You know how the saying goes, “They can’t see the forest for the trees.” It is an interesting and confusing idiom. It generally means that someone is so focused on a detail or singular issue, they are missing the bigger picture. It’s important to understand that all of us are privy to occasionally missing the big picture. I am no exception.

When I was young, I worked a short time in sales. I sold colored aggregates used in pre-cast concrete, terrazzo and occasionally marblecrete. I would visit major manufacturers that produced light poles, trash containers and benches. I would show samples, take orders and listen to them complain about late deliveries. The CEO of our company decided to raise prices 25 percent across the board with no exceptions. Unlike today, where the price hikes are a result of a supply chain issue, this hike was simply due to low profit margins. As a result, profits increased and the CEO was happy. However, he heard from the salesforce that it may not be the best idea.

After visiting a slew of very unhappy customers, the CEO checked in on us. I told him that most of my customers were furious about the unannounced and unplanned price hike. One was a Fortune 500 company and they informed me they would be switching to another aggregate after they fulfilled their contractual orders. I relayed this comment and he told me it was my job to keep them as a customer. That was their last order, just like they said it would be. Mr. CEO blamed me.

Understanding Urgent & Important

I know it is hard to focus on the forest when the single tree in front of you is on fire. But you still have to look ahead. You may even have to sacrifice a tree or two to save the whole forest. This is where “what’s urgent?” versus “what’s important?” must be carefully thought about. The burning tree is certainly urgent but if you don’t tend to the forest, the fire only grows. 

A large custom home in my neighborhood was recently completed. The stucco was finished a year ago and there was left over lath and plaster materials on site, including bags of high-end finish, engineered cement, sheets of lath and even precast decorative shapes and scaffolding. They had been sitting out for almost a year. I am pretty certain that pile of material will only be suitable for the dump now. The plastering contractor was concerned about the clean-up (tree); maybe he was tired. So in result, his materials were wasted (forest).

I know contractors struggle to make a profit, and associations can seem like just another expense but industry associations look to the future and help the contractors keep their forests healthy and green. I met and talked with that plastering contractor whose material was left outside for a year. He told me back then that he would love to join the SMA and appreciates what we do but the $500 membership dues were too steep for him. I am pretty sure that pile of material he wasted was more than $500. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had piles of wasted materials all over the place.

We all make mistakes but it’s the long run that really counts. Yes, put out that tree fire but don’t forget the health of the remainder of the forest. After all, one tree standing alone is just that: a tree.