Business And The Weakest Link
( Originally Published 1912 )
There is no "perfect man" or "perfect business." There is no business, little or big, retail or manufacturing, shipping. selling or financing, which does not have at least one weak link.
A few businesses—a very few—are so well con-ducted that it is hard to find any link which is very weak. In the usual business, however, such as you see every day, there are many weak links. Turn over to the chapter, "Thirty-three Retail Losses" —read that. Every one of those losses is a weak link. Study each one of those links. It is a rare business that is not suffering from at least one of these losses.
Or, turn to the chapter on "The Business Detective." It goes without saying that you believe that your employees are all honest. You would trust them with your bank account.
Yes, that is all right; but after you have read about a dozen cases where other business men have done the same thing before they woke up, then you will begin to wonder if it is not an injustice to your employees and to yourself to use an antiquated system which puts an unnecessary and unbusiness-like temptation in their way.
Now read the chapter which describes how the most successful merchants hire experts and spend hundreds and thousands of dollars in developing a system which will detect and eliminate the weak links.
Every Man Poor Judge of Self
Every man is usually a poor judge of the weak links of his own business. It's a feeling that mortals have. A poet once exclaimed: "Why should the spirit of mortal be proud?" Why, in-deed? All that we have to do is look around and we will see somebody else who has done a thing bet-ter than we have. He has made more of his opportunities. He has a bigger store, or a bigger business, than we have. He has been able to see things that we could not see, is a better judge of men than we are, has been able to understand and anticipate business conditions far more clearly than we have.
Why is a man the poorest possible judge even of his own ailments? The modern scientific physician knows that he cannot depend on the description which any patient gives of his own symptoms. He knows that the patient will mislead him and get him started treating the wrong disease. He knows by bitter experience that the only way he can be sure of diagnosing a disease correctly is to make the patient keep still, and only answer such questions as he may ask.
Nowadays, they do not ask: "Does your head ache? Is your back sore? Have you stomach trouble?" and all such misleading, unsatisfactory questions of diagnosis. If the scientist wishes to be ac-curate, nowadays, he diagnoses each patient by the laboratory method. He examines the blood, the saliva, the digestive juice of the stomach, the urine, and the feces. Then, by delicate instruments, he examines the nerves, eyes, the hair, the skin. After that, he takes certain other physical tests. Mean-while, the patient can be a deaf and dumb man. When the scientist is through, he lays down a chart in front of the patient. On that chart the patient sees in plain written words just what ails him. Not in misleading, exaggerated terms, but in scientific, exact statements.
Since the day when Pharaoh made the Hebrews manufacture bricks without straw, men have been bending over to pick bricks up and then standing up straight to put them into the wall which they were constructing. Then just a few years ago, a man said : "Why bend over every time'? Why not have the bricks put on a platform high enough for a man to pick up the bricks without stooping over, and why cannot that platform be made so that it can be easily raised, and be at the right height all the time?"
The bricklayers were contented. They stated they knew their business. They were master bricklayers before this man was born. They were successful.
He couldn't teach them anything about laying bricks.
But the man built his movable platform. Straight-way he and his men began to lay three and four times as many bricks as the equivalent number of "master" brickmasons could lay in the old way.
Different Things in Different Stores
The weakest link may be forgotten charges in one store. It may be carelessness regarding liquid packages in another store. It may be thieving in another, or disputed accounts, or delivery errors, in another store. It may be indifferent clerks, or carelessness, or a poor system of handling credits, or a costly method of getting back containers, or all these together.
Then again, it may be a wrong method of figuring the cost, or it may be a waste of time or an ex-pensive method of buying and stockkeeping. In one business the weak link is one thing, and in an-other it is another thing.
The Open Mind
The main point is that every merchant or manufacturer, jobber or shipper, buying agent or selling agent, should cultivate an open mind—should try to get out of his make-up all prejudices and bigotry and narrowness, so that he can see and understand his own business and thereby find its weakest link.
The way to find the weakest link is not to guess at it or sit and muse over it, or wonder what it is. It will never be found that way. The only way to find all the weak links in a business is to keep reliable records of every transaction in each part of that business.
When business does not "trust to memory," but is conducted upon the written record system, the weak links will quickly come to light. When a weak link is found, then a system can be devised for making that link strong. That is just the way that every big business has been built up.
The Big Business Builders
The men who have built up the big businesses of the world are those who are grounded in accurate systems of handling business. They do not want to tax anybody's memory. They know that it is business-like to have everything written down as it occurs, not afterward. All memory is faulty and inaccurate. They know that any business man who tries to carry his affairs "in his head" is wasting his own energies and handicapping his future business success.
The manufacturers who are making the greatest progress learned long ago that it pays them to bring all of their travelling men together periodically and spend time in learning just what each man has found out in his territory—what customers think—what the travelling men think. A manufacturer then knows what mistakes his organization has made.
He knows that, first of all, he must find the weak links before he can make them strong.
When the men come right in from the firing line, right from an immediate touch with the customers of the manufacturer, they talk over things among themselves, and the manufacturer then has these weaknesses, as well as advantages, brought out in conference.
Age of Specialization
More and more every day business men, both small and large, are calling upon experts in each line to come and point out the weak links in their business. This is an age of specialization. The old adage, "Jack of all trades and master of none," was never more universally understood to represent a class doomed to failure or small success. It is the first sign of healthy progress when any business man asks the advice of some one else how to correct leaks and losses—i. e., how to cut out or strengthen the weak links in his business.