• Tim Lofton

The Clash of Perspective - Pie vs Pi


Timothy P. Lofton, Managing Partner - Cornerstone Consulting Group | CEO - The Retirement Blueprint™ | Author | Speaker

Published on September 21, 2017


Early in my career a mentor pulled me aside and gave me some really good advice. He said "Do not let facts and your perspective trick you into thinking that is your client’s perspective and reality". This concept was again driven home while attending a leadership conference. The lecturer walked on to stage and looked at us and asked, " What is 2+2?". Immediately recognizing that this must be a trick, we all simply stared back at him. Not wanting to be the person on the first day at the first session to say something stupid, we all just laughed uncomfortably and looked around for the sacrificial lamb that might take the fall for the rest of us.


The instructor did not wait; he looked at someone on the front row and asked him directly - "WHAT IS 2+2?". Reluctantly and uncomfortably the victim responded almost mouse like ... 4?. Silence followed as our instructor stared at each of us while the answer hung in the air like poison. Finally, he smiled and said “NOPE!”, it's a math problem! He went on to explain that however obvious and well-founded our perspective is on a subject that someone can have an equally compelling and directly opposite perspective. The challenge is that both answers are correct.

This is where we find the importance of asking our clients for their perspective before we hit them over the head with ours. We can't possibly serve others without understanding how they need to be served. How many times do you see where the best intentions still lead to disastrous results? In nature, we kill an insect to save crops only to find out that another species is wiped out that ate that insect which then throws off an entire ecosystem. Or we ship rice to a third world country only to find out that they do not have a water source to be able to cook the rice. Best intentions, but epic failure on our perceived need.

Harvard Business School offers industry focus group classes in the summer. One of my favorite stories that came from one of these conferences centered on a group of small independent hardware store owners. The group had one concern, which was how to compete with the "big box" stores. The instructor hypothesized that the key to success was not size but understanding what the customer wanted and then providing it. I am not sure that hypothesis is completely accurate, but the exercise that came from the conversation is genius. The class was broken up into groups and the assigned task was for one person from each group to come up on stage and sell the instructor a 1/4" drill bit. They had 10 minutes to construct their presentation and pick their representative.

The first group sent up their representative up locked and loaded and he began ... "Sir, this drill bit is machined to the highest tolerances in the industry". He continued, "The bit is made from cobalt steel, which makes it incredibly hard and resistant to heat." The student went on for another 4-5 minutes highlighting ALL the amazing qualities of this particular drill bit. His group felt quite comfortable that their classmate hadnailedit! (yes that pun was done on purpose). The instructor then paused and looked at the group and smiled. "This is why we did this exercise", he said; your classmate just sold me a 1/4" drill bit. He sold me exactly what I asked for. Unfortunately, as often happens, he did not consider what I needed. He did not listen and put himself in the “customer’s shoes”. Looking at his drill bit salesman, he asked - what did I say I wanted? The student replied, "a 1/4" drill bit". Indeed, but that is not what I really NEED. What I need is a 1/4" hole. You sold me a drill bit and all I wanted was a hole.

While this may seem small and semantical, it is exactly what is wrong in our business world today. It is why Apple and Disney kill it and many others do not. You see Apple and Disney recognize WHAT their customers want; which is NOT what they ask for. Apple creates a "user experience", "they customize our life with buttons", they happen to also sell computers. Disney creates memories through their parks, movies, and toys. Disney has created a customized and age defying experience for each member of the family with the same product. Think about that - from grandparent to parent to child; each walk away with a "Magical Experience" that transcends age and satisfies the senses ... and each person is looking at the same thing! Ask the question - what does my client want, not what they say that want. What does what you deliver actually "Mean" to your customer? Answer this question and you can be the next provider of excellence. When you are offered pie, don't forget that one is tasty, but there is another one that is simply 3.14159265... you get the idea.

Timothy P. Lofton, Managing Partner - Cornerstone Consulting Group | CEO -The Retirement Blueprint™ | Author | Speaker

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