Chronic Uh-Ohs

Have you ever had a chronic issue that simply couldn’t be resolved in a cost effective manner? In fact, maybe there isn’t any sort of solution at all. What do you do – especially if the situation has a negative impact on customer satisfaction? Here’s an example of what we encountered on one of our apartment communities. In this particular case, there is an issue with our water supply lines. Very simply – they break a lot. When this happens, apartments flood; sheetrock is damaged; carpet is destroyed, and residents are inconvenienced. We’ve spent huge sums of money to clean up the aftermath and have looked for every way possible to prevent the problem in the first place. Unfortunately, the piping material is flawed and short of re-piping the property, there isn’t another solution. And re-piping could run into the millions of dollars, so it’s just not an option.

The impact that this issue has had on our team and our residents has been profound. We’ve lost staff over this problem. A number of residents have moved out. Our team is weary of dealing with a challenge they cannot solve. Unfortunately there’s a lot of negativity on display among our team members. This negative energy feeds on itself and everyone holds their breath each day hoping that the phone doesn’t ring with more bad news.

But all is not lost because there is something we can do. We can (and must) take a chronic situation like our pipe-break dilemma and turn it into a positive. We accept the fact that we are going to have pipes break from time-to-time. Acceptance is the first step in this process. For far too long we’ve operated in a state of denial. But this doesn’t have to be. Knowing that this problem will persist, we next amass as much data as we can generate and continually pore over it, looking for patterns or any other key elements that might help us identify where the next break might happen. Is there a particular location in the piping runs where most breaks occur? Does temperature or water pressure play a role?  We obviously focus on higher level units first since breaks on those floors can wreak more havoc than a first floor apartment. Ultimately we take whatever proactive steps we can to prevent the breaks – even to the extent of making some repairs before a break occurs.

The next part of this turn-the-negative-into-a-positive process can actually be fun. We develop a comprehensive plan for how we are going to create a wonderful experience for our residents when a pipe breaks and their apartment floods. Sounds crazy – right? How could anyone think wet carpet and water coming through the ceiling is a “wonderful experience?” But here’s how we make it happen. We mobilize our clean-up and repair team that is highly trained to deal with issues like this. We communicate clearly and often. We do everything in our power to minimize the inconvenience to the resident. Knowing that we are going to have a certain vacancy factor built into our financial model, we take a few vacant apartments and fully furnish and equip them with all of the comforts of home. When a flood occurs, our team quickly moves clothing and other necessary items for the resident(s) affected, into one of the furnished units. We treat them to a nice dinner out and provide them with gift baskets. Perhaps we’ll even offer them movie tickets or send them to an amusement park. In other words, we try to create a positive experience for them that they might not otherwise enjoy. Meanwhile, our team is working fast and furiously to repair the leak, clean and sanitize the carpet, repair the sheetrock and put the apartment back the way it was before the flood. Then, as quickly as possible, we move the resident back into their original apartment. And I can’t emphasize enough the need for clear and constant communications.

Probably the most critical aspect of dealing with chronic problems like I’ve described is the mindset of the team. If the attitude is negative – we’re doomed from the start. When we look for creative ways to “wow” the customer, we can create goodwill AND it can be exciting and stimulating for our team. No, the problem doesn’t go away and coping with it may still be costly. But when our team finds a way to turn a negative into a positive for the customer – we will experience even greater levels of success than we might have otherwise.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 123 – Who Is This Murphy Guy?

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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Whale Sharks

Solving problems is a hallmark of entrepreneurship. Challenges are presented every single day of our existence – some small, some large and some that are the size of a 41,000 pound Whale Shark. Regardless of their size, we know that we must persevere and work through the many issues we face. Let’s stop for a moment and think about our problem-solving encounters. Are they particularly stressful or do we handle them on a pretty even-keeled basis?

There have been periods in my career where problem-solving was extremely hard. Why? Because I made it so. There were times when nothing seemed to go right. It was like putting together a jig-saw puzzle and there was a piece that I absolutely, positively knew belonged in a specific location, but it wouldn’t quite fit. It was a maddening experience until I eventually figured out that I had jammed the correct piece in another spot – and that was also wrong. How did I feel? Frustrated is an understatement. At other times I’d be cruising along fixing little nits and nats along the way, only to find that other minor issues would keep cropping up. I remember putting together model airplanes as a kid. I might get a little too much glue on one part that would leak out through the seam. Or my hand wasn’t as steady as necessary and I’d get some paint in the wrong place. How did I feel? Irritated is the proper term.

