If you can’t tie your own shoelaces…

Don’t tell the most sought-after shoemaker in town how to do their job.

I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with folks who couldn’t tie their own shoelaces, but were quick to judge how long everything takes and how much it is worth for you to do it for them. That phenomena is particularly prevalent in the technology world – many think it all comes easy. I could say the same about business process re-engineering, developing compensation plans, and even creating financial projections. On the latter, I was once ask to do the same, only to find the company didn’t maintain standard double-entry accounting records – they kept track of their finances by dumping their checking account statements from the internet. I had no problem with that – the business was new, short staffed, and growing like wildfire. What I did have a problem with was facing incredulity, skepticism, and downright rude behaviour when I told them it might make sense to get past books and records together before looking to the future. And it got worse – once convincing them of that need, I had to take the same beating again when I asked them where the invoices and payables files were.

The folks from Electric Pulp, a development firm out of South Dakota that has been on a bit of a roll lately, have taken a different approach to the “can’t tie their own shoelaces crowd”: they posted some of their more outlandish technology related inquiries on their blog instead of wasting time dealing with the folks. It was a bold move that apparent ticked at least one potential customer off. And while they proceeded to offer apologies, I say they shouldn’t have.

Electric Pulp has a skillset that is in great demand right now, so they have the luxury of picking and choosing their clients. There will always be someone with a negative attitude waiting to dance on a grave, but if they continue to do great work and keep their shop lean, any eventual downturn in the market isn’t going to effect them as much as the competitor who took every tom, dick and harry as a client and ate costly project overruns (which always happens) instead of squirreling away the good nuts.

It’s something everyone out there looking for exceptional help should take note of. Treat your vendors (and those you are courting) with trust and respect, and that includes doing a little homework before you go out looking for bids. Otherwise, there may come a day when you find yourself wearing worn out shoes and there is nobody around both capable and willing to fix them for you.

UPDATE: Another, slightly different take. This may be the reason Electric Pulp gets so many ludicrous requests – those inquiries are coming from wishfully thinking founders of non-entities – founders that have not the capability to conceptualize the task at hand. Or as Nussbaum put it:

“I think managers have to BECOME designers, not just hire them. I think CEOs have to embrace design thinking, not just hire someone who gets it.”

I say fat chance – creative thinkers everywhere should get used to hearing stuff like this:

“I have a revolutionary new idea to discuss with you once you’ve signed my NDA.”


Aaron says:

Hey Michael. I felt bad that we offended someone right out of the gates, but I don’t apologize at all for the general sentiment. We just don’t have time to deal with every off the wall request we get. (We do, however, have time to joke about some of them.) You’re right about overruns.

We actually get inquiries now that reference the post. Pretty funny stuff.

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