A number of years ago, my sister was focused on a certain project and she was a little short on the money to make it all happen. I decided to give her $1000 for Christmas that year to help push her a little closer to her goal. Being the typical younger brother, I wasn’t going to make it too easy for her so I had bit of a devious plan.

I went to the bank and got ten crisp $100 bills. I then went deep into the back of my closet and found 5 of the oldest and nastiest pairs of tennis shoes I had. Some were used to mow the grass, others to go running and some to just do those “nasty” jobs. I wanted her to have the money, but I wanted her to really want it in order to get it. I put one $100 bill in each of the ten shoes. Not just in the shoe, but way down in the toe so my sister would have to dig it out. I’m sure you’re opinion of me may have just changed, but sibling rivalry in your mid-twenties is still quite raw.

I put everything in a box that was big enough to hold one of those waist high refrigerators. I made it a point to put that gift under the tree the first week of December so she would have 3 weeks to try and figure it all out. On Christmas Day, we made her wait until last to open my gift. When she opened it and began digging through the newspaper she found those nasty shoes. She just sat them aside thinking it was part of a joke. Once she realized there was $100 in each shoe, they didn’t seem so gross.

How often do we receive something that appears ugly or unappealing, but if we dig a bit there is immense value in it? We have expectations of how things are meant to look, so when they arrive looking differently we act like the server brought the wrong food to our table.

How deep do we dig into the unpleasant to find the true value it can bring to us? What are the stinky shoes in your life or business right now? Take some time to look beyond the package and appearance and find those $100 bills in your situations. Perception is everything. Be the example for those you are leading. Imagine a culture in which people weren’t discouraged by challenges, but rather excited by the opportunity to find value in unlikely places. How profitable and innovative would your organization be?

  • …and how much more productive and innovative would we be as individuals?

    Love your story WIlliam. Hmmm My brother gave me a lot of “stinky things” in the name of sibling rivalry, but there never were $100 bills involved! I am curious about the outcome of her project and what she would have to say today about what you did back then.

    Reminds me of a project I was on the periphery of a long time ago called the “Unpleasant Surprises Project”. A group was charged with researching the impact of decisions made based on a compensation plan that valued action over results as a way to better understand and communicate changes in the compensation policy. There were a lot of people who would have preferred that information to stay “under the rug”. Yet it told a powerful story from which there was much learning to mine.

  • The project didn’t work out for her Susan, but I was happy to support her. Very interesting research project you mentioned. I think action and initiative should be rewarded as long as it’s not just busy work for the sake of being rewarded. I would be interested in hearing more about that research.