The Olsen Outcome (Issue 982)

In which we are reminded to help clients see the negative consequences of ‘no change.’

Just before Christmas, a friend forwarded to me an email with the Subject line, “Fwd: Guess I Was Wrong.”   I opened it.  [Gasp, I know, I shouldn’t have done that.]

I opened it and found a series of pictures and accompanying quotations about big misses…among them:

  • “Television won’t last because people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” Darryl Zanuck, movie producer, 20th Century Fox, 1946
  • “The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.” Sir William Preece, Chief Engineer, British Post Office, 1878
  • “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” Ken Olsen, DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation), founder, president, and chairman,  in a talk given to a 1977 World Future Society meeting in Boston (in time, DEC would become the 2nd largest computer manufacturer in the world, behind IBM, before crashing to earth in the early 1990s… literally sold and wiped out)

All of which brings to mind linguist S.I. Hayakawa’s observation, “If you see in any given situation only what everybody else can see, you can be said to be so much a representative of your culture that you are a victim of it.”

Preece, Olsen, and Zanuck, each leaders in their fields at the time, were representatives of and victims of their cultures . They couldn’t (at the time) see past their successful operating models and experiences to what would come next. In Olsen’s case, this failure led to the precipitous demise of his company.

When clients say something like William Preece’s point,  “Other people/companies may need_____, but we do not. We have _____.”, or words to that effect, one of our consultative roles is to help them see “what’s changing”,  the possibilities in what’s next, and the likely consequences of not adapting.

Have a little fun?   Fill in the blanks in the sentence above in a few ways. For example,

  • “Other companies may need to switch to digital payments processing. We do not, we have plenty of people who can write and process checks.”
  • “Other business owners may need an HR policy manual, but we do not. We treat all of our employees like family.”

Cringe-worthy, yes?  WE can anticipate what can happen.

A good conversation starter is, “OK, I get it, and, just for a moment, let’s play with the idea that things go wrong… How would that affect you?”  In other words, what’s the “Olsen Outcome”? Leading to, “Here’s how you can avoid that.”

Nick Miller and Clarity train banks and bankers to attract and develop deeper relationships with small businesses. Many more Sales Thoughts like this and a host of other articles and resources at .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Navigation Menu