There is an old parlor game where seven or eight people sit in a circle, and it begins when one person whispers a ‘secret’ into the ear of the person to their right, and that person whispers it to the person to their right, and so on and so forth. When the final person to receive the secret announces it to the group, not only will the words in the secret be different, more often than not, it will have no similarity whatsoever to the original secret
Thirty-three years ago during the installation of my system for what turned out to be my most profitable and interesting client, one day he surprised me with the remark…
“There is one report in your system I get every day that has made my entire investment in your system worthwhile.”
He told me he could take the report in question, and use it to run his gasoline, motor oil and convenience store business from the comfort of his home; and as he got older, after his heart attack which required him to spend the majority of his time at home, he proved the statement to be true by doing just that.
It turned out the simple, two-page report he was referring to was so valuable to him he retrieved it from the office at 4 p.m. each and every day (except Saturdays and Sundays), carried it home, and studied it until the wee hours of the morning. In fact, if his staff had not finished entering the previous day’s business by 4 p.m. that day, he would drag them over the coals.
It was an unwritten law within the company: “If you do not have all of your previous day’s work in the computer by 3:45 p.m. every day, you will be targeted for extinction.
I began to study the report myself, but for the life of me I was incapable of joining all of the dots. The fact that he held the report in such high esteem was rather remarkable to me, because I had written the report in haste several years prior. It might have been suggested by a previous client or something that came to me while I was studying accounting and data analysis back in the 70s, but for the simple reason that this self-made millionaire had been so adamant about expounding on its values, it made me determined to experience the epiphany he had experienced for himself. It’s not near as easy as it sounds.
Revisiting the old parlor game in the first paragraph of this article, if each person had made a note of their version of ‘the secret’ as it was passed along, it might have been possible to go back and analyze where the thread got off track. However, in business, as in real life, reconstructing how facts get turned around as they make their way through an organization is a moot exercise. Why? Because with each telling, the thought is ‘painted’ with emotions and experiences in a person’s past, and those factors influence the next person to process the new information.
The point is that it takes more than words to understand something you are not familiar with. In order to fully understand and get the benefit from the idea, you must have memories and/or experiences you can compare the information to.
While in the USAF, as I was studying electronics in a technical school at Keesler AFB in Mississippi, I was struggling to understand the principles of electron flow through a vacuum tube when my instructor told me to think about kinking the end of a garden hose to get a drink without getting all wet. Who hasn’t done that? Thinking of the garden hose removed a roadblock that had been preventing me from understanding even more.
With regards to The Report, it turns out, that it wasn’t the report itself that was interesting to the client, and that’s what threw me off track. No, the report was simply two-pages of columns and rows filled with numbers, but somehow it lit a blazing torch in my client’s mind. At first I was unable to see the light myself, simply because at that particular time in my existence, I lacked the 20 years of experiences he had accumulated while in business.
Currently, my grandson is a Junior at a university, taking premed with a 4.0 grade average which will help him to get into a fine medical school. The things they are teaching him now will not make him a great physician, no more than getting a Bachelor’s Degree in accounting made my client a millionaire. To be successful in any endeavor requires actual experiences over an extended period-of-time, not merely the 4-8 years of study to master a test and acquire a degree.
The report I am talking about lit a virtual fire under my client, because it excited a collection of memories and experiences that got him to where he was the day he first saw it. In other words, the value in the report was in how he perceived it, proving the adage that reality is truly perception, and perception is for more than characters on a printed page.
I was fortunate enough to have spent 90 days during the installation of my system, working side by side with the remarkable client I mentioned, and he provided me with a treasure trove of information and knowledge from the experiences he had encountered as he became successful.
It was at some point after that that my business began to take off. It is also when I understood that experiencing the lives and occurrences of others through association can be contagious, and as time went by, I was able to see the remarkable value of that haphazardly written report for myself.
The advantages I have had over the previous four decades will not likely come around for others in the data processing industry, merely because we no longer create and install new systems. The costs are just too high. Rather, we rent them over the internet. I have customers to his day that I will never meet face to face, let alone spend hours debating the different aspects of information engineering and business analysis as to how it relates to today’s environment. Nowadays we must accept things as they are, or not accept them at all.
Unfortunately, I have failed (for the most part) in passing this information along to others. Of the hundreds of companies I have encountered and worked with since then, I have not been successful in having another customer that understood the value in that one, simple report the way the two of us did. Still to this day, I sincerely believe I could run a major oil distribution company with that report alone, AND the collection of memories and experiences gained from activities of the past.
Of course, the ultimate secret behind the power of the report was not the report itself, nor was it so much how we perceived it, as it was how it changed our thinking over an extended period of time. Change can be scary, even when we come up with the thought ourselves.
In short, The Report acted as a source of key indicators that produced those aha moments and gasps of concerns that make business interesting, yet most people are too lazy to challenge their assumptions and learn something new. It’s a shame, because there is so much more than needs to be learned.
Bill Scott is the author of two retail books, a convenience store retailing consultant, speaker and president at StoreReport LLC.