When you think of good role models, businesses probably aren’t your first thought but you may be surprised by the wisdom they have to offer. After all, we often learn a lot from their leaders. A select few can teach us quite a bit about how to have fruitful, happy, and successful lives.
Google: Experiment Often
Google has a reputation for working a little differently than other companies. They keep their teams to smaller, more manageable sizes. They create workplaces full of amenities. They’ve also been known to encourage experimentation through something called 20% time. What does that mean and what have people accomplished with it? The New York Times offers an explanation in their profile of the privilege:
Google engineers are encouraged to take 20 percent of their time to work on something company-related that interests them personally. This means that if you have a great idea, you always have time to run with it.
It sounds obvious, but people work better when they’re involved in something they’re passionate about, and many cool technologies have their origins in 20 percent time, including Gmail, Google News and even the Google shuttle buses that bring people to work at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.
Last year Google unfortunately decided to place limitations on 20% time, but it seems that didn’t kill the practice like everyone thought it would. They inspired their employees to continue experimenting, and many technology corporations adopted the same idea in their workplaces. The idea of 20% continues to thrive because experimentation is important and it leads to great, new things.
No matter how mundane and regimented your life, you need to take time to experiment and try different things. This doesn’t mean developing the next Gmail on your time off, but rather trying something new, strange, or uncomfortable. Give yourself the privilege of having an idea and following through on it. It may not become a worldwide phenomenon, but you’ll end up a lot happier if you continue to learn and show yourself new possibilities.
Voodoo Doughnut: Find Confidence in Who You Are and Embrace Your Weird Side
Naturally, a life lesson about being weird comes from a company in Portland, Oregon. Voodoo Doughnut offers one of the most extensive and strange selections of baked items you’ll ever find, ranging from the “orangatang doughnut” (with actual tang in it) and “triple chocolate penetration doughnut.” Until the FDA stepped in, they created a few that contained Robitussin, Nyquil, and Pepto-Bismol. You’d think something that awful would turn people away, but they found success because they were willing to accept their strangeness and put it out into the world.
In a look at Voodoo Doughnut’s success, Copyblogger it had little to do with the quality of their product but how memorable it was:
Do they taste better than other doughnuts? If you’ve been pining for bacon or breakfast cereal on your doughnuts, I guess so. Otherwise, they’re a lot like everyone else’s doughnuts: delicious for two bites, and then you start to hate yourself. But if you go to Voodoo once, you want to talk about it. It makes for a great story that their customers love to tell.
Furthermore, you become memorable because you know exactly who you are and who you aren’t:
Part of being memorable is knowing who you don’t serve. It’s not (necessarily) about being as offensive as your imagination can inspire. It’s about writing off the people who aren’t right for you and never will be.
It’s about more than weirdness. We’re all a little weird, but some of us show it more than others. To be weird and let people judge you for who you are, you need to be honest and confident. These qualities are at the core of why Voodoo Doughnut has success and why they make good qualities for individuals as well.
I’ve often been a topic of conversation in the same way as the doughnut shop because I do a lot of weird things. I make a habit of it, in fact, because—as previously noted—it’s important to experiment and learn more about the world around you. I believe if you try to be honest and forthcoming, you’ll attract the kinds of people who want to be around you. You’ll repel at least as many, but that’s the cost of meaningful relationships. You don’t have to be any stranger than you are. The goal is to find confidence in yourself and what matters to you, then be honest about it. If you happen to be really weird like a Robitussin-filled donut, people will still love you anyway.
Apple: Stay Positive
You can love or hate Apple’s magical, revolutionary marketing tactics, but you can’t deny they’re effective. The incredibly successful company found its place at the top not just because it made some good gadgets, but because it shared its work with blinding optimism.
Apple is so well known for this, people openly mock them for overselling themselves or just sounding a little silly. Still, positivity has a massive effect on how we process information. We may know Apple likes to exaggerate, but just hearing their repeated positive language can actually improve our mood. (Of course, there are some of you out there that feel exactly the opposite way—nothing is perfect.) For example, watch this video simply parodying Apple’s marketing style and try not to want to eat a KitKat afterwards:
While not everyone will want to go out and buy a KitKat immediately afterwards, positive communication breeds positive feelings. Many people are highly suggestible and will want some candy, but a positive effect is often planted regardless of the outcome. You can’t feel positive all of the time, but you can make an effort to see the upsides of everything and show gratitude. Both of these approaches can help you feel better and happier. Just don’t fake it. Like Apple, you have to believe in the positive things you say. Find those silver linings instead of fabricating a more ideal reality.
Panera Bread: Break the Rules for the Right Reasons
Rules were written to be followed, but most of us know that you ought to break them when it’s the right thing to do. Most companies don’t feel that way, but Panera Bread has found success in making exceptions for good reasons.
You may remember a kindness Panera paid to Gail Cook when her Facebook post went viral. Here’s her story:
My grandmother is passing soon with cancer. I visited her the other day and she was telling me about how she really wanted soup, but not hospital soup because she said it tasted “awful” she went on about how she really would like some clam chowder from Panera. Unfortunately Panera only sells clam chowder on Friday. I called the manager Sue and told them the situation. I wasn’t looking for anything special just a bowl of clam chowder. Without hesitation she said absolutely she would make her some clam chowder. When I went to pick it up they wound up giving me a box of cookies as well. Its not that big of a deal to most, but to my grandma it meant a lot. I really want to thank Sue and the rest of the staff from Panera in Nashua NH just for making my grandmother happy. Thank you so much!
Articles were written about Panera Bread and what they did in this specific situation later on, explaining how this wasn’t out of the ordinary for the company. As a business, their rule isn’t give away food but they encourage their employees to make exceptions when it seems like the right thing to do. There’s no chain of command to consult. Instead, you’re empowered to make your own choices.
Sometimes, in life, the rules just don’t make sense. Sometimes you have to follow them anyway because the consequences of rebellion are worse than keeping quiet, but other times disobedience is necessary. When you can do a good thing and it doesn’t take much risk, don’t hesitate to break the rules. A small thing can make an enormous difference in someone’s life.
Tasty Brand and Amazon: Make Choices That Solve Problems
It isn’t hard to jump on a trend and make a quick buck in the world. I’ve seen enough Bluetooth speakers and USB batteries to know how many replicate rather than create. While there aren’t many new ideas left in the world, it’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel. You just need to make something that actually solves a problem.
The founders of Tasty Brand looked at children’s food options and found they were either unhealthy or gustatorily unappealing. They decided to start a company to solve both problems and now offer healthy, naturally-sourced childrens foods that actually taste good.
When Amazon began, it set out to solve multiple problems. Online shopping was a somewhat new idea at the time, but their goal was bigger: to become the most customer-centric retailer in existence. They not only solved the problem of easier shopping, but have continued to find ways to make every aspect of buying almost anything less painful for the consumer.
Tasty Brand and Amazon are not the only companies to emerge as a solution to a problem—not by a long shot. Most successful companies, including the others in this post, started because they wanted to contribute something good to the world. While we can’t say that about every brand, we can about many. Of all the lessons to take away from successful businesses, this one proves itself more times than anything else: make choices to solve problems, not just to make choices.
In our personal lives, we’re confronted with decision making all the time. It’s stressful and we’re bad at it. We still have to make them, of course, but it helps to have some guidance for each one. When you consider your options, choose based on whether or not the outcome will solve a problem. This may seem obvious, but because of the stressful nature of the process we often don’t have the willpower to choose effectively. When you can’t decide, opt for the productive option. Even when things don’t work out perfectly, you’ll always know you made an effort to put something good into the world.