Stories are the lifeblood of our civilizations, tales that have been told for millennia that before the printing press was invented was the major way we would get to know about our history.
They are also a great way of illustrating a point of view without necessarily being wholly true in their content but the gist of the tale shows us a point of truth or fact.
Take for example a story I heard last week at a business network meeting that involves the width of the railroad gauge in the USA, it was the first time I and the people in the room had heard it but apparently its a reasonably well known tale. If you've heard it before then my apologies for repeating it but for those of you new to it then enjoy.
It starts with a fact that the gauge of railroads in the USA (that's the distance between the two rails) is 4 ft 8 ½ in or 143.51 cm in metric. That's an extraordinarily odd number don't you think? Where did it come from?
Back in the early days of the European colonisation of North America the first railroads were built by expatriate British railway engineers who came to the new world looking for new adventures and fortune. They brought with them the tools of their trade which were sized for building railway engines, carriages and railroads based on the railways in Britain which were gauged at 4 ft 8 ½ in. But why were the British railways that gauge?
The engineers who built the British railways based the gauge from existing tramways that ran through the roads so it made sense to use the same tools and jigs for those trams when it came to building the railway. Tramways were built into the road surface and for ease of construction the rails were built into ruts in the road that already existed.
Where did the ruts come from? They were formed by the wheels from the existing road traffic which at the time had their wheel spacing designed to run in the current ruts because otherwise their wheels would break. So you can trace that back to very earliest of road builders.
Here come the Romans!
Around 2000 years ago give or take the odd century the Romans set about conquering all before them throughout Europe, Asia and Africa. It was one of the largest empires ever created and to help maintain it the Romans built a vast road network, some of it still in use today, and most of the early roads in Britain were Roman.
Vast armies of Roman legions used to march huge distances across this network. Armies consisting of foot soldiers and charioteers. These chariots were designed to be pulled by horses as they raced into battle carrying archers and spear throwers to cause havoc among their enemies.
Your standard Roman war chariot then was the first wheeled vehicle to travel these roads and started the whole ruts in the road process. War chariots were designed to be pulled by a team of two horses side by side.
So the next time someone asks "Which horses ass came up the American railroad gauge?".
Well, it was two of them and they were Roman!
The twist in this tale comes from when the space shuttle was built. To help propel the spacecraft into orbit it required two solid rocket boosters (SRB) attached to either side of the fuel tank. These SRB where manufactured in Utah and had to be transported by rail. The manufacturers of the SRB would have liked to make them wider but the railroad had to go through a tunnel. The width of the tunnel is linked to the width of the railroad which we now know is based on the width two horses backsides in ancient Rome.
Man's most technologically based transport system to date then is based on the size of a horse’s ass!
There we have it, a story that has some basis in truth but what does it illustrate?
For me it demonstrates something in projects called configuration management. Different products being made that are uniquely identified and have a relationship between them.
Can you imagine managing a project where all these things are being created? You would have to understand how they are all connected because if you wanted to have your chariot pulled by three horses side by side it changes the wheel ruts, the tramways, the railroads and ultimately the size of the SRB on the space shuttle.
It’s not just the physical product though where we can see this. If I lived around 1000 years ago I would probably be known as Russell the Bald (just have a look at my website photo ...) if I were part of the nobility that is. Configuration management in my community would have uniquely identified me as such so people knew who they were talking about.
If you wanted new shoes for your horse you went to Dave Smith or if you wanted them for yourself then you were off to see Ben Shoemaker. New arrows for your quiver, Sir? Norman Fletcher is your man and if you've just opened up an ale house then Paul Cooper is going to make your barrels for you.
Configuration management has been with us for thousands of years and most of us probably don't recognize the term or the fact we've been doing it without realizing but it’s always been there.
Back then the concept of having business network meetings would never have occurred to anybody, why would you need one when your surname told everybody what you did as an occupation?
Not so easy today though
As a Parker I would be tending the local green spaces in my town. Administering law and order in the local parks, trimming flowers and cutting grass. I cannot tell how much I detest mowing my lawn but I'm sure my neighbours would gladly tell you when they have to see how overgrown my garden is. Good thing I'm a business coach and trainer then, just call me Russell Coachtrain from now on....oh no, hang on, that’s not good either as you might confuse me with the local transport company.
Business networking in the modern day then is a vital part of telling your community what you do and who you can help. It utilises configuration management in terms of gaining knowledge not just about who we know but also who are contacts know as well. Each of us has a configuration of contacts that if we can tap into each other’s relationships would make an incredibly powerful marketing tool.
I’ve heard it said in corporate life that business networking is just a fad, a passing phase. Websites such as LinkedIn that help us keep in contact with our networks are looked down at the corporate nose as “That’s just a website for finding another job isn’t it? That won’t last!”
This has lead in part to the thinking that networking is just a fad but this is where one website has had an effect on the way we think about networking. For entrepreneurs though it’s a completely different tool. I use it to see who knows who in my network to build my relationships. For example last week I met somebody and when I got to see who they knew we discovered quite a few mutual contacts. This helps build an area of trust between us when it comes to referring each other for new business.
Networking and referral marketing therefore becomes a vital part of my marketing activities and far from being a fad, I’m going to be increasing my networking activities in the future.
The myth of networking being a fad then definitely busted! That all came from a Roman chariot maker’s horse’s backside which we now know is more important than we may have thought of before.