Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2006   by Andrew Ross, Publisher and Editor

Natural Myths

One of my favourite films is “The Natural.” It deals with the comeback trail of a would-be-great baseball pitcher with a fastball like a streak of lightning and a bat to match.

It has it all: sports, forgotten love, mystery, and more than a little mythology and magic thrown in.

At its core is the idea that from the prairie fields comes this kid with the natural ability to strike out all comers, including The Babe himself, who then disappears from view just as quickly, merely waiting for the right moment to re-emerge as an aging star from nowhere.

It is, of course, just a story. There was no such person as Roy Hobbs and there is no such thing as a “natural” of that calibre.

Sure, there are sports figures, and business figures too, who emerge from the haze of pre-adolescence displaying enormous talent.

But ask Tiger Woods if he’s a natural, and he’ll probably admit that he came into this world with a greater-than-average natural ability, but the Tiger we see on the course today, or even the one of a decade ago, is the product of hard work every day, learning, relearning, listening to coaches, and honing his craft. Four hours a day at the gym? Some natural.

The same is true in business. Ask any successful businessperson and he will tell you that he learns new things every day. He’s also learned how to apply what works.

And it is true that some people, in sport, business, and life, like to perpetuate the myth that their skills are natural, that they don’t have to work at them. Perhaps this makes them feel superior to those around them, but it’s still baloney. Nobody is born knowing how to read a balance sheet or which fuel pump fits a 1994 Ford F-Series.

The fact is that success in today’s changing aftermarket has more to do with accepting what we don’t know as it is understanding what we do.

You will simply not learn enough on the job to get you through. Those days are gone. No matter how many times you sell a suspension part for that F-150, you won’t learn anything more about why you’re not getting orders for Tundra parts. And that goes for management, counter staff, and your customers, the technician and the shop owner–everyone in the aftermarket, in fact.

A focused effort on training is required to learn about new markets, new technologies, and new approaches to business and vehicle service.

Other industries spend thousands of dollars a day for training courses; the aftermarket gets off lucky in that respect, as costs are usually pennies by comparison.

I give full credit to anyone who dedicates time and effort to participating in training initiatives, but I’d like them to do one thing: the next time someone pays you or someone else in your business a compliment, who says that you or someone else really knows his stuff, give credit to the training courses and other resources used to learn.

And do me another favour. If the opportunity to accept a compliment of this nature arises, make sure you don’t have to lie about it.

It is not that much of this information isn’t out there, but even the most successful training events attract only a fraction of those in the marketplace. Everyone must get together to talk about what they want in training, and then they must be prepared to step up and participate.

Right now that’s not happening nearly enough to ensure that another natural–natural selection–doesn’t evolve them right out of business.

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