80. Using Dumb Stuff to Boost Your Profits

Richard Thaler, author of Nudge, recently won the 2017 Nobel Prize in economics. He’s been uncovering and popularizing cognitive biases in his study of behavioral economics for over 30 years. Thaler studies the human behaviors that don’t fit rational economic expectations, or the dumb stuff people do.

Do you know your firm’s number one dumb, unprofitable activity?

You too can use the study of dumb stuff to your advantage. First, have your C-suite independently, and perhaps anonymously, write down their top three dumb profit draining activities within the company. What’s the consensus? Which activity is the number one dumb activity? 

You can also be inspired by Andy Grove, a former Intel CEO. In his book, he shares details of Intel’s turnaround. In 1984 Intel profits were $198MM. In 1985, they fell off the cliff to less than $2MM (the Japanese were dumping memory chips and the PC chip was just taking off). The author asked Intel founder Gordan Moore a pivotal question,

“If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what would he do?”

Gordan answered without hesitation, “He’d get out of memory chips.”

Andy replied: “Then why don’t we walk out the door, come back in and do it ourselves” 

That’s what they did.

Increase your courage for stopping the dumb stuff and reduce your fear of flailing

The first step is forgiveness. Publicly forgive everyone for enabling the number one dumb activity to persist. Next, take the lead from Thaler and identify the ego issues and cognitive biases, like wishful thinking and an others do it too mentality, that have rationalized the behaviors that enable the number one dumb activity.

Once you’ve identified the dumb activity and analyzed the human factors, use analytics to be very precise about the problem so that you can take the juiciest slice of it and design a small experiment to fix it. The experiment should be designed to minimize costs and ego hits, while maximizing learning.

Perform the experiment. Reflect on the results. Learn from it. Then, try a second bigger, smarter, more confident iteration. Each iteration will help you grow your mastery and confidence for ridding your company of dumb, profit-losing activities.

Lastly, to create real change you’ll have to persistently nudge those who can pursue the cure for dumb on a wider scale.

A Nudge Case Example

A distribution chain performed a customer profitability analysis to target the five most profitable and five most unprofitable accounts at every branch. A monthly nudge memo was sent that listed the ten accounts and asked managers: “What are you doing to take any of these accounts to a better level?”

After seven nudges, two branches turned a huge shared losing account it into a profit winner with a plus $1.2MM profit swing. You can listen to the full story in this 7-minute video clip.

The takeaway? Decide what your number one dumb activity is. Measure it. Rank it. Experiment small. Learn. And, nudge to scale and increase profits.

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