Build or burn?

Lessons from walking my dog

We get to know each other by telling stories.  Some moments are particular well-suited for sharing anecdotes and random bits of wisdom: when you’re with friends, obviously, but you can pick up good stories from anywhere.  All you need are people that share something in common and have reason to be in each other’s company for a time.  Before a meeting starts is one of these moments; walking your dog is another.

Walking a dog is a sociable activity.  Although you meet complete strangers there’s almost always something your dogs will do that kick-starts the conversation.  There are people I feel I know quite well where I don’t know their name, although I’ll know their dog’s name.  When we meet, we catch up.  I look forward to it. There’s a bloke with a Dalmatian I meet on Sundays who I’ve followed as he’s been learning to sky-dive.  He wouldn’t call himself this but, four years on, he’s become quite expert.  It’s been riveting and, on occasions, tragic listening to his stories.  I consider myself quite well informed about the world of sky-diving having never once been near a parachute.  Over the years on that same Sunday walk I’ve watched kids I don’t know grow up, unwell people grow increasingly infirm and – sadly – stop coming to the park, and the occasional strange sight such as a group of people dressed up like characters from Dungeons and Dragons sword-fighting.  All life, in other words.

It can be awkward being in the company of someone you know, but don’t know well.  Telling stories is a great way to break the ice and almost always elicits more stories in the opposite direction.  The moments before a meeting starts can be like that.  Have you ever sat in silence shuffling your papers waiting for the meeting to start?  It’s torture.  I recall some colleagues waiting to pitch to Unilever’s Finance Director (not the current one).  They sat in silence while he read the paper until his second in command turned up.  Mercifully, in most meetings, there’s usually someone telling a story as people gather.  It’s a great source of management theories.

My web-site owes everything to a guy called Jamie who I meet walking my dog on Saturdays.  He started a dog-walking service three years ago.  He direct-mailed everyone where I live and got not a single sales lead.  Then he started a website ( and three years later he’s thriving.  All his business came from the website.  His blog gets 6,000 hits a month, mostly from people that couldn’t possibly be clients because they’re from different ends of the country but who nevertheless are interested in his recipe for home-made dog biscuits.  Listening to Jamie tell his story I realised that my views about my own website were not only rooted in the Stone Age but didn’t even reflect how I used the internet myself.  It struck me that my attitude had to change immediately.  That conversation changed my life, kind of.  And I was only taking the dog for a walk!

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