Keep Your Dang Monkey!

Keep Your Dang Monkey

If you’re into the idea of becoming successful, or if you want to get even more successful than you already are, you ought to become an obsessive reader. There are lots of fantastic books out there for every aspect of business, and even if you get only one good idea from a book, that could be the idea that rockets you to success! I recently read Tell to Win by Peter Gruber, and I highly recommend it. It’s entertaining and a great resource for learning how to tell your story effectively. One of the points Gruber makes that’s not only entertaining but truly valuable is about making sure you use your time effectively.

The Monkey Story

In the 1970s, when Gruber was a young studio head at Columbia Pictures, he had a conversation with Jack Warner, the founder of Warner Bros. Warner had asked Gruber how things were going for him at the studio. The conversation is a fantastic lesson, so I’ll quote it word for word here:

Gruber: “It’s like a tidal wave. People just keep coming into my office with one problem after the other. It never ends.”
Warner said, “Let me tell you a story. Don’t be confused. You’re only renting that office. You don’t own it. It’s a zoo. You’re the zookeeper, and every single person that comes in the office comes with a monkey. That monkey is their problem. They’re trying to leave it with you. Your job is to discover where the monkey is. They’ll hide it, or dress it up, but remember you’re the zookeeper. You’ve got to keep the place clean. So make sure when you walk them to the door, they’ve got their monkey by the hand. Don’t let them leave without it. Don’t let them come back until it’s trained and they have solutions to their problem. Otherwise at the end of the day, you’ll have an office full of screaming, jumping animals and monkey shit all over the floor.”

What a great way to explain how to manage from the top! Remember, you’re the manager, not the actor, pipe-fitter, screenwriter, typist, whatever. So the point of the story, which I’m sure you get, is that to effectively manage, you have to be very careful what tasks you agree to do yourself. Instead, you want to put people on the right track to solve their own problems, or put them in touch with other people who can help them.

Business is Even Faster Today!

Even though it’s a great point and a great story, I think it actually doesn’t go far enough. Business is much faster than it was even five years ago, so we have to find ways to get things accomplished in a fraction of the time it used to take. You might work more hours, hire more employees, or contract out the tasks that take you away from leading your business. However, one big key, maybe the biggest, to getting your business as fast as it needs to be, is efficiency. You have to learn to get three things done in the time it used to take to do one thing. Here’s a helpful way to do just that, which was actually suggested to me by Ian, my illustrious co-author and a very smart fellow:

When someone comes into your office trying to unload their monkey on your desk, you should do more than just make sure they leave with it (I mean the monkey, not your desk)! Instead, find a way to send them away with one of your monkeys, too. Let me give you a couple of examples of what I mean by this.

Learn to Say “Yes, but …”

The first example is kind of silly, but it’s simple and it works. My wife, Pam, and I move a lot. Poor woman, she supports all my business ideas, and helps me move from place to place whenever I start a new business somewhere. I don’t know what I’d do without her. Anyway, almost every time we move we have a garage sale, and somehow in a year or two we manage to accumulate enough stuff to hold a three-day garage sale – I swear I have no idea how it all fits in our house.

So Pam has become an expert at unloading stuff quickly. When people come to our garage sales – and we advertise so we always have a lot of people – she engages them and talks to them about whatever items they’re interested in. If they pick up a $20 item and ask, “Can you let me have this for $15?” she immediately says yes, but also says this, “I can give it to you for that price, but you have to find something else to take. How about this sugar bowl for $5?” They almost always leave with the item they want as well as one or two items that they probably didn’t know they needed except that Pam made it a condition of getting the item they wanted. They come for one item but they leave with two or three, feeling like they got a great deal. We make a few more dollars and get rid of stuff we don’t want to move.

Have Your To-Do List Ready

Here’s a more serious example for business: review your to do list every day. Keep a mental note (or better still, write it down) of likely people to help you with each task on your list. Make a habit of imagining who might be able to work with whom (who said daydreaming is a waste of time?). That way, when one of those people comes into your office trying to unload their monkey on your desk, conjure up your list while they’re talking about their problem.    Once you’ve got a couple of tasks in mind that might fit them, and maybe a couple people they could work with on those tasks, you’ll be surprised at how often you can work out a way for them not only to leave with their own problem, but with one of yours, and how often solving one can help solve the other.

Try Giving Away Monkeys Today

I’ve written before about a guy who does contract work for me who came to ask for more money. His problem, as he saw it, was “not enough money.” He was basically asking for more hours and a raise. As it happened, I was thinking about ways to hand off more of my daily work to someone so I could concentrate more on marketing and strategy.

I did give him a small symbolic raise, but what I really did was point out the opportunities to do more within the projects we already had going together (sending him away with his monkey). I also gave him two tasks I was doing every Wednesday, freeing up about three hours in the middle of the day (sending him away with one of my monkeys). I’m pretty pleased with the results – and I think he is, too – but I’m even more pleased that I was not only able to remember the lesson that Jack Warner taught Peter Gruber, but to improve upon it slightly.
That’s a great feeling in business – to accomplish something while remembering a lesson learned, and maybe learning something new from it. Being able to pass it on like this is also a great feeling. So, if there’s one point I hope you’ll take away from this chapter, it’s this: keep your dang monkey, and take one of mine, too!

“Most of us can read the writing on the wall; we just assume it’s addressed to someone else.” ~ Ivern Ball