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The "I bought a boat" Theory of Taking Action One Step at a Time

A friend passed along that her first boss and mentor tells a terrific story that illustrates the power of taking action one step at a time. Prior to their work together, he was the general manager of a yacht sales dealership and his typical customer would purchase new yachts and other boats for $1 million dollars or more.

He tells the story this way:


One morning, several of the sales people were standing around, and they were having some fun razzing the newest sales person, a young woman who really didn’t fit the mold of a wizened "boater" like most of them did.  Into the showroom walked a couple who also didn’t fit the part of a typical customer: they weren’t dressed very nicely, they appeared to be young, and it seemed unlikely that they would be ready for a $1 million dollar investment in a new yacht.  So, the sales group "offered" to have the newest sales person talk with the couple…since they didn’t think it would amount to anything.

After quite a while, it became obvious that the couple was serious and that they planned to purchase a yacht that day.  However, the husband confessed that they hadn’t come prepared to purchase and didn’t have a credit card or much cash with them to make a down payment. The new sales person, undaunted, asked them what they did have?  "We only have $100," they responded.  So, the sales person took the cash and shook their hands.  The couple left the showroom with huge smiles on their faces.

When the new sales person came back to the group of sales people she was the laughingstock.  The group exclaimed, "You took a $100 deposit on a $1 million dollar boat?  That’s ridiculous!"  But the general manager knew better.  He celebrated the sale with the new sales person and responded back to the sales team with this conclusion:

"You may think that they didn’t actually buy anything, and you are right that $100 isn’t much of a deposit on a new $1 million yacht.  BUT, what do you think is the first thing that couple did when they left the dealership and saw people they knew?  They said, "We bought a boat today!" Now, they didn’t really buy a boat – they only put down a $100 deposit on that boat.  But once they had told everybody, they all knew about their new yacht. Do you really think the couple wasn’t going to follow through and complete the rest of the sale?"

Since I heard that story, I have reflected on the lessons that it teaches.  Let’s see if you agree with some of the lessons learned from the "I bought a boat" theory.

  • Any action taken towards a goal will get you a step closer to actually achieving the goal itself.
  • It is critical to START on your way to the goal. And, step by step, you’ll get there.
  • Once you inform others of your goal, you are much more likely to follow through.
  • Stating your goal as if you are already there, as in "we bought a boat today," motivates you to take action and keep moving toward your goal.
  • Not everyone looks like they can purchase a $1 million dollar yacht, but looks can be deceiving!

What "boat" are you trying to buy? What goals are eluding you this year?  Make the commitment today to take a step, to "buy that boat," and then take another step tomorrow.  Step by step, you WILL get there.