The Other Side

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by N D Brown

One of the fun things about being an entrepreneur and starting a small business is you get to break the rules.  Of course, the other side of breaking rules is that you can easily fall into the trap of making your own rules which can lead you back to where you were before you became a rule breaker.

Vicious cycle?  Maybe. The trick is to always keep looking for the other side.  All of us need to remember there is another side to everything.

I am a fan of writers like Malcolm Gladwell who has written ‘change your thinking’ books like “The Tipping Point”, “Blink”, “Outliers”, and Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner who have co-written “Freakonomics” and “Superfreakonomics”.

I admire them because they look for and at the other sides.

Gladwell’s latest book, “David and Goliath”, examines how the supposed weak can persevere because they don’t think themselves weak. They see another side.

The fact that you are reading this magazine is proof you do not think of yourself as one of the ‘also rans’. You, and others like you, think yourselves strong and thus use your skills to overcome what conventional wisdom says you probably can’t.

Conventional Wisdom is NOT the other side.

Remember when you were a kid reading “The Valiant Little Tailor” who struck “Seven at one blow”?  After smacking the seven flies, the tiny, weak-looking tailor lived through a series of adventures, each requiring him to look at the other side of giant problems for a winning solution.  He knew he could strike seven with one blow.

As a people, we tend to root for the underdog and when the underdogs are successful, it is invariably because they looked at another side.

Fresh out of college, I was interviewing for a position I really wanted.  Finally, the human resources person told me that my final interview would be with the CEO.  As we rode up the elevator, he explained that I would be allowed no more than fifteen minutes.  He warned me that the CEO would ask me where I would expect to be in five years if hired by the company, so I should be thinking about my answer.

After a few idle moments of formally stiff chatter about my resume, I asked the CEO if I were to be hired where I might expect to be within five years.  With a surprised look, the CEO told me that no one had ever asked him that question before.  Of course not; all of the candidates had been prompted to answer the question.  The other side was to ask it.

The interview went from a stiff formal Q and A to an informal conversation that lasted for more than thirty minutes; and yes I got the job.

Steve Jobs saw the other side.  His original partner, Steve Wozniak, was a wizard at the technical stuff and Jobs was a wizard at making the inexplicable purchasable.  Jobs realized beauty sold.  If Apple could make things that looked good as well as worked good* then they could outsell the other clunky guys.  It worked.

(If you have not read STEVE JOBS by Walter Isaacson, do so.  The book will not make you like Mr. Jobs, in fact it will probably do just the opposite, but you will admire many of the things he did.  He knew how to take risks and how to fail.)

Gordon Bethune used the other side.  Bringing Continental Airlines from worst to first, he used very available data to reach an important goal.  Mr. Bethune knew people do what is measured.  Think about it – Why do we count strokes when we play golf?  It is a good way to get outdoor exercise while enjoying a group of friends; but without the score we’d think, “What’s the point?!”  So we agonize over our score, doing what is measured.

Continental’s goal was to reverse its poor on-time arrival and departure schedules.  It was merely one of the things passengers complained about but it was a critical reason why many business passengers flew more reliable carriers. Continental published its own data but employees mistrusted anything management did or said.  Mr. Bethune changed the rules.

The easy thing he did was to give employees a financial incentive to improve arrivals and departures.  Then he measured the statistics using Federal Aviation Authority data giving the record keeping to the US government.  Management went from its untenable position as untrustworthy bad guys to the transparent and trustworthy good guys…on the other side.

When you find yourself looking at a problem from the usual and obvious side, it’s time to step back and look for the other side.

We are deep into the information age and our tools gather and sort and analyze an ever increasing stream of data.  We have now entered the realm of Big Data. So much data that the data has grown to a point that its size and speed requires the data to manage itself.  Seriously, in spite of the volume, there is always another side.

After a brutally cold winter, Gigantic Heating Oil’s CEO wanted to make sure the company had a good supply in case it happened again.  After adding to the reserves but still not sure, the CEO called Good Weather to check their forecast. They said they predicted another severe winter.  So the CEO added more.

Still unsure, the staff called Best Weather and they also said it would be a very cold winter; perhaps setting records.

Gigantic Heating Oil bought more and checked Excellent Weather.  Hearing another affirmation, the CEO asked how the weather services could be so sure it would be a record setting winter.

“Because Gigantic Heating Oil is buying oil like mad.”

* Not correct grammar but like the much maligned advertising slogan, ‘Winston tastes good like a cigarette should’, it works.

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N D Brown is a Principal of brownchild ltd inc, 3754 Sunset \Houston TX 77005.

You can reach him by phone at 713-807-9000 or cell 713-822-8370, by email at [email protected], or visit the web at www.brownchild.com.

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