A science professor from my college days had the habit of stalking up and down rows of desks while he asked questions. It was extraordinarily unnerving. He would ask a question while standing behind a student, and then deliver a glancing Three Stooges open-handed slap to the back of the head if the answer was incorrect. Today they call that "getting smacked upside the head." Though quite old, in many ways he was far ahead of his time. He didn't deliver the first smacks I ever received upside my head, but he did deliver the most memorable.
There was one particular blow I received from the professor that I still remember. Not because it packed significantly more force than the half dozen others I inspired during the semester, but because he added something I still consider profound. "The explanation you understand isn't always the correct one," he said, then moved on to the next unfortunate student.
The kernel of this very same concept is seen a lot in business today. Understanding, even a false one, of a phenomenon often leads to an attachment, a fondness for the flawed concept. To state it more simply: Business people very often become married to falsehoods. They begin to really believe their misconceptions are true and can't be swayed by logic or evidence to the contrary. Why? Because they just know, that's why. And it makes sense to them.
This is nothing new. Since the dawn of mankind, people have believed all kinds of crazy stuff and dragged out all manner of nutty, though easily stated, explanations. In addition to business, you can see this phenomenon in politics, economics and science. Confronted with a problem, many people simply hide behind the most comforting explanation and use it as a basis for flawed decisions that yield the disastrously predictable outcomes.
In large businesses, these kinds of mistakes are rarely fatal, even to careers. As long as the manager has enough accomplices up and down the corporate ladder, is skillful enough at twisting logic and seems credible, then there's an excellent chance his or her career will survive. But for small businesses, such as bulk vending, these mistakes could be fatal. There are swift and unpleasant consequences for coming up with the wrong explanation.
We don't have to go back very far to see some of the flawed and fatal misconceptions held by credible bulk vending professionals in the past. It wasn't that long ago when flat vending was proclaimed to be a cyclical fad. Longtime operators confidently proclaimed that no child would spend more than a quarter for a capsuled toy. And experts predicted that bulk vending would never be allowed beyond the vestibule of any respectable shopping mall. A good many of the operators and suppliers who senselessly and stubbornly clung to these dictums are no longer in the industry.
At the time, there were seemingly valid reasons for these operators and suppliers defending their positions. I listened to quite a few of them over the years. To the best of my knowledge, all of them genuinely believed they understood the business from top to bottom, backwards and forwards, inside as well as out. Of course, some of them had a financial stake in their positions while others were unable or unwilling to learn new skill sets. None of those explanations matters today. They were wrong and now they're gone. And that's more than a smack upside the head.