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Obvious as a strategy

Leonardo da Vinci wrote, “Every now and then, step away from your work, for when you come back to your work, your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller, and more of it can be taken in at a glance, and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen.”

This mindset is well illustrated in the story of a nursing home that was challenged with patients suffering from Alzheimer’s constantly getting into the supply closet. Keeping it locked was a hassle for staff needing access. In their struggle to find a solution, they needed to “step back” and take a broader look at the problem.

A staff nurse with a “this isn’t rocket-science” tone, suggested that they simply place large black vinyl circles on the floor in front of the closet doors. When asked how that was going to solve the problem, she calmly stated, that those suffering from Alzheimer's have depth perception challenges. Our patients will interpret the black circles as holes in the ground and avoid them.

It worked beautifully and in great “harmony”.

In visiting with the owner of a manufacturing company, and after touring their relatively small shop, I was amazed at the processes and procedures he had in place. In business for only a few

years with an owner who was under the age of 30 years old – it was impressive how ingrained their lean practices and process improvement initiatives were.

For every project, there were carts, each held all of the materials needed for completing the job. And although that sort of process isn’t unique, what was unique is that they made the carts themselves. “We needed customized carts that work for our processes and the individuals using them, so we just made them ourselves,” he shared.

He casually mentioned that all employees go through an extensive safety training course before ever stepping on the shop floor, and that everyone holds everyone accountable to safety. This was apparent as we walked through the shop. These were not just words, but literally, words they lived by.

Intrigued by this individual’s young age, I was curious about where his wisdom was coming from. Standing there in his shop, he shared his story.

“Growing up poor was a challenge for me. If I needed something, I had to be creative. In elementary school, I would make crafty items using resources provided at school. I would then trade my creations for needed items like pencils and erasers,” he shared.

He continued, “Two years ago, married, we were living with my in-laws. I sold my wife’s car and took the money to buy what I needed to test out my idea. Two months later, I sold my creation for a lot of money – and I was off and running.”

At this moment, he pointed to one of the guys in the shop and said, “that’s my father-in-law”.

Heading back to his office, I couldn’t help but notice all the sticky notes on his wall. Inquiring, I asked what the notes were all about. He told me that there is one for each employee. Sitting down, one on one, he asks about their personal goals. Selecting the one goal that has the deepest meaning – they write it down. “Buy a house”. “Make enough money that my wife can quit her job.” “See the Grand Canyon.”

“I want to play an active role in them accomplishing their goals,” he stated.

I couldn’t go any further without asking, “Why do you do all of this? Where did you learn these little details on how you run your business?” To be clear, I knew why he did what he was doing. It's just not something we see much of in business today - the obvious being intentionally demonstrated and incorporated

With what I can only imagine was the same tone of the care facility nurse sharing her solution, he sincerely asked, “doesn’t everyone work this way?” Shaking my head, he continued, “It just made sense to me – to step back and look at the complete picture. To be logical.”

He continued, “Safety. Working effectively and efficiently. Know your people and their aspirations. I just thought, if I’m going to have a business, I need to do it right. Right from the beginning.”

Looking back at what we saw that day and thinking about the conversation that took place, stepping back and looking at the big picture as da Vinci suggested – it feels like an obvious approach and logical thinking. A position that people sometimes forget to start from and hold true to. The black circle on the floor.

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