Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Penny Saved, Part II: Smart Questions

So here's the business analogy of the day: you go to a nice restaurant with a friend.  Your friend (after all, I wouldn't make YOU out to be such a boor...) asks for the trout...but with the sauce off of the veal, hold the dairy, and add a side of fries. 

Come on.  Nobody does things like that.  Well, actually, I used to date someone who DID do things like that, but I'm very sorry I did, and we've all agreed not to bring that up any more, right?

When you go to a nice restaurant, you are presumably paying a talented, thoughtful, and trained chef to come up with an interesting menu.  You are paying to have that chef train a detail-oriented culinary staff such that they may properly execute the chef's vision.  Ideally speaking, fine dining is not a transaction in which you give your money for something specific that you demand.  It's more like commissioning a sculpture from a great artist: you put yourself in the artist's hands, and most often, you open your mind (or stomach, or some other organ for that fact...) to experience something beautiful and new.

You don't have to be completely literal-minded about all that, of course, but when you speak to a Sharp Knife in the Drawer, it is sometimes a very good idea to leave your questions open ended.  For instance, instead of asking Drew how to make QuickBooks' backup utility work and how to make Outlook's backup utility work, and how to make Firefox's settings backup utility work (all of which are easily enough answered, by the way), the RIGHT way to approach that deal is to simply ask "what is the best way for me to backup all of my system's important data in a way that requires little to no input from me, and keeps updating the backup files regularly?"

The answers that come back may surprise you.  They may not be what you had in mind.  Of course, they may suck.  But as often as not, or perhaps even a little more often, if you have chosen your resources properly and have communicated your needs accurately, you will get yourself some edu-ma-cation.  You can still be the boss, but you can grow both your mind and your business with the enlightened input of others.

As a business owner, it's your job to be the visionary...to keep the big picture in mind.  However, when soliciting the advice of intelligent people, it is often best to give them enough free rein to actually SOLVE a problem with their own skill set, rather than chaining them to your own underdeveloped understanding of some specialized slice of your operation.