Dave’s Question

Profile of Steve Carlson

Some years ago, I lost my closest friend to lung cancer. I think of Dave often because of a legacy, almost a special gift, he left me. It’s not a material one, rather it’s an attitude and approach that he honed and fine tuned until it became integral to how he thought and conducted himself in business and personal relationships.

Dave spent the first half of his working life as a sales trainer and executive in a tough business, the life insurance industry. In those last years in head office, Dave took up a hobby. Every weekend he loaded up his van and headed out to one of the biggest flea markets in southern Ontario. Over the years, his spot became permanent and indoors. He called it simply Dave’s Place. Evenings during the week he was out scouring Toronto for stock. I once asked him why he did it when he had such a good regular job. He answered, “Because I love the action.” Eventually, Dave’s income from this hobby was paying more than his job at head office so Dave took the big step. He resigned as a training exec and opened up his own business and an antique shop.

I knew Dave for 40 years. In those early years we kept in touch erratically, mostly because of our travel itineraries. For the last 25 years we set aside one day a week to have lunch together. I eventually left the big corporate world to start Marketing Options Inc. and once a week we became each other’s board of directors. Our serious discussions were always about sales, marketing and people. Dave fascinated me with his growing knowledge of the antique business. Eventually he was selling less to the public and more to other dealers and companies retailing specialty items. He was playing with the big boys and winning.

On a number of occasions, I would bring up a topic for discussion such as an unusual advertising request I had received or an idiosyncrasy I observed in a proposition from a new business acquaintance. Dave’s first words on these occasions was frequently, “Steve, this is one of those times we have to ask ourselves, ‘What’s really going on here?’”

This was Dave’s way of looking for hidden motives and agendas, for seeking truths beyond the obvious. I’m sure many readers have heard this same question before, but I doubt that you’ve addressed it with his seriousness and intensity. Dave was a master of practical psychology and his question became an item in our conversations. Regardless of which one of us brought up such a topic, it was surprising how far our speculations could take us in answering that question. And it was even more surprising on how frequently such conjecture over lunch would subsequently prove to be accurate and helpful in our own business dealings.

I miss our lunches together but Dave has left me a shrewd legacy. Whenever I feel uncomfortable or troubled in a situation, I ask myself Dave’s question, “What’s really going on here?” These last years I’ve gotten better at answering myself, however I miss Dave’s astuteness. Considering the interesting times we’re going through, it might be a helpful question you can take seriously in the New Year.

Copyright © by Marketing Options Inc. 2012.

Leave a Reply