BY MARK MATTESON
"Are your shoes too small?"
A number of years ago, my Dad and I were playing a game of cribbage.
He was stealing points from me (his way of "teaching" me the game) when he grimaced. I thought it was a pang of conscious about cheating at cards. I was wrong. He took his shoes off and started rubbing his feet.
"What's wrong, Dad?" I asked with genuine concern because my Dad was a guy who NEVER complained.
"Oh, it's my feet, son. They're killing me."
I leaned forward and asked, "What did the doctor say?"
"He wants me to have an operation. I don't want to," he said with real fear in his voice.
"Did you get a second opinion?" already knowing the answer before I asked.
"Play cards," was all he said.
The next day I called a physician client of mine. I asked about the best foot doctor in Seattle. He gave me two names, both at the University of Washington Hospital. It took some doing, but Dad finally relented. We played another game of cribbage two weeks later.
"What happened at the UW Hospital, Dad?"
"Oh well, he was a real nice young man. He asked me a few questions, you know the usual." He paused for minute, a little embarrassed about what followed. "Then he asked me what size shoe I wore. I told him 13. He then me asked, 'How long have you worn a 13?' I told him, 'Since I was 14 years old.'
"Then he measures my foot with one of those shoe size devices. 'Bob, according to my calculations, you wear a 15 triple E. There will be no operation for you. I want you to go home and donate all your size 13 shoes to Goodwill. Go buy a pair of Birkenstocks and a pair of Rockports, both size 15 EEE. Will you do that, Bob?'"
I looked down at his feet. He had on a pair of open-toed Birkenstocks. He looked like every other neo-hippie in Seattle.
"How do your feet feel now?" I asked.
"Great! I am glad I went to the doctor." Now for him to say that is like President Bush saying he hates the oil industry.
Two weeks afterward, I was sitting in the office of a facilities manager. He managed one of the largest buildings in Seattle. He was hesitating, balking at authorizing the agreement in front of him. It was for $75,000, a big commitment. He was afraid of what the repair costs would be once we got into the HVAC equipment. Would it be $500 or $50,000 in fix-up costs?
I told him the story about my Dad's shoes. He listened intently. I concluded with the following statement: "You and I have no idea what we will find once we get in there. It could be that your shoes are too small and you don't need an operation. There is only one way to find out." I slid the agreement across the desk.
The story about my father was the perfect metaphor. The one-time maintenance or building audit I offered as a shallow-end-of-the-pool strategy was like trying the Birkenstocks for a couple of days. With that work, we would generate a comprehensive list of things to be done. The logic was irrefutable. He signed the agreement.
"Nothing happens until a sale is made."