Spit Out The Bones

A Zen Master I know, Genpo Roshi, wrote a book called Spitting Out the Bones. The book title is something his Master said to him about Zen. His Master told him that he must “swallow the whole fish and then spit out the bones.”

A lot of us, your humble author included, tend to write in terms that suggest there is only one way to do something, or one right answer. We sometimes set up straw men against which we rail to make a point, but in doing so, we frame things as mutually exclusive choices. Because of the mediums we choose, like a blog post or LinkedIn, we don’t always provide enough context. In law school I learned that every major law had exceptions, and those exceptions had exceptions of their own. Context is always taken into account, and judges (or more accurately, their law clerks) write pages and pages explaining the context and why it matters to a decision.

If you have been here for any time, you know that I want you to stop being transactional and be super-relational. Except when you shouldn’t be super-relational. If what you sell should be sold as a transaction, by all means, transact. You are not creating value by dragging things out for the person trying to buy something from you (unless of course, you are . . . see how difficult generalizations can be?)

You should also defend your price and justify the delta between your price and your competitors. Except for when you shouldn’t. Maybe the discount is strategic, and your company is trying to buy market share (something the Japanese auto manufacturers did in the 1980’s to great effect). Or maybe you live in a place where everything is a negotiation, and where people increase their prices knowing they are going to haggle. In these cases, the advice I offered is harmful to you. It’s out of context.

All things being equal, relationships win. Except when they don’t. There are people who will find enough value in your product and solution that they’ll buy it even if they aren’t head over heels in love with you. As much as my experience informs my belief that relationships are incredibly powerful in creating a competitive advantage, nothing is universally true (except that nothing is universally true, but even that could be false).

When you see me write words like “mostly,” and “likely,” it’s because I believe there is more gray than there is black and white. What works in some cases doesn’t work in others. The reason that I like choices is that when something doesn’t work, you need to try something else.

So, I will offer you what Genpo Roshi’s master provided him. Swallow the whole fish, and spit out the bones. If something isn’t right for you or for some situation, don’t believe that you must follow a rule that leads you to an adverse outcome. My goal is always to write ideas that matter and that are actionable, but that isn’t always going to be true for everyone who runs across this blog.

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