The Manhattan Effect

The Manhattan Effect

The excellence of any business depends on the willingness of its customers and employees to provide direct and honest feedback. But are you and your managers ready to listen?

I've been lucky enough to live, work and hang out in both Manhattans — as in New York and Kansas — which makes me kind of an expert on how you can tell the difference between the two. For instance, while you might not be surprised to learn that the restaurants in Manhattan, New York, are better than the restaurants in Manhattan, Kansas, the disparity between the two is probably bigger and perhaps more mysterious than you think.

It's not an exaggeration to say that the 10 highest ranked restaurants in Manhattan, Kansas, are not as good as the 10 lowest ranked in Manhattan, New York. To the casual observer, there might be a few seemingly obvious reasons why this is so, such as concentration of wealth or concentration and diversity of population. But Manhattan, Kansas, has some advantages too, like proximity to (hence freshness of) the ingredients as well as fewer distractions. But that's not the important distinction. The fact is that the differences are actually caused by bad attitudes and a general lack of empathy. Not by the restaurants; by the customers. And not by the customers in New York; by the customers in Kansas.

Ever heard the expression: "Nothing you say will ever teach you anything"? Not true

More on this restaurant thing in a minute.

I'm terrible at small talk and as awkward as Joe Cocker in a conga line when I have to walk into a room full of strangers. I'm always glad to attend CIO conferences, but I'm only good for about 15 minutes at those "networking" receptions sponsored by this or that vendor. My coping mechanism is to enter the room, move slowly into a circle of people and pretend to listen. Most of what you hear among any circle of strangers as they carefully sail clear of the "never talk about" topics like politics, religion, race, gender, social issues and, of course, Fight Club, is an amazing amount of chatter with very little usable information or ideas being exchanged. This isn't because there aren't great ideas or powerful intellects present, but because you never know, in a situation like this, whom you might offend by offering an opinion. Sadly, many are cowed by the threat of disapproval for expressing even the most traditional point of view. What results is conversational chloroform.

Examples of pure and unambiguous communication can be hard to find, but it happens occasionally. For instance, there are our horses. We love our horses here on the ranch in Texas, but we'd be the first ones to admit that they're pretty dumb. For the most part, horses have one thing going through their little minds, 24 hours a day, and it explains a lot about their sometimes strange behaviour.

It is: "I'm a horse, I taste good."

I don't know what they're so afraid of. We're not French!

Horses are absolute geniuses about one thing, though. That is, the specific location and placement of their feet. It's what allows them to navigate rough, vertical terrain at breakneck speeds or walk carefully around a newborn foal in a tiny birthing stall.

So, it is absolutely, 100 percent true that if a horse steps on your foot, it is because he meant to. The horse is attempting to communicate. This is attitude as a figure of speech, and if you don't understand the message, you might be in for a very bad day. What he's asking is: "Who's going to be in charge today? Who gets to crowd whom, and which one of us is going to step aside?" These are questions that horses ask of each other every morning as they're turned out in a pasture. Most of our horses weigh between 450 and 550 kilograms. I weigh 77 kilograms. So, it's important that I make myself clear about who's in charge when I get a question like this.

But back to the Manhattan thing . . .

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