I might need some help here. I have been woefully negligent of my blog over the past few weeks. Having been reminded of this fact by friends and colleagues, I spent the entire weekend trying to come up with a reasonable excuse. The truth is I don’t really have one, which makes it even more imperative to think of something. In fact, this could be quite useful. Coming up with a decent excuse can be a useful business tool. It doesn’t do any harm when you’re a student who hasn’t done his assignment either.
I suppose that I could go with the classic “I’ve been so busy” or “I’ve had other stuff on my mind.” These comments are generally not well received since they assume that the other person is basically doing nothing and has a fairly monotonous life. I have to confess that I have given a rather cool reception to students that have tried this one.
Years ago I read a fascinating book entitled “Our cheque is in the post.” It gives the reader a method for coming up with excuses that will be believed. The basic theme of the book is that if you are going to make an excuse it is far better to come up with something wild and exotic. Nobody wants to hear about bad traffic or a late bus. However, they might be more sympathetic if you have a good story to tell. CNN reports some including the person that claimed bats got in her hair and the employee who said a refrigerator fell on him.
The advantage of these excuses is that the story behind them sounds so interesting you tend to forget that the person had not arrived for work.
Companies are not usually short of good excuses either. If you travel by train in the UK, France or Germany, you may be all too used to hearing about bad weather being the cause of your delayed train. “The wrong type of snow” became a popular ‘get out of jail free card’ for a while. However, railway networks are not the only ones to resort to this type of justification. In 2007, the brewing giant, Scottish and Newcastle also blamed the weather for falling sales. Rain was stopping people from drinking beer, it would seem. This came for a company based to the northern part of Great Britain. If rain had an effect on people they would never leave the house. You have to be impressed by the more stoic comments of Stuart Rose, CEO of Marks and Spencer. Asked about the implication of climate on sales, he replied:
“Weather is for wimps.”
That’s more like it!
Then of course, there are the bigger excuses in line with the bigger mistakes. Charles ‘Chuck’ Prince, CEO of CitiGroup, discovered that the bank was sitting on $700 billion of toxic loans just a few days before Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. His excuse?
“As long as the music is playing, you‘ve got to get up and dance,”
I remember using this excuse back in primary school. Everyone else was messing about so why shouldn’t it? It is nice to see that with 50 years business experience the best excuses can still be relevant.
Enron went to a higher level still. They had talked of ‘stakeholder expectations.’ Stakeholders are all the people who have an interest in the well-being of the company. They are often confused shareholders, but can also include employees, suppliers, governments etc. The advantage stakeholders have is that they cannot really be defined. Their basic logic was that they thought that some unnamed body of people had expected them to behave like crooks and therefore they had done so. Not bad!
Since all the best excuses have been used in business, perhaps I should look for some inspiration back in the classroom.
Last week two students came to see me at the start of the lesson. They had not sent me their assignment and were holding out a data stick in a rather sheepish fashion.
“We had a technical problem” said one of them with a grin.
“A technical problem?!” I replied with a wry smile.
I was about to launch into my questioning technique that I had learned from hours of watching Colombo.
“A technical problem, you say. But could you just explain something to me, don’t you get a new computer when you arrive at the school? Don’t we have an IT department present 12 hours a day in the building? ”
“Before I could begin my interrogation, the young girl said.
“Well, we got behind and then I should have sent it and I didn’t. I’m sorry.”
Totally disarmed by this approach, I smiled and accepted their assignment.
Sometimes, the best excuse is not having one and just holding your hand and saying sorry.
My apologies therefore for being so laxest in my writing. I promise it won’t happen again…and if it does, I will certainly have a good excuse!
International Affairs in Higher Education