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The Modernization of Traditions

Topol as Tevye

Traditions are out. Gone. Kaput. With the limited exception of family events this time of year, traditions in the modern world are really not much more than convenient crutches, allowing us to live our busy personal and professional lives without too much thinking. And they can harm our relationships with customers. Worse yet, they can get in the way of helping our customers succeed.

In the classic Broadway musical, Fiddler on the Roof, the main character, Tevye, is a Jewish dairy farmer in turn-of-the-century Czarist Russia. His life, as well as the lives of his family and neighbors, is guided by a set of traditions that are well established, consistently followed and steadfast. Tevye struggles with these traditions and their meaning in his life when his oldest of three daughters wants to marry her childhood friend instead of the butcher’s son with whom Tevye has arranged a match in exchange for a dowry. This was the traditional way marriages occurred.
In his opening monologue, Tevye asks the rhetorical question about one particular tradition, "You may ask, ‘How did this tradition get started?’" Answering his own question, the salt-of-the-earth milkman says, "I’ll tell you…I don’t know. But it’s a tradition."

The modern version of this admission, of course, is continuing to do things "the way we have always done things," without even knowing why or how these methods or processes were started. We must constantly challenge what we do, how we do it and why we do it that way. Do these methods and processes add more value to our customers? Do they make it easier for our customers to do business with us and to grow that business? Do they help our customers succeed?

When our customers take the time to give us either their “wish list”—things they wish we could do for them—or their “punch list”—for those of you that have ever built a house, a list of all the things that need fixed—we must challenge ourselves. We must think boldly about new ways to help them achieve their business objectives.

It’s too easy to use the way we have always done things as a crutch or a shortcut. To feed our laziness. That’s a harsh word, I know, but challenge yourself about this point. Do you ever take the easy way, thinking that not rocking the boat is a safe and easy approach?

Next time you think that way, ask yourself if the safe and easy approach is really best for your customers. Take a risk. Innovate. What are your customers really looking for? In what new ways can you provide more value to your customers?

Oh, and Tevye’s daughter? She married the tailor. Tevye constructed an innovative dream sending a message from the grave of his wife’s grandmother that got him out of the arranged deal. He realized that his daughter’s happiness was more important than the way things had always been done.

About the Author

Phil Bounsall

Phil Bounsall

As president at Walker, Bounsall is focused on the development and execution of strategies and operating plans designed to enhance Walker’s position as a global leader in customer intelligence. Bounsall also works with Walker’s client service teams to help meet the needs of Walker’s clients.

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