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September 26, 2005

Story Time 1

Because of the advice given during a program I attended at the ASAE annual meeting last month, I've decided to type up some stories that I'd like to be able to refer to in the future. This is a story I've told to volunteer leaders:

Stephanie has never struck me as the sales-y type, so when my wife asked for my opinion on whether or not she should start a home-based sales-oriented business, I, like most husbands when confronted with a conundrum like this, didn't quite know what to say.

"Is this something you feel passionate about?" I asked hesitantly.

"Not particularly," she said. "But it would really help mom hit her goal of signing up new reps, and if I don't like it I can easily back out."

"I'll support you."

She went for it. It came as some surprise to us both that she built up a pretty good business in just a few months. One woman's spending habit was especially contributing to Stephanie's success. She worked in the Dollar Tree store near our house. With virtually order Stephanie placed, this same woman bought several items, often running a tab into the hundreds of dollars.

The customer's teenage daughter was actually the primary spender, we discovered. Once, Stephanie received an order from this customer in the form of various items circled within the catalog, instead of by phone call or email, which was the more traditional way of ordering. The customer's daughter had circled several items and returned the catalog to her mother, who in turn gave it to Stephanie.

As this customer placed more orders, my wife began meeting members of her family, including the daughter with with deep pockets. The first meeting between these two so affected my wife, that she told me about it as soon as she returned from delivering an order.

"You know my customer's daughter who places all the huge orders?"


"Well, I just met her, and it was weird."

"How so?" I asked.

"She was rude. I tried talking to her, and whenever I addressed her, she looked away. She wouldn't answer me. She always seemed to be looking at me suspiciously, out of the corner of her eye. It was strange."

It all seemed odd to me too: Her ordering habits, her interpersonal demeanor. She seemed rude and spoiled to the both of us.

A few days later, what initially seemed odd was explained, and we both had a change of heart. Stephanie discovered that the customer's daughter was legally blind. She only had her peripheral vision. The suspicious corner-of-the-eye looks, the turning of the head away from my wife. Now it made sense. And maybe the mother was trying to compensate for her daughter's difference by letting her buy so many things. We both felt terribly for judging her.

This episode reminded me about how quick we are to judge. How we overemphasize the first impression, and how the first impressions are often wrong. When we brainstorm, let's diminish our tendency to evaluate based on first impressions and allow the ideas to breathe. What initially seems like a bad idea, may actually have a deeper and more profound meaning.

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