On Common Sense

common senseRecently, my wife wanted to buy an item for her photography studio.  This particular item is something that you’d never think belonged in a studio…but photographers are creative people and they find many uses for all sorts of things.

This item is a cat scratcher that looks similar to the item in the photo below. We don’t own cats so it didn’t make a lot of sense to me to need to purchase this device but after she showed me how this scratcher is turned into ‘prop’ for newborn photography, I was amazed.

Basically, what a photographer can do is take this scratcher and wrap it in twine or rope and then use it to place a baby in…the resulting photography is quite good (an example here).786306494353CS1

Who would have thought of buying a cat scratcher to make a prop? Like I said…photographers are creative people.

My wife wanted to buy one and started looking around the web to find them.  They seemed to average about $20 to $25 on various online sites but Wal-Mart had one listed on their website for $14.99.   We aren’t fans of Wal-Mart but saving money on business props is a necessary consideration.

We decided to run down to Wal-Mart to take a look at them and pick one up if it looked OK.  We went to Wal-Mart, found the pet section and noticed the scratch was $19.99 in-store. We confirmed the exact item was $14.99 online and were a bit perplexed but the price difference. My assumption was that the local store just hadn’t changed the price of the in-store item.

We grabbed the item and make our way to the customer service desk to inquire about the price difference.

Here’s where the “common sense” (or lack thereof) comes into play.

The customer service rep’s answer was “it is $19.99 in store…if you want the $14.99 price, you can order it on-line and have it delivered or pick it up in-store”.   When I heard that, I cringed at the backwards thinking that was at work.

What kind of company institutes a policy that provides lower prices online and then when a customer wants to purchase that item in their store, won’t match the online price? They’ll price match competitors prices…why not their own price?

Now, if it were up to me, I would have bought it from another store. In fact, I would have done so right then and there while standing in front of the Wal-Mart associate….but it wasn’t up to me.  My wife stood there and ordered the item from Wal-Mart’s online store and selected “pick up in store”, which is a free service offered by Wal-Mart.   We left the store and the following day she received an email that the item was ‘ready for pick up”.

Now…common sense would tell me (and hopefully you), that the right thing to do would have been to sell that item for the online price right then and there without issue. But no…that’s not what happened. Instead, Wal-Mart incurred some additional costs to take the online order, route it to the right store and have someone in that store go pick an item, bring it to the ‘in store pick up’ location and prepare the item for pick-up.

Does that make sense to do?  Why incur additional costs, however small they may be, when the buyer was in-store ready to buy?  It would have taken a few seconds for the associate to ring us up at the internet price and send us on our way with no incremental costs to Wal-Mart. Yet another reason to not shop at Wal-Mart.

Common sense..apparently isn’t that common.

Lead Well & Prosper – book review

A few weeks ago I received a complimentary copy of Lead Well and Prosper: 15 Successful Strategies for Becoming a Good Manager from Nick McCormick, the author.

When I received the book, I tossed it onto my desk with all the many unread books and promised myself I’d get to it soon.

A Quick Read

Soon came sooner than I thought…mainly because it’s such a small book (less than 100 pages) and looked like an easy read…and it was.

The book is split into fifteen chapters with each chapter describing a strategy that can be used by managers.  Each chapter starts out with a nice little storyline to introduce the chapter and then a few pages are used to describe the strategy.

The fifteen chapters cover obvious things such as ‘teach’, ‘adopt a serving attitude’, ‘share information’, ‘do the right thing’ and other fairly common sense approaches to leading & managing.

Common Sense…but not common practice

This book describes common sense approaches to leading people and teams, but as we all know, common sense and business don’t always go hand-in-hand.  Common sense doesn’t always make it to common practice and this book helps bridge the gap between knowing and doing.

Perfect for new managers / leaders

This is a great little book full of wisdom for managers & leaders, especially those that are taking on their first management position.  It’s an easy read and covers the basics to help set the new leader down the right path.

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The Milkshake Moment

Just finished up reading “The Milkshake Moment” by Steven S. Little. This is an interesting, well-written book worth picking up.  It’s easy to read with short chapters and contains some interesting, and at times funny, insights into the world of processes…especially bad processes (those that bind the hands of employees/organizations).

The book’s entire premise is that while processes are necessary and provide value to an organization, you should make sure they allow ‘wiggle’ room for individuals who use those processes.  This wiggle room is necessary to allow people to be creative and innovative in how they solve problems.  Most organization’s don’t stress that employees be creative and use processes at the same time…they’d prefer that an employee ‘stick to the process’.

