The Frozen Bird

A little bird was flying south for the winter. It was so cold the bird froze and fell to the ground into a large field. While he was lying there, a cow came by and dropped some dung on him. As the frozen bird lay there in the pile of cow dung, he began to realize how warm he was. The dung was actually thawing … [ Read more ]

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth is in Customer Service

About ten years ago, two weeks before Valentine’s Day, a female customer, whom we will call Sue, stopped into the store to buy a bike for her husband. Because she had gone all out to get the very best bike she could for her husband, she needed to pay us in increments. So, she put a deposit on the bike until she could save up … [ Read more ]

What Should Be True

Some organizations and initiatives are so successful that a sort of folklore arises around them. John F. Kennedy is said to have asked a janitor scrubbing a floor at Cape Canaveral what he was doing and received the reply, “I’m working to put a man on the moon.” The story is probably apocryphal, as it’s also been attributed to architect Christopher Wren at St. Paul’s … [ Read more ]

The Importance of Self-Discipline

During the 1960s, psychologist Walter Mischel conducted “the marshmallow test” with four-year-olds in the preschool at Stanford University, to assess each preschooler’s ability to delay gratification. Each four-year-old was given one marshmallow. They were told that they could eat it immediately or, if they waited until the researcher returned in 20 minutes, they could have two marshmallows.

Some kids in the group just couldn’t wait. They … [ Read more ]

Hey, You Got the Elephant

Recognition can be given in traditional ways—a complimentary e-mail, or a pat on the back for a job well done. But you can also get creative with it. One of my favorite examples is the one business consultant Alexander Kjerulf cites about a Danish car company that instituted “The Order of the Elephant.” The elephant is a two-foot-tall stuffed animal that any employee can give … [ Read more ]

The Best Bosses Shield those Who Work for Them

Annette Kyle managed some 60 employees at a Texas terminal where they loaded chemicals from railcars onto ships and trucks. In the mid-1990s, Annette led a “revolution” that dramatically raised her unit’s performance through a host of changes, including better planning, greater responsibility at the lowest levels, improved and more transparent metrics, and numerous cultural changes. She personally sewed “no whining” patches on workers’ uniforms, … [ Read more ]

Being Open to New Ideas

Rosabeth Moss Kanter tells a great story about an executive at a fabric manufacturer who took over a group and demonstrated that he was open to any new ideas. Someone from the production line approached the executive and, in a heavy foreign accent, said he had an idea that might solve a problem that had long bedeviled the company: An important type of fiber would … [ Read more ]

Treating Mistakes as Training

There’s the story of a top salesman who made a terrible mistake. He’d bought a vast amount of fruit. He thought it would be a bargain but had totally overestimated and his company was left with tons and tons of this rotting fruit. He arrived at his office the following day and started to tidy his papers, clearing his desk. He gets a call from … [ Read more ]

What a Waste of Brainpower

Several years ago, I visited a manufacturing plant in Florida, which had the best quality and productivity metrics in its division. My client and I were there to learn what the facility was doing right so we could apply those management techniques at other facilities. As the plant manager took us on the tour, he pointed out an hourly employee working on his machine. “See … [ Read more ]

The Way People Treat Each Other

Rabbi Haim of Romshishok was an itinerant preacher. He traveled from town to town delivering religious sermons that stressed the importance of respect for one’s fellow man. He often began his talks with the following story:

“I once ascended to the firmaments. I first went to see Hell and the sight was horrifying. Row after row of tables were laden with platters of sumptuous … [ Read more ]

How Do You View the Situation?

There’s a story that’s going around about the janitor at Carnegie Hall who had been there for 20 years. He’s 45 years old. He was cleaning up the restroom, and a guy in a business suit went up to him and said, ‘You seem to be an intelligent fellow. For 20 years you’ve been cleaning the toilets. Why don’t you do something with your life … [ Read more ]

What is an Employee’s Total Contribution?

In 2005, the National Basketball Association’s Houston Rockets were looking for a talented player to add to their roster. The usual scouting reports and analyses delivered a list of names. Some of them were unavailable or too expensive, and others did not seem like the right ft for the team.

Then, using advanced analytics capabilities, the Rockets’ general manager identified a player named … [ Read more ]

When you look at me, what do you see?

A fable from the East tells of an emperor and a zen monk who came face to face for the first time. The emperor ruled over a kingdom that practiced Buddhism and the monk was eager to meet with him, looking forward to sharing tales of enlightenment.

But when they met, the emperor decided to test the monk by saying to him: “When you look at … [ Read more ]

The Example of the Iowa Gambling Task

The field of neuroscience has been especially helpful in expanding our understanding of the role of emotions in decision-making. Research shows that while emotions are essential for decision-making, they can also lead us far astray in ways we may not anticipate. Antonio Damasio, one of the world’s leading researchers in neuroscience, helped design a seminal experiment that assessed the role of emotions in decision-making. It … [ Read more ]

Stephen Covey’s Big Rocks

An exercise and known as ‘Stephen Covey’s Big Rocks’. Imagine a bucket. Put three or four big rocks in. “Is the bucket full? ” “No” you reply. “Of course not” I say and put some smaller rocks in it to fill in the gaps. “Full now? “, “No”. I put in some sand, then some water. It’s full.

So, what’s the learning here? It’s to … [ Read more ]

An Experiment in Learning

In this experiment, five monkeys are put into a large cage. There’s a stool in the middle of the cage and a banana is hung from the ceiling above the stool. Outside the cage, an observer has a hose filled with ice water. It hardly needs mentioning that monkeys like bananas better than ice cold showers.

Within a few minutes, the most daring of the … [ Read more ]

Don’t let self limitations hold you back

The first [leadership lesson] I learned in the jungles of Bangalore, at an elephant camp. When you visit such a camp you see these gigantic elephants tethered with a small stake. I asked the trainer: ‘Why do they stay tethered when they could so easily pull up the stake?’ He told me: ‘Well, the elephant is tethered as a small calf; when it tries to … [ Read more ]

How to do Training

In 1991, we put some 900 people through a basic seven-step problem-solving course, using two approaches. About half the employees came to our central corporate training facility for standard classroom training. The other half were trained in teams, on the job. This group didn’t get trained until they were part of a team that was working on a real problem. When they got to a … [ Read more ]

A Violinist in the Metro

A Violinist in the Metro

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousand of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by … [ Read more ]

If you want to receive my tea, you must keep your cup empty

Positive change requires letting go of old patterns and taking a fresh approach. It demands going beyond our preconceived ideas. A story about the relationship of a teacher and student illustrates this principle. A student who thought he had it “all fgured out” would visit his teacher each day for personal lessons about life. Despite the teacher’s attempts to share her life experience, the student … [ Read more ]