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Be Observant

During one of my MBA courses a group of us had the task of helping a local company make a strategic decision using the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP). One of my group members spoke up about a project she was working on at a local law firm and how she knew the CFO. She thought it would be a perfect fit. The project didn’t interest me, but what made it all worth while was my first meeting with Mr. Hanks, the law firm’s CFO, and how important it is to always be observant.

Mr. Hanks was an interesting guy, no doubt. He willingly took time out of his busy schedule to come and help us on this project and even showed up for our final presentation. Although our classroom was normally filled by people in cutoff shorts, flip flops, and t-shirts, Mr. Hanks was always decked out in his formal business attire. From his polished shoes to his golden cufflinks you could tell he was a classy guy.

Golden Bear CufflinksDuring our first meeting we were standing around and I noticed something interesting about Mr. Hank’s cufflinks. They looked very familiar to me. Now, I’m not a shy guy, but I was somewhat timid to ask a question about something as offbeat as to where he got his cufflinks. I wanted to find out because they looked very similar to the products of a specific jewelry store in Vail, Colorado called the Golden Bear. We were in Villanova, PA and I’m getting ready to talk about Colorado? Am I crazy?

Perhaps I could confirm my hunch if I knew a few other facts. Perhaps he was a skier. Perhaps he likes to ski Colorado. I finally worked up the courage to approach the subject from the side. Here is a recap of our conversation.

K: Mr. Hanks, my intuition tells me you like to ski, is that right?
H: Yes, I love to ski. How did you know?

K: Do you ski in Colorado?
H: [Slightly Confused] I try to take the family out there a couple times a year…

K: I like your cufflinks. I think you got them at the Golden Bear in Vail Village, is that correct?
H: Wow. Great observation. My wife had these specially made for me at the Golden Bear. They are my favorite.

We then spoke to about Colorado, skiing, the back bowls of Vail and how much powder is like gold to industry. This created instant rapport and it was priceless. I had a new valuable connection in my network because I was observant.

So this is a great story, but what is the deeper point? The point is that I think too many people keep their head down and are unwilling to pay attention to the small tidbits of information that we share with each other all the time. This does not have to be something physical. When was the last time you picked up on a co-worker having a bad day and helped to make them smile? When did you realize that a subordinate wasn’t motivated correctly in the current pay structure or stopped to think about things from their point of view?

Being observant and being able to read people is a valuable skill to master. Being really good at can help you avoid some pitfalls as well. I’ll leave this longer than normal post with another short story that made me smile.

A lecturer teaching medicine was tutoring a class on ‘Observation’. He took out a jar of yellow-colored liquid. “This”, he explained, “is urine. To be a doctor, you have to be observant to color, smell, sight, and taste.”

After saying this, he dipped his finger into the jar and put it into his mouth. His class watched on in amazement, most, in disgust. But being the good students that they were, the jar was passed, and one by one, they dipped one finger into the jar and then put it into their mouth.

After the last student was done, the lecturer shook his head. “If any of you had been observant, you would have noticed that I put my second finger into the jar and my third finger into my mouth.”

Kendall Schoenrock’s business background includes experience in tech startups, real estate development, and angel investing. Currently he runs Schoenrock Investments, a family real estate investing office that is an umbrella to multiple other entities focused on residential, commercial, and entrepreneurial endeavors.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Kendall,

    Great story!! Funny part is (and I have done this many a time.) When I meet someone I will take in everything about them. What they are wearing, colors smells hot buttons…you know, a mental inventory. After a great conversation and all that sales and marketing has taught us. I will still walk away going…Damn! I forgot his/her name. A small detail with a big impact. See what happens when you remember someones name you only met for an instance, especially a customer it is like Christmas day to them.

  2. Chris, You’re so right on. I’m a quite horrible with names, but if I can see it on a business card or enter it into my contact management system, I’m golden. Figure out what works best for you and then make it happen. 🙂 “It’s like Christmas day to them”

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