Perceptual Filters – a question and a story

First the question:
What colour are your glasses – the perceptual filters you wear every day?

Before answering, let me share a story with you. It is a true story, as told by my friend Ron. His business is training financial services professionals to pass their Canadian licensing exams.

Ron’s office is located in downtown Toronto and for many years he would walk over to city hall for his favorite lunch – a hotdog fresh from the cart of a very special street vendor.

Not only was this vendor an immigrant like many in our multicultural city, he also had the reputation of being a successful entrepreneur.

The local newspapers had even written about him.  How he arrived in Canada with only a few dollars in his pocket. Found his first job running a hotdog cart for another, quickly building up a legion of loyal customers. Friends really. He knew many of them on a first name basis. They shared news and stories about their families.

His customers were mostly executives working in highly stressful jobs ‘on the street’ in Toronto’s financial district.

They came to ‘Sammy’ as much for his good humor and stories as for the ‘dogs’ he served piping hot from the cart. The opening greeting was always the same from each customer.

“So how is business Sammy?” To which Sammy would reply “Terrific! Couldn’t be better!” And then he’d regale his customers with all the reasons why life was great and business was better.

It seemed no matter how down the spirits of his customers, they headed back to their desks with their mood brightened and feeling good about opportunities they could see more clearly. (Stay with me now … there is a purpose.)

‘Sammy’ was soon able to buy his own cart and it seemed like overnight he was a thriving entrepreneur with four carts and his own employees. And a son who he’d put through university – a first in his family. Life was good for a vendor of hotdogs. People even wrote about him!

And then something happened. A new customer stopped by his cart. Someone important, a man with a big reputation ‘on the street.’

“Sammy” he asked, “why are you so optimistic? Don’t you know the markets are on a roller coaster. The world is uncertain and the future is looking gloomy.  Why are you so upbeat and positive?”

Well that set ‘Sammy’ back on his heels, gave him something to think about. He went home that evening and started looking for facts that supported this great man’s words. And sure enough he found them – the pessimists, the bad news bears – and he pondered their words.  

He began to ask his customers (friends by now) what they thought. “What about this?” he’d say pulling up all the negative news of the day. Soon these loyal customers drifted away.  Instead of feeling buoyed and ready to win the world after their noontime fix of hotdog and good conversation with ‘Sammy’, they felt heavy after their lunch, like the weight of the world was resting on their shoulders.

Within one short year Sammy was down to a single cart and his business was as depressed as he was. He declared he was days away from being bankrupt! And so he retired, to spend his days wondering how the good life had all gotten away from him. A sad story but true.

So what colour are your glasses? Consider this research:

People Who Wear Rose Coloured Glasses See More
“OUR STUDY shows that when in a positive mood, our visual cortex takes in  more information, while negative moods result in tunnel vision. The up side of this (positive moods) is that we can see things from a more global, or integrative perspective.”
Taylor Schmitz, 2009 University of Toronto Study

People who see through rose coloured glasses do see more – and in a positive light. They see opportunities in every economic market!

There are always new businesses, new managers, new players coming onto the scene. Growing and thriving in spite of the trends and the naysayers.  Who are these people in your business, your market? How can you recognize them?

What questions can you ask your customers and prospects that will help them discover opportunities waiting in their own backyard?  Because if they don’t, someone else will.

Something worth thinking about, don’t you think?

Wauneen McMonagle