What I Learned At The Supermarket

I have to confess; I kind of enjoy going to the supermarket.

I don’t know why exactly, but I think it began back when our three kids were little and I was just looking for a spouse-sanctioned excuse to get the hell out of the house for a couple of hours.

Whatever the reason, and since my wife Linda doesn’t particularly care for it, the weekly run to the market is on my list of to do’s.

This past weekend, I noticed a new innovation in place at my local store.

Instead of simply “paper or plastic,” there were now two different kinds of plastic bags. The regular brown kind, and a bright, new, blue version.

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And so I said to the kid doing the bagging, “Is there a difference between the blue bags and the brown bags?”

His deadpan response? “Probably.” And then he just kept on bagging.

Not, “Yes, here’s how they are different…” Or, “I don’t know, but I can find out…”

Just a very disinterested, “Probably.”

Think about that. The entire world of the supermarket bagger consists of just one thing: Put the stuff in a bag.

And yet, while he appears to have some inkling that there’s change afoot in the bagging universe, he’s so incurious about his job, that it hasn’t occurred to him to go find the answer.

Now I’m not blaming this kid in particular. After all, it’s just some part-time, after school job.

But – and here’s the key point – this orientation of, “Just tell me what to do and give me my paycheck when the day is done,” is not exclusive to 16-year-old high school kids.

There are plenty of fully grown adults of all ages, doing things that are way more complicated than bagging, who start and end every day in the same way.

And you know what? That’s really good news for you and me, the owners of small and solo businesses.

We don’t have to worry about “motivating the front line.” We are the front line.

We don’t have to wait a week to run an idea by a dozen people at next Tuesday’s staff meeting, dealing with inane “what if’s” and that guy Jim who never fails to “play devil’s advocate.”

Instead, you and I can get an idea at breakfast (how’d you get in my house?) and have it in place by lunchtime.

That’s powerful.

It’s also why competing against large organizations can represent such a spectacular opportunity.

They’re not stupid over there at BigCompany.com. It’s just that with so many people and so many policies and so many systems and so much politics … it’s really, really hard to get anything done.

So here’s my challenge to you: Look at your business and find ways to do things that your larger competitors can’t.

Handwritten notes; humans picking up the phone; flexible policies; jargon-free content; minimal legalese; rampant experimentation to see what might work.

You’ll never out-big the big guys. They have more money, more staff, more brand presence … maybe even more brain power than we do.

But if it doesn’t scale, there’s a pretty good chance they can’t do it.

The only question then, is whether or not you will.

P.S. Special note to those who participated in this week’s Storytelling webinar. Notice how today’s newsletter follows that same “simple story formula” we talked about. Obvious and easy once you know how it works!

P.P.S. If you missed the Storytelling webinar or didn’t register in time before it filled up, and you want to be notified the next time we run it live, send an email to belinda@bluepenguindevelopment.com we’ll put you on the VIP wait list.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think a “VIP wait list” is any different than a regular wait list? Me neither.
  1. Were you surprised that I said “hell” in the beginning of the story? Do you think we should avoid words that might bother other people, even if they reflect the way we actually talk?
  1. Is there a supermarket policy that requires crushing the defenseless bananas with the milk every week?

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