By Harvey Mackay
As we grow up, we get a mixed message about being on time. Our parents have been warned about the damaging effects on our little psyches of putting us on strict timetables. So we learn to walk and potty train pretty much in our own good time.
When we get older, the rules tighten up a bit. We are told to be on time to class and to get our homework in on schedule, but the consequences of lateness are seldom dire. Even in college, has there ever been a student who hasn’t gotten away with a plea for mercy at least once for a late term paper?
By the time we reach adulthood, we have learned that in certain arrogant groups, even being on time is considered undesirable behavior. They let you know only geeks come exactly on time to a social event.
All this is hardly preparation for the real world, where being late, even a tiny bit late, can have painful and permanent consequences.
Years ago, a first-time candidate for alderman mailed out a political flyer that appeared to be from the city assessor’s office. The candidate won the election by a handful of votes, and the loser, the incumbent alderman, sued on the grounds that the flyer was misleading. The judge who tried the case — there was no jury — found for the incumbent. But the appellate court ruled that the incumbent had filed his claim one day late. His claim was dismissed.
Today, the ultimate winner of the lawsuit that resulted from the obscure alderman race is the governor of his state. He is considered by many as a potential national figure. The loser is a perennial candidate, who has not won a single election in the 30 years since the incident occurred.
One day late.
How about two minutes late?
Large government projects usually are handled by a regulated bidding process. A megabucks telecommunications project for a large metropolitan county was let out for bids. All bids were due to be presented no later than 1 p.m. on the day they were due.
The account exec didn’t want to get his bid in early, for fear the terms would leak to the competition. He timed his submission to the minute.
But in the Northland, you can’t train the snowflakes to conform to your stopwatch. The umpteenth Blizzard of the Century hit unexpectedly. The account exec started running late. He called his boss. The boss slogged over to the government building and stood outside shivering, while the AE plowed through the snowdrifts in his car.
The AE pulled up a couple of minutes to 1 p.m. The boss ran out into the traffic, grabbed the bid package, and dashed to the elevator, which, of course, stopped on just about every floor. When he finally got to the top floor and got his bid in, it was stamped “1:02 p.m.” and thrown out.
It doesn’t make much sense to work six weeks on a bid and then get tossed out of the game on a technicality, but that’s the way it is. “The-dog-ate-my-homework” excuse doesn’t work in the real world.
Newspaper reporters who can’t finish their stories on deadline aren’t newspaper reporters for very long. School administrators know which teachers and which principals are always late in handing in reports. One administrator told me that those who regularly handed in their paperwork late were rarely those who were considered high achievers and prospects for advancement.
Hey, I know, we’re not talking salespeople here. We’re talking folks who do paperwork for a living.
It’s a different world with different rules, but if you’re in it, you learn that the most important rule is: Better Never Than Late.