I love having a fire - a real wood buring fire - buring in the fireplace from morning til night. We burn so much firewood that often the newest batch is underseasoned and difficult to get started. A couple years ago a visitor offered to start the fire and I warned him about the challenges of the underseasoned wood. A few minutes later I saw him with an armfull of twigs that he was using as kindling to get the fire underway - without the delay I expected.
It seems my guest had looked out the window and saw more trees than you can count on the nearly three acres of land surrounding the house and surmized that where there are trees there are twigs and fallen branches. Wood already seasoned that would burn quickly and bring the underseasoned wood along.
I, on the oher hand, had owned the house for over 4 years, built many a failing fire, looked out the same window and never saw the solution to my challenge.
A few years back I stumbled on a recipe for making my own corn tortilla chips. (Cut each tortilla into four pieces, place on foil on a baking sheet, schmeer a little olive oil and sea salt on the tortillas, bake at 425 degrees for 8-10 minutes and enjoy.) This obsession is such that I always have some of these chips on hand. The only problem is that the process is a bit time consuming.
I recently had the need to make the chips in a different kitchen. I'd done so probably 4 or 5 times in the new kitchen when a miracle occurred. As I opened the oven to put a batch of chips in.............................I suddenly remembered that this was a double oven. It'd been there all along. But I'd been in a routine and hadn't paid any attention to what was right in front of me.
And my chip production time was cut in half - now timed almost precisely to the time needed to conjure up some fresh salsa.
Our Management Team was in Florida for an annual planning meeting. The meeting was bittersweetness because we had recently made the decision to consolidate administrative activities into one location and some staff were losing their jobs in the process, including one member of the management team. Her name is Robin.
Robin had been one of those gems who started with the organization in one of the lowest level clerical positions and through persistent competence had worked herself into a management role in HR. But, she worked in our Miami office and we were consolidaitng all adminstrative activity into our Ohio office.
We all knew Robin would be leaving the company and the meeting would serve as a sad farewell to a valued co-worker.
As we reviewed the plans for various departments we found ourselves focused on difficulties we were having in hiring a certified coder to support our compliance activities. As we discussed our options, and as I recall amidst a fair amount of cross-talk, Robin said almost in a whisper and directed at no one "I used to do that." Only a couple of us heard the comment but we both made eye contact and asked each other "what did she say?" Robin repeated her comment and clarified that she had performed the task in the past.
We drilled in deeper and over the next 30 minutes we created a plan for Robin to work remotely in the compliance role. We filled a need, kept a valuable member of our team with the organization with a solution that had been in front of us all along.
And Robin worked with me for 9 more years across 2 different firms.
Whether it's the twigs, the double ovens or Robin the message is the same. Habits and preconceptions should be consistently challenged. See, don't just look. Hear, don't just listen. Ask, don't just assume.