Removing Roadblocks by Asking “What if?”

I was talking to a newly retired CEO the other day. He had been the leader of a heavy machinery dealer, the kind of equipment you’d see active on a construction site. Not only did they sell excavators, forklifts, and cranes, but they were also a local resource for parts. When you push machines like these to their limit, they break. Selling parts for repairs and maintenance is a big part of this CEO’s business.

In a meeting one day, someone on his team brought up this opportunity. “Our customers really value getting parts from us. We should buy some trucks and hire some drivers so that we can deliver parts right to their door on-demand. Clients would love that – and it would make us more valuable to them!”

It was a great idea at first glance. A delivery service would add massive value to customers and enhance the products and services already offered by the dealer. That said, it would also come at a cost. When the company ran the numbers and added up vehicle costs, maintenance, and staffing expenses, the investment outweighed the benefits.

The end.

It would have been easy to stop there. Instead, this CEO kept the door open, encouraging his team to explore alternative solutions. That encouragement led to this…

“Hey, I know it’s too expensive to bring this in-house, but what if we partnered with a local shipping/delivery company who could provide this service for us? An outside partner would allow us to add the same value to our customers but do it with less expense. I think I know someone we could call.”

Two interesting things happened there. First, there was an opportunity to add value to customers and clients, and room was made to explore it. Second, and even more importantly, when the first solution got shot down, the door was left open to explore alternatives.

That alterative led to a three-month trial, which led to an ongoing partnership between the dealer and the shipping company. It also led to happy parts customers who now see this dealer as a resource for all of their new heavy equipment purchases. With service like this, why go anywhere else?

The story above is a simple, real-world example of what happens when we ask, “What if?” Often, our first solution to solving a problem isn’t the best solution. It could be, but it’s more common that our initial idea comes with some unforeseen roadblocks. When we encounter those barriers, we can stop and quit – or make room to explore the alternatives. There is usually another way, even a better way, but we only find it if we keep the door open for it come in.

Part of developing strong business cultures begins with cultivating curiosity. This begins by adopting “What if?” mindsets that don’t quit when we encounter barriers or roadblocks. The solutions are all out there. It’s up to us to ask curious questions and look for them.

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