Wednesday, February 20, 2013

It's Better to Know !

It was early in 2000, I had just moved back to Atlanta after a few years living in Baltimore, and it was time to get serious and find a doctor. I hadn’t quite turned 40, (that was in September 2001, fodder for a future story) and as a new father I was getting focused on four door sedans, life insurance options , and a full time GP. After a few enquiries with friends, I made an appointment with a highly recommended doctor at Piedmont Hospital who was still taking on new patients.

I had stopped by a week before my appointment to give blood so the doctor could do a full workup for my first visit. In normal fashion I arrived a few minutes early and I was impressed when they took me back to the exam room 5 minutes early. After the required measurements (height and weight of course) a nurse did a battery of x-rays as well as taking an EKG. So far, it all seemed very thorough and I was feeling like I was in the right place. Soon enough the doctor came in, introduced himself very professionally and let me know that we were both the same age and that he liked patients that he could relate to directly and very openly. I quickly agreed, saying that I was looking for a doctor that I could see regularly for my annual physicals and any issues that might pop up over the years.

After a few minutes of taking my family history, he asked me whether I thought with a few lifestyle changes I could get my cholesterol “under control.” Since at that time I had no earthly idea what my cholesterol metrics were, I said with an earnest voice that I was certain with a little exercise and by watching my diet I could get things in check. As if I pulled a trigger of some sort, he jumped up and said very loudly, “Mr. Levisay, you are a liar!!” Well I was ready for almost anything that morning but being called a liar by my newly met Doctor was not on the playlist! He exclaimed that my cholesterol number was 357, and that there was NO way with a little exercise and diet I would or could make a dent in it and that if I wasn’t ready to go on a statin drug immediately he would not take me as a patient! With that, he walked out of the exam room, leaving me bewildered in my boxer shorts.

Well the long and short of the story is that I did start taking a statin daily soon after, my cholesterol is now below 150 with a very good split of HDL and LDL levels, and I have a very active relationship with that same doctor, now entering our 13th year. The lesson that day that is certainly true in one’s health but also in your business life is “It’s better to know.” Sure I was living in ignorance before entering that doctor’s office more than 13 years ago, but it was better for me to actually know my cholesterol levels so I could actually DO something about it. This idea is easy to talk about but difficult at times to practice in business; but regardless if your situation SEEMS in growth mode or in trouble mode, “it’s always better to know!”

There is a famous quote from Warren Buffet where he suggests that the stock market is highly fueled by greed and fear and that one should “be greedy when the market is fearful and fearful when the market is greedy.” While a deeply wise idea regarding the stock market, this concept holds true in thinking about this idea of “it’s better to know.” My experience is that in business moment s when things seem to be going great, setting records and beating plan, it’s important to go looking for the areas that might show signs of early weakness. Look for markets or products or at innovation that are not meeting their success hurdles, often not easily seen because they are being eclipsed by the broader success. I use the phrase “look for the dark in the light” to describe this approach. Similarly you need to be able to “look for the light in the dark.” In situations where things are tough, maybe you are behind your plan targets and having significant competitive challenges, it’s easy to become myopic on all the things that are not working, rather than looking for glimpses of success and winning within the broader challenged context.

Just like my cholesterol score from years ago, this lesson that “it’s better to know” is a good adage for business and life. Regardless if situations seem very good or very bad, it’s always makes sense to understand them better; to dig deeper into the moment and seek to find the data to help illuminate the dark (or the light!)

Remember …. It’s always “better to know!”