The ‘Zigs and Zags’ of Business

Roza Agecoutay Blog, Business Insights

Usain Bolt

Usain

“I must have zigged, when I should have zagged’

 – Author, In Dispute

 

Up until this morning when I checked the internet, I thought that this line had come from a professional boxer. It’s a great line to be coming from a boxer as it provides commentary on why he was knocked out. But it appears that it could have first appeared in Joseph Heller’s book ‘Catch-22’, or a popular musical from 1926 called, ‘The Desert Song’.

Apparently it is known as an ‘idiom’… and as any idiom would know, it’s very popular.

As I drove to work this morning I watched the traffic weave in and out in front of me on Highway 99 – the highway leading down to the Peace Arch Border Crossing. All sorts of cars were moving in and out of lanes, maneuvering, I guess, to get to a better position at the border line up. I watched all of this ‘zigging and zagging’ and started reflecting on the ‘zigs and zags’ of business, especially the ‘zigs and zags’ of our trucking and freight brokerage software business.

We are at the dawn of a great revolution in the trucking and freight transport industry across North America, and around the world. While we continue the march towards and information & services-based economy,  we still have a heck of a lot of goods and commodities to move around our countries, across continents, and around the world. The way we use information and apply services – the technology that underpins that effort in moving goods – is the very thing that consumes me most mornings on my way into work.

I look across the fields of corn through which the 99 cuts and I think about the pending harvest of the crop – the picking and collection, the sale, the transport, and the delivery of them to food manufacturing operations, to refineries for ethanol production, to animal feed lots, or to my local grocery store where I can buy 5 for $2. I often wonder why the cobs have to go through all of that, and I have to go all the way to the grocery store, when I could simply stop by the farm, knock on a door and pay the farmer to grab a few cobs for the corn stalk.

“Excuse me – sorry to bother you. My name is Murray and on my way to work at my trucking software business this morning I couldn’t help but notice the lovely corn rows on your farm, and I thought I would take a moment to stop by…

And she might say

“Okay city slicker. He was up a 4:30am this morning and if you want to talk to him you can walk a mile through that corn maze and find him in the back 40”

I would do it, but I have nightmares of that scene from Hitchcock’s North by Northwest where Cary Grant is buzzed by the plane in the cornfield!

There is a ‘zig’ and there is a ‘zag’ to almost everything. Probably because in our hearts we have the ‘distole’ and then the ‘sysole’. We simply work better as human beings when our heart is zigging and zagging. I ‘zig and zag’ throughout the day – we all do. I really like ‘zig and zagging’ of downhill skiing at Whistler. It’s a challenge as you move downhill trying to adjust your ‘zig and zag’ to all the other skier’s ‘zigs and zags’.

There is the new snowboarder who is doing a really  big ‘z-i-i-i-i-i—g’ and then a really big ‘z-a-a-a-a-g’. Then you have some teenage yahoo screaming down on his new skis going by you in a flash – ‘zig-zag-zig-zag’. And then some guy comes screaming into you from behind caught in an out of control…

“Z-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-G!”

“Zorry buddy!”

Cognitive psychologists will tell you the importance of pattern recognition in your life. The importance of our ability to read the ‘zigs and zags’. Our ability to discern and identify patterns extends at all aspects of the human condition. I know never to question my wife’s ability to identify if/when our children are sick. Simply stated – a mother knows.

It is postulated that the greatest of athletes – the Gretzky’s, the Jordan’s, the Messi’s, the Phelps’ and the Bolt’s all have a superior ‘pattern recognition’ ability – a unique combination of nature and nurture – which allows them to process things more quickly. And it means that it ‘all’ happens much slower to them. In Bolt’s case, during the 100-meters, it allows you to check out the big screen, turn his head and smile at the cameras, and tap his heart with his fist as he crosses the finish line – setting yet another world or Olympic record.

In our trucking software we have over 25 pre-configured reports. These reports are designed to provide information to the users – owners, managers, dispatches, accountants – on the status and activities of a business. In my opinion these are the ‘pattern mappers’ of trucking software. But they are not the original patterns of the business. Those patterns exist in the minds of the people in the business who use their acumen to make informed and ‘intuitive’ decisions each and every day they work. I have found that most owners connect the dots and very attuned to the pricing they need to charge for a shipment or load, and the cost they can accept in doing so. They have that pattern held tightly in their minds because it is the ‘margin’ that keeps them in business.

But as a business grows, sometimes you have to supplement your intuition with more information. Sometimes you may find that some of your assumptions aren’t correct any longer. You go into your trucking software and you run a report and you find yourself saying.

“You mean I am not making any profit on that customer?”

Or

“You mean that owner operator is costing me too much?”

Or

“We can’t afford to run that lane anymore.”

Patterns change and sometimes we find that we are caught in some sort of infinite ‘ZIG’ when we have to start ‘ZAGGING’

Last week we had a very nice and intelligent man join our business as part of his practicum on an International Business program. I am very excited about his contribution to our business.  I am not going to tell him anything about our business – just yet. I want him first to spend 2-weeks simply reviewing the industry and determining what a new company entering the industry might do. And then we will compare that to where we are positioned. I want to see if we are moving in the right direction.

I just want to know whether I am seeing the right patterns, whether I have our business in the right ‘zig-zag’ pattern… but most importantly I just want to make for darn  sure the we  don’t get knocked out!

 “Down goes Fr-a-a-zier, Down goes Fr-a-a-azier… Down goes Fr-a-a-a-azier!”

Frazier

 

(Um…I know who said THAT quote.)

 

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