When I was a high schooler I worked as a short order cook at a pool club in the middle class environs where I grew up in Queens, NY. I say “pool club” advisedly as it was really a concrete hole filled with hyper chlorinated water situated on a blacktop slab near a mall. No trees, no grass, no golf– really a bathtub in the street but we thought it was Nirvana so if perception is a major component of reality, I guess it was Shangrila.
Anyway, the snack bar owner, my boss– I think his name was Al–put up about 100 signs touting how much he aimed to please and that the customer was a god at this summer establishment situated in working class heaven. I made a mental note of the customer relations campaign and filed it away in my mind determined to imitate it when I started my own company someday.
And then I had the Wonder Years epiphany courtesy of customer centric Al. One searing August day I opened a commercial size carton to french fries that I would regularly toss into a hot oil machine, get them crisp and sell them with the burgers and fries that were the staples at our culinary cul de sac.
This time the uncooked fries were completely covered in a thicket of blue moss that looked like hair. As we never rotated stock at Al’s poolside enterprise, the fries must have been sitting in the delapidated cooler since Memorial Day. When I showed Al the Petrie dish the carton of fries had become, and motioned that I had to toss out the goods post haste, the customer advocate grabbed my arm in a vice lock and spewed forth with the wisdom of the street:
“Are you crazy? Has the sun gotten to you kid?”
With that he showed me how business was done in the real world, confidently tossing the blue goo into the fryer and watching it all turn to crispy brown.
“Serve em up kid. They’re fine.”
Even earlier in my life I was watching a hot shot government figure (I think it was The Secretary Of State) giving an address to the. American people on a special TV report that preempted regular programming. It appeared to be all big-deal type of stuff and though I wasn’t sure what it was all about, I was impressed by the national leader and the pomp and circumstance of the speech to the citizens.
When I told by dad that he should come in and watch the great man from Washington, my father took one look and wrote it all off the way Al would brush me aside when I wanted to toss the fries.
“They’re all a bunch of hot air,” dad said. “Don’t listen to a thing these guys say. Everything is always the opposite of what they’re selling. Lies. Lies. Lies.”
That I shouldn’t automatically believe the Secretary Of State regardless of what he was saying struck me as disrespectful at first but within hours I gleaned the deeper meaning inherent in my dad’s assessment:
- Never believe anyone just because they have a lofty title.
- Always keep in mind the Shakespearian principle of “thou protest too much.” Al’s customer pledge was just so much hot air.
- When you are faced with a “fact” demand that it be proven to yourself.
- Always remember that the most important word in business, in life, is Why?
The fact is, people who make things happen, who innovate, who are changemakers, don’t go through life seeking the truth, they create it.Email This Post