The Story

In 1975 a man by the name of Gary Dahl was at a bar with some friends. A seemingly mundane and superficial conversation surrounding the usual complaints of pet owners began, and Dahl obligatorily listened.

Struggling in business, and feeling desperate, Dahl made a decision few of us do that night in 1975; he decided to listen to this dull conversation differently. While listening, a simple question came to Dahl: what if there could be a pet that did not have  to be bathed, groomed, cleaned up after, or disciplined? Without inhibition and the all-t0-common fear of looking stupid, Dahl raised the question to his buddies. They tossed around the idea, had a good laugh, then moved on with their night.

Dahl didn’t move on.

As he was leaving the bar, Dahl noticed a plain-looking, sanded, boringly grey landscaping rock, common in southern California, lining the walkway. Dahl decided to think about this rock that hundreds of people had surely passed by that evening, differently. “What if I created a pet rock?” Dahl asked himself. With no one to laugh at him now, he began relentlessly pursuing the idea.

Instead of letting this magic moment pass, Dahl spent the next two weeks writing a 32-page manual on caring for this new “pet rock”. He wrote about how to feed it, how to train it, how to put it to sleep, and how to house break it. “Place it on some old newspapers”, Dahl wrote, “the rock will never know what the paper is for and will require no further instruction.”

You may be thinking, “this guy seems crazy.” Well, he was. He was just crazy enough to look at a rock differently than everybody else.

Now that the training manual was developed, Dahl needed a rock. He went to a builder’s supply store and purchased, for one cent, a landscaping, pebble-like rock similar to the one he had seen outside of that bar. He put two pairs of eyes on it, created a cardboard “house” complete with breathing holes, and added straw for its bed.

In August of 1975, Dahl brought a few of his pet rocks to sell at a gift market in Los Angeles. They sold out in minutes. Dahl packaged more pet rocks and came back to the market again the next month. This time, Neiman Marcus noticed the product and placed an impulse order of 500.

Dahl sent press releases with pictures of himself surrounded by his new “pets” and Newsweek did a story on  this “nutty” idea. In two short months, Dahl received thousands of orders and was shipping 10,000 rocks per day. By Christmastime that year, he had sold one million rocks for $3.95 a piece. Remember, it cost Gary only a penny for each rock.

Gary Dahl was an instant millionaire.

Looking at Life Differently

This story from marketing lore demonstrates the power that changing our perspective on the seemingly mundane can transform our world and our lives. For Gary Dahl, it was a rock.

What is it for you? Is it your 8 a.m. meetings? Your weekday routine? That peanut butter and jelly sandwich you eat every day at noon? It is your boss? Your employees? Your product? Your company? Your class? Your customers? Your teammates? Your city? Your neighbors?

Every day, we are blessed enough to be given thousands of moments and routines; many that we can’t overtly change. However, what we can change is how we look at these moments and how we respond.

Gary Dahl took something dull and relentlessly pursued an idea that made him millions. He was not especially intelligent or extraordinary, but he was bold enough in 1975 to take a different look at a rock.

As we move into another week, I challenge you to find your “pet rock”. It just may be hidden in your gridlocked Monday morning drive to work, or in your regular cup a coffee.

Ferris Bueller said it far better than I can, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

– Zach