by Lyle R. Hill
I once heard it said that “experience is the harshest of
teachers because she gives you the test first and the lesson afterward.”
I guess this is true, but I always liked what Bismarck had to say about
experience. He was the one who said “Fool you are to say you learn by
your experiences; I prefer to profit by the mistakes of others and avoid
the price of my own.” Now
I don’t know which Bismarck said this . . . the one they named the World
War II battleship after or the one they named the town in North Dakota
after . . . but, either way, he was right. And there is a great deal that
we can learn from others—both good and bad.
I could sense that he wasn’t having a good day and that my phone call
had bothered him. But I wasn’t having the best of days either, and I had
a right to call. He owed us a fair amount of money and most of it was
long past due. I had committed myself to remaining calm, and I was determined
to be both firm and as pleasant possible.
“John,” I began, “were you pleased with the work we did for you?”
“Yeah, your guys did a nice job,” he replied.
“And you feel that we charged you a fair price for the material and labor
that we provided?”
“Of course,” he responded, “I wouldn’t have given you the job in the first
place if your price wasn’t good.”
I could now detect a fair amount of agitation in his voice, but I pressed
“Okay,” I began, “I’m glad to hear all that, and we appreciate your business.
However, you owe us a lot of money, John, and we really need you to get
your account brought up-to-date.”
“Are you calling me a deadbeat?” he asked with a new level of agitation.
“No, I’m not,” I calmly replied, “but these bills are several months past
due and we really must get paid.”
“Are you threatening me?” he now roared into the phone. “Because if you
are, I’m taking you out of the hat!”
Now at this point in the conversation, I was completely baffled. What
could “taking me out of the hat” possibly mean? Was this the equivalent
of simply “taking me out” as in “rubbing me out” or “wiping me out?” Being
from Chicago, I am pretty current with these kinds of terms, but I’ve
never heard of being “taken out of the hat.” I had to find out.
“John, I must confess ignorance,” I stated. “Please tell me what taking
me out of the hat means?”
“Okay,” he began. “I’ll tell you. Each week I take all of the bills that
are due for payment and I put them in a hat. Then, depending on how things
are going, I randomly pick so many bills out of the hat and pay them.
This way, everyone has an equal chance of being paid. I think this is
a very fair approach. Unfortunately for you, you just haven’t been lucky
enough to be one of the bills that got picked out for payment. But I like
you guys, so believe me, I’d hate to have to take you out of the hat and
take away any chance you might have for getting paid.”
“Well, thank you, John, I appreciate that,” I replied. “And we like you,
too, so if I’ve offended you in any way, please accept my apology. The
last thing in the world that I want to have happen is to be taken out
of your hat!”
A few weeks went by and we received some, but not all of the money that
was due us. Then one day the call that I expected came in.
“Lyle, it’s John,” he began. “Did the reflective units come in yet for
the Centerpointe job?”
“Yes, we received them several days ago,” I replied.
“Well, you gotta install them immediately,” he said. “These guys are going
crazy … they want their building finished and they’re one of my biggest
customers. You gotta help me.”
“I’ll do what I can, John, but we’re pretty busy right now.”
“I can’t wait,” he yelled. “You’re killing me. I need an answer and I
need it now.”
“Okay, John,” I replied calmly, “but there’s something you probably need
“What?” he screamed.
“Well, John, after that last conversation we had a few weeks ago . . .
I’m sure you remember . . . it was the one about us getting paid in a
timely manner. Your explanation impressed me so much that I immediately
went out and followed your example.”
“What in the world are you talking about?” he asked.
“John … I bought a hat of my own … and you’re in it.”
Lyle R. Hill is the managing director of Keytech
North America, a company providing research and technical services for
the glass and metal industry. Hill has more than 40 years experience in
the glass and metal industry and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read his blog on Wednesdays at http://lyleblog.usglassmag.com.
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No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.