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To Bee Or Not To Bee

Thinking Outside the Box

In science class, we watched as someone put 10 flies into a large mayonnaise jar. There were small holes punched in the top, and then the top was placed on the jar. The jar was laid on its side and sat on the table for a couple of hours.

At the same time, 10 bees were placed in an identical jar with the same exercise being performed with the top, and the jar placed on the table near the jar containing the flies. A couple of hours later, the lids are removed from each jar and the jars left on the table.

The next day we return to the class room to see what has happened with our experiment. The jar that contained the flies is empty as all of the flies have flown out of the jar. Looking at the jar containing all of the bees, we find they are all still in the jar. But, they are all dead as they have not had any food or liquids for the past day. Yet, like the flies, they were free to go but they did not. What happened?

According to our science books, flies and bees are both genetically programmed to fly toward light source. However, within their biological programming there is a difference. The bees are so tightly programmed that they can not do anything else.

The bees have no adaptive skills. When a situation requires them to be creative, they cannot. They know to only fly toward the light, and if something gets in between them and the light, all they know to do is bump into that something. Think of it in human terms. Someone asks you how to get to another town that is 200 miles away. You have two options as you decide how to help them.

The first option is to give them the directions. Use paper and pen, and write out the directions; street by street and highway by highway of how they get to their destination. With clearly written directions, they should arrive at the correct location and on time.

The second option is to utilize a road map. We will begin by marking the starting spot, and the destination on the map. Then we will then teach them how to read the map. With the instruction, we will send them on the way with their map. Which technique is better?

Let's make our decision by looking at this possibility. Traveling down the highway, our driver comes to a point where the road is closed for the next 20 miles due to construction. As they exit the designated highway, they are left to find their way around the detour, and again back to the highway. Will our driver find their way? Perhaps. But, we have not instructed them how to deal with the necessary detour. There is a good chance that this driver could wind up like the bees; they know where they want to go, but they can't get there.

However, our other driver, knowing how to read the map, will probably stop on the side of the road to plot a new route around the detour. There may be a time delay, but our second driver will most likely reach their destination because they can adapt to the situation.

What is the similarity in the bees, flies, directions, and a road map? And more importantly, what does it have to do with your business? In addition to the two examples we just gave, the two comparisons relate to management styles.  The bees and flies also relate to how we function as owners and managers.  Do we see other options when we are making decisions with regard to our business?

The most handicapped businesses today are those that have an owner or manager making all of the decisions by themselves. Most all of us, as owners and managers, would be able to quickly create a list of our own management skills when asked. Our skills would cover areas such as personnel, marketing, pricing, purchasing, and a host of other retail oriented skills. Unfortunately, many of us see ourselves as being the best at each of these skills within the confines of our business.

As a contrast to this, many of the best managers and owners are those who realize they are not the one who will always have the best idea. In fact, they know that each and every employee is bringing at least one skill to the workplace in which they are the best.

The task facing these best owners and managers is to find out what that talent is, and put it to use in the work place. This type of thinking constantly exposes the business to new ideas and challenges. Imagine a challenge your business faces being similar to the jars of bees and flies. If there is creative thinking going on, then someone within the business is likely to find the way out.

The same is true with an opportunity. You might be occupied with other aspects of the business, and one of your employees sees the opportunity. Now your business can profit from the vision of more than one person. That can happen as long as you let your employees know that their thoughts and ideas do count. Will all of their ideas work? No. But then again neither do all of the ideas of the owner and manager. That said; we progress to the second comparison – the directions and the roadmap.

Think of the occasion where you are giving instructions to someone working for you. There are at least two ways to utilize another person to accomplish something. We can give the person the directions of how to perform the task. In all likelihood, we will give the directions based upon our experiences, the way we have performed the same task, or the way we think the task should be done.

While the person may be benefiting from our past efforts, they are also handicapped by the detail of our very specific instructions. We can also experience several problems with this style. We may have an employee that does not have confidence in our instructions. We have probably not bothered to ask the employee how they think it should be done. We do not know if they have the skills to do the task our way.

If their effort fails, they can easily blame their failure on our instructions.  These thoughts, and others like them can often lead to a situation that is doomed to fail from the start. Looking at the scenario from the perspective of teaching someone to read the road map, we are working to help an employee to see the overall picture. For example, we would be showing an employee the components of an excellent display.

Our "map" would explain how a display needed to be tested. And, how the results should be documented so we could see how to improve the next display to increase sales. With this technique we will soon find ourselves not having to spend each and every moment with the employee to show them how to do each and every task.

And with each session of education with our employee, we have now accomplished three things. The first is to free our time to do something different; perhaps doing something that is more valuable to your business.

The second is to have an employee that is now more valuable to your business. And the last is that you now have two of you that are on the same page with regard to the building of your business.

So the next time you want to give directions to an employee, think about whether you are wanting them to become a fly or a bee; and if you have given them a road map or just told them what to do. It could make a tremendous difference in your business.

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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