A few years ago, I was visiting Taiwan with my mom and sister. We were wandering through a department store when a neatly dressed young man stopped us with a goofy grin and offered to refill our waterbottles. He was a sales rep for one of those inverted blue jug water dispensers that you can find in offices.

We smiled and said, “No, thanks,” but he had already gone to the floor model and was dispensing water into a paper cup. He was cheerfully describing how good the water was, and by means of getting us to accept filled cup #1, asked us merely to “help him hold it” as he began dispensing two more cups of water for the three of us.

Summarized this way, it sounds like sales pressure, the type easiest to ignore and walk away from. But the context made all the difference. We were obviously not his target clientele. With our bags and half-filled waterbottles, we looked like tourists (and he even asked us where we had traveled from). Yet, he seemed ecstatic about sharing samples of water with us, as if he had invented water itself and wanted us to try it. He seemed so proud of the water, and so willing to let us walk away that we found ourselves thinking, “If I needed a water dispenser, I’d buy it from him.”

Of the countless salespeople we met on that trip, he is the only one outstanding in my memory. While others would follow us around their shops, shoving sweaters in front of our faces, or hover over their open air stands, shouting out prices for dragonfruit and lychee, or sit sullenly behind their counters, this water salesperson had a type of professional energetic charm that would be hard to fake and maintain if he were more sales-oriented. It’s easy to tell when someone is genuinely enjoying their work and when someone is trying too hard.

I really doubt anyone can be deeply passionate about water. Even if you add a commission.

So this young salesman made it about more than the water. In the few seconds he knew he had, he made it about putting a smile on the faces of three tired-looking travelers. He made it about putting on a little show of professional courtesy. He made it about friendliness and fun, not business transactions.

What else would distinguish the cup of water he offered and a cup of water from a drinking fountain?


The inspiration behind this post…

My friend Hayim saw this trifold menu and shared it with me because of its design (here’s one page of it). It’s an easy target for dissecting design shortcomings, like Cafe 71’s menu. But in a few ways, this menu reminds me of the water salesman’s goofy, eager, earnest energy. Like Brad’s pasta sauce, if it were more corporate, it’d feel less authentic.

The energy we bring to our work sells what we make. How you do something almost always matters more than what you do.

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