Posted by: Ken A Locke | February 1, 2016

The Point of Decision

I watched a several professionals in action the other day.  It brought to mind a truth that is common and critical to ALL professionals, no matter what their field is.  Every professional makes a choice about which direction the business (or task) needs to take.  That point of decision determines success or failure.

At a cattle auction the other day, I watched the owner of the sale barn decide what price to start the bidding at.  They sold over 1300 cattle that day.  Some were single animals, some were a cow/calf pair, and some were in groups of as much as 30.  In every single case, though, he had to DECIDE the starting price.  The age, weight, teeth condition, pregnancy progression, breed, and temperament ALL factored in to what he thought those animals would eventually sell for.  Start too low and the buyers would lose interest before the animals reached their true value.  Start too high and some of the buyers wouldn’t even bid in an effort to be conservative.  Horns on a cow make that animal a little less desirable to a rancher, for instance.  It doesn’t mean they won’t eventually sell for as much, but it is a consideration in the auction ring.

The owner would say, “Sell ’em right there…. $1750”.  He would say that every time he had to fix a price point for a group of cattle.  After the phrase, off the auctioneer would go selling each of this set of cows for $1750 per cow as the starting bid.  It is that initial price decision that it takes YEARS  of fully-committed ranching and selling to come to understand.  Most of the cows ended up selling for $1900-2350 per cow, at least during the time I watched the sale.

I also watched one of the ranchers while he bid on some cows.  (By the way, cows are females that have had calves; heifers are females that, even if they are pregnant, haven’t had a calf yet.)  He could tell what quality of animals he was looking at each time a different group of cows came into the auction ring.  They all looked the same, or very nearly the same to ME, but each of these ranchers could tell the differences.  The particular rancher I was watching (out of the corner of my eye) probably had set several pricing limits, but I bet they were subconscious.  Once the auctioneer saw his first bid, the rancher would only need to barely nod his head to accept the next higher price.  (Lower your chin half an inch.  Then return it to its original position.  You just bid on cattle.)  He bought some groups of cattle and he let some groups go to a higher bidder.  $25,000 per group (11 animals at roughly $2300 per head); that takes some guts to stay steely-eyed through the bidding.  It is those subconscious price limits that it takes YEARS of experience to come to understand.

I am reminded of my air traffic controller co-workers when I think of this “point of decision” theory.  One particular controller would hum about 3 notes of a melody while she was formulating her control strategy.  After the 3-note melody, she would issue a stream of instructions that sent all the airplanes on their way with an efficient ease.  I watched another air traffic controller, working the Denver arrival flow, assign speeds to aircraft still 60 miles away from the airport.  He assigned speeds that were different by only 10 or 20 knots (about 12 -23 mph) in order to build a gap between planes to fit an extra plane into the flow.  25 miles and about 3 minutes later, sure enough, there was a 7 mile hole in the “train” to fit in an extra airplane.  It is those initial control strategy instructions that it takes YEARS of air traffic experience to come to understand.

Command of data.  Precision.  Intuition.  Instinct.

Now think about YOUR field of expertise.  What is YOUR point of decision?

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