There is a little bistro, Café Vanille, about 100 yards from my Boston house where you'll find me a couple of days every couple of weeks. The coffee is good to great (and 100 times better than my own), the croissants pure delight.
And they open at 6 a.m. No small thing for an early riser.
But that's not the point of this post. Rather, it is to say a few words about a woman I love but whose name I don't know. And the tragedy of her leaving me for good.
Of course I ought to know her name—but I don't. (Nor she mine.)
But here's what I do know:
(1) She comes (came) in about 4 a.m. to get things ready.
(2) She appears to be very efficient at what she does-did.
(3) She lights up my life, rain or snow or sleet or hail, gloomy or sunny, at 90°F and -5°F.
She is definitely not "chirpy." (I'd guess she's 45, an age by which chirpiness is highly suspect, by my lights.) It's just that we always exchange a few pleasant sentences, she seems to enjoy what she does, and she brings along a good (good, not great) attitude day in and day out.
I emphasize "good but not great" because, at 6 a.m., I'm not looking for "Let's go out and kick ass, guys." I'm looking for solid and engaged and sociable-friendly and gettin' the job done with everyday pleasure.
Her solidness and spirit were just the tonic I needed—as much as the caffeine. And she provided it again and again and then again.
She's gone now, and I miss her terribly (this was my first morning without her), and I didn't know her name. That's not all bad either, in a funny way. It's not that "Mary's gone—alas." It's that this person whose name I don't know who in a solid-quiet way launched my days on a sound (not giddy) basis is not in situ anymore.
As always (alas!), I also have an ulterior motive in telling this story. It is to remind us that business ("life," too, of course) rises or falls on the nature and character of what the great SAS boss, Jan Carlzon, called "moments of truth"—those fleeting moments of true human contact that define our enterprise's excellence—or lack thereof.
Thus our goal, perhaps primary goal, in every flavor of business of every size, is to "MTMOT"—Manage To Moments Of Truth. Every decision about hiring, firing, supervision, training, systems development is to be designed for and brought immediately and directly to bear on the "production" of Moments Of Truth. My beloved friend from Café Vanille is poster woman for the possible impact if one gets it "right."
So that's my professional message. As to my personal one, what higher tribute to any person than to say that day in and day out they brought a little sunlight into others' (mine—one other!) lives via the most fleeting moments of contact. I repeat, not cheeriness, chirpiness, or blinding light—just a dab of predictable friendly interaction that invariably pushed the (my) day in the right direction—or at least kept it from heading down the wrong road.
Back to business. Look for, desperately pursue, settle for nothing less than such folks—they are surely not a dime, or even a dollar, a dozen. But they are there and if you will take the trouble to seek them out and then show your occasional appreciation for what they do, Excellence, I predict, will be within your grasp. (And quite possibly a bushel of profit to go along with it.)
When I think of the sorts of interactions I describe above, two quotes come to mind:
"Courtesies of a small and trivial character are the ones which strike deepest in the grateful and appreciating heart."—Henry Clay, American statesman
"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."—Philo of Alexandria
If we could truly appreciate those two sentiments, and incorporate them into, as businesspeople, our enterprises' DNA, I think it would make a world of difference—and be the ultimate "blue ocean."