Stephan Pastis is a cartoonist who writes the syndicated comic strip, Pearls Before Swine.  If you want to enjoy a hilarious collection of animal and human relationship scenarios, you will love the strip.  Today I added Pastis’ blog to my links in case you are interested.

I have been reading the strip for many years, so it is difficult for me to identify exact times.  That said, at some point in the life of the strip, Pastis did two different things that were groundbreaking and funny.

First, I began to notice at a certain point Pastis integrated himself as a comics character directly into the comic strip to interact with the characters.  For example, the angry rat could go into Pastis’ office and berate him for some of the recent plots he had written.  At times, these cagey creatures would conspire to get Pastis into some serious trouble through all sorts of crazy circumstances.  Occasionally, Pastis would show up as his own cartoon character just to explain something about the strip.

Second, I will never forget the day a few of the characters bravely figured out they could engage in a new comics pastime they labeled “panel walking.”  They would intentionally position themselves into all sorts of otherwise out-of-bounds areas on the comics page as they appeared to run, walk, crawl, or jump on top of or underneath the actual comics borders of each panel, sort of the way a rock climber navigates a dangerous mountain face.  I could be wrong, but I believe Pastis was the first cartoonist ever to do this.

I have to say I am incredibly impressed with Pastis’ creativity and innovation.  He took thinking outside the box to a whole new level, in more ways than one!

So what do we learn from this?  Well, that is exactly what I want you to think about.  In tomorrow’s post, I will give you my rendition.  I invite you to share yours.

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If I had a dollar for every time I admonished my kids as they were growing up, “be nice,” I would be a very rich man today.  But I did it without being paid because I knew being nice did pay in many nonmonetary, but more important, ways.

Forrest Lucas launched Lucas Oil Products in 1989.  The company now sells almost 200 products in 27 countries.  In a recent interview with Fortune magazine, Lucas made a telling observation about leadership (Eng, Dinah. “How I Got Started: The Making of an Oil Empire.” February 27, 2012, pp. 23-27).  He was reflecting on his observations of many different people in high-level positions.  In so doing, he was watching for common traits.

“All the guys who made it to the top were nice people.  So it’s part of my philosophy to be nice.  I don’t have a single rude person working for me” (p. 24).

Lucas so believes in this philosophy, he simply won’t have a person in his employ that is rude.  I resonate strongly with Lucas.  I have always observed the best leaders make you want to follow them just based on how they treat you.

Obviously, being nice doesn’t mean we don’t hold our direct reports accountable.  Being nice doesn’t mean we don’t make tough decisions when necessary.  Being nice does mean we treat each other with respect and dignity regardless of the situation.

I once knew a department manager who had to fire an employee.  He did it with such dignity and respect that the departing employee was practically thanking the manager for firing him.  That’s what being nice can accomplish.

Remember the old saying about catching more flies with honey than vinegar?  We need some of those old sayings today more than ever.

Being nice still works.

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As technology continues to take us to the stars, increasing opportunities abound for private entrepreneurs to market space travel to the ordinary civilian.  Well, we’ll define that word “ordinary” a bit more shortly.

Virgin Galactic is planning to offer rocket rides into space from a terminal base in New Mexico’s Jordana Del Muerto Desert.  After three days of training, you will lift off horizontally in the SpaceShip Two, which is cradled within the larger mother ship, WhiteKnightTwo.  Once WhiteKnightTwo has reached 50,000 feet, SpaceShip Two will be released to ignite its own rocket engines.  Over the next 30 seconds your craft will reach 2,500 mph.

Once free of the earth’s gravitational power, you and five cohorts (plus two pilots) are free to unfasten your seatbelts and enjoy weightlessness for a few moments.  Your total time in space will only be about four minutes.  Nevertheless, you will get to peer into the blackness of outer space unlike most humans ever have.

Now, about that definition of “ordinary.”  Virgin Galactic’s success depends on its catering to a very select demographic—the very wealthy.  The ticket price (round trip only) is $200,000.  So, “ordinary” means you are not a professional astronaut, and you’re ready to burn money faster than rocket fuel.

Do you think the company has a viable business plan?  I vote yes; almost 500 customers have already put down $65 million in deposit fees.  And hey, lots of people want to be space cowboys.

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Christopher Elliott had an interesting article in Newsweek (“Databeast: Patting Down the TSA” 3/19/12, p. 16).  He throws some number at us to challenge the effectiveness and efficiency of the TSA.  Why I’m surprised at Christopher!

The numbers are rather enlightening.

Since 2001 we have spent $57 billion on the TSA.  Over the last decade the staff has grown 400% and the average annual salary of the administrative personnel in Washington, DC, is $103,852.

Those are big numbers.  Perhaps we can justify them.  I will let you decide.  Consider this:  Airlines estimate they lose $4.4 billion annually due to the inconvenience of TSA screenings.  To date the TSA has never apprehended a terrorist.  Hmm.  I wonder if terrorists like the TSA.

But don’t worry.  You see, you have to be highly experienced to work as a TSA agent.  In fact, if you lack a high school diploma, you must have at least one year of work experience.  (I feel better already.)

Additionally, TSA agents are very professional.  That is why one allegedly lifted $5,000 from a passenger’s coat.  Another agent pranked passengers by producing fake cocaine during a routine search.  Now wait a minute—Aren’t these the same people who have all the big signs up telling us “NO JOKES”?  Oh, that’s right.  Those rules only apply to us.

Moral of the story?  Never assume an organization is doing everything right just because it has a prestigious name.  The TSA has some homework to do; I think we would all agree.  But then again, don’t we all?

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Sometimes we can get so set in our ways and our world that we miss vital business insights.  When that occurs we need something to give us a new perspective.  That is what happened to Kim Lowry, principal of South Elementary in Kennett, Missouri.  At the time, Lowry’s school was not meeting key federal and state benchmarks.  That left the school vulnerable to state takeover.

Her superintendent took the initiative in 2009 to enroll Lowry in a part-time business program via the University of Virginia, Darden School of Business.  Initially, Lowry was very resistant to engaging herself in a new academic program when she could so clearly see the needs at her home base.  Nevertheless, if you talk to her today, she is thrilled.

Lowry aggressively took all she learned about best business practices and contextualized them into the educational arena.  She created a school transformation plan that got key stakeholders involved.  She tapped consultants for specific components of the plan.  Finally, she made certain every teacher was held publicly accountable for student performance.  Today her school meets the required federal standards.  Student test scores jumped 26% in English and 29% in math.

I never cease to be amazed at the blessing of a new perspective.  Although I earned my M.B.A. later in life than most, I found the experience to be richly rewarding in so many ways.  The educational experience gave me a new perspective on so many things.  I gained new tools, resources, ideas, concepts, and insights.  My perspectives were genuinely broadened in totally positive ways.

The next time you feel you are in a difficult situation, why not seek a new perspective?  You won’t necessarily need to earn a new degree, but I am certainly not discouraging that.  Sometimes just reading a new book or article, doing some fresh research on the Web, or having a significant conversation with a mentor, is all it takes to give you a new perspective.  The results may surprise you and everyone around you.

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