Friday, June 5, 2009

Lessons on the job, part 5

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By Dan Danford

Three hours. As a teen, I spent three hard hours shoveling twelve inches of snow from Mrs. Townsend’s lengthy driveway. Finally finished, I requested $15 for the work. She gave me $10, explaining that’s what someone with a plow offered to charge. That day, I learned a painful economic lesson about the value of labor.

I just read a superb book. It should be required reading for every college student. Written by Harry Beckwith, it is called Selling the Invisible. The focus is on customer service. Two illustrations caught my attention and helped refine Mrs. Townsend’s lesson from my youth: value is determined by the quality of output, not the quantity of input.

Beckwith’s illustrations:

Three whacks. A squeaky floor provides the first lesson. The homeowner made several unsuccessful attempts to quiet the noise. A helpful neighbor recommended a local craftsman, known for quality work. The craftsman walked in, slowly paced the room, drew a hammer and nail and – with three swift whacks – solved the problem forever. Later, he submitted a bill for $45. But, the itemization provides great insight:

Hammering $ 2.00
Knowing where to hammer $43.00

Three minutes. The great painter Picasso made a related point. He was recognized one day sketching a street scene in a small cafĂ©. An impressed tourist asked him to make a quick drawing of her, offering to pay an appropriate fee. The artist picked up a different tablet, penciled a brief drawing, and passed it – an original Picasso -- to the woman. “That’ll be $5,000.00,” he told her. Surprised, the woman reminded him that it took just three minutes. “No,” he explained, “It took me all my life.”

No one cares how hard we work. No one cares how many college degrees or years of experience we have. No one cares if we once made a touchdown or hit a gamewinning home run. In business, value is determined daily by the service we provide to customers. People – all of us – seek solutions and results. That’s what matters.

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