How Badly Do You Want It?

Are you claustrophobic?  I never thought I was until I found myself on my stomach 30 yards underground, inching through a tiny dirt tunnel void of light.  It was one of the most unsettling feelings imaginable yet a cakewalk compared to what men far braver than I experienced 40 years ago in these same dark, stifling, horrifying rat holes.  40 years ago, these tunnels were crawling (literally!) with soldiers locked in battle during the Vietnam War.

Quick history lesson:
During the Vietnam War, the Americans controlled the air.  The Viet Cong knew they couldn’t outgun the USA’s air superiority or bombing campaigns so they went underground, hand digging a complex network of tunnels that traveled hundreds of miles and was undetectable by the enemy.  The living conditions were so horrible I dare not even call them “living” conditions.  The battles that ensued were even worse.

My travels to Asia always leave me awe struck.  The unprecedented business growth in China, the clash of Eastern and Western culture in Singapore, the massive infrastructure that continues to sweep across the Asian landscape.  But a visit to this primitive war era tunnel system made the most impact on me.

As I wriggled though this tunnel, heart in my throat and stifling a scream, I began asking myself, “Have I ever wanted something so badly in life that I’d subject myself to this kind of torture to get it?”  Outside the well being of my children, the answer is absolutely no.  Yet for the soldiers who fought this war, be they the Viet Cong or the allied troops who burrowed after them, the answer is a resounding, unequivocal yes.

What is it in life that you want?  What do you want so badly that you’re practically willing to bury yourself alive to get it?

The lesson I learned crawling through those tunnels is that for many of us, that question is unanswered.  Through nothing but incredible fortune I was born in a country, to a family, and during a time that my day to day environment does not include similar wartime life or death scenarios.  But if we apply even a fraction of the courage and intensity that Vietnam’s tunnels represent, our everyday goals and aspirations are almost laughably attainable.  We’re just not digging deep enough to reach them.


PS on Vietnam:
Fast forward 40 years and Vietnam is a beautiful, friendly country and among my favorite to visit.  The people are warm, Ho Chi Ming City (formerly Saigon) booming with international commerce, and a blend of ancient and modern that feels less disruptive than other regions.

If your business is looking to expand or outsource, this is a special market.  You gotta take a long, hard look at Vietnam!  I’m honored to have excellent business contacts in this region so if you’d like an introduction, feel free to contact me.

Disney’s Secret Weapon, and Golf’s Overrated One

Americans spend over $60 Billion/year on golf.  That’s $200/year for every man, woman, and child living in the world’s third largest nation.  More than the entire GDP of countries including Lebanon, Costa Rica, and North Korea.  And a good portion of that $60B goes toward new equipment.

So here’s an interesting fact:
Over the last several decades, how much do you think the average golf score (or in golf terms, handicap) has improved?
Answer:  ZERO.

In other words, the guy 40 years ago wearing tight polyester and swinging caveman clubs is no worse than today’s equivalent sporting moisture wicking fabric and high octane hardware.  (Other than style points, which frankly I give to the disco era.)

Personally, I’m not much of a golfer but I’m guilty of the same cash burn in another activity, cycling.  My friends and I will ditch our childrens’ college savings if it means shaving a few ounces or getting more aero on our road bikes.  But are we really any faster slogging up Pennsylvania’s mountains?  Doubtful.

Which got me to thinking:
In a business sense, how much money do we needlessly blow on gadgets instead of investing in ourselves and our people?

Twenty years ago, I was fortunate enough to work for Disney World.  Not as any kind of executive, mind you, but as a parking lot attendant.  I was low, low, low on the food chain.  Yet before the other new hires and I spent one minute dodging Disney-crazed vacationers in rental cars, Disney put us all through over 40 hours of customer service training.  Not the technical part of my job, just the nuts and bolts of how to make sure every guest had the vacation of a lifetime.

Imagine!  A Fortune 500 investing 40 paid hours in a fresh, untested 19 year old kid who was strictly a summer hire. Disney could have spent those same dollars on space-age trams, better tracking software, automated toll machines, new computers.  But they chose to forgo the newer equipment in favor of a living, breathing, unpredictable human.

Fast forward to today’s world and we see ourselves investing heavily in things like automated phone trees, new smart phones, CRM systems.  Don’t get me wrong, all these items have a place in today’s global economy.  But are we throwing money at tools and systems at the cost of people?  Are today’s workers as well versed in key areas – attitude, market knowledge, service, confidence – as a Disney parking attendant in the early ’90’s?  Does today’s golfer have better technique, extra mental fortitude vs. our disco era caveman?  The scorecard tells us no.

Perhaps the pendulum is swinging the other way, as companies such as Zappos and Southwest blow through their long-rooted competitors.  The question for you is, the next time you’re ready to throw down that credit card for the next best technology, are you better off investing those dollars in your own development? Instead of technology, are those dollars better directed toward coaching, education, customer appreciation..  even short-term teenage summer hires?