• Karen Zeigler

Learning to Walk Your Bunnies - 5 Tips for Innovative Leadership

How do you walk your bunnies?

About twenty minutes from my home is a park. Not your typical city park. It's not in the city at all. It's where I go for a horseback ride or to mountain bike. There are days when I don't want to load up any gear or toys. On those days, I instead prefer to take the convertible down the winding roads and enjoy a solo hike or hike with a friend. This weekend was one of those perfect Chamber of Commerce gorgeous SWFL winter days. It was blue skies, sunshine, and a high of 75, so I decided on the convertible and a solo hike. My goal - soak up the beautiful day and some creative inspiration for the week. In the most bizarre turn of events, my walk did not disappoint. I learned an essential lesson for innovative leaders. If you want to develop more adaptive and creative teams, you must know how to walk your bunnies.

I love hiking the bike trails because they add some semblance of hilly terrain from southwest Florida's usual flat roads. The course is pretty simple, twelve miles total and in the shape of an eight. The front loop is smaller than the back, about three miles total. In light of the hills and usual time constraints, I generally stick to the front loop, which takes about an hour. There is a picnic table under a big oak tree where the four points of the eight converge. It's been coined the "tree of life" as after you've finished biking the back loop, you generally need to stop and catch your breath. As I approached the picnic table on this beautiful day, my eyes widened, and my jaw dropped. There were a couple of bikers checking out the map. They must be new to the park, I surmised, as you really can't get lost. And another biker approaching from the opposite side. But it was the person at the picnic table that made me rub my eyes to see if I was hallucinating.

Mary Poppins out for a walk with her bunny

There at the table was a woman with a bunny on a leash. She wasn't the real Mary Poppins. But she was dressed suspiciously like her. Long dark dress reaching well below her knees with long sleeves. She had matching opaque stockings. The knit sweater type that I imagine you might wear in Chicago in the winter. And to finish the strange outfit, she was wearing Dapper Dan oxford-type loafers. Spread across the table - a rather sizable pet career, food with a lunch box, and journal. So many questions were running through my mind. Did she somehow make the same two-mile trek I had just made? Even if she was a regular to the park (which she certainly didn't appear to be), the back way into the picnic table is still over a quarter-mile.

I stared awkwardly, thinking to myself - what the heck is going on here? Am I really seeing what I think I am? As I assessed the situation, I thought perhaps the couple wasn't new to the park at all. Just taking the usual rest break but trying to avoid the crazy lady sitting at the picnic table. The solo rider on the opposite side was asking if he could take a picture. In an effort to not appear rude by continuing to stare, I decided I would ask a couple of questions. What's your bunny's name? Juniper she said. How long will he walk? Huh? she replied. You know like a dog, how long of a walk will he go on? And with a tisk and slight eye roll, she replied.

"You don't walk bunnies like you walk dogs. They're too curious for that."

I nodded with a curious hmmm and continued on. Still, thinking to myself, what just happened? But more importantly, what am I suppose to learn from what just happened?

Bunnies, dogs, and developing creative teams

That's when the inspiration hit. In several interviews (see links below) I had spoken of the challenge for leaders to develop and lead creative teams as being like "herding cats". But the bunnies were a much more appropriate analogy. After all, when it comes to the animal kingdom rabbits are known for their superb ability to create. Get two bunnies collaborating together and they can generate as many as 84 or more bunnies in a single year. Think of that in terms of innovation. What if you could harness the creative power of your employees to create 84+ viable innovations a year!

However, I don't mean to offend anyone by referring to employees as dogs. Although, I do hear horror stories of leaders who treat their dogs better than their employees. However, in this instance, it's just an analogy between the handling and goal achievement of two distinct animals. And it correlates quite nicely to how we manage the employees of the linear task, information age (dog) vs. the employee of the creative, more experiential work of the experience age (bunny).

Why is it essential to see your employees as bunnies vs. dogs?

This transition from the information age to the experience age is just the beginning of the change coming to the workplace. While it started with focusing on customer experience it is quickly finding its way into the organization. Unless you've been under a rock you know that the future workforce is a creative one. World Economic Forum, Gartner Research, and