For years I’ve been using a rubber chicken in my consulting work to burn into people’s consciousness the concepts of personal accountability and a belief in an internal locus of control. Holding the chicken at shoulder height, I release it and ask why the chicken fell to the floor. Victims blame gravity. (Some people even blame the chicken!) Leaders say “Because you released it, Kimberly.” It’s a simple message, but an important one for leaders. No matter how tempting it may be, if we blame circumstances for our problems we give away our own power.
To reinforce this message I carry a bunch of tiny rubber chickens with me to give to people as a keepsake. I’ve met people years later who still have that chicken. It’s a quirky reminder of an essential leadership mindset – that, regardless of circumstance, we must focus on holding on to the chicken. Or something like that.
I have been carrying that rubber chicken everywhere for quite some time now, but recently the rubber chicken has taken on a life of it’s own. For the past 5 years I’ve been working in Japan for a week or two almost every month. My Japanese colleagues have shown an inscrutable love of the rubber chicken. My agent in Japan, ALC Education’s Global Management Consulting Group, insisted that the chicken be featured in an ad that they placed in the biggest business newspaper in the country, and the chicken has a permanent place on their website. Go figure.
Sometimes we have a very serious message to convey, but that doesn’t mean it has to be communicated in a totally serious way. There’s plenty of research to suggest that people remember the unusual. If you want people to remember the key points critical to the success of your project you might want to find the equivalent of a rubber chicken, and include it in your communication. Naturally some people think it’s frivolous or silly to resort to such tactics. But, for me, the effectiveness of communication is judged by the impact it has on project results, not whether it would win the approval of every other human on earth. I’m concerned with what works. The chicken works.
Of course it hasn’t been easy traveling all over the world with that darn chicken. He was banned from entering Steve Martin’s banjo concert at the Mountain Winery in Los Gatos, and was mistakenly identified by a small child as a critical element in the “treasure hunt” on the back of the kid’s menu at Buck’s Restaurant in Woodside. (Yes, I was accosted by a small child for carrying that chicken!)
What could you do to make an important part of your message memorable? Take a risk! Being effective and successful is way more satisfying than winning the approval of the entire human race.