Cowboy Wisdom

A couple of the many celebratory casualties of COVID are the summer events in Alberta that celebrate the Province’s rich, Western heritage. Both Calgary’s Stampede and Edmonton’s Klondike Days have been sidelined. The Calgary Stampede, a staple of Western Canadian culture with a legacy stretching over 100 years, was cancelled for the first time in almost 100 years. Apparently, the Stampede has been cancelled only once before, 97 years ago. Likewise, Edmonton’s Klondike Days follow in close proximity to the Stampede as an annual Western Whoop Up of Fun and have been cancelled.

At a time and in a place where having an excuse to blow off some steam and decompress from the stress of multiple challenges is desperately needed, it’s not there. With hopes of keeping these iconic events in mind, here’s an effort to honor the down to earth and timeless Western Wisdom as it applies to Business. So, get your giddy up on and let’s go.

All Hat and No Saddle.

This wisdom captures the idea that It’s not the cover, but the contents inside the book that count. This loosely translates into all show and no go. It’s a cowboy’s way of expressing what standard practice is in the world of social media. Much time is spent air brushing, sugar coating, and otherwise putting lipstick on the lips of our lives. We work to present just the positive parts of what is going on. Sure, it’s nice to have a custom tailored business suit. Yes, designer snakeskin boots which you polish daily are stylish. However, if you follow your physical presentation up with being late and unprepared, you’ve done nothing than burn a bridge. How we look or what front we put on is less important than how we perform. Our character is more important than fake charm. Our competence and commitment is more important than what we wear or what we drive. Our resume matters less than our reliability and reputation. This is true for businesses as it is for individuals. The quality of our reception area is less important than the speed with which we pick up the phone and the reliability with which we honor appointments. The pictures on our website of our staff wearing suits are less important than our ability to demonstrate value for our insureds.

MJ DeMarco in, The Millionaire Fastlane, explains why we see “all hat and no saddle” frequently. “The problem with looking wealthy versus being wealthy is that the former is easy while the latter is not.” Getting the hat is easier than earning the saddle.

Martin Meadows writes in 365 Days with Self-Discipline, “It’s curious that millions of people all over the world spend countless amounts of money and time to improve their appearance through the use of cosmetics, plastic surgery, expensive clothes, supplements, and other treatments, but spend little to nothing on improving themselves on the inside. It’s more important to avoid wrinkles than to prevent negative habits from forming. It’s a better investment to fix your sagging cheeks than to learn how to exercise restraint in unnecessary spending.” If you’re driving around a rural town in Canada, you’re likely to see plenty of pickup trucks. Many will have thousands of dollars invested into making them look rough and tough. How many of the modifications have been devoted to performance versus style? Tinted windows, rugged wheel rims, running boards, step bars, brush bars, and lift kits above a certain height are all examples of investments in hats. These look great but do little to improve performance. Whereas, tuning chips, air intakes, and exhaust modifications all of which aren’t easily seen but contribute positively to vehicle performance would be examples of investments in saddles.

This is similar in our business lives. What dollars are spent on staff training versus leasehold improvements? What dollars are spent on making our reception area look nice versus educating our staff on updated customer service techniques? What dollars do we spend on attracting new customers instead of investing in our people? Our spend reflects our priorities. Our investment of our time and our money, in both business or personal contexts, reflects what is important to us. Are we spending our resources on hats or saddles? Are we focused on looking good or on being good?

If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin’.

As Canadian Astronaut, Chris Hadfield, reminds us there’s no problem that we can’t make worse by doing something. In other words, sometimes the best thing we can do is nothing. When we lose control of the car on an icy road avoid the impulse to hit the brakes or steer wildly in a given direction. Taking the foot off the gas may be the best place to start. Think of this approach as adopting the Hippocratic Oath that is at the core of the profession of being a doctor. The oath is to “above all, do no harm.” We’ll be covering this idea in greater depth in a future article: The 6 P’s of Pause. In our zeal to act on a problem, we fall prey to the peril of unintended consequences. For each problem we fix, we break something else. As a guard against this vulnerability, put an emphasis on pausing when presented with a problem. Remember the counsel we received in school should our clothes catch fire. Stop, drop, and roll. The first of our three steps is to stop.

