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Go clean the toilet if you really want to understand the business

Bob Johansen from the Institute for the Future talks about how business executives need deep, personal experience with products to truly understand how to make them better.

Example: The top management of a cleaning products company was expecting a fancy pre-conference dinner. Instead, they ended up at a cheap hotel and were told to clean the rooms:

When we arrived, we huddled in the parking lot with the lead salesperson for that account and were herded into the laundry room to see how their cleaning products were used with soiled sheets and towels. Then, we were each given a cleaning cart and taught how to clean authentically dirty motel rooms.

Our assignment during this immersion was to finish one room every twenty minutes—the time budgeted per room for the people who do it every day. It is very difficult to clean a dirty motel room in twenty minutes, I learned.

I stay in hotel rooms often, but I had never cleaned one. This simple immersion experience changed the way I look at and experience hotel rooms. I learned how hard it is to follow the correct cleaning instructions, especially those regarding sanitation and disinfecting. I learned how hard it is to do a good job cleaning a hotel room in twenty minutes. I learned how dirty some people leave their hotel rooms.

Will they make better business decisions because of this experience? I think so. Executives need to be able to put themselves in the shoes of the people using their products. These executives don’t usually stay in $40-per-night motels, and they certainly don’t clean them.

Read the full story in The Conference Board Review. Even more in Bob’s book, Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World.

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