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, written by Jeremy. Read the commentary.

Time away brings introspection.

Long hours in a canoe give lots of room for thought.

While I sort through those ideas – here is a compilation of favourite ideas from the past. It’s a series of posts about purpose, perfection, and art. These ideas have become foundational for me.

Parable 1: Which is easier to get: $1 Million or a million $1?

Loved this mix between science and web-links.

Mike Grehan’s dad in Filthy Linking Rich:

“… in my experience I’ve discovered that looking for the million dollar deal is very difficult. Getting a million dollars from one person is hard. However, getting one dollar from a million people is really not so difficult.”

If you were going to sell your stuff for $1 what would it look like? And for $1 Million?

Parable 2: Up sold by $400

I just bought a pair of $750 eye glasses.

They’re made by a group of 25 year-old German “creators” (which is important … read on) and there is only one other pair in the entire city of Ottawa — Albert, owner of Albert Opticians, is wearing them.

I went in ready to spend $350 tops. Albert up sold me by $400 — here’s how:

  • Albert is refined (wearing $250 trousers, a fine pair of shoes, and, need I mention, very sharp glasses), very selective in his approval, and persistent in his search for the ultimate piece,
  • Albert and his people spent an hour zipping around the shop, snatching up new pairs, and with great flourish helping me try them on,
  • For each pair I was educated on why they worked and why they didn’t,
  • Albert pointed out the fine features of each pair:
    – “these lenses float inside the frame”,
    – “see here,” manicured pinky pointing, “no screws anywhere on this pair”,
    – “these lenses,” puffing and buffing very seriously, “are nearly invisible”,
    – etc.,
  • He explained where each pair was made, why he bought them, and why a brand name at this level was irrelevant — “You are buying design, creation, and sophistication — these guys are the very best — brand names don’t matter here … just reputation”,
  • He explained his philosophy of buying — from “creators” only (the people that actually create the frames — there are mere hundreds in the world) and never designers (these are legion), and only one pair of each piece,
  • And he gave me his deepest respect despite my Gap jeans and Westcoast tee.
  • This is exactly what boutiqu-ing (1, 2) is all about. This is bespoke tailor and Hugh McLeod riffs on thousand year old cheese.

    I had a great conversation with Albert. Instantly piqued, I pummelled him with loads of questions:

    How much advertising? None. Just word of mouth.

    How long in business? 26 years.

    How long just buying one piece of each creation? 6 years.

    Big difference? Never been better. The place is packed.

    You know blogs? Yes.

    Why not blog? I don’t want those clients.

    What the … why not? The people that come through the door need to already know what we sell, why we sell it, and to be ready to pay this price. I don’t want curious, I want clients. Anything else takes too much time for this level of service … besides, I’m too busy already. (Hugh? Thoughts?)

    Any plans to expand? No way, I’m exactly where I want to be … I got the right set of clients, I travel to buy pieces, I couldn’t do this right and be any bigger.

    This is so rich.

    Parable 3: Without peer


    Chinese character “mountain” by Zhang Zhengyu

    Si-Ma (1019-1086) of the Song Dynasty said, “A gracefully executed work has no peer.”

    As in calligraphy, so in business. Of the many ways to express business, here are two: By getting things done or graceful execution.

    Getting things done is LensCrafters, McDonalds, and WalMart. Viable? Yes. Viral? Never.

    Graceful execution is the art … the essence of business. Perfect expression of purpose. Flawless code. Brilliant design. Simple strategy.

    Peerless.

    Parable 4: Master vs. Hack

    Binding every painter is the canvas, brushes, and paint he chooses.

    But, instead of constraints, are these not rules that define the task? Is it not the mastery of these rules that defines the master?

    I was talking to a web designer yesterday about the essence of web design. I was asking for perfect and he said, “Well, we’re bound by the rules of the size of the page, html, and the functionality of your blog.”

    But aren’t these just the tools of his art? Aren’t these things binding every designer? Yet, isn’t it easy to see the difference between the work of a master and the work of a hack?

    Art grows in two primary ways: through new expression using old tools and through the use of new tools. Business grows in these ways too.

    Parable 5: Goldfish

    Into the room walks a professor. In his hands is a jar, filled with water, and in the water swims a goldfish.

    Placing the jar and fish on his desk he turns to the single student in the room and asks, “What is this?”

    The student looks blankly from professor to jar to professor.

    “It is a fish … in a jar.”

    Faintly smiling, the professor asks, “But what is it?”

    The student, brow furrowed, looks again at the fish.

    “A gold colored Carassius auratus.”

    “But what is it?” repeats the professor.

    This continues each day for several weeks.

    Each day, for one month, the professor asks this question. Soon the student has compiled the chemical elements of the jar, water, and fish. Dissected the fish. Sketched it’s inner organs. Studied, illustrated, and described the life cycle, habits, and ecosystem of the fish.

    Finally, a pile of papers, books, and diagrams lie scattered about the room. And still, sitting calmly at his desk, is the professor.

