Are you prepared to think quickly in an emergency?

On Sunday afternoon my wife and I went on a rare date to the grocery store. It must have been a thing that day because we ran into our friends Tricia and Dan Kane who were also on a grocery date. The four of us talked for a few minutes until we were interrupted by some grocery store drama.

The Incident

Another couple, apparently on their own grocery store date, was walking down the aisle, when one of them knocked a large bottle of cooking oil off of the shelf and onto the floor. True to its name, the shatterproof bottle did not shatter. But when the bottle hit the floor (let the bottle hit the floor), the flip cap lid flipped open.

Suddenly, cooking oil, in all of its golden glory, glugged onto the floor in the grocery store’s busiest intersection. It was like the grocery store equivalent of the Deepwater Horizon well spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

A crowd of Sunday shoppers stopped to watch the drama unfold.

As the oil continued to pulse out of the bottle, the corn oil slick grew larger and larger. You could practically hear Florence Henderson’s heart breaking over this loss of perfectly good Wesson. Would it ever stop?

Paralyzed

The couple that caused the oilcident stood motionless over the oozing mess. Then the man said, ‘We need to tell them there has been a spill.’  Then he repeated with more concern and more volume, ‘We need to tell them there has been a spill!’ As the corn oil continued to flow like midwestern lava across the grocery store floor.

After the man shouted the second time that a report had to be made, I realized he was not in a state of mind to be able to put an end to this crisis. Visions of the Exxon Valdez disaster filled my head. I thought, not on my watch…

Taking Action

I was standing 20 feet away from the epicenter of the oil spill when I lightly sprang into action. Where others may have fled from the disaster, thinking only of their own safety and cleanliness, I walked toward the expanding oil spill. I was running on instinct and adrenaline. When I reached ground zero, I reached down, grabbed the bottle, and set it upright.

Suddenly, the oil stopped spilling. The disaster was contained. And shoppers resumed shopping. It was the simplest and most effective thing anyone could have done to mitigate the issue. A toddler could have recognized the solution and had the mental capacity to upright that fallen bottle to stop the flow of corn oil.

Yet the adult male at the center of the crisis could only think that someone needed to be told there was a problem. While the woman stared, motionless, unable to process her next move.

Responsibility

When you see a problem, or create a problem, don’t just pass it along to someone else. Act to solve it. Work to reduce it. Do what you can to prevent it from getting worse. To watch a preventable problem spread without lifting a finger to stop it is irresponsible. Don’t simply announce that there is a fire. Throw some water on it.

Take responsibility for the problems you face. Imagine you are the only one who can address them. Then do so. Develop a bias towards decision making and action. Those biases get things done. They solve problems. And they make you a more valuable employee, friend and neighbor.

Key Takeaway

When things go wrong, don’t just report the problem. Be part of the solution. Diagnose quickly. Think quickly. Act quickly. Focus on what you can do. Then do it without delay. It will help prevent a small mishap from becoming a massive problem.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this story, please share it with them.

A strange encounter at the Piggly Wiggly.

One of the great things about owning your own advertising agency is that you get to decide the rules of operation. I believe businesses should allow team members to construct their work and life schedules into one harmonious whole. I like to get started early each day, and work late. So sometimes I take a little time in the middle of the day for myself. Leading up to the OSCARS my wife and I went to several morning movies at the local Marcus Theater which has $5 movies on Tuesday.  This isn’t work-life balance. It’s work-life integration.

On a recent Friday I fit in a workout over my lunch hour.  Then I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a couple of things my wife requested. No big deal. After a quick lap around the store I had the 5 things I came for, and I got in line to check out.

This is where it gets interesting.

That’s when Matilda sidled up next to me. She was somewhere north of 75 years old. She rolled up slowly, leaning hard on her cart, as if it was the only thing that prevented her from lying face down on the floor. She rolled really close to me and spoke:

“Can I tell you something? I have 9 kids. 27 grandkids. And 10 great grandkids. There are 11 lawyers in the family. My husband does a lot of research. A lot… And he’ll tell you that the brand of ice cream you have in your cart is the most likely to give you Salmonella!’

I smiled at her and replied enthusiastically, “I know! That’s why I chose this brand!’

Matilda, surprised and somewhat confused by my response continued.

‘The next-worst brand for Salmonella is (BRAND CONCEALED TO PROTECT ITS WELL-EARNED BRAND REPUTATION FROM MATILDA).

Again, I eagerly replied, “I know! That’s the one I am going to try next! I haven’t had Salmonella yet! You only live once, and I want to experience all I can!’

Matilda: (Now snapping at me)  ‘You are just like my son who has been in the hospital for 11 months battling his heroin addiction!’

Hmmm. This was an interesting response. Contemplating that this all started with my brand of vanilla frozen yogurt, I thought that the heroin parallel was a bit of a stretch.

But Matilda wasn’t done.

‘Listen pal! I’ve done more crazy stuff in my life than you ever will! (Um, like confronting me in the grocery store over my choice of frozen yogurt?) I’ve taught over 500 people to water ski!’

At this point I was taking the cashier’s Paper or Plastic quiz.  But Matilda was rolling.  As I quickly finished my transaction and walked towards the exit with my plastic bag of frozen salmonella treats, Matilda shouted at me,

“How many emergency landings have YOU made in an airplane!?!”

I turned around, still smiling, and asked, “As a pilot or passenger?’

Then she scowled at me, lifted her arthritic hand, and raised 2 fingers. I’m assuming this meant. “Peace out Salmonella-Heroin Boy!’ Or maybe it meant ‘I’ve had 2 emergency plane landings! One every 37 years or so.’ Suddenly the sliding glass doors closed between us like the curtain at the end of a play. The matinee was over.

The reason I share this story is because I had to tell someone. It was just too surprisingly random to keep to myself. If you have a flexible workday schedule, you may encounter some interesting people who are running their errands while you are normally at work.  So if you want a little bit more entertainment, go to the grocery store in the middle of the day, throw some vanilla frozen yogurt in your cart and see who wants to chat.