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Squirrel Mentality

We give you this month’s tool beginning with a lesson learned from David’s childhood.

 

It was 1976. I was 13. The “suburban” of the times was a station wagon called the Custom Cruiser: a behemoth of a vehicle that could take up to 45 minutes to pack full for family trips.  My dad’s job, and I believe ambition, was to fill every last nook and cranny of the cavern.

 

We were readying for one such trip. Leaving our home’s front door open, we trekked the same path until the job was done. Then we tucked ourselves into what space remained and headed off.

 

Upon our return, we were “treated” to a ransacked home.  Every bookcase was emptied and every table item was either smashed or lying on the floor. 

 

In 1976, you couldn’t retreat to your car to make a cell-phone call . Given that it was daylight, we assumed the burglar would be gone, so we slowly entered. Our dog, Camie, took a different approach.  With nose pointed down and her bark volume on high, she dashed past our feet to a set of skirted living room chairs.  Around the furniture she raced.

 

At that point, we realized this mess wasn’t the work of sloppy thieves. Something else had gotten into the house.

 

Our first call was to an exterminator who politely declined to save the day.  His theory: during our packing process, we left the front door open and had let a squirrel or some other animal into the house.  The only service he dared to offer was advice via phone, cowering in the safety of his office.  He cautioned that cornered squirrels are dangerous.  Contain the dog in a bedroom.  Open all doors and the squirrel will eventually leave. 

 

It did.

 

The second call was to a contractor for an estimate of damages. He showed up…then burst out laughing at the volume of destruction. The damages were equivalent to $20,000 in today’s dollars.  His words became a lesson forever burned into my adolescent mind.

 

“If the squirrel had only chewed at one spot, he would have easily made it out of the house.”

 

Not to take away from the exterminator’s “cornered squirrels are dangerous” lesson, because who knows when that might come in handy one day, but the contractor’s words were a definite ah-hah moment for me. The power of focus.

 

Does your organization suffer from the same Squirrel Mentality? Everyone is working, scrambling, busy…but things aren’t getting accomplished.  Do you find that instead of achieving your business goals, you end up with a ransacked mess or slow progress? Focus.

 

How do you focus the efforts of your staff?  The smartest place for management to begin is with a solid strategy.  Even a good strategy executed poorly is better than a bad strategy executed superbly. 

 

Think about it this way.  You want to get from Montreal to Mexico City.  Option 1 is to create a poor plan involving some crazy movement North.  But you execute the plan to the letter…run out of gas…run out of money…and freeze your bupkis in Ivujivik on the northern coast of Quebec.

 

Option 2 is your genius plan to travel South.  Your execution is disgraceful, but at least when you’re out of gas and broke, you’re within a hitch-hiking distance of Mexico.  Or you can wire for money, regroup, and still hit the goal.

 

Four thoughts:

  1. Have you spent enough time making sure your strategy is the right strategy?  The squirrel obviously did not think he was on the wrong path.
  2. Are you strategizing about your overall goals or are you strategizing about tactics?  This is a common mix up.  The squirrel might have said, “I will follow this window until I find an opening.  If an opening doesn’t exist, I will try a new window.”  That’s tactics. 
  3. Being busy does not mean you’re working. The squirrel worked an entire week with nothing to show for it.
  4. When everything is falling down around you, don’t ignore the signs. Stop.

 

The tool is a simple one.  Picture your year is filled with check points: specific dates throughout the year.  If you decide on a progress assessment that runs quarterly, schedule March, June, September, and December on the calendar.  At each check-point date, an outside observer/team takes a look at your progress.  They look under your hood, in the trunk, in your back seat, and under your company with those little mirrors.  If everything is on target, they let you through.  If not, they tell you to either find a new way or terminate your trip at that point. 


Mind you, these guys don’t take bribes and can’t be swayed by a little smile.  They are following everything by the book.  Your book. The one that establishes objectives and mile markers.

 

Sometimes the greatest impact, the highest returns, and the biggest changes come from making small adjustments in the way that you focus your resources.  In this case, reeling in unfocused thinking by developing a strategy is the quickest way of gnawing your way out of a boxed-in situation.

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