Turning Negatives into Positives

By Barry Maher

“If you can not get rid of the family skeleton, you might as well make it dance.”
—George Bernard Shaw

Crisis or Opportunity?

In 1912, the printer was all set to run three million copies of Teddy Roosevelt’s nomination speech, complete with photographs of Roosevelt and his VP candidate, the immortal Hiram Johnson. Then the chairman of the campaign committee discovered that no one had obtained permission from the photographer who had taken the pictures. Legal penalties for the copyright violation could be as much as $3 million.

The printing plates were made. Changing the photos would be extremely expensive. But no one knew what the photographer might demand for the rights. It was even possible that, heaven forbid, the man was a Democrat. There were a number of them afoot in those days, and they were an unpredictable lot. The photographer might even deny Roosevelt’s people the pictures altogether.

The chairman sent off a quick telegram: “Planning to issue three million copies of Roosevelt speech with pictures of Roosevelt and Johnson on the cover. Great publicity opportunity for photographers. What will you pay us to use your photographs?”

“Appreciate the opportunity,” the photographer replied, “but can only pay $250.”

The chairman accepted without dickering. He probably could have held out for $350 or $400.

The Krispie Crisis

Four months after the introduction of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Treats—and the expense of all that new product marketing—the company ran out of stock. Plenty of advertising but very little product. People wanted it but couldn’t find it.

So turning crisis into opportunity, (did you know that in Chinese the word for crisis is the same as the word for “no Krispie Treats”?) and bragging about the negative, Kellogg ran apologies in major papers across the country asking consumers for patience. The headline read: “OK. Who took the last one?” The ad explained how hard the company was working to keep up with the incredible demand for Rice Krispies Treats.

It would have been hard to plan it any better.

Loud and Proud

Great leaders, great managers and great employees never try to hide potential negatives, and they certainly don’t stumble through them. Great leaders, great managers and great employees—like great salespeople—use potential negatives as selling points. They even brag about them.

Are my hourly consultation rates expensive? Absolutely. And why do I charge so much? Because I can. Because my clients are not just willing, they’re happy to pay that much for the results I generate.

Can you find someone else to do the job for less? Absolutely. I’ll be happy to give you phone numbers. Of course, why do you think they charge less? Do you really think they would charge less if they could charge more. They aren’t humanitarians. They charge less because that’s what their clients are willing to pay for the results they generate.

Tip: If you can brag about a negative, you’ve made peace with it. Often the secret to making peace is to find a way that you can honestly brag about it. Having a skeleton in the closet is a lot more fun when you can make it dance.

Barry Maher consults, writes and speaks on professional development, motivation, management and sales. Filling the Glass: The Skeptic’s Guide to Positive Thinking in Business was recently cited by Today’s Librarian as “[One of] The Seven Essential Popular Business Books.”

© Copyright 2003, 2013, Barry Maher, Las Vegas, Nevada

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