After all the blogging about our book, it’s now ready to order on Amazon. Want to be in on what the whole crew has been so excited about? http://amzn.to/28U0Kog
I was privileged to interview Maxine Clark, the founder of Build-a-Bear Workshop, recently. She is someone I hold in high esteem because she built a fabulous, multi-national company in just a few short years, and because her dynasty is so good for the soul. After all, the world truly needs more cuddly teddy bears.
However, after meeting Maxine, my view of her change dramatically. Let me back up a minute: it actually began to change when I read her book, “The Bear Necessities of Business: Building a Company with Heart.” Unlike so many business books, hers was like having a chat with an old friend and mentor. I began to see that Maxine is a true example of a servant leader. How many books do you know of where the author invites you to send a personal email if you have any questions? Not only does she make that offer, she answers all those emails herself.
My opinion of her changed further upon meeting her in person. She is everything you would hope that the mastermind behind Build-a-Bear would be: kind, brilliant, generous, forthright, funny and creative.
So, while I previously held her in high esteem, I now can say, not only do I admire her accomplishments, I truly like and appreciate her.
I wondered what could our readers learn from her in just a few paragraphs, and there are three areas of our conversation I would like to share with you. They are: believing in your brand, play, and giving of yourself.
Maxine says, “The difference of making an idea go from A to B is passion. Do you really believe in the brand?” She helps start-up companies, and says the ones that stand the best opportunity for success are those with a passion for the product. All of us in business and creative endeavors know it takes passion to keep going when the road is bumpy, and it’s full of bumps, potholes, and other hazards. So, even though it’s common wisdom, it bears repeating: passion is critical. If what you want to do (for example starting a business, going back to school, or writing a book) isn’t worth missing a bunch of sleep over, don’t try it.
Developing an idea for a business is often organic to women, because, as Maxine explains, “Most women start real businesses, meaning they had an idea for a new pacifier or a new baby blanket or a new childproof something or other because their ideas come from their life. And they find a way to get them to market, like in the movie Joy.”
Yet, a lot of great ideas never see the light of day. “I think we talk ourselves out of it: Oh, I can’t do it…The kids come first…I have to be home to make dinner for my husband…yada, yada, yada. You are what you think you are and you can be what you want to be if you are willing to take all the necessary steps to get there,” says Maxine. Thus, having a game plan of how you are going to handle these emotions is critical.
The second area of Maxine’s wisdom I wanted to share with you is play. Yep, play. Being playful is a very important element of Maxine’s leadership style. What else would you expect from the Queen of Teddy Bears?
“Who wants to be serious all the time? The best work is done when people can enjoy their work. And enjoyment means rigor, but also, ‘Let’s brainstorm; let’s play a game, asking how did you get at that; how can we take that to the next level?’ I think that’s playful to people. It’s not always about throwing a ball – it’s about playing with an idea in your mind…noodling it around and talking about how we can make it bigger and better or should we change the color.”
Note: Susan and I obviously agree that play is a great way to learn and make improvements. That is why we wrote Leadership in Wonderland and not 100 Leadership Bullet Points Guaranteed to Put You to Sleep.
So, let me ask you: how can you introduce more play into your work and home life? What difference could it make?
The third area I wanted to share is generosity. While this is not something she specifically mentioned during our interview, it’s an integral part of who Maxine is. For example, she invites questions from her readers; she coaches entrepreneurs; she has a charitable foundation; and she started a program to recognize young people who started non-profits. She is clearly willing and excited to share the bounty with which she has been blessed.
Some might say, “Sure, it’s easy for her to do. She’s successful. I’m not.” But it isn’t about having money to donate. It is about sharing time, knowledge and kindness. Those are gifts we can all share. How hard would that be? And think of the difference it could make in the world.
Looking at Build-a-Bear, I clearly see each of these three pieces of Maxine. Those little bears are adorable symbols of her passion, playfulness and generosity.
“How’s the book about Alice in Wonderland”? “What’s new with your book?”
Ask the many readers who fall into our targeted audience, the Millennials, the Creatives, and the Clergy, and they will tell you, “We’re reading it and filling out the workbook as fast as we can!”
Rebecca and I thought it would be brilliant (and worthwhile) to gather immediate feedback from our potential market of individual readers. We want to see if the thoughts we had about learning your own style of leadership through “Alice”‘s transformation, were the same as our test group’s thoughts.
“Was it a fun read? Were you lured to go through and finish the workbook? Which characters could you put names and faces to that you encountered in your own life? Did your reactions towards the “villains” change? And biggest thing on our minds, “What did you learn about yourself that will you think you can use to your benefit from now on?”
So….everyone, the investigation has started, the mystery will be solved. Meanwhile, keep those cards, letters and curiosity coming. Lewis Carroll would want you to become , “curiouser and curiouser”?
