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Start calling the shots  or end up in the doghouse

Are you a trained craftsperson? If so, how much training do you have? The more instruction you receive in any occupation makes you better at performing whatever craft it is you do. Training is key, and those who understand it’s precepts will find success.

Whether you are training your hands to perform a certain task, or your brain to formulate an opinion, acquiring a better response time is only achieved through the discipline of good education. In business we have to train ourselves in many fields of study. It’s not just learning how to do what it is that you create, you must be trained in how to sell it, how to account for profit, how to manage employees, etc. The list for training focus is infinite, and smart people recognize the need for it.

But just as there are two sides to every coin, there are two sides to training. You can either be trained for a desired behavioral response or respond to a trained behavior. Which side are you on?

The premise

Ivan Pavlov, the Russian physiologist, has taught us the importance of trained behavior. In his study with dogs, he believed that some things do not need to be taught, such as a dog salivating when presented with food. These reflexes are hard-wired or instinctual in the animal.

However, what he discovered in his study is that the dogs would eventually begin to salivate when they learned to associate an item or event with the food. This learned behavior was the result of the dog being exposed to a bell, a lab assistant, or even the bowl itself because it associated it with the food. The food was the unconditioned stimulus, and the neutral stimulus was the associated object or event.

How you use this information will determine whether you are being trained or doing the training in your business, an important distinction for MNAP (minimizing the negative, accentuating the positive).

Reality check

We all dream of the model client, someone that trusts us to do the work and doesn’t squawk about the cost. I’ve worked hard through the years in a quest to develop the perfect client base that fits that model. The problem I found is you often have to take a lot of crummy jobs just to pay the bills in-between the good ones. But if the business model is followed, you’ll see patterns emerge that help guide you into developing the best fit of work (and client) for your company. Unfortunately, there can always be an anomaly in the pattern.

This unplanned result could be from misreading the pattern, or perhaps you’re simply not paying attention. If you forgot the first question I asked, you need to be reminded of it now. Are you a trained craftsperson? If you answered yes, then you should easily understand the concept about the importance of training. You can’t sell a custom piece if you have never learned the basics of Woodworking 101. Being trained in the properties and characteristics of wood, along with the principles of how to fashion the material into a usable product is of utmost importance in finding the right clients that will reward you for your talent. Of equal regard is learning how you have been trained by your clients to such demands as scheduling, material, design and cost. And, how to turn that conditioning into the reverse positive of you training your client to respond to your method of procedure.

You are the expert. You are being hired to create something for them. Therefore, the client needs to conform to your modus-operandi, not the other way around.

Reality bites

I really didn’t care too much for school when I was young and living at home, but once I was out on my own I gained a whole new awareness of the importance that training can provide. One of the obtuse things I learned in college was simply studying the behavior of both professors and students alike (as it pertained to the classroom). Through awareness and observation alone, I realized you could gauge the topics and information the teacher believed was most important to learn.

This documented behavioral response helped me to focus on the things needed for the best grades because I was able to eliminate many of the unknowns I knew we would be tested on. And because my brain wasn’t crowded with the unknowns, there was freedom to learn the topic in much greater depth. Taking this same approach in running a business, you should become a student of client and subcontractor behavior. When you’re a good study of people, you learn how to give them what they want without having to sacrifice yourself in the process.

Much like Pavlov’s observation of learned behavior, it’s up to you to teach your client the desired behavior. It’s a sound principle, but not as easily obtained as you might think. Stubbornness to pay attention to the facts (the typical way a client will act or respond to a higher cost, scheduling delay, etc.) may allure you to manipulate their behavioral results to fit a model that is randomly perceived to work better. Think of that reasoned folly this way; when Pavlov’s dog salivated because it heard the bell, he didn’t rewrite the reason as instinctual behavior, but instead stuck to the facts (results) of what the learned behavior taught him.

Thirty-nine years in the business teaches you something, like reading people and situations with high percentage accuracy. That being said, I’m still learning the importance of discipline. Let me give you an example.

I was recently contacted to build a piece of furniture. Rather than being excited about a new project, I felt nothing but skepticism.

Now before we go further, I need to provide an important reminder. Whether you’re an artist on stage or in the shop, the people paying to see you perform are always going to see how far they can get you to jump. There’s a perceived entitlement that occurs when paying for a service. Keep it mind that they are only paying for your services, not your soul.

There were some fairly weird circumstance surrounding this commission. First, the customers were referred to me by someone I don’t know. They have not told me their names and want a pre-designed piece with no clear understanding of how it will be used. Now I love odd stuff, but the request was the equivalent of asking a tailor to fashion a three-piece biped suit for a new client with four legs. But they were willing to pay and front a large deposit.

So I had to ask myself, am I going to have a conditioned response to a client’s lure of frivolous money spending and become nothing more than Pavlov’s dog? Or, am I going to use the information I’ve learned from past client relationships and stay true to my business model?

My advice is to be Pavlov, not his dog. In other words, you need to be the one calling the shots, not the clients.

  David Getts  

  David Getts  

David Getts is a certified kitchen designer and owner of David Getts Designer Builder Inc. in Seattle. 

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue.

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