A lesson in how to tie your shoes

For many years I’ve practiced yoga. And in our practice we spend a lot of time looking at the little things and their impact on the whole. How is your weight distributed over your feet? Are you bending forward from your waist or your hips? Are your inside elbows facing each other?

Little things, but their impact can be huge. Because when my weight is evenly distributed over my feet, my foundation is strong. I am properly centred and aligned. And I am lifting through to the top of my head and creating space in my pose.

Brand is like that. Promises are like that. The result of lots of little things done in a conscious and deliberate way.

I think organisations today spend too much time thinking about the big things, or the bright, shiny distracting things, or where they are headed. And they lose touch with the present, with whether their weight is evenly placed over their feet. And once that happens, the brand and the promises that it results from are among the casualties.

A story I read in Great by Choice by Jim Collins provides a good illustration of what that kind of conscious deliberation about little things looks like in action.

“Picture yourself a star basketball player recruited to UCLA. You show up at the first practice session, ready to show your skills; to earn your spot; to run up and down the court; to slam the ball through the hoop; to leap, and jump, and spin. You sidle up next to a senior who’d earned All-American honours  and wait for the coach to get the drills going. The coach comes out and opens the first moments of practise in a quiet voice: “We’re going to begin by learning to tie our shoes.”

You look over to a couple of famous seniors, All-Americans who’ve already won national championships, thinking this must be some kind of freshman initiation. But no, the seniors calmly begin taking off their shoes and preparing for the shoe-tying lesson.

“First, put on your socks, slowly with care, over your toes,” says the coach. The seniors diligently follow instructions, “Now, move your socks up here … and here … smooth out all the wrinkles nice and tight take your time.” The coach intones his lesson, like some sort of far-out Zen master teaching you how to make tea as a path to higher enlightenment. “Then lace your shoes from the bottom, carefully, slowly, getting each pass nice and tight snug, snug, snug, snug!”

After the lesson, you ask one of the All-American seniors what that was all about, and he says, “Get a blister in a big game, and you’re gonna suffer. Shoes come united in a close game … well, that just never happens here.” One year later, you come to practise, having helped create yet another national championship, noting the surprised looks on the freshman’s faces when the coach announces “We will begin by learning how to tie our shoes.”

I could come up with a list of examples of all the little things that get lost along the way, but I hope you know what they are for your organisation (and if you don’t then I’d cancel the next blue-sky session and figure them out). You might be ignoring some of them because you think that you have more important and bigger things to worry about.

And when that becomes the pattern across your organisation it’s only a matter of time before you lose the championship game. Oh sure, it might look like you lost the game because of one of those big things, but I’d lay money that underneath it was someone with a blister who was never shown how to tie his shoes.

See you next week.

Michel is an independent brand analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at michelhogan.com.


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