Frustration, irritation, anger and anxiety are all emotions that we can feel when we are dealing with our challenges du jour. Then when a Whale Shark-sized problem swims by, it can push us over the edge into a full-blown meltdown. I’ve been there with all of this and I’m betting that you’ve been there too. Eliminating the drama in my life has been a priority in recent years. I decided to try and become more like a robot in this regard  . . . a robot named Zen! As time has passed, I’ve become much friendlier with Zen. I’m much less inclined to major in drama where problem-solving is concerned.

Here’s how I’m succeeding at experiencing less in the way of negative emotions when dealing with business and personal obstacles alike. I’m not a poker player but have watched enough poker to understand what a “poker face” is all about. So I try and emulate a poker player when I’m working a problem. It’s become a game for me to see if I can reach a solution without anyone (including myself) detecting frustration, irritation or any other unfavorable emotion. This works most of the time for small issues.

For larger problems I take a deep breath, smile and gulp in a healthy dose of positivity and optimism. Starting from a positive place is critical. Recently I heard someone reject optimism in favor of hope. To me, optimism is more of an action-oriented belief system. Hope is like keeping my fingers crossed. I’d rather place my trust in visualizing a positive outcome than keeping a rabbit’s foot in my pocket. Each step of the way I remind myself to stay positive and avoid the negative emotions. I look for the small victories along the way. And guess what – there are small victories in the midst of solving large challenges if we look for them. They are like stepping stones that take us from one side of the stream to the other without getting our feet wet.

Finally, here’s my approach to the Whale Shark problems. I get into a clinical state of mind. I map out a process from A to Z. My business colleagues know that I work a lot with spreadsheets and diagrams. I use these tools quite often to figure out the really big, hairy, tough stuff. This is where my robot, Zen, enters the picture. I love the story about Captain Sully Sullenberger who landed his US Airways aircraft on the Hudson River when both engines flamed out after ingesting a flock of geese. This man became a robot. In his mind he mapped out a solution to the problem. He remained calm and didn’t panic. Sully didn’t agonize over the decisions he made because there wasn’t time to do so. Embracing a process-driven approach and maintaining focus is the best way to avoid destructive negative emotions when solving the Whale Shark-sized problems.

We will succeed to a much greater degree when we learn how to control or eliminate negative emotions when solving problems. Then it doesn’t matter if the issue is small, large or of a Whale Shark scale – we’re well prepared.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 69 – Old Fashioned or New-Fangled?

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

A Rabbit and a Hat

Have you ever felt like your back was against the wall? And I’m not talking about a looming deadline to renew a driver’s license. No, I’m referring to a true-life Indiana Jones sort of experience. You’ve stepped into a room and activated some sort of an ancient counterweight that causes the floor, ceiling and walls to shift and begin to close in on you. There’s seemingly no way out and you can either await your doom or “MacGyver it” and improvise a solution. I apologize – sometimes my metaphors can really become convoluted. Indiana, meet MacGyver. Perhaps you’re running low on cash – in your business or personal life. Maybe your top three team members have just announced they are setting up shop across the street and will become your competitor. Or your top three customers have determined that they will be purchasing 75% to 90% less of your product.

Human nature might say that a panic attack is in order, followed by a bottle or two of something at least 100-proof. We’re at a loss in terms of how to react. Some might call this a state of shock. While all we may want to do is run and hide, that’s simply not an option. And we really aren’t receptive to the notion espoused by a parent (or a coach) at some point in the past – “what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” Instead we look at the wall that seemingly has no way over, under or around, and completely shut down. Except there’s one thing . . . we cannot shut down. Period. Ultimately we develop a special kind of spirit. I call it “undaunted spirit.” In our hearts we truly believe that nothing is insurmountable. This isn’t just a conscious state of mind – it’s a knowing at the very core of our being.

So exactly how do we achieve this undaunted spirit? We can’t just snap our fingers and manifest it. It requires daily preparation and practice every chance we get. Undaunted spirit isn’t something that flips on and off like a light switch. Once we have it we always want to maintain it.

