I brought chocolate-chip cookies into the office on Monday. A few minutes after handing them to my assistant, she sent a note to the entire Procurement Department letting everyone know there were cookies for the taking. The email read, “Donna’s husband baked cookies.” I am not sure if people were more hungry or more curious, but the cookies went fast. At the end of the day, I received an email from my boss saying, “How amazing is this? I’d like to know what your training program is!”
If I had a secret, I would certainly share it! Here’s the thing—it wasn’t anything I did. Rather, it’s what I didn’t do that led to this delicious outcome for me and my team.
Here’s what happened the day before.
My husband Chris and I were at the grocery store when I found him loading up our cart with chocolate chips, flour and sugar. “Making cookies?” I asked.
“Yep,” he replied.
I was a little surprised since Chris isn’t exactly known for his baking skills, but he’s definitely known for being spontaneous. A lot of questions ran through my mind: Are you sure you have all of the ingredients? Do you really need to make them from scratch? Have you ever done this before? But I didn’t say another word; I just smiled and went on with our shopping.
At home, I watched from a distance as Chris poured ALL the ingredients at once into a large mixing bowl: flour, white sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, two sticks of butter, a pinch of salt and two eggs. Next he added the chocolate chips and walnut pieces, grabbed a wooden spoon and began mixing. I could tell by the look on his face that something was wrong. Although I was ready and willing to help, I didn’t step in. It would have been easy to make recommendations or review the directions with him, but I knew he’d figure it out.
“Ugh, we’ve got a problem,” he said. He grabbed his keys and ran back to the store to purchase another bag of chocolate chips.
While he was gone I straightened up the kitchen, threw on his favorite jazz playlist, and pre-heated the oven—but left the ingredients untouched.
As soon as Chris got home he went right back to work. This time around things came together. He whipped the two types of sugars and butter together until they were a rich, creamy yellow. Then he mixed in the flour, baking soda and salt. Finally, he added the chocolate chips and walnuts to complete the dough.
While the cookies were safely baking in the oven and our home was filled with the sweet smell of homemade cookies, I asked, “Chris, what motivated you to make cookies?”
“Well, this morning you said you were craving chocolate.”
So, what did this whole experience teach me?
Sometimes we just need to let our spouses (and our business partners) know the outcomes we are looking for, but resist micromanaging them. Give them the freedom to help us reach our goals and encourage them to bring their best ideas to the table. We don’t always need to dictate the ingredients (unless you’re allergic!) or how they should mix them (via the RFP!).
The lesson I learned is this: Give innovation a chance to bake. The best inventions are out there waiting to be created. If you encourage your partners without restricting their creativity, they just might surprise you with something that goes beyond your sweetest cravings.