Colorful Expectations

It disturbs me when I open a package of M&M’s and there are significant differences in the quantity of each color. When I was about six, I sorted an entire box of Fruit Loops by color, only to be terribly disappointed that there were vastly different amounts of red, orange, and yellow (the only three colors until the 1990’s). The obsessive part of me would really like for the color distribution to be equal.

Turns out, it is not entirely by accident that there are more of some colors and less of others. In the late 1990s, Mars began publishing the candy’s color breakdown on its website. In 1997, a typical bowl of M&Ms was 30% brown, 20% yellow, 20% red, 10% orange, 10% green, and 10% blue. Over the next 10 years, according to figures on the site in 2008, the proportions changed to favor blue, orange, and green over yellow, red, and brown: 24% blue, 20% orange, 16% green, 14% yellow, 13% red, and 13% brown.

Why? Well, the color blends were selected by conducting consumer preference tests, which indicate the assortment of colors that pleased the greatest number of people and created the most attractive overall effect. Apparently, color assortment tastes changed over time. Fruit Loops added purple, blue, and green in the 1990’s.

If you are still with me, you are asking yourself where I’m going with this. Glad you asked.

People order the world around them, interact with others, and communicate based on their personal preferences and their perception of other people’s preferences. Unfortunately for every one of us, we are poor judges of what other people prefer. Mars puts different percentages of each color in their blend to please the statistically average person. Unfortunately for them, I am not average. Fortunately for them, I still buy and eat their chocolate!

When I am in a leadership position, I must be careful not to assume others will see things the way I do. If I order and communicate things to line up with my personal preferences, I will fail to connect with a lot of people. Apparently, not many people care if there are the same number of each color in their bag of candy.

It would also be a mistake to lead to the statistical average. Again, I might get partial buy-in from many people, but I will fail to get true investment from most. Most people have no actual interest in the colors of M&M’s. Whatever effort the company put into color percentages is to gain a very small amount of advantage, not to create true loyalty.

Leadership requires me to know the people I am serving well enough to create and communicate an environment and a vision that will capture their imaginations and hearts. This is not easy. It is not simple. It is not just colored candy in a bag. It is relationship, and it takes time, effort, and transparency.

When I care about someone enough to be transparent with them, the opportunity is created for us to understand each other and be able to communicate well with each other. I can begin to see the world through their eyes and they through mine. It is then, and only then, that we can understand and begin to meet each other’s expectations. People are as colorful as a bag of M&M’s and getting to know them and understand them is the Kimray Way.