Find a Way or Make One

Volume 5 Letter 6

“We will either find a way or we will make one” Hannibal

John Patterson’s friends burst into laughter when they heard that their colleague had purchased a local manufacturing company. John Patterson bought a company from James Ritter, a local café owner, who had invented a machine to protect against his bartenders from dipping into the cash. The machine had a bell on it to get attention and a dial that displayed the amount of the sale. A record of the sale was kept by punching a hole into a roll of paper. Five cent sales were punched on one side of the paper and ten cent sales on the other side. Thus by counting up the punches one could total up the days sales.

Patterson’s friends asked why would you purchase a machine for $100 to do the work of a one cent pencil? At that Patterson lost his stomach for the new business and asked the seller if he would let him out the contract for $2000 cash. But the former owner refused to reverse the deal saying he wouldn’t take the stock back even as a gift. To that John Patterson replied “I’m going to take this business and make a whopping success of it” 1. Few have kept a promise more faithfully.

Storekeeping was a difficult business in the late 1800’s as the open cash drawer was often too tempting for many an employee. John Patterson’s company called National Cash Register (NCR) solved the problem by publicizing every sale. A pop up tab announced the exact total of the sale and a printed record assured the store owner he received the money he was supposed to.

Patterson was one of the first entrepreneurs to develop his sales people. Using role playing Patterson would be a cantankerous doubting arguing customer. This along with other techniques helped develop some of the first pre-scripted sales pitches so often heard today. By 1891 NCR had grown from selling twenty registers a month to selling a 1000 registers a month and constantly improving them from hand crank models to registers with small electric motors.

Over time NCR spread into other machinery that is used in our bank machines, accounting offices, ticketing offices and department stores.

In a recent article an entrepreneur spoke about “Finding a Way” 2. He spoke about the spirit of the entrepreneur to ‘make it happen’ regardless of the circumstances as John Patterson of NCR and numerous others have done. What are some of these traits and can we use them to find our way?

  • An internal commitment to excel: Top performers never stop searching and learning
  • Commitment to a mission: “Mission is bound by no preconceived limitations. It inspires people to reach for what could be and to rise above their fears and preoccupations with what is”.3 In our story above John Patterson set his mission when he announced to the previous owner (who would not let him out of his purchase) that “I’m going to take this business and make a whopping success of it”.1
  • A firm belief that there is a solution to every problem: Entrepreneurs act with a confidence that human beings are capable of much more than defending the status quo. Achievement and self-doubt are two sides of the same coin. Over coming self doubt is a key to success.
  • Correction of course: Setbacks are the almost necessary roadblocks presented by any new discovery or product launch. Use them as information to correct course and act decisively when opportunities present themselves.
  • Trust your Intuition: Intuition is not an adversary to hard work and logical thought but rather an alley to it. Do your homework, know your product or service and the market it will sell into and trust your intuition.

John Patterson’s friends must have stopped laughing when the sales started ringing in. It wasn’t obvious at first but like so many other great business people John Patterson truly found a way.

1. He Rang the Bell Heard Around the World – Condensed from Financial times Oct 7, 1955
2. Get It Started: Interview with John Osher in Wharton Entrepreneurial Program’s Newsletter
3. Peak Performance, Charles Garfield, Avon Books New York 1986

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