Like so many people of my generation, I grew up learning all the most important life lessons from that exemplar of personal values, Dr Suess. From environmentalism fueled by The Lorax, to a more realistic reflection on consumerism courtesy of The Sneetches, Dr Suess was a master at giving us good old-fashioned values in a readily digestible form.
One of my favourite Dr Suess books as a child was Horton Hatches the Egg and, while I spent much time wondering exactly how an elephant managed to climb that tree, I have spent a lifetime with those famous lines ringing in my ears: “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful, 100 percent.”
For those who are, sadly, unaware of the story, Horton did the right thing and followed through on his promise to look after the egg of a flighty and irresponsible bird, Mayzie. Through bad weather, many tribulations, and the huge impracticalities of an elephant climbing a tree to sit on a nest, Horton did so. And, at the end of the day when said egg hatched, Horton gained the ultimate benefit – a hatchling that considered him, far more than Mayzie, his parent.
Horton has been in my mind lately while I’ve been thinking about a business partnership we’ve been involved with at Cactus Outdoor. I’ll not go into the details – despite the temptation to throw someone under the bus, I’m going to stick to the moral high ground. There are, however, some interesting lessons to be gained from telling the story, albeit without what would feel like a real karmic payback, naming and shaming.
Suffice it to say that several months ago we went into a partnership with a company whereby we agreed to use one of their raw materials in a finished product we make. The agreement, made on a handshake and a hearty dose of (possibly misguided) trust, was that we’d have exclusive access to the raw material and, in return for spending money with said supplier, they wouldn’t compete with us in our particular sector.
Fast forward a couple of months and the sands have certainly shifted. Our supplier has gone out to market with a competing product and, what is worse, has supplied our competitors with a similarly named (but lower spec, and cheaper) raw material. Net result: we’re competing against products in the market that cost less. To add salt to the wound, the competitive products are playing a little bit fast and loose with the truth in terms of that aforementioned spec and consumers are led to believe our product costs more for no real reason.
Now there are a few ways that a business could react to a situation like that. One approach (let’s call it the Trump School) would be to react with aggression. This is the “I win, you lose” approach. Under this approach, we’d take the supplier to court, drag them through the mud and generally do everything we can to throw them under an oncoming bus.
The other approach (and, for fairness, let’s call this the Obama School) is to quietly move on. To accept that some organizations act with a moral compass that is sorely lacking in accuracy and that their actions are thus expected to be out of whack of fairness and equity.
Despite the temptation to get even, we’re going with the Obama approach. I’m a firm believe in Karma and fully expect that, at some point in time, the behaviour of our supplier will come back and bite them. It’s not so much a case of revenge being a dish best served cold and more a case of doing the right thing and eventually benefitting from that approach.
I am sorely tempted to buy a copy of Horton Hatches the Egg and send it to the other party but something tells me they just wouldn’t get it. Maybe I’ll just change my mail signature to “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant.”