The Sheep Factor

I was standing at the pump filling my tank, marveling at the number of body piercings the gas station attendant had as he busily mounted a placard on the top of each pump.

Just about that time, I'd decided those weren't piercings. Rather, he had fallen down the steps carrying his father's tackle box. While mulling this I bothered to read what was on the sign. It boldly read, "FREE EXTRA-LARGE CANDY BAR WITH PURCHASE OF ANY 64-OUNCE DRINK."

The guy on the other side of the pump was reading too. He smiled, looked at me and said, "That's some deal, eh?" I nodded mindlessly, still muddling over my tackle box theory and went inside to pay.

Seems a lot of people were jumping all over this big drink deal. It was 6:30 a.m. and they were filling up these buckets of pop to get that free candy bar.

Now I gotta tell ya, I work up as much thirst as the next guy, but 64 ounces of any liquid should require a dialysis hook-up by the time you get through. If the standard canned drink is 12 ounces, that's like drinking a six-pack with a straw.

That size drink should be reserved only for people who just stepped off the surface of the sun, let alone that healthful mix of downing the mega-size candy bar for the ultimate sugar high of the century. But you know what? Since it was packaged like "a deal," it was bought as "a deal." And people got back in there cars smiling saying, "What a deal!"

I call this The Sheep Factor -- the willingness to be blindly led to slaughter because all the other animals have decided that's the way to go. As professionals in your respected fields, I urge you to fight the sheep factor with every independent, free-thinking, creative fiber in your body. It is the stuff that no dreams are made of. It is the mundane march toward mediocrity that begs you to simply follow instead of deciding.

Doesn't it strike you as a little funny that people rush to buy sheets of lottery tickets when they hear the jackpot is at an all-time high? Like if they hit a $75 million dollar jackpot their lives would change, but that measly, little, standard $20 million dollar jackpot is not even worth their time? No, no, no… Let's wait until the jackpot is soaring high so that there are longer lines to stand in to get a ticket, and let's be sure the odds are even less likely to be in our favor because all the other sheep are lined up outside the convenience store. Then and only then will we bother with trying to master this "take a chance" thing, which has a smaller likelihood than being struck by lightning. I swear if I see one of you in that bleating line I'm going to take your picture and send it to your boss… Baaaa, baaaaaaaaa.

What about when the big taco chain says it's "2 for 1 week" on all tacos and you go by the restaurant at lunch and there are lines clear around the block leading to the drive-thru window? For what? Because instead of spending four dollars at lunch you found a way to spend three? And to do so you burn $6 dollars of gas? This is a value? You beat the market, huh? Baaaa, baaaaaa.

And speaking of gas, how about the wizards who pump the 87 octane into their tanks because that "danged premium is so much higher per gallon." So you put the lower octane in your car and save exactly one dollar on a ten-gallon fill-up, but your car chortles and wheezes all the time because you're not burning a high enough octane.

Let's say in a year you fill up once a week with that $1 per fill up savings. You save $52 in a year. I'm betting that major tune up you now require will cost more than $52 bucks… Just a guess.

Close to Home

The sheep factor is not only limited to money-related issues. How about simply always saying what everyone expects you to say. See how many of you can predict this next line…

You're sitting at home and there's a knock on the door. You answer the door as your dog barks madly. In comes your guest who may be anyone -- one of the kid's friends, someone collecting for the church, perhaps a Girl Scout hawking cookies -- and of course your dog begins to sniff them as if they're hiding heroin or any other form of contraband.

Now comes the sheep factor as that guest inevitably begins to address the dog and says… Come on. You know it. You've done it yourself. What do you ask the dog? That's right, you say the ultimate sheep sentence, "Ohhh you must smell my doggie (feel free to insert other animal here; i.e. cat, ferret, horse)," don't you?

Then they look up at you as if you need the explanation, "I have a dog at home." I always smile and say, "Ahhh, that explains it." But I want to scream, "No kidding? Geez, I just thought you were really smelly and hadn't bathed in awhile!"

You see the sheep factor at play? You don't have to say what everybody says. You don't have to do what everybody does. It is not required that you always do what everyone else has done or will eventually do.

Do you think conversions about using metal frame picnic tables and park benches where traditional all-wooden tables and benches stood for years went without challenge? Of course not.

The "purists" fought tooth and nail to keep the rustic look in their parks, but at some point the logic had to seep through. Wood frames and legs do not last as long as coated metal, no matter how they are treated. So when budgets became tight, compromises were made.

There was a push to go to the long-lasting all-metal units. There was a push to stay all-wood and replace as necessary. The solution was that instead of purely metal or purely wood tables and benches, a combination would serve both sides of the issue.

Wooden planks were used for the tops, seats and legs that could be easily replaced when damaged or rotted. Those were bolted to metal frames and legs.

Instead of replacing whole tables, park managers are now simply replacing one plank at a time. Most of the rustic look is still intact but now much more durable.

Finding simple, functional alternatives is the reason for your job. Create and initiate instead of simply following the "always done" path.

Look, I may seem to be foaming at the mouth here, but this stuff is important, folks. You are professionals and with that, a certain responsibility to lead and not always follow is expected.

Stepping "out of the box" should be a way of life, not something you happen to do at budget meetings every fall. Like all habits, a certain way of life will bleed into your professional realm as well, and you owe your staff and peers more than just the standard answers.

Dig a little deeper. Fight the urge to simply follow along. Challenge what others do and say by simply questioning it through that sieve of values you hold dear.

Author and motivational counselor Jim Rohn once wrote, "You must constantly ask yourself these questions: Who am I around? What are they doing to me? What have they got me reading? What have they got me saying? Where do they have me going? What do they have me thinking? And most importantly, what do they have me becoming? Then ask yourself the big question. Is that okay?"

I'm guessing any one of those categories could always use a little upgrade. Such maintenance could only assure the true professional of a continuously evolving approach to management, life and the priorities by which we measure ourselves.

Ronald D. Ciancutti is the purchasing manager for Cleveland Metroparks, a metropolitan park system that encircles Cuyahoga County and includes more than 20,000 acres of natural land, six golf courses, seven nature centers, a variety of special interest facilities and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. Ron can be reached at