For example, the book uses the author’s attempt at ordering a milkshake from room service at a fancy hotel. The hotel didn’t have milkshakes on their menu and the room service personnel didn’t quite know how to handle the request.  The author asked if the hotel had milk, ice cream, a bowl and a spoon…the answer was yes.  The author ordered these items and made his own milkshake.

The author uses this simple example to point out that the room service personnel were stuck in a process and just because they didn’t sell milkshakes, they couldn’t provide one and didn’t have a ‘process’ in place to get one to the author.

The book provides a good overview of what it means to be process bound, but also steps into the role of trying to teach the reader how to take simple actions to change these processes to follow a more common sense approach.

Technology Selection Revisted

If you didn’t believe my ramblings in “Common Sense and Technology Selection“, I’ve got a nice anecdotal (and funny) story that backs up my assertion that common sense is lacking in the technology selection process in most organizations.

Jump over to The Daily WTF and read this story….I’ll wait for you. Go.

Did you read it? It’s funny…but sad. And true. And this type of approach (selection via buzzwords) costs companies’ millions of dollars a year (if not billions).

If you didn’t read my “Common Sense and Technology Selection” article (shame on you!), here’s the process that many companies use today for selecting technology (the one that doesn’t use common sense):

  1. Hear about the “latest technology” and/or hear a buzzword.
  2. Think “yes…we need that….that will make everything better!”
  3. Talk to a few vendors.
  4. See a demo.
  5. Buy the platform
  6. Throw it over the wall to the technology group to implement.
  7. Go look for your next buzzword.

Now…go read this passage from the the story on The Daily WTF:

The next time I met him, a scant 6 months later, he was backing into my loading dock with a truck full of brand new desktop PCs, older servers, and all manner of fancy Cisco 10/100 and Gigabit gear. “The CEO read a pamphlet about the lower total cost of ownership of thin clients. We’re rolling them out branch-by-branch now. The server and network upgrades are killing us. All these shiny new desktops are going to be coming your way now.”

In the story that is related on The Daily WTF, this particular company my 5 or 6 trips to ‘recycle’ their computer equipment. How much money do you think this cost the company? Had to be an enormous amount.

Common Sense and Technology Selection

When did common sense get removed from the corporate technology selection process?

For those that don’t know what it is, technology selection is the process by which an organization decides which technology platform (software, hardware, etc) will be used for a particular application and/or piece of the business. For example, selecting an organization’s Content Management platform (e.g., Sitecore, Interwoven, Vignette, etc).

Using a common sense approach toward selecting technology seems reasonable. To take this approach, a person doesn’t need to be an expert…just someone that can think through things and apply common sense to the selection process.

How would one approach selecting technology without using common sense? Glad you asked…and I guarantee you that you’ve seen this before. 🙂

  1. Hear about the ‘latest technology’ and/or hear a buzzword.
  2. Think “yes…we need that….that will make everything better!”
  3. Talk to a few vendors.
  4. See a demo.
  5. Buy the platform
  6. Throw it over the wall to the technology group to implement.
  7. Go look for your next buzzword.

This approach happens more often than you would think. There are so many things wrong with this approach. Common sense has been thrown out the window.

I’ve personally seen this approach taken in many organizations when the leadership team decides that ‘X Technology’ is going to be their savior (note to people…technology will rarely save you) and they ignore the “common sense voice” in their head. Very rarely do these types of approaches work.

To compare, let’s look at the approach that I follow when assisting organizations in selecting a new platform…it isn’t necessarily the ‘right’ way…but it has worked for me…and I think it’s an extremely simple and common sense approach:

  1. Take a look at the organization’s strategy for the future
  2. Look at the technology strategic plan (if one exists)
  3. Build a business case (if not already created)
  4. Ensure that the organization’s strategy is aligned with the technology strategy (many times it doesn’t)
  5. Work closely with the information technology/systems group to understand their current capabilities
  6. Find an answer to the question of “What are you trying to accomplish with this technology?”
  7. Perform some risk analysis (e.g., affect of the new technology on current processes, etc.)
  8. Take a vendor agnostic stance
  9. Look at all available options (including current systems) to find the ideal solution.
  10. Develop a comparison of solutions with strategic direction
  11. Choose a platform
  12. etc.

I could keep going…but you get the point. Common sense stuff, right? Basically, you look at where you are trying to go and choose the technology that will help you get there. How hard is that? Apparently….very difficult for most organizations.

How can we get common sense back into the technology selection process? If you have some ideas…I’d love to hear them.

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