The pitfalls of too much positive thinking - a leaf from real life
I worked under one manager continuously for 10 long years and he was, in simple terms, "positive thinking personified". The more I think of him, the more I start doubting the veracity of the benefits of positive thinking itself!
This manager, during his penultimate year of association with the company, was made to sit idle for the whole year, with no proper assigned responsibility for him. He was so thick skinned that he had no qualms about his predicament. He was happily talking positively about his future in the organization, before he was unceremoniously forced to quit one day!
One of the greatest tumbles he had in the organization with all his positive thinking at its peak was a huge order that he lost to our competitor -- an order which he was all along boasting as if it was right in his pocket! The funny thing in the episode was that he was totally at dark at this happening until the very last moment.
I will narrate the story to demonstrate how positive thinking alone can lead one to a huge pitfall.
Our company came to know of existence of this requirement of Special Purpose Machine (SPM) in the Government-owned Railway Factory only after the tender was floated. We never knew that our main competitor had done lots of spade work by discussing with the customer right from the beginning, giving a concept for the machine and submitting preliminary offer before the tender was floated.
Manufacturing SPM was a relatively new line for us, but the tender specifications were quite comfortable for us to confidently propose a machine and we submitted our detailed technical and commercial bid. When the tender was opened, our bid was about 20% cheaper over our main competitor's bid and we had met practically all the technical specifications very well.
Being a Government tender, generally, the lowest bid stands to get the order. Our manager was extremely happy to see that our price was the lowest and he was very positive that we will bag the order.
As a Sales Engineer, I did the follow-up at the customers' works on the progress of the tender, but the persons I met at my level were rather too cold in their reception towards me. Their curt response was: technically your bid is okay; you are the lowest. Why bother us?
But I felt a sense of discomfort at their cold reception. I wanted my manager to meet the top officials and keep them in good humor, though, under all practical conditions, we should get the order in our favor.
My manager, despite all his positive talking, had this laziness to go and meet the top officials on a courtesy call. He was very confident and positive that being a Government tender, the customer cannot buy from a costlier competitor. He started including this order to be a surefire one in our projected sales estimates for the next half-year. Though he met some of the middle level executives in the plant (who only had a very minor influence in the decision-making) along with me, he never attempted seriously to meet any of the customer's high level executives (the real decision makers), nor bothered to establish a good one-to-one communication with them even over phone, despite my prodding him a couple of times.
One fine morning, we received a communication from the customer, seeking some extra features on the machine and asking us to submit a revised bid. The changes involved were minor and were likely to cause a cost escalation of about 2 to 3% of the originally quoted price.
But my manager felt that since the original bid was about 20% cheaper than the competitor, we could jack up the price by about 8% now and stand to gain that much extra profit! He was very positive that this was a golden opportunity to gain more from the offer. His argument was that even if our competitor (which was much bigger an organization, whose overheads were quite high and whose machines were normally much costlier) were to offer a discount, they could not profitably meet even our jacked up price.
He convinced every one in the higher management for this price increase and we submitted our bid accordingly. When the revised bid was opened, our main competitor had revised the price downwards by about 8% and given the extra features too as asked by the customer.
With this revised bid too, we were the lowest and hence there was jubilation that we will book the order soon.
In fact, we did not even bother to follow-up with the customer further on the matter. We felt it was only a question of paper work pending at customer for releasing the order on us.
One fine morning, there was a frantic call from our head office. They had reliably learnt from another competitor of us (who did not participate in this tender but who had lots of influence at the customer works) that we had lost the order to our competitor. "Investigate immediately" was the message.
It was like a bombshell for us. I ran to the customers' office; no official was willing to meet me. A clerk in the purchase department curtly informed that the order had been placed on the competitor.
"How is it possible? It is a fraud!" thundered my manager. He ran to meet the chief of our other competitor who had the insider information about our losing the order and he fished out the photo copies of the minutes of the Tender Purchase Committee's recommendations. He was smart enough to get it by bribing the customers' purchase clerk!
The committee recommendation projected some very minor technical points that were in favor of our main competitor's bid (by projecting in a highly technical jargon as though it was the greatest feature needed for the machine). They had also cited our price increase in comparison with the competitors' price reduction as reason for our untrustworthiness; they had also stated that we did not have adequate prior experience in building such machines. With all these reasons, they had justified our competitor as better qualified than us and recommended the purchase at the higher price.
We also came to know subsequently that our competitor had excellent one-to-one relationship with the decision makers and had been "very generous in rewarding them beforehand" to turn the tide in their favor. In fact, the very need for technical revisions to call for the (second) revised bid was only to give them a chance to narrow down the price difference, because, with the original bid, it would have been too difficult for the customer to justify placing order on them!
When all these machinations had been happening, my boss was sitting pretty, with his huge positive thinking all along! It took five more years for the company to judge his true "potential" and show him rightfully the exit gate. But till then, by his highly peppy positive talking, he kept every one in the higher echelons of management spell-bound about the future of the company ascending towards moon!