You Can’t Put A Perm On A Frog.
Why Creativity Can’t Solve A Problem That Doesn’t Exist.
Written by U.S. SBA Entrepreneur of the Year, Tulsa Motivational Speaker, Dallas Motivational Speaker, Las Vegas Motivational Speaker, Author, Tulsa Business Coach & Founder of DJ Connection Tulsa Wedding DJ Service.
1996 was the year I started getting serious about business. I was 16 and I had a custom T-shirt company called “Clay Funk” and a mobile DJ service called “C & G DJ Service.” While most high school students attended parties, and spent time trying to see who they could hit on next I focused nearly exclusively on growing these two companies. I bought the T-shirt supplies and the DJ equipment with the hard-earned money I had made working as a home health aid, a hired farm hand, a janitorial assistant and working at the Norsman Restaurant. Thus, I took a lot of pride in my new companies. In fact I became obsessive about the success of these two companies. That was all I thought about or talked about outside of weight-lifting. When I went into convenience stores I found myself asking, “why does this place stink?” When I would walk up to the front counter to pay the cashier, I found myself wanting to ask, “why does your bathroom smell like death and look like hell?” I began looking at businesses as though they were case studies and not places of commerce. When I walked into a thriving business I thought, “I wonder who started this place? I wonder how they did it?”
So in 1999 when I moved back to Tulsa, Oklahoma from the super-small town of Cokato where we had been leaving I found myself in awe of QuikTrip Convenience Stores. These places were and are the Taj Majals of the convenience stores industries. When you walk in a smiling attendant says hello. When you go to the bathrooms, they are super-I-don’t-want-to-lick-off-the-floor-just-to-prove-a-point-but-I-would-if-I-had-to-clean. These bathrooms like only angels have been using them and smell like heaven! It’s incredible. So from that point on I began my obsessing about wanting the meet the founder or the President of QuikTrip Convenience Stores (Chester Cadieux or his son Chet Cadieux). I mailed them letters. I made calls. I just calling with the same theory I use in sales everyday. I’ll call them until they cry buy or die as I dial and smile.
Eventually they gave in and arranged a meeting for me to meet with Chet Cadieux, who is the son of the founder, the President and an unbelievable businessman. When he came in to see my early that morning at the corporate office, I was wowed. Here was the President of the Taj Majal of convenience stores. This man knew how to manage hundreds of stores at the same time and how to keep humans from acting like idiots whole working for him. If he could keep hundreds of public gas station bathrooms clean while managing gas station employees to not act like complete morons, I just knew he Jedi powers so I came prepared.
When we sat down at the table, and after he had greeted me I pulled out my list of questions for him. I knew that I would probably only get a few minutes with the guru, so I made sure I was super prepared. Just like with the other gurus I had met, he answered every super difficult question with an ease and confidence that assured me of his Jedi status. However, there were two answers he gave me that blew my mind. He said that his philosophy, his Dad’s philosophy and now Quiktrip’s philosophy was that they hired for attitude and believed they could train the skills. What? Was he saying that Quiktrip sincerely hired people based solely upon their attitudes? Was he saying he didn’t really care about the skills that people brought to job? Was he saying that attitude was the most important thing? Wow! This concept blew my mind.
Here I had been hiring and looking for former and current DJs to hire into our collective at DJ Connection! My whole focus had always been on finding people who already had DJ skills and here he was saying that I need to focus my search on people with good attitudes. He went on to explain to me that he believed strongly in using a merit-based pay because there really is no other way to manage people without micro-managing them. Essentially, pay people based on how well they do, not based on how long they’ve worked there or what certifications they have. He explained that QuikTrip had mystery shoppers that came into the stores across the country each day. They reviewed the bathrooms the attendants and the overall customer service experience. No one knew who they were or knew when they were coming, but their feedback was what determined promotions, and the size of the paychecks that went out to each employee. Essentially each employee was their own boss, trying to please their own customers. If they did a great job, they received great pay. If they did a bad job they received bad pay. He explained to me how Southwest Airlines, UPS and other leading companies did the same thing. He explained to me that Harvard Case Study called the “Service Profit Chain” had all the answers I wanted.
After thanking him for his time I left blow away. I almost cried in my car. I was so deeply impacted by this moment. I thought, “Yes, now I know the answer!” “You can’t put a perm on a frog!” You can’t hire and idiot and train them to become “the man.” You have to hire people with great attitudes and then you have to pay them based on how well they perform! This whole idea was earth-shaking to me. This concept allowed me to fire nearly 50% of the staff on January 1st of that year without the slightest feeling of guilt. The guys with the DJ skills that were chronically let or chronically smoking chronic were fired. The DJ guru / guys what were negative and who constantly justified their bad performances were let go, and I was freed!
