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Busy and bored at work? Time to get detention

detentuion-1In response to a call for “unpopular parenting moves” on Quora, a dad shared that he offered his son a $10 reward for getting detention at school. Not just any detention – there were rules.

  1. It can’t be disrespectful.
  2. You can’t get detention as part of a group.
  3. You have to get caught, and you must be officially given detention, even if you talk your way out of it later.

Why? Dad explains –

I don’t want him to be ruled by appearance.

I don’t want him making up scary stories about what will happen to him for being out of line.

I don’t want him to have some vague sense that he can’t break rules because it’s “bad.”

Read Tim Dawesanswer to What controversial advice have people given to their children? on Quora

We spend a lot of time as professionals learning to navigate our environment. We figure out workplace politics, and what actions are going to be rewarded or ignored or penalized. And we tell ourselves a lot of those “scary stories” about being out of line that just aren’t true.

After a while, you know every pitfall and exactly how to excel. The intern comes into your office buzzing with an idea, and you smile because you are wise. You know all the hurdles and naysaying in front of them.

But seeing all the belief and energy they put behind it, you can’t help but miss not knowing any better than to go for it.

Maybe you’ve been lying low so no one piles on more responsibility. (You have more than enough).  Or maybe you’ve been staying in line because you’re almost up for promotion. Or maybe… you’re ready to kick things up a notch and reenergize your work. And risk getting detention.

Okay, so let’s do something cool that maybe won’t work! Just like dad’s ground rules, you should have a few too –if-everyone-thinks-you-have-a-good-idea-youre-too-late-quote-1

  • If things don’t go as planned, it won’t cost you your job. This is detention, not suspension, we’re shooting for. In whatever you decide to do, you should prepare for negative feedback and awesome feedback.
  • It needs to be well-informed, but not obvious or guaranteed to work. If everyone thinks you have a good idea, you’re too late.
  • It cannot be a grand systemic plan that requires buy-in from many, many others, or takes 12-18 months to complete. If you’re like me, you turn small ideas into giant plans until you’re so overwhelmed you can’t do anything at all.

A little elaboration on this third point: The best changes are not usually “sweeping.” In fact, this can be detrimental to your effort – because if it works, or if it doesn’t work, you won’t know why.

JC Penney’s famous pricing fail in 2013 was part of a huge transformation across pricing, marketing strategy, in-store display and check-out experience. Without coupons to remind shoppers that JCP would make a visit worthwhile, sales plummeted. Because this one mistake was part of sweeping change, lots of potentially great changes were dropped along with it.

They even rehired their old CEO.

In Switch, authors Chip and Dan Heath cover why change is so hard, and why specific changes succeed. West Virginia University professors led a public health campaign and knew that “eat healthier”  generic messaging wouldn’t work. They decided to focus specifically on reducing saturated fat, and ads asked consumers to switch from whole milk to 1% milk. As a result, market share of low-fat milk jumped from 18 percent to 41 percent, and then held at 35 percent six months later. That one change would bring most diets within the daily saturated fat intake recommended by USDA. (Read the study here).

By focusing, and using quick-turnaround metrics, you can make change easier. Here are a few ideas –

  • Market to a very very focused segment of customers. Think women age 25-40… who also watch Scandal.
  • Take a position on a controversial issue. Take up the mantel for your customer. What are they all thinking that it’s time someone say?
  • Trial a Snapchat or Periscope account.
  • Come up with a way to pitch media without using email.
  • Focus on a geographic market.

Of course, there’s no guarantee these changes will work. When that creeps into your mind, remember the last thing that parent wanted his son to learn from getting detention:

When it matters, I want him to calculate: what’s the penalty for breaking the rule, and what may be the penalty for not breaking it?

As a business, the penalty is an opportunity missed. Personally, you probably already know the penalty – you get burned out and restless. Bored and busy at the same time.

So does getting detention sound like fun to you?

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