Multi-talented musician and composer Ibrahim Maalouf says he has always loved the story of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ because it’s all about the freedom to imagine. To prove his point, he collaborated with artist Oxmo Puccino to re-imagine the story as a hip-hop opera set in modern France*.
That’s the beauty of Alice – she’s as relevant today as she was 150 years ago – continuing to spark the imagination of people all over the world.
Creativity was a major factor in choosing Alice when we decided to write a leadership book. When your mind has the opportunity to be creative and play, it is easier to learn and apply what you learn. Thus, Leadership in Wonderland.
When I was in grad school, I never really liked learning the ‘prescriptions’ – do this now do that – which so many text books offered. What I liked was learning the principles and having a case study in which to apply what I had learned, coupled with my own knowledge and insights. It was much more beneficial to my learning experience than an exam!
It is that same concept we offer in Leadership in Wonderland: We provide some principles, cunningly disguised as a fun story, then offer an opportunity for the reader to use her creativity to insert what she has learned into her own situation. What you learn most likely will be different from the next person.
Does this appeal to you?
*After you leave us a comment to tell us what you think of our concept, be sure to listen to the concert ‘Au pay d’Alice.’
Having written about business tips I learned from reading “Alice in Wonderland” in March 2010 and having read “Alice..”, “Alice I Have Been”, background on Charles Dodgson aka his nom de plume: Lewis Carroll, viewing photos of Alice Liddell in the newspaper and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I didn’t think there was too much I didn’t know about Carroll’s release of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. After visiting the Morgan Library exhibit, “Alice: 150 Years of Wonderland”, I realized I was wrong. Here are some of the things I didn’t know, and maybe you didn’t know either.
By Guest Blogger
Magpie, Director HR, Leaves-of-Wonderland
Some people want to work with folks just like themselves. I say how boring! Boring! For most of you, that would mean that you are working in a ‘humans only’ environment. What a terrible waste not to include the rest of us. Most everyone can bring new ideas and a fresh perspective to the table if we are given an opportunity. However, people tend to think it’s safe to surround themselves with others who are like themselves. While Alice may have her share of issues, the one thing I can say about her is that she isn’t afraid to include a cast of diverse characters in her business.
I’ve listed a few things that make Alice so successful in this area:
So you can see, if you want diversity and inclusion, it isn’t that difficult. If you want to surround yourself with an interesting cast of characters, you can do it just like Alice has.
If you speak with many Baby Boomers, they will often unapologetically complain about Millennials. But in business situations, they become even more vocal: they don’t know how to work with them, nor how to keep them happy so they will stay. Meanwhile, the Millennials don’t understand why the Baby Boomers won’t take the time to understand them and their needs. And they have no patience waiting for the understanding to take place.
We had a lively discussion that offered suggestions of how to solve some of those people challenges in media, entertainment and technology companies. The program and panel were developed by Susan Goldberg, Principal and Owner of SGES, a specialist in culture and employment who had experienced the push and pull of the discussion in working with her clients and colleagues, and had co-written a leadership book targeting non-traditional business minds (like Millennials) called “Leadership in Wonderland”.
Our panel, hosted by Gavin McElroy, Chair of the Executive Compensation and Employment Group at Frankfurt Kurnit, and held at the Frankfurt Kurnit offices consisted of Gavin, Susan, and two Millennials with executive titles and roles at media companies, Amy Wu, COO and CFO of Newscred and Brendan Spain, US Commercial Director for the Financial Times. What follows is a brief summary of what we discussed.
Issues with Millennials stem from the way they view the world which is on the spot and in front of them. This is due not only to technological influences, and navigating through sensory overload, but to influences in culture, families, education, and political and business views which are all short term in and immediate in nature. This causes this age group to have a lack of understanding of long term thinking, which impacts reputation, consequences, patience, and perspective in general.
What Millennials can bring, however, is intelligence, technology savviness, digital dexterity, ability to follow directions closely and concentrate undeterred by outside disturbances, a desire to solve problems, dedication to social causes, an appreciation for constant communication, and an understanding of the resources and environment they need to make their best efforts at work.
The best ways that companies can hire and retain Millennials is to understand who they are and not try to change them. That means understanding their high turnover in employment and what causes that. And because of that turnover, make use of what the Millennials have to offer before they move on.
Two different ways to retain Millennials at your company: establish a vesting schedule in compensation which locks in your employees for a specific period of time or give Millennials projects which are interesting to them, offer them continuous feedback and communication, and also autonomy and flexibility in their lifestyle.
Overall, there needs to be a long term talent or people management plan for every company which should plan for expected high rate of turnover in this age group. Along with that comes an appreciation and an understanding of those who are not typical Millennials and where they fit in an organization. There needs to be a mix of talent if a company is to create a legacy and survive in the long term.
Millennials bring a different energy, and different views towards balancing life, work and happiness. Perhaps they can also teach the rest of us to bring more happiness to our lives, better transparency, feedback and communication, more flexibility and that an organization needs more than Millennial talent to thrive.
