Archived Story

Blindfolded students learn vision

Published 5:54pm Tuesday, April 23, 2013


CASSOPOLIS — Billed as Young Entrepreneurs Day, why are blindfolded business students scooting across the floor, sorting brightly colored toys?


Closer examination of the scene at the Edward Lowe Foundation’s Tower of Tomorrow Tuesday reveals the more than two dozen high school students from Dowagiac, Cassopolis, Edwardsburg and Marcellus are arrayed in three levels.


One row of chairs represents CEOs, another mid-level managers and, in blindfolds, laborers.


It takes a couple of false starts to drive home lessons about time management, communication, strategy and closely questioning customers.


Failure can be as effective a teacher as success, as Kitty Litter’s creator himself would have testified.


Ed Lowe’s lesser-known ventures included August 1971′s Frenchy Bucksaw pre-packaged firewood, Lowe-Boy Trailers available in seven models in 1967 and hats which played music.


Lowe Foundation’s lead facilitator, Dino Signore, portrays a customer to impress upon students to challenge conventional wisdom by thinking outside of the box.


Initial attempts fail because top managers stay seated, removed from the fray, middle managers cannot turn around or talk and the burden buries vision-impaired labor.


“I gave you those labels so you played that role,” Signore said, “and you let them do the work. The evaluation piece refocused you. You were managing time. You were pressing and panic levels were going up as time diminished. Your feeling of anxiety increased. But time is negotiable.”


He traded more time for singing their favorite Beatles song.


Judging from their blank looks, he might have landed on firmer footing with the generation gap with Ke$ha, but they pulled off a ragged chorus of “Yellow Submarine” after realizing they didn’t know the lyrics to “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”


“I meet CEOs who get caught in the same thing, ‘The customer is bossing us around,’ ” Signore said. “We never stop and ask them enough questions about their expectations. You tell us to jump and we just keep saying, ‘How high?’ It gets interesting when managers quit sitting in their rows and get in there and ‘get dirty’ with sorting. You can do it faster. You’re young entrepreneurs who may end up with an organization. These eight to 10 people are a microcosm. Coordination, communication problems and time constraints happen in business, so what as business owners should you be considering?”


Have a plan, one girl suggests. “Strategy is important.”


“How to expand” through efficiency, a young man adds.


Another suggests sorting the tiny toys, such as soldiers and balls, by color.


Signore pointed out that once CEOs got down on the floor with their heads down, it hindered communication.


“A balance would have been good. If you can solve a customer’s need, usually they pay you. If you don’t, they probably won’t. I gave you one objective at the beginning, but then I made it more complex. Customers are king. They make the rules and change your assumptions. You guys slid into these roles. Every group I’ve had does it by assuming CEOs can’t get out of their chairs. Question rules. Stopping at red lights is a good one, but a lot of ‘rules’ aren’t. It’s up to us as managers to reinvent business and ask, ‘Why do we do it that way?’ ”


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