When I was a boy, we had a mixed-breed terrier that my sister named “Happy.” Happy won a New York Daily News contest for good looking dogs. That’s how we got the picture of Happy wearing a crown and looking, well, happy.
Happy loved the crown, but what she really wanted was to be allowed in the living room. My parents thought that was an awful idea.
My father was a pastor and they didn’t make much money back then. So until my mother got a job in advertising we made do with some very, very used furniture. That was fine for years, but the used furniture didn’t look right in the mid-town New York parsonage where we lived when I was in high school.
That parsonage had a marvelous, high-ceilinged formal living room. There was a beautiful hardwood floor and pocket doors with lovely cut glass. My parents dug deep into their savings to buy nice furniture to fill it. They did not believe that it was a good idea to have a terrier, however happy, on the new and nice furniture.
You entered the living room from the dining room through those pocket doors. The lower track of the doors marked the boundary that Happy was not allowed to cross.
Well, we’d be in the living room with Happy just outside. Then, suddenly it seemed, she was laying there with her front paws over the boundary. Soon, without ever seeming to move she would be inside. Getting her back into the dining room was a challenge worthy of a superhero.
A lot of business problems are like that. They don’t happen all at once as the result of one cataclysmically awful decision. Instead, they evolve slowly, one breach of standards or one bad idea or one “exception” at a time.
Those are the problems that seem to happen while you aren’t looking. But just like getting Happy out of the living room once she’d gained entry, undoing them is very, very hard.