Roger von Oech has a great post up today called Use Your Shield. In it he explains how brilliant new ideas may sometimes be met with tremendous skepticism and even at times harsh criticism simply because they are new and different from the accepted wisdom.

Even some concepts that are thoroughly accepted today were ridiculed harshly when they someone first brought the idea to people’s attention. Imagine the state of medicine today if doctors didn’t wash their hands between patients or surgeries?

But Roger shares with us even that basic common sense idea was ridiculed by doctors when it was first proposed because they didn’t want to believe that they were “carrying around death on their hands.”

Roger then gives us a great quote.

A thick skin is a gift from God.

How true. Each of us will face our critics. Yet the ability to face that criticism without it crushing our spirit, causing us to react angrily, or turn us from what we know is right is definitely a huge asset in our arsenal of success.

Thick skin

Gorgeous says that elephants have really thick skin. And she would know. In addition to being a talented business woman she is also a certified veterinary technician.

The next time someone criticizes an idea that you know has merit, think of the elephant, big, lumbering, highly intelligent. And really thick skin.

When you think of elephants and new ways of doing things keep in mind they are being trained differently today than they were in years past.

We had some friends in town last week and we met them for dinner. He’s an actual elephant keeper of all things. Gorgeous worked with him years ago when she was down at Busch Gardens. He shared with me that things have really changed as far as the way they work with elephants over the last couple years.

These days operant training is all the rage. Basically what that means is that instead of try pushing and prodding and shouting at the elephants to try and make them do what the keepers want they now use a different approach.

Now they use more of a permission based approach. They reinforce desirable behaviors with rewards and discourage negative behaviors by the removal of something the elephants find desirable.

He said that the reality is the elephant is big enough and strong enough that they are going to do what they want to anyway. The keepers were really just kidding themselves in believing they could make the elephants do anything they didn’t want to do.

The new system has several advantages. First it is easier on the keepers. Because they don’t come in direct contact with the animals nearly as much (if at all) there are fewer opportunities for little keeper bodies to get squished as an elephant turns suddenly or some such.

But that wasn’t what really got our friend excited about their newer approach.

Better for the Elephants

He said it was also much easier on the animals, because over time they have been able to train the elephants to voluntarily do things they never would do in the past. The example he gave was foot maintenance. He said now the elephant are trained to present their feet for inspection regularly and the keepers can keep them properly groomed all the time.

In the past they basically had to wait until there was an obvious problem with their feet, anesthetize the animal groom the feet, and most times treat an infection that had developed because of poor grooming.

The old way was much harder on the animals and as a result of the new methods our friend says that he fully expects to see elephants actually living longer healthier lives. (Not to mention the keepers!)

Customers Like Elephants

Well your customers are a little like those elephants. They are going to do what they want to anyway. And you are just kidding yourself if you think all your shouting and prodding is going to make them do something they don’t want to do.

But what if you tried a different approach in your business? How about, instead of going so nuts shouting at your customers in your advertising, you made it the objective of your business to give your customers all the little positive experiences you could all the while you were interacting with them.

Then, over time, you would build up a loyal customer base that would help your business have a longer healthier life.

I think of the local car dealer with the obnoxious radio and TV ads. (It seems like every city has at least one of these.) How much better would it be for their business if they stopped the shouting and instead focused on providing a positive experience for their customers?

The one thing our friend pointed out to us was that it was a bit of a bumpy transition. Initially their new approach was actually worse than the old way. But over the long haul it has become so much better than it ever was that the transition time was well worth the effort and temporary set backs.


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