Jesus and the cost, quality, time triangle

I realise I should be very careful making claims about what Jesus was and was not. If he had chosen to be an engineer, then without doubt he would have been the best. What I know for sure was he and his father were carpenters and I am also convinced that he would have been fully conversant with the Cost/Quality/Time triangle conundrum. No doubt on any given day a potential client would have walked off the street into the workshop, seen a nice sturdy table, a solid handsome chair or some impressive wooden implement and demanded to know the price. Perhaps the piece in question was not quite the right thing! But this stranger would have known immediately there was something different about this particular workshop. The quality was just that little bit better than all the other workshops and the prices being quoted were very reasonable (though he was not going to let these two mugs know that).

Jesus must have witnessed this scene practically every day of his working life. And he would have learnt the language thoroughly. Yes; the language of the Cost, Quality, Time Triangle. (For simplicity let us call it the ‘TRIANGLE’). It is a distinct language. It is real and it can be learnt and translated back into your own mother tongue with just a little practice. As with any other languages there are dialects, strong and subtle accents too, but we shall look at them later.

Any businessman or service provider will know all about the TRIANGLE. Some will know it by default only and many more by the crushing effects it can have on their income, business, livelihood and general wellbeing. Conversely, many a client or customer will have no idea about the language of the Triangle but some who do, wield it like an axe; a secret language, a code to be used and harnessed to squeeze the very life blood out of decent unsuspecting people. It is a language that keeps millions and millions of people in servitude, chained to the desk, covered in grease or coal dust, sweating buckets in the fields and hopelessly chasing tatty unpaid invoices as they blow away in the wind.

The most basic conversation in TRIANGLE goes like this;

Service Provider – “When do you want it by?”

Customer – “ASAP! Or better still yesterday if you can?” thereby adding a little bit of false humour.

Service Provider – “What sort do you want?”

Customer – “Oh! The very best you can provide.”

Service Provider – “What is your budget and how much do you want to pay for it?”

Customer – “Well I am not really sure but as cheaply as possible?”

Never much to go on and if you agree to those terms you are most certainly doomed especially if you are just an average guy with an average amount of integrity and an average amount of goodwill in your bones. When you understand TRIANGLE you will instantly know that your customer/client has actually said nothing. Zilch! Nada! Menem! He may or may not know it but he has you on the ropes already and if you proceed to do business on that basis your chips are fried and your brain will turn to cottage cheese in the very near future.

In attempting to teach my junior engineers TRIANGLE, we gathered round and listened, on an all too frequent basis to innumerable private investors. Each telling us of their plans to build and so increase their wealth. With some tutelage my engineers learnt the language fast and began to enjoy those meetings, commenting that the record never changed! Invariably our ‘potential client’ wanted to build a five-star hotel in the center of Addis Ababa. Of course they wanted it within 12 months to take full advantage of the next African Union summit. And of course they would be handling the procurement of materials directly (and of course they would be coming from a cheap but reliable supplier in China). And of course they expected the finished product to represent excellent value for money (‘cheap’ when translated back into English). After listening to everything that the client wanted we would be asked to tell them immediately how much this would cost to within an accuracy of plus or minus 5%. And of course they already had a figure in mind so a sizeable discount might help us secure this unmissable opportunity. And of course it would look good on my CV so that might be worth another 5% off!

Any language lesson that goes on for more than one hour is usually plenty enough and that is where we generally parted company with our ‘potential client’ who would then then be immediately blacklisted. Surprisingly a great number of the clients with whom we did actually work either misunderstood the need for a basic etymological understanding of TRIANGLE or purposefully used it against us.

Warren Buffet always said that you should only work with people that you like. That is a highly undervalued yet incredibly succinct and truthful statement. However, I would qualify it somewhat and suggest that you should also speak the same language. And here I do not mean English, I mean TRIANGLE of course. Just possibly, it is because you speak the same language that you like the people you work with.

One of the best jobs we ever did was for the military when I was told to spend US$ 500,000 in one month and to deliver the best value for money I could within 12 months. We managed it and everyone was happy as Larry! My client spoke perfect TRIANGLE (and even drew a diagram on my white board to confirm this fact). In essence the conversation went like this;

‘I know the risks’ he told me ‘but I trust you’

‘I have to spend this money quickly otherwise it will be taken back, and I have to deliver the project within 12 months without fail. I know you will provide excellent quality finishes within the context of our situation’.

So, with only one corner of our triangle left unfixed he spoke the magic words –

“I understand the cost might increase but just do the best you can and make me look good”

We built 28 rooms in the accommodation block instead of the hoped for 40 but there were no budget overruns and zero time delays. Everyone was paid on time, the contractor was delighted and the military top brass marveled at the outcome. The opening ceremony was held in English and Amharic – TRIANGLE was unnecessary.

Contractors of all types are regularly branded as crooks. The general contractor who builds you an office or the builder who erects your home, the plumber who fixes your toilet and that terrible leak and service providers of all types come under intense scrutiny. Each is accused on a regular basis of cheating the public, providing inadequate services to their clients, pulling the wool over the customer’s eyes and generally ‘playing the game’.

But consider this; Joseph and his son, Jesus were essentially contractors, service providers and no doubt placed under the same scrutiny and tarred with the same brush. Before Jesus’ ministry and unwarranted death on the cross I am sure he suffered the same slanderous behaviour at the hands of his customers and clients. Just to squeeze some extra, unearned benefit out of the deal by cheating a decent bloke out of his wages.

And here I am not saying that all clients, customers and donors are crooks either. Most are just as unsuspecting as their erstwhile service providers but then again there are some real snakes out there just waiting to take an unfair advantage at the first opportunity. Often they will be practised in negotiating and well versed in TRIANGLE. Undermining your efforts and wrapping it all up in plausible language. I suggest you take time to learn and respond effectively in TRIANGLE. For example;

Customer - “It will only take you a moment.”

Service provider - “yes and that moment is one I would like to spend with my kids”

Client - “It is not much to expect from a professional”

Professional - “no it is not but you don’t seem to be paying professional rates”

Client - “What else have you got to do today”

Consultant - “plenty thank you very much and what has it got to do with you?”

Customer - “Can’t you see I am an important man”

Worker - “yes, you are as important as the next man”

It took me approximately 4 years studying in the beginner’s class and a lot of reading to progress onto intermediary level TRIANGLE. Then a few more years to understand the dialects and finer nuances of the language. All years which were spent giving great service, working long hard days and receiving minimal rewards. I was regularly outfoxed by the clever use of TRIANGLE and easily tricked into believing somehow that I had failed to deliver to expectations. My final three years in business were far more enjoyable. I was a practiced linguist, able to decipher what my clients really wanted and able to talk back sensibly in TRIANGLE and to protect my own interests (as well as theirs). Those were good and profitable years but then came the inevitable.

As Solomon described in the Book of Ecclesiastes – ‘Then I considered all that I had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and again all was vanity and a chasing after the wind and there was nothing to be gained under the sun’.

Perhaps Jesus one day just laid down his tools and explained to the next customer there were better things to do and better ways to do them. And this customer, who was extremely well versed in TRIANGLE thought to himself… this man seems to be speaking in an entirely different language. A language that I do not comprehend. A much more beautiful language indeed.