Isn’t It Ironic

If there’s an Irony Hall of Fame somewhere (located in a burned down fire station, I can only hope), the following story deserves a display…

My youngest son, Jonathan, turned 21 in Denver last week. On that same day, and not coincidentally, both his passport and driver’s license expired.

So we decided to FedEx him his new passport which had just arrived here in Boston. 

We didn’t want to send it without a signature on the receiving end (many things get “lost” in his neighborhood), but since he’s out of the house so much, FedEx would probably miss him.

Fortunately, you can send a package directly to a nearby FedEx office and pick it up there.

Except (here comes the irony), they will only turn over the package if you can first produce a valid, government-issued ID – a piece of identification that in this case would be located inside the package in question.

It seems we had stumbled upon the overnight delivery equivalent of locking your keys in your own car.

You’ll be happy to learn that we did come up with a shockingly simple solution (1000 points and a free, penguin-themed USB drive to the third person to reply to this email and correctly guess what we did).

Regardless, this experience serves to highlight a conundrum within which big companies often find themselves: How to balance common sense with the need for standardization.

More specifically…

FedEx has a clear policy: You need a valid ID to take possession of a package. Period.

That’s understandable; they don’t want to be handing packages to just anyone. As a huge, international company, they need a standardized approach as to what constitutes a “valid ID.”

And so they’ve decided: government-issued and current.

That’s standardization talking.

Common sense, however, objects for at least two reasons…

First, because Jonathan has both a driver’s license and a passport. Yes, they are expired. But if he was Jonathan Katz yesterday, isn’t he still Jonathan Katz today, regardless of the date?

Second, because this entire thing would be solved by simply opening the envelope and removing the valid passport.

But I don’t blame FedEx. When you run a company with lots of people spread out all over the place, you have little choice but to put process and standardization ahead of what may make sense in the moment.

You and I, however, are different.

That’s because we have something FedEx, Bank of America, Verizon and any number of other large companies don’t: the flexibility to bend our own rules when it makes sense to do so.

Some examples…

  • Your policy is … two-week turnaround on a particular type of project. A client wants to know if you can do have it ready by Tuesday. Do you agree to do it?
  • Your policy is … that you don’t work on the weekend. A client wants to know if you can talk on Sunday instead of during the week. Do you accept the invitation?
  • Your policy is … to stop work immediately if an invoice is 30 days overdue. A client is late and promises to pay by the end of next week. Do you keep working?

I’m not suggesting you necessarily say yes to any of these. And I’m definitely not suggesting that you don’t have policies at all.

All I’m saying is that your policies are yours to make and, unlike the big guys, you can (and should) bend them as you see fit.

Here’s the bottom line.

In a world where, “Sorry, that’s our policy,” has become an increasingly persistent annoyance, you will stand out as a breath of fresh air when you can do the opposite.

And yet, many small professional service firms and solos, rather than leveraging their built-in, unassailable advantage – the ability to turn on a dime and toss rules out the window when warranted – are busy running in the other direction, mimicking the behemoths in an attempt to look bigger.

Looks like we may need to make room for another display in the Irony Museum.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What’s the most valuable thing you’ve ever sent in a FedEx package?
  2. In what city should the Irony Museum be located?
  3. What rules do you bend to leverage your small size?

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11 thoughts on “Isn’t It Ironic

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Good guess, Bob, but he did not. Although that might have worked. It’s never been clear to me why that piece of paper, with zero identifying info, is considered ID!

  1. Graeme Roberts

    Your son could explain that proof of his identity is in the very package he is picking up, and ask the Fedex employee to open the package and compare his handsome Katzian face to that shown on both documents, thus verifying his identity.l

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      That would make sense, although as explained to me by the rep on the phone, they would have to see the ID before allowing him to open the package!

  2. Laura Kelly

    You took a digital photo of you putting your son’s two new ID docs into the FedEx package, sent the photo to him, which he showed the FedEx people as proof of what was inside the package (while showing them his expired IDs as proof of who he was). Hmmm, maybe that doesn’t fall under “shockingly simple.”

    A question about your policies. I assume they are stated in your contracts with clients. But do you post them elsewhere–in other words how do you reinforce/remind your clients what your typical policies are. I’ve realized that my clients never look at the contract again once they sign it and that I don’t post my policies anywhere else to remind them. So, essentially, only *I* know my policies, and of course I bend them all the time. Maybe instead of “policies” I should call them “boundaries”?

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      That might have worked, but I agree, no longer so simple!

      I don’t have many policies (other than a good chunk of payment up front for any new client), and my contracts are simple agreements. As my attorney pointed out years ago, if I don’t intend to sue anybody, all I need is a clear agreement of terms.

      I do have my “rules of engagement.” As with yours, I don’t post them, but they help me remember what matters and what doesn’t to me. More on that in this previous post, here:

    1. Michelle Morris

      Me again, I think my husband got it…. Send the package to his roommate or trusted friend to pick up.


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