Letters from the Road

I was exhausted. The flights, from Reno, to Denver, to Munich and eventually to Istanbul had taken their toll. I was dealing with a ten-hour time change, my class had run long and I knew I was going to have to face rush-hour traffic.

As I left the building, I looked out to Buyukdere Cadessi road, where I was headed. It was jammed with traffic. There was no visible movement. It was going to be a very long trip to get to the Istanbul Hilton some twenty kilometers away. After what seemed like hours of searching and waiting, I finally spotted a cab. I quickly signaled and crawled in the back. The driver didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Turkish. So I showed him where I needed to go, then out of weariness, closed my eyes in an attempt to recharge.

I opened my eyes 10 minutes later, only to see that we had not even made it out of the parking area. After another 20-minute nap, I woke up and found that my driver was actually making progress. We were going in and out of lanes, around motorcycles, buses, cars and even crowds of pedestrians lined up on the off-ramp. The sight was amazing. It made New York City rush hour look easy.

Now impressed with the progress we were making, I began to watch my driver. He could weave in and out of traffic really quickly, avoiding collisions and yet fluidly making progress. From the back seat, I noticed something very strange. Even though this was an automatic car, there was a stainless steel metal rod coming out from below the radio and extending out to just above the shifter. My driver rested his right hand on the shifter while moving the rod in a circular motion. What was the purpose of this rod? Could my driver have converted this car from an automatic to a stick with some kind of clutch mechanism? Now, my curiosity was peaked. I watched him steer in and out of traffic with his left hand and controlling the metal rod with his right. This seemed so odd. I leaned forward to get a better view and try to figure this out.

As I did so, I met his eyes in the rear-view mirror. He could see how curious I was. He turned and looked directly at me with very warm eyes and a smile so broad, so genuine that I can remember it to this day. As he looked at me with that big grin he took his right hand off of the metal rod and pointed down to his lap. I looked, first at the steering wheel, then down. What! No legs? He had no legs! Amazed, I looked up at the mirror and met that same warm smile. His expression was saying, “I can drive, I can drive!”

The steel rod, when turned to the right, was his connection to the accelerator. When turned left, it was the brake. I sat back in amazement. How could he drive so well with one hand? How could he have rigged this car to work this way? How would he even get to his car in the morning to go to work? I wondered how he lost both legs. How many angry tourists had yelled at him to get out of the taxi and get their luggage?

In spite of all of these images and questions, nothing impacted me quite like his warm smile and his pride in knowing that he can drive.
That taxi driver taught me so much that day. The lesson was about Ki. Ki is who you are on the inside. It’s who you are when no one else is around. It is you as you really are without the camouflage, without the subterfuge, without the hype. Strong Ki, combined with skill, can produce success where failure seems inevitable. Instead of focusing on his missing legs, the driver focused on his opportunity. He focused not on what was missing, but what he had. Oh, what a humbling thought.

It is natural to get into the habit of focusing on the pieces of your product or services that do not measure up to your competition. I realized how many times I had thought of things that were missing or limiting my success instead of recognizing my own attributes. Price, features and services are often obstacles that come to mind. It is very easy to let this become the starting point of a competitive analysis when facing a selling situation. Somehow, the grass really does seem greener when you look at your competition.

I should have learned this lesson many, many years ago. At the time I was selling for a Fortune 100 Company and all I could do was focus on the things we didn’t have. I wondered why our prices were always higher, why our service lacked at times and why we often did not have features that many of our competitors had. How in the world could my company expect me to accomplish the quota they raised every year?
One of my colleagues suggested I should write down every unique capability we had, no matter how large or small. Due to my respect for his success, I took him up on that challenge and overnight came up with a list of 25-30 capabilities that my company and product had that my competition did not. When I showed him my list he said, “Just look at how many of these things are very important to your customer that your competition cannot take into their sales call with them. But you’ve forgotten the most significant capability that none of your competitors can take into any sales call.” “What is that?” I asked. He looked at me and said, “You.”

Do you believe that you provide the best overall solution to your customer? Have you understood their issues and struggles so well, that you feel no one can help them move forward like you can? Do you feel that if your customer purchases from your competitor that somehow you have failed your customer? If you do not believe this, this is visible not only to you, but to your customer as well.

If you’re focused on the missing legs in your product, your company, or even yourself, I encourage you to do as I did many years ago: grab a pen and write down all of those things that you have, that you can carry into every sales call, that your competitors wish they had. The list is there, you just need to find it. Don’t forget to put yourself at the top of the list. Focus on what you have, not what you are missing. Do this and you can change your Ki. If you can accomplish this, you will find that you can accomplish great things, like driving a taxi without any legs. I will never know the name of that taxi driver. He will never know how he impacted my life. However, I will always remember that warm, smiling face, confidently saying “I can drive!”

By Steve Hub, Consultant, Corporate Visions Inc.