    “But what is it?”

    The student looks up from a detailed drawing of the dorsal scales, stares intently at the fish in the jar, and states:

    “It is a goldfish.”

    Parable 6: Choices

    Parable 7: Unquestionable

    When I went to Albert we must have tried 40 pairs of glasses … 40 pieces.

    Stacked up on the table in front of me were frames nearly indistinguishable from each other. And tirelessly he placed them on me, stepped back, readjusted … and rejected.

    Over and over until the 28th pair. “These … are excellent. Superb.”

    Placing them to the side (a place reserved for only two other pair) he continued on for another few pairs. But his eyes were on “Superb” and he soon put them back on me.

    “Unquestionable. Simply no question. These are the ones.”

    Back to a few more. Not three pair later they were back on my face.

    “Magnificent.”

    One more pair and he suddenly dropped everything on the table. He glanced with the sneer of a master at the other two previously reserved pieces on the table, carefully and respectfully placed the esteemed piece on my face, stepped back and with a flair that only the French can pull off — kissed his fingertips with a smack — and walked away.

    He was done.

    Meaning 1: Better for the effort

    Perfect expression can only come from complete knowing and graceful execution is a consequence of absolute understanding.

    To name this goldfish … or strategy … or brand … or unquestionable! … or mountain … you’ve got to know — you have to have looked, studied, analyzed and described to the deepest level. Knowing is a depth of understanding beyond the superficial.

    Only after knowing can you express the essence of purpose — these are navel gazing words I know, but this is the stuff of viruses.

    Having found people that deeply know their business, I am suddenly very passionate about finding people that want to. Wouldn’t it be great to live within a network of business people, problem solvers, and decision makers who are dedicated to graceful execution? I and the world would be better for the effort.

    Meaning 2: Upper-class, middle-class, lower-class

    I’ve kept thinking about Albert and two things he told me.

    1. At this level, brand doesn’t matter, it’s all about reputation.
    2. I don’t blog because it gets me the wrong kind of client.

    Where brand doesn’t matter. It’s a great title for a philosophy (and sweet name for a book).

    I should have seen it coming. It’s everywhere. Look at milk: cream, milk, water. Look at earth: sky, water, ground. Look at music: rockstar, musician, Britney Spears.

    Upper-class, middle class, lower class.

    Those at the bottom are the average sheep. Those in the middle are micro-global-branders and the regular sort of branders. And those at the top … well we don’t hear about them unless we buy from them (or sneak into their stores).

    The creators Albert buys from are so keenly aware of this, they won’t sell to him unless he shows a list of other creators he has bought from. There’s a sharp sense of differentiation — the line is cut on reputation.

    Reputation in turn defines clientelle. You don’t pay $750 for frames unless you value design more than … well, actually being able to see. And, let’s face it, there aren’t too many people like that. But Albert made it crystal clear that he only wanted people that were like that.

    There’s a nuance here that shouldn’t be missed. Albert isn’t being crusty. Remember, I was wearing Gap jeans, a tee, and my drolling son. Albert is being exclusive on palette only — and wonders if blogging would draw in people that lack a sufficiently refined palette to appreciate his stuff.

    Meaning 3: What kind of person?

    To me this is incredibly interesting. And maybe it’s obvious to the rest of you and you wish I’d clam up. But the gorgeous climax of these dynamics is the lifestyle and ether it affords Albert.

    Ever been to LensCrafters? Ever wish you could work there? Better yet, ever wish you could live there? What about the people that work there — want to dress like them? Ever wish you could hang out with their buyer in WalMart or Zellers or wherever they buy their frames — milling about with hacks that haven’t ever thought about paying more than $2 bucks a pop for a frame, let alone watched the word “design” crawl across their cerebral HUD?

    But you should have seen us at Albert’s. Me and an elderly couple were the singular focus of four employees and the owner. Every one was wearing beautiful clothing, trigged out hairstyles, and of course, superb glasses. Albert’s stories about buying trips had my wife glassy-eyed. All of this is situated just one street down the hill from Canada’s parliament buildings — forget your stomach for politics, these are lovely buildings.

    I guess it boils down to a pretty basic choice: What kind of person do you want to be? The kind it takes to make a million $1 sales or the kind that makes a single, annual sale of $1 million? Everything rolls out from that.

    Meaning 4: Either way there’s money

    The cool part of Albert’s story is its utility. There’s no riddle to solve. Just choices to make.

    You can choose high design, narrowly defined clients, exceptional service, concierge-level attentiveness — and the lifestyle that goes with it.

    Or you can choose Walmart.

    Either way, you’ll make money.

    Commentary

    Came to your blog from the ‘On Purpose’ exchange on Dick’s blog.

    Love the way you write- the seemingly unscripted flow of thoughts- all tying in with a fundamental question, or rather quest.

    Looking forward to reading more.

    Thanks for your generous compliments Asthma.

    I hope you continue to feel free to comment.