As a frequent flyer it is easy for me to arrive at an airport, plug in my headphones, and do my best to disconnect from the mind-numbing busyness going on around me. But this flight was different.

While waiting in Chicago, IL for a flight to Canton, OH, I noticed an older lady being dropped off near the gate via a wheelchair and left to sit alone. As the call to board began, I could tell she was struggling to find her way to the plane. I removed my headphones and offered to help her to the gate. She told me she was blind, took my arm, and together we slowly made our way.

After connecting her with the gate agent, I walked down the jet bridge and found my seat on the plane, 9A. After a few minutes, 9B slowly walked down the aisle, sat down next to me, and said, “Hi! I’m Caroline.” (You guessed it! Caroline was the lady I had helped to the gate.)

For the next hour and a half, I had the chance to learn a little bit about Ms. Caroline and a whole lot more about my perspective on life.

Ms. Caroline had started her day 21 hours earlier in Athens … yep, Greece! Athens to Frankfurt, Germany to Chicago, and now home to Canton. She was still going strong! I learned that Caroline is 87 years old and a frequent traveler. She has a degree in chemistry, is the widow of two loving marriages, and has been blind a majority of her life. On top of too many trips to recall, Caroline has visited EVERY national park, the Vatican, and had just toured Greece.

After gathering my thoughts, I tried to find the words to respectfully ask, “What does a national park or museum hold for you if you can’t see it?” With the knowing smile of someone who had been asked this question before, she told me about how it felt to just be in the presence of history … to be near the grand … to be surrounded by beauty. Yes, she misses out on one sensory perception of the places she visits, but there are other ways to experience them. She told me there is something to how a place feels. She described the sound her steps make beneath her as she walks. She talked about the smell that the years have left imprinted on places. I was admittedly a little taken back by how simple and yet profound her answer was.

Our conversation got me thinking—what if, instead of museums or landscapes, we took the same approach to look at other areas in our lives? Like our home, our relationships, or perhaps even take a look inside the place where we do our work.

What is the story Ms. Caroline would tell me if I invited her to spend a day around your company? How would it feel? What would she hear? I would like to challenge you to go beyond just LOOKING at your business and pay attention with more than your eyes. I can guarantee that there is more going on than what you can see.

What is the feel of your place? Ms. Caroline told me of how the staff at some museums would open displays and allow her to touch historical items—to see with her hands. Picture the mass and chill of a suit of armor or the shape and composition of a sculpture.

What would she learn by touch if she took a tour at your place of business? An office that is organized and free of clutter, a clean and tidy warehouse with everything in its place, trucks that are prepped and ready for the next job? Now think about one of your current projects. Equipment set in the proper manner, a clean job site that shows respect for the customer’s property, workers with the correct tools and gear to complete the job right? The differences between the good and the really great companies can be seen in these “touch points” as you look at how the work is being done.

In Part II of this Note, I’ll touch a little more on “feel” and then get into “sound.” Until then, I encourage you to take a fresh “look” at your business.

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