It is really funny how events can start, build and finally conclude in a way that can change who you are and what you do. Here is the story behind how I became involved in the business of consulting.
I have long been fascinated by this phenomenon called "internet." It is a tremendous source of information, but at times it can be a source of irritation. One of the things that really irritated me is the "pass-this-along" chain letter. I don't know how many email messages I have received that talk about wonderful offers by famous people, like Bill Gates, who are more than willing to send me $645, only if I forward this email to twelve other people. Well, I didn't exactly fall off the turnip wagon (a Midwesternism), so mostly I have avoided these ruses. However, I did start to wonder how these legends get started, and who starts them.
So, I decided to invent and introduce my own internet legend, just to see what would happen. Would it really take off? What would people believe?
The legend I invented was this:
"You too can get free money from Home Depot! Home Depot has installed automated scanners for merchandise. The customer scans the UPC code on each item, and the checkout station calculates the total and charges your credit or debit card. You can pay by cash as well.
A major programming error has been found in their system! It seems that a certain pocket comb can be read by the scanning device! So, if you place your Ace pocket comb, model #51668 on the scanner, and hit the 'pay for purchase' button, the machine will automatically give you $17.29 in change! Please pass this on quickly to twelve of your friends, before the programming error is found."
I sent this message out on a Wednesday to twelve friends. By Friday I had received it back three times! Wow, this was fun! By the next week, I had seen this message 37 times! The details had slightly changed. The change you could receive went up to $42.17. Some people claimed they had made several thousand dollars on the scam. Claims in the email message were made that "the 'Ace Comb' internet sting had been reported on the Today Show, so it must be true!"
The next week I received so many messages about the Ace Comb Scam that I had to put it on my Spam list. This thing had gotten completely out of control. The message was now in French, Italian, Japanese and Korean. Little did I know these legends could be started so easily. SNOPES.COM even listed it! There was an article in U.S. Today reporting interviews with people who had made thousands. The article quoted authorities who said they were baffled how a checkout scanner could get any kind of meaningful message from a pocket comb. It went on to say that Home Depot was conducting an investigation. However, sales of the Ace Combs, model #51668, had increased so much that three factories in China were working overtime to keep up.
Then, one day, a couple guys in orange Home Depot aprons knocked on my door and explained they had traced the origin of this scam to my computer. I immediately claimed complete innocence and ignorance, which fell on their deaf ears. So I carefully studied my options, ratcheted up my defense, and pleaded for mercy.
"Wait!" they said, "We are very impressed that you uncovered this flaw in our checkout technology. We want to talk to you about helping us prevent similar attacks in the future."
The next day, another knock on my door revealed the marketing team from Ace Comb Company. YES! They wanted me on the comb team!
And that, folks, is the story how I got my start as a business consultant.