On changes, the elephant, the rider and the path forward

Mark Twain said, “The only person who likes a change, is a wet baby”. Do you like change? The truth is, it really doesn’t matter whether you like it or not, change comes in life and in business. We’ve experienced a few milestones recently that mark change at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies and in the Duke household.

I shared the story recently of how we started our business selling pies and cheesecakes. Like many startups, we did everything by hand until purchasing equipment to help us scale the business and keep up with demand. A dough roller quickly turned those rounds of dough into perfectly formed pie crusts, before carefully placing them in the pans by hand. A cake cutter from Food Tools helped us pre-slice pies and cheesecakes, inserting a sheet of parchment paper between the slices (you’ve probably seen this before in some warehouse clubs.

We sold both pieces of equipment and shipped them off to their new owners, a baker in Minnesota and a restaurant in Arizona. While it was nice to pocket cash for equipment we haven’t used in years, it was a bittersweet moment to see it leave the bakery. We spent a lot of hours together.

2016-graduationIn our personal life we’re also facing changes, getting ready to ship off our most prized possession and the company namesake off to college. Anna graduated from high school and is preparing for the next leg of her journey in just a few short weeks. The decision to leave Sciquest and start Anna’s Gourmet Goodies was complex and based in no small part on my desire to spend as much time as possible with my little girl, now a young woman. Change happens.

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to meet Dan Heath, one of the authors of “Switch: How to Change when Change is Hard”. He was concluding his book tour at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business and I decided to take Anna along. She was just about to head into the teenage years, our business was undergoing some transition, and learning about change from an expert seemed to be perfect timing.

book-switch-300x391We sat in the front row. The audience was a mix of MBA students, alumni and business executives. I’m pretty confident that Anna was in fact, the youngest person in the room. When Dan came out on stage, he immediately noticed her and his facial expression confirmed that the age range of his audience would begin a little younger than he expected. Years later after the release of his next book “Decisive”, we chatted and laughed about that moment.

The Heath brothers present a framework for understanding change that I still think about to this day. It is simple, profound and makes more sense to me than programs based on lists, goals, exercises or whatever. It is based on the concept of an elephant, a rider and a path.

The elephant represents our emotional self. It is large, sometimes unwieldy and can be difficult to turn on a dime and move in another direction.

The rider represents our logical self. The rider can quickly assess a situation, apply lessons learned and come up with a decision on the best direction to proceed. Sounds easy, right?

Here’s the problem, the elephant does not always agree with the rider. And while the rider likes to think he’s in control, moving an elephant can be hard. What’s the answer? Find a path that works for both the elephant and the rider.

If you’ve ever raised a teenager or know someone who has, the elephant and the rider analogy probably rings true. Think of the teenager as the elephant, you are the rider and you’re looking for that path.

As parents we’ve worked diligently to keep Anna on a path that will allow her to achieve her potential. That’s about as much as any parent can hope for.

As for Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, we’ve also been moving along a path that we hope leads us to a place where we can continue to grow our potential. It was hard giving up the wholesale dessert business to focus strictly on cookie and brownie gifts. Along the way, the elephant veered off into a few brier patches (yes, those thorns are painful).

But we’ve always tried to stay true to the values that led us to found the company. Not because it looks good on a piece of paper, but rather because we know that ultimately, the best way to deal with changes every business faces, is to keep the elephant and the rider on a path where they are both comfortable.

One of the benefits of that mindset comes when we make a connection with our customer’s elephant and rider. When we provide a path for them that makes sense for their marketing, employee satisfaction, or branding goals by sending out our gourmet cookie gifts, it really is magical.

If you are facing change in your personal or business life, and it seems hard, stop beating yourself up. Pickup a copy of Switch and spend some time getting you know the elephant and the rider. Of course, you could also order a box of chocolate chip cookies, get yourself a tall, cold glass of milk and sit out on the porch to contemplate your path.

While I can’t speak for your elephant and rider, I can say that mine are always happy to go down that path.

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