Learning to drive was a rather interesting experience. As the oldest of four boys, teaching me to drive was as new to my dad as learning to was for me.
I'll never forget our first outing. It went something like this: "Well, get in. We're going to GI Joe's (the local sporting goods store)."
So we climbed in, me at the wheel, my brother Nate in the back seat, and my dad next to me in his '82 manual transmission Toyota Tercel. If we drove around the block a time or two to get a feel for the clutch, gas, and shifter before heading into real traffic, I don't remember. What I do remember is buckling under pressure during crunch time as we made our way out into the middle of the first major, lighted intersection.
We somehow made it to the sporting goods store and home again and upon our arrival I was informed by my pops that we wouldn't be going out again until I had "dry shifted" - carefully clutching and moving through gears first through fifth and back to first again-100 times while parked in the driveway.
This seemed reasonable considering our recent roadway experience and I dutifully complied. Our next outing was so uneventful, I can't even recall it.
I can vividly recall though, another lesson my dad taught me that is forever ingrained in my driving. The lesson was the story of an experience he had while driving from Portland to Seattle during a torrential wintertime downpour late one night.
While heading North in the fast lane, following the red tail lights visible through the pelting rain and windshield wipers, something happened that gave my dad only a split second to react, swerving just in time to avoid something on the freeway.
The bouncing red streaks of the tail lights from the cars in front of the car he was following, which subsequently did not have time to react and also struck the object in the road, were the warning he needed to swerve to the right and avoid what ever was in the road.
It was a pedestrian, who had just been run over, apparently trying to cross the freeway.
"Aaron, you see, if I had not been watching the tail lights of those other cars through the windshield of the car I was following, I too would have ran over that man," my dad emphatically told me. The intensity in his eyes seared the story into my mind and my driving indefinitely.
"Drive through the windshield of the car in front of you!"
While gruesome as the story is, its moral holds an important lesson for the business owner seeking to avoid unexpected danger.
In this day and age where margins are thin, even a minor decline in revenue can turn a black bottom line to red, so it is essential to relentlessly adjust labor costs (your largest and most variable business expense) to the actual revenues on the rapidly approaching calendar.
But to make those necessary adjustments, a business owner must actually be watching the schedule one, two, and three weeks out as closely as he watches the work immediately calling for attention. My business coach calls this view of the calendar double vision. My friend Peter calls it fixing the wing while flying the airplane.
Whatever you call it, the fact remains, that to see the unexpected danger of labor costs exceeding revenue in time to cut those costs, we must be looking forward. We must "drive through the windshield of the car in front of us."
A windshield is by no means a crystal ball, but bouncing red lights are a pretty good indicator that something to avoid is in the road.
So, readers: take this as a cautionary tale to keep our hands on the wheel and our eyes on the road far ahead instead of the bumper of the car right in front of us.
Aaron J. Crowley is the founder and president of FabricatorsFriend.com, the exclusive promoter of Stone Sleeve fabricator sleeves and Bullet Proof aprons.