The Bake Sale Manifesto
I remember the first time that I was laid off. I was absolutely devastated. I was part of a small startup and we had launched an innovative new product that flopped in the market place. That by itself was bad enough. We all were watching the sales numbers. Internally we were screaming, "Pull up! Pull up!" Nevertheless, the sales numbers never pulled out of their dive. The infuriating part was that everyone just stood there and watched this disaster take place. The management team, my colleagues, everyone. Me included. I remember thinking to myself, "Somebody should do something about this!" I was part of one of the smartest teams of people I have ever worked with in my life. If there was ever a group with the potential to come up with great ideas, this was that team. But we all just sat there and watched. Oh there was much gnashing of teeth and agonizing, but we didn't start anything new. We didn't pivot to a different product. We didn't even do any brainstorming. We were frozen like a bunny being eyed by the neighborhood cat. I remember thinking, "I would gladly hold a bake sale and sell cookies on a street corner if it would allow me to keep working with these folks." Eventually the inevitable came to pass, and a good thing was ruined. Unfortunately, that wasn't the last time I was laid off in my life. Each time I remember vividly that sense of paralysis that set in just before the axe fell. There was that feeling that, "Somebody should do something...anything!" But no idea what to do. I used to blame the leadership team. After all, they're supposed to be smart, capable people and it was their job to come up with some sort of idea to save the company wasn't it? That's why they get the big bucks, right? I've since come to realize that those leading the company typically have the same voice screaming in their heads too, "I've got to come up with an idea! Anything! Now!" If anything the pressure is even more crippling for them. They are often the ones in the metaphorical pilot's seat as the plane is going down, pulling up on the stick to no avail. Now I understand that, for better or for worse, we can't rely on our leaders to come up with the brilliant idea that saves the company. To expect otherwise is unfair to them and discounts our own capability and value. I've come to believe that ...when product sales don't take off ...when the economy takes a dive ...when some world event drives us into a recession ...when bad things happen to good people It's time for a big bake sale. We all have to be willing to do whatever it will take to find a way through the crisis. All options have to be on the table (and yes, that means cookies). Of course I have something in mind when I talk about a "Bake Sale." It's time for us all to collectively come together and share our alternative business ideas. Anything is fair game. It could be something that is related to what you already do. However, this is important, it can also be something totally unrelated to whatever your current business is. Right now, all you are trying to find is some small meaningful bit of business value. Anything goes - and it has to be that way to begin with. Any passion you may have, any nutty idea you put on the table has to be considered. We need all the stones in the soup. Why? Because these are the seeds of ideas that can be combined and recombined in unique ways that ultimately lead to value. So anything goes. Years ago, after that first layoff, I didn't know much about learning games and exercises. I was just a developer who liked to write code. Since then I've learned a lot about different kinds of techniques that can enable groups of people to come up with fantastic ideas. Playing games and facilitating groups has become an important part of my career and my life. Now I have the tools that I didn't have back then. Now I can help. Now if people find that their business is on the rocks, if the economy has taken an unexpected turn for the worse, there is something that we can do about it. We can get together and build new ideas and new services together. We can diversify our offerings and by doing so, create the energy that keeps us vigorous and moving forward (rather than paralyzed with fear). Today's downturn is the engine that will drive tomorrow's innovation - we just need a little nudge to get us headed there. So bake up some cookies and bring what you have, 'cause it's time for a bake sale!