aka How ruthlessness might change your bottom line

In a wonderful piece I heard recently on NPR (wish I could remember the show to give a link, sorry), a rowing team took lessons in team harmony, being in sync, and zen-like techniques to get them focused on working together and behaving as a unit to take their races to the next level.

They did become more harmonious. Their strokes were more in sync, and they thought less of individual performance and more of team unity. They were one smooth, sleek machine instead of a bunch of hotshot athletes… everything they and their coach had been aiming for.

Except… It had the unintended consequence of making their racing times slower.

Rewarding harmony versus winning, squelching creativity and individual desire for glory, and focusing too hard on team spirit made for a happier team who couldn’t win races. And who no longer felt quite so strongly that winning was everything!

(Nice guys really do finish last? But that’s not what this story’s about.)

One client I had a while back ran a café. Right into the ground. He made the café a gathering place, warm and inviting, suffused with his personality. People bought a tea or a coffee and told him their problems, or caught up with friends, or played chess. His regulars were so loyal it was like that rowing team.

But new folks felt uncomfortable there, and old regulars had days when they couldn’t make it, and when they were there, being regulars, they bought something tiny or sometimes nothing at all, feeling like my client was getting their money over time, why bust the piggy bank to hang out with him?

He busted his piggy bank trying to keep their hangout afloat, and wondered if there was a solution far too late.

The unintended consequences of trying to be everyone’s friend.

Another client spent enormous amounts of time introducing her firm to new prospects. Believe it or not, word-of-mouth spread about these (free) presentations. Everybody wanted to be pitched to—but no one was buying. It’s still a work in progress, but she’s been able to put new procedures in place, make her website clearer so she can point to it first instead of running all over town, and no longer pitches to looky-lous. When she makes her (still great) presentations, it’s almost a formality, because people have pre-sold themselves and she and they are clear on whether her services are right for them in advance.

The unintended consequences of being a killer presenter.

A friend of mine is a genius idea-man. He really belongs in a think tank and I’ve told him so a million times (email me if you’re at a think tank and looking for a supergenius), mixing problems all around and then solving them like a Rubik’s Cube, but the linear jobs he was in for many years left every employer complaining he was a dreamer and a drifter and not much of a finisher. He couldn’t be satisfied with the linear life, either, so “drifter” wasn’t far off—when he’d solve the Cubes at one place he’d be in search of another job that posed a mental challenge in a hurry. At last he found a company with fresh and wildly different projects starting every few months and plenty of help to do the “boring” part of finishing them, in between bits of more linear work, and he couldn’t be more happy.

The unintended consequences of being a brilliant starter.

So many websites I see are great at pulling visitors in but not at convincing them to buy.

So many retail shops have unique offerings and a fabulously skewed view of the world perfect for attracting devotees, but they’re busy marketing themselves as everything for everyone, wondering why no one comes in.

So many professionals want to be your friend, but like that rowing team, they’ve lost their edge. They’re bland and comfortable instead of driven and forward-thinking, believing that they’d scare off tradition-bound clients. To heck with the tradition-bound clients! Results will pull in far more of the clients they want—the ones who are ready to move forward with them—than zen attitude.

So many restaurants work way too hard on being a hangout. That client of mine was not alone. Being a place to spend time is good only IF: customers tell your friends, and keep telling ‘em; they spend money while hanging out; they don’t make the atmosphere too “insider” to draw in new customers, so they can hang out and spend money, and tell their friends…

Maybe you see yourself here. I’m guilty of creating some unintended consequences myself, and I suspect from time to time we all are.

The best remedy, from my perspective, is to keep on strategizing. Create as many intended consequences as you can. Watch for plans that go awry and don’t be afraid to deep-six ‘em quickly. Your don’t have room in your bottom line for a wait-and-see attitude—be ruthless about the plans that create unintended consequences.

And of course, never encourage your rowers to develop zen habits.


Grow and be well,

Kelly Erickson