Our COVID context offers numerous examples of this. When we react quickly to what is immediately in front of us, we ignore the potential consequences of that impulsive reaction. We’re then starting down the slippery slope of continued impulsive reaction to try to manage each toppling domino. It becomes a losing battle to try to stay ahead of each additional headache that materializes. We saw this as COVID kicked in mid-March as governments around the world whipsawed from observing the problems in China to implementing all kinds of restrictions. The law of unintended consequences kicked into high gear as the first domino of prioritizing health was toppled which created all kinds of collateral impacts across the economy. As each day went by, governments have had to try to manage the problem associated with the next domino falling. It seems the only way to prevent the next domino from falling is to create space between dominos or decisions. In other words, stop diggin’.

The biggest troublemaker you’ll probably ever have to deal with watches you shave his face in the mirror every morning.

This is another way of suggesting that at the centre of all our problems lies us. We are often the root of our troubles. Somehow consciously or sub-consciously we sabotage our efforts in any number of ways. This applies not just to ourselves, but businesses. Businesses spend much, if not all, of their efforts at developing strategy looking outside at competitive forces and the economic climate at large. We’re wondering what our competitors are up to. What are our peers doing? Who should we try to be more like? Ignoring the outside world isn’t suggested. However, we should recognize that we have limited control over certain things. The external economic environment as well as the actions of others, competitors, would be two things over which we have little ability to influence. We should, therefore, focus more of our efforts on things we can control. The primary focus for our attention should be our own operation. We should spend more time looking in than looking out.

Some basic starting questions to consider:

What are we doing that we should stop doing?

What aren’t we doing that we should start doing?

What are we doing well that we should keep doing?

Prior to committing to a decision, proactively ask:

What are we missing? What are we overlooking? By fixing this circumstance, are we creating a different problem?

It also applies to societies. Consider this article from Financial Post   “The most serious threat to the West is not China or Russia but its visceral disgust with itself. A growing proportion of people — in universities, the media, politics and corporate structures — now reject the premises upon which their own thriving societies are built.”

Getting in our own way is an unfortunate tendency that we have as individuals, groups, and societies. It is something towards which we would do well to cultivate awareness. We want to be alert to how we’re getting in our own way. What obstacles are we creating for ourselves?

Always drink upstream from the herd.

With this aphorism, our Cowboys are encouraging us to march to the beat of our own drum in order to avoid being part of the crowd. The suggestion is we may get more done as the Lone Ranger or any other Cowboy character Clint Eastwood has every played demonstrating the power of the rugged individual. It is riskier being part of the herd. Doing things differently allows you to separate yourself and your business from others. Being willing to do what others won’t (W2D WOW) is an example of drinking water upstream from the herd. When you’re willing to stand alone and go your own way, you’re the definition of being willing to do what others won’t. It’s much easier to fit in than it is to stand out. However, the easy way isn’t always the most useful way. We look forward to expanding on this idea in the near future in post titled: Is the Ice Nice?.

“Normal is not something to aspire to, it’s something to get away from. ~ Jodie Foster” The core purpose of a business strategy is to help you differentiate yourself from competitors. Your value as a business depends on your ability to showcase how you are different from others. Different in a way that is meaningful to your customers.

Sometimes you need more horse, and sometimes you need more harness.

Do you need more power or more control? Do you need more acceleration and horsepower or do you need better tires, suspension, and handling? Do you need to work harder or do you need to work smarter? Do you need more effort or a better strategy? Before we can make progress, we need to make sure we have our attention on the right problem.

And, finally, In a gold rush, don’t dig for gold, sell shovels.  This would seem to be something insurance brokerages have figured out. The wisdom suggests that chasing the latest and greatest business idea isn’t the best approach. Step back, figure out what those chasing the new fangled fad may need for support, and step in to provide this. Your market will be waiting for you. Your services will be needed by those chasing the next big thing. It’s easier and safer to provide a known product or service than it is to create a new product or a new market. Instead of chasing the next bitcoin, sell those companies playing that game servers or internet connections. Instead of buying real estate predicting where the next popular neighborhood will be, sell those people concrete or asphalt for their infrastructure. Instead of creating wind farms, sell the materials used to build the towers. Instead of being the next Elon Musk, sell insurance to those with ambitions in a new arena.