The Bony Fingers of the Past (Issue 988)

In which we are reminded to ask clients about “how you got here” when we discuss their challenges.

There’s a history lesson just down the street from my home in Cambridge, Massachusetts: Mount Auburn Cemetery. It’s historic from a landscaper’s perspective [quoting from Wikipedia] “… the cemetery is credited as the beginning of the American public parks and gardens movement. It set the style for other suburban American cemeteries such as Laurel Hill Cemetery (Philadelphia, 1836)….

Of more interest to me are the people buried or memorialized there, close to 100,000. Whether one’s interest is education (B.F. Skinner, the psychologist), medicine (Ernest Amory Codman, father of outcomes-based medicine, and Dorothea Dix, advocate for the indigent mentally ill and Superintendent of United States Army Nurses during the Civil War), art (one of my favorites, Winslow Homer), music (E. Power Biggs, organist (a very famous Bach Toccata and Fugue in Dm), Julia Ward Howe (wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic)), Civil War history (Robert Gould Shaw, led the first all-Black unit in the Northeast)), literature (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow), politics (Cabots, Lodges, and far too many to name), or science (Edwin Land, founded Polaroid), there’s a line of development from the early 1830s, when the cemetery was opened, to now.

And then, there are gravesites and memorials to people nobody really remembers.

Thousands of stories, some legacies more influential than others and, for the most part, we are unaware of their influence; they’re simply part of ‘the way things have become’.

When I see names I recognize or monuments that catch my eye, I pull out my phone to ask: Who were these people? What did they do that influenced the paths that led to “the way things have become”? Sometimes, I find answers and I stop to reflect. Sometimes, this makes my walking companions crazy – “Can we just get on with the walk, please?”

When we meet with clients, there’s a strong temptation to “get on with the walk, please,” to focus on the present – “What do you need now?” – and the future – “What will you need as your situation changes?” and offer a solution.

Both questions are important… and it’s also good to learn about the silent ghost influences – the cold, bony fingers of the past that shape clients’ situations today and their views about the future, the better to understand WHY they think what they think, how they interpret “the way things have become”, and how best to align with them to provide solutions.

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 .

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