Julian’s Business Tips: We’ve Always Done Business This Way

Decades ago, I spent a holiday based in a granite farmhouse on the edge of Dartmoor, with nothing to read except old copies of the Readers’ Digest.

I still remember one of the reader’s letters – and it went something like this: At an army base, the day before the big Passing Out Parade, everyone was hard at work sprucing up the base for the following day’s guests. The letter writer, as a young recruit, was painting kerb stones white by the Gatehouse when he accidentally knocked over his pot of paint. He quickly picked it up, but not before a large puddle had sloshed onto the road. He couldn’t wipe it up and, with the parade being the very next day, he had very little time to think of a solution.

Our resourceful recruit decided that, as he couldn’t clear it up, the least he could do would be to make it look smart, so he decided to paint his puddle into a large, regular rectangle on the road. Amazingly, no-one said a word, and the next day’s parade passed without a hitch.

Several years later, our recruit – now a seasoned veteran, returned to the base as a guest of honour at a passing out parade of that year’s officer hopefuls. Imagine his surprise as he drove up to the Gatehouse – not only was the white square still there, but a new recruit was diligently touching up the paintwork ready for the big day!

I tell this story to business managers who resist change with the line, ‘We’ve always done things this way!
Never be afraid to question why you do things this way? At the very least it might free up some valuable resources but, you never know, it might be the vital question that keeps you in business – just ask Nokia, Blockbuster Video, PanAm, Kodak, MySpace, Woolworths, need I go on?