Proceed with caution (signs)

Driving down a country road in East Texas, my family spotted this hand-painted caution sign.


Being right in the the middle of his “Why” phase, my son’s first response was, “Daddy, why do we need to watch out for cows and turtles?” My verbal reply was something about how cows and turtles must cross that road from time to time and that we would not want to run over them. But in my mind, I began considering how that caution sign came to be posted on that particular stretch of road and, more importantly, what other caution signs might be valuable to post along the roads of life we travel.

While I originally thought the sign might have been posted by the state or county, closer inspection revealed that it was hand-painted over some other traditional caution sign. Rather than cautioning to watch for both cows and turtles, the turtle has the number 30 painted inside, suggesting that drivers should drive 30 MPH – slow like a turtle. I can just imagine that some rancher who’s cow was hit by a speeding motorist decided to take matters into her own hands to prevent a recurrence.

One of the first caution signs I would post would be a “Short Meeting in Progress” sign. The main icon would have 4 or 5 people assembled around a table. The lower icon would be a clock with the big hand pointed at 9, setting expectations that meetings should typically not exceed 45 minutes. I would also post a “Next Actions Assigned” sign, to indicate that team decisions during meetings will be turned into tasks for team members to act upon.

Around my office I would post an “Email Checked Periodically” sign to let others know that I avoid incessant email checking throughout the day. As a reminder to myself, I would post a “Preparing for Tomorrow” sign to advance my habit of outlining the activities and tasks for the next day’s work before leaving the office each day. Finally, to inform others about my general approach to life, I might post a “Learning in Progress” sign.

We all have traits, norms, habits and expectations of which others may be unaware, and it is important to communicate them, whether through caution signs or more traditional forms of communication. With the appropriate signs, team members can support and even adopt some of our work habits, family and friends can learn what to expect from us and to help us make desired adjustments over time. Knowing each other’s traits, norms, habits, and expectations, in turn, can help build trust within teams and between individuals, greatly enhancing collaboration.

What caution signs would you create, and how might you communicate those ideas to others in your life who need to know?

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One Response to Proceed with caution (signs)

  1. Rosa Say says:

    I love this post Blaine, and love the idea. Thank you for including the picture in your post.

    As you can probably imagine, my signs are pretty predictable… I’d have four of them first, that I may put in the same spot, but interchange often so they aren’t – to borrow a David Allen speech bite – dumbed down in our consciousness like our refrigerator art. They would be:
    Live with Aloha
    Work with Aloha
    Manage with Aloha
    Lead with Aloha

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