About Conversation Kindling

The purpose of this blog is to share stories, metaphors, quotes, songs, humor, etc. in hopes they'll be used to spark authentic and rewarding conversations about working and living fruitfully. There are at least three things you can gain by getting involved in these conversations. First, you'll discover new and important things about yourself through the process of thinking out loud. Second, you'll deepen your relationships with others who participate by swapping thoughts, feelings, and stories with them. Finally, you'll learn that robust dialogue centered on stories and experiences is the best way to build new knowledge and generate innovative answers to the questions that both life and work ask.

I write another blog called My Spare Brain. This is where I am "storing" ideas for use in future books, articles, blog posts, speeches, and workshops. There is little rhyme or reason for what I post there. I do this to encourage visitors to come as treasure hunters looking for new ways of seeing and thinking vs. researchers looking for new or better answers to questions they already know how to ask.

25 July 2009

Does Your Dog Bite?

Early on in my stint with the Wilson Learning Corporation, I heard founder Larry Wilson tell the following story:
It seems a dog food company introduced a new product only to see it fall flat. After a short time, the company got the sales force together to ask them what the problem was. The meeting opened. A very senior executive spoke.

He challenged the group: "Who uses the best ingredients?"
They shouted: "We do!"
Louder: "Who has the best advertising?"
The retort: "We do!"
Louder, still: "Who has the best sales force?"
Shouting now: "We do!"
The big question: "Why the hell aren't we selling more dog food?"


Then, from the back of the room:
"Because the damn dogs don't like it!"
I've not forgotten that story and it's message: a product is doomed to failure if the end users don't like it.

It's simple stories like this that can help you remember important principles and recall them when necessary. You are also likely to have a much more interesting and creative conversation with your product development folks, if you are talking about whether or not the dogs will like it versus whether or not the new product or service in question will meet or exceed customer expectations.

Here's another dog story with a lasting lesson.

The late Susan Butcher was a four-time winner of Alaska's Iditerod Trail Sled Dog Race. In an article published in the January, 2003 edition of the Harvard Business Review, she said:
"The dogs finally lost confidence in me. They’ll forgive a few mistakes, but if you send them in the wrong direction too many times, they’ll just stop."
  • Have you ever lost confidence in a leader for the same reason the dogs lost confidence in Susan Butcher? How quickly did it happen?
  • In Susan's case, the dogs simply stopped. Assuming you were not in a position to stop working, what did you do instead? Slow down? Passively resist? Resort to sabotage? Lead a counter-revolution? Other?
  • In your case, what could the leader have done to regain your confidence? How long do you think it would've taken - if ever - for trust to be completely restored?
  • Have you ever had a group of people you were leading lose confidence in you? How did it happen? How did you find out? What did you do to correct the situation? Did it work? Are you sure?
"All perception of truth is the detection of an analogy." - Henry David Thoreau
"I've seen a look in dogs' eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts." - John Steinbeck

There’s a scene in the 1976 movie, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, in which Peter Sellers’ bumbling Inspector Clouseau eyes a dog sitting near a hotel clerk. This exchange follows:
Clouseau: "Does your dog bite?"
Hotel Clerk: "No."
Clouseau: [bows to pet dog] "Nice doggie." [dog barks and bites Clouseau]
Clouseau: "I thought you said your dog did not bite!"
Hotel Clerk: "That is not my dog."
Here's the video of the scene from YouTube:

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