Thursday, March 8, 2007/
Last time I hired a scooter, I didn’t pay a deposit or show ID. Was the owner mad or has he worked out what’s worth worrying about?
Fear, risk and Frank’s scooters
“Just doing the council’s job for ’em,” said Frank, as he daubed a streak of white paint over the fading road markings outside his office.
Frank’s an avuncular bloke, full of the optimism and generosity that typifies the New Zealand spirit. To visitors from more swaggering nations, Kiwis like Frank must seem almost naïve, perhaps reminding them of favourite uncles and street parties of their youth. To me, Frank typifies one of the country’s most endearing attributes. Incredibly, Rogernomics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rogernomics), the Western world’s most potent application of neo-liberalism, failed to dent the average New Zealander’s ability to expect to see the good in people.
Before hiring me his scooter, Frank hadn’t asked me for identification. Nor did he ask to see my driving licence or request a deposit. He simply gave me a quick lesson on the controls, handed over the keys and said he’d see me in a few hours.
“That’s what you think, mate,” I thought to myself as I sped off. “I reckon this little beauty will squeeze into my hand luggage.” Cynicism dies slowly in a bloke from a big city.
While enjoying the winding roads and picturesque bays of Wellington, I wondered whether Frank’s trust in a complete stranger was either symptomatic of a magnificent but misplaced optimism in the human spirit or plain stupidity. It turned out it was neither.
Upon my return I asked him about his carefree attitude towards his main business assets.
“You see, you’re not a risk. The people who nick these things aren’t backpackers or tourists like you. They’re opportunists, local opportunists.”
It turned out that Frank had lost only two scooters. One where the driver had left the keys in the ignition and wandered off, only to see a stranger streak past him a few moments later. The other was to a promotion. He’d hired a stuntman to ride over a ramp on one of his machines and, as the local media looked on, plunge into the harbour below. Apparently, someone was so impressed by the scooter’s performance they pinched it, full of salt and seaweed, after it was fished out.
So what seemed like recklessness or misplaced trust was actually an acute and perceptive assessment of risk. And that’s a rare skill in business.
In London, local councils patrol their boroughs with dinky Smart cars. With blacked-out windows to hide the cameras, these vehicles, like the ubiquitous CCTVs, are meant to deter street crime. But such measures pander more to people’s fear of crime rather than an accurate assessment of one’s chance of being a victim of it.
Frank was able to do what London councils have not: separate the fear from something terrible happening from the probability of it actually happening, and make decisions accordingly. That may sound like common sense but it isn’t easy to do. If it were, the insurance industry would be a fraction of the size it actually is.
So let me ask you a few questions: Do you agonise over your key employees leaving and pay them more than their market rate as a result? Do you worry so much about losing your biggest customer that you’re prepared to cut your margins to the bone just so you can secure the business and keep covering your costs? Are you anxious about competitors coming on to your patch and eating your lunch? Do you think your business would fall apart if you took a few weeks’ holiday?
Questions like these play on our fears and, with reference to the last one, our egos. Customers, clients, employees and suppliers can sense this and use it to their advantage. We’re right to worry about these things, but not before making an assessment of the probability of what you fear most actually happening.
So here’s a little exercise: Make a list of the events that you most fear in your business. Then assign each one with a probability of each event actually coming to pass. Now reorder the list, with the highest probability at the top and the lowest at the bottom.
Now worry about what’s at the top of the list and stop worrying about what’s at the bottom.
If you’re in any doubt, nip over the ditch and hire a scooter from Frank (0800 3733 2255). He offers practical lessons in dealing with fear and risk and is a dab hand at road markings, too.
John Addis founded IntelligentInvestor and is now a guiding force in SmartCompany. The final name for his blog, The Business Buddhist, is a reflection of his holistic approach, and that karma can play a role in an entrepreneur’s life.
Morris Kaplan writes: Well I have seen that collection of nefariously acquired scooters of yours John, so Frank is a very lucky man…Only kidding!
It’s a great example of the Buddhist principle of good karma and to harm none. It reminds me too that having a spirit of generosity and abundance is often missing in business.
I have certainly found in my various business careers that coming from a sense of abundance and giving freely (up to a point of course) pays in the long run.
Just one example I can think of is a US-based law firm, Howard Nations, has a website packed with resources and information — all freely available. One immediately gets an impression of this firm as both expert, resourceful and effective.
All arising from their mindset of abundance and trust.
John Addis replies: Thanks for your comment Morris. I heard Petrea King on the radio a few days ago and she had a nice phrase: My karma just ran over your dogma. If we have making money as our prime objective, it often makes it that much harder to be successful. That’s why, as one small example, I’m writing this blog for free!