King Me — I Landed on Boardwalk

My wife, our two kids, and I just returned from 10 relative-filled days with my family. Yes, we’re all right, thanks.

On our brief 14-hour drive to Cape Cod, our kids watched Bob the Builder (“Can we fix it? Yes, we can!”), Dora the Explorer, and Mary-Kate and Ashley’s Costume Party (they watched it more than a dozen times). You remember the Olsen twins, don’t you? If I ever hear that video again, I’ll pull out my eyelashes with salad tongs.

But enough about my hardships. As inevitably happens with a huge gathering of family, kids and adults get bored. One day it rained, and I watched what the nine kids did to amuse themselves. The condo owners had thoughtfully left assorted parts of Parcheesi, Monopoly, and checkers. I watched the kids invent games of their own that had nothing to do with the official rules of those hallowed games.

They pulled the assorted pieces from the three games and made their own game. I don’t pretend to understand the rules or the object of their game but it was fascinating to watch. Without adults telling them how to do it, they were just fine creating their own games and rules.

It took every ounce of my being not to go in and tell them that they were doing it wrong. Doing what wrong? Being creative and working out disagreements among themselves? We all learned a few things that morning:

  • Our kids get plenty of scheduling during the school year. Ballet, swimming, soccer, basketball, and religious studies take up lots of time. Is all that necessary?
  • Left to their own devices, kids will spend as much time developing rules as playing the game. It’s a great way for them to develop problem-solving skills.
  • Kids don’t need us around every minute of the day.
  • Kids need stare-at-the-sky time. When was the last time you told your kids to go outside and just do something fun?

Now let’s apply these principles to our work life…

Whether you work for General Electric or yourself, you probably get into a rut every now and then. Don’t believe me? Try changing your schedule when you get to work. It’s not easy. Here are some time-tested ways to get more out of yourself and the people you work with:

  • Examine the way you correspond with your clients. Have some of your new employees take this on as a project. They can look at each document and use a yellow highlighter to underline anything they don’t understand. Determine what is actually necessary and what is “the way we’ve always done things.” If you can’t find a good reason to keep it, get rid of it.
  • Brainstorm every week. When was the last time you really got creative? No matter what you do for a living, more ideas can lead to fresh ideas. Involve everyone in your group, and you’ll be surprised where some of the best ideas come from. It’s unbelievable how much mental power is lost simply because nobody asks for feedback. Lots of companies offer cash rewards or prizes for idea generation. Do you? It amazes me how companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on high-priced consultants without looking inward first.
  • Identify your big thinkers. Guess what… your best thinkers might not be your highest-paid creative directors! Hard to believe, but some of the new, young folks might be your most creative. Involve them often and early. You’re not paying them much, so why not give them something that really matters to them: respect earned from helping to develop new ads and better processes and a seat at the big table.
  • Involve your clients. When was the last time you surveyed your clients? They’ll be happy to tell you how they feel. They’ll also be glad you asked. You may not like the results, but you can show your employees and clients that you take self-improvement seriously. What business couldn’t use a healthy dose of critical examination?
  • Play a little. We played laser tag last week for a few hours. It didn’t cost a fortune, but it did get us out of work at 2:00 for a few hours of fun. I work five feet from two people I never interact with about business. It gave us a chance to catch up on a few accounts that we were working on. We also teamed up to kick some serious laser ass.
  • The big switcheroo. Do you know what everyone in your company does? Shadow someone for a few hours. Pick someone who has absolutely nothing to do with your job. The new perspective you gain will help you understand another part of your company — and you’ll have a new friend in another department. And an amazing thing happens when you cross department lines: You will find a reason to involve them in upcoming projects. It just happens that way.

If you have suggestions to get out of a rut at work, please let me know. You can email me at stickyideas@hotmail.com. If any of them involve Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, however, I’ll personally hunt you down and sing all the songs on their last video.

Have a great weekend.

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