Threading the Needle

In business (and life), you are constantly faced with challenges that seem insurmountable. Your inner voice says “it can’t be done”, and your may give up before even trying. The thing is – obstacles often have a creative solution if you take the time and effort to approach them in an unconventional way.

When a town near St. Louis passed an ordinance that prohibited nudity except for “artistic purposes”, most of the local strip joints closed up shop. One owner, however, decided to thread the needle and get creative. Rather than a cover charge, all patrons were required to buy a sketch pad and a set of colored pencils upon entry. They were encouraged to use these tools for “artistic expression” throughout their time at the venue. With a few other modifications to the club format, the establishment remained open and prospered while others shut their doors.

The Cigar Bar and Grill in San Francisco faced a similar challenge when indoor smoking was banned in California. Rather than quitting, the owners decided to thread the needle. The new law made an exception for places that were 100% owner-operated (which was probably designed for private clubs and people’s homes). The owners of the Cigar Bar got creative and found an elegant solution. They issued each employee a tiny amount of restricted stock ownership in the bar. The stock had no voting rights, no distribution rights, and was fully redeemable if the employee left. While their ownership had no impact on the business, the fact that these employees were now “owners” allowed the place to stay in business and thrive.

The concept of threading the needle goes way beyond purveying vices through governmental loopholes. When Israeli tanks were under harsh attack in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, a field commander realized that the enemy had long-range tank-killing missiles that were guided visually with a joystick from over one mile away. Rather than lose his tanks and his men, the Israeli commander ordered his tanks to drive around in a crazy pattern all over the battlefield. The exercise kicked up a tremendous amount of dust from the desert sand, thereby creating a screen and making it impossible for the enemy to hit his tanks.

In our turbulent world, It’s more likely than not that you are facing some big challenges yourself that may seem insurmountable. Rather than throwing in the towel, take the time to explore less-obvious, non-traditional solutions. Often the craziest ideas are the ones that save the day.

This week, try to expand your thinking and push yourself to find unorthodox solutions to your most pressing challenges. Try the never-been-done-before. Go out on a limb. Stretch your imagination. Thread the needle.