Communications & Perspective

Beware of the Coconuts: Motivation and Perspective

By Barry Maher

We all remember the movie Jaws, and whenever there’s a shark scare, sales managers at waterfront resorts all over the world find themselves drowning in questions from potential guests. And not just questions but cancellations, often large numbers of cancellations.

I’m a swimmer. And I speak at a lot of conferences and conventions. I spend far more time than most people paddling around in the waters off one resort or another. So the recent feeding frenzy—the media feeding frenzy—on shark attacks made me paranoid enough to do some checking. As William Burroughs said, “Paranoia is simply having all the facts.”

Here are the facts, the reality of the situation, which I offer gratis to hotel marketing and sales people everywhere. No need to thank me. Just send me a fruit plate, next time I’m booked into your resort.

Do people get killed by sharks? Of course, they do. No one apparently has any idea how many billions of times swimmers went into the ocean last year, but out of all of those swimmers, sharks killed exactly seven of then. Seven. Worldwide. Even if all seven had been killed on the same beach in the same day, if you happened to be swimming on that beach sometime that day—assuming an average beach on an hot summer day—there wouldn’t be one chance in a hundred that you’d be one of the chosen few. Even with your luck. But we’re not talking one day on one beach. We’re talking all the days of the year and all the beaches in the world. Seven people.

As I’ve said before, fifty thousand dollars is a fortune. Or is it? It’s a fortune for a second hand Yugo. It’s dirt cheap for a brand new Rolls Royce. Five gallons is a huge amount of dishwashing detergent. Unless you were considering—or someone got you considering—a 200 gallon drum. Then five gallons is barely a starter order, a sample.

Perspective is everything. Great business leaders, great marketers and great salespeople determine the perspective—the context, the scale—in which both positives and potential negatives are considered.

Truth: It’s never about how big it is. It’s about how big it seems.

And framing your issues in the proper perspective is what business communications is all about.

Worldwide last year, seven people were killed by sharks. In that same year, in New York City alone, 11,000 people were bitten by humans. Worldwide, 150 people a year are killed by coconuts falling out of trees. One hundred and fifty! Coconuts are 15 times as deadly as sharks. And bathtubs and showers are hundreds of times more deadly than coconuts. If you really want to live dangerously, don’t go swimming, take a shower.

Forget Jaws. Remember Psycho.

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