Tuesday, May 28, 2013

System Driven

I was at an event in Utah that was populated with martial arts school owners back in the mid 90's.  We were mountain climbing, bike riding, river rafting and at the moment of this anecdote, talking about how to run a successful second or third or even first school with young staff. At this time, Facebook was not a media, the Internet was relatively unknown, and bulletin boards ruled the air waves, with the all powerful 9600 baud US Robotics proprietary modems.  It was awesome. If you wanted information, you talked to a real live person.

Anyway, we were in this breakfast nook in the hotel in the middle of the desert, and two pretty high powered martial arts consultants were discussing how to make it all happen, and I was there because my wife owned a school with 350 students and enough monthly tuition to qualify her as a golden child. One of the guys says, 'the problem is, most school owners are dumb.'  Nice.... 'And, their staff is not any better.  We need a SYSTEM that will allow average instructors to extract large amounts of cash from their businesses.'  He actually wrote it down on a brown bar napkin.  I remember it clearly.  It shocked me.  My heros seem to have clay feet all the time.

This was the logical extension of the then popular, Personality V System argument.  This guy was not much into the personality side of things. There was a large scale argument running around the consulting world then about what made good schools.  System or Personality. many believed that a successful school was based on the personality of the owner/operator.  Many believed that like McDonald's, you could program our industry. (Just to make sure you understand what I am saying, McDonald's is wildly successful in business.  Being like McDonald's is not a bad business thing.) He then said, 'lets make a totally system driven program that anyone can operator and make money. Lets make it so idiots can make it work.'  Imagine that. Right after they buy your introductory program, you would say something like, "would you like an apple pie with those fries?"  Except, for us, it would be, "Would you like extra classes and a cool weapon for only ...."  Up selling had entered our industry right there on a drink napkin.

They went on to make some assumptions that the teachers were all going to be young, under paid, and let go before they became too powerful and demanded more money or opened up their own school.

If they could do all that, then owners could be rich.  Hey, rich is good.  But at what price?

That was the moment we let go of the system driven plan, even before it was marketed, way before it was popular, and now, that it is everywhere, at times, I am beginning to feel like I am a used dish rag salesmen.  People make assumptions about our industry that used to be made about the worst of sales businesses 40 years ago.  Every convention, email, webinar, post and advice column seems to say, if you could only understand the sales system, and keep better stats, you could manipulate the profits and be free.  I actually heard a major sales speaker at a major convention tell young instructors to look in the mirror in the morning and say, "I am a martial arts instructor." What?  We need self validation now?  What changed that we need to psych ourselves into teaching and believing in martial arts? I'm not that type of ducky.  I walk a different path.

In the vein of the old Saturday Night Live Church Lady, "Could it be System Driven?"

(I want to be clear here.  I am not against systems.  I am against manipulation and manipulative sales within the martial arts industry.  The people who taught me system driven are ethical.  One or two steps down, you step into the dung.)

Do you remember when we were people of power?  We helped others because we could help others.  If we were using a system, it had a Korean, Japanese, Chinese or some other Oriental name attached to it.  When did sales become the object of our desires? When did it become OK to say things like, "They bought it with their eyes open," or, "They are adults, no one made them buy it."  When did pushy sales tactics become acceptable to us?

When I was a child, my father told me that rules were created to contain the unimaginative.  Everything in my life has pointed to the veracity of that statement.  We don't follow rules; we apply a physical and mental system to a situation that allows us to the correct thing without thought. Mushin if you will.  Our moral system is our guide, because our training has set us free.  We change lives and free people from fear.  We are the super women and men wearing black belts, making others into super people with black belts too.

The privilege of Power is Service.

So, I was wrong.  Personality does not rule the day.  Ethics do. Let me give you another example.  Today I was reading online about how horrible it is for people to buy gear outside the school.  I agree, it is horrible.  It causes schools to raise their tuition if people self supply.  In addition there are safety issues.  However, I was reading this on the Internet.  The same Internet that these same people use coupons that show up on people's smart phones.  The same Internet that they pay to have their ads on. The same Internet they are complaining on. Why, if their whole business is supported on the Internet, would it surprise them to see people buying gear on the Internet.  They probably bought their karate lessons from those same people on the Internet, or at least found them there.  Ethically, you can not expect them to act differently than you, without explanation and disclosure.

People of Power who refuse to hear truth are the core root of most conflict in our world.  We have Power. Let us cloth ourselves in truth.

In summary, using a system or a set of rules to guide your actions, if they are under constant review to make sure they remain in line with their purpose is good management.  Relying on the rules to supply the moral code for your school is wrong.  To be driven by a system, instead of a purpose is dangerous. Let Ethics and Purpose drive your actions, not dollars and systems. Use systems to organize, not to be organized by them.

Martial Artist are people of Power.  Serve.


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