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Lesson #5: Loosen Up
Despite Walton’s dedication to his work and the long hours he put in to achieve success and take his company to the top, he never forgot to enjoy himself along the way. From company cheers to dancing the hula on Wall Street after a failed company bet, Walton wanted to ensure that he made the most of his time in life. “My feeling is that just because we work so hard, we don't have to go around with long faces all the time,” he said. “While we're doing all of this work, we like to have a good time.”
This philosophy did not detract from Walton’s commitment to his work. To everyone who knew him, he was considered a workaholic who never stopped trying to find ways to lower his prices. But, because he kept himself so busy with work, he wanted to make sure he had a good time doing it.
From his early experience with his first failed store in Newport, Arkansas, Walton knew that in business there would always be ups and downs; there would always be obstacles standing in his way. But, knowing that allowed Walton to approach his problems in a different light. No longer did he worry about the future, but he always tried to find the silver lining of bad situations. “Celebrate your success,” he said. “Find some humour in your failures.” But, most of all, “show enthusiasm – always.” It was only in approaching his business from a lighter side that Walton was able to withstand all the shocks that would come his way.
The true businessman that Walton was, he also had ulterior motives to making sure both he and his employees took pleasure in their work. First of all, Walton believed that creating a high morale and positive energy within his stores would boost productivity. “It's sort of a 'whistle while you work' philosophy, and we not only have a heck of a good time with it, we work better because of it,” said Walton.
The second reason for wanting to make sure his employees were having fun at work was in order to mislead Wal-Mart rivals into thinking they weren’t serious about their business. “It really fools the competition,” Walton said. "‘Why should we take those cornballs at Wal-Mart seriously?’" Indeed, Walton’s success came about largely as a result of the fact that his larger competitors such as K-Mart underestimated Wal-Mart from day one and only realized the threat it posed once it was too late to recover.
“When all else fails, put on a costume and sing a silly song,” said Walton. “Then make everybody else sing with you.” Walton was not above embarrassing himself in the name of fun. After losing a bet in 1984 to Wal-Mart store managers that they would not earn a pretax margin of more than 8%, Walton put on a grass hula skirt and floral shirt and danced on Wall Street.
“All of this is more important, and more fun, than you think,” he said. “Don’t do a hula on Wall Street,” he went on, however. “It's been done. Think up your own stunt.”
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