The View From the Field (Issue 845)

In which we are encouraged to ask for and take “the plant tour” before proposing solutions.

Daniel Webster, arguing in 1819 on behalf of the Dartmouth College Board of Trustees before the United States Supreme Court, famously said, “It is, Sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet there are those who love it!.

I would say the same about the Boston Red Sox’s Fenway Park in Boston, two hours drive from Dartmouth.  Small…. and there are those of us who love it.

I was there, a few weeks ago, in Grandstand Section 15. Our seats lined up just even with first base.  We looked straight down the base path between first and second base to the Green Monster wall.  The Park felt… intimate… and the diamond looked small. The exceptional speed and skills of Red Sox players (and, sometimes the players on other team… HAH!)  made it look smaller.

A five-minute walk from my office, there is a town park, an expanse of grass used by soccer and ultimate Frisbee teams.  At one end of the park, there is a full-sized baseball practice infield.

One afternoon, I walked from home plate to first base – about 32 paces – and turned to look at the infield. Although the dimensions are the same as those of the Fenway Park infield, this practice infield looked much bigger.  Enormous! And the challenge of throwing a ball from third base to first, accurately and fast enough to catch out a runner, very clear.

When we’re selling, it’s easy to sit in clients’ offices (their “Grandstand seats”), listen to their stories, and draw conclusions about one of their problems or another. Many times, we’re tempted to propose solutions based on what we hear in those offices, and why not?  Our clients or prospective clients know their organizations better than we do, yes?

They do, yes, and yet… when we go out into the organization, take the plant tour, talk to the people on the shop floor or in the back office or out in the field, we see a different perspective. What looks small from the comfort of the client’s Grandstand office, high up above the field, can look much larger when we’re standing on the field and vice versa. It’s good to walk the infield so we can see the size of the challenges for ourselves.

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