Carpe Donut: Creating Unexpected Moments at Work
Updated: Apr 10
“The unexpected moment is always sweeter.” ~ Julia Quinn
As I sit down to write while overlooking the beautiful Great Smokey Mountains of Tennessee, I’ve got one thing on my mind: donuts.
My family and I love to visit Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It’s the perfect drive from our house. It feels like a getaway (but isn’t a crazy far drive). We love hiking, creeking, pancakes, the darkness of a night that can only be seen far from city lights, the looming mountains, sitting in the back of my dad’s pickup truck looking for bears, listening to Kenny Rogers while drinking High Life Beer. Ah, country life.
But there is one recent phenomenon that’s become a highlight: Krispy Kreme Donuts.
Have you ever had a Krispy Kreme Donut? They sell them at our local grocery store and I don’t like them. They are sticky and bland all a the same time. It’s just a boring, overly-sweet glazed donut.
But in Gatlinburg (Pigeon Forge to be exact) and other legendary places, there is a Krispy Kreme Donut Shop and when the donuts are fresh out of the oven, the employees turn on a big red neon light to tell the whole world that there are hot donuts available.
It happens to be close to our family cabin so we drive by it a lot. Yet, it seems that the sign is rarely on.
The neon sign sighting has become a bit of a legend in my family. There are those who have seen it and those who have not. I have been lucky enough to see it twice and risked my life crossing six lanes of traffic to score the hot donut.
And let me tell you, it’s heaven on earth. They literally melt in your mouth. It’s unlike any food I’ve ever tasted. But the magic lies in them being hot – you can’t take them home or they turn back into the average donut.
You must eat them in the car. You must get them hot. The red light must be on.
The donut experience cannot be planned, though: It has to find you.
My boys (ages 9,7,4) had heard about this amazing donut but had never tasted one until this trip. Coincidentally, we were on the way to dinner – but the neon light was on – so we had to stop. We had a unique moment of silence while they devoured the donuts and the children repeated the legends they had heard. “It melts in your mouth,” “this is the best donut ever,” “you must stop when the red light is on.” Even my 28-year-old brother-in-law was giddy.
“I’ve never seen the sign!”
“This is ammmazzing!”
And for $1.09 per donut, we made a whole car full of people happy for a moment.
The donuts are amazing. Truly.
But why does this experience touch our psyche?
And what’s that got to do with HR?
The first thing that comes to mind, is that this a brilliant application of Dr. Robert B. Ciadlini’s theory of scarcity in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. According to Ciadlini if we perceive something as scarce, we want it more and more urgently. It is the psychological reason why we like to buy things on sale. Buy Now! Limited Supply! We feel if we don’t purchase quickly, we might never ever get the chance again. And it might even compel us to break all the rules and feed our family a whole box of donuts before dinner.
And it’s something to consider when giving employee feedback. While often managers are criticized for not giving enough praise, the opposite can be true as well. If we are too complimentary. Too sugary sweet. Too eager-to-please, our positive feedback won’t be savored.
OK, now that we’ve established my family is a total sucker for marketing techniques, I STILL think we’ve landed on something magical and will stop every time that red light is on. It’s a right of passage when you get your first hot donut. My mom has told her “story” so many times that others can repeat it.
We shake our heads at all the times we drove by the donut shop before KNOWING what the red light really meant. All those poor people who still don’t know.
Does your team have legends? Shared Jokes? Experiences?
Often these start with the founder but can fade away as organizations grow. Keep them around. Tell new members. Build the story into a legend and breathe life into your handbook.
I had a manufacturing client who did this so well. They had a whole story around a comment someone made about “discovering a yeti” that resonated. From there, they build stories, awards, jokes, pictures. I think there was a stuffed mascot that made its way around the office. It was an inside joke that everyone got to be a part.
Hopefully, my high school level Latin is correct in translating this to “Seize the Donut”.
Nothing good lasts forever. Live for Today. Don’t postpone joy.
The list of clichés is endless.
There are probably just as many reasons why you should not eat a donut every time you see a blinking sign. However, in life and business, aren’t there enough rational voices? Isn’t it OK to sometimes believe in a little magic? Take time for a little play? Make a gut decision? Go a bit beyond your calorie count?
Life is finite. And the blinking light will go off someday. So, let that interesting conversation drag a bit longer. Hire the person who resonates even though they are a bit “off” from what you were originally seeking. Let your lunch sit in a fridge for an extra day to connect with a colleague. Leave a bit early to surprise your spouse. Create unexpected moments in your life.
And most importantly when you find a hot donut, eat it.