“So how much have you got tied up in inventory?” I asked the liquor store owner. “$100,000?”
My wife and I were grabbing a bottle of wine next to our favorite Italian BYOB restaurant on Saturday night and, after scanning the well-stocked shelves, I ventured the question.
“Why do you ask?” he replied suspiciously, as if I were casing the place for a midnight heist.
“No reason. Just curious,” I said.
“Way more than $100,000,” he said with a tinge of pride.
From there, we went on to discuss the high financial barrier to entry that comes with running such an establishment.
“I’ve got to have a wide selection,” he said, “or nobody will come in here.”
He mentioned that his suppliers require payment within 30 days of delivery, so he’d better move the merchandise or it’s lights out.
“If I don’t pay them, they report me to the government, and the government comes here and closes my door. They don’t tolerate liquor stores that fall behind.”
From there, we talked about his 7-day-a-week work habit. “I have some people who work the register during the middle of the day, but I open and close the store every day since I opened five years ago.”
As we walked over to the restaurant, my wife just laughed. “You are so funny,” she said. “You’ll ask anybody anything.”
“I guess I just find people interesting,” I replied. Reflecting on that statement later, I revised it: I find interesting people interesting. In general, though, she’s right.
The following day, Tyler (our 3-year old) and I were standing outside the dog run at the park.
“Can I pet your dog?” Tyler asked the owner of just about every dog that came into his reach.
“You absolutely can,” said a young woman, who was clearly comfortable with children. “And excellent job for asking.”
“That was great,” she said to me. “I’m a preschool teacher and he really expresses himself very well.”
We went on to talk for at least 15 minutes. In that time, I learned she was new to the area, and likely going for her doctorate in early childhood development disabilities, such as autism and ADHD. It turns out she’s drawn to such work because she grappled with ADHD as a child. We talked about how one of my sister’s children was working through this as well, and she offered great thoughts on how to get a child the help they need without compromising their self esteem.
“Kids with these conditions are just as smart as any other kids,” she said. “They just learn differently. All you have to do is find out how they learn, and you’re in good shape.”
“God,” I thought, “people are interesting.”
Fast forward to Wednesday morning, and I’m catching up on some reading. Not surprisingly, another excellent installment of Kate Gamble’s series, “Acknowledging Our Mentors” was on the site, this one from Flagler Hospital CIO Bill Rieger. In it, he writes, “In his book, ‘Re-imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age,’ Tom Peters says you can learn from anyone.”
Fresh off my impromptu conversations, the statement hit home. But while you can learn from anyone, as managers, there’s a more efficient approach — learn from your team. Hopefully you’ve been involved with hiring many of those on your staff, and hopefully one of the reasons they’ve been selected is because they are generally interesting human beings. By taking the time to talk with them, to get to know them, you can also learn from them. As a by-product, you’ll also bond with them and form a real relationship that, while it may stop short of deep friendship, goes far beyond the formal organizational chart.
We often forget that those around us lead lives as deeply complex and challenging as our own. We frequently see others as two dimensional, reserving the third for ourselves and a few select others. But when we take the time to pull back the curtain, we realize that much of the experiences that vex us are common to all, we hear about the choices they have made, and we emerge a bit better informed to make our own. From the liquor store, to the park, to the office, there is no doubt we can learn from anyone — all you have to do is ask.