The Advantage Letter by Dave Martin
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Monday, November 15, 2010
Volume 16 | # 372
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It's hard to detect good luck - it looks so much like something you've earned. » Frank A. Clark

As Luck Would Have It

I've been reading The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It has two traits I like in a business book. It makes you think, and it makes you nervous.

I've already turned one of Taleb's quotes into a presentation slide: "Something has worked in the past, until – well, it unexpectedly no longer does, and what we have learned from the past turns out to be at best irrelevant or false, at worst viciously misleading."

He gives an analogy of the 1,001 days in the life of a turkey that is hysterical. For 1,000 days, that turkey has every reason to believe that life is all about being fed every day by a benevolent human. Each feeding supports its hypothesis.

In fact, confidence is at its highest when danger is most imminent. On the day before Thanksgiving, the turkey "incurs a sudden revision of belief."

I couldn't help think of folks I've spoken with (even recently) who are in apparent denial about the transformations our industry is undergoing. They pick and choose data to support their status quo.

One of the other points Taleb makes reinforced something I've preached to groups for years. He points out that progress, and history itself, does not crawl at a steady pace. Progress (success) occurs in spurts, with stops and starts.

We tend to have overly-pessimistic outlooks right before a spurt, and then overly-optimistic ones following one.

Folks tend to expect (or hope for) consistent and predictable results, commensurate to the effort they have put in for that period. Few things in life, and especially in business, are that simple.

I found myself likening Taleb's suggestions to a simpler quote by J. Paul Getty. He stated that the formula for success is, "Rise early, work hard, strike oil."

Many folks chuckle at that line and take away that Getty credits luck for success. Actually, he acknowledges luck but makes clear that it’s the first two steps in the formula that make the third possible.

Maybe you recently spoke with a person on the day before, instead of the day after, he became frustrated with his bank. The same effort would have quite likely produced different results.

We have no way of knowing when "luck" will suddenly be on our side. But be assured that it seldom comes knocking on our doors.

We find it when we (figuratively and literally) get out and knock on doors ourselves.  How many doors will you knock on this week?

Just Kids Stuff?

The fact that I can get three haircuts at the shop I go to for the price of what each of my sons' costs initially evoked a complaint from me. When I did, my wife offered, "Well, we actually care about what the kids' hair looks like." (Ha. Ha. Ha.)

The reason that I have stopped complaining about the cost is that I've now observed the young lady, Mallory, who is their stylist. They originally found her at a hair salon in a mall. They've since followed her to the pretentious place she works at now.

She does a nice job. But others have, as well.

And I'm not okay with the price because of the new surroundings. Oh, they're nice. It's the kind of place where you're offered a cappuccino while you wait. I just sit there thinking, "Man, if you have the cost of cappuccinos priced into your haircuts..."

And at first glance, Mallory wouldn't be my obvious choice. She wears leather wristbands and has sentences tattooed on her arms. Heck, they may be paragraphs. Her usually-spiked hair could be brown, black, green, or red on any given trip.

But she engages with my kids in a way that makes them feel cool.  Instead of simply asking us what we want their hair to look like (which she does when they're not looking), she talks with them about it. If my kids bring up a famous person's hair, she pulls out her Droid and pulls up pictures.

Surrounded all around by folks who take hair waaay too seriously, Mallory and my boys are laughing goobers. While she knows that the parents pay the bill, she also obviously understands that if the kids like you, the parents will love you.

I know many bankers hear that example and think, "Well, that's nice. But we don't work with kids." True.

Neither do car dealerships, furniture stores, and many other retailers. But they know well the power of entertaining kids.

In-store bankers see lots of kids on a daily basis. The opportunities to engage them are endless. Traditional branches may not have the lobby traffic, but one branch once became a (vocal) favorite of my kids through lollipops in the drive-thru.

The opportunities to support and sponsor kids' activities in our communities are more abundant than ever. And communities do notice. The same person who wouldn't normally give you a second thought will often warm to you when their kids or grandkids do.

How serious are you about kids stuff?

A well-developed sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to your steps as you walk the tightrope of life. » William Arthur Ward

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these columns are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of any affiliated entities or sponsors.
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