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Keep Your Eyes Open

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I opened my eyes this morning and thought to myself, “This is going to be a great day.”

That’s the way I try to start every day and this morning was not going to be an exception, despite the fact my legs ached, my back was sore, and my neck was stiff. 

I pushed my evening workout too hard over the past couple of days and this was just my body’s way of letting me know I need to dial it back a notch or two. 

The jury is still out on whether it’s likely I’ll listen or not. I’ve never been really good at cutting back or limiting anything even when I probably should. Instead, I started to move through a slow and deliberate set of Qi Gong exercises designed to help stretch and loosen up just about all the muscles in the body.

These exercises are reserved to help warm up before beginning a Tai Chi form, but, in this case, pushing a form too hard was how I got into trouble in the first place. Nevertheless, balance and flexibility are essential elements of a normal and productive life and I haven’t found anything that works any better.

I was thinking about that as I moved through my Qi Gong exercises, which are exercises reserved to help warm-up before beginning a Tai Chi Form. Thinking about how both flexibility and balance are as essential to success in business as they are to your physical well-being brought me back to a recent video blog I posted on “management By wandering around” (MBWA), an idea Tom Peters proposed in In Search of Excellence.

The principle was clear. Whether at your own place of business or another’s, you can learn far more by keeping your eyes open and asking questions than you ever could through meetings or more formal investigation.

I’ve been an ardent supporter of MBWA ever since I was first exposed to the concept.  

You see, curiosity is perhaps one of the most critical assets you can develop while striving to become a successful troubleshooter or diagnostician. Success is measured by how well you are able to discern proper operation and performance from whatever anomalies you are confronted with. From the unexpected to the extraordinary to the out of place.

It’s no different when you make the decision to manage by wandering around. 

If you’re in a 20 Group and been involved in shop visits, stopped by a colleague’s shop to grab them for a quick lunch or found yourself stuck on the road and thought about what was going on around you, you’ve been exposed to this principle—whether you realize it or not.

If you’ve come back from an errand, parked at the bottom of your own lot, walked up the hill to the office and witnessed your technicians as they went about their business—went on about your business—and wondered what they were doing or why they were doing it the way they were, you know exactly what MBWA is all about. This is where flexibility and balance play a critical role.

Most of the time, we move through life focused on what’s directly in front of us. Priority is afforded that narrow band at the center of our field of vision. However, that isn’t all we see. We are able to see and sense images and movement at the edges of our vision—our peripheral vision.

If we move our head from one side to the other, we’re able to process more. But, that movement is limited by how well or how much we are able to move. The tighter we are—the more limited and constrained—the less we are able to take in without exaggerating our own movement.

When we take the time and make the effort to relax and stretch, we’re able to move more easily, increasing our range of motion and field of vision. The ability to remain relaxed and supple may have started out as a survival skill, but it is no less critical today than when we left the mouth of the cave to begin the hunt.

If you develop those skills and train yourself to see everything that is going on around you, you are far more likely to spot a problem or potential crisis before it metastasizes throughout your business. You might catch the subtle slouch of an unhappy team member as they walk to their next job out of the corner of your eye—something you may have otherwise missed. You might catch something in the tone of your service advisor’s conversation with a client at the counter or a slight change in their body language that resulted in a lost sale.

Flexibility and balance will allow you a greater range of response. More options. More opportunities to learn, grow, act and react. The alternative—the absence of flexibility and the lack of balance—is often described by words like immutable, intransigent, rigid and unyielding. 

Think about all the successful businesses you know of. Think about all the shop owners who serve as role models for the kind of future you seek for yourself, your family and everyone in your organization. How would you characterize the way they move through the world? The way they approach the challenges they face in business and in life? I’ll bet the connection between balance, flexibility, and success is self-apparent. 

So, relax. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath and move. Slowly. Quietly. Deliberately. Forward. Back. From one side to the other. Slowly expand your range of motion and your field of vision. Now, open your eyes. You may be surprised at what you are able to see now that escaped you just a moment ago. 

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