Stranger Things have Happened

You're hosting a giant Thanksgiving Day feast for 100 of your best friends. To make it the best dinner ever, you hire a respected and experienced caterer to deliver a hundred meals with all the trimmings. Cooking that much food takes time and planning, so you place your order on Halloween. The caterer thanks you for your support, and promises a meal that will be "more wonderful than you can believe it!"

Your caterer calls the Monday before Thanksgiving. Apparently, someone on her kitchen staff released two purchase orders to the local poultry farmer, and now she's got enough birds for 200 hot dinners. She asks you to invite 100 more guests to your already crowded party so none of the expensive food goes to waste. The caterer is your friend, so you promise to make some calls and give her an answer the next morning. After spending 24 hours to find 100 people with no plans for the holidays, you call the caterer and give her the good news—you can indeed accept all 200 turkey dinners on Thursday. 

Elated, the caterer thanks you for your generosity and support, then promises to serve your 200 guests their delicious dinners… on Valentine's Day.

This very thing happened to a friend of mine in the bicycle business. The turkeys were 10-speeds—7,000 of them—and the dinner guests were global importers, but the nightmare was the same. Apparently, someone at his assembly factory double ordered components, but failed to order the 3,500 frames necessary to turn those parts into complete bicycles. Rather than tell him about their double order on the taters and stuffing, they buffaloed my friend into moving more metal than he asked for so the factory didn't have to sit on inventory. 

From presidents to product managers at bike companies bigger than life and barely alive—every time I visit Taiwan my friends in this business share similar tales of woe. Last night I had dinner with the brand manager at a 30-year-old BMX behemoth, a marketing director at a $25 million cruiser company and a designer at a boutique city-bike brand, and their frustrations were the same. Orders lost. Emails ignored. Samples unfinished. Shipments cancelled. Invoices doubled. Problems avoided. Opportunities squandered. Money lost.

Many years ago I met an American ex-patriot who moved to Taiwan to teach English to the children of rich businessmen. When I asked him what he had learned from being surrounded by a society that boasts 5,000 years of culture, he responded, "Is it a 5,000-year-old culture, or is it a one-year-old culture that's been repeated over and over for 5,000 years?"

Confucius couldn't have said it better himself.


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