Crippled CEO Blog #091:
Under the particular style of neon lights that you only get in a governmental conference room, seated around a long rectangle, they were… debating. Arguing, really.
It was 1988.
The building was the Broward County Health Department.
And the topic was children drowning in pools.
Drowning prevention advocates and “experts” from a myriad of disciplines were present — swim instructors, survival swim instructors, pool builders, pool alarm manufacturers, water safety nonprofits, representatives from the Broward County Health Department, and so on. Also present was the owner of a tiny, brand new company called Life Saver Pool Fence. He was my dad, Robert Lupton.
They were arguing over which method should be the one everyone agreed was the best way to prevent drownings, which one should be promoted and rallied behind. The pool builder said that parent supervision was the answer. People just needed to watch their kids. The pool alarm folks argued why alarms were best. The swim instructors explained why training the child was the most important.
And meanwhile, my dad stayed quiet. Eventually, someone turned to him and said, half joking, “I’m sure you think pool fences are the answer, right?”
He took a minute, paused, and shook his head. “No, I don’t.”
The room peered at him quizzically.
“I think you need all of them. I think the safest thing is for people to install multiple layers of protection.”
And just like that, the concept of layers of protection for pool safety, the foundation for all modern pool safety strategies, was born. The idea of multiple layers of protection is today taught and advocated by every drowning prevention expert and every water safety organization.
A year later, he would write a book on childproofing the home, and the idea of using layers of protection to make the pool safer was put in writing for the first time.
And while that is a very cool fact, that isn’t the point of my blog this week.
My dad proposed this idea because he really did think it was the best solution, and he really did care deeply about water safety.
But he was also a businessman, and this new concept had another benefit, as well. As soon as everyone agreed, all of the other people sitting at that table stopped being competitors, and suddenly became allies. The cause of drowning prevention was now stronger because everybody could now work together. By taking a step back, getting above the debate, and reframing the perspective, he found a creative win-win for everyone. And the only thing that changed was the way everyone in the room approached the problem.
This kind of thing is possible more often than we think. Lots of times, we are debating for option one, two, or three, when the real best answer is something entirely different, and requires asking a different question.
And you will know when you find it, because these kinds of ideas, that reshape the problem and solve it beautifully, seem obvious once presented. In fact, when you say it, the people around you will act as if it is obvious, so obvious that it doesn’t seem like a novel, original thought — as if it was the answer the entire time. That’s how you know you’ve got it.
(Your mom doesn’t want any layers of protection with me, and quite frankly, it’s concerning. One thing she does want, though, and you should as well, is a text from me every Sunday. Send a text to the number 484848 with the word CRIP as the message to sign up to get a link to the newest blog each week.)