Ari on Business

Natural Law #9: Success means you get better problems

Although most of us are raised with the belief that effective work eliminates problems, the reality is quite different. We’re always going to have problems. The key is to pick the problems you want and then appreciate the chance to work on them, all the while working to get better problems still.

Don’t believe me? OK, would you rather have too few customers and struggle to make your payroll, or have sales so strong that you have to struggle to keep up? Obviously I like seeing sales levels right “on plan” best of all, but the reality is that generally I’d rather have sales be too high than too low. Similarly, I’d far prefer the problem of having too many good people in the organization and not quite enough opportunity for them all in the moment than to have too few good people.

Quick story to illustrate the point. A customer was having dinner at Zingerman’s Roadhouse not long ago. While he and his family were enjoying their evening’s experience he shared with his server that the person who had taken their order during a morning visit to the Deli just hadn’t been as enthusiastic as our staff usually are. His server that night was on top of things—she apologized (even though she had no idea who it was at the Deli nor any inkling of what had really happened). She took the initiative to buy the family an extra appetizer as a way to help make it right and follow up her verbal apology.

As the guest and his family were leaving I stopped him to add to the apologies that the server had already given, to check that his dinner experience was good, and to thank him again for sharing the story so constructively. “Look,” he said with a smile. “I’ve been a customer of yours for nearly 20 years. We started going to the Deli when we were students here. Now we live in Florida and we’re huge fans of everything you do. It’s just that you guys have set the bar SO high that when we got service that would probably be fine most places but just isn’t at the standards we know we’re gonna get here . . . it just surprised us. It wasn’t bad—it just wasn’t very . . . ‘Zingy.’”

I love getting a customer complaint of that kind. So many other businesses have set the bar so low that their customers don’t even notice the shortfalls anymore, let alone say anything about them. While the latter is certainly less stressful in the moment it definitely doesn’t lead to success. Ignorance only feels like bliss; reality remains the same whether anyone tells us the truth or not.

Twelve Natural Laws of Business:
There are organizational principles that consistently work and, in the big scheme of things, follow a natural order. We call these “Natural Laws of Business.” Our experience here is that the natural laws are applicable for any business regardless of size, scale, age or product offering. Exceptions exist, but I’ll say up front I wouldn’t recommend expending much energy trying to prove these rules to be wrong.