The Red Chair and Dead Child – Powerful Lessons For Business, And Life

Eight chairs around the boardroom table. Seven black – one red. “Why one red chair?” I asked the lawyer hosting the meeting. His answer is a lesson in life and business. Use it, please. It’s powerful.

I’ve wanted to tell you about Zelda for a while now. She’s a murdered child. I never had the right ‘hook.’ Now I have it. The red chair.

“We wanted to change our culture to make us more client focussed,” the lawyer explained. “So we have a red chair in every meeting room. When we meet by ourselves, the red chair represents our client. It reminds us we only exist for that client- to deliver solutions and value. It reminds us to keep client-focussed.”

And there’s the lesson on accelerating success and growth – a vital message to:

Use symbols and images to remind us to take action or behave in certain ways.

Stay with me.

Every time those lawyers look at that red chair, they think “Client first.” It turbo-charges a change in culture. It provides a regular ‘conscience’ for their approach, conversations, decisions and actions. It will help their business grow. And improve their careers.

I have a paper clip holder on my desk, with a ‘Bridgestone Tyres’ logo on it, a relic of my first client at a PR agency in Adelaide in 1984. Every time I notice it, I use it as a reminder to pause a moment and to ‘check in’ on my feelings…. to check if there is anywhere in my professional and personal life where I need to ‘show up.’ Where do I feel dis-ease? Where am I noticing something – phone calls not being returned, someone avoiding my eye, an unpaid client invoice- that suggests I need to ‘turn up’ and check in on what’s going on?

I once gave colleague Stuart a little teddy bear to keep by his computer, to remind him to ‘double check’ for typos before he sent an email or document to a client. I met up with him recently, 10 years later. He’s still got it there. It helps.

The red chair. The paper clip holder. The teddy bear. What is it for you? What is your visual image to remind you to ignite a focus, or to take action?

Find some. They really, really help.

Oh, and Zelda? Well, this is a sad story.

I was reading my 12 year old mate’s school book- a Second World War tale by Morris Gleitzman about Felix and Zelda, the Jewish boy and his 6 year old friend Zelda, struggling to survive as the Nazis hunt them down for the gas chambers. The book nears its end, and it looks like a happy ending is nigh. Felix and Zelda are being cared for by a soft-hearted local, and have assimilated into the local community. But there were not a lot of happy endings in that conflict. Zelda goes to town to shop with her ‘protector’. They are ‘outted’ by a disgruntled neighbour, and marched to the local square where they are hanged from lamp-posts. Felix goes looking for them, only to find Zelda swinging in the wind.

It broke my heart.

So I named a tree ‘Zelda.’ I pass it every day on my way to work. And every morning I roll down my window and shout out “Morning Zelda! Love you darling.” And for a moment my heart goes out to all the children killed in that conflict, and to all the pain their parents felt. And to be reminded that brutality and murder must NEVER be forgotten. Those in my car get the same reminder.

Every day. Just for 10 seconds.

Red chair. Paperclip holder. Or Zelda the Tree. Visual reminders to take you places you need to be. Even for a moment. In business and in life.

Oh- and here’s Zelda. Isn’t she just the most lovable, beautiful little girl? Love you Zelda! And you’ll NEVER be forgotten.

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14 Responses to The Red Chair and Dead Child – Powerful Lessons For Business, And Life

  1. Peter Giles November 3, 2015 at 10:01 pm #

    Thanks for that powerful story, will make sure I share.

    • Chris Savage November 4, 2015 at 11:50 am #

      Thanks Peter!

  2. Leonie November 4, 2015 at 10:40 am #

    powerful message and great ideas. I will be borrowing from this. thank you.


    • Chris Savage November 4, 2015 at 11:50 am #

      Thanks Leonie – Chris

  3. Geoff Kelly November 4, 2015 at 11:39 am #

    Nice piece Chris. Despite all the wisdom around this from so many, it still astounds me how much we all struggle to maintain this simple focus. Simple habits as you suggest are crucial. My favourite is the old Earl Nightingale suggestion to invest one hour a day thinking about and acting on giving more value to clients. Mostly people get that and acknowledge it is the most important use of that hour. Then they go on to tell me it is frustrating that they just don’t have the time for it. I now invariably tell them, and myself, how wonderful that is that they have seven hours of stuff that is way more important than adding value to customers. Go figure lol.

    • Chris Savage November 4, 2015 at 11:51 am #

      Thanks Geoff. Great perspective. Thanks! And good to hear from you! Chris

  4. Stu November 4, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

    The teddy bear is still helping!

    • Chris Savage November 4, 2015 at 1:23 pm #

      Stuart. Aha! Good to see you are still reading the blog!! Chris

  5. Tim November 4, 2015 at 1:10 pm #

    Nice message Chris, there is a little bench seat at Shelley beach I’d love you to visit.

    • Chris Savage November 4, 2015 at 4:41 pm #

      Tell me when, Tim, and I’ll meet you there. Chris

  6. Camille November 4, 2015 at 1:59 pm #

    Crikey. That was a powerful read. And useful.
    My Zelda is the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Everyday I look upon it and ponder the amazing ability of humans who designed and then those who built it. I view the water below and ponder for the future of the crazy humans who keep forgetting to respect the earth and the amazing oceans and harbours of the one planet we have. Home.

    • Chris Savage November 4, 2015 at 4:41 pm #

      Thanks Camille!

  7. Carolyn Hyams November 5, 2015 at 2:37 pm #

    Wowee, Chris, what a powerful story! I tear up reading about Zelda. So many sad stories… And I do love the reminder message – especially the red chair. Going to have a think about how I could use this. Thank you.

    • Chris Savage November 5, 2015 at 3:53 pm #

      Thanks Carolyn! Chris

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