Put six toothpicks on the table in front of a friend. Lay three of them in the shape of an equilateral triangle. Ask your friend to arrange all six toothpicks so that in total, they create four equilateral triangles.
When they finally give up, reveal the secret:—create a four-sided pyramid. The “trick” is to think in three dimensions. Obvious once you see it—but when it’s presented in two dimensions, that’s how we frame the problem.
So it is with business “problems.” They present as conflicts of interest: how can I get the sale, how can we bargain for a better price, how can I get them to increase the scope, how can I get a higher salary, how can I get the staffing I want on this job?
Just as the tabletop has two dimensions, so does this view of problems. The first dimension is “fixed benefits,” the implicit belief that this is a zero sum game—my gain is the other’s loss, and vice versa.
The other dimension is “one off,” the idea that this is a unique, one-time event.
To solve the problem, you need to notice the third dimension—which for business problems is time.
Imagine the business problem happening not just once, but recurring ten times in the future. Ten negotiations over scope creep; ten salary reviews; ten buying presentations; ten terms and conditions discussions.
If you envision doing something ten times, two things become clear. First, you’d do it a lot more efficiently. Second, both parties benefit.
Instead of negotiating whether Mary or Suzie gets staffed on the job, you decide to alternate. Result: easier, faster, cheaper, less contentions decisions—plus career planning options for both Mary and Suzie.
Instead of ten price negotiations, you discuss fairness over the long run. Net benefits: the ability to vary amounts and terms across jobs, more harmony, reduced time and costs per job.
The time dimension is the difference between a transaction and a relationship. Focusing on relationships nurtures transactions; focusing on transactions starves relationships. Relationships are more profitable for both parties, due both to decreased costs and a greater range of benefits. Relationships drive both efficiencies and effectiveness, and cut elapsed time.
Most customers are amenable to this approach. A minority are not. Those who are not are the ones to let your competitors “win.”
“Relationships” and “transactions” are cumbersome concepts. They need rephrasing to work as a “tip.”
So—when you see toothpicks on the table, think “add a dimension.” When you are presented with a business problem—multiply by ten.