A $25,000 Idea

An interesting true story appeared in The American Salesman magazine, and I’d like to pass it along to you.

It’ll show you the value of one good idea, and what it can be worth:

“One day an efficiency expert named Ivy Lee was interviewing Charles Schwab, President of Bethlehem Steel Company. Lee outlined his organization’s service to Schwab, and ended by saying: ‘With our service, you’ll know how to manage better.’

“To which Schwab replied, ‘I’m not managing as well now as I know how to. What we need is not more knowing, but more doing. Not knowledge, but action. If you can give us something to pep us up to do the things we already know we ought to do, I’ll gladly listen to you and pay you anything you ask within reason.’

“’Fine,’ answered Lee, ‘I can give you something in twenty minutes that will step up your action and doing at least fifty percent.’”

Schwab was interested, so, “Lee handed Schwab a blank note sheet from his pocket and said, ‘Write on this paper the six most important tasks you have to do tomorrow.’ That took about three minutes. ‘Now number them in order of their importance,’ he said. That took about five minutes. Then Lee said, ‘Now, put this paper in your pocket, and the first thing tomorrow morning look at Item One and start working on it until it is finished. Tackle Number Two in the same way; then Item Three, and so on. Do this until quitting time.

“‘Don’t be concerned if you have only finished one or two. You’ll be working on the most important ones; the others can wait. If you can’t finish them all by this method, you couldn’t have with any other method either; and without some system, you’d probably not even have decided which was the most important.

“‘Do this every working day. After you’ve convinced yourself of the value of this system, have your men try it.”

“Try it as long as you wish, and then send me a check for what you think it is worth.’”

“The whole interview between Lee and Schwab lasted about twenty or thirty minutes. In a few weeks, Schwab sent Lee a check for $25,000 with a letter saying the lesson was the most profitable from a money standpoint, that he had ever learned. In five years, this plan was largely responsible for turning the unknown Bethlehem Steel Company into the biggest independent steel producer in the world. And it helped to make Charles Schwab a hundred million dollars and the best-known steel man in the world.”

Well, that’s the story of the man who made twenty-five thousand dollars in about thirty minutes, with a single great idea.

And that was in the days when $25,000 was a fortune — and you could keep all of it!

Of course, the reason I’ve told you the story is two-fold:

  1. Since it worked so well for Charles Schwab, you might want to try the same thing yourself. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the number of things you will accomplish — and in far less time — simply by tackling them one at a time.
  2. It goes a long way to show the value of an idea — an idea for improving a given situation. Ideas are, and always have been, the most valuable things on earth.

As Phelps put it, “A great idea is usually original to more than one discoverer.”

“Great ideas come when the world needs them. They surround the world’s ignorance and press for admission.”

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