Submitted for your approval: four updated fables about what it means to be in business these days.
Since they are business fables, you may be wondering if they are ESOP (Employee Stock Option Program) fables. No, they are not. However, they do have much to do with corporate mythology -- what we like to think about the way we make our living, and what we are unwilling to admit is true.
If you are a devotee of contemporary business literature, the stories will all seem familiar. You have come across one or more in your reading once or twice or even three times. They are staples of the business speaking circuit.
In the usual versions, good things happen to characters that make uncommon, heroic, risk-taking, entrepreneurial, customer-satisfying decisions. In these versions, characters take the common road -- and that makes hardly any difference at all.
1. The Golden Nugget
An investment has turned over a new leaf, and has committed itself to the concept of employee empowerment. Employees have been instructed that they have the power henceforth to take unilateral actions if, in their opinion the action will lead to greater customer satisfaction.
One day a junior asset manager at the bank decides that the assets of an elderly client could perform much better in the futures market than in ho-hum CDs and money markets. Therefore he moves $3 million of the client's money into futures -- nearly 80% of the client's account. In less than a month he hast lost the entire amount.
Of course the client is aghast at her loss and sues the investment bank, and wins -- not just the $3 million, but an additional $10 million in penalties.
So now comes the moment of truth. Will the company do the right thing, show its commitment to empowerment, and stick by its embattled young employee? Summoned to the senior partner's office, the young man is confident the company will back him up.
"I guess you figure you just spent $13 million educating me, huh?" he said jauntily.
"Security, this is Mr. Honeywell," the senior partner says into the telephone receiver. "Will you get up here on the double?"
2. The Uncooperative Frogs
This is a fable about change. They say no one likes threatening change, and we all take immediate steps to avoid it. But if the threatening change is subtle or slow, we are likely to be unable to sense the change and thus take steps to avoid it.
Specifically, it is about frogs and water. If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water, the fable says, the frog will immediately leap out of the pot to safety.
What the fable neglects to mentions is that the results are non-reproducible. A Harvard Business School team of researchers worked with the exeutive teams of two dozen transnational corporations. In the experiment, CEOs added frog after frog to water of different temperatures. True, frogs leaped out of the scalding water whenever possible.
But the other half of the experiment didn’t work. Put a frog into cold water, and then heat the water up, and every frog leaped out of the pot between 35 degrees and 75 degrees centigrade.
The moral of the experiment is: Frogs do not take being boiled lightly, and presumably neither do humans.
3. The Prisoners' Dilemma
This is a classic dilemma in decision-making. A jailer has two prisoners in a cell, accused of spying His objective is to establish a fall guy, someone he can punish so that he has done his job. So he gives the two prisoners these options:
If one of them confesses, he can go free.
If both confess, they each spend 10 years in jail.
If neither confesses, they must both spend life in prison.
As soon as it is dark, the two prisoners climb down a knotted bedsheet and escape.
4. The Heroic Effort
John, a clerk at a well-known New York department store, notices that a customer has accidentally dropped a dollar bill. Before he could return it to her, the customer left the area.
John consults the credit slip and determines that the customer is on vacation from Wausau, Wisconsin. He calls the credit card company and learns that she is booked for a flight home in less than an hour.
John knows what the right course of action is -- to do anything, anything at all, to delight customers. It is the store's "absolutely anything" customer satisfaction policy.
He debates leaving work, driving to the airport, and if necessary, booking a flight to Wausau to return the dollar.
Then he catches himself and said, "What am I thinking? It's only a dollar."
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Comments on this column:Actually, I think the Prisonner's Dilemma is somewhat different. In the way you showed it, there is not much of a dilemma, if escape is not possible both could risk confessing, they'd always be better off. I think the real dilemma would be like this:
If only one confesses, he goes free and the other one gets stuck for life.
If both confess they'll both be in there for life.
If neither confesses they can only pin them both down for 10 years.
This way it is only «profitable» to confess if you believe that the other guy will not. On the other hand, if the other guy confesses and you don't, you'll fry. Now, that's a dilemma, yes;-))?
Bruno Martins Soares
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