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Sharing Success – Tom Cortopassi

October 2019

Challenging Conventional Wisdom

Mark Twain once wrote,

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It is what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

I have made this type of mistake before. I was sure that I knew something was true, made a decision based on that “truth,” and later discovered that my assumption (and my decision) were flawed!

For example, years ago in our Fresh Pack tomato facility, we replaced a steel conveyor elevator with a plastic version because the salesperson convinced us that it would be gentler on the tomatoes, last longer, and require less maintenance. But then it broke in five days! Our maintenance team so “soured” on plastic conveyors that we vowed to never use one again. At that point, I knew “for sure” that plastic conveyors didn’t work.

But then a few years later, I saw the same plastic conveyors working flawlessly in a similar application. (They had lasted TWICE as long as our steel conveyors.) It turns out that our original plastic conveyor had failed because we installed it incorrectly. In the words of Mark Twain, “what I knew for sure just wasn’t so!” As a result, we had missed an opportunity to further upgrade our quality!

The same kind of mistakes can happen in any business. So how can we avoid this trap? By challenging Conventional Wisdom –the assumptions we make about our businesses based on what seems to make the most sense at the time.

So, before accepting what you “know for sure” about your business or your customers, challenge those assumptions:

1)What are the biggest assumptions you make about how your business or customers are unique? For example, we might believe that “My customers don’t like/want/care about XYZ!” But what if we are wrong? Test your assumptions to better understand fact from fiction.

2)When it comes to potential new ideas, ask “What if?” What if we implemented this new idea or bought this new equipment, how might it improve our business if we get it right? What if we try it, but things don’t immediately go as planned? What backup plan could we adopt, so if it fails, we can still conduct business while we figure out next steps?

3)Don’t undervalue missed opportunity. We all want to avoid mistakes. But by avoiding potential improvement, we often lose way more in missed opportunities (bigger sales, improved quality, greater profitability, higher customer satisfaction, better efficiency, less waste, higher growth, etc.) than we would really “risk” in trying new things.

4)If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying. Because competition never rests, the only way to stay ahead is through continual improvement. So when a new idea doesn’t work perfectly to start (and it probably won’t), don’t give up!!! Just keep thinking of how to further improve your new approach until you get it right! Especially when it comes to improving our businesses, Conventional Wisdom can be one of our biggest hurdles, especially when “what we know for sure ain’t so!”


Until next time, Ciao!
Tom Cortopassi, President and Co-Owner