Leadership involves rethinking the box

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I have a lot of ideas. Some aren’t so good, and their remains end up in an innovation graveyard in the depths of Mr. Biggs.
I clear it out from time to time. I still haven’t been able to part with my Dinky Donut machine, which consistently produces blobs resembling something you’d see floating in a jar of formaldehyde. Other ideas have proven successful. They’ve made me some money and have given me notoriety along the way.
Success comes with stereotypes. I’m just a lunch-pail guy. I say things that get me into trouble. I make bad business decisions. I live with one of my two feet in my mouth most of the time. In spite of my humanity, I’ve had great success. I believe anyone can, with the right leadership.
In my book, “The Box You Got, Transforming the World You Live In,” I present Bigg Ideas that I believe are the ingredients to success — in business and in life.
The first Bigg Idea: We are all leaders. The burger flipper and the company president. The cheerful kid whipping up your coffee drink and the franchise owner.
Leadership is about influence. When you combine influence and passion, you get transformational leadership. That’s the best, but it means throwing out a lot of conventional wisdom.
I hear all the time, “Steve, you think outside the box.” Not true. I love the box. I’ve spent a lot of my career taking things that exist (some actual boxes) and making them better. I’ve seen a pattern, in myself and other innovators, that starts with a Bigg Idea I call the Action Principle: “Get up … and do something.”
Once you get moving, you can apply the three keys to transformation: inspiration, instigation and innovation. Here’s a story that illustrates these principles in action.
In 1990, I was a manager at a local McDonald’s. One evening, my family came in around dinner time. They were hungry, but I couldn’t buy them food because I didn’t have cash. So I started thinking, why couldn’t people use a credit card to buy food at a fast-food restaurant? In an unexpected moment of inspiration, I asked, “Why not McPlastic?”
Some short-sighted people gave me a litany of reasons why this couldn’t work, not the least of whom was the president of McDonald’s Corp. USA. They said it would never support the fast delivery model. But I was intent on carrying out my idea because I believed in it.
During the next few months, I took existing credit card authorization hardware and software and created an in-store machine that allowed customers to use their credit cards. In the end, these transactions turned out to be speedier than cash.
People loved the option of using a credit card at McDonald’s. Like me, they could buy their kids Happy Meals when they didn’t have cash. Eventually, because of what I was doing at my restaurant, I got summoned to the “Big Mac Conference Room.” A patent was issued in 1994, by 1997 small ticket credit and debit had grown to a $1 billion industry and this year it will reach $60 billion.
McPlastic couldn’t happen in a vacuum. I had to find the right people to help me create this technology, put it to use in my restaurant, patent it and see it used throughout the industry. I sought people who had a long view and were willing to trust me, transformational leaders who parked their egos at the curb in order to facilitate someone else’s dream.
What about you? Do you have something nagging at your heart, an idea or a dream? Maybe you’re in a position to help someone else carry out a vision. If so, get moving. Inspire, instigate and innovate. You might fail (remember my Dinky Donut machine), but you’ll never regret it.
I never have. Now, by selling 12 profitable McDonald’s restaurants and collaborating with key people and institutions, I’m paving the way to help 39 million hard-working people make better lives for themselves through a program called America’s Family (amfol.com).
It provides a way for low-income families to connect with services that become stepping stones to a better life. It’s one of my greatest passions, but I could never do it alone.
Steve Bigari is the owner of Mr. Biggs Family Fun Center.