Exploding Yogurt: Clean up the mess first

When you clean up the mess first, you can assess the true damage and make a plan.

Exploding Yogurt Credit: Jasper Nance/Flickr. Creative CommonsI could feel the frustration of the woman behind me and encouraged her to go in front of me (I had a whole hour to kill after all). She looked at me, struggled for words, and said, “My brother-in-law died last night.” The tears welled up in her eyes.

“I’m so sorry,” I responded, wanting to reach out and give her a hug. As she stood there fighting to not fall apart, she dropped the five yogurts she was attempting to balance on a container of salad.

Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop. Plop. Vanilla yogurt exploded all over.

A million things went through my head that morning. Most of them surprised me. I hope they surprise you.

Clean up the mess first

In Starbucks, we grabbed napkins and cleaned the yogurt off the floor and off my suit.

Things happen in business too that are messy or mistakes.

After 20 years of doing tradeshows, I know that something will go wrong, I just don’t know what. From my tradeshow disaster list:

  • missing booth parts (I forgot to pack)
  • missing booth parts (forklife driver dropped them off at wrong booth)
  • missing booth (fell behind a shelf in the UPS storage facility)
  • forklift ran into the booth
  • a skunk family moved into the show crates while in the loading area (happened to a colleague)

Do you immediately pull up your sleeves, start to “solve the problem”, or “fix the blame”?

Whenever you do the right thing, and clean up the mess, people say “wow – that’s leadership.”

When you clean up the mess first, you can assess the true damage and make a plan.

For some of us, cleaning up is a calming routine. No kidding. Try it! A package of wet wipes will calm my kiddo down in 10 minutes flat.

Salvage what you can

Now that the mess is cleaned up, you’ve probably learned a little bit about what caused the mess.

Tradeshows teach you that the show must go on.

From jury rigging the booth, to scouring the UPS facility to find the missing parts, to holding a pity-party for the skunky booth, the show will go on with or without you. You decide which.

The customer never even noticed the yogurt — or was too polite to mention it!

The fruit WAS on the bottom

Ever lost your work on a computer? And then had to re-create it?

Ever notice that often it is better than what you started with?

It is because you got all the plain (yogurt) out of the way and got to real (fruit) substance.

Once you get what you thought was important out of your brain, you can access what IS important.

My technical writing professor actually used this technique for writer’s block — set a timer and write for 30-60 minutes. Then throw your writing away. Now the brain is really ready to work (the fruit is accessible).

Dig in!

Have Empathy

Maybe the most important thing I learned that morning is that often we do not know what is going on in people’s lives.

That morning a stranger shared unbelievable heartbreak. She could have stayed silent, dropped the yogurt and I might have been just upset at her inability to see that she was clearly trying to do too much.

I had so much more capacity for patience and calmness, I am sure, because I knew that whatever my issues were, they were minor compared to hers.

If we start from the position of assuming the other person is a rational and logical person — then we can create more constructive stories, better starting questions, and better solutions.

Flip the story. It’s not your bad day, it’s their bad day and can you make it better?

What would your cell phone tell you?

What can you learn from a random event? I learned this technique from a friend. How would a cell phone solve your problem? When you have a sticky problem — how would the cell phone, a light switch, a book solve the problem? You pick an object (and apparently almost any object works), and think about the problem from a completely different angle.

Lynore Abbott of Logical MarketingThis guest post is by Lynore Abbott, Founder of Logical Marketing in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Logical Marketing serves a growing need in technology product companies for a pay-as-you-go Marketing Department. With a broad range of expertise in strategy + tactics + execution, they provide focused, profitable results.