Tripwires, Van Halen and M&Ms – How to make better decisions


Sometimes the most important decision you need to make is the one that you don’t even realize needs to be made…  We all get stuck in ‘autopilot’ mode at times – we’re busy, things are moving, we’ve got a lot going on, but we’re not really paying attention. It’s human nature to put things off, especially when your busy, rather than shaking things up and taking the time to deal with them, but what’s the impact when you’re not paying attention?

How much better off would you be if you made a tough decision early – when you could still make an impact versus waiting until things have piled up and gotten out of control?  What if you could identify a bad employee before they really had a chance to mess up the relationship with your best client?  Imagine being able to proactively find mistakes before they become real problems?

That’s what tripwires are all about.

A Rock and Roll tripwire example…

In their book ‘Decisive’, authors Chip and Dan Heath share a story about an example of a tripwire from an unexpected venue – the concert tours of Van Halen!

David Lee Roth was considered to be quite a diva during his Van Halen days. When Van Halen was touring during their hey-day (think ‘Jump’ and ‘Hot for Teacher’ in the 80s), their stage sets were unbelievably complex. Roth was the lead singer, but he was also responsible for the stage setup on the road – if there were problems with the stage setup, a show could be ruined…or someone in the band could get seriously hurt.

There are countless stories of the backstage antics of the band during their tours – massive parties, stuff getting broken, etc. However one of the stories that stands out is that the band required M&Ms backstage with all the brown M&Ms removed. If Roth went backstage and found a brown M&M he would freak out.

It turns out this rumor is true – but not in the way you might think. Roth added the M&M clause into their touring contract, putting the paragraph in the middle of a lot of technical details in the contract – not because he cared about brown M&Ms, but because he needed to know if the local stage setup team had actually read through the contract in detail.

Finding a brown M&M told him that the local crew hadn’t read the details and they probably screwed up the technical stage setup – putting the show at risk. The M&Ms were a tripwire to help him determine if the local stage crew was going to be up to the task. When you’re doing show after show, you sometimes need some help to figure out when you need to pay attention.

Could you use a few tripwires in your life?

We’re all busy – in fact these days it’s almost impossible to find someone who doesn’t have a calendar that’s overflowing. It’s not healthy and it doesn’t deliver the best results, but it’s the reality that we’re all facing.

And when you’re that busy…when you don’t have the time to breathe and look around, you’re going to miss things.  A client of mine recently almost lost one of their better employees because that employee felt unappreciated.  The reality is that the employee was very much appreciated, but the owner had been so busy focusing on different issues that she hadn’t had the time to have a meaningful talk with her employees. And that almost cost her a great staff person.

In my client’s case, she’s now implementing changes and scheduling to carve out time to meet with all of her key employees on a regular basis. She’s essentially building in tripwires that will force the right things to happen. The meetings will be good for her and for the employees, but without some kind of planned push they won’t happen.

What other tripwires might be helpful?  How about having a planned strategy to execute whenever certain metrics fall short?  As an example – what if you had an emergency sales plan developed that you’d use if your sales metrics fell short of target for 4 weeks in a row?  You’d still have a problem on your hand, but at least you would be on top of it and taking action and not letting things continue to get worse.

What tripwires have you used?  What decisions should you be making that are currently not being made? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach