One thought ahead. Two sentences behind.

Decisions Part IX of X – So Special


For a time I patronized a restaurant near where I worked.  I’m not sure why I went other than the location.  It also had a menu that opened up like a medieval choir book.  Items poured from the endless plastic pages like manna from heaven.  Most of the time I spent a half hour wading through the selections.  Once, I quickly picked the daily special:  A baked potato soup with a half sandwich.  But there was a problem.


SERVER:  I’m sorry. The daily special is no longer available.

ME:  Shoot!  Ran out of the soup?

SERVER:  No, we have plenty of soup.

ME:  If you don’t have turkey, I can go with roast beef or ham.

SERVER: We have plenty of deli meat.

ME:  Then why is the daily special no longer available?


After some awkward silence, I was told the kitchen ran out of bread.  But how could that be?  That’s like a builder shutting down a construction site because he forgot to order lumber.

No matter.  I didn’t even want the sandwich.  I wanted the baked potato soup and I wasn’t sure why.  Baked potatoes and soup as separate items never interested me, but put together as a daily special felt too good to pass up.  So I tried to order the soup by itself.


SERVER:  I’m sorry.  The soup is only available with the daily special.

ME:  Which is what I want.

SERVER:  Which is not available.

ME:  Because of no bread?

SERVER: Correct!

ME:  No.  Nothing about this conversation is correct.


As far as the server was concerned a velvet rope had been pulled in front of bubbling pot of soup, which made it more desirable.  At that point it was no longer a food item but something to be added to my pot of gold, TV, shrimp bar, messenger bag filled with 10 of the 100 most essential novels, and six-pack of craft beer that doesn’t taste like rutabaga.  My God, didn’t the server know this?


ME: Can you bring me the sandwich without the bread?

SERVER:  It wouldn’t be much of a sandwich, would it?

ME:  What about sprinkling the turkey with some croutons?  Croutons were slices of bread at one time.

SERVER:  Croutons are a salad item.


This guy wasn’t budging.


ME: How about this?  Can I order one side item: a baked potato?  And can that side item take the form of soup?

SERVER:  A baked potato is not a side item.

ME:  Are you kidding me?  Your menu runs longer than the Book of Deuteronomy.


Then the interlude…

The server wanted my order and I wanted the soup.  I really don’t know why.   Was it due to the fact that it was currently unavailable?  Science writer, Herbert Wray, calls this a scarcity heuristic:  “We have a visceral reaction to any restrictions on our prerogatives as individuals.  And one way this manifests itself is in distorted notions about scarcity and value.”  (Wray, 2010)

Gold isn’t valuable because it’s a great metal.  Its value comes from the fact that it’s hard to find.  You may pay thousands of dollars to see The Eagles in concert, not because it will be a great show but it will be their last.


ME:  Okay, final offer.  I’ll take the daily special, but can you hold the pickles, mustard, mayo, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, turkey and bread?

SERVER:  Hmmm, let me check with my manager.


Part of making a bad decision is not the decision itself but failing to convey it properly as Jack Zenger Joseph from the Harvard Business Review explains: “Some good decisions become bad decision because people don’t understand or even know about them.”  (Zenger, 2014)

When it came to the soup, I clearly indicated what I wanted, but there have been moments when I failed to bring others into my “thought loop”.   It happened once when I asked my dad if he wanted to go out to eat with me and my brother, Chris.  At the end of the phone conversation, Dad thought we were going out for lunch and I thought we were going out for dinner.  See if you can see where things went wrong.


ME:  Tomorrow, want to go out to eat with Chris and me?

DAD:  That would be good.

ME:  Burgers or something?

DAD:  That will work.

ME: All right, let’s do it!

DAD:  See you then!


Mixing up dinner plans is one thing, but what if it is health care?

It was a noble pursuit for President Obama to tackle the health care crisis in our country.  And yes, it was and still is a crisis for the simple fact that the first question you will get when you walk into an emergency room is: “Do you have Mastercard or Visa?”

There is something hopeful in seeing government work for the less fortunate.  What Obama and the Democratic congress passed was a good step.  How they conveyed it to the public was far from ideal.

Former governor of New York, Mario Cuomo, famously said:  “Campaign in poetry and govern in prose.”  That maybe the case but there are times when it is a good idea to bring back the campaign when pushing through a big agenda item.

When he entered the White House, Obama slipped off the campaign slogans, rolled up his sleeves and went to work.  But what he may have forgotten was he didn’t get elected because of his book smarts and desire to better the country.  It was his lofty rhetoric.  Obama tried to promote The Affordable Care Act (ACA) with the rational presence of Mr. Spock.  What he should have done was wore a shark skin suit and aviator glasses and sold Obama Care like it was beach front property in Coral Gables, Florida.

Although he personally hated campaigning, Obama needed to sell a completely rational idea like it was the greatest thing under the sun.  He didn’t and the Republicans smeared his signature piece of legislation with death panels, limited access to doctors and skyrocketing cost.  It didn’t even matter what the Republicans said or if any of it was true. The Republicans got emotional as Obama went rational and we all know who wins that 7-bit argument.

The server eventually came back and told me I could have the daily special for they now had bread.

I wasn’t sure how much time had passed while I haggled with the server.  I know the greasy, lukewarm liquid I brought to my lips wasn’t worth the effort.  I should have basked in the glory of a hard-fought victory, but I was frustrated with the fact that I spent enough time bartering with the server that it gave one of the cooks the opportunity to run to the nearest gas station to pick up a loaf of expired bread.  The daily special wasn’t special on multiple fronts, which brings us to the most important part of the decision making process:  What do you do when you make the wrong one?

Mike Myatt’s Forbes article “6 Tips for Making Better Decisions” has some good insight but the best piece of advice is actually the bonus:  Always have a backup plan.  He writes, “The real test of leaders is what happens in the moments following the realization they’ve made the wrong decisions.” (Myatt, 2012)

Leaders are not immune to making mistakes.  The successful ones are not concerned how it will look but more interested in fixing them.  The greatest president of them all, Abraham Lincoln, was not afraid to keep replacing general after general until he found the steely nerve in Ulysses Grant to finish the Civil War.  Our only four-term president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, followed one bad decision after another in attempt to pull the country out of its greatest economic collapse.  (His most egregious mistake was trying to increase the Supreme Court from 9 justices to 13 so he could pack the court with friendly allies.)

Obama recently cited Lincoln and FDR as his two most favorite presidents.  (Sorry Nixon.)  I see one elemental bond between his two heroes.  I think what made Abe and FDR such transformational leaders are partly due to the fact they were damaged goods.  Lincoln suffered from clinical depression.  Roosevelt was paralyzed below the waist from polio.  But they did not enter office diminished by their maladies but were perhaps fortified.  Already they had experienced immense personal trial and yet they still found the fortitude to persevere.  And by the time they entered the White House they would not be setback or daunted when a decision they made had negative results.

If only I had their insight when I set out to buy another bike…



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