Friday, June 22, 2012

What you can learn about dealing with stakeholders from a garage sale

It rained all the day of my neighbourhood garage sale, so we decided to hold over our sale a couple of weeks until this past Saturday. It was a beautiful day and my old man hauled a truckload of stuff from his place in the east end to my place in the west end and we divided up the driveway. It was one of the most enjoyable days I've had with my dad since we did Movember. We made a bit of money, had a few beers, shot the shit for almost the entire day and good times were had by all.

What didn't dawn on me at the time, but what I realise now, is how much you can learn about dealing with stakeholders from/by running a garage sale. Here's what I mean.

Photo by Chiot's Run
Don't be afraid to just give things away

There was a little girl who bought some books and then doubled back for a plush toy. She had a bit of trouble deciding which one she wanted but when she finally settled on the unicorn, I simply let her have it.

Sometimes you need to just be willing to give something away for nothing but karma in return; especially when that thing has no value to you, but has value to someone else. It's the gift economy, so when dealing with stakeholders ... 

Don't attach arbitrary value

Over the course of the day my dad and I lamented how cheap some people were; how they wanted a lot for almost nothing in return. But as the day went on I realized that haggling over the price of a $1 dollar item is senseless given that the item in question held no value for me until it held a value for someone else. Often I think when organizations engage with their stakeholders, they are reluctant to make concessions or accommodations because they feel as though they are losing out, when really the substance of these concessions held no value to the organization before they were asked for them.

Furthermore, we forget that the sum of any given exchange is often far greater than we originally anticipate, and when we engage with stakeholders we often limit our evaluations to the tangibles that exchange hands rather than how that exchange effects the relationship between parties. In a one-off exchange (such as at a garage sale) we are more likely to take a hard line stance than in an iterative relationship where what I do now has downstream consequences. I suppose that's another key point...

Turn a one-off into an real relationship

There was a woman who was interested in purchasing our double stroller. She had one infant and another on the way, only she didn't have any money on her. After a quick demo I gladly put the stroller (and a dozen or so board books she wanted) aside. She went, grabbed some cash and came back. While she got a steal of deal, and I got that stroller out of my garage, both of these facts pale in comparison to the smile I saw on her face as she walked down the street pushing the stroller that afternoon. She waved and I waved back happily.

I received no such satisfaction from any other of the patrons who came by the sale. The woman who bought our stroller isn't my best friend or my business partner, but you can be damn sure that I will wave and say hello every time I see her from now on, and I hope she will do the same.

Originally published by Nick Charney at
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