Aug 2, 2012
It Takes a ThiefBy pmihalek

There comes a time in your life when you realize that you’re not that smart or creative; there are others out there that are far more creative and smarter than I am. This discovered reality is sometimes hard to swallow and accept as a truth. But once you do, it can help set you free and open to new possibilities and opportunities. It’s an epiphany of sorts.

Okay, I know this is pretty heavy stuff to chew on and I really don’t want to get all philosophical on you. But let me explain where I’m coming from and, hopefully, it will make
some sense.

When I started out in retail many moons ago, I was a buyer trainee for a national multi-store chain, and I thought I was pretty hot stuff! I was a “fast tracker” and was given a lot of new responsibilities in a short period of time, rotating frequently between different departments to both gain new insights (another way of saying I was on a steep learning curve) and to make quick improvements in the various product categories I was working in.

Early on, I had quite a few things working in my favor. First, I came in with a fresh perspective — I had no baggage or perceptions of how things should or shouldn’t be done. I wasn’t burdened or influenced with the “been there, done that” or the “tried that before and it didn’t work, so why do I think it would work now” syndrome. Second, the more departments I worked in, the more I saw the different management styles and the different solutions and approaches to problems and challenges. And third, I brought a different skill set and mindset to my job because I had no retail experience; what I brought from my prior jobs allowed me to view retail through a different set of eyes.

The Pohmer Epiphany

For the first couple of years, everything was great! I was able to harvest all the low hanging fruit, the relatively easy changes that could be made without being really experienced or seasoned, and without needing to be very creative. These were common-sense changes and improvements that simply stared you in the face, and you couldn’t help but be successful when you implemented them. But, as human nature dictates, I believed that my success was the result of my personal brilliance and creativity. After all, I was the hot shot!

And then things started to change. All the low-hanging fruit was gone. The easy stuff was already done. Now I needed to be smart and creative to develop new programs and products, or solve the more complex challenges that faced me. And add to this the fact that I was becoming “corporatized,” meaning that there was a fear of failure that stymied taking risks, and a sense of complacency crept in to my thinking. I started to realize that there were a lot of smart and creative people in the higher ranks of retail organizations, some even smarter and more creative than I was. This was the point in time that many call “hitting the wall” in moving up the ladder or in personal development. This was a time of personal self challenge — maybe I wasn’t as good, smart or creative as I thought I was. Talk about an ego-deflator.

And then I had my epiphany! It dawned on me that there were a lot of very creative and smart people in other retail chains and, more importantly, in other non-retail businesses that were coming up with new concepts, approaches and ideas every day! By learning what and how they did things in their respective companies, it allowed me to look at the opportunities to adapt what they were doing to my own job and company. Now not all of their ideas worked; but by studying them, I was able to learn from their mistakes.

Choose Wisely

I realized that there aren’t a lot of brilliant Einsteins or Henry Fords or Sam Waltons running around — those people who create the big ideas that have major importance and would change the world forever. Even though I’ve enjoyed a very successful career in retail and consulting, if I’m honest with myself, I’d have to admit that I probably had no more than a dozen significant original ideas in my business life.

What greatly contributed to my success was the innate ability to steal ideas from others and adapt them to my own situations, making them part of my experience base.

And it’s not just the stealing of ideas; it’s the ability to choose only the good or best ideas, and leaving behind those that are mediocre or poor.

However, there’s benefit to studying the ideas that failed if you learn from them. Just maybe, there was a great idea that wasn’t executed well and ultimately failed. There’s a lot of truth in the adage that a poor idea executed well may be more successful than a great idea executed poorly! There are nuggets of gold out there that are ready to be mined, some the real McCoy, others Fool’s Gold; it’s up you to discern which is which. And if you’re smart enough to steal two separate ideas and marry them together, you’ve hit the mother lode!

Find Time to Steal

So what’s the point in sharing my epiphany with you? Well, during the past few years of a challenging economy, less than perfect spring weather, and a confused consumer, to stay in business you’ve picked all of your low-hanging fruit and probably reached pretty high in the trees to grab some of the hard-to-reach fruit to survive. Some of you are pretty well worn down, are tapped out on initiating new ideas, and are settling for complacency. But standing still is the same thing as losing ground in today’s world; to move forward and grow, to entice those consumers who still have money to spend (and there are plenty of them out there!) requires that we get smarter and more creative, sharing our passion with them by showing them a new face, a renewed excitement!

Make time to shop retailers outside of our industry with the sole purpose of looking for good, no, great ideas to steal that can be adapted to your business. Have fun with this. Send your employees out on an idea-stealing scavenger hunt, and do a brain dump when they get back to share what they learned. All you need are one or two great new ideas a season to make a real difference!

Read not only industry trade journals like Lawn & Garden Retailer to look for new ideas you can steal and implement, but also business journals like Forbes, Fortune, Business Week, and Inc. for new ideas introduced in other industries.

Hopefully you’ll realize as I did that I didn’t corner the market on brain power and creativity — there are a lot of very smart and successful businesspeople in our industry and others that are constantly trying out new ideas that you can study and steal. At the end of the day, no one will remember if your well-executed idea was home grown or adapted from someone else, as long as it’s successful…


At the end of the day, no one will remember if your well-executed idea was home grown or adapted from someone else, as long as it’s successful…

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