Of Parcels and People

Between them, Fedex and UPS deliver about twenty million packages a day. If they operated with 99.5% reliability, each day one hundred thousand packages would go missing. That does not happen.

If they operated with 99.95% reliability, each day ten thousand packages would vanish. Now 99.95% is pretty good, but that doesn’t happen either. In fact, they function far, far more reliably than that. Regardless of whether you use Fedex or UPS, and regardless of which office you drop off your package at, there is virtually a 100% likelihood of it reaching its destination.

You don’t need to inquire about the educational background of the clerk who accepts your package or about the driving record of the employee behind the wheel of the truck. Fedex or UPS will deliver your package to wherever you instructed them. They’ve got the package delivery business down to a science.

Dr. Atul Gawande, a distinguished physician at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, pointed out that although we like to think of medicine as purely a science it seems to also behave like an art. Even when doctors receive the same education and training and have access to the same technologies, the range of results is considerably greater than is found in, say, the package delivery business.

This is because people are not packages and both doctors and patients are people. There are many jobs and occupations in this world that allow you to choose to work mostly with packages or other objects rather than people. For instance, repairing a modern car is largely limited to plugging the car into manufacturer-supplied diagnostic equipment. A shop owner could make the adjustments that pop up on the screen or replace the indicated defective component leaving to an associate all interaction with customers, vendors, and employees.

It is far easier to confine oneself to the mechanical than deal with the human. After all, let us agree that most of the frustration and pain in our professional lives comes from our interaction with people rather than things. However, the more interaction with people there is in your professional life, the more opportunity and potential there is too. Working with people is where the magic is.

Regardless of how talented the introverted software designer may be, forcing himself to also become involved in the outside work of sales and investor meetings will assure him of a far more rewarding life both psychically and financially.

Many new lawyers fall into the career trap of becoming emotionally attached to the logical structure of building a case or the thrill of demolishing an opponent’s case. These of course are basic tools in the practice of law but the person who confines himself to wielding the tools has less leverage than were he also to connect with people.

Whether your profession is operating machinery, writing software, practicing law or anything else at all, avoid the temptation of retreating from human interaction. I believe that even at a certain well-run chain of coffee shops all associates, including coffee-masters and other specialists, have to spend some time actually serving customers.

Avoid becoming detached from the people who are important to your business while keeping busy with the objects and things of your business.

The assembly line worker envisaged by Ford can ultimately be replaced by machinery. This was captured by Henry Ford’s quote: “Why is it that I always get the whole person when what I really want is just a pair of hands?”

It cannot escape the attention of any reasonably alert reader of the Bible that God’s Message to humanity largely describes people relating to people. There is not a lot of Scriptural narrative about some lonely man’s struggle with nature or an artist working on his masterpiece alone for years-themes often found in meaningless post-modern literature. Even our relationship with God is completely intertwined with our relationships with people.

To truly succeed in business and in life, one has to develop, nurture and increase connection with others. There are marvelous objects in the world, but none as marvelous as human beings.

P.S. Our half-price sale on the audio CD Festival of Lights continues for only a few more days.

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