Business Lesson 4 from Mr. Blandings

The customer always knows best, according to a familiar business adage.

Let’s test this premise, as we continue to explore business lessons from Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948).

As you recall, the film highlights the adventures of the Blandings, who want to leave their small city apartment and move to a house outside the city.

The Blandings found and bought an old house. It was so decrepit, however, every expert tells them that demolishing the existing structure and building a new, modern home in its place would be more cost effective.

Construction is underway, and the Blandings have stopped by to assess progress.

One of the carpenters decides to consult Mr. Blandings (Cary Grant) regarding the structural framing. The carpenter asks:
On them second floor lintels between the lally columns, do you want we should rabbet them or not? … From the blueprints you can’t tell. You want they should be rabbeted?
Mr. Blandings, unwilling to admit he has no clue what he’s being asked, feels compelled to answer, “Umm, no, I guess not.”

The carpenter hollers up the stairs, “Hey, fellas, you got any of them rabbeted lintels set, rip ‘em out.”

There’s a brief pause, followed by the shriek of nails being pried from wood and other sounds of deconstruction. Soon an unrecognizable collection of bits and pieces lands at Blandings’ feet.

Shocked, Blandings tells his wife, “It sounded less expensive to say no.”

What’s the business lesson?

Customers don’t know always best and they’re not always right. Yes, they’re smart and savvy. Yes, they know their business. Yes, they’re masters of their areas of expertise. Yes, they have clear expectations about end results and desired outcomes.

This doesn’t mean they understand the technical issues or complex chain of events triggered by a simple yes or no.

Rabbeting is a carpentry technique. A notch (rabbet) is cut into one board so the end of another board fits snugly into the notch. It produces a strong, solid joint. Rabbeting the lintels into the lally columns was a sound construction practice. And, as we learn, many if not all of the lintels had been rabbeted and installed.

Blandings not only failed to ask questions to put the carpenter’s inquiry into context, he was reluctant to admit his ignorance. He was asked a question. He made a decision. It sounded less expensive to say no, but that no cost him time and money.

How many times have we, like the carpenter above, asked clients to make critical decisions without explaining the implications? How often have customers responded without exploring the ramifications?

It’s painful and sometimes expensive for everyone involved. As buyers and sellers, it's a lesson most of us learn. The hard way.


Business Lesson 1 from Mr. Blandings
Business Lesson 2 from Mr. Blandings
Business Lesson 3 from Mr. Blandings
Business Lesson 5 from Mr. Blandings
Business Lesson 6 from Mr. Blandings
Education & Industry: Divided by the Same Language
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