We talk with many businesses concerned about improving sales and revenue. They often invest in expensive products and services thinking that they hold the magic ticket to success. Yet, sometimes it is something very small – seemingly insignificant – that can make all the difference.
In out last blog we told the story of a retail clerk who didn’t know how to respond when a customer said she hadn’t found everything she was looking for. A lost opportunity for customer service.
Shortly after that incidence, a friend recounted a story that was really baffling. It seems that on a Monday he put a $100 bill in his pocket with the intention of giving it to the first cashier who said thank you to him. He went about his business, visiting numerous stores over the next few day. Amazingly, as of Thursday of that week, the $100 was still in his pocket.
“The closest anyone anyone has come to saying ‘thank you’ is to say ‘Have a nice day,'”he reported, pulling the prize money out of his pocket.
How important is it to you to be thanked for your business? Are those serving the public using different means to show their appreciation? Or is it more of a case that they don’t really care?
What are your thoughts on this?
Once I visited a business where the employees had been trained in customer service. One of their tricks was to say “my pleasure” in response when someone thanked them. The only problem was they really didn’t look like it was their pleasure. In fact, they often looked as though they had eaten something sour.Consequently, I couldn’t help toying with them, thanking them as often as possible in order to elicit a robotic ‘thank you’. The owner had good intentions when he trained his employees. What he didn’t realize is that the words alone didn’t create a culture of customer care.
Another example of employees using rote phrases as instructed, without having any understanding of how they apply to customer service showed itself a couple weeks ago at a large chain store. I was looking for several items, one of which I couldn’t find. When I was checking out, the cashier asked if I had found everything. When I said I hadn’t, she simply said, “Oh.” A lost opportunity for customer service – for achieving customer satisfaction that was lost forever.
What is the point of teaching employees to ask the question if you don’t teach them how to respond to the answer? And what about the person waiting on that customer? I’ve worked in retail, and even co-owned a store, so I have a good understanding of all that workers have to put up with. With that said, isn’t the employer doing them a disservice by only providing part of the training? Perhaps they ASSUME that if the answer to “Did you find everything you were looking for?” is no, that the employee would have the common sense to ask a follow up question. That, obviously, is a big assumption.
We would love to hear your input on this topic.
In his ground-breaking book Corporate Lifecycles: How Organizations Grow and Die and What to Do About it, Dr. Ichak Adizes helps readers understand the natural path that organizations tend to take from infancy to death.
We’ve seen the practical side of this at numerous companies. Yet, each organization likes to think that they are different – that they don’t fit the mold. They like to think that even if they are unwilling or unable to change to keep pace with the marketplace, the world will see the error of its way and come crawling back to them.
Sorry kids. That’s just not the way things work. You don’t have to believe us. You don’t have to believe Dr. Adizes. All you have to do is study history…or Buddha
“The Buddha said everything is impermanent. Everything will die. Everything will disappear, will disintegrate. We get upset about it as if it shouldn’t be so,” offers BJ Gallagher, author of Being Buddha At Work told me during my interview with her for Women’s Voices Magazine. “Buddha would say everything is impermanent. Don’t cling to things. Everything is transitory. So, when you cling to it, you create your own suffering.”
If you look at the companies that you grew up with, many of them are gone or only the brand exists, but as a part of another entity.
For example, there was a time when Compaq was one of the biggest computer sellers. However, in the world of survival of the fittest, they were devoured by HP. Another well-known company that bit the dust was TWA. After 70 years in business, they were consumed by American Airlines. Arthur Anderson, one of the Big 5 accounting firms surrendered their licenses to practice as CPAs after 90 years in business as a result of their involvement with Enron.
My personal experience was with McDonnell Douglas, a company that was a pioneer in the aircraft industry. Heck they even had a ride at Disneyland. But the company disappeared when it became part of Boeing after several losing several major contracts in a short period of time.
“I went through this with the newspaper business because as you know, the Peacock book is written about the LA Times,” says BJ. “I was just having a conversation the other day with one of the editors who works at my publishing company. He was lamenting that he found a study about the low percentage of people who buy books and read books. I thought to myself it sounds like the newspaper business all over again.
“His question was, ‘How do we reverse this trend?’ I said, ‘I’m not sure that’s the right question to ask. Maybe the question is how do we ride the trend so that we’re successful? In my experience you don’t turn those trends around. The trends have a life of their own.
“The railroad went through the same thing. They fell out of favor because they thought they were in the railroad business and they weren’t. They are in the transportation business. If newspapers and book publishers think they are in the newspaper or book business they’re doomed. But if they think they’re in the information business, then that’s a whole different ballgame. “
How do you define the business you’re in? Will that definition stand the test of time, allowing you to be flexible – to change to meet the needs of your customers?
To learn more about BJ Gallagher, visit her website.