“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”
Elaine Wyllie would certainly get the thumbs up from Confucius. The recently retired award winning headmistress ensured that all her pupils in St Ninian’s primary school ran or walked a daily mile around the school grounds each and every day.
In the news this week Mrs Wyllie has been credited as a trail blazer, spreading her initiative to no less than 500 schools around the UK who have adopted her successful activity.
The success of her scheme lies in its simplicity; it is free, the children do not change out of their uniforms and only ice or torrential rain will stop them running round the track.
The results of her three year experiment have been staggering, with fewer children leaving school with weight problems. Her motivation stemmed from witnessing the tragic rise of obesity in young children, and by being determined to change things in her gift; using her experience, knowledge and power to improve the lives of many.
She understood how the bureaucracy of 'initiavitis' can smother the best intentions and instead focussed on keeping things natural and simple. Her lifelong work with children taught her that they enjoy movement, fun with friends and the comfort of regular activity which brings rewards.
Walking hit the headlines again this week as experts provided irrefutable evidence that a brisk 30 minute walk is the best activity to shed pounds and stay slim, for adults as well as children. Analysing the results the scientists concluded that we respond well because walking is our natural state of movement, or default position evolved over millions of years, rather than other forms of activity such as machines in gyms.
We are bombarded daily with health and fitness messages, and the volume of products and services seems to balloon in relation to the nation’s expanding waistline.
There's not much excitement in accepting that eating less and moving more is the answer; the thrill is in the plethora of shiny new toys; diets, pills, apps, books, clubs to mention a few. And of course when things don't quite go to plan; well we can try another and of course blame the gadget for not living up to expectations.
I'm often struck by conversations with organisations who are embarking on the latest initiative to become more customer centric, to walk in the shoes of customers and feel what they feel in order to improve engagement. Just like the objective to get healthier, the ambition is commendable. What often takes priority however; just like the diet, is the obsession with a complex array of new initiatives to pave (or block?) the path of success.
Elaine Wyllie had a passion for the wellbeing of children, together with the wherewithal to hit the bulls-eye in terms of simplicity and effectiveness. In other words she set up her scheme to succeed.
A challenge for organisations trying to get closer to their customers is to ensure that they are already keeping their promises and meeting the hygiene factors in customer service. Only when that is firmly embedded as a natural component in their DNA, do they earn the right to introduce complexity at the front line.
Perhaps the mile a day is a good way to think about embedding the DNA of customer service in our Boards and organisations at large. But don't think too long about it - just do it