A Mall And The Night Visitors
A little over a week ago, I sent my creativity students out on a sort of scavenger hunt. We had been studying Michael Michalko's approach to creativity called the SCAMMPERR method (Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Magnify, etc.). Divided into teams and armed with digital cameras, I sent them to the mall of their choice to find one example of each of the nine elements we discussed. Less than a half hour after I sent them out, one of my students called, informing me that mall security at one of the local malls would not let them take pictures inside the mall. I thought it was odd, never having had this problem in the past, so I told her team to do what they could with what they had (a teachable moment for creativity).
The next morning, I received a voice mail from the general manager of Merle Hay Mall (the place of trouble from the prior evening), explaining that there had been an issue with my students. I returned her call promptly, and I proactively and sincerely apologized for any issues and inconvenience there may have been, taking the time to briefly explain the context in which they had been sent to the mall in the first place. With most people in the retail service industry, that would have been enough, and I would have received a "Thank you for returning my call, and thank you for understanding." Nope. She had a SPEECH prepared for me. She informed me that HER mall was PRIVATE PROPERTY, and that my students were BELLIGERENT. I stopped her and asked if she could provide examples of the belligerent behavior, in case there were specific classroom management issues to deal with. She could not, other than to let me know that her security guards were inconvenienced. Then she proceeded to let me know that her FIRST PRIORITY was to her NATIONAL FRANCHISES. I again simply apologized, and assured her I would research the issue further and she would not be troubled by my students any more. This seemed to please her, and the call ended.
My students were incensed by her accusations. For starters, groups at other malls did not have run-ins with mall security. If questioned, they explained the assignment and the guards did not hinder them. Second, belligerence (like beauty) appears to be in the eyes of the beholder, because they felt harassed by the guards from the second they came into the mall. Third, the individual store owners from whom they asked permission were thrilled to have their store featured in an assignment about creativity. And finally, I went back to the mall and photographed their posted code of conduct myself. There's no mention of a photography ban listed anywhere.
My question is this: Why do organizations let myopic rule following get in the way of context? My follow-up questions flow closely behind:
- How many of us follow "made up" rules that really aren't rules at all? They're sacred cows that are mooing and stinking up the pastures of our accomplishment.
- How many people are incapable of separating the rule from the people involved? My students were not the teenage gangs I usually see loitering at the mall; they're accomplished professionals in their 20's through 50's with disposable income (don't stores generally want that type of person to come in?).
- Why is it that people in authority let it go to their heads? While I'm not going to fault a minimum-wage mall security guard from doing what he's been told, it seems odd that a mall general manager would get her jollies by scolding a person who has access to sharing this story with a whole lot of people.
- How can we get these people in authority to get their priorities straight? Yes, I understand the whole landlord-tenant thing, and I get the legality of private property. However, I always thought the goal of a mall was to get people into the door so they would spend money. Telling me that I, as a potential customer, was not only not her priority, but also that my students and I weren't welcome in HER mall (yes, the personal pronoun was used), that threw me as a paradigm shift.
I guess I'd be curious how Old Navy, Pac Sun, American Eagle, or Wilson's Leather feel about their landlord's approach. Do Target and Kohl's and Sunglass Hut and Victoria's Secret really want to be protected from all of that evil paparazzi? Are Finish Line and Footlocker and Sprint and U.S. Cellular happy that young professionals with disposable income will not be shopping at their stores now? Are Brodkey's, Kay Jewelers, Franklin-Covey, and Lenscrafters appreciative of the job that security is doing supposedly to make their mall a better place?
Don't worry, Merle Hay Mall, I take accountability for my students' actions. I've been spending this semester encouraging them to challenge the rules that don't make sense so they can tap into their creativity. They were just showing me that they were listening. I promise to do everything I can in the future to keep their alleged belligerence, their digital cameras, and their displosable incomes away from YOUR PRIVATE PROPERTY. It would be interesting to hear how Mike and Mike and Phil and Adam and Ann and Liz would have handled this situation if they were in my shoes.