Several years ago, during one of my forays into the world of purchasing, a man stuck his head around the door of my office, cleared his throat and asked if he could introduce himself. He was on his way to see one of the other people in purchasing and noticed a new face.
We had a pleasant conversation, like you do when you meet someone new in the business world. And while it was one of those friendly howdy conversations, I found myself fully informed of his product lines before we said goodbye. While I was impressed by his professionalism, I was quite busy and soon forgot the conversation.
Three days later, I got a hand written card thanking me for my time and once again including his card. Wow. When was the last time you got a personal letter? Not a phone call or an email or a like on Facebook but a hand written letter.
That was years ago, but it still remains in my memory as one of the most impressive cold calls I’ve ever experienced.
He’d developed his own personal method of work to approach the job of selling and disciplined himself to systematically follow it EVERY TIME.
About 1905 a scientist named Fredrick Winslow Taylor spent time studying guys shoveling coal out of rail cars for Bethlehem Steel. (Believe it or not that kind of shoveling takes some skill, as I painfully learned as an eighteen year old copper miner when an old decrepit miner named Finn did twice as much as I did and was as fresh as when he started while I needed medical help at the end of every shift)
Taylor was an efficiency consultant in search what he called the perfect method of work for each job in the factory. He reasoned the factory could be made more efficient by developing the perfect work method for each job, then training the workers to follow that method. He was the father of what has been called Scientific Management. His work is out of favor these days, his advice about management pretty much sucked, but he was one of the first to understand and preach the necessity of a systematic approach to a job of work.
The idea of a systematic deliberate approach to work fascinates me. Hardly anyone, especially we “knowledge workers,” have a deliberately thought out way they approach the craft they practice. Mostly, we approach our job on ad hoc basis, leaving others to take care of any advanced training we need. Mostly, we let our employers decide what our work methods are to be, (i.e. follow the Company Policy). We let our boss or circumstance decide what task excellence means.
The guy who dropped me that thank you note after our meeting had obviously taught himself differently, and he stood out from the hundreds of sales people who subsequently called on me.
What if one could review his unique strengths (instead of obsessing about one’s weaknesses) and carry them into “the way I do my work method” that goes above and beyond expectations of others. What if one could examine his work and decide for himself what further training he needed or what further jobs to pursue in order to rise to the next level in his craft.
What if one could systematically develop a method of working one’s craft, that was uniquely his own. That road certainly leads to better control of one’s destiny.
And because it’s our own method, might we be more willing to learn from our mistakes and so called failures. (Gosh, I really screwed that up, good lesson though, tomorrow will be a different story.)
It’s doesn’t have to be big showy things either, it could be bunch of little things that add up to extra polish to your particular craft. That polish is what distinguishes a true Master Craftsman as opposed to a run of the mill journeyman.
A few mundane examples:
- Group meetings are usually chaotic and disorganized with ideas and tasks to be accomplished thrown out on the table and soon forgotten. You might be that guy who carefully takes notes of the stuff which is under your purview, then fires off a summary to your boss with the tasks to be accomplished and the schedule by which you will deliver the results. And you deliver every time or provide a timely explanation of the particular roadblock stopping you. Nobody demands this of you, that’s just the way you do things.
- Or you might be a home builder that, who when a house is finished, not only provides a house that is spotlessly clean, but provides a notebook containing all the appliance warranty, the location of all the sewer and water cutoffs etc. It might even show a method of determining where all the stud locations in the walls are! Nobody demands this, that’s just the way you work.
- Or you might be a beautician who keeps a laptop detailing the visits of all her clients (including “after” pictures) so she can sit down with them before an appointment and discuss whether or not they were satisfied with the previous visit. Then decide if another style works better. As that history of appointments accumulated, I don’t think too many of customers would be willing to go to another stylist. Also, I bet she would get to sell more value added services, i.e. eyebrows shaped or facials etc. I can almost guarantee better tips as well.
Stuff like that is where competitive advantage comes from. What do you do to give yourself a competitive advantage?