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Pick Up the Parking Lot

By steve - Posted on 25 November 2008

"Paper and ink are all but trash, if I cannot find the thought which the writer did think."
-- Dr. Walter Smith

When I was just starting out as a consultant, I learned many important lessons from a particular older gentleman who owned my first client. By first client, I mean it was the first client I had that was all my responsibility from the very beginning. I had worked on other accounts and had even taken over a few as the account manager, but this account was the first one I "owned" from the sales call on.

Anyway, this guy was full of great pearls of wisdom and at least 5 of the "100 Secrets" that I'll be sharing came directly from him. He had retired at least 3 times before he started the company that was my client. They made guitar strings under their own brand and also made strings for other brands. They happen to be some of the best strings available and the company had an outstanding reputation.

Stan was the kind of guy that, for many reasons, everybody wanted to please. He was also extremely difficult to please. Part of the reason why was just his personality, but he also knew what "continuous improvement" was before anyone wrote a book on it, so he was always working to make things better, faster, and easier.

One day, after I had been working with the client for a few weeks, we were walking through the parking lot as we were coming back from lunch at his club and, without really thinking, I bent over and picked up a piece of paper that was stuck to ground. I dropped it in the trash can by the door on the way into the facility.

When we got into his office, he had a funny smile on his face. He explained that he had seen what I had done and knew right then that I was the right person to handle his account. I was a little taken aback, but kept listening. He said that it proved I was, "the kind of person that would fix what needed to be done, even if it wasn't my problem," and that I, "had the right stuff."

He added that picking up the trash made the world a better place, showed that I could see beyond what was right in front of me, and showed I took responsibility for more than just the task at hand.

In reality, all I was thinking about when I picked it up was that ever since I was a kid, my parents had taught us not to litter and, because of that, I had gotten into the habit of occasionally picking up litter when I saw it.

It did get me thinking, though. I committed to myself that, not only would I keep picking up litter, but I would start acting like the way he described me. At that point, I got even better about fixing what needed to be done, looking beyond what was right in front of me, taking responsibility, and trying to make the world a better place.

And you'll still find me picking up trash in the parking lot.

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