In the winter of 1976, my mother setup an amazing family vacation for us during spring break at Disney World. We were going to stay at the Polynesian Resort inside Disney World. We could ride the monorail to the park every day! I can’t tell you how excited my sister and I were for this trip. We were so excited we packed up the car the day before we were supposed to leave!
There was only one problem. That night Michigan was hit with a horrendous ice storm, and the tree in our front yard split in half under the pressure of all that ice. Half the trunk fell across the driveway pinning our station wagon in the carport.
My sister, mom, and I were devastated. No trip to Disney! Heck, we couldn’t even get out of our own driveway! Dad however, didn’t say a thing. He walked into the storage shed, grabbed his chain saw and walked out to the branch and started cutting. He wasn’t trying to remove the branch – there was no way he could do all of that by himself. But he could cut a slot just wide enough to back the car through. And that’s what he did. He told all of us to get in the car, “We’re going to Disney.”
Later in life, my dad would call this approach to certain problems his “dumb luck theory of travel.” While everyone else I knew planned carefully and made reservations, Dad just got in motion. His philosophy was simple.
- Set your intent
- Get in motion
- Pay attention
He had no real plan after he cut the tree trunk, he just knew he could take the next step, getting in motion. But later, on other occasions, like a wizard he would say things like, “Let’s go get Italian food.” I’d ask him if he knew of a good Italian restaurant. He’d say, “Nope. But I’m sure we’ll find one.” And sure enough, every time we did. When I asked him, “How did you do that?” He would reply, “Dumb luck.” After all, what else could it be?
I think Dad enjoyed playing those games with us, but at the core of his idea was that he never let uncertainty stop him from taking definite action. He was not afraid of making mistakes, and he often made discoveries that could only come from being in motion.
I don’t think GameTruck would exist if I had not absorbed some of Dad’s “let’s give it a try and see what works out.” Sure, I did some research, but some of the most important decisions that shaped the company came from getting in motion and working on the problem. Ideas sprang from experience with the first trailer, generators, and materials. I found solutions to problems I never could have planned for. For example, I didn’t know until I built it that the AC units would work better turned sideways than blowing down the center of the trailer. I had no idea what the first party would be like, or the second, or the third. It was my brother Chris who told me a party is better as a party than a sports practice (I was a little too controlling in the early days). And he was right. Sometimes what we think we know can be the biggest barrier to success. Getting in motion and paying attention can open you up to new possibilities you did not contemplate.
At each stage of starting GameTruck, Dad’s advice rung true. I had a clear intention of what I wanted to achieve; I just didn’t know how I was going to achieve it every step of the way. But I always managed to take the next step available to me. I also kept my eyes open to the possibility that something even better might be waiting for me, and frequently a better solution or opportunity presented itself.
It has is my experience that clear Intent, coupled with focused action, and a willing openness to possibilities make a powerful combination. While Dad called that combination – or more specifically the results of that practice, “dumb luck” – I think of it differently. Action without vision is a hobby. A vision without action is a dream. Action and vision without openness quickly becomes a tired rut. While intent and openness are important, it is my firm belief that the willingness to try, to take action in the face of uncertainty is essential.
When I first started running GameTruck, we only had one truck and trailer. That worked until demand shot through the roof. We quickly built 3 more trailers and I had to hire staff to handle them. Early on, Chris and I could do everything. But when that third trailer showed up, we needed more help. Josh joined us and that’s when things started to get interesting. Who had filled the truck last? Was the first driver to leave going to be the last driver to return? GameTruck was small back then, so everyone was trained to every task. And while everyone could do anything, no one could do everything. This really blew up in our face when one day I sat down to update the game libraries in all the trailers and Chris had parties to run. See the problem? I get this panic phone call. “Where are the GAMES!?” I sped up to North Phoenix with a bundle of DVD’s. Not fun.
Booking was just as complex – we started out with index cards. I learned at Motorola you never automate a process you don’t understand. The index cards helped us put information on the google calendar. But… it was too easy to put something on the calendar without checking how far it was to the next party, or from the previous party for that matter. Parents, especially Mom’s don’t like it when there are 20 anxious 12 year old boys in her front yard and it’s party time with no truck or trailer in sight.
Caring is a great start, but being dependable requires more. Some problems you just can’t muscle your way through. It takes more the raw effort and desire to run a sophisticated mobile business. It takes smarts. Specifically, it takes tools and planning.
Caring about your business is not enough. You have to be smart about it too.
Until I ran a multi-trailer video game party business, I had no clue on the level of logistics planning that goes into executing a flawless weekend of events. This was why we early on invested in planning and logistics software to meet our needs. I’m talking about a lot more than GPS route planning. Our software is purpose built to help GameTruck owners. The whole goal is to give owners the right information, at the right time, when they can act on it.
Let me be more specific, the GameTruck portal doesn’t just tell you how long it would take to drive from one party to another, it also tells the person booking an event how long it is likely to take to make that drive on that specific day of the week, at that specific time of day the event is scheduled for. It does this right as you are booking the event! The system gives the owner, and the client information they can plan with.
