Sustainability, Know when to Call the Man.

auntbeaOne of my favorite television programs is the Andy Griffith Show, and one of my all time favorite episodes is “Bargain Day”, or as some refer to it, the “Call the Man” episode. In the episode Aunt Bee, searching for a bargain,  buys 150 pounds of meat from the new butcher in town only to have her freezer go on the fritz! I love this episode so much that I designed a training class around it.

So now you’re wondering how in the world does Andy Griffith fit into business, sustainability or strategy?!?

It fits quite nicely! This simple episode is a great example of the power of “Mental Models”. Within the episode Aunt Bee is exposed to an issue, or problem if you will, and instead of looking at the situation without all of the emotional baggage, she frames the situation within examples of her past experiences.

According to Wikipedia, a Mental Model is a representation of the surrounding world, the relationships between its various parts and a person’s intuitive perception about their own acts and their consequences. Our mental models help shape our behavior and define our approach to solving problems and carrying out tasks. This is often what you’ll encounter when first talking with others about sustainability.

Andy realizes that he does not know how to repair a freezer and that no one in Mayberry knows how to repair a freezer and that the nearest person that can truly address and repair the problem is the repairman in Mount Pilot. Andy tells Aunt Bee to “Call the Man.” Aunt Bee will not call the man and she has a list of reasons why: He is from out of town, the big city man is going to over charge the small town folks, he has to be a crook, and the list goes on. So, instead of calling the man, she tries other solutions; and you guessed it, they all fail!

This happens everyday, for whatever reason people will email or call you and ask for advice or suggestions. You’ll listen to their situation and start asking further questions and at this point they start saying, “You don’t understand, we can’t do that.” or my personal favorite, “That’s not how we do things here.” The strange thing is you haven’t told them what to do, you just asked questions.

Maybe this is the area that’s disturbing to people when they start to discuss sustainability. We just moved from the physical world of activity into the soft side of management, or should I say change management. It’s here that we move away from being able to put a wrench on the problem or measure a widget and now we have to think! We have to visualize and theorize.

We tend to frame our problem in terms that are familiar to us. It helps us feel more in control, which is very normal, but when you want to create something new verses simply solve a problem you often need a new prospective. Solving a problem takes care of the issue for the moment, creating something new gets you ready for the future! It’s so much easier when you have a hammer and the world is full of nails just to start banging away.

You’ll need to remember this when someone says, “Sounds like another name for good business; why do we need to rename it?”

When others are looking for a short-cut, a bargain or the quick easy way out, if you can remove some of the emotional baggage and look at the situation with fresh eyes, you might be able to save time and “Call the Man.”

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