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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Bmag Feb 19th 2013 - Cucumber theory of life

It’s not unusual for people to stick affirmation statements on their bathroom mirror or fridge door, to encourage excellence in everyday living. One of the most common is: “Aim for the stars and even if you fail, you’ll land on the moon”. There are variations, such as “...wherever you land, it will be new and exciting”. I have my own saying, which I’m pretty sure you won’t have heard before. I tell myself: “A slice of cucumber on every sandwich”! Let me explain.

Some 30-odd years ago, I was watching a television show about train travel. They interviewed a bloke whose job was to put cucumber slices on pre-prepared sandwiches. Every few seconds, the conveyor-belt would deliver an open sandwich to him. He would use his tongs to add one slice of cucumber, before the sandwich went on to have the next ingredient added. This fellow, whose job might seem the most menial and repetitive, empowered himself with the knowledge that his input was absolutely critical. And you know what? He was right. If he missed just one sandwich, the person who eventually paid for it would sit down, take a big bite and be disappointed that their sandwich didn’t have any cucumber on it!

Whatever it is that you do over and over again, think of it as a slice of cucumber going on a sandwich. You can put in a poor performance once and shrug it off. Or you can consider the importance of the cucumber to that one customer who won’t see all the other sandwiches but will sure-as-heck remember theirs!

For me, this is how I approach radio. I never know when you’re going to switch on in the morning. It’s no good me having four great interviews or segments before you wake up, if the first one you hear is a dud. Every minute of that breakfast show is a sandwich and every minute gets its cucumber!

Of course, you can apply this philosophy to anything and everything. Just recently, the Howsons were on the receiving end of some spectacular cucumber work. Just to confuse you, it involves actual fruit and veg, but thankfully not cucumbers. That would be too weird. We have our greens delivered from the markets. We order online at night and it arrives the next afternoon. But the downside of ordering online is you can’t judge the quality yourself. You can’t squeeze the avocados!

Well, this week, there was a note attached to our delivery which read: “I wasn’t overly impressed with the beans so I have given you a few but I will take the cost of the beans off. Also the cage eggs I had only had six days left, so I have replaced with free range at no extra cost. Cheers, Jen.”

How good’s that? None of her other customers knows about that note but we do and I can tell you we were impressed. Jen could easily have let through those dud beans and almost-expired eggs, like a sandwich without its slice of cucumber. Maybe we can also extend the cucumber theory to the whole of our lives. Perhaps we should strive to ensure every day has its slice of cucumber.

Not that I want you to see me as some sort of spiritual motivator, but...

My last column for 2012 ( bmag, 18 December) was about me settling disagreements with listeners and readers over coffee rather than via email or social media. The feedback from you was universally positive.

Grant Vandersee was one of the first to respond: “Excellent column. Really great advice. Shame there isn’t more of this going on.”

Sylvia Jeffreys described it as “a great lesson from Spencer Howson”, whilst Jillian Whiting tweeted: “You are a gem, Spencer. Take notes kids!” Donna Weeks agrees with the benefits of working things out face-to-face: “At work I’m making an effort to speak with people rather than try to thrash it out via email.” And Stacey Rawlings says it’s “very hard to beat the personal connection on any issue”.

Throughout 2013, I’d love to include your comments in this column. For instance, what do you think of the cucumber theory? You can always email me at the address below tweet me @SpencerHowson or message me on Facebook. You never know – we might end up discussing it over coffee!