All my life, I thought leaves departed trees in the fall because they got too old to hang onto the branch and gravity bested their grasp. It does not work that way. Trees literally release their leaves from the limb. Here is how a leaf becomes the prey of gravity.


As days get colder and shorter, trees create a hormone that sends out a chemical message and triggers the creation of cells that appear at the spot where the leaf stem meets the branch. These abscission (root word for scissors) cells make a microscopic sized cut that gradually severs the leaf from the branch.


It made me think about a customer releasing their imagination to be used in the resolution of a problem or the creation of an opportunity. Trust is like a leaf’s chemical message to a customer’s imagination. It changes their resistance to hold onto the cocoon of safety and willingly release it to fall onto the playground of innovation.


Several years ago, I was leading a group of patients on an empathy walk through a Midwest hospital. My charge to them was to report what they saw that made them happy; what they saw that made them sad or worried. They were happy about all the flowers they saw throughout the hospital. It was like this hospital was the showroom for a local florist.  But that happiness turned to sadness when they learned the hospital did not put any flowers in patients’ rooms. We all know about the threat of patient allergies.


In our wrap-up discussion, one patient commented, “It would be so cool if this hospital asked patients during admission the name of their favorite flower. That way, they could place a bud vase of a single stem next to the patient’s bed. It would be such a great surprise.” On the way out of the conference room, I asked the patient what made her bring up the bud vase idea. “Because I knew you would pass the idea onto top management,” she told me, “And they would probably try it!” It was all about trust. I did, they did, and patients raved about it.


The result? The most popular comment on the hospital’s Press Ganey surveys was, “They remembered I like daisies.” And, the ROI? According to the CFO, “We figured after the initial investment in small bud vases, it cost us less than two dollars a stem—a tiny expense for the great payoff we got in goodwill and patient advocacy.”