Friday, July 30, 2010

Identifying the Real Problem Can Save a Lot of Time (and Sweat)

I begin this posting with a personal story. I played hookie from work yesterday afternoon to go on an impromptu bike adventure with my wife. Careful what you wish for, because we definitely wound up with an adventure.
Six miles from home on the Gateway Trail, my wife noticed my back tire was low, so I dutifully stopped to pump it up. Unfortunately, the tire pump did not release well, and, as I was tugging on it, the entire valve stem tore from the inner tube, releasing all the air – new and old. And me with no spare tube.

Did I mention six miles from home?

It wasn’t all bad. It was a nice day. We were together. But I felt a little stupid pushing my bike while other cyclists zipped by. My immediate dilemma was which direction to head. Try the six-mile hike home, or push on to this very vague notion I had that there was a bicycle store ahead of me – somewhere.

Feeling optimistic, we pushed forward. Two miles of avoiding the pedals scraping our shins later, I finally flagged down two cyclists and asked if my hopes of nearby bike shop were in vain. They assured me I was on the right path, and only a mile away. That raised our spirits, and we renewed our hike, watching the two cyclists gain momentum and disappear into the horizon.

But what really raised our spirits was when those two cyclists appeared again heading towards us.

“You know,” one of them said, “There’s a Target about six blocks from here.” And he pointed the way.

They understood my real situation: I needed a new inner tube. Yes, they were able to point me towards the bike store I had asked about, but they literally went out of their way to provide the solution that best fit our needs: a nearby store that sells inner tubes.

By identifying real problems for clients (and friends, family, and hapless strangers), we demonstrate a sort of super-empathy that satisfies the immediate need, and often with the least amount of resources. This requires a commendable level of creativity and commitment to helping others. It seems to me, incidentally, that this pairing of traits would make for one kick-ass sales force.

P.S., I had to buy a nine-dollar wrench in order to replace my flat, but it’s already safe in my back pack with the patch kit and another spare inner tube for the next time I hit the trail. I consider it a $9 memento of how, in spite of incessant bad news all around us, there are opportunities to be human in the highest sense.

Thank you, good Samaritan cyclists, whoever you are!

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