Two Shoe Salesmen

Two shoe salesmen from London were sent to Africa in the 1800s. They both got off the ship and ventured out into the city, then the surrounding towns, and out into the villages. A few days later they went to the telegraph office.

The first salesman sent a message to his company in London, “No one wears shoes here. Send fare for my return. I’m coming home.”

The second salesman messages his company, “No one wears shoes here. Send 10,000 pairs immediately.”

Two men from the same place, with the same job, see the same people and come to two totally different conclusions. The first sees problems, the second sees opportunities. One sees a no-win situation and the other sees nothing but potential. One sees a road block and the other sees a wide-open playing field.

Perspective is the only difference in these two men, and perspective is the only thing that matters in this situation.

The life and leadership strategy of the Two Shoe Salesmen tells us to pay attention to our perspective. See what could be before you pack it in and move on.

In our work and in leading others it becomes easy to look for the path of least resistance. We consider what others have done and are doing, when we should be considering what could be done. Our perspective too often becomes stifled by imaginary boundaries of convenience and convention. But just because our coworkers and competition are bare-foot doesn’t mean we have to be.

Our families and relationships can suffer the same way. People accept and expect life to get busy, calendars to fill up, kids to come along, work to ask more, and intimacy, quality time, joy and values to diminish. But just because our neighbors don’t wear the shoes of healthy, intentional and live-giving family life doesn’t mean we can’t.

Our work places, homes, and communities are not unchangeable or immovable. Our role in the story of our lives has not been written for us. To think it has is to live a life lacking perspective of reality.

A good shoe salesman knows their job is to sell shoes, so they make the decisions and take the actions necessary to do it.

A good leader and co-worker should know their job is to succeed with the team they are on and will make the decisions and take the actions necessary to do it.

A good spouse and parent should know their job is to instill a sense of love, peace, confidence, values and purpose into their family and will make the decisions and take the actions necessary to do it.

It all begins with perspective. Choose to see what could be, what should be, and what will be as you decided to make it so. See the potential in your work, family, spouse, children and community and be the one who makes it happen.

Seventeen Percent Principle

My friend is a law enforcement firearms instructor. He’s told me he consistently gets perfect scores at the shooting-range; 100% accuracy. During training, they add in factors to cause stress; they have to run, do sit-ups or push-ups to raise their heartbeat and increase breathing, or they run scenarios that limit their options and require fast decision-making.

He is a better shot than most with 100% accuracy in practice, but under elevated stressful conditions in training scenarios is around 17%.

This doesn’t mean he is at 17% in stressful situations on the street, serving and protecting. That’s why they train. They create situations to get use to the stress, hurried pace, and tunnel vision to practice dealing with and overcoming it.

The 17% Principle is a life and leadership strategy that tells us we can learn to deal with and overcome stress and see past the tunnel vision. This requires intentional shifts in perspective and repetition to accomplish.

Psychological research shows people perform better in life when they are in a positive or neutral mental/emotional state than a negative/stressed one. In business, productivity increases 30% and sales increases 37%. People at positive or neutral mental/emotional states have better relationships, less health problems and live longer.

Is all this research telling us to avoid stress? Should police officers read this and decide to avoid all stressful situations? Of course not! This is why they train. These studies aren’t about our circumstances, but about our state of mind. Self-training is about our state of mind.

When a stressful situation is dealing with us, instead of us dealing with it, our fight/flight/freeze response kicks in and the tunnel vision takes over. We only see the problem which prevents us from seeing our options to solve the problem. This is what we need to train to gain control.

First, identify the bad ways we respond, so we know to avoid them. Don’t rationalize why you should be overwhelmed by stress (fight) because you shouldn’t and don’t have to be. Don’t avoid these situations (flight) because that isn’t helping anything. Don’t do nothing (freeze) and dwell in the negative state.

Catch yourself doing these negative things and call it out. Challenge that way of responding and thinking as being bad and choose a better response.

Pause. Breath. Allow yourself to see stress, even failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. Choose to tell yourself that you aren’t facing a problem, but an option to move forward. Expect stress to happen and give yourself permission to move on so you don’t dwell on it. Most importantly, focus on others and serving and caring for them instead of fighting/fleeing/freezing because of the stress.

Our workplaces, homes and heads can either be dungeons of stress and anxiety or havens of peace and progress. Do the hard work of training yourself to serve and protect peace where you are so you can lead your coworkers, community and children to be able to do the same.

The Bit Market

The story is a new CEO comes to a company that makes drill bits. A veteran analyst at the company comes in to brief him about the state of the company and the market. Charts, files and figures about production, research, and sales are presented. The catalog of various drill bits for any application is proudly shown. The analyst concludes that the state of the company is good, the products are great, and they currently have a majority of the drill bit market. This means they are selling more drill bits than anyone else.

The CEO thanks the analyst, but says, “There is one major flaw about your understanding of our situation…”

The analyst looks back at his charts and files, and thinks “who is this new guy that thinks he knows more about drill bits than me?”

The CEO continues, “… there is no such thing as a drill bit market. There is a market for holes and as soon as there is a better way to make holes, no one will be buying drill bits.”

