Greetings. On a recent business trip to New York I brought along a brand new shirt that came with an amazing promise. That it "never needed ironing." A rare claim for an item of apparel made of cotton or any other natural fabric. And sadly, though not surprisingly, it didn't quite live up to its end of the bargain. Not that it was such a big deal in the scheme of things, but at the exact moment I made my purchasing decision visions of a wrinkle-free clothing nirvana were temporarily dancing in my head. I guess that's the power of a remarkable promise.
Still, I was a bit disappointed–having also imagined myself taking this amazing shirt out of the suitcase, throwing it on, and looking sharp as a tack. Instead, I spent a good half-hour ironing out all of the wrinkles that seemed to have locked themselves into the shirt and then imagining that they would never return. And it did seem to hold up pretty well through the course of a business day and the train ride home. It also gave me the chance to slow down a bit and practice the ironing skills that were lovingly drilled into me by my mother long before I left home. The same skills that she promised would come in handy one day, never anticipating a world of clothes that "never needed ironing."
And I started thinking, as I often do, about all of the promises we make to others. Promises intended to get their attention. Promises designed to make them glance in our direction. Promises crafted to make our ideas and our offerings stand out from the crowd. Promises to make them more skillful or to make their lives easier. Promises that are "essential" to the success of our companies and organizations, especially when we are really able to stand behind them because they hold up their end of the bargain.
It was wishful to think that a shirt could really be wrinkle-free–at least a shirt that anyone would be comfortable wearing. But it was a given to realize the value of my mother's words about the simple importance of knowing how to iron. A promise that hasn't been replaced by the genius of the world's leading fabric technologists.
We win in business and in life by making promises that stand the test of time. By taking out the wrinkles in the lives of those we serve. What kind of promise do you and your colleagues make? Are you more like an imperfect shirt or a mother's love? Maybe it's time to rethink the essence of what you offer.