What is the link between Terrorism and Funeral Service?
Well, you have to read a very short story and watch an even shorter video to find out. But the rewards will be worth it because I am going to reveal some of my secret sauce.
A few years ago a friend shared that: “Alan see things everyone else does… but differently.” And I guess I do. The video below gives you an insight on how I do that but first a little story about me that might help you understand why this is important.
The 2020 Project
This is not a formal announcement but in a few weeks I will be announcing what I will be calling the 2020 Project. Until then you can wait on pins and needles.
In the interim it might be interesting to know how I got there.
It actually began as a child (this has a point so bear with me). During World War II my father was an analyst in the OSS (the precursor to today’s CIA). He loved to hike and camp and often shared stories of clandestine activities that were very exciting and even mystical to my young mind. As I grew older I began to apply some of the techniques he shared during our campfire talks. I found they worked unusually well in providing me insights well beyond the superficial.
Later, after graduating and passing the CPA exam, I had the good fortune to work for a company that bought distressed companies, repaired them and sold them at a substantial profit. It was my job to figure out the shortest distance between the current distress and operational health. There I found I had a real talent for using those skills I learned from my father to rapidly discern trends and uncover the true source of problems so that I could avoid the “rabbit trails” others seemed tempted by. I also learned the difference between “fads” and “substance”. But that’s another story.
My first job in funeral service was in 1980 as President of OGR’s Service Corporation. At the time it was insolvent. It was immediately apparent that the primary problem was that the organization had confused form for substance. When proper priority was given to the real value offering the company was restored.
The Funeral Service Application
Having restored solvency and growth to OGR I couldn’t help but become aware that the profession…Funeral Service…was doing much the same thing: Confusing form with substance.
While I knew, in my heart that was a problem, it was too early in the process for it to be apparent which was form and which was substance. It was, after all, only 1983 and my opinion was only a gut feeling then. All that was apparent was that every year more people were opting out of burials and services. Try as I might I could not find a worthy application of what I learned from my dad. And I tried a lot.
The Secret Sauce
What did I learn from my father? What is my secret sauce? Frankly, for many years I thought this was common knowledge. I thought everyone knew about it. Now I know that it is a developed ability and requires both intuition and a high level of ability to consider the impossible (now popularized as “Black Swans”).
Basically, what my father did was study media from inside occupied countries to determine what was “there that was not supposed to be there” and “what was not there that should be there”. Based on general frequency or lack thereof certain inferences can be made.
Here is an easy one: During the 1990′s there were many articles on how to value your business and many conferences on the same. It was easy to infer that we were in a period of consolidation. Another, during the last decade was the preoccupation with “sideline” activities like pet cremation and niche business like veterans services. An outside observer could infer we were in a phase of lower volume and / or boredom or desperation.
Those are the easy ones. But sometimes it is stuff that just doesn’t make sense. This technique is all about incongruities. For instance, I have only recently made sense of the co-dependency relationship between funeral directors and casket manufacturers. From the beginning I saw no relationship between market share and casket brand. Nor did I see the casket as a sustainable value driver in a market that was inexorably moving toward casketless services. Looking back I now see what was happening. No one is perfect. I missed the fact that this was a carryover dysfunctional factor that was keeping the profession from dealing with some of the more urgent issues.
Just as challenging is the reality of what SHOULD be there… but isn’t. Every organized society for several thousand years has had the need to formally honor their dead and to designate individuals within their society to handle the process. Why were funeral directors in today’s society feeling like “second class citizens”? Why was our society so death averse? How were we contributing to the problem?
The Secret sauce is really relatively simple.
It rests on a basic assumption: There Are No New Problems. The first task when presented with a problem is to find someone who has already solved it and replicate it (with adjustments of course) and apply it to your own situation. After years of searching I realized that there was a direct parallel between the “megachurch” movement and the changes impacting the mainline denominations and what was happening in funeral service. For 12 years now I have been applying that parallel and have yet to find a difference in the pattern. It makes it simple. But, being fairly intimate now with mainline churches attempting to emulate megachurches, the danger of copying the form and ignoring the substance is even greater.
The video below illustrates the principles of my approach in a profound way. I would read the book. But do not be tempted to think that innovation is going to come through Cremation Societies. It is coming from different avenues than that. It’s not about price it’s about the delivery system.