“Just One More Thing”: Lessons from Columbo, RIP Peter Falk

Peter Falk died on June 23rd. He was 3 months shy of his 84th birthday. Falk is best known as the actor who played the detective, Lieutenant Columbo, on the television show Columbo. I was a fan of the show and I enjoyed Mr. Falk’s work in other roles as well.

Lots has been said and will be said about Peter Falk’s passing. There is always the typical run down of facts about a famous person who has recently died: where he was born – New York City by the way – what his trajectory was in acting, some information about his personal life, etc.

Besides being saddened by Mr. Falk’s death, I took the time to reflect on what his work in Columbo meant to me. And frankly, it meant a lot. Please allow me to explain.

Columbo, a disheveled and at first, seemingly not-too-sharp detective, taught me four important rules that can serve us in various walks of life.

The four rules are:

1.) Do not, and I mean do not under any circumstances, judge a book solely on the basis of its cover! In episode after episode of the show, the bad guys dismissed Detective Colombo because of his sloppy appearance and demeanor. What fans of the show knew all too well was that Colombo was a master poker player of sorts. His appearance and manner disguised a brilliant mind. In effect, his appearance was a bluff.

2.) Don’t underestimate your opponent, ever! In the show, the bad guys got done in, at least in part, because they bought into the notion that the disheveled and seemingly disorganized Colombo was less capable than they were. Boy were they wrong! He got them every time. When we dismiss our competition for superficial reasons we set ourselves up to get beat.

3.) Small talk counts. Colombo was a master of misdirection when it came to his interviews with suspects. He’d start off with small talk, making the people he pursued feel more at ease. He asked off beat questions, lulling them into forgetting he was a detective pursuing them. While most of us are not detectives, there is a lot to be said, for example, in sales, romance, or any human interaction, to making small talk. It creates a bond and relaxes people. Being direct can be a virtue. Being blunt at all times is often classless and gets people’s backs up.

4.) It is the question after what seems like the last question that can count the most. Columbo would ask his suspects a bunch of questions. Then he’d start leaving. Whomever he was questioning must have felt relieved. Suddenly he’d turn and say, “Just one more thing…” and ask a key question. It was this question that was usually pivotal in breaking the case open. In an interview, for example, lots of times it’s the question after what appears to be the final question that gets the most interesting answer.

RIP Peter Falk. Thanks for the lessons as Columbo.

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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