The Aunt Sara Principle

January 31st, 2006 by Hans Bjordahl :: see related comic

A job pays in the lessons learned along the way. Well, sure, the money’s nice too : ) , but in my career I’ve found that perhaps the greatest value you can get from a job is the ability to spend each year becoming demonstrably smarter and wiser than you were the year before.

So my first “real” job out of college was at a bicycling industry marketing firm called “Catalyst Communication,” and the CEO then (as now) was Leslie Bohm. Catalyst produced catalogs and “SuperSale” promotions for bicycle retailers nationwide. One of the first lessons I learned about business was one of Leslie’s favorite business parables, the “The Aunt Sara Principle.” Leslie told it something like this:

Leslie was catching up with his two sisters at a family gathering and as they were looking back on the good times with their Aunt Sara, Leslie made a confession. He always felt a little guilty, he admitted, because he was always so clearly Aunt Sara’s favorite.

Leslie’s sisters were taken aback. But not because they resented Leslie’s special status. Each sister confessed in turn that she had thought for all these years that she had in fact been Aunt Sara’s favorite, and had felt similarly guilty about enjoying such a privileged position in the family.

They had a good laugh over that one. Clearly, Aunt Sara had a gift for making each of her nieces and nephews feel like the “favorite” of the family, and Leslie took what he termed the “Aunt Sara Principle” and used it to guide how Catalyst treated its customers. It worked like a charm. Employees believed in it and took it to heart, and the result was a customer base comprised exclusively of “favorites.” Their tenure with and affinity for the company could be measured in years, sometimes decades.

What does this have to do with the business of technology? Well, everything really.

8 Responses to “The Aunt Sara Principle”
charles wrote:

I beleive if you treat people well, even when you are trying to get ahead or even compete with them it will only make you stronger. A MUCH better approach then being a tyrant.

Joey Porcelli wrote:

Hans actually learned this lesson from his own family because his Aunt Joey always told him he was her favorite and not to tell his brother Pete. That is why he turned into such a brilliant cartoonist and generally kind and nice person. (Also might have to do with genetics)
Way to go Hans.
Aunt Joey

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Tom O wrote:

Hey Hans,

Good news! Your principle holds water. I spoke to your Aunt Joey recently and she told me she actually likes Pete the best.

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Bug Bash is a comic strip written and illustrated by Hans Bjordahl. Bug Bash is a comic strip about technology: managing technology, the business of technology. It's about project management and managing projects through the dull world of Rational Rose, use cases, and requirements. Functional requirements, user requirement, functional specifications, design specifications, call it what you want but it's still the bane of project managers. And when you're done with that, you can think about all the fun that comes with timelines, scheduling, estimates (PERT estimation anyone?) and resourcing until Gantt charts are coming out of your ears. Let's not forget the risk management in the software engineering life cycle. Maintaining the project is just as much fun, managing what was initially set out in requirements and trying to keep feature creep / scope creep in check with change management. If any of these words send nightmares to you, the project manager, then this site probably rings true with you. (Who Links Here?)