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Do You Feel Like a Duck? You’re Not Alone.

Understand “duck syndrome” and get more insight and advice for your pet business.





MANAGEMENTWe’re All Ducks Now

Does it ever seem like most of your small-business peers are cruising along, achieving at least a modicum of success effortlessly while you’re thrashing madly just to stay afloat? There is a name to describe what you’re feeling: “duck syndrome.” It is inspired by the way a duck appears to glide ever so smoothly across a lake, and yet if you were to look under the water, you’d see its legs paddling furiously. The term arose at Stanford University, supposed chilled-out home to some of the country’s brightest students. The truth is closer to a workaholic culture of “grind or die,” according to an opinion piece in The Stanford Daily. Take comfort. You’re not alone.

EMAILSYou’re Sorry

Being humble is nice, but a lack of assertiveness in your emails can make it hard to set a professional tone, or have the effect of diluting an important message. The solution? Just Not Sorry, a simple free Gmail plug-in that identifies qualifying words and phrases like “I think,” “just,” “I’m no expert” and “sorry,” so you can rework them. Even doing this as a one-off exercise can be beneficial to test your tone so you better understand the impact of your writing on people.

MANAGEMENTGo Ahead, Embarrass Yourself

Humans will normally go to extraordinary lengths to avoid embarrassment. But if you want to trigger fresh thinking, you should do the opposite, says Leigh Thompson, of Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. At the start of your next brainstorming meeting, ask everyone to tell an embarrassing story about themselves. “Sharing reduces inhibitions, which makes it more likely new and novel ideas will flow. By increasing your vulnerability, you become more likeable and everyone else becomes more amenable to supporting or building on your suggestions,” she says.

HIRINGTone Down the Job Description

There has been a trend in recent years to list available jobs using creative language, like describing a sales associate’s position as one for a “sales-obsessed ninja,” but such language may actually deter some promising candidates, particularly anyone with outside obligations like children or elderly parents. According to a recent report in The Atlantic, most small business owners would be better advised to go with a more technically precise job description and instead focus creativity on selling the workplace: “We’re a progressive pet business, in one of the city’s best neighborhoods, that wants to grow in tandem with our staff. If that sounds like the kind of place you’d like to work …”

MARKETINGOptimism Sells

Optimism is not just a positive mindset. It’s actually an effective sales tool, too, says marketing consultant Andrea Hill of AHM. “People want to feel good, especially this year, and they will appreciate any brand that helps them to do that with a positive attitude,” she says, recommending you look for ways to inject positivity into your marketing. “Share customer good news stories, have a good news of the week or day social media post, and put business promotions in a good news framework, such as ‘Good News! We’re having a customer night out on Tuesday!’”

INCENTIVESTarget Bonuses to Reward Little Actions That Work Well

James Wojcicki, owner of The UnOptical, an independent eyewear retailer in San Diego, CA, has a positive approach to keeping Yelp in the minds of his staff. He gives $50 to those who are mentioned by name in a Yelp review, because as he tells PETS+’ sister magazine INVISION, “it shows they’ve created a connection with the customer.” Wojcicki’s approach is supported by much of the theory on incentives: It’s best to target behaviors rather than results.

MANAGEMENTThe 1 Percent You Have to Understand

When taking in new knowledge — whether appraising a business deal or just reading a book — it can be valuable to work out what is at the very heart of the matter. According to business author Dan Pink, there is always a core takeaway — “the 1 percent” — that will allow you to get a grip on the sea of info coming at you. “If you’re getting bogged down in some minutia, ask yourself what’s the 1 percent that you need to know. If you figure out the 1 percent, the rest of the 99 percent makes sense,” he says. It’s particularly useful when you get stuck on a creative project. “Establish what the 1 percent is, and the rest will follow.”

Since launching in 2017, PETS+ has won 16 major international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact PETS+'s editors at



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