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Is your Sales Organisation on the Road to Abiline?

  • Is your Sales Organisation on the Road to Abilene?


    My favourite management book is called the “Road to Abilene” by Jerry B. Harvey) it leads off with his story about his family, in Texas in 104 degree heat, with the wind blowing fined grain topsoil through their house.

    They are all sitting on the back porch of the house, fan blowing which made the temperature and conditions a little more bearable, with lemonade in hand, playing Dominos.

    Not much exertion, you would think, when one of the family, the father in law suddenly said “Let’s get in the car and go to Abilene and have dinner at the cafeteria “

    Jerry thought “What go to Abilene? Fifty –three miles in this dust storm and heat and in an unairconditioned 1958 Buick?”

    But his wife chimed in and said, “What a great idea, sounds good to me, and added I hope mother wants to go. “Of course says the mother in law, I haven’t been to Abilene in a long time”

    So into the car they go, it turns out that the heat was brutal, perspiration coated them with that fine dust that was blowing across Texas at the time.

    They get to the restaurant and Jerry describes the food at the cafeteria as a first rate prop in an antacid commercial.

    So after travelling for 4 hours 104 mile round trip, they returned back to the house exhausted, hot, and tired.

    After sitting back at the house Jerry decides to make the comment dishonestly “It was a great trip wasn’t it?


    Finally his mother in law popped up and said “Well to tell you the truth I really did not enjoy it at all and would have much rather had stayed here, I just went along because you wanted to go”

    Then it all started, Jerry said he only wanted to go because his wife was keen, the wife said she only wanted to go if her mother wanted to go, and on and on it  it went.


    Finally the father in law says “Well I just thought you might have all been bored playing dominoes, you do not visit very often I wanted to be sure you enjoyed it.”

    As they sat in silence they realised that they had done the opposite of what they wanted to do.

    Jerry says that it did not make sense at the time, but since that day, he has observed, consulted with, and been part of more than one organisation that have been caught up in the same situation.

    Many companies he has worked with have taken side trips, some terminal “journeys to Abilene” when maybe Dallas or Tokyo is really where they wanted to go.

    Jerry calls this the “Abilene Paradox” companies take actions in contradiction to what they really want to do, and therefore defeat the very purpose they are trying to achieve.

    That may be a lesson to many of us, I know for a fact that I have taken a few side trips, not fatal, but close, in my business.

    As a sales organisation these days, there seems to be a lot of side trips going on. It’s difficult and challenging for sure. We just struggle sometimes to manage agreement- like Jerry says in his book The Abilene Paradox.

    I would highly recommend this book; I keep it beside my desk most days just to remind me not to set out on the Road to Abilene too often...