Counterintuitive (Issue 533)

In which we are reminded that the fastest path to our objectives isn’t always the familiar one.

Family vacation over, we climbed into the car knowing it would be a LONG DRIVE HOME, 10 1/2 hours based on our planned route. As we said goodbye to our relatives, one of us popped open a smart phone and tapped in our destination and heard the words nobody wants to hear, “Traffic congestion ahead in 4.5 miles.”

“Not a good start,” I muttered to nobody in particular.

After a 4.25 mile drive to Interstate 95 just north of Richmond, Virginia, the traffic congestion appeared. I-95 was PACKED with cars headed north.

“Why IS this?” exclaimed my wife. “It’s two o’clock in the afternoon on a Saturday!”

“Good point!” I thought.

We edged along. Go (at 12 mph to 15 mph) and stop. Go… 15 mph… stop. Go (gosh, we are going 40 mph, this is like the snail on the turtle’s back, “Whee!”)…. and stop.

We developed theories about why the traffic was so heavy and slow. After a few miles, we came to the conclusion that “stop” occurred when there was traffic merging in, a lane drop, or a very complicated sign by the side of the road. And then the rain started. POURING rain. DELUGING rain. And along we  c r e p t  ….

And then we noticed a huge RV, half the size of a semi-trailer and truck. We had passed it once, to its left,  then it passed us to our right. And, we noticed that it was in the right-most lane, lane 1,  a quarter mile ahead of us and moving along faster than we were moving in the third lane of the four.

“What’s with that?” I wondered, aloud. My wife’s response: “Get in the first lane behind him. He knows something we don’t know.”

In a brief moment of marital navigational cooperation, I slid over into the first lane. And, we moved along noticeably faster than the traffic in the second, third, and fourth lanes.

This was completely counter intuitive to me. In New England, the slowest traffic is in the first lane. The fastest lane is lane four, or the lane the furthest away from the merging-in traffic.

Apparently, on this day, in this stretch of Interstate 95, the reverse was true. So on we went, at double-turtle speed in the first lane, feeling unbridled exhilaration each of the few times we reached 40 mph,  while traffic in other lanes crept along more slowly… hour… after… hour…

Sometimes this happens in our sales world, as well. We become accustomed to a pattern or a “lane” for approaching our clients and prospects. Whether it is a particular way of seeking introductions through referral sources or existing customers, or the ways we stay in touch with client senior managers, purchasing departments, training departments, or IT departments, there are familiar lanes we’ve learned to drive when we want to open conversations. And sometimes, for reasons that aren’t clear and can’t be known,  those lanes don’t move as fast as we expect or prefer.

In those moments, as on I-95, we  need to look for “counterintuitive” lane choices that others haven’t fully recognized to accelerate our progress. We need to see “markers” like the large RV that give us insight needed to move beyond familiar approaches –  A different entry point, a different conversation starter, a  fresher offer.

Or, as in the case with this I-95 corridor, if there are no alternative routes, get there earlier, when others are sleeping!

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