaning that they have a sense of belonging to a world community. This growing global identity in large part is made possible by the forces of modern information, communication, and transportation technologies.
“We know this much. The world is not going to be dominated by any one great power. For Americans that’s going to be a very difficult thing to accept. Most of us still see a world – the world of 1960 – in which America was the only great power, and the only functioning economy.” ~ Peter Drucker
Global citizens are also moved by a desire to make a positive contribution through their professional and personal lives. When it comes to being a member of the global community, will you be a leader, challenger, or spectator. Furthermore, we must bring global competency skills into our schools.
- Kids need skills to navigate globally!
- Kids Need To Navigate Shrinking World!
The skills and insights students can gain from interacting with people of different nations and cultures is critical as America engages more intensely with an increasingly global marketplace and interdependent world.
We must all serve as global community leaders and engage in the dialogue, to care about the issues and become a global citizen.
“To the world you may just be one person…but to one person you might just be the world.” ~ Mark Twain
Failure and adversity in our lives can help us, not hurt us. It’s extremely important to never lose sight of this truth. The song “My Champion” by Alterbridge delivers an extremely inspiring message to those who might feel as if they aren’t good enough. Click here to check out my video of the song I made while in Nashville, Tennessee with the band. Here is my favorite line from the song that always keeps me going:
“You’ve lost so many times it hurts
But failures made are lessons learned
Cause in the end what you are will be much more
Than you were.” ~ Alterbridge – My Champion
To turn failure into a gift and grow through the tough times instead of just casually going through them, you must begin to start focusing on ways to actually resolve the situation. I think back to my childhood days of watching the original MacGyver show, and now in the new MacGyver – the character always looks for the solution, not at the problem. Many people let their minds wander toward the negative, which then prompts them to focus on more problems instead of searching for ways to resolve the situation and grow from it.
Leaders and organizations that are able to get through tremendous setbacks and actually grow because of them are the ones who focus on solutions, not more problems. We can look to my hero, Thomas Edison, for a quick example. His persistence in continually searching for solutions after facing one failure after another is a prime example of the utter importance of focusing on ways to advance.
Looking for the solution is so crucial. Just staring at the problem is futile. Here are a few questions that can help keep us focused on developing solutions and not being focused on the problem/challelenge:
- How can we solve this task?
- How can we address this problem?
- What would be the first step to solve this problem?
- What kind of preparations will be necessary for this task?
I am super excited to bring you my first Byron’s Babbles vlog post. I have been wanting to do this and Lesson #26 in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart entitled “Blinded By An Egg” gave me the inspiration. This is a story about Christopher Columbus and I hope you are as inspired as I was. Here is the link to my vlog post: Byron’s Babbles: Discovery Has No Example
“Discovery has no example, no easy path to follow. Are you willing to see and follow unknown paths?” ~ John Parker Stewart
“I’m just a plow hand from Arkansas, but I have learned how to hold a team together. How to lift some men up, how to calm down others, until finally they’ve got one heartbeat together, a team. There’s just three things I’d ever say: If anything goes bad, – I did it. If anything goes semi-good, then we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.” ~ Bear Bryant
Lesson #25 entitled “Big Bear, Little Ego” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart tells the story of Bear Bryant when he was in the United States Navy and disobeyed an order to abandon ship to save shipmates – teammates. Bryant may have pushed them to extreme limits and beyond what they thought they were capable of, but he got the best out of them. The players understood that. And they knew that Bryant was committed to their success. That’s where the bond came from—they were all in it together. Some leaders claim they don’t care if they’re liked; they just want to be respected. Other leaders are well liked but not really respected. The unusual leader, the really good one, is respected and revered. It takes a unique balance in a person to inspire that kind of loyalty and admiration, but it can be done. Coach Bryant brought his teams together by focusing on a common goal. They worked together, survived together, and ultimately succeeded together. Remember, great leaders do not consider themselves more important than the team, but as a part of the team. Leaders merely have a different set of responsibilities.
“Ready! Down! Break! Hut! Hut! Hut!” Send a spiraling pass to your team!