Management Lessons From a Toothbrush?
I know this is weird, almost to the point of insanity. But let me explain. This is actually one of those REM sleep time management lessons that hits your head and makes you wonder if you should get up and note it down. Once I knew I had successfully filed it in my mental notebook, I was able to catch a couple of more hours of sleep last night.
When you work with people, your mind is constantly on the go. It is buzzing with the conversations, thoughts, actions and for me, emotions that underlie these thoughts and actions. As an entrepreneur managing two business units every day, my mind is always finding ways to race to the bottom of these emotions so as to analyze them, optimize them and file them appropriately.
Here’s a little backstory
My wife recently bought us this set of two fancy toothbrushes from Costco. Now typically, that is inconsequential, but in my case, it takes importance. I’m your typical penny pinching money saving boot strapping sort of a person. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not cheap by any standards, but to me, spending $99 on a toothbrush when you can do the same job for $3.99 isn’t the best use of money.
So, naturally, I refused to be a part of this luxurious atrocity. Not out of anger, but as a matter of principal. You see, I’m trying to raise a teenager with values, and therefore frugality is something I want her to see and learn first hand. She may or may not practice it herself, but I want her to know something like this exists, and if situation presents itself for her to practice frugality, she should know where to start.
My daughter and my wife started using it and after about a week, my daughter gave it up. She no longer wanted to use it and switched back to her old habits (we’ll come to the reasons shortly). For about a month, this fancy piece of world class engineering to help your oral hygiene by a power of magnitude had been lying wasted.
This is when I decided to take matters into my own hands, literally. I asked my wife if our daughter was ever going to use it and when the answer was in the negative, I gladly took over ownership of the second toothbrush in the set.
Please don’t go ewwww…
Now before you go ewww with disdain, remember, these are replaceable heads and therefore, the actual machine/body of the toothbrush is all I took over, and replaced it with a new head. If you’re still going ewww, visualize your last visit to the dentist and imagine they don’t even change most of those tools, just “sanitize” them for next use. I sometimes wonder if they use the same set of equipment on themselves.
Anyways, back to my story. Once I used the toothbrush, damn I loved it. I couldn’t believe the dentist had come home and was paying me a cleaning service twice every day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to peddle a toothbrush here, but these things truly are amazing, when it comes to doing the job they’re supposed to do.
Let’s Get Back To The Management Lessons
So, this experience taught me a few things that I will attempt to reinvigorate my adaption of management lessons I learn daily!
Management Lessons # 1: Patience
I brush hard. Dentists over years have advised me to go easy with the grind for it may erode gums. I haven’t learnt. I continue to be a hard brusher. It’s cause, I can debate, is deep-rooted in some of my childhood experiences, but that doesn’t change the fact. The fact remains that I push and grind my brush real hard on my teeth, almost to the point of aggression.
Enter this new rotating head toothbrush, that you don’t need to grind at all. You do not need to move your hands, I mean, at all! It does the job itself. It has these rotating heads that make you feel as if you’re in a dentist’s chair and someone else is working on your teeth.
Now, for me to switch from a point of aggression to just holding the brush while it does it’s job was (and still is, sometimes) extremely hard. I couldn’t imagine myself not rubbing and grinding and shaking while brushing.
Further, I had to make mental adjustment to the fact that my teeth are clean as I would normally do (or better). I simply had to hold & guide the brush steady. This requires patience. Believe me! For someone with a mindset such as myself, this is an extremely hard virtue to come by.
I continued to use this brush once daily and my older brush for the second cleaning. For the first few weeks, I just couldn’t feel not in control and was impatient for it to finish so I had to keep using my older brush.
Brushing with this tool taught me (and is still teaching) to practice patience. Now patience isn’t really a management lesson in and of itself, but it is one of the most important virtues of being a good manager.
I now get to look at life and work situations with a similar lens and realize that I need to practice patience more and things will happen. Now I do practice patience when it’s super important (read when I’m feeling not in control) but this experience took my practice to a new level, and I’m thankful for that.
Management Lessons # 2: Delegation
George S Patton said “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results”
In my case, it was this toothbrush. Once I delegated the task of cleaning my teeth to the rotating head of the brush and saw the results, I was astonished. I no longer had to manage my oral hygiene and could simply trust the brush to do its job.
I realized that not everything needs to be the result of my direct involvement and direction. At office, I manage a team that consists of some very smart people and we have to continue being as good as we are at what we do.
This means I am deeply involved in my team’s day to day operations. Looking at the growth path that we’ve chosen for ourselves, this lesson comes in handy.
I am creating a set of roles and responsibilities with everyone on my team this quarter. Hopefully by the time we fully implement it, I will have delegated nearly 50% of my daily work to my more efficient and smarter team members. Along with a copy of these management lessons, of course 🙂
Management Lessons # 3: Never Accept Status Quo.
I have seen these toothbrushes on aisles of supermarkets for several years. The price of these devices has always deterred me from even considering making a purchase. Not because I can’t afford it, but because I’ve always maintained status quo. I think if I can get a job done for $3.99 then why go to the trouble of spending $99 for the same job.
Boy was I wrong! Not meaning to sound like a paid post for Procter and Gamble (makers of Oral B) these brushes changed my perception of a toothbrush. I have always maintained good oral hygiene, even when I was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. All this while, I never tried to find a better way to do the same job.
As humans, it is our tendency to fall into habits. Our actions are triggered by our emotions, and once we have formed a habit successfully, we rarely seem to be able or willing to change it. This was my status quo.
As a habit that I had formed as a child, I never ever thought to question it. Seeing as the money we spent on it was going to waste, and my deciding to use it, I changed my status quo.
In business, we tend to follow similar patterns. We tend to continue what works, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. If only we stopped to think and decided to change status quo, it would help us take a closer some of the most common fallacies and change our courses.
Management Lessons # 4: Do More with Less
While I’m a penny pinching bootstrapping individual, I do go all-in when it comes to using toothpaste. Since my childhood (many TV commercials have been responsible for this habit) I have used a full spread of toothpaste across the length of the bristles. Now common sense wisdom suggests that a fourth of that quantity – akin to the size of a pea – is the right amount.
When I started using this new set of toothbrushes, they do not have the long bed of bristles. Instead, what you get is a small base and naturally, I have to use the recommended pea size amount of toothpaste.
Did I feel any different after my brushing? No, in fact, I felt exactly the same. This broke another paradigm for me and I am now using pea sized amount.
In business, we can adopt a similar strategy. There are always areas of business that can be made more cost efficient by simply eliminating waste. In fact, the kanban system of management and product development has “waste elimination” as its integral pillar. Having studied Kanban for over three years and implementing it across our two business units, I have seen first hand how waste elimination, whether by processes or people can lead to increase in both – top-line as well as bottom-line.
Management Lessons # 5: Paying More is OK
There is always more than one way to get a job done. Sometimes the difference between the two methods is only price. Most often, it is a combination of price, quality, time of delivery, your overall experience etc. In my experience, while price always doesn’t equate to quality, sometimes it is okay to pay more.
When I am comparing two offerings to choose from, both from the same heritage (Procter & Gamble) and both promise to do the same job, I am now keeping my mind open to explore both options and to not limit my decision to price alone. I will want to figure out if a higher price is justified and if it is, then my instinct is – Paying More is OK!
I am not a management guru, nor have I studied at an ivy-league (or any other) management institute for that matter. All I have is my life’s experiences and this blog is an expression of my learning of the management lessons from those experiences.
Do you have similar story to share? Email me and may be we should talk.