A client asked me about the “best” social game company the other day. Like most simple questions, this one had no simple answer. How was he defining “best?” The one that made the most engaging games as measured by how long users were playing? The one that sold the most games? The one that was most profitable? Or maybe the one that creates games that really are works of art? Each of those questions has a different answer in my mind so I did what a lot of we consultant types do: I answered his question with a question.
Putting my confusion aside, that simple question raises a good business thought. Let’s ask it about TV. What’s the best program on TV? I might answer that as a fan – the one I like the most and which is appointment television for me: Homeland, The Newsroom, and even a program that’s not on “TV”, House Of Cards. Obviously, I’m defining “best” in a way that takes writing, acting, plot, and other factors into account. I might answer it as a former TV executive (which I am!): The Voice, American Idol, and even Duck Dynasty come to mind. They’re watched by some of the biggest audiences, they’re not particularly expensive to produce, and they take in a lot of money.
Which is the “best restaurant ” If one of Thomas Keller‘s places come to mind, I’d agree answering as a foodie. As a businessperson, maybe the right answer is someplace that feeds millions and makes over a billion dollars a quarter? Not that McDonald’s tops any fine dining lists of which I’m aware.
The point is that how we answer questions is very much tied to our point of view. If you’re asking them, it’s important to figure out from which perspective you want the answer given. If you’re answering them, it’s critical that you ascertain the underlying reason for the question in the first place. As with the above examples, your answer may be very different based on that. A little clarity can go a long way in advancing business success. Have you found this to be the case?
It’s been over five years that I’ve been out on my own working as a consultant to all sorts of companies. For all the clients I do and have had over that period, there are at least twice as many companies with whom I’ve had exploratory meetings and conversations and I’ve learned a few things I’d like to share. One of the things one finds out pretty rapidly in the consulting world is that you’re pretty much in the same boat as auto mechanics. That may seem odd so let me explain.
Auto mechanics are a necessary fact of life. Most of us own cars, few of us really understand how they work and, more important how to diagnose and fix what’s wrong with them. Some people try to do the simple stuff like oil changes themselves but recognize that doing your own brake job can kill you if you screw it up. Enter the mechanic. While grudgingly accepted as needed, he’s not really beloved and the things people do to them show that. First, there are the people who will try to get a free diagnosis. They drive in and spend a fair amount of the mechanic’s time telling him about what they think is wrong but refuse to spend a few bucks to let the mechanic devote an hour of his time to do a real diagnosis using his knowledge and equipment.
Once car owners get past the acceptance that they need the mechanic and the diagnosis he made, they spend an equal amount of time haggling over price. Now as a car owner, I recognize that a discussion with the repair person with respect to what’s really needed before the work begins can save you a fair amount of money. However, haggling over what to charge for the agreed-upon work is insulting. If the shop is too expensive, move on.
Then there’s the dark side of the unscrupulous mechanics who put used parts in cars and say they’re new. There are the guys who do unnecessary work just to run up the bill. Heck, there are shops that don’t do the work they say they did at all. They give all the honest shops a bad name. Finally, having a good mechanic can be a life-saver. If you have an ongoing relationship with them, most will drop almost everything in an emergency to get your car back on the road for you.
Now go back and read that again, except change “mechanic” to “consultant” and “car” to “business.” Just call me Cooter!