Lessons in lawn mowing
People often ask me where I get ideas for the columns that I write. Honestly I keep my eyes open for things that happen around me and sometimes ideas just hit me when I have time to think. Like in the shower, or while mowing grass. So far this spring I have had a lot of time to think while mowing grass, because it seems like I am out there alone with my mower a lot more this year than in the past.
When I mow the grass, I am one of “those” people. I try to mow in a different direction each time. North/south one time, east/west the next. Followed by diagonal cuts, north-east/south-west then north-west/south-east the next. Then back to the north/south cut, you get the idea. When my boys were home and had lawn mowing duty, they really didn’t like the diagonal cuts. They thought it not only took longer, but was harder. But I didn’t care, I heard that cutting the grass like that was better than cutting the lawn in the same pattern every time.
But that wasn’t always the case. Growing up in Dubuque, I was responsible for mowing the grass once my brother went off to college. My goal back then was to complete the job as soon as humanly possible so that I could go play with my friends. We didn’t have a mulching mower, so my dad liked it when I could mow over the discharged grass. He didn’t care, or at least he didn’t mention anything to me, which direction I went or which pattern I made in the grass. He just wanted the grass cut without huge piles.
The other thing that I like to do when I mow is keep my lines straight. It doesn’t always happen. No matter what direction I am mowing, it is impossible for me to mow straight lines every time. When I get to the end of the row, I look back at what I did and make a quick evaluation. In order to achieve my straight line look, I have to evaluate the whole row I just mowed. If I swerved a little somewhere along the way, I compensated by keeping my head down and mowing a straighter line the next time.
As I was thinking about mowing straight lines, I thought about what I do is kind of the same thing that good small business owners and managers do. Their goal might not be straight lines, it is more than likely higher profits. But to get to higher profits, they have to do the little things right every time. They have to keep their eyes focused on maintaining their version of straight lines; product quality, daily inventory management, extraordinary customer service, accurate billing and service after the sale are all part of maintaining the straight line. And we can get caught up in those important day to day activities.
But if we don’t periodically take a small break and look up and see where those straight lines are taking us, we might be a little skewed along the way. If we don’t look up and see if our pattern is a little off, we are likely to keep on that same track, moving slightly more away from the goal every day. If we take a moment and see where we have been, we can make slight adjustments one time, and avoid the major changes down the road.
If you drive, or walk, by my house, please do judge too much on how straight I mowed the lawn. I probably tried to go too fast because I wanted to go play with my friends, instead of taking an extra moment to stay the course.
Small Business Today is a bi-weekly feature written by Tom Friedman, market president of First National Bank, Ankeny.