This life and leadership strategy forces us to ask if we are paying more attention to what we are doing than why we are doing it.
What is the drill bit market that we have placed all our confidence in?

In the organizations and teams we work with, do the methods we use really provide the most efficient and effective outcomes? At times, we get more comfortable with how it is than how it could/should be. Our aversion to change blinds us to the reality of what we are really trying to accomplish.

In our families we do that same thing. Everyone else is making drill bits, working as much overtime as they can, have their kids involved in too many activities, and spend any free time they may have on self-serving hobbies, so we should be too. We believe that is the market we are living in.

That isn’t the truth.
More income doesn’t make us live better lives if we spend it wrong.
Giving our kids more responsibilities and opportunities doesn’t make them better adults if they don’t have the time to be kids first.
Our hobbies won’t bring us joy if they aren’t making our families and communities better.

We buy into the drill bit market when the reality is we don’t want drill bits, we want holes. There are better ways to make holes in our lives.

Picture using an old hand drill, and then getting the first ever electric drill.

The right way to lead your team or lead your life isn’t doing it the way it’s always been done. Don’t keep buying into the lie of the drill bit market. If your team is underperforming, figure out what you are trying to accomplish. If your money is an issue, write a budget. If you want your kids to be better adults, show them what one looks like.

Barn Principle

I heard an old story about a farmer and his wife. They had a few good years of harvest and could save away some money.

The farmer had planned on using the savings to build a new barn. The older one wasn’t big enough to store everything he needed, keep the animals warm, and give him enough space to work on the tractor. He spent more and more time mending holes in the old roof every year.

His wife had planned on using the savings to build a new house. The older one wasn’t big enough for their growing family. The kitchen didn’t have enough counter space, the dining room was too small, and the one bathroom was never adequate. She spent more and more time reminding her husband about all the things that need fixing every year.

The two of them sat down to decide. They shot reasons back and forth in favor of the barn or the house. None of them were bad reasons. Both the barn and the house were lacking but there was only enough money to take care of one. What were they to do?

The farmer finally said, “Dear, you are right. This house needs to be rebuilt and I want to give you everything you want. So we will build a new barn with the savings because the barn builds the house.”

The barn builds the house.

A better barn means a better farm. A better farm means they can make more profit. More profit means more savings to build a better house. The barn builds the house.

We face the barn or the house question every day. Do I want to cash in my time to build the house and have a more comfortable life right now? Or do I want to cash in my time to build the barn and live more productively and effectively and have a better life in the long run?

There is the financial part of the Barn Principle that tells us to invest in our lives and future good, instead of mortgaging it in a lifestyle of debt.

There is the leadership part of the Barn Principle that tells us to make sure our organization/team is focusing on what makes us better, more effective and self-sufficient instead of what would make us more complacent and comfortable at the moment.

Most importantly, there is the personal part of the Barn Principle that tells us not to cut corners for the sake of instant gratification, looking good to others, or short-term goals, instead of really deciding and building a better life for yourself, your spouse, your children, and your community.

Figure out what your barn is. Is it the way you need to spend your money, the way you spend your time, the energy you’re putting into your family/kids/relationships, the energy you’re putting into personal growth, or the importance you’ve placed on your faith.

Build the barn because the barn builds the house.

Duck Hunting

For most of us the majority of what we know about duck hunting happened with a plastic zapper hooked into a Nintendo. That’s okay, this life and leadership strategy works even if you are not a hunter.

Picture a duck hunter coming home after the hunt. Someone asks, “How’d it go?”

Does your hunter answer, “Great, I got three,” or does he say “Awful, I missed 50 and only got three”?

Too many of us tend to hear the second hunter in our head. He points out all the ducks we missed, all the times we failed, all the strange comments we made in a conversation, all the flaws we have, or all the ways it didn’t work out the way we wanted.

That second hunter is our critical mind. We need that second hunter sometimes. We want to strive to get better and we want to aim for our potential. I want my surgeon and the lady that cuts my hair to listen to that second hunter when they are working on me. I don’t need either of them to be okay with missing something.

But let’s be honest. Most of the time we listen to the second hunter, our critical mind, when it doesn’t matter and it isn’t important. All he does is ruin an otherwise good day. Most of the time he is the one that is keeping us from being our best and reaching our potential.

The first hunter is our rational mind. The reality of duck hunting has never been genocide. The reality of our lives and our expectation should to be rational. We don’t need to get every duck, we don’t need to have the best comment in every meeting, we shouldn’t expect to never fail or have an off day or bad hair. It is crazy to think that everyone is going to like everything you do. It is crazy to think you aren’t going to react in a less than ideal way with you kids or spouse from time to time.

None of that stuff means you’re a bad duck hunter. None of the stuff means you’re a failure.

Be critical in situations that you need to be critical in, but realize there aren’t so many of them (unless you’re a surgeon or cut my hair).

Let yourself off the hook. Make sure your gun is loaded, aim the best you can, and take the best shot you’ve got every time you go out. Just remember you don’t have to get all the ducks to have a good hunt. Learn to live with missed ducks.