It Is What It Is

It is what it is. These days that’s a phrase I often use and hear. “It is what it is,” is a saying that accurately describes the economic malaise that has affected all of us. It reflects our inability to do anything about the national economy; it is what it is. There’s a story about a man walking on a beach covered with thousands of stranded and dying starfish. He comes upon a boy, who is carefully carrying one starfish at a time back to the ocean. After watching for a few minutes, he gets the boy’s attention and says, “There’s so many of them, you can’t make a difference carrying one at a time back to the sea.” The boy responded, “Maybe so, but it makes a difference to the ones I carry back.”

Last week I had lunch with a group of retail building product dealers. During lunch we talked about the economy; the fact that housing starts are down by 90% from 2005 and the prospects for a return of the housing market. One of them told a story about a customer who regularly  purchased a relatively small amount of lumber. Knowing the customer wasn’t a builder, the dealer asked him what he was using the wood for. The customer replied that the wood was used for fabricating a product and invited the dealer to stop by his shop. He did so and while touring the facility discovered the manufacturing process utilized rigid board insulation; a product he could supply. He asked if he could quote on the material and eventually ended up with a large order. It is what it is.

Another dealer told a story about passing by his sales counter and hearing a salesman tell a customer that the company didn’t sell steel studs, he stepped forward and said there had been a misunderstanding; of course they sold steel studs. His company ended up with a $20,000 order and a new product line. It is what it is.

In the early 80’s, during tough economic times, we were approached by an architect who wanted us to install a PVC roof on a building he had designed. My first impulse was to say no: the product was untested; we had no experience in installing it and no relationship with the manufacturer. However, because work was scarce, I said yes and that was one of the best decisions I made. The manufacturer was anxious to introduce the product into the Florida market, so they cut a deal that saved us money and provided experts to train our crew and help install the roof. It was the beginning of a mutually profitable and pleasant relationship. It is what it is.

Today, it can’t be business as usual. You not only need to think outside of the box, you need to get outside of the box completely. You can’t continue to do the same old thing and expect different results. Get out of your office, visit customers and look for new products. If what you’re doing isn’t working, why worry about not being there to do it? It is what it is; you can’t change the national economy, but like the little boy with the starfish, one sale, one idea, one new product at a time, you can make a difference for yourself and your company.


“Leaders learn by leading, and they learn best by leading in the face of obstacles. As weather shapes mountains, problems shape leaders.” – Warren Bennis

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