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Recently, I went to my car mechanic for routine car maintenance. Pablo has a hole-in-the-wall auto repair shop specializing in Japanese cars. He doesn’t overcharge, and is direct and no-nonsense. Three years and counting, I’ve visited Pablo about twice a year. Each time, I look for improvements or expansions to his business. The immigrant in me wishes this immigrant to succeed. This time, he had expanded to an additional bay and had a spanking new bank of tool drawers along one wall. “Pablo’s business must be improving”, I think to myself.

Maintenance done, we head upstairs to his office for the paperwork. Pablo’s new business cards draw my eyes, a bright pop of color in the otherwise drab and functional office. Paperwork done, as I get up to leave, Pablo says his new business cards have helped drive new customers his way, and it’s thanks to me.

Here’s what happened. The previous time I visited Pablo, I told him his business cards were ugly, dreary and unwelcoming. I suggested he try a brighter and more welcoming look. I guess I communicated my message well enough that Pablo told his wife who took a closer look at those business cards, agreed with me, and set about designing the newer, brighter ones. Pablo says he used to hand out his old business cards wherever he went. Nothing much came of that. Not so with the new cards. People remember them and comment about them, he says. Apparently, even business started to improve after he switched to the new business cards. In fact, Pablo was positively effusive in saying so.

Pablo’s old business card


Pablo’s new business card


I didn’t design Pablo’s new business cards. His wife did. I merely told him his old ones were ugly. A customer offers constructive criticism, the business owner considers it seriously and acts on it, business improves. No big deal, right? Not so and here’s why. This equation could have worked out quite differently. Pablo, the business owner, could have ignored the criticism or he could have taken it to heart. Taken it to heart the wrong way! What about the other end of this equation? Pablo says none of his other customers ever commented about his old business cards even though he asks for frank feedback about his business. Why didn’t his other customers comment about Pablo’s old business cards? Of course, there isn’t such a thing as universal aesthetics but surely, given the outcome, I wasn’t the only one to find the old cards uninspiring? What else? Apathy, undue burden, indifference, shyness? We won’t know for certain, shall we? Yet what a loss of opportunity to build an enduring connection with another by engendering value! Here, both ends of the equation worked in sync, giving both satisfaction. Thankfully, when I trusted my instincts about Pablo and gave him my input, it paid off. Yet did I not take risk in giving my input in the first place?

In our relatively short journey on this planet, we could choose to exist on the narrow and reflexive or we could choose to take some risks, risks that focus on engendering value. Sometimes our seeds may fall on the wrong soil or may get planted at the wrong time. That is part of the risk. Yet, if we are to have a cumulative experience of gratifying exchanges, we need to take those risks, big and small. My experience teaches me what I gain from taking those risks is more meaningful than what I lose. Gains encompass better relationships, better judgment, greater self-confidence, a honing of the instincts; the loss is usually merely some measure of vanity.

Post by Tirumalai Kamala:

Exchanges that engender value

Exchanges that engender value

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