“Being Smart” is about helping everyone make informed decisions so they can plan
From my perspective “Being Smart” is about helping everyone make informed decisions so they can plan. Our logistics software is just one example of that principle. When the person on the phone has accurate information, they not only sound smart, but they can make better decisions. When you have the information you need, when you need it, you can focus on the people you serve. Automating the ordinary, so the our team members can do the extraordinary is the best kind of smart I know.
Automating the ordinary, so the our team members can do the extraordinary is the best kind of smart I know.
Being smart is not just about having a high intellect or memorizing a lot of facts. To me it is a mindset. It is about learning from mistakes, reducing opportunities for error, and putting people in a position to be successful. It is about anticipating problems as much as possible and preparing to mitigate them. At the end of the day, competence is made of two core elements: Knowing what to do and being able to do it. As a franchisor we can make owners lives easier if we make the work easier to do with automation and strong systems. If we do that, then our owners can make mom the hero of her child’s birthday. And that, is the real goal.
How our values effect how we feel about our work
I recently had the immense pleasure of hearing Dr. Sabrina Starling talk at my local chapter of the Entrepreneurs Organization. Dr. Starling is the bestselling author of a series of books about hiring the best. I don’t know how staffing is going for your organization but for nearly every business owner I talk to building and keeping a team together has proven to be one of the greatest challenges small businesses are facing. It doesn’t seem to be just about COVID, but the shifting landscape in how people view their time.
I haven’t done all the background research on this, but the combination of several factors seems to have disrupted the workplace like never before. The sudden and often unexpected shift from office work to working from home (it happened in my company), coupled with families both spending more time together AND being separated from people they love has tilted the sense of value many people put on their work and their time.
I am hearing more people say, “Someday is today.” In my experience, those thoughts can lead to powerful change. It happened to me four years ago. I bought my first Harley Davidson motorcycle. I named her Willow. Willow was a soft tail deluxe so named because her color was similar to Willow Rosenberg’s hair color on the TV show Buffy the Vampire slayer. (Played by Alyson Hannigan). Joss Whedon said in an interview that whenever he wanted to kick start an adventure he would put Willow in peril, but of course he would never hurt her. To me, Willow the motorcycle was my call to adventure. That one single decision had an enormous impact on my life. I am not surprised to hear and see more people reaching out to live their dreams now.
So how does this affect hiring and employee retention?
According to Dr. Starling, “A-Players” are not just great performers, they are also people we are compatible with. Surprisingly, there are multiple ways to be competent, and some are not compatible with our deepest held values. Dr. Starling calls these, “the immutable laws.”
Her advice? If you want to build a team of A-players, start by looking in the mirror and finding your immutable laws. Because she warns, if you don’t, you may find the perfect candidate for the job and hire them – only to discover you drive each other nuts.
Finding your immutable laws is simple, but not easy. I have seen two different methods for discovering how to gain perspective and discover what you value. The first is to make a list of people you admire – a short list. Then study the list for commonalities. The common qualities point to traits you admire and want to develop within yourself.
Dr. Starling gave an even easier method to arrive at discovering what you value most. First, take a look at times you have become really upset by something. Chances are, you are upset because the thing that happened somehow violated one of your values. The second path to discovery is to look for instances where you feel very proud of someone close to you. Kids are an obvious example, but you can also be inspired by team members, family, or friends. Your sense of pride stems from the fact that they are demonstrating a value you hold dear.
I know I have seen franchise owners in the GameTruck system spark a deep sense of pride within me. Until Dr. Starling explained it, I had thought the feeling slightly misplaced out of a misguided desire not to be pedantic. GameTruck owners possess a deep sense of duty and commitment to show up for a child’s birthday. It is truly remarkable and one of the main reasons the brand has flourished.
It did not take me long to sit down and mine my frustrations and my pride. I quickly identified some values that are core to me. I also remember Dr. Starling telling me these values should be “real”, not aspirational, not something we aim but, but “the way it is.” For me, that’s exactly what these values are. That’s why she calls them immutable laws. These values guide how each of us processes and ultimately experience reality right now.
Chances are, when you find an A-player, someone you really enjoy working with, someone who kicks ass and takes names. It is not only that they are competent, but that you both share a large overlap in values.
So if you want a great team, a good place to start is to sit down and make a list of your own “immutable laws”. You can have as few as 2 values or as many as 10 What’s important is that they be authentic and sound like you. When I shared my list with my team, they said, “yup, that sounds like you.” I believe the list is a mirror into the part of myself where thought and emotion mix. As Simon Sinek said, “the part of your brain that is responsible for decisions is not the part of your brain responsible for language.” Putting words to deeply held feelings and beliefs is hard. What’s more, it feels so much easier to see in other people than ourselves.
I loved Dr. Starling’s simple tools because they helped me articulate my values. What’s more, they make it easier for me to see alignment with others on my team. Armed with that information I find it easier to diffuse frustration and amplify positive feedback. I think it makes it better for my team as well.
I encourage you to take 15 minutes and give it a try. You might be surprised what you come up with.