A Warning about Hidden Costs

Sunday, August 23, 2015 Posted by Corey Harrell
I saw the excitement in my son's eyes as the biggest smile was stretching from ear to ear. He slowly stretched out his arm to show me what he got at camp that day. He was extremely excited and I could sense his happiness as I heard him say "I won it with only one dollar. I did it on my first try. Can we keep it?" My eyes focused on what was in his hand. It was a plastic bag with a small goldfish swimming around. "I won it at the fair today. Can we keep it?" In that split second I quickly ran through what owning a fish might entail and it was very similar to the picture used in this post. I then said "yes, we can keep it". My son excitedly ran to his summer camp counselor with so much excitement to tell her the fish was going home with him.

As we were walking to pick up my youngest son I realized the first thing I didn't think about. My five year old would be upset seeing his brother with a goldfish and knowing he doesn't have one. I thought problem solved; we'll just buy him one at the pet store while we are there getting supplies. We reached my five year old in his camp and his eyes grew bigger and bigger as he saw the bag. "Is that a fish" he asked and my seven year old replied "Daddy is getting you one too".  At that moment both kids had smiles as they kept staring at the little fish swimming in the bag. As we were walking down the hall we walked past another parent. She saw the bag with the fish and nervously said "Oh lucky you". I laughed and I could see she was a bit nervous walking down the hall to pick up her kid.

On the drive home, I remembered what my wife said at one point. Dam, my wife. Make that item number two that didn’t cross my mind when my son asked me if we could keep the fish. She has been dead set against owning a fish and this time playing like I misunderstood or didn’t hear her won’t work. “Absolutely no fish" is pretty clear. I knew I wasn’t getting out of this one so I thought I might as well get something out of it. I sent her a text message saying the boys had a big surprise for her. Despite her continued texts trying to guess the surprise on my drive home I wouldn't answer them and I only deflected saying she had to wait.

As my wife opened the door both of my sons went running up to her. They said guess what a few times trying to gather their thoughts from their excitement. Then my seven year old says "at the fair I won a fish on my first try. I did it with only one dollar. Daddy said we could keep it and he is getting Gab one too." She started to give me that stare until she walked over and started watching the fish swim around in its bag of water. Maybe she ran through what a fish would entail too but maybe not. Whatever it was I wasn't going to ask when she said it looks like we are making a trip to the pet store.

On the drive to the pet store my wife and I were on the same page. We would get to the store then buy a basic tank, a second fish, and some food. As we walked up and down the aisle there were tanks of all sizes. Not sure what size we needed we asked the store for assistance. The cashier said he would send over the fish lady. I gave him a puzzled look and was like "fish lady?" He said that's what we call her since she knows everything about fish.

We continued walking up and down the aisle waiting for the fish lady while continuously stopping my boys from wrestling each other. A younger girl was walking towards us and I asked if she was the fish lady. She laughed and then explained all the tanks and fish she owns. I told her we were looking for a tank to hold two goldfish. She said each fish should have least 10 gallons of water and then I glanced at the shelf. At that moment I knew getting the small basic tank we thought that would work was no longer an option. Nope, we had to get a real fish tank. As we continued listening to the fish lady she started going down the list of things we would need. Water conditioner, food, gravel for the bottom of the tank, filter, vegetation (fake or real), a stand for the tank to keep it level, structures for the fish to hide in, and the list went on. My wife and I both reached for our phones to confirm what she was saying without her noticing (we research everything before buying something). We were making sure she wasn't trying to pull a fast one on us and our quick research confirmed what the fish lady said. I even saw the weekly work that owning a fish entails. I stopped counting all of the things I didn’t think about when I quickly ran through the list of what I thought owning a fish entails.

After hearing the fish lady I said that's a lot more than I was expecting. My kid won a fish at the fair and we thought we would only need a basic tank. She cracked a smile and then said "oh, a fair fish huh". After she helped us and was walking away I got the feeling this must happen a lot. Parents getting a fish at the fair, going to the fish store, and then getting hit over the head with what it really entails to own a fish. We grabbed a shopping cart, grabbed all of our supplies, the fish my five year old picked out, and selected the stand for our 20 gallon tank. As we left the store I kept thinking about the dollar fish that just cost us hundreds of dollars. That evening I spent hours putting together the stand and tank while my wife was cleaning all the items going into the tank (another thing we weren't expecting).

What I thought owning a fish entailed was nothing close to what is actually involved with owning a fish. Spending a dollar to win a fish was nothing compared to the hundreds of dollars needed to take care of the fish. The weekly work I envisioned was a lot less than the actual work I have been doing for weeks.

If I could do it again knowing now what I didn't know when we sent our son to camp that day. I would do things differently. I would had told him to save his dollar and do not bring home any fish. Mommy and I are doing some research and then next weekend we will go get the supplies and fish to set up a nice tank. It will be better than just watching two goldfish swimming around in a 20 gallon tank. This is the approach I would had taken. The approach of not trying to make things work with a dollar fish because in the end I still paid the same amount as I would had going with the better option in the first place.

My guess is this story plays out every year at a lot of organizations. The only exception is organizations are not dealing with goldfish but tools.

  1. Dude, I've seen this throughout my career. While I was at ISS, it was either working for someone who already had an MSS service from a competitor and hadn't counted on the hidden costs of ownership, or for someone who had purchased the RealSecure product but never broken the cellophane seal on the box.

  2. I love this story Corey for several reasons. I am married to a "fish lady" and have heard good and bad variations of this story for many years. Watch it extend to cats and rabbits and several other species as well. Sometimes we assumed the role of the children, knowing full well about the pending TCO involved.
    As a work metaphor, I expect that there are many places where each department has a child or two and if you look closely at some organisations, there are many "fish tanks" to be found. Even after the children have left :)

  3. There is another side to this I would like to mention. At some point in time, you might consider adding another species of fish or plants to your fish tank. If your fish lady is badly informed, you might loose the plants or notice you are back to one species in the tank. With respect to adding tools to our work environment, we all know the how important it is to test diligently and not just enable all the features and see what happens.

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