Monday, June 17, 2024

Where the rubber meets the road  


Someone told me once that you can see the true character of a person by observing the way he or she behaves in traffic. Some are even of the opinion that traffic is a reflection of society. It shows how the society functions, what the culture is and what the norms and values are. I am not sure whether this is really the case but if it is so we should also be able to see a relation between behaviour in traffic and the way businesses are run. This could be an interesting exercise as it will presumably help us to understand a thing or two about the way businesses are run in Ethiopia and what we could do about it to improve.

Below I made a table and listed some principles that in my opinion are valid in doing business. Remember, principles are universal and timeless, like natural laws are. If I drop something, it will fall to the ground, subject to the principle of gravity. Similarly in business, if I treat clients with respect, they will come back for more. If I cheat them, they will stay away. In the middle column, I described what I observe in traffic. In the third column I attempt to translate this behaviour into the business context, comparing driving a car with directing a business.

Business principle Behaviour in traffic Consequences translated to business
Having the knowledge, skills and experience is essential to run a particular business. A driving license does not necessarily mean that the driver knows the traffic rules and has the skills or experience to drive. Many rules and regulations are not followed, and mistakes are made. Equipment suffers damage by unskilled handling.
A feasibility study is useful before entering into a new business venue. Enter the road without looking to see whether the road is clear, and it is safe to do so, causing danger to self and others. Not knowing what the opportunities and threats are in a specific sector may lead to wrong decisions.
Know where you are going. Have a vision for the company. Then have a strategy and plan. Most of us know where we want to go. The problem is how to get there. Many drivers use the same road and get stuck in the jam. Following the same routine will not get us there any faster. Sometimes we need to take a risk and find another way of doing things.
Put in the required resources and budget for it. Especially taxi’s virtually drive on empty, causing the car to stall anytime. Operations coming to a halt is costly. Time and production are lost, and costs increase.
Constantly scan the external environment for opportunities & treats. Drivers hardly look around or in their mirror, seeing only what is in front of them. Opportunities to advance are missed and the business is suddenly overtaken by unnoticed competitors.
Regular maintenance will prevent brake down of operations. Continue to drive until the car breaks down. Repairs are carried out on the road or by the cheapest garage. Operations and service delivery are not consistent. Crisis management is the norm rather than the exception.
A safe working environment enhances productivity of workers. Safety belts are for sissies. But accidents result in unnecessary injury and loss of life. The company loses productivity as workers report sick and compensation needs to be paid.
Listening well helps understanding others’ point of view and in negotiating a compromise. Honk as loud as you can, anytime, so that others hear you. Ignore the signals of others. In the end you will not be listened to, and you will lose credibility.
Businesses relationships are interdependent. We need to cooperate to make things work. Me first than you. Don’t give way. Instead of helping the traffic flow, everybody gets stuck as a result. Rarely a business can function without dealing with others. Bad relationships will result in meeting friction rather than smooth cooperation.
Integrity will pay in the long run. Clients will trust you and come back for more. Paying a ticket is a pain in the neck. Better to grease the pocket of the police officer a bit. Wrong. If you are known to pay bribes to get your way, you will always be asked for another.  In the end there is no way out.
Be a leader in your business. Let others follow your example. No way, you are the master of the road. Never mind the cyclists and pedestrians. Cut them off if you must. Spending your energy on crushing competitors and newcomers in the market, takes your attention away from reaching your goals.
Stay focused and don’t get distracted into side activities that will keep you from reaching your goals. Use any lane, anytime. Use even the line that separates the lanes, thus endangering yourself and other road users. Inconsistent directions by management are confusing and frustrating for everybody.
Concentrate; do one thing at the time. Steer the car, change gear, apply the break and talk on your mobile telephone at the same time. Do you still know what you are doing? Do others know what you are doing? Divided attention will not result in the best judgement of the situation you are in. Decisions will be made haphazardly and subconsciously, endangering the company.


Without pretending to be exhaustive in terms of the application of business principles, it is quite interesting to see indeed what parallels can be drawn between the way we behave in traffic and the way we run our businesses. What to do with this observation? What can we learn from this? I suggest that from now on, every time you get stuck or frustrated in the traffic, instead of getting angry and hitting the horn, you ask yourself how this particular situation came about and what your own role is in causing it. Next, ask yourself what you can do to resolve the situation. Finally, continue to your office and apply what you have just learnt.

Ton Haverkort




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