Here I had spent massive amounts of time trying to motivate, encourage, stimulate and cheer bottom-feeders to victory. After meeting with Chet it occurred to me that if I had spent that same amount of time training people with good attitudes, I would have been profoundly ahead of where I was then. Today, I try to keep the profoundness of that “Aha Moment” with me at all times, by constantly telling myself, “you can’t put a perm on a frog!” You can’t fix an amputated limb with duct table. You can’t outthink a problem that is unfixable, one that is unfixable or one that is truly not worth solving because it will completely zap you of your creative juices. Once you’ve poured hours and hours into a solution that can’t possibly produce results you will feel empty and frustrated. So just ask yourself this next time you are trying to use your creative powers to solve a big problem, “am I trying to put a perm on a frog?” Make sure you spend the majority of your time working on the things that will make the biggest impact in your life and in your business. Don’t get consumed with working on stupid, tedious, laborious and time-wasting activities that don’t produce fruit.
Awhile back I had an employee who worked for me in the sales department who was obsessed with recycling. We had another employee in the maintenance department who was obsessed with polishing the gear. These two guys never had time to close a deal that would pay us or to repair the equipment that we needed each weekend to fulfill our promises to customers, did they find time to recycle and to polish gear. It was amazing. I would go down the hall and be blown away with the insanity of their conversations, “Dude I can’t believe that we don’t recycle. We just throw all of this paper away and it’s just a complete waste.” Other guy responds, “Yeah I know. I’m running behind this week, but I’ve got most of the speakers polished up and looking good.”
At which point I would walk in and say, “Hey, have you sold anything this week? I know the speakers are now polished, but do they even work?”
They would both look confused anytime I asked them a direct question about the jobs for which they were getting paid. They always had complete clarity about the side projects that didn’t matter, but when it came to their actual assigned tasks, their answers were always blurry and general at best. They’d say stuff like, “Yeah, most of the stuff is pretty good now.” “I think we’ve got a few things in the pipeline that might close down this week.” It was amazing. So how did I handle it? How should you handle it? Ask yourself, this question, “is this person a frog?” “is this person capable of rocking a perm?” If this person is indeed not a fit, don’t waste your time trying to train them. Spend your time trying to find someone else.
In this particular situation, I was able to ascertain that one of the individuals actually had a good attitude and was just misdirecting it and quickly he became excellent at his job. The other individual ended up being a bad apple and a guy with a horrible attitude, who didn’t have the focus needed be a human in any area of his life. Once I found out his true attitude I let the guy go off harass some other employer (without the benefit of a good letter of recommendation from me).
I realize that your level of intelligence is far superior to mine, but I wanted to hammer home the profoundness of this idea one more time so you don’t waste your time putting a perm on a frog.
Years ago, a friend of mine went out to start a business. He had the idea that he would render a particular kind of service to the city of Tulsa “that know one else was doing.” When I first heard of the idea I thought it was terrible. When I heard of the ideas again, I thought the original bad idea had spawned additional bad ideas and now his formerly sound mind was being overrun by even worse ideas. I told him that after talking to him on 2 different occasions I still had no idea what he was talking about and why anyone in their right mind would want the funk that he was trying to sell. You see my friend was trying to become an impersonator of a musician that was no longer relevant in the city of Tulsa that isn’t exactly known for being the place to launch a music and broadway style entertainment career. However, this guy was determined that his idea would work. He knew that he could “put a perm on this frog.” He knew that he could just wow America.
This guys had built a website. He made marketing materials. He had business cards. He made brochures. He had performed for free for a small group of humans who left his performance angry at themselves that they had allowed themselves to watch his horrible act. Several months, several demo tapes, several thousand dollars and hundreds of rejections later we again sat down to talk. He said, “You know, I think this idea is a good idea, but maybe just not in Tulsa and with this character with this music.” I thought to myself, “On this planet, this is a bad idea if we are selling to humans. You can’t sing. Nobody likes the guy you are imitating and I hope that I don’t say anything that motivates you on this continued wild-goose chase and this completely ridiculous quest.” Of course I didn’t say anything, I just looked at him as though I deeply understood him and I was now connecting with his soul.
He said, “you know, maybe just some things aren’t meant to be right now. Maybe in the future I can reexplore this.” I again said nothing but thought to myself, “I hope that you sincerely never try this again.”
Was my friend an idiot? No. Is he a bad dude? No. Was he trying to put a perm on a frog? Absolutely. Don’t waste your creativity on trying to solve a problem that does not exist.