Saturday, January 22, 2011

Hot-Rivet Syndrome; Understanding Your Stress Points

The real man smiles in trouble, gathers strength from distress, and grows brave by reflection. – Thomas Paine

In Everyday Business – A Field Guide to the 600 Leading Companies in America, Milton Moskowitz shares an amusing story about the challenges of change and adaptability. Picture a scene from the Old West, sometime in the 1870’s. Weary cowboys in dusty Levi’s gather around a blazing campfire after a day on the open range.

The lonely howl of a coyote counterpoints the notes of a guitar as the moon floats serenely overhead. Suddenly a bellow of pain shatters the night, as a cowpoke leaps away from the fire, dancing in agony. Hot-Rivet Syndrome has claimed another victim.

In those days, Levi’s were made, as they had been from the first days of Levi Strauss, with copper rivets at the stress points to provide extra strength. One these original Levi’s—model 501, the crotch rivet was the critical one. When cowboys crouched too long beside the campfire, the rivet grew uncomfortably hot. For years the brave men of the West suffered this curious occupational hazard. Then, in 1933, Walter Haas, Sr., president of Levi Strauss, went camping in his Levi 501’s.

He was crouched by a crackling campfire in the High Sierras, drinking in the pure mountain air, when he fell prey to Hot-Rivet Syndrome. He consulted with professional wranglers in his party. Had they suffered from the same mishap? An impassioned YES was the reply. Haas vowed that the offending rivet must go, and at their next meeting the board of directors voted it into extinction.

While the Levi’s were meant to bring comfort to those who wore them, the unintended consequences proved to be anything but comfortable. The unintended consequences in your business or organization occur when what was once familiar now feels different in the heat of the moment.

In the past few years many have been subjected to new realities and stresses that did not previously exist. With new economic realities have come new stresses. Here are three important things to know about your stress points that will help you avoid Hot-Rivet Syndrome and keep it from hurting you.

Stress points will challenge you; manage them. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to wearing Levi’s. You cannot stuff your 36-inch waist into a 32-inch waist pair of jeans. While it might be wishful thinking; it will not work.

The issue is not whether you will experience stress points in your business but how you will manage them. After suffering the horrible indignity of Hot-Rivet Syndrome, Haas decided that the copper rivets must go. It was not about a new design with the rivets, or how to relocate them, it was about their total extinction. How you choose to handle your stress points and for how long is up to you, but until you take action, do not blame the fire.

Stress points will stretch you; grow from them. While the natural tendency is to avoid and remove stress points, do not miss the teachable moments they bring. At the time when Hot-Rivet Syndrome was occurring, Levi’s had been made the same way for years.

Hot-Rivet Syndrome pushed Haas and his corporate team to change the design and improve the Levi product. Stress points can push you out of your comfort zone and challenge your old assumptions. Just as an old pair of Levi’s might wear well, stress points can bring out the best in us when we dare to break in a new pair.

Stress points can burn you; rise above them. It was when the cowpokes crouched too long by the fire they got burned. Too often in business we tend to get comfortable and crouch too long by the very things that can harm us.

The fires get too hot when crouched too long by those who stoke the flames of office politics and gossips. The copper rivets once designed to strengthen now become the stressors that burn when the bottom line holds more value than the persons who create it. It is when you rise up, move from the fire, you understand the strength of the rivet is dependant upon the character of the cowpoke.

Stress points are stepping stones that you will either master or uneven stones that will trip you. Carefully choose your steps and you will not just cope under the stress points that you face but you will excel because of them.

© 2011 Doug Dickerson

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