Small business promotion with retail speaker Tom Shay
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To bee or not to bee

Thinking Outside the Box

In science class, the teacher put 10 flies into a large mayonnaise jar. There were small holes punched in the metal top that was on the jar. The jar was laid on its side for several hours. At the same time, 10 bees were placed in an identical jar. A couple of hours later, the lids are removed from each jar.

The next day we see the jar that contained the flies is empty as the flies have flown out of the jar. Looking at the jar containing the bees, we find they are all still in the jar. But, they are dead as they have not had any food or liquids for the past day. 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, their biological programming there is a difference.

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 keep trying. 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; road by road of how they get to their destination. With clearly written directions, they should arrive at the correct location.

The second option is to utilize a road map. We teach them how to read the map. With the instructions, we 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 first driver comes to a point where the road is closed due to construction. They exit the highway, find their way around the detour, and return 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 can't get there.

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. Our second driver will most likely reach their destination because they can adapt to the situation.

What does this 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. Unfortunately, many of us see ourselves as being the best at each of the necessary skills within our business.

However, many of the best owners and managers realize they are not the one who will always have the best idea. In fact, they know that every employee is bringing at least one skill to the workplace in which they are the best. The challenge 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.  When one of your employees sees the opportunity, 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 yours. 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. 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. If their effort fails, they can easily blame their failure on our instructions. 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. 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.

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.

Tom Shay is a fourth generation small business owner providing proven management and business building ideas through his Profits Plus Seminars, Profits Plus Solutions coaching, books authored, and articles written. Tom can be reached at 727-464-2182 or through his web site:

Profits Plus Solutions, Inc.
PO Box 1577
St. Petersburg, Fl 33731
(727) 464-2182
Fax: (727) 898-3179