Green or stain or Black, what you can learn from changing paint.

May 6, 2014

Should it be dark green, a walnut stain or black? Who would think in the big picture that it really matters? In our current world of moving offices at Nxtbook, we are going through these decisions on an almost daily basis. Our existing space was trimmed out in a very dark green, so with the new space we are switching it up to be more like the 100 year old building it is. We want it to look very old and industrial. (This is a great contrast for a cool, tech company.)
During a contractor meeting a couple of weeks ago, we discussed how the door and window trim would be a lighter oak wood stain. No one picked up on that at the time so that meant that all of that painted trim, “formerly dark green” had to be stripped and then stained. This was very difficult task that took over three days for the painter to accomplish.
Then came Friday, the owner of the property dropped by and saw the stain. Now you are probably thinking he was upset that so much time was spent on taking off paint, sanding and staining but no, his focus was on the industrial look and why it hadn’t been painted black. Barry tried to call me and a couple of other people but we weren’t available. He persisted until we were able to respond, knowing whatever was on his mind had to be very important.
When we got there, Harold the construction foreman told us that Barry was in an uproar about the stained wood and wanted to paint it black. Alicia Bradley (our Master of Smooth Operations) and I discussed it with Harold and said, “No, we like the stain and it will be all right”. So Harold said, “Stain it is.” We really did like it.
But Barry really didn’t, and he kept at it, finally getting Alicia on the phone. He said he knew we chose the stain but it was a mistake and we really should go with the black. Furthermore, he said the entire trim needed changed to pull off the industrial look we all desired. He really made a strong case for all of his points.
Alicia and I discussed it and agreed, “Yes, Barry is right. We should paint the trim black.”
This exercise made me think, though. Why did I go along with the stain in the first place? I realized I ended up saying to myself it isn’t so bad the way it is. What I was really doing was changing the plan around to make it fit a more comfortable outcome. After all, the painter had put a great deal of energy to get the wood back to a stainable condition and it seemed wasteful to backtrack so late in the game.
Why had I taken my eye off of the greatness of the space? What it could be, what it will be if you just keep sticking to the plan? I missed it, but thank goodness Barry kept it in his sights.
Truth be told, I also really didn’t want to pay more for it but I also realized that I hadn’t even asked if it would. So I didn’t even ask about costs; just made assumptions that it would cost more.
This made me wonder how many times in business we make assumptions on what we think we know. I thought it would cost more money. Failure number one: it didn’t cost more but more importantly I did not ask!
How many times in business do you take your eye off of the end goal, settle on something that is just a little less because it’s easier? It happens; I think it happens all too often. It often lives under the cover of compromise. Failure number two, don’t settle for less because it is easier. You should work for what you want, not what you end up with. Be relentless about it.
Finally, the painter had put so much work into the stain project I was settling just because of that. How many times in business do you settle on something other than what you want just because people are involved? It might upset the painter to have to paint over that stain but I also realize he is a craftsman and he may be happy in the long run because it will look better in the end. Employees and their feelings sometimes get in the way of doing what should be done because they may not like it. While true, if it’s truly best for the organization in the long run, you have to trust that others will see that same vision and be willing to help with the change.
There are a lot of things that get in the way of reaching your goals, but compromises that take you away from your objectives is not the way to get there. I hope your team has someone like Barry that will stand up and argue against all the other reasons to do things that threaten to keep you from achieving your goals. I’m glad I do.


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