What's time to a pig?

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A salesman is driving down a country road and breaks down a little ways away from a farmhouse -- don't you just love jokes that start that way? -- so he walks up the driveway to see if he can use the phone. In the front yard, he finds the farmer, who is picking up a pig and holding it up so the pig can bite an apple off the tree.

The farmer puts the pig down while the pig eats the apple, and then picks the pig up again so the pig can get another apple. This goes on for about five minutes while the salesman watches -- pick the pig up, get the apple, put the pig down -- about half a dozen times.

Finally the salesman can't stand it, and says to the farmer, "Wouldn't it save a lot of time if you just shook the tree and let the pig eat the apples off the ground?!?"

The farmer looks at the salesman and says, "What's time to a pig?"

For a joke to be effective, it has to contain an element of truth; fantasy is rarely funny, but reality is stuff you can't make up. Fortunately, that's not what this article is about, and I'm not that certain I'm qualified to do any significant analysis of humor involving stranded motorists, farmers and pigs anyway.

The first time I heard the joke, it was spoken in a soft Texas drawl by a wine salesman at a "clean joke" contest sponsored by a client -- a restaurant in Santa Cruz, California. The last time I told the joke, the listener didn't quite get offended, but he did consider that it was directed at him. That wasn't the case, I told him; "I just like the punch line," I said. But that got me thinking: maybe it was about him in an indirect way.

While it's not strictly a technical issue, the fact is that almost all of us serve another master OR are the master of an organization. We work for someone else, and at one point or another, we have all had gripes about the way "The Powers That Be" do things. We're the pigs whose job it is to make sure the yard doesn't have apples rotting in it.

In that sense, the farmer is the kind of manager you'd like to work for. His job is to see that the yard is attractive, including being free of rotting apples. He could let the pig just roam around -- but no pig really likes rotten apples, so that won't work. He could get a whole bunch of pigs, but after the apples are gone, he'll need to make staffing adjustments -- never a fun task unless you really like bacon.

The pig knows his task and goal and the metrics by which his performance will be evaluated, and has been given everything he needs to accomplish it. The farmer has enabled the pig to make him more efficient, has delivered a clear set of requirements, is providing the necessary and expected oversight but at the same time isn't telling the pig everything about how to eat the apples and isn't making a big deal about which apples get eaten when... and at the same time keeps that unseen wife happy because the yard doesn't have any rotting apples.

Another perspective has the pig as a customer. He likes apples, especially the fresh ones -- and it so happens that the farmer has them available at a price the pig finds attractive. The farmer -- being a company that wants to do right by his customers -- makes it as easy as possible for the pig to acquire the apples. He recognizes the objections the pig might have ("they're too high for me to reach" and "the fresh ones are not available") and uses some innovative methods to get the pig to buy. Is it inconvenient; perhaps. But if the farmer has his return on investment calculated accurately -- he IS, after all, now holding the pig -- then the extra step he takes will ensure that a) he is not left with any unsold inventory and b) his reputation as a provider of apples will be positive. That extra time he spends on his customer is repaid countless times.

Back in one of my earlier careers -- I couldn't tolerate the business so I got out pretty quickly, but I still learned a few things that have saved me some money in the years since -- I found out that when dealing with a salesman, the only real advantage the customer has is that he can always walk away, and if he does, it means the salesman has spent a lot of time with nothing to show for it; it's an especially effective tactic when dealing with commission-only folks. If as a customer you're aware of that, then time is your ally; you control it before you walk in the door, and it is yours to spend, whether or not you are going to buy. If you commit to spending an hour looking at, say, a new car, then you already know when you're going to walk away. That means that hour is, for all intents and purposes, gone, and it therefore means nothing. The pig doesn't give a whit about how long it takes to eat the apples -- it's not his problem -- so the vendor had better not make too much of it either.

The point is that in a business relationship, it's all about the customer.

Another possibility is to consider the implications and demands that time puts on us, and how the disruptions of our carefully crafted schedules make us slaves to an unseen master -- to which pigs (and apparently a few kindly farmers) are immune. I haven't worn a watch for quite a few years now, in no small part because I work at home, have very few demands on my schedule imposed by others, and rarely do much that is hour or minute dependent, which means that I have to pay a little attention to a calendar but not much else. Time doesn't really mean that much to me (unless there are fewer than ten seconds and my 7th grade basketball team is down -- or up -- by three points or less).

That's not so for most of the people I work with (such as it is). They have to be someplace at a specific time several times a day. They must spend a certain amount of time doing various things -- working, commuting, eating lunch -- all of which are based on the expectations of other people. Indeed, there are always those people who consider spending the time at least as important, at least in terms of keeping their jobs, as accomplishing anything. When those expectations aren't met, lives get complicated, which, all things considered, seems to detract from the things that are valuable in life. Pigs don't have that problem.

Then again, it could be that it's just a good, clean joke.
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