It’s Not Always “Black and White”

At the Wal-Mart Sustainability Conference, I sat in on a session where vendors stood up to talk about success stories in becoming more sustainable.

One of the speakers ran a company that sold pancakes, corn dogs and sausage on a stick. He described a situation where the price of pork increased three times in a year. The third time it increased, he gathered his team around him and asked them to come up with ideas on saving money that would allow them to incur the cost of the pork increase.

One idea that came forward pretty quick was to stop putting a wrapper around each sausage on a stick that was packed in a larger box. The suggestion was to stack the sausages in a box without the wrapper.

The executive said he reacted swiftly and promptly to the suggestion. “Absolutely not. It won’t work. It’s too big of a change. Wal-Mart would never go for it.” End of story. They moved on to something else.

A few months later, the fourth increase in pork came. Same group gathered up around the table. Same suggestion about the wrapper came up. Since he was out of alternatives, he decided to consider it.

This time he was reminded by his team that what they suggested for sausages on a stick, they were already doing with Wal-Mart. His team encouraged him to explore it with Wal-Mart and predicted he wouldn’t get the resistance he feared.

Sure enough, when he went to Wal-Mart, they did have some concerns. But, the concerns they had weren’t the ones he feared. They were concerns he and his team hadn’t considered.

But, Wal-Mart also wasn’t closed to the idea. They volunteered to test the concept. The test allayed their concerns and the company was given the go ahead to try the new pack. It saved over a million dollars in cost by eliminating the need to buy the packaging and taking the step out of the production to put the wrapper on.

I listened to that story and it caused me to reflect:

  1. How many times do I cut off conversation by being absolutely certain about things that aren’t absolutely certain?
  2. When I cut off that conversation, how much is it costing us in terms of money, time and creativity? My experience is that if you cut off too many ideas without exploration, the stream of ideas slows down to a trickle.
  3. How many times do I stop from raising an issue with a customer because I already “know” the answer and the considerations?

He closed his story by sharing that the biggest thing he had learned through the process is that he shouldn’t be so “black and white.” I think his learning has merit.