Step one is to make a game out of solving problems creatively. Entrepreneurs are pretty quick to solve a problem and move on without giving much thought to all of the different solutions that might be available. We usually go for the most intuitive, expeditious and least costly. But doing this deprives us of the opportunity to look at a whole host of other ideas. The entire point in doing this is to help us realize that there are usually many different options from which we can choose. It may be obvious that if kids are tracking a path through our yard after school, we plant a couple of thorn bushes to dissuade this behavior. If we slow down and think about it, there may be other solutions that are equally workable or even better. Maybe we could have the lawn sprinkler system set to come on as school is dismissing. Using every day issues like this to practice creatively identifying multiple solutions prepares us for the Tuesday when we learn that there’s not enough money to make payroll on Friday.

Step two is to do whatever it takes to stay positive every minute of every day. I’ve said it before – negative thoughts and negative energy never solved anything. Worse, they block the flow of positive energy that delivers creative solutions. Practicing maintaining a positive mindset in our everyday life prepares us for the day when the “you-know-what” hits the fan.

Step three is simple – stay calm. I remember years ago I was flying my airplane and practicing approaches in unstable weather. I was instrument rated and wanted to get some real life experience in more difficult conditions. A storm was moving in and I was near the airport when all of a sudden I was caught in a strong downdraft. I was going straight down and I mean STRAIGHT DOWN. Charts and pencils were flying around the cabin – and just as quickly I was caught in an updraft and going straight up and I mean STRAIGHT UP! I will confess that there was a brief moment of “pucker factor,” but I had practiced staying calm and the practice took over. I knew I just had to fly the airplane and not worry about anything else, and by remaining calm I was able to make it through a scary situation unscathed.

Creatively identifying multiple options; fiercely maintaining a positive frame of mind and keeping calm helps us develop undaunted spirit. Then like a magician, we are able to pull the rabbit out of a hat whenever the need arises because we know that no challenge is insurmountable.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Audio Episode 48 – Pluses and Minuses.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

Knock-Knock . . .

Knock-knock. Who’s there? Problem. Problem who? This childhood riddle is emblematic of a common perspective that many of our daily encounters present problems for us. But are they really problems? I’m sure that an argument can be made that anything a bit perplexing or where a less-than-favorable outcome is realized, could be considered a problem. But why do we choose to believe this so often? Some of us by nature are problem-solvers (I’ve been known to fall in this category) and so we may see situations as problems to be solved. But I submit that there is a different way to look at this.

For the last many years, I’ve become more and more inclined to be an “opportunity-seeker.” And what a difference it makes to see things as less problematic and more opportunistic. Obviously this is a subtle shift in mindset – does it really matter what we call it? I believe that it does because of how we tend to react internally to problems versus opportunities. Some of our natural feelings when facing a problem may be dread, fear, surprise, fatigue, victimization, overload, resignation, procrastination and apathy. All of these feelings are cloaked in negativity. Of course there are positive ways to view problems and many of us may do so; but I’ll bet that the natural tendency is to focus more on the negative perspective.

On the other hand, becoming an “opportunity-seeker” is a proactive and positive manner in which to move through challenging situations. Notice my language here. I didn’t talk about “facing” a problem. I didn’t talk about a “resolution.” Instead I used the words “move through challenging situations.” This sounds effortless but it’s not. However, the process of “moving through challenging situations” does not have to be filled with our own emotional downside drama. And there’s one component to being an “opportunity-seeker” that makes it all worthwhile in my view. We get to unleash our creativity.

Creativity is one of the most positive energies that we can experience. It’s much more expansive than just figuring out how to fix something. Metaphorically speaking, creativity enables us to make things bigger and better. I’m sure you’ve felt the frustration of trying to put together a puzzle where you simply can’t find the right piece. We just want to “fix” the situation by finding the missing piece and moving on – right? Contrast this with taking a pile of Lego® pieces and building an object right out of our minds-eye. That’s the difference between being a problem-solver and an opportunity seeker. Some situations will always require finding the right piece to the puzzle no matter how creative we want to be. But we can find a way to harness our creativity in every situation. In the literal case of the puzzle, perhaps we can become more imaginative in the way we sift through the pieces to find the right one. Or maybe we make a game out of it.

When we choose to stop seeing challenging situations as problems we cease limiting ourselves to being only problem-solvers. Moving through challenging situations by looking for opportunities to be creative opens the way for feelings of joy, accomplishment, euphoria, happiness and satisfaction. Knock-knock. Who’s there? Opportunity!

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

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