For those of us living in the South, summer season is flea season! Our Northern visitors are surprised to find that fleas on our pets are a fairly regular occurrence in July and August, especially if they spend any time outdoors. While I was dosing Fido with flea shampoo and squirting him down with the garden hose the other night, I had the unhappy opportunity to observe the pesky little jumpers in action. And I was reminded of a fun fact I learned at a seminar once: a flea can hop something like 10,000 times his own body length.
Think on it. What would that kind of leaping talent do to a human’s ability to get the job—any job—done? Stuck in traffic? Hurdle it. Miss your connecting flight? That’s okay—you can probably get to Pittsburgh faster by leaps and bounds. House calls become hop calls, and clients would be forever impressed with our abilities to vault to their rescue when they need specialized service. It might not be bad to be a working flea.
Except that the fleas don’t believe in their own possibilities. At that same seminar, I heard for the first time a great metaphor for how we working drones are prone to act like jumping fleas. It seems that a standard 5th grade science experiment is to load a mason jar with fleas and observe their jumping patterns. Being able to jump in that multiple of 10,000, it takes no time at all for the little buggars to escape the jar. In fact, sometimes they fling themselves past the measuring chart on the poster board. Those are the control fleas, the ones that demonstrate how far a flea can really jump. Next, the 5th grader puts a bit of Saran Wrap, or even the lid, on the top of the jar. The fleas start their jumping again, but this time, they hit the lid, and get knocked down to the bottom of the jar. It does not take long to dash their hopes and ambitions. Within 5 minutes, the fleas are re-programmed. When the novice scientist removes the lid, they discover this: the fleas will now jump no further than the top of the jar. The jar that is not there. There is no barrier between them and, well, freedom from the jar, but they have lost their belief in possibility. Instead, they jump only to the height that has beaten them down, over and over again. And they get nowhere. Motivational business speakers have called this phenomenon The Law of the Lid.
The lesson from this metaphor is obvious, but still gives us pause for thought. For small business owners especially, it’s important to keep the lids off our jars. The nice thing about employees, of course, is that they are not fleas. They may not be able to physically leap, but they are perhaps 10,000 times more capable than they give themselves credit for. Their innovative ideas and creative concepts can be developed to bring new life to your business. It’s our job, then, to be sure they know the jar is open. Fill up the jar with communication with your employees. Let them know that there are ways to grow and change as your business grows and changes. Give them comfortable space for leaping. Leave the lid, embrace the trampoline, and watch your productivity soar to new heights.
Challenge: Who or what have I put the lid on in my business? Where can I loosen the cap and grow?