Friday, July 30, 2010

Identifying the Real Problem Can Save a Lot of Time (and Sweat)

I begin this posting with a personal story. I played hookie from work yesterday afternoon to go on an impromptu bike adventure with my wife. Careful what you wish for, because we definitely wound up with an adventure.
Six miles from home on the Gateway Trail, my wife noticed my back tire was low, so I dutifully stopped to pump it up. Unfortunately, the tire pump did not release well, and, as I was tugging on it, the entire valve stem tore from the inner tube, releasing all the air – new and old. And me with no spare tube.

Did I mention six miles from home?

It wasn’t all bad. It was a nice day. We were together. But I felt a little stupid pushing my bike while other cyclists zipped by. My immediate dilemma was which direction to head. Try the six-mile hike home, or push on to this very vague notion I had that there was a bicycle store ahead of me – somewhere.

Feeling optimistic, we pushed forward. Two miles of avoiding the pedals scraping our shins later, I finally flagged down two cyclists and asked if my hopes of nearby bike shop were in vain. They assured me I was on the right path, and only a mile away. That raised our spirits, and we renewed our hike, watching the two cyclists gain momentum and disappear into the horizon.

But what really raised our spirits was when those two cyclists appeared again heading towards us.

“You know,” one of them said, “There’s a Target about six blocks from here.” And he pointed the way.

They understood my real situation: I needed a new inner tube. Yes, they were able to point me towards the bike store I had asked about, but they literally went out of their way to provide the solution that best fit our needs: a nearby store that sells inner tubes.

By identifying real problems for clients (and friends, family, and hapless strangers), we demonstrate a sort of super-empathy that satisfies the immediate need, and often with the least amount of resources. This requires a commendable level of creativity and commitment to helping others. It seems to me, incidentally, that this pairing of traits would make for one kick-ass sales force.

P.S., I had to buy a nine-dollar wrench in order to replace my flat, but it’s already safe in my back pack with the patch kit and another spare inner tube for the next time I hit the trail. I consider it a $9 memento of how, in spite of incessant bad news all around us, there are opportunities to be human in the highest sense.

Thank you, good Samaritan cyclists, whoever you are!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Steering the Bandwagon

One way we influencers influence others is by generating the illusion that there is a groundswell of support for an initiative, product, or service. This is known as the bandwagon, which calls to mind images of a raucous parade, appearing mysteriously but moving determinedly forward.

The core of this parade is a particularly loud float – the one supporting the weight of a be-tassled brass band.

The bandwagon can be rolled out within companies. A new service initiative, a new human resources strategy, a new accounting system. “Everyone’s on board, you should be on board, too!”

Where the bandwagon came from is less important than where they’re going.

Where are they going?

That’s the magic of the bandwagon method of garnering support. Throw a pro football player up there next to the band, and we’re hooked. We’ll follow that parade into the gaping jaws of hell itself.

Or at least into the grocery store, or the Gap, or Afghanistan, or healthcare reform.

Once the wheels begin rolling, the bandwagon becomes a collection of shiftless individuals who drive forward with the momentum – the most dynamic barnacles – under the misconception they are part of a common cause.

The truth is, the bandwagon is applied as the insidious invention of one or two masterminds (or marketing directors). Seldom are the captains of the bandwagon strategy actually on the bandwagon. They lurk in their foregone conclusions, rubbing their hands, waiting for the rubes with pockets full of money to roll in.

Hard questions are brushed aside, and if one resists the joyous cacophony of the group-think polka, then one quickly finds that the steel wheels of the band slow for no dissenters.
Perhaps the best way to counteract the bandwagon pandemic (band-demic?) is to get on board – and STEER. Join in the banter. Shout with the heady crowd and, by degrees, edge the bandwagon in the right direction.

If you know where the right direction lies, that is.

Consider it a polite highjacking.