When You Don’t Know What You Think You Know

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.”
—Wayne W. Dyer

I’ve always been a lousy sailor, once crashed a small one-man Sabot sailboat into a coral reef during my honeymoon in Jamaica. Put a hole in the bow, ended up being rescued by a glass bottom boat redirected to the scene by my bride, who was in another boat, in tears, laughing so hard she wet her pants. Really…who else can say they were saved from certain death by a glass bottom boat directed by a woman with an incontinence problem?

But a friend of mine is an accomplished sailor and she has recently been teaching me the art and science of sailing. As a result, I have been reading a lot of great sailing books, including a wonderful page-turner about Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, and his pursuit of the “America’s Cup,” the most prestigious sailing race of them all. (“The Billionaire and the Mechanic” by Julian Guthrie.)

Guthrie writes that one of Ellison’s favorite sociobiology maxims was “The brain’s primary purpose is deception, and the primary person to be deceived is the owner.” What a great point. It got me thinking about how often we are led astray by our own fantasies and expectations, how we too often see what we expect to see.

Maybe this has happened to you: recently I was looking through a drawer for a favorite pen that I had misplaced, knowing full well that it could not be in that drawer, no way. And it wasn’t. An hour later, still missing my pen, I gave that drawer one last look…and there it was.

The Ellison quote reminds me why I love the business I’m in. Builders all too often believe they know what their customers are thinking. They truly believe their quality is excellent, their customer service is sufficiently responsive, and their communication with their buyers is meeting customers’ expectations.

Unfortunately, once we review customers’ actual evaluations of their experience, the reality is that many of these builders were only deceiving themselves. No one knows more about the sales experience than the person sitting across from the sales person. All you have to do is ask, and then listen. Sure, the truth may punch a hole in your ego right now, but that is better than getting blown out of the water a year from now.

Bob Mirman is founder/CEO of 32-year old Eliant, the building industry’s largest firm specializing in managing the customer experience. He may be reached at

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