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Business By Aphorisms
From The Desk Of Drumlin S Boulder

Geldmus and I like to go to a local repertoire theatre to see movies we've missed, and the other night we saw the The Aristocrats, a funny movie about a vaudeville joke that comedians tell one another when they meet between gigs and laugh among themselves. Afterwards we went for drinks and some pizza at a favourite institution, Foni Bulloni's, where we found regular Wednesday's Wensley, who hails from Brazil, and Lily the Lackey, ready to serve us drinks and a late dinner.

Instead Geldmus began serving up his riff on The Joke to which I added my take, and we got progressively more and more rowdy with it.

And it was OK. Neither Wensley nor Lily the Lackey cared and it was Siva's night off, so no one but exceptions ruled. If there's one thing Geldmus taught me early on and that we've used well since, is that you can get away with anything as long as you are smiling and having some harmless fun with it.

Another important thing Geldmus taught me was that if you own a business you should, as much as possible, keep your overhead in a briefcase and your cash in your pocket. Now that nugget of course is much more valuable in business than a hand me down vaudeville joke like The Aristocrats. Riffing off a business nugget and riffing off a journey joke simply don't equate.

When we started Portable Holes Inc., the first thing we did was empty out Pronto's tool shed. We had no sales and wanted to save our seed money for things that mattered, like making sales happen, so the Saturday after we decided to go into business, we moved stuff into Pronto's basement, hauled more stuff out to the driveway for people to sort through, (made $673 bucks!) and kept a couple of callipers, right angles, hammers, screw drivers, two dremels and a work bench. It also meant that when we got started, everything but the $673 was about sweat equity....we focused on marketing tactics and operating activities that required more time and energy than money.

And overhead in our collective briefcase. There was me, Pronto, as you know already, Slide Rule, Overseer and Holdsidahl-deGedder. We'd gotten angry at our employers and decided we could do what we wanted better together and in a different way to a better kind of customer. And Slide Rule had a couple of ideas based on some discussions with myself and Pronto. We approached Watson and Gloria and the rest, as they say, is history

There are other pithy sayings I have learned over time by which I guide many of my actions and decisions.

One of the first things I learned was "if you don't go fishing, you don't catch any fish". It's a cousin of course to Wayne Gretzky's "you miss 100% of the goals you don't shoot for". Since then, whenever I make a sales call, want to ask someone for a favour, or embark on an important project, I think about it as fishing, and what tackle and bait to use. When its a big step, I also think of a Japanese saying, "unless you enter the tigers den, you cannot take the cubs". That one helps me puff up my chest and be brave and confident.

Of course it helps to ensure we have a quality product and back it up with good service. That one comes from "quality is the best advertising" and " a man's good deeds remain largely unknown, but his bad deeds are broadcast far and wide".

In overseeing operations, we look overall and into the future via scenario painting and planning and matrix modeling, while we apply key predictive and performance balanced scorecard measures to what happened and what we hope will continue to happen well for us.

We also don't report in quarters but in four month triads that end on April 30, August 31 and December 31. Three reporting periods per year, three key issues per year.

"Five possibilities in a blue sky bring a golden mean somewhere" so longer term tougher problems are dealt with down to deep root causes. No one makes headway continually fighting the same fire over and over. Eliminate or fix once and for all. Avoid means changing operating model if necessary to avoiding and outsourcing that part of business you cannot do well.

The parts of the business we keep we manage in briefcases, in computer memory, from facilities that reflect our operations, using methods we've developed to manufacture and deliver Portable Holes to our customers. It's true what Drucker said that a business looks like what it does. Certainly in our case. But we do also say it loud and proud in our tag line so there is no confusion.

Back to aphorisms, the "pay peanuts, get monkeys" happens and governs remuneration decisions everywhere, just not for everyone in a particular business. Most businesses want to treat employees they value reasonably well and I think we know what it takes to keep good employees here because we adopted those strategies that make sense.

The overall measure though for all employees are the dollars and cents because, I suppose, that is the most concrete measure. Things such as effective leadership, clearly communicated expectations, training, promoting a safe, courteous work environment and such are nice and desirable, but these working conditions are simply all around and part of where they work and who they work with. A paycheque pays the bills. So we at Portable Holes make sure its not peanuts.

On the other hand, as with all bills we pay, I look to my grandmother who said "take care of the pennies and the dollars will look after themselves" and my own father who used to say "retina quod habes", which means "hang on to what you have". Both are good for curbing loose spending.

Now I don't want to leave you with the impression that we here at Portable Holes Inc practice "management by pithy sayings" to a fault. We actually know the wind and waves are actually favourable, not to the ablest but to the most opportunistic navigator. Its the being there among a group of choices when the customer is ready to buy.

We take a hopefully pragmatic and realistic look at all aspects of what we do, and from there we try things, and try to find or develop the best strategies, technology, and business methods we can.

Only when lessons are important and applicable to business do we pay attention. Take the three Laws of Beer, for example.

Say you're gathered with friends and up getting a beer.

The First Law states that if you ask any of your 4 or so gathered friends if they'd like one and they say no, then if you get only enough for those who've asked, someone will change their mind when you're gone and you will not have brought enough.

The Second Law states that if you've asked and they say no; and you think, well, someone's almost finished and will change their minds, and you take some extra, then they won't change their minds meaning you'll have brought at least n-1 too many... but you'll still be OK because there will always be one person guzzling down what they have to take advantage of your foresight.

The Third Law states that no matter how many beer you bring, at least once during your gathering,, one of at least 4 or so of your gathered friends will insult your taste in beer, but declare it great because it's free.

Now I'm not saying these three laws are as profound as Newton's more famous hypotheses, but their impact is inevitably felt by more than beer aficionados everywhere. Market forecasting is only guessing and ending up as close as you can to your best guesses, and huge dollars are spent by large companies and certain industries getting those guesses to work out. Love the advertising guy who questioned which half of the advertising dollars was wasted.

But it's still good to know these first three laws because the Fourth Law says that when large dollars have to be committed spending, the more special the beer, the more thinking about getting one out of the fridge on spec.

I like these kinds of laws and aphorisms because they are like folk wisdom and road maps and a language of experience that resound with an energy of leveraged meaning and understanding of something more complex in simpler formulae.

Like "it all means nothing if the cash register doesn't ring (enough)."

Which I must now attend to because later we've organized a family gathering and I'm promised for that too. You know what they say. Family is everything.

 

 
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