The Ponytail and why your stories must be true

Have you heard the story about how NASA spent millions of dollars developing a pen that would work in zero gravity but the Russians were smarter – they just used pencils!

The story is told to mock profligate government spending and love of complex technology.

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There is only one problem with the story – it isn’t true! It’s an urban myth.

It turns out that in the early years of space travel both the Americans and the Russians used pencils in space but pencil tips can break and float into sensitive electronic equipment so a solution was needed. A private inventor developed a pen that would work in zero gravity (at a modest cost) and NASA and the Russians purchased the design.

Not such an interesting story.

What happens if you tell a story that isn’t true and you are found out?

Of course your credibility is gone. We teach sales people to use purposeful stories to build rapport and to progress their business opportunities. And credibility is a critically important resource for sales people.

So you need to find true stories …

Christmas day, 1985, I was operating an electronic survey instrument two kilometres deep in an oil well in the rice fields of Java in Indonesia. I was sick from food poisoning, homesick and in the world’s most populous Muslim country there would be no Christmas.

The oil well I was surveying had a leak – a hole in in the steel casing - and I was running an experimental ultra-sonic scanning tool that, theoretically, could measure the thickness of the casing with enough accuracy to locate a hole.

That was the theory but all I got was unintelligible data.

We winched the tool to the surface to see if it could be repaired. On the rig floor, as I was explaining to the company man that my fancy piece of equipment was not working, a rough young man with southern US accent piped up with:

“Y’all looking for a hole? I can run ya a ponytail”

It turns out that a ‘ponytail’ is a length of frayed rope attached to weight and run down hole on a slick line cable. When the frayed rope passes a hole in the casing it catches and a spike on the cable tension indicates the depth of the hole causing the leak.

A one dollar piece of frayed rope did a job that my $300,000 worth of electronics could not.  

And I had one more thing to be sick about.



Mike's other posts:

Zen Mind - Sales Mind Games - Part 2

Sales Mind Games - Part 1 - How to Sell

The Power of Stories. The Art of Persuasion (Part 2)

Mindjacking with Metaphors. The Art of Persuasion (Part 1)

Chasing Shadows? Three Thinking Traps to Avoid in Sales.

Six reasons why technical people don't sell and one good reason why they can

Warning! Step carefully through the Sales Recruitment Minefield