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innovation_arrowsRecently, a reader wrote me to suggest that rather than trying to encourage someone, a better way to motivate them is to issue a challenge. So, I felt challenged to write about it.

Whenever I think of laying down a challenge, I think of a classic story about Charles Schwab, the magnate of Bethlehem Steel. One day, he was visiting his least productive mill to discover why it was underperforming. During his inspection, he discovered that everything seemed to be in order: the workers all knew their jobs, the equipment was top-notch, and the manager highly educated. Despite all of that, it was producing far behind all his others.

He ended his tour of the facility a few minutes before shift change. Stopping in front of one the furnaces, he asked a worker, “How many heats has your shift made today?” “Six,” the man replied. Schwab then asked for a piece of chalk. He took it, wrote a large number “6″ on the floor, then left the building.

When the second shift arrived, they saw the chalked “6″ on the floor, and inquired about it. “The big boss was in here today,” said one of the men. “He asked us how many heats we made, and we told him six. He chalked it down.”

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